What film? Which Day?

I said before that City Slickers should be watched on a Sunday. And it’s very true, some films work better on some days than others. It is a strange idea when you first hear it (Why should Skyfall be watched on a Saturday and not a Monday?) but I tell you that it becomes a natural reaction. By knowing vaguely what a film is about, I can give a good guess of which day it should be watched, about as naturally as reading the description is. So what film for which day? 

Monday: as the first day of the week, Monday is a day for a happy film. The kind to remind you that a weekend does always come back. Monday films should have a bit of silliness to them, a bit of joy. I like films liek Ferris Beuller’s Day Off or Date Night.

Tuesday: the weekend is still relatively recent, so your brain can cope with a bit of a battering. Tuesday is the day for a talky film. Sorkinesque dialogue and a lot of sitting in dark rooms are what’s needed for this day. The films generally have dome kind of dark deeds and characters with questionable morals. The Social Network (actual Sorkin) and The Ides of March (questionable politics) are good examples of this kind of film. Watch them, concentrate on them, and then feel happy that real life is never this shady.

Wednesday: its mid week, and the weekend is still quite far away. What you need is a drama. A period drama to be precise (although that could just be a girl thing). A classic book made into a not-so-classic film. Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility (yey for Austen!) or Romeo + Juliet. 

Thursday: it seems to be the day for watching the best TV shows (although I generally record and watch another day). So use Thursday to keep current with whatever TV shows you watch. Or read, if TV isn’t for you.

Friday: the last day of the working week and, if you are anything like me, you don’t really want to concentrate much on anything. Tired and mentally spent form the week, the movies you should watch on a Friday night are the kind of mindless action films where the goodie always wins and the baddie generally gets his/her comeuppance (and there is often a rather high body count too.) Many of these movies got slammed by the critics. Transformers, Iron Man, Die Hard, Jurassic Park, The Da Vinci Code. You get the idea. Just nothing that causes actual thinking.

Saturday: you’ve been having fun all day, and have given your mind a chance to relax. What you need to finish the day is a more challenging film, something to perhaps discuss next week (“At the weekend I watched…”) For me, Saturday has become a day for some good old fashioned film education. The thing is, to end the day you don’t want a hugely intellectual film. Something like Kill Bill or The Dark Night or Skyfall or In Bruges will do the trick nicely.

Sunday: this day has two parts, Sunday afternoon and Sunday night. For the afternoon, what’s best is a heartwarming film. Sweet, easy going and unchallenging, these are the kind of film that you could easily nap during. The general idea is a coming-of-age movie, or a chick flick or self discovery story. Such lovely pieces of entertainment as The Breakfast Club, Roman Holiday or It’s a Wonderful Life. The evening, however, calls for a classic. Not really any specific genre, just great films. Star Wars, The Godfather, that kind of thing.

City Slickers for a Sunday

The men become cowboys.

When I first read the title of this movie, I thought it would be some kind of hardened cop movie where they chased down some kind of serial murderer. It’s not. It’ so not. It’s almost the opposite, and it is a perfect feel-good Sunday afternoon movie (yes, movies have times and days.)

Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby are three city men, Mitch, Phil and Ed respectively. Bored with their city lives they decide to go on holiday to the Mid West and take part in a cattle drive, lead by Curly (Jack Palance). At first incapable of anything cowboy related, they are trained up along with a group of other ‘city slickers’ (geddit?) before heading out into the hills with a herd of cattle. What follows is a series of funny and heartwarming life lessons.

What makes this film is the chemistry between the characters, particularly Mitch and Curly. The development of their relationship (though rather predictable) from fear (on Mitch’s side) to respect (on both sides) is carefully handled and terribly sweet. Then there are the other tourists; two ice cream heroes, a dentist and his son and a woman. One of the best scenes in the movie is when the gang are sitting around a campfire, challenging ice cream men Barry and Ira (Josh Mostel and David Paymer) to think of the perfect ice cream flavour for any meal (“Rum Raisin!”). There is a whole host of nifty one-liners (“I crap bigger than you” and “Did you see how leathery he was? He was like a saddlebag with eyes!”) and even the birth of a calf called Norman to keep you entertained.

Crystal and Palance

It’s not long before the group is thrown into deep water when something unexpected happens (not going to give away spoilers). It is here when all the life lessons begin – finish what you started, don’t give up, and if you want to be a cowboy you have to learn how to lasso things. Thankfully though, the funny keeps on coming as the situations they get thrown into become absurd and western cliches are taken full advantage of (yes, stampedes really do happen.)

City Slickers is a sweet film, but you do have to like Billy Crystal to watch it. Thankfully I do, and I now know what to do in a mid life crisis.

Magazine Junkie: The September Issue

Wintour and Coddington

I will be the first one to admit that I am a bit of a magazine junkie. I will read almost any magazine, cover to cover. It doesn’t really matter how interested I ma in the topic, if it is in a magazine I’ll read it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I have learnt a lot from these articles and can often bring up facts that begin with ‘So, I read in some magazine…’ But it was a film that originally got me into magazines, and that film was The September Issue.

It is a documentary from R.J Cutler (executive producer of lots of TV shows) in which he documents the making of the September issue (duh) of US Vogue. Now, before watching this film I didn’t have any idea what kind of work that went into making a magazine. I didn’t even know that issues were dated a month after they come out (so the September issue will come out in August, the August one in July.) I definitely had never read a fashion magazine, but afterwards I went out and bought my first ever Vogue (US edition, of course.)

The Front Row

 

But The September Issue isn’t just about making a magazine. It is about the two key players – Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington (both Brits), the editor in chief and fashion editor, respectively. It is this constant push and pull relationship that makes this film interesting. The contrast of the two characters. There is the famously (or infamously) intimidating Anna Wintour, who can make fashion greats quake in their boots, and there is the more approachable and friendly Grace Coddington.

Anna Wintour

Wintour is the queen of fashion, and what she says goes. The trademark bob and sunglasses get a lot of outings in this film, but Cutler goes deeper than her public personality. Behind the closed doors of Vogue, Wintour is the boss. She is driven and passionate, and fiercely respected by all her colleges (if not slightly feared). Hers is the difficult job is to keep the magazine on the fine line between practical and fanciful. She can’t get carried away like any of her employees and is left to the task of cutting features out when everyone else wants to put them in.

It is Coddington who is Wintour’s main opponent. Not scared of her in the least, she will fight for her pieces as much as she will fight for others. It is her job to style the models for the features. It may be Wintour who decides what goes into the magazine, but it is Coddington who makes it desirable. Her dress is much more casual than Wintour’s, always a black dress and frizzy orange hair. Not something you would expect from a former model. She becomes the star of the show. You go in thinking about Anna Wintour, and leave thinking about Grace Coddington.

Cutler follows the key players around the globe on photoshoots and visiting designers. It is a glamourous life, but clearly one of passion. Everyone who is interviewed clearly loves their subject and enthusiasm near oozes out of them. The common debates about fashion are dealt with quickly here – Wintour is famous for her love of fur (“There is always a way to wear fur”), and photoshop is used freely (“She looks pregnant. We need to fix her.”) But the point of the documentary is not about those questions, it is about the relationship. And it does that perfectly.

Growth of the Short

I love short films. I mean, who doesn’t want a ten minute piece of added joy in their life? It was Pixar who first introduced me to them with shorts like Luxo Jr. and For the Birds before their feature films. I watched, enthralled, in the cinema, but they often seemed like a warm-up act before the main thing began. The thing is, shorts shouldn’t be like that. Many of them are amazing and can stand alone in their own right, and they should be given more attention.

I have noticed them becoming more prominent, Paperman, for example, has become massively popular thanks to the Oscars. Some advertising spots are even beginning to resemble shorts, some of the older Cadbury ones particularly, or the ones from Thinkbox that advertise TV advertising. They may not be as long as an official short, but they each have their own story.

 
Luckily for me though, adverts are not all I have to rely on. Filmmakers are now submitting a lot of their work to Vimeo and YouTube and are getting a huge audience (some even to the millions). Of course, you can go to those websites and sift through all the content to get to the quality (be my guest) but there are some lovely people over at Short of the Week who will do it for you. This website is incredible, and pretty much all of the shorts they feature are of amazing quality. I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. One of my current favourites (I’m sure that will change pretty quickly as I watch more) is The Come Up, which features Patrick J. Adams (yes, from Suits). Watch it here.
Finding a new great new short is, for me, like finding a little treasure. Generally they are free and online, so all I need to do is copy the link and sent it out to my friends. They are called ‘shorts’ for a reason, because they only take a few minutes out of your day. And if you’re like me and are revising a lot for exams (ahhh!), a ten minute short is a much needed excuse for a break.

Movies vs. Films

There is a problem that has been bothering me since I began properly taking an interest in movies (or films). The problem is which word to use, are they movies or films? Are the words interchangeable? Are some, erm, cinema(?) films, while others are movies? I have been told by multiple people multiple rules for the words.

Let’s start with my friends. I am British, and I use the British vocabluary: pavement for sidewalk, boot for trunk, queue for line, and trousers for pants. And I have been told that film is the British word for movie. According to them, movie is a ridiculous word (I mean, who shortens ‘moving picture show’?) Now, I don’t believe that this idea is upheld by many people, and I’m pretty sure that it is the wrong definition (it’s not to bad though, they are only 17).

Movies according to the NYLFF

Another way of thinking is by defining each piece of cinema by its qualities. The folks at the New York Latino Film Festival have made a series of funny posters, showing the difference between films and movies. The general consensus for this definition is that films are more artistic and cultural, while movies are more generally appealing or blockbusters.

Movies according to the NYLFF

Finally, though, there is the idea that the two words can be used interchangeably, and this is the one I have been using on this blog. To me (any many others) the two words mean the same thing, but just have different roots. Film is named after the photographic film used to record, while movies are (as I mentioned before) an abbreviation of ‘moving picture show’. It is this version of the rule that I will continue to use until I am proved wrong for sure.

But that’s okay. It’s my blog, I can do what I like.

Frost/Nixon

Sheen as Frost

Not knowing much about that period in history, I didn’t have high hopes for my enjoyment of Frost/Nixon. How wrong I was! I watched it for the first time when my standard movie fodder was romcoms (don’t judge me!). I was getting a regular film education from my parents, so I wan’t completely unaware. It just wasn’t something I would have usually chosen. But it got good reviews, so who was I to refuse?

As is relatively popular at the moment, Frost/Nixon retells an important point in history. President Nixon (Frank Langella) has resigned because of the Watergate Scandal and has been living a life away from the private eye. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a British talk show host, not known for his depth or seriousness. In an attempt to be taken more seriously, Frost pitches a series of exclusive interviews to Nixon (they would be his first since his resignation), to which Nixon agrees, believing he will be able to twist the questions so he can answer what he wants to answer to redeem himself. As everyone associated with the interviews doubts the interviewer’s ability to give Nixon the ‘trial he never had’, Frost surprises everyone.

Nixon (Langella) gives Frost (Sheen) a talking to.

The film was originally a show in the West End and featured both Sheen and Langella as the leads. Their deep understanding of the roles and how to play off each other clearly come out in this film. Langella plays Nixon with commanding subtlety, his Nixon has clearly owned every room he has been in since before he was President and obviously expects to do it here too. His Nixon has such conviction that what he did wasn’t wrong, wasn’t illegal (“I’m saying that when the President does it, that means it’s not illegal!”). But it is this conviction that is his downfall and Langella plays that beautifully, being caught out by the man he least expected.

But is is not just Langella who shines here. This is the film that introduced me to my favourite actor – Michael Sheen (who I used to mistake for Martin Sheen, also incredible). Yes, I had seen Sheen before, in Twilight (I said, don’t judge me!), but it was here that I loved him. He was here what made the story real for me. Incredibly convincing as the fluffy chat show host who wants to make it big, but has rarely done any work before. Sheen doesn’t try to make Frost sympathetic, clearly expecting everyone around him to do most of the work so he can just turn up on the day. And that is what he does. or that is what he does until the penultimate day of shooting. Tired of being beaten about by Nixon, Sheen’s Frost suddenly becomes motivated. It is not for the good of the American people, but for Frost’s own selfish means (he realises how much he stands to lose if he doesn’t get one tiny scoop) and Sheen plays this wonderfully (and leads you to wondering if Frost does have a conscience after all).

It is, after all, a character driven piece. Very talky, yes. But very brilliant too. I am terribly interested in modern history (the Tudors are so in the past), so this film was right up my street. But it didn’t just teach me about Watergate. It taught me to branch out, to watch things I wouldn’t have thought about before. And that is a lesson I am glad to learn.

Kick-Ass the Bloodthirsty

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Kick Ass

That Quentin Tarantino has a lot to answer for. He had nothing to do with Kick-Ass, but I can say with conviction that it would probably not be the same without him. The abundant, almost comedic, violence that is his trademark has twisted its way into Kick-Ass. And you know what? Other directors can pull it off just as well. Or it could just be Michael Vaughn who can pull it off. I don’t know. Either way, the folks at The Quentin Tarantino Archives say it was one of his favourite movies of 2010, so I guess it has the official seal of approval.

Dave and his friends in the comic book store.

The story follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as he decides to become a super hero called Kick-Ass. After rising to fame via YouTube a vengeful cop and his daughter (Nicolas Cage and Chloe Grace Moretz) are inspired and become Big Daddy and Hit Girl, respectively, and join him in his crime fighting. In trying to help his crush, Katie, Dave as Kick-Ass becomes entangled in a drugs gang who decide they want him dead. It is up to Kick Ass, Big Daddy and Hit Girl to stop the leader before he stops them.

I would like to say here that Kick-Ass, erm, kicks ass. It really does, it’s awesome! And I would also like to say that I will probably buy the graphic novel (and the sound track and the second graphic novel). And that Chloe Grace Moretz is a really good actress. Hit Girl was by far my favourite character; funny, cool and pretty handy with a knife (and double ended sword and gun and ninja star), she was also much deeper that I originally thought. It’s not an easy role to play sympathetically, and she could have easily become one of those annoying children the writers and directors have tried to make cute. But no pretence of cuteness is made here (oh-ho no!). Hit girl is one dinky killing machine, racking up what must be one of the highest body counts for a child in a film ever.

The other characters were mostly good too. There was Chris D’Amico as the wannabe big shot and son of ruthless drugs lord Frank D’Amico, Dave’s heckling friends (it’s difficult to say anything in front of them without being laughed at), and a bunch of D’Amico’s henchmen who are very good at creating creative deaths (who knew that if you microwave someone they will explode?). The only one I really had a problem with was Katie (Lyndsey Fonseca) who seemed to be there mainly as a pretty face (and who forgives a guy immediately who has just told you he has been lying for ages?).

The action scenes, though, were this film’s bread and butter. They were the kind of crazy violence that exists in Kill Bill. Seamlessly choreographed and beautifully shot, they gave the impression of a comic book, showing blood splatters frame by frame. The whole thing is unerringly confident in its ludicrousness and, I tell you, if Vaughn had made this film through a studio it have fallen to pieces. I mean, what studio wants to show an eleven year old girl as a ruthless killer. There was also the possibility that the fight scenes would become the whole film (as has happened so often in the past with movies like Transformers), but here they come regularly but snappily. Each expertly shot move is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, one certainly is never left yawning (or thinking about dinner) here.

Frank and Chris D’Amico bond through evil.

Kick-Ass is unbelievably entertaining, hilarious at times and heartbreaking at others, and it really does beg the question why nobody tried to become a superhero in real life (well, it does until all the blood starts pouring out of everyone). And just to add to the superheroness of it, Taylor-Johnson sounds a lot like Spiderman, Toby Maguire.

And the sequel (the amazingly named Kick-Ass 2) is coming out this year!

All images link to sources.

http://www.tarantino.info/2011/01/03/quentins-favorite-movies-of-2010/