Saturday, 23 April 2011

Everyone’s a critic!

Film critics… what are they good for and who do they think they are? Film lovers that didn’t make it in the production side of the industry? Failed journalists looking for an easy ride? Film snobs? Just people that love movies? Experts on film? Entertainers? Artists?

And what gives them the right to pass judgment on any film that producers, directors, writers, countless crew members have sweated over, poured their hearts into?

Well… as I can’t think of a more perfect job than sitting and watching films and then writing my thoughts down, I’m a bit bias.

So, how do I become a critic and is there any nobility in it? I got a book out called ‘Five Stars: How to Become a Film Critic, The World’s Greatest Job’ by Christopher Null. He says to become a critic you need to have ‘seen a ton of movies’ and be able to ‘separate them into good and bad’, ‘have the ability to write well’, ‘watch and review five or more films a week’ and find ‘an outlet for publishing your work’.

Seen a ton of films. Know which ones I like. Can’t get through 5 a week unless I quit my job. Can write ok. Could publish my reviews on this here blog. So I’m nearly ready.

But what gives me the right to say what I like and dislike when people have sweated over making these films? Can’t I just write reviews of films I think are great? After all, I was always taught if you got nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all!

But then I kept reading Null’s book. He says: ‘there are critics who strive merely to entertain us… there are those that deeply analyze a movie… and there are those rare critics who do both. This is when criticism becomes an art form on par with the movies themselves’.

Not sure I quite agree with that but instead of thinking about the negatives… I’m going to consider reviewing movies an attempt to entertain other movie lovers. After all I’ve read every issue of Empire and Total Film for over a decade now and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Negative reviews and all.

So for now I’m going to concentrate on reviewing movies I like. Movies I respect, love and have positive things to say about. Probably not too many rom-coms.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Top 10 Classics I Should Have Seen

Ever looked at a list of 'classic' films and suddenly felt like all your movie buff credentials have just disappeared down the toilet? I get it anytime I look at a top 100 list of all-time greats. Even now I subscribe to Lovefilm... you'd think there'd be no excuse for missing out!

Unfortunately (or fortunately) Lovefilm let you prioritise the films on your rental list and all the old classics inevitably slither down to 'low priority' status while new films (even forgettable, meaningless shite like the latest Fast and Furious sequel!) float to the high priority section.

So basically I keep right up to date with new films but rarely get round to watching the films I SHOULD be watching (according to critics and movie buffs of the world).

So I guess if I write down the top 10 classics that it really is a crime for me not to have seen, perhaps I will have a manageable goal to achieve.

So... top 10 classics I NEED TO SEE! (With help from the IMDb Top 250)

1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)
2. 12 Angry Men (1957)
3. Seven Samurai (1954)
4. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
5. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
6. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
7. Spirited Away (2001)
8. Paths of Glory (1957)
9. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
10. The Great Dictator (1940)

Anyone else got a list of films they feel slightly ashamed at having not seen?

Saturday, 9 April 2011

TWTWB and The Perils of Book Adaptations

Won a competition this week to go and see a preview screening of 'Tomorrow When The War Began', an Australian film directed by Stuart Beattie and based on the book by John Marsden. I first read this book around 1995 when I was 14. There are now seven books in the 'Tomorrow' series and these were then followed by a new trilogy; 'The Ellie Linton Chronicles'. Thanks to Paramount Pictures for offering the free tickets and for the free coke and popcorn. Rachel Hurd-Wood introduced the film ('I don't know what to say... it was fun to make') and then quickly disappeared. Despite having already seen the film as a good friend had sent me a dvd copy from Australia, I really enjoyed it on the big screen and on a second viewing.

It got me thinking about book adaptations in general. This is too big a subject for one post and I'm sure there are whole blogs dedicated to book to film adaptations but I thought I'd mention personal bests and worsts for me.

So starting with 'Tomorrow When The War Began', probably my second favourite book of all time. I have read it many times and know it back to front. I have been waiting for a film version for 16 years; even tried adapting one part of it myself for some A level film studies coursework. The first time I watched the film with friends... I was satisfisfied BUT... my expectations were SO high, I was also disappointed. The screenplay is not brilliant but the production design is amazing and as with most book to film adaptations, there is much missing from the film. However the performances are generally good with a couple of exceptions and even though they drastically changed one character, they made him funny and likeable.

Anyway I decided I would not watch the film again until it was released in UK cinemas (got to support the film and make sure they produce and release the rest of the series!). The second time I watched it (at the free screening this Wednesday), my expectations were readjusted. I knew the film had faults but it was time to watch it with sensible perspective.

I loved it so much more this time. I appreciated the effort and the dedication of all involved in attempting to get it right. Many of the scenes were very faithful to the book and some of the perfomances are really very good. I realise that some subplots (the hermit and his house) were unnecessary to the narrative and therefore were understandably left out.

But I also wonder what people who have not read the book will think of the film. Without the constant thoughts of the protagonist (the book is written in the first person), will the actions of the film's characters seem believable? Films have to simplify... they have to cut down a 200+ page book into an under 120 page screenplay. The film version has to skim over some ideas and themes. It has to show a character arc beleivably but quickly. It has to convey the thoughts and feelings of the characters through visuals and not an over-reliance on voiceover. Very tricky and I have nothing but respect for the writer and director who tackles such a task.

The I thought about my favourite book and one of the film adaptations that I really cannot stand. Danny Boyle's 'The Beach' based on Alex Garland's novel. SUCH a good book... SUCH a bad film. I love Danny Boyle, Leo Dicaprio and the book. But this film- despite many great scenes from the book, really does not work. And for so many reasons. Leo's character getting the girl when the book is all about unrequited love. BIG mistake. Video game graphics of Leo running in the forest. BIG mistake. Completely dropping one of the novel's most interesting characters (Jed). BIG mistake. I could go on but who likes a miserable critic?

So next I consider my all time favourite film. An adaptation that for me is actually BETTER than the book: David Fincher's 'Fight Club'. Now I'm not sure if this is because I read the book after I had seen the film. I generally try to read the book before I see a film version but when Fight Club came out, I did not even know of the book's existence.

I'm sure this has happened before. Watch the film first and I love it. The book is then enjoyable but no better than the film. 'Silence of the Lambs' for example. Great film... great book. But if I'd read the book first, would I be sitting here bitching about the bits they left out and the simplifying of the themes and characters?

Fight Club, however does seem like an exception. This film takes the rapid-fire narration of the book and turns it into a brilliant voiceover and perfect dialogue from the main characters. The performances are perfect and the ending is an IMPROVEMENT on the book's. The visual style and soundtrack are also great additions that make the film an even more satisfying experience than reading the book.

So that's my initial thoughts on book to film adaptations but I feel I may return to this subject one day. Anyone want to share their thoughts? Other films that are better than the books they were based on? Worst adaptations? Is this the same for comic/graphic novel/video game adaptations? Anyone like the film version of 'The Beach'?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Cinema of 9/11

The tenth anniversary of the attacks on America are approaching and I'm currently writing an article about films that have tackled and clealy referenced the tragic events of 11th September 2001.

In preparation, this week I finally got round to watching the short film anthology '11/09/01 September 11'. Made in 2002, this seems to me to be the first cinematic response to the tragedy. It is an amazing collection of work with interesting international directors tackling the events in very different ways. It's hard to choose favourites from such a diverse, thought-provoking collection. However the French director Claude Lelouch's 11 minute segment created a strong emotional impact with use of news footage and the experience of a deaf woman in New York.

Ken Loach's piece leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. For me it was a very effective history lesson. It puts 9/11 into perspective by reminding viewers of the massacre of 30,000 Chileans, a massacre that the American government was behind. Good points to raise but I can't shake the feeling that the films here should be more focussed on New York, the towers, the lives lost in 2001 (not to suggest that they are more important than the lives of Chileans- just becuse of the title of the film).

However Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's segment is at the other extreme. It is nothing but images and sounds from the day. People fall, black screen, people fall. It feels a bit exploitative of the incredible footage but is undeniably extremely saddening and shocking despite having seen these images over and over before.

Samira Makhmalbaf (Iran), Mira Nair (India) and Sean Penn (USA) also impressed with their short films. Their respective contributions show the impact of 9/11 (or lack of impact) on a class of school children in Iran, the search for a lost son and the xenophobia experienced by a American-Muslim family in the aftermath and the impact of the towers fall on one lonely old man in New York.

This week I also started watching the TV series 'Rescue Me' starring Denis Leary about firefighters in post 9/11 Manhatten coming to terms with loss and grief. Totally politically incorrect with its homophobic and sexist lead characters, three episodes in and I'm hoping the characters become more sympathetic. Anyway, the references to 9/11 are abundant as all the characters lives have been touched by the tragedy. I'd be interested to know how New York firefighters feel about their representation in the show.

I also plan to re-watch 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002) which used Ground Zero as a backdrop. Obviously I will consider United 93 and World Trade Center (both 2006) and their head-on depictions of the tragedy, but also their themes of hope in the face of total despair.

I also intend to consider the use of the aesthetics of 9/11 in films such as Cloverfield (for more on this please read and War of the Worlds (Spielberg, 2005).

I will also explore the use of 9/11 in two Michael Moore documentaries (Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11), Adam Sandler drama 'Reign Over Me' (astounding performance-melodramatic but well worth a watch!) and Robert Pattinson tear-fest 'Remember Me'.

It's going to be gruelling watching 9/11 related films for the next few weeks but it is a subject that I have very strong feelings about and I'm looking forward to getting started on the article. Is there any films I've missed that clearly should be included here?