Manic Mondays – 9th October 2017

‘Every day a new face/what if I unscrew/your own identity/wouldn’t you guess there’s nothing left of you’

Eleanor

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Best Art Direction – 1971

Official Nominations: Nicholas And Alexandra. The Andromeda Strain. Bedknobs And Broomsticks. Fiddler On The Roof. Mary, Queen Of Scots.

Nicholas And Alexandra was the official winner this year, no surprises, but it’s a category filled with good choices. The Andromeda Strain is my choice as winner, something different from the typical costume epic and I tend to find these sorts of films more interesting from an aesthetic viewpoint, especially when they strive for a unique look. Bedknobs And Broomsticks, as much as I don’t like it, deserves it’s nomination here, as does Fiddler On The Roof, while Mary, Queen Of Scots is the second epic.

My Winner: The Andromeda Strain

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My Nominations: The Andromeda Strain. A Clockwork Orange. The Devils. McCabe And Mrs Miller. THX 1138. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory.

Only my winner from the Official list makes it over to meet a few contenders who really should have been recognised. A Clockwork Orange is a glaring omission being one of the most uniquely visual films of the year while The Devils is unique all around. McCabe And Mrs Miller is a more rain drenched Western than what you may expect, its set growing as the story progresses yet feels downbeat and used rather than crisp and new. THX 1138 of course has a dystopian coldness while Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory is the polar opposite – vibrant, colourful, and brimming with energy and life.

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My Winner: Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory

Let us know your winner in the comments!

Halloween II and III

*Originally written like 2001 or roundabouts when I had no clue what I was doing. Spoiler Alert – I still don’t. These are crappy reviews so I’ve stuck them both together for a double dose of pain.

Halloween II

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After the smash of Halloween it seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel. Carpenter’s films have a habit of ending with a cliffhanger, and fans wanted to see whether Michael would return. He does, just as Laurie is taken to a nearby hospital. Loomis is still on the prowl, and Michael follows Laurie to hospital intent on finishing his work, killing any unfortunate doctors, nurses or patients who get in his way. Once again Laurie and Michael are alone to chase and fight to the death.

Unfortunately this for the most part feels like a cash-in, and is a much inferior sequel complete with weaker performances and more elaborate deaths. There are good points though, Curtis and Pleasance are still great, while the setting is quite atmospheric. Many of the original cast come back for a short while, helping to keep us interested with the plot, and there are plenty of kills. However, much of the film lacks the tension which Carpenter can easily create, and we do not care about any of the new characters. Michael now seems to be entirely unstoppable which further distances us from the reality of the first film. This is okay, and definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the first.

Halloween III

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Firstly, yes this has little or nothing to do with the other Halloween films, and it is the worst so far. To gave it credit though it must be said that Carpenter wanted to take the series in this direction, telling a different story in a different film each Halloween. This was an ambitious and exciting idea which had potential, even if that potential was limited. Unfortunately this film is a mess, and flopped, ending Carpenter’s idea. Viewers were expecting more Myers mayhem and were disappointed by the complete change of direction here.

An evil toy maker decides to kill millions of children via his Halloween masks. He is the owner of the company Silver Shamrock, and infuses all the masks with black magic which will burn any child who wears it on Halloween night when a special jingle is played. After a successful advertisement campaign it seems that his mask is a massive hit, and his plan will be complete. Only Doctor Challis and Ellie can stop the evil, but will they?

This was the first Halloween movie I saw, when I was very young, and a few moments have stayed with me since then-  Cochran’s goons on patrol, killing anyone who gets in their way, and the jingle which is admittedly creepy, though a familiar tune. The idea is good, but it falls on its face through a combination of bad acting and poor storytelling, and in the end little makes sense. The shock ending is still good though, but its potential impact is decreased by the fact that we don’t care for the characters, that we don’t really meet any kids, and that we have become bored by the end. Little is explained, most of the deaths are bizarre, while sufficiently bloody. Plus the whole thing looks cheap and doesn’t have enough scares. If there had been a better cast, more thought with the story, and better direction it could have been a lot better. It even could have become an effective satire on Commercialism, especially during the holidays. For fans of the series, watch it once, but don’t expect much.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of the first Halloween sequels and their place in the series!

Rewind The Film

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

This song is for me the weakest of the band’s few songs which have been named after the album (or the album named after it). Like the rest of the album, it is slow and studied, and filled with melancholy – this one sadly feels too dull to me. I get the direction they wanted to take, and Richard Hawley is the perfect voice to fit the mood they were tryign to achieve. Still, I buy a Manics album and want to hear James sing. Hawley is of course preferable to Wire. It’s not terrible, but it is overlong. It has some nice little guitar parts before James does sing and as a whole the song gets much stronger when James does belt one out, strings coming in to join him. Everything around those moments is boring, for lack of a better word.

Rewind The Film: 2/Okay

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Let me know in the comments what you thought of the song, and if you haven’t heard it yet, click the link above!

Disney Songs – Pinocchio

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If that image doesn’t conjure up heartwarming nostalgic feelings, then I don’t know what will. That’s right folks, today I listen to all of the songs from Disney’s second masterpiece Pinnochio – some of which have gone on to become seminal and iconic pieces of pop culture. I, and I assume most of you, will be familiar with these ones so I’m also including some of the songs which didn’t make the final cut. Enjoy!

When You Wish Upon A Star‘. No other song is so associated with Disney as this one. The song frequently appears in the greatest movie song ever lists and critics usually rank it as the best Disney Movie song. It is a lovely song, hopeful, dreamy, and with an instantly memorable melody. I can’t say I like certain parts of the arrangement and backing vocals – things which later versions have removed or updated, but the core of the song is timeless and magical.

Little Wooden Head‘. This is a twee, fun little number with Gepetto talking and singing over tinkling, bouncy music which sounds like it has been produced by a music box. Better backing vocals then emerge to fill up a nice enough jingle, but it’s forgettable compared with the songs around it.

Give A Little Whistle‘. Another centerpiece for the movie and company, this merges old fashioned moral sentiment with a hopeful message – if you’re uncertain, give a little whistle and let conscience be your guide. Like many early Disney songs it’s little more than a brief jingle rather than a fully fledged song, but also like so many of them it’s unbearably catchy.

Hi Diddle Dee Dee‘. Honest John… well he was both honest and dishonest, and his lyrics here remain highly relevant today as every nobody clamours on top of each other to be a somebody – after all, it’s great to be a celebrity. The first Disney song by a bad guy, it’s unusually cheery and upbeat – but that is all part and parcel of the tempting nature of fame and the dark side – poor old Pinocchio wouldn’t be sucked in so badly if it wasn’t so seductive and innocent seeming on the surface.

I’ve Got No Strings On Me‘. I might like this song more if it wasn’t so effing high pitched. I think that may be biggest problem with the movie as a whole – it just hurts my ears. That being said, it’s another utterly timeless song with a few musical styles and interesting time changes, and even with all the ear-bleeding you’ll find yourself singing parts of it hours afterwards.

Hi Diddle Dee Dee Reprise’. Thief! Kidnap! Help!

When You Wish Upon A Star Reprise‘. So sad. So happy. Bittersweet? It’s the end, and a perfect on at that.

I’m A Happy Go Lucky Fellow‘. This one was written for Pinocchio but was left off and then included in Fun And Fancy Free. Honestly it suits the short rather than the movie it was originally intended for. It segues in nicely from the title track and of course it’s good to see Jiminy again. It’s a light and silly song – not much more than a piece of fluff, and not really very good with all those old trumpets and choral vocals I usually can’t stand.

Honest John‘. More of the same really, a self-explanatory song about the character with that horrible singing style I don’t like. It bounces up and down and moves quickly, but is broken up with the odd spoken part and sound effect which sound bizarre without any animation to go along with it – Hi Diddle Dee Dee clearly does the same job better.

As I Was Saying To The Duchess‘. A big swelling of strings, joined by brass for an epic opening. A summery string piece follows before the vocals begin. Funny lyrics sun in a funny voice. Brief.

Three Cheers For Anything‘. Wait wait wait. Is there where Pink Floyd got some of the lyrics for Another Brick In The Wall from? Wow, that’s a revelation or coincidence or something. It’s quite a light song, the music reminds me of Tom and Jerry, a nice drum section steadies the ship in the middle -nice, not necessary.

Monstro The Whale‘. Well, not exactly what I expected. This sounds like some camp 1960’s comedy. It also sounds like clothes shop muzak. It doesn’t make Monstro sound menacing or monstrous, but more like a cheeky wee scamp who’d steal your lunch money, then give you some change.

Turn On The Old Music Box‘. Sounds like Jiminy. A quaint, easy listening song with an old-fashioned feel and a desire to share even more old-fashioned stylings. There’s a catchy part in the middle, some swooning backing vocals… yeah, I could see this one appearing in the movie.

So, Pinocchio. Some more iconic songs, and a few interesting asides. Really, there are three songs here which you would want to bring along to the next world and share with the population. What, you’ve never had those fantasies? About being shot forward in space and time, or sent to another galaxy, and you can only bring limited music/movies/books/whatever with you? Yeah, based on that fantasy, there are only three songs which you could honestly take with you from this soundtrack, and only one of those is an absolute must. Say it ain’t so? Say it in the comments!

Best Cinematography – 1971

Official Nominations: Fiddler On The Roof. The French Connection. The Last Picture Show. Nicholas And Alexandra. Summer of ’42.

A decent bunch to choose from this year, with Oswold Morris picking up the official win for Fiddler On The Roof. It’s okay, with a few particular shots which stand out but it isn’t something I feel should get the win, especially given the competition. The French Connection is a much better choice, the gritty style perfected and peppered with some scenes made more iconic by the camera work. The Last Picture Show with it’s gorgeous black and white’s giving a feel of both nostalgia and a sense of an era fading away is another fine choice, while Nicholas And Alexandra is the expected epic nomination of the year. Summer Of ’42 falls into a similar bracket with The Last Picture Show, except offering heated colour and shots which spread into the distance like a summer’s day which never wants to end.

My Winner: The French Connection

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My Nominations: The French Connection. Summer of ’42. The Last Picture Show. A Clockwork Orange. Dirty Harry. Duel. A Fistful Of Dynamite. Vanishing Point. Walkabout.

I have to add a bunch of classics to my list – A Clockwork Orange being iconic for a variety of reasons, including John Alcott’s cinematography. Cinematography isn’t the first thing to pop into the mind when you think of Dirty Harry but it features consistently strong work throughout, while Duel is a film which relies heavily on how the camera moves and what it allows us to see. A Fisftul Of Dynamite is Leone and Western, this time with Giuseppe Ruzzolini helping out while Vanishing Point allows for free-flowing shots of cars and the stripped away highways of America. Finally, my winner is Walkabout with Nicholas Roeg showcasing the outback as equally dangerous, haunting, hypnotic, beautiful – a freedom which could swallow you whole.

My Winner: Walkabout

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Let us know in the comments which film of 1971 you would pick as the winner of Best Cinematography!

Hard-Boiled

*Originally written in 2004

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One of the true ‘must see’ action films of the Nineties, not only because it was the first to fully establish John Woo as the master of action movies and Chow Yun Fat as a superstar (at least in the West), but because it has had a massive influence on every action movie made since, and is easily one of the most entertaining, over the top, gung-ho action movies ever. Slick, stylish, violent, funny, clever, with interesting characters, a superior plot which will keep you guessing, and filled with set pieces, explosions and chases, Hard-Boiled is a genuine classic.

Chow Yun Fat stars as Tequila, a cop with a love of Jazz, a man whose skills are never questioned, but whose methods are sometimes checked as they have a tendency to end in death and demolition. He also enjoys the odd bit of existential musing, and is always trying to win back his love, who happens to be a superior within the force. The film opens with a fight between cops and arms dealers which ends in the death of Tequila’s partner. Tequila kills all possible subjects so they are left with no evidence as to who the boss is. We meet Tony, played by Tony Leung, who is one the arms dealer’s lead men. He does his job flawlessly, and at all costs, but doesn’t want to see his boss harmed. However, when a rival with greater ambition wants to recruit him, Tony double-crosses his old boss. Tequila intervenes and many more are killed. Tony and Tequila continue to come into contact with each other, and we learn that Tony isn’t who he appeared to be. Soon Tequila works out where the massive armoury is, and a massive gunfight ensues, taking up the last 40 minutes of the film. Will Tequila get revenge, will any more twists enter the story, who will make it out alive?

The film is incredibly clever for an action film, with a twisting near-convoluted plot, but this is all the more astounding when you witness the level of action which takes place. The set-pieces are almost overwhelming, with so much going on at one time they beg to be re-watched repeatedly. Each actor is convincing, and it seems Fat and Leung were born for these roles. The final hospital scene has some of the best, most exhilarating action ever filmed, and no-one is safe as patients, doctors, kids, cops, and bad guys are slaughtered. Almost every window is smashed, all manner of guns are fired, and Woo is on top form. His slow-motion style and balletic gun play have never been better, and there is one Steadicam shot which goes into a lift, moves between floors, and features many deaths and explosions, plus dialogue -it’s one of the most awesome things you’ll ever see and must have been a nightmare to film. Few action movies can suck the viewer in like this does, so that we care about the characters and are not just watching vacantly. Hard-boiled succeeds on all levels, and must be seen by all action fans. It is the benchmark of the genre.

Jeepers, my old reviews were all plot, weren’t they? Let us know in the comments what you think of Hard-Boiled and how it ranks alongside John Woo’s other films!