Shrek (dir. Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jensen) 2001

 

shrekShrek has just turned sixteen and it is now available on Netflix.  I remember having enjoyed it when it came out, so it is interesting to see how it has fared in the intervening years.

It has aged well. It is crammed full with jokes and these are still funny, the cultural references have remained relevant and the story is that rare mixture of knowing and sweet. The cast of fairytale characters are timeless and their lines are clever and likeable. The evil lord is wonderfully nasty without being either frightening or creepy.  The story has a nice uplifting moral tone and you are longing for the heroes to prevail. The animation and delivery are both well done, Eddie Murphy is particularly good as Donkey, how bittersweet to have your most enduring role as an animated ass!
This film won the first Oscar for Best Animated Film and it is a deserving opening winner. It is a big feat to have a movie that is principled and simple enough to entertain you as a child, but subversive and referential enough to provide a new set of pleasures when you watch with your own kids. I believe that I enjoyed it just as much now as I did then.

A lovely film that stands the test of time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher) 2011

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This is the Hollywood film adaptation of a hugely successful 2005 Swedish book. It follows a highly regarded 2009 Swedish movie of the same story. It is a brave undertaking to attempt the third retelling of a story that has already been done twice, so well and so recently.  However “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” acquits itself admirably – it is different enough to be interesting and stylish enough to be enjoyable.

The film is a thriller and it stars Daniel Craig, so comparisons are inevitable. He says that he worked hard not to be seen as James Bond in this film and the thrills are more psychological than action, but it still comes across as a more thoughtful installment of the 007 genre. If the film company did not want comparisons with that franchise, they should have avoided using the, admittedly very good, opening credits. Once you imagine  “What James Bond does on his holidays” at the start, the thought stays with you throughout the film.

I loved Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress and it was well deserved. The original title of the book in Swedish was “Men Who Hate Women” and Lisbeth is almost the woman who exacts revenge. In this version she is quite different from the character written in the book but she manages to keep the same attitude and demeanour.  The violence is pretty full-on, but it is an angry and aggressive story, so although I am generally not a fan of shocking brutality in films, there is a good argument here, that it is relevant to the narrative.

The acting throughout is admirable, Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as Martin. The scenery is gorgeous. The cinematography is lovely, this received an Academy Award nomination too.

The film is polished and sleek, beautiful to watch and directed with a cold detachment which adds, both to the climate in which it is set and to the chilling story it relates. It was nominated for five Oscars, it won the one for best film editing.

This is a professional, well made, efficient Hollywood movie. Recommended.

 

 

Sense and Sensibility (dir. Ang Lee) 1995

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Sense and Sensibility is a good film, but I believe that it is almost false advertising to call it by that name. The story is so changed from the book that, although the characters have the same names and the final result is the same, it is totally unrecognisable in places as the same story. Some quite major characters have been killed off.  John Middleton is now a widower and their young child no longer in the story.  Lucy Steele’s sister, who blabs the whole story if the illicit engagement, is not in the film. Hugh Grant is far too affable in character for the grumpy Edward Ferrars in the book. Alan Rickman too easily wins Marianne over after her disappointment in Willoughby.  In fact, in this film, almost the least charming character is Willoughby, who in the book wins over Marianne, and her mother, by his easy false charm.

The acting is good, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman are very good playing the romantic leads in a costume drama set in the 18th century. Emma Thompson is full of repressed emotion and Kate Winslett is fine as an impulsive teenager falling in love easily and recovering easily. Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie are wonderfully funny as Mr and Mrs Palmer.

There are some great moments of humour, the script has some wonderful lines. It is visually very attractive and there is much to admire in the period detail. A great deal of care and attention went into the making of this film and it shows throughout the movie.

It was nominated for seven Oscars. It won the one for best adapted screenplay. It was hugely popular and led to a revival of sales of Jane Austen’s novels and for these reasons it must be celebrated. I would probably have liked it more had I not read the novel itself so recently.

The film itself is most enjoyable but do go to see it as a Hollywood representation of upper class England in the late 1790s and not as a  faithful adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, the book.

20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills) 2016

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20th Century Women is an interesting dissertation on motherhood – from the point of view of a son.

It is thoughtful and thought provoking. It has three strong female characters all of them well rounded and likeable. All three of them are excellently played and I am surprised that none of them were nominated for an Academy Award. The male characters on the other hand are less fully built and a little more caricatured.

I enjoyed the direction of the movie, Mike Mills made the narrative almost unimportant compared to the development of the characters, but completed their arc by giving a short profile of each character as they were introduced and a short synopsis of their life after the movie at the conclusion. I found this satisfying.

The Soundtrack is an odd, but not unpleasant, combination of new wave, punk and easy listening. It has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and, you never know, it could win. The screenplay is funny. I liked this film, it passed two hours very pleasantly. I suspect though, that in 5 years time, it’s one of those movies that I will sit on front of, on Netflix, and say “Oh yes, I’ve seen this, and I think it was good!”

 

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (dir. Gareth Edwards) 2016

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I quite like the Star Wars franchise. I see all of them, but there are so many now and they are released in such a weird order that I don’t know whether this was a prequel to the first or the sequel to the third. Whatever it is, it is a very enjoyable stand alone movie.

I watched it in 3D in the I-Max in Waterloo. This is the largest screen in the UK, as they kept telling us, and although that may have enhanced the experience, the special effects are excellent.

Disney have taken over the series, so the aliens have become one level cuter, but this is a war film, so expect battle scenes. It’s not quite The Muppets remake Apocalypse Now, but a few more episodes down the line…. who knows.

I loved the strong female lead, Felicity Jones is great as Jyn. The storyline is simple yet strong, and the whole cast are very engaging. There are some funny moments in the film and the battle scenes had an interesting 1980s retro feel.

It has even been nominated for two Academy Awards, I hope it wins the one for best visual effects, they are very well done.

A very good addition to Star Wars canon.

La La Land – Damien Chazelle (2016)

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I am almost loathe to review this because so much has been written about it over the past few weeks, nevertheless here is my two cents worth.

I understand why this movie has had such mixed reviews. The plot has holes, the storyline is unlikely, the dialogue is stilted on occasion, the music is not quite jazz…..

However, I enjoyed its inventiveness, the cinematography is amazing, the soundtrack is pretty and the ending is perfect and touching. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are likeable and fully committed to their roles. Their singing and dancing is good too.

The opening sequence sets the scene well, if you don’t like that, you can leave early, because you won’t like the rest of the film – it has the best dance routine and it lets you know that you are going to touch reality only intermittently.

I particularly loved the complexity of the final scene, a definite homage to “An American in Paris”. This finale was never going to be universally acclaimed and Damien Chazelle must have realised this and decided to go for it anyway. It was a brave decision and this final song gives the film a  new depth and intensity.

The good parts of this film are so good that you want to overlook the less good bits. All in all it is one the best films that I have seen in years.

I hope it wins some Academy Awards; definitely best cinematography, probably best original score, possibly even best director and best film.

Jaws (dir. Stephen Spielberg) 1975

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This was on at the BFI as part of a Spielberg retrospective. The 450 seat auditorium was full on a Friday night for a 41 year old movie. That fact alone testifies to the strength of this film.

It was my first time seeing it and I was surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. It is a thriller that delivers thrills. It is the first time that I have heard gasps from the audience in a movie theatre in a very long time, the face in the boat is a genuine, jump back in your seat, moment. The character development is good and the script is excellent, it has some very funny moments to lighten the mood. The music is possibly the most famous film score ever and it matches the action perfectly. The only part of the movie that shows its age is the shark itself, but even this is interesting to see from a history of cinema perspective.

Jaws won 3 Academy Awards; editing, score and sound. The only surprise is that it didn’t win more. It regularly appears in lists of all-time best films. Having just seen it, 41 years late, its inclusion in those lists is fully justified.