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.
(Mrs Evangelist received this Easter egg from a friend, in case you were wondering.)
The Easter Egg Review:
The Review: “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.”
Recognise it? It’s the narration from Happy Man, the random black guy who wanders into shot like a Morgan Freeman tribute act in Pretty Woman at either end of the film. Pretty Woman has become an all time classic in many eyes, taking two unlikely bedfellows – big business and prostitution – which actually have distinct parallels. Somehow, those two feel an easier marriage than rock music and the musical, which in theory should work better together. Now, I’m an expert proponent of the air guitar, wielding an imaginary axe as well as the next man, but at the same time I’m also a fan of musical theatre (not, in this case, a euphemism), but while the two share musical notes and a tendency for the flamboyant, they feel like two magnets with the same magnetic pole, both with a strong attraction but unable to connect to each other. Can Rock Of Ages prove this theory wrong?
No. No it can’t. What Rock Of Ages actually consists of are a succession of rock standards sung in a musical style, stripping away the essence of what made them great in the first place. There’s a few, like Extreme’s “More Than Words” that have a softer rock style which make an easier transition, and a couple of performances on stage where the song can be played straight rather than musical-ised. The biggest success on that front comes from the biggest film star in the world playing the biggest rock star in the world: Tom Cruise lets his hair down and has an absolute blast as Stacee Jaxx, accompanied everywhere by a baboon and ending up face down in his own swimming pool with absolute grace, he does a fair job with the big songs and it’s impossible to take your eyes off him, especially in his interview with Malin Ackerman’s smitten journalist.
The rest of the cast, not so much. Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough are utterly forgettable as the star-crossed lovers, doing a moderate job with the songs and very little else. Catherine Zeta Jones attempts to take huge chunks out of the scenery at any opportunity, sharing almost no screen time with her husband Bryan Cranston while the movie attempts to work out which of them, or indeed Paul Giamatti’s manager, should be the antagonist. Most of the laughs, such as they are, are left to Russell Brand and Alec Baldwin as the rock promoters, and if you can get past Brand’s accent – attempting to do for Birmingham accents what Dick Van Dyke did for Cockernees – then he and Baldwin make a reasonable double act, especially in their unexpected duet.
The key difference between the likes of Pretty Woman, and indeed director Adam Shankman’s previous work on the Hairspray remake and the episodes of Glee he’s directed, are that there’s a sense of fun sorely lacking in places. Rock Of Ages has neither the true camp value of the best tongue-in-cheek musicals or the best rock performances, and there are long stretches where you long for something – anything – interesting or just plain different to happen. Overall it’s enjoyable, but it’s unlikely to be inspiring singalongs in London cinemas twenty years from now, and the plot is so simplistic that it struggles to justify the two hour run time. The key similarity between this and Pretty Woman are how dangerously easy it is to fall into the sex industry in Hollywood; apparently a few days working in a bar, hanging round on the Hollywood sign and some relationship difficulties are just about enough to push you over the edge. Take heed, any young girls – some dreams come true, some don’t, but keep on dreaming. Just make sure it’s a dull sex dream with Tom Cruise in it.
Why see it at the cinema: Russell Brand’s Woilver’ampton accent has to be heard to be believed, and there are a couple of good songs sung well (as well as several more good songs sung quite averagely). If you hoped never to hear Journey’s now ubiquitous Don’t Stop Believing again as long as you lived, then move right along, nothing to see here.
The Score: 6/10
The Review: Some franchises manage to knock out films like they’re going out of fashion; others prefer to take their time, attempting to mature like a fine wine. It took us seventeen years to see four Alien films, eighteen years to get to four Die Hards and ten more than that again for the fourth Indiana Jones film to roll around. There’s often a feeling, especially when looking through lists like that, that by the time a franchise gets to number four it might not as well have bothered. Even if you have a strong central idea, finding ways to take the story for a fourth trip round the block can be tricky; when your third film was five years ago, and your star had such a public bout of crazy that audiences stayed away in droves, then you might be forgiven for thinking that someone, somewhere, was still channelling that crazy. But you know what? Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol might be up there with the best in the franchise, possibly even the best, so how did that happen?
First off, it has a lot to do with the star. He might do a passable impersonation of a Tasmanian devil on a couch from time to time, but Tom Cruise is still The World’s Biggest Movie Star™ (no pun intended). Part of the reason that the series has never been less than watchable is Tom himself; for any perceived faults offscreen, when he turns on the charisma onscreen he has the star power to cause the rest of the movie to gravitate to him. In the M:I series, he’s brought something else, a willingness to commit to his own stunts which has given the films that added sense of danger. Whether running through an exploding fish tank or hanging off a mountain, he’s absolutely committed to his craft, and suitably for the fourth film he’s taking things, quite literally, to new heights, running about on top of the world’s tallest skyscraper with an energy and a madness that would shame most men half his age. He’s a little more dialled down here, skimping on the goofy grinning and instead showing off muscles and smoulder, but still he’s the nexus which links the series and the film itself together.
The other secrets have been renewal and a sense of personal craft. Mission: Impossible was completely and unmistakeably a Brian De Palma film; John Woo’s fingerprints and JJ Abrams’ lens flare (ow, my eyes) were all over the sequels. Brad Bird might not be quite the auteur of his predecessors but he has a gift for storytelling and can shoot an action sequence to within an inch of its life. Sadly, the first area is a slight let-down here, attempts at grafting personal conflict coming over as half hearted, and Mission: Protocol – Impossible Ghost, or whatever, is better when it sticks to being a Cold War throwback film, almost as if the last twenty years never happened in the real world. The emotional arcs also result in a coda that feels tacked on and unnecessary, rather than the satisfying resolution to the plot it could have been. The only other slight failing is Michael Giacchino’s score, so relentlessly staccato that it might induce a form of aural epilepsy by the time you attempt to leave the cinema.
But everything else works a treat. Simon Pegg gets a promotion to field agent and but still manages to leaven the film with a streak of mild humour without unbalancing the tone, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner have just about sufficient character to round out an enjoyable team, and the story never tries to get too much in the way of the string of set pieces that keep the momentum moving nicely. You feel it might have been nice to give Michael Nyqvist’s Eurotrash bad guy a few more juicy lines, but it doesn’t derail the rest of the film. Brad Bird has achieved the seeming impossible, breathing new life into this fourth entry but in a way that has echoes of all three previous films, and the actions sequences are well framed and, especially in the case of the skyscraper caper, genuinely tense and utterly thrilling. From the time the opening credits unspool with the traditional highlight reel and Lalo Shifrin’s iconic theme blasts out, Mission: Ghost – Thingummy Whatsit kicks into a high gear and never lets up. Jeremy Renner was brought in to take over the mantle, but on this evidence here’s hoping the Cruiser’s got one more in him before he stops accepting missions.
Why see it at the cinema: Action films are an increasingly rare commodity these days, big studios preferring to spend their money on costumed crusaders rather than old-fashioned car chases and shoot-outs. So when one does come round, and it’s as enjoyable as this, then make it your Saturday night priority, and don’t forget the popcorn.
Why see it in IMAX: If you even have the tiniest fear of heights, the moment when the camera follows Tom Cruise as he steps out of the window of the 130th floor of the Burj Khalifa and then pans down to see the ground in the far distance, in the crystal clear quality of the IMAX image, should cause your heart to leap up through your chest, out of your mouth and to head for the nearest exit forthwith.
The Score: 8/10
Oh, and what about that Dark Knight Rises prologue? If you’ve not heard by now, it’s the opening six minutes of The Dark Knight Rises, plus a brief teaser trailer lasting about a minute. If you saw The Dark Knight in IMAX, then the prologue is easily the equal of anything from that, and without giving away anything much, if they did what they did for real, then wow, and if they didn’t, then CGI has developed to a point of such total realism that you’ll no longer care that you can’t tell the difference.
There is an issue with Bane’s dialogue (I was paying close attention, and I think I caught about 75% of what Tom Hardy actually says, but it looks to be another character study to rival Heath Ledger’s – Nolan seems to know how to get the best out of his actors), but somehow Nolan is such a perfectionist that it feels like a deliberate ploy at this stage, rather than something careless in the sound mix. Only seven and a half months to found out…
The Review: It’s amazing how one piece of furniture can affect a whole career. Who knows what would have happened to the last few years of Tom Cruise’s career if he hadn’t jumped around on Oprah’s sofa with such ill-advised abandon? One can only hope that he might have been getting better material than this. Five years ago, Tom was still a major box office draw, able to mix Spielberg efforts like War of the Worlds with smaller projects such as Collateral and everyone still respected him. Since then, a string of flops, even in some cases where the material has been good, and now expectations have been dialled down for a new Cruise movie.
Cameron Diaz has also not had much luck in recent years, although her career downturn goes back slightly further, having never really recovered (at least, apart from voicing Princess Fiona) to the eye-shattering mess that was the Charlie’s Angels sequel. Both stars have managed to make some interesting acting choices over the years, so you’d hope that they could manage to come up with something at least half decent here. But you’d hope wrong.
Where to start? Might as well start with the performances themselves, which have little enough chemistry in the opening plane sequences, but soon the actors take on the appearance of people who’ve been paid up front and don’t feel they have anything to prove. At points, this less resembles a film and more a competition to see who can give the least interesting reading of a line. The script is devoid of anything approaching genuine wit, and on repeated occasions you see situations coming a mile off and find yourself thinking immediately of better pay-offs or wittier comebacks. (In the case of one particular scene, most of those were in the Lethal Weapon movies twenty or more years ago – and even the last of those didn’t feel as tired or disinterested as this.) The supporting cast are no better, Paul Dano feels like he’s in the wrong film (but that one wouldn’t be any better) and Peter Sarsgaard manages to reach new levels of not-acting and viewer boredom.
The whole movie is devoid of suspense, believable threat or indeed, by the end, logic, but the biggest disappointment are the action sequences. For about five seconds, a Spanish set-piece near the end, with motorbikes whizzing through tight city streets and low slung cameras sets the pulses racing, but only serves to highlight what a crushing disappointment the rest of the action is – when you manage to make the crashing of a commercial airliner into the countryside feel so devoid of interest, you’ve achieved something, just not something to be proud of. The best analogy is to imaging playing a videogame where you cannot lose a life – at no point do you feel even remotely like the characters are in any kind of peril, which for an action movie like this is near fatal to its ambitions. For Cruise and Diaz die-hards only.
Why see it at the cinema: Cameron Diaz in a bikini. That’s all I’ve got. There was quite a good movie in here somewhere, but sadly you won’t be seeing it, thanks to the ineptitude of all concerned.
The Score: 3/10