#136 Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Dir: Sylvester Stallone

‘Rocky 5’ wasn’t the end! But how do you update and revive a franchise that was dormant for over 15 years?… Bring in a computer of course!

Years after the events of ‘Rocky V’, the now widowered Rocky Balboa is left running his late wife’s restaurant, entertaining them with his boxing stories, and struggling to maintain a close relationship with his son (Milo Ventimiglia). When a computerised fight simulation compares Rocky’s abilities against that of the current heavyweight champion, Rocky considers re-entering the life he missed so much to see if he’s still got what it takes.

This seems to be an easy way of reviving older franchises, by just adding in a modern technology element. In ‘Die Hard 4.0’ there was John McClain up against cyber crime, Here, Rocky is shown in a computer game styled simulation which is the catalyst to get him back into the ring.

Adrian died, apparently she was written as alive in the first draft of the script, but then killed off to add emotional depth to Rocky’s character. Funny how for 5 films he kept saying that he’d never let her go, but for the sake of an easy way to add depth to the character he killed her off. Seems to me like an easy way around the problem of the story not being all that good. Why Stallone didn’t bring in extra help on either the writing or direction I don’t quite know. At least they have kept the same production team.

Milo Ventimiglia is cast as the grown up son, which actually works well visually, there’s just enough of a resemblance there, more between Ventimiglia and the young Sage Stallone in Rocky V than him and Sylvester Stallone, but still you can believe him enough in the role. Sadly though the relationship between the characters becomes far too sidelined for it to be much of an emotionally compelling element of the story, it takes second place to preparing for the fight.

Like ‘Rocky II’ it sets up the opponent straight away, we can all see where this is heading right from the opening. However, in the getting there another storyline is introduced, that of ‘Little Marie’, a character very briefly in the first film, who is now all grown up and becomes somewhat of a friend, and possible romantic interest for Rocky. I found this relationship really odd, she was a kid who he walked home many years ago, he’s old enough to be her father, and rather than being protective as it was then, for me it danced on the line of slightly creepy, especially as it’s never really clear what they are or aren’t to each other.

The end fight is far too edited which takes out a lot of the realistic element of the boxing match, something that the other films didn’t do, they merely used cuts and the odd slow-motion shot. Here everything is messed about with to a greater degree and to the detriment of the impact of the fight, it lessens the impact of the point being made that Rocky despite being older can stand to-to-toe with this new fighter.

I was actively annoyed at the end credits which have people running up the famous steps Rocky used to run up in his training. It looks terribly ill-fitting, far more like something you might do for a featurette about the series and really not something that should be in the film itself.

After returning to this franchise, Stallone went back to his other big hit by making ‘Rambo’ two years later in 2008. However, he hasn’t quite done with this franchise yet. In the past month, it was announced that a Rocky spin-off film is in pre-production, ‘Creed’ will focus on the son of Apollo Creed as he works to follow in his father’s footsteps, likely aided in some way by Rocky who it has been confirmed will feature in the film.

Somehow he still can’t just let Rocky grow old peacefully, every time the character is brought back, there is an increased risk of undoing the hard work put in over decades, and living things on a sour note. Maybe it’s time that Stallone wrote the scene he removed from ‘Rocky V’, and just let the character die.

 

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#131 – #135 Rocky – Rocky V

Rocky (1976)

Dir: John G. Avildsen

That’s an interesting way to tenderise meat!

I don’t think I need to outline the story much, it’s so well-known, but briefly Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is an amateur boxer who would like to make it big, but doesn’t get selected for the good fights because he’s a southpaw (left-handed). However, when world champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is looking for a newsworthy opponent to face him in an unprecedented fight, the unknown ‘Italian Stallion’ southpaw is the perfect choice to take him on for the title.

This is a sporting movie with a really unusual romance included. In this first film the relationship between Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) doesn’t work for me as a convincing romance, there’s something seriously lacking there as a good reason for her to be so drawn to him, though this does have the ability to be developed in latter films.

Rocky himself is strangely lovable, though he’s not the most erudite of characters there’s something nice about that, though at times just a little more insight into his thoughts might be nice in a way.

The end culminates in the boxing match that it’s all been building to, the conclusion of which doesn’t go quite how many sporting movies would, and really begs for a rematch, although both opponents say in the ring that there won’t be one.

Rocky II (1979)

Dir: Sylvester Stallone

The rematch!

Yep I know they said there wouldn’t be one, but of course there would! The first film did so well in terms of box office and critical acclaim that there had to be more, and this is the perfect basis for that storyline.

I like how the first few minutes are the last few minutes of the last one exactly, not even from different angles, therefore it picks up precisely where ‘Rocky’ left off. The opening titles are simple no-frills, revealing the same producers, and Sylvester Stallone now taking on the role of directing too as well as writing and starring.

Given the extra time with him and Adrian, their relationship is starting to work, even as they are suffering difficulties on-screen, at least it’s feeling more like a viable screen romance. Rocky struggles to make the most of his first fight with Creed by endorsing products, finding that acting in commercials is not something he’s suited to. Taking manual labour at his brother-in-law Paulie’s (Burt Young) meat-packing plant to help with the bills, he essentially leaves the sporting world behind. However, Apollo Creed is being taunted about their match, with his ability challenged and his pride at stake, he tempts Rocky back into the ring for a rematch.

Pretty soon into the film there’s a wedding, something you might have expected from the ending of the previous films, but obviously the films were written to conclude with the big fight and then let the aftermath be kept for any sequels. This does indeed follow that format from the previous film, concluding with the big fight, this time with Rocky and Apollo both with something to prove, and a title at stake!…

Rocky III (1982)

Dir: Sylvester Stallone

Now that he’s the heavyweight champion of the world, what next?

Thankfully this installment still remains fairly consistent in the opening style, and opens again with the last few minutes of ‘Rocky II’ showing that things are continuing straight on. The film still has the same team behind it, with producers, writer and director all the same as the last one.

Rather than the opening being the last few minutes of Rocky II shown verbatim, this cuts in a little extra to set up the opponent very early on, using a montage showing up-and-coming boxer Clubber Lang (Mr. T) watching Rocky’s success, cut against his own, and all this set to the famous music of ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

The storyline then follows on in much of a now familiar way, with Clubber Lang determined to challenge Rocky’s title as Heavyweight champion, stating that he’s had it easy and only been pitted against easy opponents.Rocky discovers from his trainer Mickey that this is true and the two of them part ways, however Clubber Lang inadvertently causes Mickey to have a heart-attack, knocking Rocky off his game. Old adversary-turned-friend Apollo Creed then comes to Rocky’s aid and offers to help him get back on fighting form so he can have his vindication and uphold the name of their sport.

Somehow Rocky is becoming far more erudite at this point, there’s a considerable change in him, with much more dialogue and real sentences being formed. It’s a bit odd considering the huge amounts of blows he receives to his head, he should have started as a verbose individual and progressed towards the monosyllabic man from there. Funnily enough, not wanting to spoil things too much, but this fluctuates later on through the series.

This installment features quite a bit of humour, even with some somber elements there is still a general sense of fun. This is most especially noticeable with the cameo by Hulk Hogan playing a wrestler called ‘Thunderlips’ who Rocky takes on in a charity fight. Other lighter and more amusing moments for me included Mr T saying “I pity the fool”, and the friendly ending with Apollo, where that classic theme of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is used yet again, and even included in dialogue.

The film cleverly contrasts Rocky’s training, in a real air of celebrity buzz surrounded by fans and even showered with bubbles, against Clubber’s training alone in what appears to be a basement. This technique works perfectly well to make the point that Rocky is slipping into the notoriety and celebrity status rather than keeping his focus on the quality training that he needs to truly be at his best and retain his title.

To show Rocky’s change in attitude towards the end of the film, he actually uses fighting talk for the first time, as I noticed he had not really done so before, preferring to be stoically quiet or determinedly pleasant when facing off against his opponents.

They again swear this is “Definitely the last one”… somehow I don’t quite believe it!

Rocky IV (1985)

Dir: Sylvester Stallone

Yet again he’s back on top, so why return? Well it’s simple… The Russians are coming!

Ok, maybe its a little more complicated than that. When the Russian boxing federation is looking to spread its influence and join the ranks of international boxing, the first stop on their conquest for dominion of the sport is the United States of America. Champion boxer Ivan Drago arrives and challenges the best that America has to offer, which theroetically is retired Rocky Balboa, but instead his new ally Apollo Creed sees this as an opportunity to defend his nation’s honour, and reassert himself as a champion. This plan goes devastatingly wrong, causing Rocky then to step up and do what he’s told he shouldn’t, fight this hulking brute of a man.

This film starts showing the influence of changing times, and is hugely impacted by the 1980’s. The opening is changed from that of the others, it’s not quite so simple and straightforward, it does still pick up where the last one finished though. Aiming to show more of a view of family life, lots more time is given to showing life in the Balboa household, much of it involving real conversations between Rocky and Adrian, potentially more than the previous 3 films combined. The film it practically starts with a family birthday dinner for Paulie, and his unbelievable gift of a clichéd 80’s robot!

The more interesting robotic character is Drago, who hardly speaks at all, most of his talking is done for him by his trainer or his wife (Brigitte Nielsen). I say he is robotic in that his manner is very rigid. Dolph Lundgren is great at looking tough, but possibly not so great at acting, so for the majority of the time he doesn’t actually speak, and when he does it is brief and tough lines delivered in a monotone with a heavy Russian accent. As a boxer he has a very different fighting style. Clearly on performance enhancing drugs, and thus it’s shown that he is an unfair opponent and must be beaten for the sake of ethics, not just because he’s Russian.

Not same enjoyment as the others, feels really different. Although it’s possibly one of the most memorable and interesting films of the series, that’s not always for the best reasons. For example, Rocky’s training routine is transposed to the harsher climate of Russia and given a makeover through the differences in this new location, but somehow that whole sequence feels a lot more cheesy because of this.

Music is more noticeable, and that’s not helped with this film feeling badly dated. It is just one of the elements that seems to have been made contemporary for the audience at the time, but now watching it nearly 30 years later it feels like an oddity in the series, whereas the original film has become a classic, this feels terribly dated, it has aged quite badly. What I really didn’t get is Paulie’s robot! By trying to be all technological and new, writing this like this into the film has caused it to age the worst out of all of them.

As with many films of the time, this features a political message heavily. Rocky is not just beating one Russian boxer, he is beating Communism and the Soviet regime, Wins over the crowd to support him. Makes a speech that moves even political leaders to want to end Communism. This is the foremost example of Rocky being uncharacteristically verbose and erudite, making a speech that would put President Bartlet from ‘The West Wing’ to shame (not really, but I’m being dramatic).

The end credits feature a photo montage, and there’s a retrospective montage of short clips from the series thus far that really looks quite bad, especially as it’s not the last one, or really released all that later than the previous one, a 5 year wait isn’t something that had people crying out in the streets oven when Rocky would return to the silver screen!

Again, Rocky tells Adrian that she’s “Never gettin’ rid of [him]”, and it’s starting to feel that way.

Rocky V (1990)

Dir: John G. Avildsen

Is this going to be the end for Rocky’s career, and his movie franchise?

We’re now entering into the 90’s, and thankfully putting some of the cheese of the 80’s behind, pushing it aside for the radical changes of the new decade. The opening is still not kept as simple as the first few, which is a shame, and that’s not the end of the changes that are made to the Rocky movie template.

Here Rocky’s repeated blows to the head cause him to retire yet again, with the warning that if he keeps boxing it will kill him. However, promoter George Washington Duke is determined to get Rocky to fight his current signing to boost his profile, and despite financial troubles Rocky declines. Instead her returns to his old neighbourhood and gets Mickey’s gym running again, taking on a young boxer by the name of Tommy Gunn, whose loyalties are tested.

Directed by the same man as the first film, in fact he had won the Academy Award for best director for that, so maybe he was brought back in as an attempt to put things back on track? Funnily enough it had the opposite effect. Partly due to the way it diverges so much from the winning formula of the past films it struggled in the U.S. box office, causing United Artists to cease their involvement with the series. In recent years Stallone has been quoted as saying that this one was made “out of greed”, and in a way that shows through in elements of the storyline that suggest Rocky himself as a character is being forgotten.

Though it follows on directly from Rocky IV, his kid has grown up years instantly, from 9 years old to a teenager. Rocky Jr was played by Sylvester Stallone’s real son Sage, who sadly died a few years ago. He is given his own side story, but it feels quite out of place and odd, the film could do without most of that. I think it is possible to get across the idea of a distracted dad and the way that affects his son without having to focus so heavily on the child or show quite so much, it really diverts attention away from Rocky and not in a needed way as his son isn’t really being pushed forward to be a main character.

I enjoyed the new character of nefarious George Washington Duke who was so obviously based on Don King, something I recognized instantly despite not being a fan of boxing.

To go with the very different storyline, there is also a very different soundtrack that has been changed with the times, including more Hip Hop, which doesn’t fit so well.

What also changes is the nature of the final fight between Rocky and his one-time protegé Tommy Gunn. This is moved from the traditional ring to the outside, where it becomes a bare-knuckle street fight. It’s really not in keeping with Rocky at all. This part of the screenplay was rewritten during production, it was meant to truly be Rocky’s final fight in that he was originally written as being killed during it. After watching the 5 films in a row, I strangely feel like that could have been a good idea, but alas Stallone had a change of heart and changed it, instead turning things overly sentimental and into the realms of schmaltzy, ending with another photo montage, this time with music by Elton John!

In conclusion then…

Strangely, this review has taken a very long time for me to write, as although I’ve merged the 5 films into one post, it was a surprising struggle to feel motivated in writing things, I had to look back over storylines for reminders, check a few things, and yet have not been enthralled writing this. Possibly I should have played ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on repeat!

It’s an interesting franchise, one that could so easily have been a single film, or a trilogy, but has turned into something far bigger! To see more about this, look at what I watched next…

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#130 Jack The Giant Slayer

Jack The Giant Slayer (2013)

Dir: Bryan Singer

Apparently magic beans are like gremlins, whatever you do don’t get them wet!

Based on the traditional fairytales of Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer, Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies) stars as Jack, a farm boy who ends up one day exchanging his uncles horse for some beans that a monk says he can redeem for gold. However these magic beans hold the ability to reconnect the human world with the legendary giant world of times long past. Being a fairytale then we must throw in the beautiful young Princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) who falls for Jack and who obviously needs rescuing, her father the king (Ian McShane), some chivalrous men (Ewan McGregor and Eddie Marsan), and an evil Lord (Stanley Tucci), and of course the giants led by two-headed Fallon (mainly Bill Nighy).

I wonder if the name was changed to remove the word ‘Beanstalk’ as kids don’t like vegetables? This aimed to follow many other fairytale films reworked in recent years, such as ‘Snow White and the Huntsman‘, though apparently the idea was around before most of them. It suffered from a hugely delayed production, and the release was set back considerably. That’s very rarely a good sign.

It always used to be rhymed that the giants could smell the blood of an Englishman, thus the accents and setting are very fitting. Much was actually filmed on location in England, though a lot of the film of course was heavily CGI created and green-screened.

Sadly it doesn’t quite reach the grand epic levels that a film about huge giants should, falling a little flat in terms of fantasy action. Also, there’s some confusion about whether to like the giants or hate them. Snow White went dark, brooding, and with some clear and detestable villains, but this has giants that waver between menacing and incompetent with much of their scenes being infused with humour. Are the audience expected to laugh with, at, or root against them? It looks from what I’ve read like there were changes in scriptwriter, with one of them coming in and completely changing the structure, viewpoint and back story, which seems to have confused matters more rather than clarify and polish them.

It’s well worth following director Bryan Singer on Twitter, especially if you’re interested in whatever he’s working on, at the moment that’s his return to the X-Men franchise with Days of Future Past. He tweets often and with both behind the scenes info and teaser snaps of cast and sets, which can often be quite exciting. A little more of that excitement could have been put to good use here, but never mind, hopefully he’s saving it all for his next film!

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#129 The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields (1984)

Dir: Roland Joffé

I like how my hobby of watching films teaches me about many different things, often about science, politics, geography, different cultures, and in this case history that I didnt know anything about at all.

Based on a true story, this follows American reporter Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), and his Cambodian colleague and interpreter Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor). As a knock-on effect of the Vietnam war, bordering country Cambodia descended into civil war between the army and communist group the Khmer Rouge. Schanberg and Pran take huge risks along with photographer Al Rockoff (John Malkovich, ‘Warm Bodies’) to get the stories that the U.S. Army are intent on covering up. With foreign press eventually forced to abandon the embassies that have sheltered them, Pran is unable to leave the country and finds himself in a labour camp having to cover his real identity knowing that this links to America would get him killed.

There’s a nice use of radio broadcasts and a television news programme to act as exposition, really helpful in adding some explanation of the history and political situation, which without looking too deeply into it seems to have been very complicated.

I noticed in the opening credits that the score is by Mike Oldfield, probably best known for ‘Tubular Bells’. As you might expect from Oldfield, the score makes use of some often somewhat odd and experimental sounds, but then other parts of the score features more traditional instrumentation. In places this changing score is quite interesting and sometimes prominent.

I found the cast to be very good, and especially nice to see Sam Waterston as a younger man, funnily enough he’s still playing a journalist now in ‘The Newsroom’. Though the film seems like it’s about Schanberg at the start, by the end you realise that Pran’s story is the more interesting one.

Haing S.Ngor’s life had many similarities to that of Dith Pran, as he did experience much of this too. As a gynaecologist he was forced to hide his educated background from the regime, unable to help his wife through childbirth resulting in her death. He was not a professional actor, and was cast for the role when spotted by the casting director at a wedding. He went on to win many awards for his portrayal of Dith Pran, interestingly ‘Best Supporting Actor’ at the Academy Awards, but ‘Best Actor’ at the BAFTA’s, which I think is more appropriate as by the end of this film it’s his role that is clearly in the lead, and the emotional heart of the story centers on the extraordinary experiences of both the character and actor.
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#128 Limitless

Limitless (2011)

Dir: Neil Burger

A film with a brilliant idea behind it, but that premise takes much of the focus…

It was (somewhat erroneously) said that humans only use a small part of our brains, and this film takes that idea and imagines what it would be like if someone could just simply take a pill that allowed them to use all their brain power. It’s a great idea, but I think the film may not explore all the intricacies and implications of that to the full.

Eddie (Bradley Cooper) is a writer, but after the success of his first book he is now stuck for the second, and spends much of his time pointlessly, in a messy apartment or out in bars. When he bumps into his ex-brother-in-law one day he is given an ‘experimental’ pill that unlocks his brains full potential, allowing him complete focus and clarity of thought, but when it’s effects wear off Eddie wants more. With a stash of the pills Eddie makes huge leaps in financial trading, and is in deep with powerful people (Robert De Niro) when his supply runs out.

It’s interesting seeing this now as it features De Niro and Cooper together before they made Silver Linings Playbook, which was one of my favourite films of last year, not just because Jennifer Lawrence was in it, but because those actors were superb in their roles and really working at their best. This however didn’t feel to me like they were really giving it their all, there was a certain lack of depth to the characters that let it down.

Visually this film excels in its creativity, making clear distinctions through the cinematography as to when Eddie is on the drug, everything is bright and colourful when he is, but dull when he’s not. There’s nothing radically groundbreaking through that, but it’s a technique that works well to show the clarity of thoughts, and it helps to enliven things when he is functioning at his best. Another thing that is done is the lens is sometimes swapped out for an extreme wide-angle to show how Eddie gains the ability to be aware of everything that’s going on around him, with a view that is somewhat like these 360 degree camera attachments that capture all angle views.

There are lots of fast edits and creative techniques, even some CGI sequences of inside his brain and neurons firing. For me some of these worked, others didn’t. A few times they were great to heighten the point being made, and others just seemed too much, a little indulgent or at the least superfluous.

Still, at the end of the day it’s a film about drug use and addiction, the pill could even be marketed as something like ‘speed’ if that name wasn’t already taken. There are so many perks to his taking the pill, that the negative consequences (of which there are many) may be slightly sidelined or forgotten by the end, especially with the ending that suggests long-lasting benefits. I have friends who have suffered with drug addiction in the past, and they are not left with benefits from it, rather they suffer severe long-term mental health issues.

By turning some of the complications of Eddie’s taking the pill into action sequences and dramatic tensions, when they are resolved it’s all forgotten. I don’t want to be hugely critical of the film as I did enjoy much of it as quite a good thrilling and entertaining movie, but I am still left wondering if toning down the thrill-ride and action then replacing it with more depth to the characters and a more involved look at how things could have gone disastrously for him, we might have been left with a film that honestly might not have been so succesful at the box office (in its current state it made over $160 million on a $27 million budget), but more lasting in its analysis of what is a brilliant sci-fi premise with huge real-world implication.

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#127 The Goonies

The Goonies (1985)

Dir: Richard Donner

Story by Steven Spielberg (lots of films, including E.T.). Screenplay by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter, Gremlins). Directed by Richard Donner (Superman)…

This was always going to be a big hit with kids!

‘The Goonies’ are a group of youths whose neighbourhood is set to be demolished, and they can’t see any way of having enough money to fight against it. However when they find a pirate map in Mikey’s (Sean Astin) attic, the kids go on an adventure with crooks, booby-traps, and lots of antics in a last desperate hope of saving their homes.

Packed with child stars including Jonathan Ke Quan (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), Corey Feldman (Stand By Me) and a young Josh Brolin (You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger), this is at least fun to watch as a reminder of these people in the 1980’s.

I know I’m now in my mid 20’s and many would consider that I should have seen this many years ago while I was still a kid myself, but somehow I never did, my parents didn’t like it at all and never put it on, even turning it off when I tried. I have however known of it, especially with hugely famous elements such as the ‘Truffle Shuffle’.

What surprised me quite a bit was that this contains some really mature jokes and drug references, things that now would be either veiled more nowadays and not as blatantly clear as they are here, or kept to films of a higher rating. This was a PG (UK and USA) when released, interestingly re-rated recently in the UK to a 12 (similar to a PG-13) for the home media market. Donner and Spielberg were clearly not aiming so much for the whole family audience, but more for groups of kids going to the cinema on their own as entertainment in the summer school holidays.

It’s obvious from their wealth of experience and success that Donner, Spielberg and Columbus know what appeals to a youth audience, and apparently certain things are enduringly appealing as this film has had continued success for 28 years.
It is a fun adventure story, with the gross-out humour and well-considered levels of threat and peril that doesn’t overly soften the story so as to make it dull,but rather to appeal exactly to the target audience.

As stated, I’m about 10 to 15 years older than the key demographic, and don’t have the history with the film that many people my age and older do of having seen it at the perfect age and now holding it dear as a childhood memory, yet I still enjoyed it quite a lot. Admittedly possibly more for the people-spotting, such as a young Martha Plimpton, but also as the fun adventure that it is.

The people behind this clearly had a plan in mind, of taking childhood fantasies of adventure with caves,pirates, baddies, gadgets,and all your bed friend including a loveable fat kid, and rolling it all together into something that hasn’t aged anywhere near as badly as a lot from the 80’s, and that would be so enjoyed by groups of kids together that would stick in their mind and later want to pass on to their own children many years later.

When I have kids I will probably let them watch this, unlike my parents did with me.

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#126 The Shipping News

The Shipping News (2001)

Dir: Lasse Hallström

The director’s previous film ‘Chocolat’ was a really uplifting and funny work, full of humour and very ‘feel-good’. Sadly this is far more sombre.

Quoyle (Kevin Spacey) is a timid man, emotionally scarred from childhood, working in a mundane job as an inksetter in a newspaper printers, who meets a woman called Petal (Cate Blanchett) one night and they have a baby together, but their relationship is non-existant. So when Petal dies, leaving him to raise daughter ‘Bunny’ alone, he’s at a loss, but a visit from previously unknown aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) prompts him to move with her to their ancestral home in Newfoundland, where he gets work as a reporter in at the local paper, and finally meets a woman who might actually care for him (Julianne Moore).

There’s quite a cast here, with the main actors all being known as strong leads. Kevin Spacey is good, doing the timid personality that has been seen by him before, and he’s fully believable as a quiet an unassuming man. Dame Judi Dench is always excellent, especially as a tough old lady who won’t take nonsense from anyone, a skill of hers that the director Hallström had put to good use before with ‘Chocolat’.

It’s not a particularly cheerful film but still becomes quite enjoyable by the end, especially with a rather brilliant wake scene that turns out to be far more succesful than the name usually implies. There are many serious issues tackled within the storyline, any of which could often be the backbone to a film, but here they are all raised, and some resolved. Sadly these are weighty issues and often unpleasant, possibly not suitable for handling in the fun and playful ways of something like ‘Chocolat’ which is why for the majority of its running time this is far from ‘feel-good’. However the few lighter moments, and the friendly small-town atmosphere help to lift portions of the film closer to being somewhat uplifting, and as the setting is so striking visually, it held my attention throughout.
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#125 Punch-Drunk Love

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

punch-drunk (pnchdrngk) adj.

1. Showing signs characteristic of the behaviour of a person who has suffered repeated blows to the head.

2. Behaving in a bewildered, confused, or dazed manner.

That’s exactly how this film makes you feel!

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is a timid businessman who works in a small industrial unit, severely smothered by his many sisters he has become quite introverted. One evening, a lonely Barry calls an ‘adult’ phone line for a bit of company,however the woman at the other end calls back, and keeps on calling, blackmailing him, harassing him at home and work. However, while this terrible situation is developing, a romance is also blossoming for him with one of his sisters’ work friends (Emily Watson). Poor Barry has to try to handle these two unfamiliar and difficult situations without things all getting ruined.

The cleverness of this film is in making you feel ‘punch-drunk’ as a viewer. It’s at times, and quite often, confusing and rather tense. There’s extended use of quite nagging dialogue, and in places the score is relentless and oppressive, especially when it comes up against quite quick dialogue at the same time.

An element of Barry’s life is that he’s realised he can get air miles really cheaply thanks to an offer on pudding cups, which was funny in the film, and I was surprised and delighted to learn was actually based on a real person who did this.

The tense moments of the film are interspersed with a few lighter bits, such as the pudding cups, and Barry’s romance with Lena, with the score reflecting this as it becomes far lighter and more soothing.

I can see why Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are quite dividing if this is anything to go by, as I did enjoy aspects of it to a certain degree, but then was tense through much of the film and befuddled by at least the first quarter! Anderson made this film run at just over 90 minutes in response to his previous film ‘Magnolia’ being over 3 hours long. I’m not sure if I’m up to the challenge of watching that just yet!

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#124 Ip Man

Ip Man (2008)

Dir: Wilson Yip

I don’t watch many Kung fu or Martial arts films, but when I do I aim for the quality ones with something far more to their storyline than just fighting. Some of my previous experiences in this direction have been ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’, ‘House of Flying Daggers’, ‘Hero’, then more specifically for Kung Fu, ‘Shaolin Soccer’, ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ and ‘Kung Fu Panda’!

What made this appeal to was the historical element, being a semi-biographical film loosely based on the life of Wing Chun master Ip Man. Living in 1930’s China in a town renowned for its martial arts clubs, Ip doesn’t run one of these clubs to teach his particular style of Kung Fu, but is still regarded as the best in the area, a reputation that is tested and challenged at multiple times throughout the film. His quiet life is disrupted however when Japan invades China and takes control, causing massive changes and financial difficulties. Ejected from their home, Ip Man’s family have to adapt, and he must find hard labour to provide food for them. The Japanese General in the area who is a karate master, challenges Kung Fu masters to fight his soldiers in exchange for rice, and eventually Ip Man is brought before him, an opponent worthy enough for the General himself to take on.

The best known of Ip Man’s disciples was Bruce Lee, though this isn’t featured in the film except for a brief mention in the end credits. The producers originally intended to make Ip Man’s relationship with Bruce Lee the focus of the sequel, however that didn’t work out due to getting the rights to use him. I think for this film at least it’s good that the focus was on something else in his life, rather than just being known as the man who trained Bruce lee.

Donnie Yen is very good in the title role, key to this being just how well he keeps his composure in the fight scenes. His wife (Lynn Hung) is superb too, though her role isn’t very big, she acts in certain scenes mainly through facial expressions, brilliantly showing her feelings towards whatever her husband is doing

Even with the war theme in the second half, this film contains some wonderful lighter and even funny moments, more in the first half than in the second, but they help with warming to the lead character, especially as without them he might seem like a man who is too easily distracted from his family responsibilities.

The cinematography is excellent, making clear visual distinction between the good times in Ip’s life and the more challenging times. Everything is shown to be more colourful while the country is independent and things are going well, then there’s far less colour and vibrancy while under Japanese rule, making things look oppressive and bleak.

It’s an enjoyable look at a time in history that I didn’t really know about, and though it’s only very loosely based on Ip Man’s life and much is fictionalised to make a good story, that works fine. There are other films made about him, including one this years ‘The Grandmaster’ by Wong Kar-wai, but none seem to have been so well received or praised as this, and though they might be worth a look if you’re wanting more breadth on the historical figure, as a charismatic and compelling character, this ‘Ip Man’ is really excellent.

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#123 Casa de mi Padre

Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Dir: Matt Piedmont

“Baxter… You know I don’t speak Spanish!” – Ron Burgundy (‘Anchorman’, 2004)

Well, it looks like Will Ferrell has gone and learnt some…

This film is (almost) entirely in spanish. A parody of mexican telenovelas, it sees dutiful son Armando (Ferrell) struggle as his father’s ranch is put under threat from drug lords, most dangerously Onza (Gael Garcia Bernal). Matters worsen when succesful brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns home with his beautiful girlfriend Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez, Man on a Ledge) and Armando realises that his brother may be more involved in shady dealings than he’s letting on.

The thing to really look at here is not so much the film, as it is a parody and deliberately made to be melodramatic and look low-budget and somewhat shoddy, but Will Ferrell speaking Spanish!

This isn’t a move into foreign cinema in the manner of Kristin Scott Thomas and all her French films, this really is just Ferrell having fun, showing off, and doing something different. I don’t think that anyone would have predicted him to make a film in Spanish, yet voila, the novelty factor is what raises it up from just being a low-cost parody.

He’s very good in Spanish, I don’t speak the language fluently, but he gives the impression that he can. Ferrell put’s on a gruff and strongly accented Mexican voice, and I got the distinct feeling that much of the dialogue was phrased in a less-than-natural way possibly somewhere between schoolbook Spanish and just awkward phrasing.

It’s no work of genius as a film, and possibly as I’m not hugely au-fait with the Mexican telenovelas (as they’re not shown much here in the UK) I might have missed some of the references. However, as the poster says it’s a ‘must for Ferrell fans’ apparently I had to see it, as I am a fan of much of his other work, and just for the surprising Spanish, attractive female lead, and some of the gags, it was well worth the short 85 minutes watching this.

Now, click on the poster to see Will Ferrell singing around a campfire… in Spanish!

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