Saturday, 24 November 2012

Lawrence of Arabia - a truly splendid epic!

Just watched the magnificent epic Lawrence of Arabia at the BFI, the third time I have seen this classic film on the big screen. This version was presented in 4K and although I prefer the original 70 mm print, the film still looked amazing.

The last time I watched Lawrence of Arabia at the cinema was at the special 40th anniversary presentation at the BFI ten years ago which included an on-stage interview with the late John Box who was the production designer of the film. I remember there were special recorded tributes by Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and Steven Spielberg. It was a memorable evening.

Lawrence of Arabia is still such a joy to watch and it looks better than ever.The film depicts T.E. Lawrence's experiences as a British Army lieutenant in Arabia during the First World War, especially his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus. Despite some historical inaccuracies as you would expect from a motion picture and the fact that the film loses a bit of its momentum at the latter stages, this is possibly the greatest British film ever made. With so much talent involved such as Britain's greatest director (David Lean), an intelligent screenplay (By Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson), glorious cinematography by Frederick A. Young, a majestic score by Maurice Jarre and a towering performance by Irish actor Peter O'Toole as Lawrence, the critically acclaimed Lawrence of Arabia is really what cinema was invented for.
RATING *****

Monday, 12 November 2012

'Jules et Jim' is simply a classic of French Cinema

It was great to watch the classic French New Wave film Jules et Jim (1962) again. Although released fifty years ago this year, its influence is still felt in cinema today. Directed by one of the architects of French New Wave cinema, Francois Trauffaut who also co-wrote the film with Jean Gruault, it is the film version of Henry Pierre Roche’s 1953 semi-autobiographical novel. Set just before and after the Great War, Jules et Jim tells the story of the love triangle between the free-spirited Catherine (Jeanne Moreau) and the two best friends, the shy writer Jules (Oskar Werner) and the more extroverted Jim (Henri Serre).

Jules et Jim stills looks very stylish today. Wonderfully edited, brilliantly directed in similar style as Jean-Luc Goddard’s amazing debut A Bout De Souffle (1959) and Truffaut’s previous film The 400 Blows, a new film style that the French film industry was teaching the world. Truffaut used Jean-Luc Goddard’s cinematographer Raoul Coutard to create a very fluid cinematic style employing the latest lightweight cameras.

The film incorporates newsreel footage, photographic stills, dolly shots freeze frames, wipes, masking and panning shots. This new style of filmmaking was to influence even Hollywood, from the highly influential Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969) to Goodfellas (1990). I could even see the influences on Richard Lester’s A Hard Days Night (1964) for The Beatles and not forgetting all the countless music videos we have endured for the past three decades.

The performances are memorable, especially from the legendary Jeanne Moreau as Catherine and the renowned Austrian actor of stage and screen, Oskar Werner as Jules.

The catchy music score by Georges Delerue is one of the greatest soundtracks in film history and was named by Time magazine as one of the “top ten soundtracks”.   

I do not know if there has been any major fiftieth anniversary tribute for Jules et Jim this year. I suppose it would be difficult to have a gathering that does not include Truffaut or Werner but Jeanne Moreau is still very much with us. Called “the greatest actress in the world”, Jeanne Moreau starred in many features and is an icon of French cinema (and I am delighted that she has Irish heritage too). Oskar Werner starred in a number of great films including Ship of Fools (1965) and Fahrenheit 451 (1966), receiving an Academy award nomination for his memorable performance as Father David Telemond in The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). However, Oskar Werner died in 1984 after a long struggle with alcoholism. Francois Trauffaut died in 1984 after a career of critically acclaimed films (and not forgetting his memorable cameo in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)). Henri Serre starred in several films including some movies for notable directors as Louis Malle and Costa Gravas.

Jules et Jim is highly recommended because it is a very important film. It is also a brilliant film which tells a good story and tells it well. Very influential and very enjoyable, it is certainly worth watching Jules et Jim simply to celebrate its fifty glorious years.
RATING *****

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Does 'Argo' really rise to the occasion?

Reading the reviews from the average film critic these days you would swear that we have entered a new golden age of cinema. I have not subscribed to that notion except that it has been a very long time since I have seen a brilliant film and so when the highly praised political drama Argo was released in the UK last week, it seemed certain that it was going to be another addition to the trend of over-rated movies on release today. 

The film tells the true story of how a CIA undercover operation pretending to be a science fiction filming unit on location helped the escape of American hostages from Iran in 1979. The hostages hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is the CIA specialist and advisor who thought of the idea while watching ‘Battle of the Planet of the Apes’ with his son.

Argo is an immensely enjoyable political thriller. The fact that the plot is based on a true story, it can be easy to predict the outcome but somehow the film is always exciting. Argos works on almost every level and there is never a boring moment.

With the exception of the likes of Sam Peckinpah, Clint Eastwood and John Cassavetes, there has not been much of a list of actors who made successful transitions into direction. So full credit to Ben Affleck who shows his talent as director here (his third feature), using a really decent script (Chris Terrio) and with the aid terrific performances especially from Alan Arkin (as film producer Lester Siegel) and John Goodman (as John Chambers). Although I would possibly question how the Iranian people are depicted at a time of great sensitivity within US-Iran relations, Argo is an intelligent and entertaining film. Very deserving of the praise.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Skyfall - A great Bond film or just hype?

The new James Bond film Skyfall has received so much positive hype in recent weeks that it seemed film critics had witnessed some sort of movie miracle. Some critics even dared call it the best Bond film of them all and so having recently watched the wonderful From Russia With Love on Blu-Ray, it was time for me to put the new Bond epic to the test.

The plot seems fairly straight forward enough. James Bond (Daniel Craig) intervenes to try to halt a former agent (and mad computer expert) Silva (Javier Bardem) from killing M (Judi Dench). However, the film is yet another addition to the revisionist Bond revamp which began in 2006 with Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig as a more physical James Bond.

Skyfall is an entertaining film but it fails as a James Bond film. All this soul searching between Bond and M can get really tedious but at least the film itself contains a lot more good humour than in the previous two Bond films. There are a few nods to the classic Bond films of the sixties but at no time does Skyfall feel like a James Bond film. Daniel Craig's performs the role with even more gusto but I still think he looks like a cross between a boxer and Sid James rather than a dashing secret agent. May I take this opportunity to say that I am always reminded that Craig plays the Bond of the books but I have read the books and Daniel Craig is certainly not the Bond of the printed word. Craig plays Bond as a hot-tempered thug in tuxedo.

Javier Bardem plays Silva to camp but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the young Q (Ben Whishaw), young, geekish and annoying. Berenice Malohi's performance as the beautiful Severine is much too brief and could have played a larger part in the progression of the plot. It is interesting to see sixties acting legend Albert Finney as the bearded gamekeeper (Kincade) of the Bond family estate.

The direction from Sam Mendes is professional enough as you would expect from this Oscar winning director and the script (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan) works too. The cinematography (Roger Deakins) looks stunning at times but the music score by Thomas Newman is disappointingly erratic and below par. Needless to say that Adele's title sequence number is classic Bond.

I like Skyfall but as with Casino Royale, this is clearly an overrated film. There are times when the movie looks spectacular with wonderful action sequences and yet there are moments when it looks as if some scenes have been taken from a decent episode of Minder. I am so bored of this revisionist approach that seemed to been triggered by the Batman franchise re-boot that I am quite happy to watch any previous Bond film now, even one from the Roger Moore era, just to remind me of the escapist fun we used to enjoy. It seems that the creators of the new Bond films are embarrassed by the characteristics that made the film franchise so profitable and enjoyable in the first place. I dream of the day when the basic plot-line required a cat loving megalomaniac who attempts to take over the world but only to be stopped by Bond who slickly fights off his henchmen, blow ups his evil lair and sleep with the most beautiful girls in the universe so that the world can be a safer place. And if I could talk to the producers, I would ask them to return the gun-barrel sequence to the beginning of the film (ask any Bond fan where they want to see it)! Unlike Skyfall, I want a classic Bond film that really does reach for the skies.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

My first ever screenplay

A lifetime achievement for me. Just finished the first draft of my very first screenplay. Now to type up the obligatory Oscar acceptance speech!!!!!

"The Dark Knight Rises' latest: Jon Isaacs has spoken



I was underwhelmed. Yet another example of failing to live up to the hype. In a nutshell 

1. Haven't we seen enough post-9/11-neurosis-NYC-gets-trashed CGI vehicles?

2. It was about 45 minutes too long, coming in at a Titanic 2hrs 45 minutes.

3. The uber-villain looked and behaved just like a character in a playstation games. All thuggery, no finesse. Come back Burgess Meredith, all is forgiven.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - AND FALLS!!!

The Dark Knight Rises has received universal acclaim. Like its predecessors, the latest superhero exploits of Batman has hit a high note with critics in most major newspapers and magazines. The Dark Knight Rises received 87% certified fresh from Rotten Tomatoes but the fans seemed to be even more euphoric, giving their seal of approval for 93% of the votes at Imdb long before the film was even released. However, many of those critics who dared to criticise the film has received hate mail and even death threats from some fans. One of those critics who has received the dreaded death threats for his review is Britain's Christopher Tookey, who wrote in the Daily Mail that the The Dark Knight Rises is "bloated", "bottom-numbingly long", "the baddie is a mumbling bore" and that the plot is a "pretentious mess". CNN's film critic Tom Charity called the movie "disappointingly clunky".

The film is set eight years after when Batman had disappeared (at the climax of the previous film) and was  blamed for murder. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a recluse. However he is summoned to return when a masked manic named Bane (Tom Hardy) causes havoc in the city of Gotham.

I must admit that I also think that the The Dark Knight Rises is pretentious, rambling and rather dull. The villain is inaudible under that rubber mask and as for the movie being about Batman, he is seldom in it. Parts of the film is quite tedious although some of the few action sequences is truly spectacular. There is not much of a story and yet, it takes 165 minutes to tell it. Why? 

The Dark Knight Rises is not the worst film I have ever seen but the release of this much anticipated blockbuster is a classic example of just how effective the film's marketing campaign has been that so many of fans have aggressively defended the film many months before actually seeing it.

'The Body Snatcher' is a memorable horror classic!

The Body Snatcher is an 1945 RKO Pictures adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story about a ruthless surgeon and his young student who find themselves continually harassed by their murderous supplier of illegal cadavers. 

Set in Edinburgh around the time of the famous Burke and Hare murders, The Body Snatcher was produced by the legendary horror producer Val Lewton and is the best of his forties thrillers. The Body Snatcher is an outstanding horror film and a terrific version of the Stevenson story. Henry Daniell excels as Doctor Wolfe "Toddy" McFarlane but it is the outstanding performance by Boris Karloff as the sinister Cabman John Gray that stands out. Karloff steals every scene and it is still inconceivable to think that Karloff was not even nominated for an Oscar for his memorable performance. 

Brilliantly written by Philip McDonald and Val Lewton (aka: Carlos Keith) with atmospheric cinematography by Robert De Grasse and stylish direction by Robert Wise, The Body Snatcher is a gem that may not well known today but is held in very high esteem by film critics and historians everywhere. This is an enjoyable horror story from classic Hollywood.
RATING *****

(Click) 'The Body Snatcher' (1945) TRAILER

Thursday, 12 July 2012

'Lawrence of Arabia' needs to be watched on the big screen

'Lawrence of Arabia' was released in 1962 and starred Irish actor Peter O'Toole (who has just announced his retirement) as the legendary British Officer TE Lawrence who collaborated with the Arabs in their revolt against the Ottoman Turkish rule in 1916 - 18. 'Lawrence of Arabia' won many Oscars including best picture and best director (David Lean). Modern American film directors such as Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola have named 'Lawrence of Arabia' as one of their favourite films. It is certainly the most beautiful film that I have ever seen on the big screen.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

'The Big Sleep' is still film noir at its very best!

The Big Sleep is a 1946 film noir directed by Howard Hawks and based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Raymond Chandler. The film stars Humphrey Bogart as private detective Philip Marlowe who is hired by the wealthy General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to resolve the the gambling debts of his daughter Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers) but he soon becomes involved in a murder and blackmail.

Famous for its convoluted plot, The Big Sleep is an entertaining mystery, with the usual snappy dialogue as you would expect from a Hawks picture and a worthy addition to the film noir genre. Bogart plays Marlowe with the degree of toughness and humour that is typical of many of Bogart's best performances. There are many other excellent performances too such as the excellent Lauren Bacall as Vivian, the sulky older sister to the thumb sucking Vickers and the scene stealing John Ridgely as the small-time gangster Eddie Mars.

The fact that Hawks tried to be careful on how to suggest the use of pornography and drugs in a period of censorship only provides the film with a unique air of mystery.  As in many films in the film noir genre, the settings uses the most of the night time with additional sequences set in rain and fog. The whole thing works. The film is quite stylishly directed by Hawks, full of sharp dialogue (script by William Faulkner) and beautifully shot by Sidney Hickox. Despite having a plot so complex that Raymond Chandler himself could not tell who committed the murders, this is all very enjoyable stuff.
RATING *****

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A Streetcar Named Desire - still a powerful film!

Tennessee Williams' controversial play A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway in December 3rd, 1947. Directed by Elia Kazan, the play starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. The London production was directed by Laurence Olivier and opened in 1948 starred Bonar Colleano, Vivien Leigh and Renee Asherton. The 1951 film version distributed by Warner Bros starred three members of the Broadway cast: Brando, Hunter, Malden and one lead from the London production: Vivien Leigh.

Set in New Orleans, the film as the play tells the story of  Blanche (Vivien Leigh) who comes to visit her naive sister (Kim Hunter), who is pregnant and living with an aggressive brute named Stanley (Marlon Brando). At first, Blanche comes across as a refined person but we learn that things are not right with her, that she appears to have a type of mental breakdown and we learn that she is a disgraced teacher who was run out of her home town for seducing a pupil.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a widely regarded as a landmark film because it was deemed extremely controversial. Although some parts of the film were changed or cut to please the censor, the film still feels more adult than Hollywood had been making. 

Like many filmed versions of plays, A Streetcar Named Desire can feel very theatrical at times despite a screenplay by playwright Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul. There are many compensations though such as the direction (Elia Kazan), the photography (Harry Stradling) and the performances. However, there is only one real reason why anybody should watch this film: Marlon Brando. There is no question that his powerhouse performance as Stanley steals the show, making Brando a world star. Overall, A Streetcar Named Desire has lost little of its power despite the passing of the years. It works well, is entertaining and is rightfully regarded as a classic.
RATING *****

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Colourful and entertaining, 'Scaramouche' is a cut above the rest!

Scaramouche is a 1952 romantic swashbuckling adventure based on the 1921 novel of the same name by Rafael Sabatini. The film is set before the French revolution and begins with Queen Marie Antoinette (Nina Foche) asking her cousin Noel, the Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer), to uncover the identity of a dangerous pamphleteer who is rousing hatred of the aristocracy.
Meanwhile, André Moreau (Stewart Granger), an illegitimate son of a nobleman, kidnaps his beloved Lenore (Eleanor Parker) to keep her from marrying another man. Moreau learns that his father is the Count de Gavrillac and as when travelling to meet him, he meets Aline de Gavrillac (Janet Leigh), the Queen's ward. He is romantic drawn to her at first but learns that they are related.
De Maynes encounters the pamphleteer named “Marcus Brutus”, who turns out to be Moreau's best friend, Philippe de Valmorin (Richard Anderson). De Maynes provokes de Valmorin into a duel and Moreau is concerned that the fight is so one-sided because De Maynes is an outstanding swordsman. This turns out to be true because De Maynes teases de Valmorin before killing him. An enraged Moreau vows to kill de Maynes the same way he slew de Valmorin. But how can de Maynes defeat the greatest swordsman in France?

Scaramouche is a visually stunning classic from MGM, stylishly directed by George Sidney with key cinematography by Charles Rosher. The superior screenplay by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel based on the Sabatini novel works well and the whole production looks very lush. The performances from Stewart Granger (Moreau), Eleanor Parker (Lenore) and Janet Leigh (Aline de Gavrillac) are excellent but it is Mel Ferrer (as the Marquis de Maynes) who steals the film. Ferrer portrays de Maynes as a dandy but vicious nobleman and makes a very admirable foe to Moreau.

Romantic and humorous with lots of genuine action sequences including one of the greatest sword fights (and on record as the longest) in the history of film, Scaramouche is a very entertaining adventure that is enjoyable after countless viewings. Wonderful stuff!
RATING *****

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Do not miss the screenings of 'Laura' at the BFI this month

The BFI is currently showing a remastered print of Otto Preminger's film noir masterpiece Laura which is having as a regular run from now and throughout March. Released in 1944, Laura tells the story of the investigation by a New York City police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) of the death of a highly successful and beautiful advertising executive Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) who was shot in the face in the doorway of her her apartment. McPherson interviews various key suspects including the charismatic newspaper columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) and various other key informants.
This is one of the finest examples of film noir and a deserved classic. Although the cast (and even the head of Twentieth Century Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck) had issues with the director, Otto Preminger, his debut film is a triumph.

The performances are really impressive although the moment when McPherson  meets Laura for the first time shows a side to his character that should have been explored a little more. However, Clifton Webb's performance of dandy Waldo Lydecker is unforgettable and who can forget the amazing Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt.

Laura is an enjoyable tale of obsession, jealousy, and deceit. With the clever screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhard (based on the novels by Vera Caspar) and a haunting score by David Raskin, this is a film noir to remember. RATING  *****

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The critics are certainly right abut 'The Descendants'

I have been watching a few acclaimed films this year and I left the cinema thinking that I wished I had liked those films more than I did.  The Descendants was another one of those highly acclaimed films that I wanted to be really good. It was. I have no problem with saying that I left the cinema on Tuesday night feeling really happy. I really did enjoy this film.

The story begins with Matt King (a wonderful performance by George Clooney) who is a Honolulu-based lawyer and the sole trustee that controls land on the island of Kaua'i. This trust will expire in seven years so that the King family has decided to sell the land to developers. However, Matt's wife has been left in a serious coma due to a boating accident and Matt begins to address his difficult relationship with his own family because of this especially learning about his wife's infidelity.

Director Alexander Payne who co-wrote  The Descendants  with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, has built himself a reputation of creating generally entertaining and acclaimed films with strong themes of adultery, marriage and relationships in such films such as 'Election' (1999), 'About Schmidt' (2002) and 'Sideways' (2004). With the beautiful Hawaiian islands as the setting,  The Descendants  carries these themes successfully and is a worthy nominee for best picture at this year's Academy Awards. 

Along with Clooney, there are so many terrific performances on show here especially from Shailene Woodley (excellent as Matt King's eldest daughter Alex), Beau Bridges (as Cousin Hugh), Robert Forster (as Scott Thorson) and Michael Lilliard (as Brian Speer). Sometimes funny, sometimes sad and always entertaining, The Descendants is a genuinely satisfying film experience.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

'The Artist' has stolen from other artistic masterpieces!

'The Artist' (2011)

I watched ‘The Artist’ at the Greenwich Picturehouse on Sunday and although it is entertaining enough, I thought that it is another over-rated modern film. Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, the critics called it “original” yet it is clear that so many scenes in the film were robbed from better films from the golden age such as ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘The Thin Man’ and countless Chaplin movies. It has become clear to me that modern film critics have no knowledge of Hollywood cinema heritage. ‘The Artist’ is so thinly plotted, I could tell you the whole story in one sentence and not leave out a single thing.
'Vertigo' (1958)

What annoys me most about ‘The Artist’ is that the musician (Ludovic Bource) is up for a Golden Globe for Best Original Music, yet Bernard Herrmann’s original score for Hitchcock’s masterpiece ‘Vertigo’ was used in some of the vital final scenes in the film to enhance the tension. Kim Novak, the lead actress from the 1958 Hitchcock film, is quite right when she said earlier today that the theft of this music to enhance ‘the Artist’ is nothing short of artistic rape.

I wished that this old-styled black and white silent comedy picture ‘The Artist’ would be the refreshing change we wanted so badly in face of the bilge of modern 3-D and SFX-ridden blockbusters but it was not to be. To be frankly honest, I think that this simple-plotted silent film is an insult to the incredible master-works created by legendary film-makers of that era. I love the silent film era but this not the tribute I craved for. For the ultimate homage to the silent era, try watching the 1952 Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly musical masterpiece ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and do not get excited by this cinematic novelty disguised as art.

How well will 'The Wolf of Wall Street' do at this weekend at the Oscars?

How well will 'The Wolf of Wall Street' do at this weekend at the Oscars? Brilliantly written by Terence Winter ("The Sopranos&...