Saturday 28 November 2015

Blind Spot: Casablanca

Of all the films on all the lists, I picked Casablanca for this one. My poor attempt at my own spin on a famous quote from the film. But it's true, Casablanca is the white whale of my 'to watch list'. It was about time I saw it and I got to see it in one of the best possible ways, on the big screen. The BFI have different seasons through the year and this Autumn its all about love.

I had heard but not read about Casablanca, with friends and family, mostly family, telling me little facts about the film. My favourite being that no one knew what was going on during filming and that the script wasn't even finished when shooting started. It sounded amazing, just like any other film. Usually with films that have such a great standing about filmmakers, critics and the audience, going down in history as one the greatest films ever blah blah blah, I turn off. Unless I agree. Then I engage. Having seen the  film at ling last, I can see the appeal and understand why its a brilliant piece of cinema.

Step by step. Firstly the story is timely and told in a way that isn't rushed, out of place or predictable. During World War Two, when the Nazis occupied Paris, refugees from all over Europe flocked to the south of France and then made their way to Lisbon to get to USA and freedom from the Nazis. But many refugees ended up stuck in Casablanca waiting to get a visa out. In Casablanca, many people who oporate in the black market and those who seek its help congregate at Rick's Café Américain owned by American expatriate Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). After a regular customer and black marketeer is arrested for murder of two German couriers soon after he entrusts Rick with transit papers, the Prefect of the Police, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) informs hims that an influential Czech resistance leader has arrived in Casablanca. He tells Rick that this man, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) cannot leave.

Lazlo and his wife Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) arrive at Rick's and after a chance meeting, it is obvious that Rick ans Ilsa know each other. Rick is hostile towards her  especially when she requests a certain song to be played. Lazlo is questioned by the Nazis recently arrived in Casablanca and tell him he will not be permited to leave, even though they are in unoccupied French soil. While Lazlo makes connections to try and aquire visas, Ilsa tries to reconnect with Rick. In a flashback it is revealed that the two had met in Paris just before the occupation and had fallen in love but Ilsa had left Rick the morning they were to travel. Rick, still hurt, won't listen to Ilsa explain that she was married to Lazlo at the time but he was in a concentration camp.

Lazlo finds out Rick has the papers and persuades Ilsa, knowing her connection to him, to ask him for the papers. In this meeting, Ilsa admits that she is still in love with Rick and he in love with her. She wants to stay with Rick. Rick creates a plan, pretending to set up Lazlo to be captured by the police but in facts sets up Lazlo and Ilsa' escape with the paper to America. They share a heart breaking good bye and Rick watches her leaves once more.

That is the jist of the story, combing over a few other points but the bare bones of the story is needed to illustrate that its a compelling story that moves quite fast despite there being several slower scenes. The main charachers hook you in and for me, they all had a fair screen time. But its the love between Ilsa and Rick that is most focused on. For it was it was a war story told from the point of view of everyone, with the love story taking centre stage. The question of the transit papers is meant to feel like a red herring, starting with the announcement of the murders and the missing papers. But it all comes down to the fact that Rick loves Ilsa and wants to let her go. He knows that Victor needs her to carry on the good fight and for once, he takes a stand.

The next step in the success of this film is the timing of its release. The film had its world premiere in 1942 and released nationally in 1943 just a few weeks after the Allied invasion of North Africa. This set in motion, a perfectly timed support fueled film for the troops. The film was of its exact time, what was happening in the world was also being projected on screen with A list Hollywood stars. This all helped the film's success and the winning of the Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film boasts an international cast, with only a few Americans billed. For then, this was unusual, but of course films nowadays, we don't think of this. I think this diverse group also add to the likability of the film, the characters actually acting their nationality (at least most of them) or there abouts.

For a film that started as a play, 'Everybody Comes to Rick's', a play that I would like to see still, set entirely in the cafe/bar, the story has everything. A love story, Nazi damning, comradery, fantastic piano playing, an excellent cast, a war story, humanising refugees and some brilliant quotes. I think I laughed at almost every thing Claude Rains said, he delivered his lines in perfect tune, either sarcastic or meant in a humourous manner.

I'm still unsure if this is just a love story withe World War Two as the backdrop or if the film comments on war and those who wish to escape with a love story to pin point a linear storyline. Either way I understand the greatest of Casablanca. Here's looking at you kid.

To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies about Royalty

 Royalty, whether it is based on fact, an interpretation, real life events, observed from afar or an outsider, they provide the subject for countless films. Royalty, mostly past as present can be a but too dicey, are either fascinating or predicatable. How they are presented on screen is the interesting part. I've got British, French and Danish royalty in my picks this week. Don't forget to check out what Wandering Through the Shelves picked, the blog that started Thursday Movie Picks.

Lady Jane
Technically, she was royalty, she reigned for 9 days, so that counts. Featuring a very young Helena Bonham Carter and an equally young Cary Elwes as Lady Jane and her husband Lord Guildford Dudley. It is actually descibed as a period costume romance. Half the film is about the hate at first sight relationship and how they fall in love as the sickly king looms news looms over them. The second half is the manipulation from the adults in court trying to control their children for their own gain only have them both be beheaded. From this film, Lady Janes never really wanted to be Queen, making it all the more tragic an end.

A Royal Affair
A love triangle. We've seen this before but this time love is only on one side. When Princess Caroline of Great Britain married the mentally ill King Christian of Denmark, she had an affair with the King's royal doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee. She even had his child. They were in love, but the King who thought of the doctor as a friend preferred whores to his wife's company. It was a huge scandal. The cast are brilliant and scandals are always more fun to watch play out even though you can feel the downfall coming a mile away.

Maire Antoinette
It was made clear from the start that modern(ish) music would be the soundtrack to Sofia Coppola's biopic. I'm not a huge fan of her work apart from The Virgin Suicides, but this was a brilliant interpretation (theres that word) of Maire Antoinette's life, leading up to but rightly so in not showing her death. She is literally stripped of her former life, married to someone she has never met, pressurised by family to have children but her husband is not willing. She then lets go and has fun, too much fun. We get a small glimpse at the lead up to the revolution but this is a teenager who has wealth and just wants to party with her friends. The music really helps this. As for events? No idea if its accurate, I just enjoyed the display of excess.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

November Watch List

November, usually a good month for new releases but alas, all the films I want to see are being released at the end of the week and so will appear in my December Watch List. The list this month is very short indeed. I actually only saw two films at the cinema this month, which is very odd for me. I've watch quite a bit of TV. This happens tooo, one month I'm completely distracted by TV shows, catching up on them and so on, but the main obsession has been Moonlighting. Such a good show.


After the game changing triumph of Skyfall, things were looking great for Bond. All the fans got excited about Spectre being allowed to be in the films and all the new fans were just looking foward to a great film. Well, to be honest, I'm not really a huge Bond fan, but I did like Casino Royale and Skyfall. Unfortunately Spectre felt like it was evolving the 'rebooted' franchise backwards. All the same characters were back but not really doing anything much. Moneypenny had more to do the adverts for the product placements than the actual film and Q spent most of his time in an empty basement. Bond got to roam around the globe going to some spectacular places, the opening sequence in Mexico was a highlight. But there were far too many 'eye roll' moments and the script was packed with cliche lines, it was all like one long nostalgic nod to the old Bond films, back in the 70s and 80s. It wasn't the best Bond film, I found myself picking it apart afterwards and it was just too long. Hopefully they will improve the next time around. 3/5

Mockingjay Part 2

A year of waiting is over. This was the film I was dying to see. With such a cliffhanger from Part 1 and the dearly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman's role having to be decreased, there was worry. I absolutely love the books and I consoled myself with the audiobook of Mockingjay all year. As long as they followed the book I'd be happy and they actually did. To avoid spoilers, I will talk generally. Part 1 was about preparation and Part 2 is about war. I think the films weren't balanced well. There is a whole section at the start that could have easily been included in the previous film to free up space to some scenes that definitely needed more time. Some key moments were cut short, plot holes too. But the main bulk of the film was perfect. The first two films were far better but Mockingjay watch as a whole is pretty damn good too, and an excellent end to the story, I got my closure or at least I will when I get to see some deleted scenes on the DVD. 4/5

Happy Christmas
The trailer makes the film seem like the run of the mill, lost 20 something coming to stay with family over Christmas, they mess but patch things up with said family. That is the basis of the story but it is more about Jenny bonding with her sister-in-law, Kelly, who is a writer. Nothing much happens to be honest and the way it was acted, almost natural with forced actions, statred to get on my nerves and I did get bored. I watch the film over 3 days. There were a few funny moments where Jenny, her friend and Kelly are all discussing what is ok to mention in a love scene that a character in a book is dreaming about. It's amusing in places but too slow paced and a little on the dull side.  But it was good to see Melaine Lynskey on the screen. 2/5

From the moment the film started I understood how ridiculous it was going to be. Jeff Bridges hadn't even appeared yet. The film, story, charcters and purpose are all completely ridiculous but I think everyone knows it. A story about heaven, hell, the living and dead and the 'greatest lawmen' just seemed a bit too silly to be successful and therefore did not do well at all upon release but I'm guessing it was loved on all other forms. The fact that it was Rest In Peace Department should have tipped off everyone. When Ryan Reynolds wonder cop, happily married, good guy gets shot by his evil partner Kevin Bacon, he is transported to the R.I.P.D. instead of heaven. He is then partnered with Roycephus "Roy" Pulsipher who plays Jeff Bridges in a American Civil War Marshal get up. Complete with permanent gurn face and pointy beard.  Their job is to send 'deados' back to hell, those who refuse to pass on and somehow remain on Earth. There's a plot to reverse how things go, bring back all the dead people back to Boston or Earth. I think everyone involved knew how silly the film was but did it anyway for fun. 3/5

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: South East Asian Films

 A nice long title - Non-English Language Movies - Asian Language Movies Set in South East Asia (Non-Horror). Luckily I don't watch horror so will have no idea there. Unluckily I'm a bit rubbish in that I haven't actually seen many South East Asian films.

So, shame on me. But I have seen the two picks below. It's pitiful but i could only think of two I had seen.

Don't forget to check out what Wandering Through the Shelves picked, the blog that started Thursday Movie Picks.

The Wayward Cloud

I saw this back in 2012 when I was doing my 'World Film Challenge' and I saw this on the '99p' shelf to rent at Blockbusters. I worked there at the time and thought 'hey I get free rentals, why not watch this porn musical that barely has any dialogue'. It's bizarre. Some of the songs are good and amusing but the actual story is a on the slow side but I gathered this was the director's style. Such a weird film.

The Raid

No doubt this film will pop up on quite few lists as its a brilliant film. To came out just before Dredd which has a similar premise but it was nudged ahead. A tale of brothers, one crimnal, one on the police force, who happens to be part of a team that infiltrtes a drug/crime lord type lair, a tower block. Action, drama, crime and martial arts all rolled into one. Not seen the sequel though.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Once And Never Again

 There are films out there that I've seen and been overwhelmed at how brilliant they are. Whether is it the story, the acting, the places or the subject matter, these all make for a great film, a masterpiece, but this doesn't mean I want to watch over and over again.

There are many people out there who may be disgusted by my film collection. I know they would ask 'why do you have so many, its not like you can watch them all the time'. This is true but I buy films for three reasons. One, I like the film dammit and I do want to watch it all the time. Two, I haven't seen the film and I am intrigued. Three, buying the DVD was literally the only way I could or ever would see the film.

BUT there are films I've seen and bought in the past and present that I've admired but have had a strong desire to never see ever again. Mostly because they were too depressing, too much in general or because I want to keep the menmory of seeing it for the first time. After reading Joseph Wade's post on The Film Magazine, I have written a short list of some of the films I never want to see again.

1. Blue Jasmine
 I do like Woody Allen films and I do enjoy Tennesse Williams' plays, particularly, A Streetcar Named Desire, so when Allen made a film inspired by said play I was very intrigued. The film is brilliant, the casting and story is just perfect. But overall, the film is incredibly depressing, Jasmine is a very disturbed character. Usually characters progress but none of the characters actually change, they learn no lesson.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin
I don't think I need to explain why for this film, as anyone who has watched this can understand. A woman, so in love and happy with her husband has her world shattered by the arrival of her son. She knows theres something not quite right about him and so she never really bonds with him. She tortures herself thinking she's to blame for his action but some people are just born evil.

3. Requiem for a Dream
Another film that doesn't need explaining. I first bought this for 50p in a charity shop on VHS when I was in college. I did this a few times after classes before I started work at 4pm at the pharmacy. After my first viewing, I thought the film was ridiculously sad and brilliantly made, I saw it as a film about addiction. But after the second time on DVD, I vowed never again. It's a horrible presentation about drugs and how they ruin your life. But the characters who you get to know are just ruined by the end with no hope in sight. It's rather soul crushing.

4. Funny Games
This was a film I was reccomended to watch during my college days in Film Studies. Thinking back I cannot remember why I was told to watch this. The film is horrible. Director Michael Haneke even made a shot for shot adaptation. No one asked for it. Two young men terrorise a family staying at a cabin by a lake. It is revealed they have already done this to the neighbours and at the end they begin on the next house. There is no hope for anyone here and what makes it worse is the intruders break the fourth wall, addressing and looking at the camera.

5. Melancholia
The film is esstionally about the world potentially coming to end, that in itself is enough to not want to see the film again. I have a thing about the world ending, it freaks me out. There are two sisters as the leads, one of which is a manic depressive and she ruins her wedding day. Every unfolds slowly throughout the evening like slow moving tragedy. The second half is about the depressed sister accepting the end of the world and the other sister panicking, where as earlier she was normal and had everything in her life sorted.

Thursday 12 November 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies about Music/Making Music/Musicians

 Now, the rules for this theme are quite strict. No Biopics or any focus on real life musicians. There are actually plenty of films that are about music or making music or about musicinas themselves.  Don't forget to check out what Wandering Through the Shelves picked, the blog that started Thursday Movie Picks.

British film about a a call centre worker who tries to start a band. Simple idea, bring together those who wish to make music. A guitarist who wants a record deal and falls in love with the bassist. It's a gentle story with added music.

Inside Llewyn Davis
I've been dying to pick a Coen Brothers film and this was a perfect fit. The latest of the brothers film inspired by the folk music scene in New York in 60s, they created the definition of a truggling artist who goes full circle. Singing soulfully to getting gigs, to causing drama, losing money, giving up to singing soulfully to causing drama and so on. Great music and the brilliant Oscar Issacs.

School of Rock
This had to be included at some point. Back in 2003, this was the film to watch when I was at school. Not only was the finale performance damn good but those kids was ace musicians. A deadbeat musician poses as a substitute teacher for money then use and trains the children to be his band so he can enter a battle of the bands contest. There nothing about the plot that I don't like.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Tragic Romance with Piano Music

Back in May, my friend and I became obsessed with Suite Francaise. We saw it a few times at the cinema and read the book the film was based on. Our obsessed started because the end was so abrupt and there was no conclusion for the two main characters. It was an unsatisfying end. I had hoped the book would help but it only made things worse. The author, Irina Nemirovskaya, had planned 5 parts to the story but only two were included in the book and the film focuses on the 2nd part of the story.

Thinking back to 2006, I saw The Painted Veil. This was a love story in reverse. A married couple fall in love only after they are married and living in a cholera striken remote town in China. Of course tragedy is on the horizon. I found the end so unbelievably depressing and thought about reading the book but I never did.

I had read about The Piano briefly but it wasn't high on my list of 'must see films'. A friend of mine suggested I see the film as Anna Paquin had won an Oscar at 11 years old for her role and she is a big fan of Panquin. The Piano is less tragic than the other two films but the saddness of all the characters involved builds up to breaking points, centering around a piano. 

What links all three films is a distinct piece of piano music in each film. Not to be misledaing, I mean separate pieces of music, unique to their own film. I hope I'm not confusing anyone. Another common thread is that all the stories are set in places slightly remote. The Piano is in New Zealand during the mid 19th Century, The Painted Veil is first set in London, then Shanghai and then in a remote village in China, Suite Francaise is in a small town in France.

Suite Francaise, is set in a town on the outskirts of Paris soon after the occupation of France. With many refrugees seeking a place to stay, the town is already over crowded when a German regiment arrives. Lucille lives with her overbearing mother-in-law when an officer is placed in their home. Lucille and Bruno grow closer after their share their love of piano. But with the war, the judging neighbours and Lucille's mother-in-law, there is no hope for these two be together, barley savouring a moment alone together. The piece of music that Bruno is writing, of which the film and book are named after, is echoed through the film. Bruno gives Lucille the finished music so that she can play it and as she said at the end, whenever she does play it, it will always bring her back to him.

Suite Francaise - by Alexandre Desplat

The Painted Veil is about spoilt Kitty who marries bacteriologist Walter to escape her family. While at his post in Shanghai, Kitty has an affair with a married man, a British Vice consul. She assumes that they will marry but she is naive. To punish her, Walter takes a post in a remote village which is experiencing a cholera outbreak. While in the village however, Kitty find a place at the orphanage playing the piano. Slowly Walter and Kitty fall in love again, only for tragedy to strike. The piano music that Kitty plays on the piano at home then in the orphanage echoes through the film is a similar way to Suite Francaise. In one particular scene she plays the music in a way to connect with Walter who remembers the first time he saw her and fell in love with her.The tragedy of it all is that they're just at that point where they can be happy but its taken away from them.

The Painted Veil - Gnossienne, the complete series, by Erik Satie

The Piano is about a mute, Ada, who is sold by her father to marry a frontiersman in New Zealand. All Ada cares about is her daughter who translates for her and her beloved piano. Problems in her new marriage start when her new husband sells the piano to a sailor named Baines who also requests lessons. Through these lessons that start off as a way for her gain her piano back turn into a love affair. The Piano is such a slow paced and at times difficult to watch. But the images of the piano left on the beach with the water curling up around it is beautiful. Combined with the music, the tragic element in the story turns to true romance.

The Piano - soundtrack by Michael Nyman

Saturday 7 November 2015

The Afternoon Movie: Harry and the Hendersons

I cannot recall exactly the first time I saw the 1987 film about a family who run over a sasquatch and decided to take him home, only for him to wreck revoke and cause a media stir, not to mention grabbing the attention of a hunter. It is now regarded as a classic in our family. We quote only a few moments, mostly famously the short scene where the hunter, Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet), has been arrested and is making a call on the phone. Another favourite involves George Henderson, (John Lithgow) stuttering his name when the news cameras turn their attention on him. But I'm getting ahead of myself, I know there are those out there who are yet to watch the wonder that is, Harry and the Hendersons.

Unlike my previous posts of The Afternoon Movie, Harry and the Hendersons is not animated and was made in the 80s but it is still most definitely an afternoon movie.

The Henderson family, while on their way back from a campiing trip hit something with their car. Thinking that the creature is dead and deducing that it must be the myth like animal, Bigfoot, believe it might be worth money and take it home with them. Back in the forest a hunter who was tracking Bigfoot finds the car's licence plates. In the Henderson house, the creature is very much alive. Chaos ensues. But after an awkward scene of removing all the dead animals, trophies lining the walls are removed, the family makes the creature settle in. They name him Harry. And once you name something theres no going back. Of course Harry does run away and the family try to find him and take him home after the media grabs hold of the story. Jacques LaFleur continues to track Harry and the Hendersons turn to a Bigfoot expert for help

There are bits in the film that I recall more than others, such as the knocked over fridge in the kitchen. The drawings that George does of Harry. Little Bob the family dog. Harry eating Sarah Henderson's prom flower. Harry knocking her over thinking its affectionate. The annoying nosey neighbour who is the mum from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The other neighbour, Kim Lee. Always getting hungry in the scene where the family throws a load of fast food burgers in the car to entice Harry. These little moments are just pitch perfect in memory.

When Harry starts to settle in and become a family member, he even starts to watch TV, laughing his head off. Hi choice of TV is excellent.

The story of how a sasquatch lives with a family and how they try to save him from being hunted first by the media then by that hunter, is odd, but its funny and bizarrely enjoyable. I think the fact that John Lithgow and David Suchet are in the same film is a massive draw for me personally. The film has some interesting observations, especially about traffic. Stick your head out of the window and make siren noises and this is guranteed to create a path through. The story is touching especially when George who has already admitted that Harry is like a friend, he pushes him away with anger as he knows that Harry is better off in the forest. This scene was also used to illustrate the point you have to be mean to keep someone safe, in an extremely funny episode of 30 Rock. This film has power.

Luckily this film is available everywhere. At one time you could only buy this now classic in US, DVD opened up for everyone and I have a sneaky suspicion that it was Netflix at one time. If you're in the mood to be amused and amazed, I'd suggest an afternoon in with Harry and the Hendersons.

Thursday 5 November 2015

Captured in Color

Fom time to time I like to break away from my film and TV posts so here are some photographs Ive taken.

I've had a roll of film in my camera since May when I went to Cornwall and I just got it developed today. I used up the last photos trying to catch out squirrels in the gardens up on Richmond Hill but I wasn't quick enough.

I miss my black and white film and with Winter setting it, I thought it would be much better. I rarely use colour but with the Summer and Autumn colours I thought they captured the seasons. Slightly different to what I usually like to do, but the subjects are the same, sea, trees, old buildings and animals, although the animal photographs were not included here.

The tide is out, St Ives habour

 Blue skies at St Ives harbour wall

Porthwiggen Beach

 Blenheim Palace through the gates

 Blenheim Palace

 Blenheim Palace, the Water Terraces

 View from the Hollyhock cafe, The Terrace Gardens from up on Richmond Hill

Autumn leaves

The Terrace Gardens, Richmond Hill

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Secret Agents and Spies

 My first thought for this theme was 'YES!' but then I struggled for while thinking what I could pick so I went for random choices. I did really want to pick 'Burn After Reading' but that might be for a different sort of category altogether. I was also very tempted to include my latest obsession, 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E' but I thought, save it for another day.

Don't forget to check out what Wandering Through the Shelves picked, the blog that started Thursday Movie Picks.

OSS: Cairo Nest of Spies
After I saw The Artist, I sought out Michel Hazanavicius' previous films and to my delight his hit film and sequel were spoof spy stories set in the 1950's. Agent OSS 117 (Jean Dujardin) is sent to track down a missing agent who then literally stumbles upon international intrigue, that somehow involves everyone from the Soviets to some Nazis.A favourite scene invloves a light switch and chickens.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The film has it all really, spies, moles, secrets a great cast and its set in London. British agent, Smiley is charged with trying to find the Soviet double agent at the British Secret Service. I know Alec Guinness played Smiley first (one of my Dad's favourite TV shows) but I do love Oldman in this. It was good to see him with his British accent.

The 39 Steps
The book, the films, the TV adaptations and the play. My favourites are the Hitchcock film and the hilarious play, it's just pure brilliance. I should mention, I haven't read the book. A man ends up helping a secret agent only to have her killed in his home. From there he's on the run, climbing out of moving trains, scrambling around the Scottish moors and trying to uncover the secrets of a spy organisation while trying to stop them from getting important information. Pure Hitchcock all over.