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.

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.┬áHit 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/

Quoting the Movies: Night at the Museum 2

Ben Stiller in Night at the Museum 2

I quote films daily, a trait I learned form my parents and something I do so often that it has become a basic part of my vocabulary (“Lights, lights would be good here” from Pretty Woman, ‘Charlie Babbage made a joke” from Rain Man, “There will be hearts breaking all over the world tonight” form Top Gun, among others), but until Night at the Museum 2 I never picked up the accent or speech patterns of a character.

The film follows Larry Daley, ex night guard of the Natural History Museum in New York as he travels to the Smithsonian Museum to rescue his friends. However, his friends are museum exhibits who come to life every night due to the powers of a magic ancient Egyptian tablet which has also brought to life the all the exhibits in the rest of the museum (Oh dear!). His friends are being held hostage by Kahmunrah who wants to use the tablet to take over the world. Shenanigans including Amelia Earhart, Abe Lincoln and Napoleon Bonaparte ensue leading to a brilliant, if ridiculous, romp around the Smithsonian and a lot of made up words from Earhart.

Hank Azaria as Kahmunrah

It is not Amelia Earhart, though, who has become a part of my life but Kahmunrah, played by Hank Azaria (who was also Phoebe’s boyfriend David in friends, crazily.) His lisping, childish, wannabe Pharaoh has pervaded my every day life and now I can’t say “I don’t think so” without putting emphasis on the I. Just watch the clip and tell me Kahmunrah is not the best damn thing you have ever seen.

I’m sorry I’m not more sorry about this. I really am. But I do a mean Kahmunrah impression, lisp and all.

It is a rare occurrence that a sequel is better than the original film, but this is one of those special few. While the original had to establish the characters and the magic tablet’s rules, this film could just run with it. The whole of history becomes a playground as Larry and Amelia race through the museum, jumping in and out of paintings and flying the Wright Flyer (yes, it does still work, no I have no idea how anyone will explain how it got to where it ends the film.) The writers clearly had fun here, playing with the traits of well known figures. Napoleon has height issues (who knew?), Ivan the Terrible is apparently Ivan the Awesome (it got translated wrong) and The Thinker is not so deep a thinker at all (but look at his muscles!)

Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart

It is a film that knows its place. Not attempting to be intricate or crafty, there is pretty much a maximum of two plots going on at the same time, but in doing that it hits exactly the right mark. Never too long between laughs, it even has the Jonas Brothers in it (I know, their time came and went pretty quickly…) It is a film that I just keep on coming back to and it never disappoints.

If nothing else, it taught me Pi to eight decimal places.

All images link to sources.