So I turned 40 this year. My intent was to write a post or two to mark the occasion, but I had a few problems. The main one was starting a new job which currently consumes most of my waking hours, but there was also a question of what I should write. I quickly ruled out the idea of films based around the number 40, given that the list appeared to consist of:
- 40 Days And 40 Nights (with Josh Hartnett, not seen)
- The 40 Year Old Virgin (seen, not bad)
- This Is 40 (seen, rubbish and it clearly isn’t what 40 is about based on the last three months)
- 40 Carats (comedy from 1973 with Liv Ullmann and Gene Kelly about a divorcee engaged to a younger man – oh the scandal! Haven’t seen it)
- North Dallas Forty (an American football comedy drama with Nick Nolte and Charles Durning. Nope.)
- Forty Guns (a Sam Fuller B-movie western starring Barbara Stanwyck. Err…)
- Forty Shades Of Blue (it’s something about Russian music and Memphis and it’s got Rip Torn in it. Whatevs.)
- Er, that’s it
I’m sure any Pulitzer prize winning journalist with too much time on their hands and several online film memberships could have spun nostalgic gold out of that list; sadly I think the day I win a prize for my writing might be the same day that a frozen hell is darkened further by a flock of winged pigs passing overhead.
What I also ruled out was any thoughts of “The 40 Best Films I’ve Ever Seen”, which as we’ve established previously my film knowledge has some significant gaps in it. However, what would give more of an insight into me, warts and all, is the forty films that I’ve seen most. This is a list I’ve pulled together with the help of family and friends, and is by no means a record of quality. But perhaps what it does do is show how my film taste has / hasn’t evolved over the years to become the obsessive cinephile I am now. It also counts home viewing as well as cinema trips – in fact, I’ve only seen 19 of this list in a cinema.
That first problem – work obligations – mean that my 40th birthday is now several weeks in the past. So instead, I present this list in honour of the 4th anniversary of this blog, which occurred last weekend. In that four years I’ve written over 500 posts and watched exactly 666 films at the cinema. I can assure you that there’s no demonic messages to be found if you read this post backwards. **
So here, I present for your reading pleasure in chronological order the list of the forty films I’ve watched most often in my lifetime. EDIT: I cannot stress strongly enough that this isn’t a list of my favourite films – I think, even now with my moderate film knowledge no more than a dozen of this list would make it on to an all-time top 40 – but more a documentation, for better or worse, of my viewing habits in my first four decades. Feel free to judge me, or tell me of your own obscure favourites in the comments.
I returned home from the village shop this evening to be confronted by Mrs Evangelist. For some reason, I’ve not been seeing my texts recently when they come in, so I’ve missed a request for shopping or to pay the window cleaner. Got back to the house just over an hour ago, to discover she’d been frantically trying to text me again. “Did you get my texts? Have you heard? Philip Seymour Hoffman’s dead.”
This isn’t an attempt to be facetious, or to diminish the memory of possibly the finest actor of our generation, but when my wife couldn’t wait the ten minutes needed for me to get home it shows both how shocking it is to have an actor of such talents cruelly taken away from us at the age of just 46, and that even my wife and her more general knowledge of film is aware of what a rich talent Hoffman represented and means to the likes of film fans like myself.
I’ve been writing this blog for three and a half years now, and in that time this is only the second time that I’ve been moved to write a tribute to an actor who’s just died, the other being Leslie Nielsen. While most losses of actors are deeply saddening, and it feels no time at all since Paul Walker was also killed at a young age – heck, it feels no time since we lost Heath Ledger well before his time – Philip Seymour Hoffman was something else, one of the most versatile talents of our generation and the pain feels so much greater for the knowledge of all of those film opportunities now lost to us forever.
Part of the reason I write tributes so sparingly is the feeling that so many others, often those who knew him personally and had worked with him, have the opportunity to express their feelings through news media and the internet in ways more meaningful and often more profound than I can manage. But just occasionally, someone who’s had such a dramatic effect on my own consumption of film needs to be celebrated.
He won an Oscar for Capote, of course, but he elevated pretty much every film he was ever in. I first came to know him as Twister’s Dusty and Boogie Nights’ Scotty, and he was at home in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson – including Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and his imperious performance in The Master – as he was in blockbuster like Mission: Impossible 3 and the Hunger Games series. He’s been at the core of some of my favourite films of the past few years, from Mary And Max to Synecdoche, New York and he was always a standout in solid movies such as Doubt and Charlie Wilson’s War. As I’ve started to catch up on films I’ve missed over the years, it’s always a delight when he turns up, and his career spans Almost Famous to The Big Lebowski and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead to Moneyball. I could carry on listing films for two or three more paragraphs and there isn’t a duff note among any of the performances.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, thank you. You will be greatly missed.
Will keep the preamble short here – this is my annual trawl through the legal (and slightly less legal) clips from the year’s best movies from a video website that rhymes with ZooLube. (I’m not sure what you’d use that for, but hopefully there’s no clips of it.) Some of these might get taken down, they’re not all great quality, a few contain MAJOR spoilers – this is your only warning if you don’t want to know the cameos in Thor or This Is The End or the plot twist in Iron Man 3, for example – and there might be the occasional use of strong language and a man with his privates in between his legs, so apologies in advance. I do tend to update these whenever I can if better versions become available. Get ’em while they’re hot.
Nearly three weeks ago, the Competition Commission published both some initial, and then more detailed, findings into the purchase of City Screen Limited by Cineworld Group plc, thus putting Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas under the same ownership. This has been deemed by the commission to have created a substantial lessening of competition (SLC), and the only solution on the table at the moment is to force Cineworld to sell off one of its cinemas in Aberdeen, Bury St. Edmunds and Cambridge. There’s been much talk in the last two weeks about protecting what the Picturehouses provide in terms of quality, differentiation, accessibility and ancillary services – not least from me, as I helped to start a petition which has gained 10,000 signatures in a week and a half – but all that seems to be pointing to the logical solution being to sell off the Cineworld in each area. Right? WRONG.
I can say for certain that this blog wouldn’t exist without cinemas that offered the quality and diversity of the Picturehouses, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have existed without the Cineworlds either. Over the years, I’ve blogged on some crazy feats of cinematic endurance, such as seeing seven films in a day or 100 in a year, but stunts like that wouldn’t be possible without the benefits of a Cineworld card. But I’m far from the only person who sees films regularly in a cinema, and if you’re a Cineworld member the benefits are plenteous. The current price of a Cineworld membership is £15.90 a month and in the vast majority of Cineworld cinemas, that’s less than the price of two full adult tickets. You can then see as many films as you like, and that opens up a whole world of possibilities. And if you think I’m the only person taking advantage of consuming films in large quantities, then take a look at Cineworld’s twitter feed to see the kind of company I keep. The first year I saw 100 films in a year? Cost me just over £300 for the tickets.
If this is starting to sound like an advert for Cineworld, then this next paragraph is only going to make matters worse. Any members get 10% off concessions, which instantly starts to make the overpriced popcorn that little bit less overpriced. There are also Unlimited members screenings, where at least once a month anyone with an Unlimited card can get a ticket to see a big name film before it’s on general release. I’ve been to a few this year, and the likes of Trance and 2 Guns have been packed out. (And because it’s an Unlimited showing, there’s no charge, of course.) If you’ve been a member for 12 months or more, then it’s an automatic upgrade to Unlimited Premium, which means there’s nothing extra to pay for 3D films – normally a surcharge of around £1.50, in line with most other cinemas – and you now get 25% off any of the concessions, at which point a bag of sweets will cost you around the same as it would in a high end supermarket, rather than an average cinema.
But of course, the Commission haven’t taken memberships into account when judging the risks or benefits to consumers. Which is why they believe the cinema chain doing the most in the country to encourage loyalty in its members and to give them significant reductions in return is likely to increase its prices by 50p or less in an effort to drive customers up the road to the Picturehouse, in turn increasing the overall profits to the company. Yes, seriously. (Picturehouse being the only other chain of more than 10 cinemas in this country to have a membership scheme which gives direct discounts on actual tickets. ODEON have a points club, but you even have to use your points to pay their online booking fee. Anyone who’s publicly stated they would rather have an ODEON than a Cineworld, and I’ve seen a few, should think on that for a moment.)
Now, you might think that I only know that the grass is green on my side of the fence. But travelling for work as much as I do, I also visit cinemas of the other chains when I’m in the unfortunate position of working somewhere without a Cineworld or Picturehouse in reasonable distance and still want to catch a film. So in the past three years I’ve visited the following cinemas that aren’t a Cineworld.
Vue: Cambridge, Leeds, Edinburgh, Cheshire Oaks, West End, Romford
Odeon: Covent Garden, West End, Panton St, Newcastle
Showcase: Coventry, Peterborough
Empire: Leicester Square
Others: BFI Southbank / IMAX, ICA, Prince Charles, The Aubin, The Barbican, Sheffield Screen Room, The Luxe (Wisbech)
[Picturehouse: Cambridge, Bury St. Edmunds, Hackney, Stratford, Liverpool]
I’d like to think I have a fair basis for judging the on site quality of other cinemas, and there is nothing in terms of the experience of visiting any of these cinemas that leads me to believe any benefits of one of them taking over one or both of my local Cineworlds would outweigh the cost. What all of these cinemas have in common for me is that I’ve only seen one film in them per visit, and rarely – if ever – visited more than one of them in a given month. That’s the reality of what could be facing residents of Cambridge and Bury St. Edmunds if we lose one or both. (Aberdeen has two Cineworlds, so the path of what to do there seems a little clearer, as being required to sell one cinema would leave them with at least one Cineworld.)
So what does this mean for the quality argument? Surely there aren’t enough good films around to justify seeing more than two a month anyway? As evidence to the contrary for that point, I now present a sample list from the last five years of high profile films, most of which I would rate highly, that I wouldn’t have seen in a cinema without the Cineworlds of Cambridge or Bury St. Edmunds had I been forced to restrict myself to just the two films that month I most wanted to see.
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Charlie Bartlett, Adulthood, Choke, Doubt, Paranormal Activity, Where The Wild Things Are, I Love You Phillip Morris, How To Train Your Dragon, Heartbreaker, Cyrus, Back To The Future re-release, Rango, The Inbetweeners Movie, The Awakening, The Hunger Games, Magic Mike, Pitch Perfect, The Impossible, Cloud Atlas, Olympus Has Fallen, 2 Guns, About Time
But that’s not all that the Cineworlds offer. Outside of four cinemas in the West End, you can use your membership card at any cinema. So that three year list of cinemas from earlier? Here’s my comparable Cineworld list to the other chains from earlier.
Cineworld: Cambridge, Bury St. Edmunds, Huntingdon, Haverhill, Enfield, West India Quay, The O2 Greenwich, Runcorn, St. Helens, Stevenage, Wood Green
And if you add those nine other Cineworlds not affected, then the list of films I wouldn’t have seen without my Cineworld card expands once more:
Black Dynamite, Barney’s Version, Snowtown, Moneyball, Coriolanus, Young Adult, The Grey, The Descendants, A Dangerous Method, The Hunter, Anna Karenina, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Zero Dark Thirty, Spring Breakers, Byzantium, Behind The Candelabra, The East
And that’s just the good stuff. I get to sit through all kinds of nonsense, from Transformers: Dark Of The Moon to Gnomeo And Juliet, safe in the knowledge that I’m paying a flat monthly fee and I’m effectively seeing these films for free, typically at a rate of around 10 films a month. Does this sound like the kind of cinema operation to you about to engage in a large scale attempt to discourage customers away from its cinemas?
If you don’t want to lose Cineworlds in Cambridge or Bury St. Edmunds either, you only have until 17:00 on Tuesday 10th September (tomorrow at the time of writing) to make your feelings known. Contact them at CineworldCityScreen@cc.gsi.gov.uk to make sure they understand there’s no easy solutions to this issue, only a whole host more problems if they carry on their current course, and it’s consumers – not Cineworld themselves – who are the most likely to lose out in all this.
Who’s your favourite director? Spielberg? Scorcese? Maybe the Coens or David Fincher? For me, one man who stands above all of his contemporaries and has made some of the best films of the last decade is Christopher Nolan. Despite the fact that a number of my favourite directors have already delivered outstanding works this year, including Steve McQueen and Wes Anderson, my anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises couldn’t be higher. Nolan’s last three films are all comfortably 10/10 films in my eyes and while Inception and The Dark Knight are fantastic, The Prestige was my favourite film of the last decade. I saw the outstanding prologue at the IMAX in London last year, and tomorrow I’ll be heading down to London to see the remainder of the film. While I get a thrill from seeing just about anything at the cinema, I knew from the first day of January that this would be one of the highlights of my cinema year.
Then I got up this morning and put on the news.
In a week when the internet has been abuzz with the first reviews of the new film, then with attention seekers posting fake reviews or inflammatory comments, and in some circles even holding a certain opinion cannot be done without judgement, the death of twelve people at a cinema in Aurora in Colorado, only twenty miles from Columbine, puts all of that into desperately sharp relief. In the early hours of the morning, a man walked into a cinema and opened fire with a catalogue of weapons, managing to shoot around one in four people in attendance, twelve of them so far fatally. Words simply cannot express the senselessness of this tragedy, a loss of human life on a tragic scale, all the more so given that these people were simply there looking to enjoy themselves and do what I hope to do tomorrow, to escape the rigours of life for an hour or three and immerse themselves in another world.
But from the moment the first reports came in, this has been described by the the majority of news organisations in some form or another as the Batman shooting. It would be easy to think that this was a random act, a young man simply following in the footsteps of too many others who have sprung to notoriety by their actions, but the media would rather it wasn’t. By immediately reinforcing the association with Batman, the implication is immediately made, and will be harder to shake given that the perpetrator is reported to have worn a face-covering gas mask and is now being reported as claiming that he is “The Joker”, that this is in some way driven by the content of the genre of the very film that the crowd had gathered to watch (and ignoring the fact that The Joker first appeared in published media seventy-two years ago).
I’ve already made such an association myself, in mentioning Columbine in an earlier paragraph. But at that level it matters little, the crimes separated by almost as many years as they are miles and sharing little other than the futility and tragedy of their actions. What matters now are that the actions of one man have transformed the lives of so many others for ever, and left another association in the minds of many between violence in the entertainment media and in the real world which some struggle to distinguish between.
The reason for mentioning Columbine is to wonder how much has changed. I personally don’t believe that violent movies or video games are responsible for creating real life monsters such as these, but at the time it opened the debate once again both in America and around the world about not only the freedom of expression, but also the deeply rooted Constitutional right to bear arms. Both are long standing principles, and neither has changed in any real sense with over a decade of distance from the disaster in Columbine. We find ourselves here again, and while I cannot believe that this will motivate change any more than other previous tragedies have done in the culture of America of the wider world – whether it should or not is a point for debate that’s not really appropriate to today – but I can’t help but wonder how many people will be looking over their shoulders somewhere in the world when, and if, they settle down to watch a film this weekend.
It’s not the first time that something I love deeply in my life has become tainted with tragedy. On a Saturday afternoon in April over twenty years ago, I picked up a small radio and disappeared off into the bathroom, the only quiet haven in my family’s busy house, to listen to commentary on an important football match between Nottingham Forest and my beloved Liverpool. The commentary had lasted barely six minutes before it was interrupted; it seemed to be another unfortunate example of the violence which had occasionally gripped football during most of my childhood, not least when thirty-nine people were killed in fighting at the European Cup final in Brussels four years earlier between Juventus and Liverpool.
It quickly became clear that this was something entirely different, and the disaster at the Hillsborough stadium that afternoon not only claimed ninety-six innocent lives, but also fundamentally changed the face of football in this country. Somehow, the players fought through the emotional pain of that day and picked up the trophy they were competing for, the best tribute they could possibly muster. The following summer, I went to London twice to visit Wembley Stadium to watch Liverpool in action in pre-season matches, watching the match through the metal grill of the high fence erected to keep the hooligans off the field, but manoeuvring myself whenever possible so I could clearly see the action through the small gap in the fence where a gate had been opened, so that if something untoward happened, at least this time fans could escape and not be crushed to death.
There are some parallels, albeit small ones, between the events that occurred that day in Hillsborough and through what followed it, and what happened in Aurora earlier today. On both occasions, fans and families had gathered together to share the experience of enjoying something they loved dearly, only for tragedy to intrude forever in their lives. I pray that those who have suffered a deep loss in today’s events may eventually find some peace, knowing that so many of the families of Hillsborough have never had their closure. But while football has been able to find ways to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy, I’m not sure anything less than turning cinema foyers in half the world into the same kind of security process that you see in the strictest airports could remove the possibility of this happening again, even though one would hope against hope that this is purely an isolated incident.
There was also an unpleasantness in the media in the wake of Hillsborough, where some publications instantly leapt on the Liverpool fans and attempted to castigate them for a role in the immediate aftermath of the disaster which turned out to be entirely fictitious. Emboldened by the fact that a small minority of hooligans had dragged Liverpool’s reputation into the mud after Heysel, they saw fit to publish stories that fans had urinated on victims, picked the pockets of the dead and attacked those trying to help others. It was easy to try to brand these victims with the stigma of previous tragedies, but it wasn’t actually in any way true and only deepened the pain not only of those immediately affected, but by a whole city. Whenever such a disaster with media connections occurs, it’s only a matter of time before someone questions the role of the likes of Christopher Nolan in making such “entertainments” and making acts of violence acceptable in the minds of those who know no better, but Nolan and his contemporaries, and indeed the fictional characters they create, are no more responsible for the creation of such despicable acts of reality than you or I. Maybe we all just need someone to blame when something so wretched happens, whether that’s right or not.
I’m not sure any of this makes sense, and by that I don’t just mean the devastating loss of life in Aurora, but also my attempt to reconcile in my own mind a tragedy from over twenty years ago with much more recent ones, but I hope you’ll forgive my own need to try to pour out my feelings in a hope of making some understanding of them, at least for my own benefit. My overriding feeling of Hillsborough was one of helplessness – so many people with a similar obsession were suffering, and there was nothing I could do except sit, hundreds of miles away, and attempt to come to terms with it with my friends. I can only hope that people are not deterred from watching The Dark Knight Rises, or indeed any other film, this weekend wherever in the world they are watching it, and that they can do so not only in comfort but in safety, but there’s little that I can do to make it otherwise. I don’t know if this Christopher Nolan film will be a fourth 10/10 in a row – earlier this week I had conclude that it didn’t really matter, and I’m more certain of that now than ever. Given that the entire ethos of my blog is to encourage people to the cinema to watch movies, I feel even more compelled to do this today, and hope that rather than being wrapped in fear, cinema can remain the escape that it should be. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy whatever you do this weekend.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: The following blog is rated 18 for strong language, imagery, and a discussion that’s probably not going to interest anyone much under 17. Seriously, if you’re even the slightest bit squeamish and haven’t seen David Cronenberg’s The Fly, read on with care.
Forget your Harry Potters and your Twilights, they’re old news. The latest tweenage sensation, the young adult novel The Hunger Games, will be unleashed on us all in just a week. Well, strictly speaking, 99.92% of The Hunger Games will be released on the UK in just a week, for the distributor has taken the decision to take out seven seconds to receive a 12A rating instead of a 15. This isn’t the first time that this has happened this year, with The Woman In Black similarly cut for its release last month, this time losing six seconds of its run time. Should we care that we’re losing an amount of time that isn’t really practical enough to do anything with?
I never saw Star Wars in the cinema. I was three when it first came out, and despite seeing The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi frequently and repeatedly on the big screen, I never managed to make it to a showing of Star Wars. Sure, when Episode IV: A New Hope: Special edition made it into cinemas in 1997 I went not once but twice; but it wasn’t my Star Wars, the film I’d grown up on. It had Greedo shooting first and much of the final dogfight had been changed and a whole host of other changes that, every time they came up took me out of my enjoyment of the film. Those parts that were unchanged, it was fantastic to see on the big screen. But for me it wasn’t the experience I’d craved.
I am now reconciled to the fact that I’ll never see Star Wars in its original, unedited format in a cinema; at least, not while George Lucas is alive. While some of the changes in the later films, especially Empire, were undoubtedly for the better, others weren’t, and the most comfort I have from my DVD collection is the poor quality versions of the original film that Lucas saw fit to allow us to have, almost like naughty children being scolded and not allowing us to have anamorphic transfers. Never forget that Star Wars are Lucasfilm productions, and the customer isn’t always right – not when the director knows better.
I was twenty-five when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out. I queued for an hour to get the best seat in the first showing the evening it came out, and I went back to see it three times. It’s easy, nearly thirteen years on, to be stuck in a particular mindset about the film: this is how many, if not most people, would react to the mere mention of The Phantom Menace these days.
But that’s not how I remember it, Star Wars fanboy that I am (and I bought a toy lightsaber and played with it for the first time after The Phantom Menace; my flatmate and I went at it like Obi-Wan and Darth Maul until they were just misshapen lumps of plastic). Even if I wasn’t a ridiculous optimist, I would still want to believe that a film I saw four times in the cinema had some redeeming features, but there’s a risk that the backlash has gone on for so long that any merit of the first prequel might have been lost a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
There must have been some good features to the film; let’s not forget that the backlash only started when people saw the film itself. When the teaser trailer hit, the majority of people felt more excitement than anything, that their childhood could be revisited and the magic recaptured. Watching the teaser trailer again, it does have a slight “sow’s purse from pig’s ear” feel about it, but many summer blockbusters these days struggle to stitch together even two minutes of entertaining highlights from their two or more hours. Here’s what started the excitement all those years ago:
So now The Phantom Menace is back in cinemas. Except it’s now in 3D, and Yoda’s been replaced with a digital puppet, more in keeping with the look of the final two prequels. So now I’ll never even see the original Phantom Menace on the big screen again. Think that’s a bad thing? Here I present ten reasons why you might want to part with a small amount of your hard earned cash to see this on the silver screen once again.
1. John Williams’ best in series music
The one constant throughout the six Star Wars films has been the music of John Williams. The finest composer of film scores of his generation has been consistently outstanding throughout the twenty-eight years of Star Wars films, but The Phantom Menace actually saw him at the peak of his powers. Duel Of The Fates takes the huge orchestral sound of the original trilogy, adds in a choir (singing a Welsh poem in Sanskrit, fact fans) and embodies everything that’s been so outstanding about his scores: it has the drama of themes such as Luke and Leia, the bombast of the original Star Wars theme and the ominous threat of the Imperial March, all rolled into one. It’s also one of the few tunes that you can do air timpani to. It’s so good I actually put it on my imaginary Desert Island list.
2. The three way, four blade lightsaber fight
It made Mark Hamill jealous, it made an action star out of Liam Neeson for the next ten years and it set a standard that the rest of the prequels could never quite live up to. The Phantom Menace contains the best lightsaber fight of the whole Star Wars sextology, and frankly one of the best swordfights ever committed to celluloid, the only shame being that there was so much going on elsewhere that this was intercut with three other plot lines, slightly diminishing the effect. (The less said about the incredibly daft ending, where Darth Maul stands and watches while he gets chopped in half, the better.)
3. Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson is appearing in a sequel to Taken this year. Liam Neeson will be sixty years old this year. Take in those two facts for a moment – it has to be the latter fact that’s harder to swallow. Neeson dominates the film whenever he’s on screen, even the soft Irish brogue carrying an authority (and a particular disdain reserved for Jar-Jar) that instantly marks him out as top quality Jedi material. You can’t help but feel if Qui-Gonn hadn’t taken one in the gut from the end of Darth Maul’s lightsaber that he wouldn’t have stood for stroppy teenage Anakin’s nonsense, or would have just pushed him off the nearest high rise in Coruscant if he got too out of control.
So often in double acts, one of the pair commands so much more respect than the other. Think of Wallace and Gromit, or Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. So it’s the case with R2-D2, who’s always in the right place at the right time and might actually do more than any other single individual in terms of heroic deeds and derring-do across the trilogy, starting here with saving the ship while all other droids are getting blasted into space dust.. His no-nonsense approach might rub C-3PO up the wrong way sometimes, but if there’s one robot you’d want by your side in a crisis, it’s this one. How on earth Uncle Owen didn’t pick him out of the line up is anyone’s guess. Useless.
5. At home with the Darths
There are always two, apparently, which might explain why it’s taken them 1,000 years to be able to rule the galaxy. But in this case, the two are an excellent team, both with strong qualities. Darth Maul is the muscle of the operation, handy in a fight but also with a head ideal for scaring small children and opening bottles. Undoubtedly the best thing about Return Of The Jedi was Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor, so it’s also gratifying to see that George Lucas knows how to get some things right, giving McDiarmid an increasingly central role in the prequels. He’s satisfyingly smarmy when advising Padmé but also has the air of, well, menace required for his brief appearances as Darth Sidious, and his presence is one of the highlights of the prequels in general.
6. Samuel L. Motherf***** Jackson
Oh to be as famous and popular as Samuel L. Jackson. Having expressed an interest in being in a Star Wars film, he was approached by casting director Robin Gurland, and by the second film was even getting to pick his own lightsaber colour. Between him and Liam Neeson, the Jedi were actually believable as a force to be reckoned with.
7. The wonderful wizard that’s Oz
It was also an ideal opportunity to bring back everyone’s favourite short-assed, frog-faced Jedi master. The only slight disappointment was that Phantom Menace Yoda was intended to look younger, but instead he just looked as if he’d spent most of the last eight hundred years getting high. (Now that’s a film I’d pay to see.)
8. I’M BRIAN BLESSED!
Yes, everyone’s favourite shouty man gets to turn up infrequently and spout random bollocks. Somehow it sounds so much more believable when he says it than when Jar-Jar does.
9. The scenery’s lovely
Coruscant looks a bit The Fifth Element-y at times, but Naboo’s cities are beautiful and you can’t fault any aspect of the production design. What me, grasping at straws? Absolutely not. Which leads me to:
10. Look, Jawas!
With all that said and done, if you believe these reasons are enough to overlook midichlorians, comedy fighting robots, the incessant casual racism, Natalie Portman being turned into a bad actress in the space of 135 minutes, Jake Lloyd repeatedly shouting comments that would have been anachronistic in an Enid Blyton book and, not forgetting, Jar-Jar Binks and all of the other reasons that The Phantom Menace is so universally loathed these days, then by all means part with your cash, and I would argue that no-one could fault you for doing so. I think, though, four times was enough for me and the promise of an added dimension is still one or two short of the storytelling dimensions that we were all hoping for pre-1999. Until Mr Lucas finds some magic way of sorting out those dimensions, I think I’ll be staying at home.
Coming in 2013: Absolutely No Reasons Whatsoever Why Attack Of The Clones Isn’t Irredeemably Awful
Warning: spoilers abound for Independence Day, which you’ll have watched by now if you were ever going to, and Battle: Los Angeles, which you’ll not watch if you have any sense. Which apparently, I don’t.
I’ve been watching films at an increasingly insane rate for the past sixteen years, and in that time styles and fashions have changed. Cutting edge directors push the boundaries of what’s possible on film, dramas get more intense and big explodey films get bigger and explodier. But over that time, it feels as if the quality of the smaller films has maintained and, if anything, improved, but somehow the biggest films, with the occasional Inception-shaped exception, seem to have been declining in quality. This left me doing something on Sunday that I’d never thought possible: pining for a big invasion movie of the quality of Independence Day.
News reached us yesterday that Bond 23 is on its way in approximately, oh, about 667 days or so. Good news everyone! Daniel Craig is due to return as Bond and, as entirely expected because it was announced before MGM ran out of pennies, Sam Mendes will tell him where to put his gun. I will, of course, be near the front of the queue when it’s released, for what will be the seventh Bond I’ve seen on the big screen. Thanks to my age and the tragic fact that, between The Black Cauldron in 1985 and Speed in 1994 I saw only one film in the cinema, my childhood passed entirely untroubled by seeing Commander Bond on the big screen.
Of course, for the last half of that period there was nothing new to actually miss, given the gigantic rights wrangle that engulfed the series and stopped us getting Bond 17 with giant robots made by Disney. (At least, if Wikipedia is to be believed.) Nonetheless, all of my childhood understanding was based around the Bonds that were on heavy rotation on ITV while I was growing up, so my understanding of what it was to be a good Bond was based on one man – Roger Moore.
The suave sophistication, the safari suits, the arched eyebrows and the innuendos that bordered on filth; this is what it was to be a man in the Seventies, or indeed early Eighties when I was watching. I was also slightly crippled by growing up before the advent of the VCR and having such thing as a bedtime; in particular, my first viewing of The Spy Who Loved Me was cut short by this parental annoyance. I did manage to put it off just long enough for a car to be involved in a really long chase and then the car drove off a pier and went underwater and then it was like a submarine and it had a scanner thing and then it fired out a missile and it blew up a helicopter!! BRILLIANT! I do think it was fairly pointless sending me to bed at this point, as I was so fundamentally over-stimulated that I stayed awake for what felt like hours, then dreamed of Lotus Esprits and men with metal teeth.
And so it was that finally, in 1995, my first ever big screen Bond experience arrived, in the form of Goldeneye. After such a long wait, anticipation could have been fatally high, especially after this fantastic teaser trailer had been getting my excitement inflated for months;
As it turns out, the only blemish of any kind was Eric Serra’s score, which is an abomination against man and nature; thankfully John Altman was brought in to rescore a few key sequences, including the tank chase through St. Petersberg. Of course this was what a Bond should be like: gruff, Irish and with a hard stare and a nasal monotone.As I stumbled out into the night after having watched it for the first time, I had a good look around, then hummed the theme loudly to myself as I skipped up the road, pausing occasionally in a doorway to put my hand and fingers into a gun shape and imagine I was about to get the drop on 006. I also did this the second time I saw it at the cinema. And the third. And also possibly the fourth.
Casino Royale heralded yet another new era, and landed when my cinema addiction had finally begun to exert its vice-like grip. Finally, it felt like a grown up Bond film, with interplay and decent dialogue for Bond and his lady and stunts that were well thought out and well executed. We’ll ignore the product placement so gratuitous that I think the backs of my retinas had sponsorship on them, which has blighted all of my cinematic Bond-age, because it’s time to start getting excited again. By the time the nights are drawing in next year, either the little kid or the grown man in me, or maybe even both, are going to be very happy. Fingers crossed.
I’ve been writing this blog for a little over six months now, and in that time I’ve not been compelled to comment on the passing of any of the great movie stars who we’ve lost, mainly because others have done it so eloquently. But this morning, I awoke to the news that one of the stars of my all-time favourite comedy, in a movie that served to reinvent him for the last thirty years of his career, has died at the grand old age of 84.
Leslie Nielsen became famous for his deadpan comedy style, and it’s easy to underestimate the skill required to pull this off successfully. Indeed, I wondered how much was down to him and how much to the writers, especially after seeing an episode of Columbo from the Seventies in which Nielsen appeared. Watching with a friend one Sunday afternoon, Nielsen’s straight-faced delivery and tendency to glide in at the side of frame had us in hysterics, and it would be a shame of thirty years of comedy had tarnished his more serious roles.
But I’m sure it’s because he was so good at comedy. I only saw four of Nielsen’s movies at the cinema, and sadly that list includes two Scary Movies, Spy Hard and Superhero Movie. But Superhero Movie did, if nothing else, help to convince me of Leslie’s actual talent – about 4000% better than anyone around him, you could see how effortless he made things appear. My regret is that I’ve never get gotten the ability to take in Airplane! or The Naked Gun with a cinema audience, especially one coming to those movies fresh. The gift of shared laughter is one to be treasured, and Leslie Nielsen has handed out his fair share of treasures over the years.
At least we got to enjoy three Naked Gun movies in the end. One of the great tragedies of twentieth century comedy is that Police Squad was cancelled after only six episodes. People talk of the quality of twenty-first century television, but these were six of the densest and most finely crafted half hours of TV put together. If you’ve never sat and experienced them, for once I’m going to recommend a TV series to you; here’s the first act of one episode to get you started, but you’d better not come back until you’ve hunted down the rest.
Even to this day, I head to the shops and call out to my wife, “See you shortly.” She ever unfailingly replies,”OK, and stop calling me Shortly.” Leslie Nielsen, you will be much missed.