This Week’s Films (30/12/13)

The Skin I Live In

Man of the Year (2006)Man of the Year

American satirical comedy about a fast-talking TV talk show host who gets more than he bargained for when the audience take him at his word. Robin Williams plays voice-of-the-people talk show host Tom Dobbs, who, suggesting he could do a better job at running the White House, finds himself swept into office on the back of his huge national fan base. It’s not long before he finds out that his win is due to a computer error when the votes were counted, causing him some major soul-searching as he tries to decide whether to continue as the President, or go back to the day job he loves.

Verdict: Starts really well but in the second half the film tries to combine too many elements and loses its way. 5/10

For a Few Dollars MoreFor a Few Dollars More (1965) 

“The leading icon of a generation” (Roger Ebert), Academy AwardÂ(r) winner* Clint Eastwood continues his trademark role as the legendary “Man With No Name” in this second installment of the famous Sergio Leone trilogy. Scripted by Luciano Vincenzoni and featuring Ennio Morricone’s haunting musical score, For A Few Dollars More is a modern classic one of the greatest Westerns ever made. Eastwood is a keen-eyed, quick-witted bounty hunter on the bloody trail of Indio, the territory’s most treacherous bandit. But his ruthless rival, Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef, High Noon), is determined to bring Indio in first…dead or alive! Failing to capture their prey or eliminate each other the two are left with only one option: team up, or face certain death at the hands of Indio and his band of murderous outlaws.

Verdict: Another solid Western from Sergio Leone with memorable turns from Eastwood and Van Cleef. 9/10

** FILM OF THE WEEK ** 

The Skin I Live In (2011)The Skin I Live In

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a driven plastic surgeon haunted by personal tragedies. After many years of trial and error, he finally perfects a new skin – a shield which could have prevented the death of his wife in an accident years earlier. His latest “guinea pig” is a mysterious captive whose true identity masks a shocking mystery. The Skin I Live In is a masterful tale of secrets, obsession and revenge from Oscar-winning (Best Writing, Original Screenplay, Talk to Her, 2002) writer/director Pedro Almodovar.

Verdict: Well-crafted and genuinely surprising tale of a surgeon’s obsession to create a new type of skin, regardless of the consequences. 9/10

One Missed CallOne Missed Call (2008)

It happens to one. Then another. And another. College students discover eerie voicemail messages on their cell phones. Each call comes from the near future. Each call has the chilling voice of the student during his or her last moments alive. And each call comes true. Terror is One Missed Call away in this got-your-number shocker based on the hit Japanese thriller Chakushin ari. Does the viral spree of calls have a single source? Is there something that links the victims? Psych student Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) and detective Jack Andrews (Ed Burns) scramble for answers. And they’re working fast. Because Beth just discovered an ominous message.

Verdict: Manages to do everything that made the original good look really bad. Another disappointing and pointless remake. 2/10

Confucius (2010)Confucius

From the acclaimed producer of John Woos Red Cliff and Jet Lis Warlords, comes this powerhouse biopic of the legendary Chinese philosopher, Confucius. Showcasing a commanding and captivating performance from screen icon, Chow Yun-fat, this epic masterpiece balances breathtaking spectacle, visceral action and heart-wrenching drama to deliver one of this years most unforgettable movies. In 500 B.C., during Chinas famed ‘Spring and Autumn Period’, Kong Ze (Confucius), a commoner reverred for his outstanding wisdom, is made Minister of Law in the ancient Kingdom of Lu. Under his inspired leadership, Lu ascends to new heights but becomes a target of conquest for the warlike nation of Qi. Threatened with annihilation by their powerful neighbour, a desperate people turn to their greatest teacher to lead their most powerful army. When Confucius delivers a stunning victory against all odds, a jealous aristocracy sets out to destroy him, but they should never under-estimate a remarkable man whose wisdom is more powerful than the sword. With breathtaking cinematography from Oscar-winning director of photography, Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Confucius is one of Asian Cinemas finest achievements and is a compelling invitation to discover the remarkable story of one of historys greatest heroes.

Verdict: Though beautifully filmed, Confucius falls short of greatness, with some weak narrative threads in the second half. 6/10

Mystery AlaskaMystery, Alaska (1999) 

Offbeat comedy directed by Jay Roach (‘Austin Powers’), written by David E Kelley (‘Ally McBeal’) and starring Russell Crowe and Burt Reynolds. The hockey-loving village of Mystery, Alaska may look cold from the outside – but behind closed doors lie all manner of hot scandals and steamy secrets. Things really heat up when the town’s amateur hockey team, a ragtag collection of eccentric locals, accepts a challenge to face off against the legendary New York Rangers. Thrust into the national spotlight, Team Mystery must skate around their own sexy shenanigans to prove they have what it takes to be champions…

Verdict: Pleasant David vs Goliath tale with a pre-Gladiator Russell Crowe leading a good cast. 7/10

The Guard Post (2008)The Guard Post

Korean horror directed by Su-chang Kong. When a team of soldiers is sent on a rescue mission after an entire military barracks falls silent, what they find there is so horrific that they are ordered to burn the outpost – known as GP 506 – to the ground the following morning, destroying any evidence of the horrors that took place. The team find themselves with only eight night-time hours to explore the maze-like underground tunnels, find their target and uncover the awful truth.

Verdict: Inferior to Su-chang Kong’s R-Point, The Guard Post is an intriguing horror, let down by a not always straightforward narrative. 7/10

Educating RitaEducating Rita (1983)

A trio of Oscar nominations and a pair of Golden Globes went to this acclaimed romantic comedy-drama based on the play by Willy Russell. Julie Walters stars as Rita, a witty, 26-year-old working class British hairdresser who decides to seek an education at Open University. Rita needs a tutor, and she selects Dr. Frank Bryant (Michael Caine), an alcoholic college literature professor whose life is a shambles. Divorced, Bryant’s new lover is now having an affair with his best friend and he’s increasingly depressed, seeking solace in whisky. Bryant’s domestic turmoil is mirrored by Rita’s, as she has opted for college over motherhood, a source of friction between her and her husband. As Rita blooms intellectually under the tutelage of Bryant, she realizes that what she really lacks is self-confidence, not education, and a gentle romance blossoms between her and Bryant. At home, however, Rita’s newfound self-respect and intelligence cause her even greater pain.

Verdict: A great script and first rate performances from Julie Walters and Michael Caine make this one a real winner. 8/10

Cinderella Man (2005) Cinderella Man

Academy Award winners Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger star in this triumphant, powerfully inspiring true story. In a time when America needed a champion, an unlikely hero would arise, proving how hard a man would fight to win a second chance for his family and himself. Suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, boxer Jim Braddock would defy the odds against him and stun the world with one of the greatest comebacks in history. Driven by love for his family, he willed an impossible dream to come true.

Verdict: Well-acted rags to riches tale of boxing legend James Braddock. 8/10

Waking LifeWaking Life (2001)

Richard Linklater goes off-kilter with his sixth film, Waking Life. Without a linear plot line, stable images and offering the kind of conversations you normally only find in a University seminar, it’s clear that Linklater–despite his commercial success with independent films–is determined not move into the mainstream. By taking Wiley Wiggins away from his Dazed and Confused life into a dream which has no structure, and flitting from one philosophical question to another, Linklater presents a filmic discussion into the nature of physical awareness, consciousness and unconsciousness that most surrealist artists would be proud of. However, Linklater goes one step further and removes all notions of the real world by filming the actors then transferring them into animation, employing 31 artists to input their vision onto the film.

The result is a startlingly honest portrayal of the confusion we all face about the difference between life and death, dreaming and awareness, and the unknown as a whole. All the characters Wiggins meets seem to have their own thesis on the unknown, just as in life we are all aware or feel differently about our own self. In addition there are discussions regarding film as a dream-like form, with theorists aligning the sensation of watching a film to that of dreaming, taking your own consciousness into the lives of others. This is what makes Waking Life such a brave and well-structured film. By breaking down the barriers of narrative and reality, Linklater has probably made one of the most realistic films in recent history.

Verdict: Well-animated and thought-provoking piece about life and philosophy. 8/10

End of Days (1999)End of Days

Ex-cop-turned-bodyguard Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) stumbles across a demonic state of affairs when he prevents the assassination of his Wall Street employer (Gabriel Byrne). It transpires that Cane’s boss is none other than Satan himself, come to impregnate a young woman named Christine York (Robin Tunney) – who was secretly anointed by a satanic cult at birth – on the eve of the new millennium and so bring about the end of days foretold in the Book of Revelation. With the help of his partner, Chicago (Kevin Pollak), Cane now attempts to protect Christine from both Satan and a group of priests who believe that her death is the only way to halt Armageddon.

Verdict: Badly-acted with disappointing turns from Arnie and Byrne, this good vs evil tale is distinctly lacking. 4/10

10000 BC10,000 BC (2008)

From director Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow) comes 10,000 BC, a sweeping odyssey into a mythical age of prophesies and gods, when spirits ruled the land and mighty mammoths shook the earth.

In a remote mountain tribe, the young hunter D’Leh (Steven Strait, The Convenant) has found his heart’s passion – the beautiful Evolet (Camilla Bell, When A Stranger Calls). But when a band of mysterious warlords raid his village and kidnap Evolet, D’Leh must lead a small group of hunters to the end of the world in order to rescue her. As they venture into unknown lands, the group discovers there are civilisations beyond their own and that mankind’s reach is far greater then they ever knew. With each new encounter D’Leh starts to build his small group into an army. Driven by destiny, the unlikely warriors must battle prehistoric predators whilst braving the harshest elements.

Verdict: The bulk of the budget goes on some good visuals, leaving nothing left for a good story, cast or script. 4/10

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979)All Quiet on the Western Front

Taken from the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front is a devastating portrait by Delbert Mann (Desire Under the Elms, Marty) of a small group of German soldiers throughout the World War I. The star-studded cast is headed by Richard Thomas (The Waltons) as Paul Baumer, and includes such award-winning actors as Ernest Borgnine, Ian Holm, and Patricia Neal. As both narrator and star, Thomas occasionally seems to reincarnate his familiar John-Boy persona, but creates a character that has many more levels than that television alter ego. Watching Paul as he watches all of his high school buddies die is a highly emotional experience. He returns to his home a different person, conflicted in his feelings about the Army and war, evolving from an idealistic schoolboy to a fearful and humble veteran. The scenery and costuming in this period piece are well done, and surely contributed to its winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Made for TV. Also contributing to the greatness of the film are the exceptional cinematography and special effects that, while realistically gruesome, truly emphasize the horrors of war.

Verdict: Faithful adaptation of Remarque’s novel about the sacrifice and futility of war. 8/10

Water for ElephantsWater for Elephants (2011)

ACADEMY AWARD® Winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz join Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga) for this epic tale of forbidden love based on Sara Gruen’s acclaimed best seller. Against all odds, a veterinary student (Pattinson) and a beautiful circus performer from a bygone era (Witherspoon), meet and fall in love through their shared compassion for a special elephant. But their secret romance incurs the wrath of her dangerously volatile husband (Waltz).

Verdict: Ironically, the romance at the heart of the story is the film’s main weakness. 6/10

House of the Spirits (1993)House of the Spirits

Isabelle Allende’s bestselling romantic novel with dashes of politics and ‘magic realism’ set in Chile, is turned into an international co-production epic filmed in Portugal with an all-star cast. The story follows the lives and loves of several generations of the Trueba family: Jeremy Irons plays the head of the family, ageing thirty years in the film, and during that time having relationships with various women, including a sight-seer (Meryl Streep), and becoming an extremely right-wing politician. His daughter (Winona Ryder), meanwhile, has a passionate affair with her father’s political rival (Antonio Banderas).

Verdict: Despite being overlong with a few weakness, House of the Spirits is still an epic family saga worth consideration. 7/10

Rain FallRain Fall (2009)

In the crime drama RAIN FALL a contract killer must compromise his code of conduct to protect the woman he loves. John Rain (Kippei Shiina) is a master of subtlety able to make his murders look like death by natural causes. He’s very selective about who he chooses to go after only targeting key figures and never women. Things get complicated when he falls for the beautiful daughter of his most recent victim putting her life in danger as the CIA closes in. But is Rain willing to risk everything for love?

Verdict: A weak thriller with a disappointing performance from the usually reliable Gary Oldman. 3/10

Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers (2009)Eureka Seven

For almost half a century, mankind has been at war with a mysterious entity known as the Eizo. It is the year 2054 and human-kind is on the brink of destruction. A select few are evacuated to colonization spaceships and the government is about to fire their doomsday device, the Hammer of God. In the middle of this war are two teenagers, Renton and Eureka; two childhood friends who were separated when Eureka was kidnapped by government forces eight years ago. Renton is now a soldier, piloting the Nirvash, aboard the Gekoo led by Holland Novak but the crew of the Gekko is actually rebels with their own mission. Renton and Eureka are now reunited and fate will test the young lovers as they fight the Eizo, government forces and even Holland. Their love will be the key to mankind’s future and fulfilling their dreams.

Verdict: An average anime effort, though had I seen the original series I imagine my rating would have been higher. 5/10

Strait JacketStrait Jacket  (2008)

In a world where sorcery and science co-exist, the power of magic comes with a price: Humans who do not take proper precautions are transformed into horrific demons. Those who destroy these demons and run the highest risk of all are tactical sorcerists known as Strait Jackets . But when terrorists unleash a plague of demonic carnage, the Sorcery Management Bureau must enlist unlicensed assassin Leiot Steinberg to stop the slaughter. Even if this rogue killer and a mysterious young girl can end the outbreak, will they be able to face their own dark secrets? Monsters, murder and redemption collide in this explosive anime written by Ichiro Sakaki (SCRAPPED PRINCESS) and based on his popular light novel series.

Verdict: Action-packed but unfortunately brief anime which leaves a limited story. 6/10

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)The Eagle Has Landed 

Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland. The story of a Nazi plot to kidnap Winston Churchill. Based on the novel by Jack Higgins.

Verdict: Begins well but even a top-notch cast can’t prevent the anti-climactic conclusion. 7/10

Journey to the Center of the EarthJourney to the Center of the Earth (1959)

The accent is on fun and fantasy in this film version of Jules Verne’s classic thriller that stars James Mason, Pat Boone, and Arlene Dahl. With spectacular visuals as a backdrop, the story centers on an expedition led by Professor Lindenbrook (Mason) down into the earth’s dark, threat-laden core. Members of the group include the professor’s star student, Alec (Boone), and the widow (Dahl) of a colleague. Along the way lurk dangers such as kidnapping, death, sabotage by a rival explorer, and attacks by giant prehistoric reptiles. But they also encounter such magnificent wonders as a glistening cavern of quartz crystals, luminescent algae, a forest of giant mushrooms, and the lost city of Atlantis.

Remaining faithful to Verne’s story, this is a sweeping adventure that offers enough thrills and entertainment to satisfy every explorer in the family.

Verdict: Slow going and showing its age with the effects, but still a fun little adventure. 6/10

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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