Cinematic Advent Calendar #19 – Goodfellas

Good Jimmy

“You think I’m funny?”

This story of Henry Hill shows how he was “sucked” into the world of organised crime.

This is a violent film and the language is, how shall I put this, quite colourful.

There are a few other Mafia films that I like, I recently saw Scorsese’s The Departed which I liked. I also thought highly of Donnie Brasco.

When it comes to Gangster or Mafia films I know many people will talk of the Godfather trilogy. Please don’t be cross, but I’ve still yet to actually see it…

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #18 – ALIENS

Cinematic Advent Calendar #18 - ALIENS

I never did Alien before going to see ALIENS, I think the main reason for that was that a) I don’t like horror films and b) I was too young to get into the cinema when it came out.

ALIENS is in many ways a very different film to the original Alien, I sometimes think they are two very different films which just so happen to be linked.

As for the next two sequels, well I was very disappointed. I think I would have rather seen a sequel with the Colonial Marines rather than the Alien and Ripley. I have seen Prometheus and I did think that this was a very good film.

The main thrust of ALIENS is that is a action war film, rather than the claustrophobic individual horror that was Alien. The design echoed current military thinking of the time, so was more “realistic” than say Starship Troopers.

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Download ALIEN at iTunes.

Cinematic Advent Calendar #17 – The Killing Fields

 The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields is a powerful moving film that shows in a small part the horror of the Khmer Rouge campaign of terror in Cambodia in the 1970s.

One reason I think that this film has such an effect on me is that I was a young lad when I found out about Cambodia, I was a little too young to understand the Vietnam War, but I remember in vivid detail when Blue Peter went to Cambodia after the end of the Khmer Rouge and launched their 1979 appeal.

The dramatic impact of the Year Zero policy is the background to the film which is a story of a friendship between two journalists, Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg.

 The Killing Fields

The soundtrack of the film is particularly evocative, the majority of the music used in the film was composed and performed by Mike Oldfield. He used a range of musical styles, including a choir and a full orchestra as well as his trademark electronic instruments. The final scene of the film uses John Lennon’s Imagine (which incidentally isn’t on the soundtrack album) and this really adds to what is a very moving final scene. The soundtrack album is if I remember correctly the first album I ever purchased on CD, from Our Price records, a record store that no longer exists.

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #16 – The Matrix

Cinematic Advent Calendar #16 - The Matrix

I managed to watch this film, not having read the plot or any spoilers, so when Neo is given the choice between the red and blue pills, it was a real dramatic surprise for me and really threw what I thought the film was about. As a result I enjoyed the film much more than I thought I was going to and really felt that this was a very clever story with some real twists.

I do think it is hard these days to avoid “spoilers” or plot twists. Often the entire story is played out in the trailer or even in the film reviews. I recently and finally managed to watch Prometheus and I worked hard to avoid the trailers, the clips, even conversations on the Twitter. I did manage in the end to avoid most spoliers and really enjoyed that film much more than if I knew how it was going to pan out and end.

Of course the Matrix introduced us to the concept of “bullet time” and it is a pity in some respects that it has become common place so much in other films. It worked in the Matrix because of the way the universe in the film is set up, however I think it is a distraction in the way it is used in many other films.

I really like the Matrix, my biggest disappointment with the film is the sequels, which are nowhere near as clever as the original.

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #15 – Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

Now it has to be said that I was never a fan of Tolkien’s writing. Now I also know that this will upset a few people as he is well loved by many. I had read a fair few of Tolkien’s novels, but I didn’t like them, in the main as Tolkien loved to be overly descriptive of stuff in his novels. I always felt it left little to the imagination.

When I first hard that Peter Jackson was going to make three films to cover the three books of Lord of the Rings I was intrigued, but not overly excited or impressed.

I think the big difference between this film and other films was that this was a film that was promoted heavily using the web. There was lots of online video and stills from the making of the film. This it has to be said did spark a little excitement.

I did wonder how Peter Jackson was going to make this film, complete with hobbits, dwarves and elves. In the end with a combination of special effects, forced perspective and CGI I did feel he was very successful in creating a magical and fantastical world.

Though I had read the book, it was a fair few years before seeing the film and as a result I knew the book was about a ring, but didn’t remember much more. Jackson created an incredible feat, this was an exciting, thrilling film with lots of superb action sequences.

I also really liked the camaraderie and relationship explored between the four hobbits. The phrase “second breakfast” is now a standard saying in our house. During the course of this film we see the friendships grow and develop and this follows on in the next two films.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

I remember coming out of the cinema, wanting to not only see the film again, but also wanting to see parts two and three immediately. In the end I had to wait for the sequels and of course the Hobbit (in some ways the prequel) is now out in cinemas. I did buy the extended Director cuts of the three films and this was something I remember as been very different experience to DVDs I had bought before with deleted scenes as extras. These deleted scenes were integrated into the films complete with special effects and music. In many ways I prefer the extended films, even though they are much longer than the original cut. Having said that the experience of seeing these films in the cinema is much more preferable than watching it on the small screen at home. One of the reasons I have called this a cinematic advent calendar, is that many of these films are cinematic and to really appreciate them you need to see them in the cinema. This is of course is not easy and usually impossible, as cinemas rarely show stuff that has been out before.

Out of the three Lord of the RIngs films, I have put the first one as my choice for the calendar. I do think that the other films are very good, what they didn’t have was that impact the first one had, which is why I have chosen The Fellowship of the Ring for the calendar. I did enjoy Return of the King, this was an incredible visual feast, likewise The Two Towers has many incredible elements within it. However they did follow the first film and the impact of that first film shouldn’t be ignored.

So what of the books, well I’ve not read them again (yet), but have recently re-read the Hobbit and I’ll be honest and say I did appreciate it much more having seen the Peter Jackson films, I think he added to the worlds of Tolkien and in my mind that has to be a good thing.

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #14 – Four Weddings and a Funeral

Four Weddings and a Funeral

For me Richard Curtis’ Four Weddings and a Funeral was the first time I thought to myself and recognised that there was a British film industry that could make great films. There were lots of films that echoed the success of Four Weddings, but though good in their own right, for me none compare to Four Weddings.

I think one of the reasons I like Four Weddings is that back in the early 1990s when the film was released I seemed to be attending a lot of weddings (and sadly a fair few funerals too). Some of the weddings I went to did seem very familiar to the weddings in the film. Similar experiences and characters.

If you have seen the film, you will probably remember the first wedding where the Hugh Grant character, Charles, and Charlotte Coleman’s Scarlet wake up late and speed down the motorway to get to the wedding in an underpowered mini. I remember going to one wedding, driving a Talbot Samba up to Rochdale. I wasn’t like the Hugh Grant character, I did set off in plenty of time, but what I hadn’t anticipated was traffic problems on the M6, just by Manchester, so there followed a frantic drive cross country, road atlas on my knees. Roaring into the car park by the church, running into the church and nearly knocking the bride over… Back in those days things were different. Today I have traffic reports sent to my phone and TomTom satnav not only helps me to get to my destination, but also gives me an expected time of arrival. How things have changed. Drinking in the hotel on the evening of that wedding was also reminiscent of some of the scenes in the film too.

I went to another film near Durham and the evening dancing was akin to the Scottish dancing scene at the third wedding. Lots of drunken people flinging themselves around the dance floor to fast folk music.

This was also the film that launched Hugh Grant’s career, not too many films he has made were as good as Four Weddings, even if he often seemed to play the same character as Charles. Charlotte Coleman was excellent as the dizzy Scarlet, what a shock when she died in 2001 at just 33.

Charlotte Coleman was excellent as the dizzy Scarlet

Simon Callow played the loud Gareth with aplomb and enthusiasm. I did feel, as did a lot of critics, the weakest performance in the film was by Andie MacDowell as the American love interest.

I can still watch and enjoy this film many years later, and as well as enjoying the film it reminds me of those weddings I attended back then.

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #13 – Field of Dreams

Another baseball movie…

Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams

I did mention Field of Dreams when I talked about A League of their Own. So not only a film about baseball, but also a film with Kevin Costner. Now it has to be said that not many people like Kevin Costner, but for me back in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were two films that I really enjoyed, one was Dances with Wolves the other was Field of Dreams.

Field of Dreams did not get a big release in the UK as it was about baseball and though popular in the US, probably wasn’t that popular in the UK. When it came out I was at University (in York) and one of the people in our shared house was an American, Jason. Now he was passionate about baseball and a fair few other things too. I have to thank him for not only introducing my to baseball, not as a sport, but as a catalyst for literature and cinema. He was also responsible for introducing me to Harry Chapin, but that’s another story.

I am pretty sure that I went to see Field of Dreams before reading W P Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe on which the film is based. The film, despite having ghosts and fantastical elements, isn’t your typical ghost story, it certainly couldn’t be described as scary. This is an emotional moving film, about family and the fulfilment of dreams.

I do think Kevin Coster gives a good performance, but is ably supported by great performances from Amy Madigan, Rau Liotta, James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster.

Ray Liotta in Field of Dreams

Even if you don’t know anything about baseball, the history of baseball, or even if you know you don’t like baseball, this film is still a lovely story and an enjoyable experience.

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #12 – A League of their Own

Last year I did a musical advent calendar that I posted to Google+ and a final summary on this blog. This year on a similar theme I will be posting a cinematic advent calendar of twenty four films. It is in no particular order and I make no apologies for the films that I am posting. These are films that I really like and have enjoyed at the cinema.

A League of their Own

A League of Their Own is one of those films that on the surface I really shouldn’t like, however it’s probably one of my favourite films of all time. I did write about this before on the blog, so apologies for a very similar post here.

It should be noted that I really don’t understand everything about baseball, but when this film came out in 1992 I was in a “baseball phase” I was watching baseball films and reading books about baseball. I went out and bought and read Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella (it was made into the film Field of Dreams). In many ways baseball was the background to the stories, the stories themselves were not about baseball. You don’t need to understand baseball to understand the stories, there may be times when you need to understand the passion people have for sports such as baseball to grasp the motivation of certain characters in these stories.

The first time I watched it wasn’t at the cinema, I had rented it on VHS from my local corner shop where I use to rent films from, this was in the days before Blockbuster! When you think about that and how that market has shrunk or even disappeared. True there are places you can still rent DVDs from, but even that is a much smaller market thanks to services such as iPlayer, Sky+, Netflix and iTunes. I don’t actually like renting DVDs that much, mainly as I find too often they are badly scratched, as a result if I do want to rent, it’s usually iTunes or Google Play. Though at their prices I am more likely to buy.

I think another reason I picked and watched A League of their Own was that I had really enjoyed Tom Hanks in Big and he plays Jimmy Dugan in this film, an embittered coach who at first can’t believe he’s coaching a “girl” baseball team. Eventually he does come round to the fact that these women can play and can play well. What put me off slightly was that Madonna was in it, but in perspective this is one of her better performances.

Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan

There is no real plot to the film, there is no romantic core to the story. This is a story about a team of women coming together, working and playing together during a difficult time in history and making a difference.

There is humour and comedy, larger than life characters as well as some very emotional scenes. This is a moving story that is directed well. Historically there is a fair bit of poetic licence taken by the film with actual events and people. For example the film indicates that the games weren’t popular with the crowds until the teams introduced gimmicks (sliding splits). However in reality the games were popular from day one as people had been really missing live baseball games and as a result there were huge crowds at the games.

I like this film, it is a feel good movie and something that I would watch on a rainy sunday afternoon. There was something very clever about the story and the emotional journey that the women in the film were on. It reminds us that in the 1940s equality was a dirty word for many people and women at that time were nowhere in the same league as their male counterparts in both life, work and sport.

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #11 – Toy Story

When I heard about this film, I have to admit I didn’t think it would be my cup of tea. A computer generated cartoon, why would I go and see that?

Well how wrong I was, Pixar’s Toy Story was a wonderful creation, amusing, moving and a really great story. You know when it’s a good story when you forget it is a computer created film and focus on the characters and the plot. True in the first part of the film for the first time you look in awe at the work of those digital artists. Remember when this came out, there were very few computer animated films, it was incredible the amount of work that had gone into it. But in the end it was the story that made Toy Story a great film, not the animation. It’s a pity that not all film makers have realised that.

The characters of Woody and Buzz from Toy Story.

The characters of Woody and Buzz really made the film, but often it was the characterisation of “famous” toys such as Barbie and Etch-a-Sketch that made the film and provided many of the best moments. Despite the fact it was based in America, many of the toys were familiar to us in the UK, so not too alien for British audiences.

The story is quite simple, two toys who are initially rivals, but through adversity and adventures become friends. The story is dark in places, people often forget that though this is a film about toys, it was certificated PG and certainly some aspects are not suitable for very young children. However there is an appeal to children who may have always wondered if their toys came alive when they left the room or went to sleep, probably a similar appeal to adults who had similar wondering when they young. The film is also amusing on two levels, simple physical comedy, but also a layer of comic timing and jokes that will appeal to adults. it is a very clever film and I really enjoyed the story, the humour and I have to say the cleverness of the digital artists.

I also enjoyed the sequels and it’s not often that film makes can repeat the magic they created with their first films.

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Cinematic Advent Calendar #10 – The Shawshank Redemption

Cinematic Advent Calendar #10 - The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption was a film that when released didn’t do too well in the cinema. When you consider the outline story it is understandable why. This is a story of a bloke who gets imprisoned, spends time in prison, it’s not very nice in there, there is violence and corruption… well would you go and see a film about that?

The thing about The Shawshank Redemption is that it isn’t a story about prison, or even the brutality of prison life, it’s a story about hope and friendship. That is what makes it such a powerful film and compelling to watch through to the end. Superb direction by Frank Darabont makes this a great film.

This was the film that introduced me to Morgan Freeman, his powerful performance is one of the highlights of the film.

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