Category Archives: movies

Hugo

Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken.

clock_movement

Hugo tells the story of an orphaned boy Hugo Cabret (played by Asa Butterfield) living in the walls and attic spaces of a Paris train station. He has in his posession an automaton – his only connection to his deceased father who taught him to look after clocks and mechanical objects. Hugo is searching for missing parts to restore the Automaton to working order, and finds himself caught up in an adventure – trying to find out the link between the automaton, the shopkeeper Georges Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley) and his God-Daughter Isabelle (played by Chloë Grace Moretz). On their way in the adventure they have to avoid the path of the bumbling Station Inspector (played by Sacha Baron Cohen). 

The film is sumptuous. James Cameron remarked upon seeing it that is was the best use of 3D he had ever seen, and praised Martin Scorsese for creating a beautiful masterpiece. I couldn’t agree more.

I’m always a sucker for a film that asks philosophical questions, and this one captures the question of ‘purpose’ exquisitely.  

I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.

Do you feel that you have purpose? Do you feel that you are doing the right thing each day?

If you haven’t seen Hugo, I’d urge you to watch it. You can watch it via lovefilm.com, or get your own copy of it from Amazon.co.uk.

Image credit: Noodlefish.

Precious

My name is Clareece “Precious” Jones. I wish I had a light-skinned boyfriend with real nice hair. And I wanna be on the cover of a magazine. But first I wanna be in one of them BET videos. Momma said I can’t dance. Plus, she said who wants to see my big ass dancing, anyhow?

pearl

Nicola and I watched this months ago, but it’s stuck with me as a film. It follows the title character, Clareece ‘Precious‘ Jones in a period of her life where she is pregnant with her second child, and referred to an alternative school, effectively giving her a ‘second chance’ at her education, set amidst the bleakest of circumstances. The film was widely criticised for portraying too bleak a picture of ‘welfare America’, and from this bleak picture creating a ‘superficially inspirational’ storyline.

There’s something very harrowing about watching such a movie in the comfort of middle class Scottish suburbia. A number of weeks before this, we’d watched ‘NEDS‘ by Peter Mullan, which was disturbing in a similar way – the principle character struggling to come to terms with how their environment has shaped them into the person they are.

What was utterly depressing about Precious was how despite the horror of her home life, her manipulation by social stereotypical marketing was still a driving force. Last week, I spoke about Katy Perry’s movie, and the power of the Oscar Wilde quote near the end – “Be yourself – everyone else is already taken”. How does this stack up for someone with such a turbulent homelife like Precious? What is our role in life to help or inspire the likes of Precious? What type of society condones such an existence?

If you haven’t seen Precious, I’d urge you to watch it. You can watch it via lovefilm.com, or get your own copy of it from Amazon.co.uk.

Image credit: amboo who?.

Katy Perry: Part of Me (seriously…)

Be yourself: everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wildelollipop

Seriously?! Seriously!? Are you seriously going to write a post about Katy Perry: Part of Me? Well, yes. If only to show that not all the films I watch are worthy of attention. Some clearly are utter dross.

In one of those mad moments, I decided to watch Katy Perry: Part of Me. It would be really simple to say “well, there’s 93 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”, or “that film was so dire I actually wanted to eat the iPad I watched it on”, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story.

In Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, there is a scene when Vitaly the tiger finds his confidence again, and opens the new production of the ‘animal only’ circus. What follows is a fabulous display of lights and acrobatics from the animals set to Katy Perry’s ‘Fireworks’. The sentiment behind this song is ace – you have something great inside you and you should let it shine out. All good so far. As we like this song at home (we have a 3 year old – we like singing – we like Madagascar – bear with me), I thought I’d find out a bit more about Katy Perry, so watching her documentary on the train to Livingston one day seemed like a good way to deal with the tedium of train travel. On reflection, perhaps train travel isn’t so bad. Normally, train travel doesn’t make me want to eat the iPad.

I’m undecided about Katy Perry. She seems to have at heart a great simple idea: be yourself. Unfortunately, much of the time watching this documentary, I’m not sure she knows exactly what this is. There is a scene when she visits her grandmother. You’re left wondering if they have ever actually met before. She places great faith in her wardrobe designer, who seems to make creations for her that are individual, but I’m left thinking these creations only serve the purpose of trying to be individual, rather than anything else. She seems to be genuinely interested in her fans, and encourages them to express themselves, but to what end? I’m not sure the guy dressed as a hotdog will look back at his on-stage moment with Katy Perry with pride, or maybe I’m wrong? She also seems to have musical talent, and a good ear for a tune, that and the might of a record label and production company getting successive songs to number 1. Like her or hate her, you can’t deny that she’s successful.

The documentary follows her during a gruelling tour, which it captures quite well. You do get to see her genuinely struggling with the monotony to touring, and the difficulty of overcoming her own feelings in order to perform. This is painfully painted on her face as she waits in the wings to go on stage at one point. It also charts the breakup of her marriage to Russell Brand, but you’re left thinking there’s obviously a great deal that they glossed over – in fact, ‘gloss’ probably sums up this movie exceptionally well.

Why on earth did I choose to write a blog post about it then? Hidden in amongst the bubblegum dross of Katy’s life on tour was a gem of a quote from one of her fans:

“Katy teaches me to be myself: Everyone else is already taken”

Of course the learned amongst you (or those of you who know how to copy and paste into a search engine) knows this to be a quote from Oscar Wilde. Tragically, neither Katy Perry, her fan filmed giving the quote, or indeed her producer thought to reference it. Shame.

In our quick fix culture, Wilde’s sentiment is welcome relief. Media bombards us each day to conform to the latest ‘must have’ or fashion, so having the confidence to do your own thing is sound advice indeed.

If you like Katy Perry’s music, you’ll enjoy this 93 minutes. If not, then avoid at all costs… You can watch it via lovefilm.com, or (heaven forbid) get your own copy of it from Amazon.co.uk.

Image credit: natalia love.

footnote: normal service (or decent choice in films to talk about) will be restored next week…

What’s your Christmas movie?

Leon the Snowman: Why the long face, Buddy?
Buddy: It seems I’m not an elf.
Leon the Snowman: Of course you’re not an elf. You’re six-foot-three and had a beard since you were fifteen.

Everyone has their favourite Christmas movie. For some, it’s an integral part of their advent preparations sitting down to watch that all time classic that sums up Christmas for them, or conjures up some fond memory of Christmas past.

A film that has quickly become a favourite in our household is ‘Elf‘. Not quite ‘It’s a wonderful life‘ I know, but it’s up there! I’m not sure whether it’s the utterly preposterous storyline, the schmaltzy romance or the hilarious Will Ferrell that makes this film, but if you’re looking for an hour and a half of festive cheer, then look no further.

You can watch Elf right now on Lovefilm.com, or get your hands on the physical media from amazon.co.uk.

I was torn between a number of different films to recommend during advent, as Home Alone and Die Hard would be up there too as my all time Christmas greats. Or what about years of sifting through the Radio Times at Christmas to see if The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music or Where Eagles Dare were on yet again…?

What about you? What would be your curl-up-infront-of-an-open-fire-by-the-twinkling-lights-of-the-tree-movie?

Image credit: knitting iris.

The Way

You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one. – Daniel

A film about both loss and spiritual quest, ‘The Way‘ is one of the most moving films I’ve seen this year. It follows Martin Sheen taking a pilgrimage along the El camino de Santiago after the death of his son who was walking ‘the way’ himself.

He is joined along the way by a number of fellow travellers journeying at roughly the same pace, and the film touches on the reasons that all of them are making the pilgrimage. Each of them has their own story to tell, and their own issues that they are either running away from, or trying to examine along the way.

To put this in context, El camino de Santiago is approximately 500 miles in length, taking most pilgrims about 4 weeks to complete. Such a commitment takes significant time, planning and energy to undertake.

Pilgrimage fascinates me. I think this film captures the essence of a quest exceptionally well, and manages to give equal measure to both the challenge of walking the way itself, and the spiritual journey a pilgrim goes on with so much time to their thoughts and meditation.

Whenever I meet someone that has undertaken a journey of this type, I’m always keen to ask them a couple of questions – why they did it, and what they feel they gained by doing it. Everyone has their own story to tell, and everyone seems to gain something different.

The film also contains an absolute gem of a song, which if you’re anything like me you’d completely forgotten about over the last few years. ‘Thank U’ by Alanis Morissette is a beautiful track at a critical point in the unfolding story.

You can watch it on lovefilm.com, or if you prefer to get your hands on physical media, then you can purchase it at amazon.co.uk.

Image credit: Fresco tours.

How’s it going to end?

We’ve become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there’s nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn’t always Shakespeare, but it’s genuine. It’s a life. – Christof

A modern classic, The Truman Show is a must see (if you haven’t already). If you have seen it, isn’t it about time you watched it again?

At the time of it’s release, I think reality shows were at their zenith. A beautifully sculpted and scripted film from Peter Weir sees Jim Carrey at his very best, acting out a serious role that has some comic moments. Personally, I’m a much bigger fan of Carrey in the likes of this role, as I find his zanier roles much harder to watch.

I used to show a section of this film to my secondary school pupils, leaving them to discuss and ponder the ramifications of Truman’s philosophical discovery. All his life he is living in a finite location, being observed. In many ways, the decisions he made were being made for him. What if, when he takes his steps to his new found freedom, it is merely into a larger confined location? Indeed, are we as free in the decisions we make as we think? How do we know we aren’t merely unwitting actors in an incredibly large play?

(Incidentally, I apologise now to many a teenager who never got over this conundrum – sorry. If it helps, you can either logically deduce by probability that we aren’t in an incredibly large play, or merely live with the fact that we are!)

Why mention this now? The character Lauren / Sylvia wears a badge on her lapel asking a simple question ‘How’s it going to end?’ The other day I quoted Thoreau saying ‘Our life is frittered away by detail’. I think we need to spend much more time asking the big questions, and being able to articulate our vision, before we get sucked into what may be quite pointless actions. Comically, Truman can teach us a lot about life.

You can watch it on lovefilm.com, or if you prefer to get your hands on physical media, then you can purchase it at amazon.co.uk.

 

Tyrannosaur

Hannah: I feel safe with you
Joseph: Nobody’s safe with me

Every so often you come across a beautiful film that on the face of it is incredibly bleak, yet manages to convey so much about personal journey and relationships. If you haven’t seen Tyrannosaur, I’d urge you to get hold of it.


This 2011 film directorial debut by Paddy Considine is a masterpiece. Although the cast lists a number of roles, the vast majority of screen time is taken up by two individuals – Hannah, played by Olivia Coleman, and Joseph, played by Peter Mullan. I find Peter Mullan an utterly compelling actor, and frankly anything with him in it I would watch. Olivia Coleman was described by Village Voice as ‘A revelation’, and I wholeheartedly agree.

The film really looks at the lives of both characters. Joseph is a violent man, whose life is full of issues as a consequence of his attempts to deal with his destructive personality. Hannah is a Christian charity shop worker, who faces issues in her own life in a very different way. Redemption is a theme of the movie, as both characters learn a huge amount from each other.

To say more would spoil the film, but I would urge you to watch it. A compelling view of humanity, and the interractions we have with those around us.

You can watch it on lovefilm.com, or if you prefer to get your hands on physical media, then you can purchase it at amazon.co.uk.

Image credit: matsuyuki.

Do you love films?

When I started this site, I proposed to use Wednesday’s to talk about movies that I have watched that were worthy (or not) of comment. I’ll return to the real purpose of Wednesday’s next week, but permit me an indulgence today.

In 1997, I subscribed to Sky TV. From the outset of this story it’s worth noting that I have virtually no interest in television. I don’t watch television. I subscribed to Sky purely for the films. Over the years, I’ve probably watched more than my fair share of quality movies, and definitely more than my fair share of complete and utter dross. Sky, in their infinite marketing wisdom, kept changing the content of the movie package and increasing the price, resulting ultimately in what I felt to be a poor return for my money. So, earlier this year, we cancelled Sky TV. [note – Dear Sky, please stop phoning me and sending me utterly pointless promotional materials through the post – I’m not coming back. Period.]

Then we discovered Lovefilm.com. If you haven’t checked out lovefilm.com then you should. If you have broadband, you can stream their vast collection of film and tv show for the small amount of £4.99 per month. If you’re like me and still enjoy getting your hands on physical media, for £7.99 they’ll send you a DVD through the post from your wishlist which you can keep for as long as you need in order to watch it. Once you’ve watched it, simply put it in the post (for free) and they’ll send you another one from your wishlist. There is no contract, and you’re free to cancel at any time.

Whilst I know the cynic in you is thinking this is a shameless marketing message, then consider how much you may currently spend on your satellite or cable TV subscription. I’m now £42.01 a month better off. Now consider how many times you sit with your remote in hand complaining that from thousands of channels, there is nothing on! Also consider how time rich you’ll be if you stopped watching dross on TV?

Each Wednesday I’ll talk about films that I’ve watched that have left an impression on me. For each of these films, I’ll either link to lovefilm.com where you could watch it for yourself, or Amazon.co.uk where you can buy it. I am affiliated to both lovefilm.com and amazon.co.uk, so if you click a link from my site, then I may receive payment based on any purchase you make. In no way is my selection of films influenced by either company.

He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!

Last week I shared my all-time favourite – this week, it’s my close second place.

The Princess Bride is yet another film that I could easily watch with the sound down (this time, missing a cracking soundtrack by Mark Knopfler) as I’m pretty confident that I could provide the dialogue. [you’ve got to note here however – how much of my formal education has received the same memory retention?]

What is it about this film that I love? I suppose it’s the tongue in cheek pastiche of a fairytale – that could be equally watched by children and adults. As a fairytale, it has everything – pirates, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, swordfights, torture chambers, a six fingered man and a fire swamp (I’m probably missing lots of important bits out here!)

As a screenplay, it is filled with wonderful dialogue:

Inigo Montoya: You are sure nobody’s follow’ us?
Vizzini: As I told you, it would be absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable. No one in Guilder knows what we’ve done, and no one in Florin could have gotten here so fast. – Out of curiosity, why do you ask?
Inigo Montoya: No reason. It’s only… I just happened to look behind us and something is there.
Vizzini: What? Probably some local fisherman, out for a pleasure cruise, at night… in… eel-infested waters…

or this:

Buttercup: You mock my pain.
Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

Perhaps my favourite scene is the interjection into the story by narrator (Peter Falk), reminding you that you are in fact being read this story, which in the intervening period you’ve forgotten. Peter Falk’s character is reading the story to his grandson, who is ill in bed. He stops the story momentarily, as he sees his grandson getting so involved in the story he is worried about his emotional state – so he gives away a little bit of the story to come to ease his disposition:

Grandpa: She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time
Grandson: What?
Grandpa: The eel doesn’t get her. I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.
Grandson: I wasn’t nervous. Maybe I was a little bit “concerned” but that’s not the same thing.

Which got me thinking – would we interrupt a chain of events in order to help someone we love, if we could?

About ten years ago I was given William Goldman’s fabulous book by a colleague, and it proved to be an even better read than the film – I’d heartily recommend it!

“As you wish…”

image credit: oxygeon.

Wednesday is a day for the movies

The holes we leave behind.

We all have favourite movies. It’s funny how some of them stay with us through life? The movie I often claim to be my ‘favourite’ is the 1979 Peter Yates film ‘Breaking Away‘. It takes the top spot for me for a number of reasons, and I know there have probably been far superior films in terms of cinematography, acting, screenplay etc, but I do love this film.

Why? In the early 1980’s our family got a video recorder. My dad recorded this film, and I’m sure it would have been recorded over like so many others, but this one stayed – in no small part probably due to a son who was mad keen on cycling at the time, so a film where the principal character does a lot of cycling was unusual, and of huge interest to me then, that I probably pestered him to keep it and not wipe over it.

It’s a coming of age film, where a group of town teenagers feel their position threatened by the incomers to their town attending the university. It charts part of their first year out of school, coming to terms with life in the real world, how they relate to peers and family, and what they each learn in different ways taking the big leap into adulthood.

Whether it’s a simple byproduct of watching a film far too many times in my life (although, that said, it’s been a number of years since I’ve watched it now), but I feel I could watch this film with the sound turned down – I’d miss the beauty of the soundtrack (Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture, Von Flotow’s Martha, to name but a few), but I could probably fill in all the dialogue myself.

What makes a film strike a chord with us? What makes a film become a favourite? For me, it’s either that the film has been beautifully crafted, or I connect with some aspect of it on an emotional level.

One of the main themes of the film is the relationship between ‘Dave Stoller’ (Dennis Christopher) and his father ‘Ray Stoller’ (Paul Dooley). In one scene, they go for a walk in the campus. Dave’s father Ray was previously a stone cutter, and remarks about the fact that he and his former colleagues cut the stone for the university buildings:

Ray: “And the buildings went up. When they were finished, the damnedest thing happened – it was like the buildings is too good for us. Nobody told us that – it just felt uncomfortable, that’s all. Even now, I’d like to be able to stroll through the campus and look at the limestone, but I just feel out of place.”

Ray: “You guys still go swimming in the quarries?”

Dave: “Sure”

Ray: “So, the only thing you’ve got to show for my 20 years of work are the holes we left behind”

I love this bit of dialogue – a father and son having an awkward discussion about the sons future – whether he will go to college, and achieve everything he is able to. How his father feels about him, and what he hopes for him. At the same time, reflecting on his own achievement, and what that means for his son. Add to this the typical unhealthy unease at either of them sharing their feelings, and it’s a great scene.

Dave’s dad was a stone cutter, so he literally left holes behind in the ground from where the stone was cut out the earth. I wonder, what are the metaphoric holes we leave behind? Last week I quoted Gandhi, in that “everything we do is insignificant, but it’s really important that we do it anyway”.

I think we need to be proud of the holes we leave behind, no matter what size they are.

image credit: SandersQuarryIndiana by Sphinxcat, under a Wikimedia Commons licence.