Monday, 1 September 2014

The Princess Bride (3 Stars)

I bought this film on Blu-ray three months ago, after being strongly advised to watch it by two different people within the space of a few days. It was only £2.85 ($4.75) for the 25th anniversary edition, pictured above. I was anxious to watch it, but guess what? It didn't work. After putting it in my Blu-ray player, the disc spun for a while, but the screen remained blank. I enquired about a refund, and I was told to make sure that my Blu-ray player has the newest firmware version, because this disc has special requirements. That sounded strange, because I own over 100 films on Blu-ray already and I've never had problems. But I checked online forums and I read that the disc needs recent firmware. So I decided to update my firmware, which I would have to do in the store where I bought my player, since it wasn't an Internet-connected player. But then the store warned me that after updating the firmware my player would no longer be multi-regional, so I didn't update it. I put the disc back on my shelf. Wasted money.

Then last month I decided to buy a new Blu-ray player, because I realised that Internet capabilities are worth having. My new player, a Sony BDPS4200 MR, is cheaper and better than my old Blu-ray player that I bought in May 2010, before I started writing this blog. It automatically installs firmware updates once a week, if available, and it remains multi-regional after updating. It has everything I need, including access to Netflix and BBC Iplayer. Apart from this, the salesman at Richer Sounds gave me a £10 discount on the normal price, and he gave me the five year extended warranty for free (usually 10% of the purchase price). I love Richer Sounds. It's the best and cheapest store in the UK for hi-fi and home entertainment systems. If they have a branch near where you live, there's no need to shop around, just go there. You won't be disappointed.

I got the new Blu-ray player on August 18th, two weeks ago. Since then I've only watched a few films at home. Mostly I've been catching up on TV series on Netflix. Before then I had only used Netflix on my computer. It's a completely different experience to see "Lilyhammer" and "The Almighty Johnsons" on my 42" television. They look incredible. Both series have only been released on DVD, not Blu-ray, so the Netflix broadcast is superior to the discs I already owned.

Today I thought I'd try out "The Princess Bride". I put it in, and the disc played without any problems. I'm happy, even though I still don't understand why it didn't play on my old Blu-ray player.

I thought I'd never seen "The Princess Bride", but after watching the first 15 minutes I recognised scenes I'd seen before. It was interesting to see it again, but I have to say that I don't understand why people call it a "classic". The romance is just presented neutrally, it isn't moving enough to make me cry. The action is unrealistic, and I can't relate to the fairy tale aspects of the story.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

What if? (4 Stars)

This film was released in America as "The F Word". I prefer the English film title, because the smirks raised by the American title are unnecessary. Yes, the F word that the title refers to is "friends", but the fewest people would draw that connection before seeing the film. On the other hand, "What if?" says absolutely nothing as a title to someone who doesn't already know what the film is about, so both titles seem somehow wrong. How about "Let's be friends" or "Just friends"?

The film takes place in Toronto. A young man called Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) has moved to Canada to study medicine, but after breaking up with his girlfriend he dropped out and is now doing a boring job writing technical manuals. At a party he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), a young woman who works in film animation, a job that she greatly enjoys. The two immediately hit it off, due to a multitude of common interests, but there's a problem: she has a boyfriend that she's been living with for five years. The two agree to be "just friends", even though Wallace wants more. Wallace confesses his feelings to his best friend Alan (Adam Driver), who happens to be Chantry's cousin. At first Alan tries to dissuade Wallace from making a move, but as time goes by he attempts to push the two together, much to Wallace's dismay.

Chantry's boyfriend, Ben, has a highly important job at the United Nations, mediating for international agreements. The job takes him to Dublin for six months. During this time Wallace and Chantry see even more of one another. Will they remain friends or shift into a relationship? I think that everyone who has ever seen a romantic comedy knows the answer from the beginning of the film, but the predictability doesn't spoil it at all. When the expected finally happened I had tears in my eyes, it was so moving.

As a romantic comedy the film doesn't keep exactly to the rules of the genre, but it remains close to them. For those who don't know how romantic comedies work, they have the tightest, most repetitive rules of any film genre:
  1. Girl meets boy.
  2. The girl doesn't like the boy, but as time goes on she grows to like him.
  3. Girl and boy go different ways. (Sometimes geographically, sometimes she returns to an ex-lover).
  4. Girl realises she can't live without the boy and returns to him.
The film is carried by the high quality of the acting. Daniel Radcliffe never ceases to surprise me. I expected him to fade away after the Harry Potter films, but he has considerable acting talents. Zoe Kazan, an actress that I hardly know, puts on an impressive performance. It's amazing how young she looks. She's 30, but doesn't look a day over 16. After seeing Adam Driver in "Tracks" I knew immediately that he has a big career ahead of him. Watch out for him in the future. Jemima Rooper is also noteworthy in her small role as Wallace's sister. With a cast like this the film couldn't possibly go wrong.

If you go to see this in the cinema, please don't leave when the credits start. During the credits the story is continued in an animated sequence. Don't walk out too soon or you'll miss it.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

TV Series: Twin Peaks

Through the darkness of future past
The magician longs to see,
One chants out between two worlds,
"Fire, walk with me".

Agent Cooper lectures on Tibetan methods of detective work.

His colleagues are fascinated...

but only Lucy does her homework.

Falling Down (5 Stars)

This is one of my favourite films. I already reviewed it last year (this is the link), so I'll just add something personal that occurred to me while watching it today. It's something that I never noticed before. The misunderstood good guy, Bill Foster, reminds me of my father, while the police detective, Martin Prendergast, has similarities with me. Or rather, it's the relationships of my father and me with our wives. My father was a good man. He had many faults, he was difficult for me to get on with, but his motives were always good. I know that he loved me and my mother, even though he was unable to tell us. Just like Bill's wife in the film, my mother was afraid that my father might hit her. But he never did. It was just the way he looked at her, she claimed. After 24 years of marriage without the least bit of violence, shouldn't she have realised he would never have hit her? No. Years after his death she repeated the same accusations. "Your father never hit me, but he could have hit me, any time".

As for the detective, he's hampered in his work by a neurotic wife. I should have drawn the connection with myself years ago. My wife called me at work every day, often asking me to go shopping for her, because she was unable to manage the house by herself. Brigitte was never happy with me, she never thought I was doing enough, and she frequently expressed how much she hated me. I would have done anything for her, but she drove me away when I needed her most. She also needed me. She suffered greatly having to bring up four young children by herself. She still blames me for leaving her. 17 years later she still doesn't realise that I loved her and wanted to stay. Right up until the last minute I would have changed my mind if she had shown signs of wanting to make a new start.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

TV Series: Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Train Station.

With love, Laura.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Jurassic Park: The Lost World (5 Stars)

In the second Jurassic Park film Richard Attenborough plays a smaller role. John Hammond, the man who founded the park, is now old and spends most of his time in bed. His nephew has now taken over the running of his company, Ingen. We only see Richard Attenborough at the beginning of the film, in his bedroom, and in the final scene in a television interview. Nevertheless, in these two short scenes he puts on a magnificent performance.

TV Series: Twin Peaks

A policeman's dream.

Julee Cruise, the sound of Twin Peaks.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Jurassic Park (5 Stars)

After hearing the news of Richard Attenborough's death yesterday I decided to watch two of his films. I actually only own two films he appears in, namely the first two Jurassic Park films. They are both films that I have seen many times, but when I sat down to watch "Jurassic Park" this evening I paid special attention to his performance. There are small details that I never noticed before, details that probably hardly anyone has noticed, but they make a strong effect on the performance. For instance, when he talks about his flea circus on the streets of London his bottom lip is quivering. How does he do it? I can't make my lip quiver like that. It perfectly expresses the emotion that his character, John Hammond, is feeling at that point in the film.

Richard Attenborough was a magnificent actor. It's even more amazing if you remember what point this was in his career. He appeared in almost 60 films from 1942 to 1979. Then he took a break from acting for 14 years to concentrate on working as a director. "Jurassic Park" was the first film he made when he returned to acting at the age of 69, and he wasn't at all rusty. He still had the old magic. He wasn't the main character; in fact, he's in sixth place as far as the minutes of screen time go, but his performance makes the film. He was a giant of cinema who will never be forgotten. Rest in peace.

Richard Attenborough
August 29, 1923 – August 24, 2014

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Lucy (4 Stars)

Today I went to see "Lucy", the new blockbuster from director Luc Besson. By my definition it's a French film, although most of the dialogue is in English. Since it takes place in three countries, America, France and Taiwan, parts of the dialogue were in Mandarin and French, which was annoyingly left unsubtitled. I expect this was deliberate, so that we can empathise with Lucy, a woman surrounded by people speaking languages she can't understand.

The film is about how a woman is accidentally given the ability to tap into the resources of her brain and utilise its capactites to 100%. She is forced to transport a new recreational drug, CPH4, by having a bag sewn into her abdomen. During a fight with one of her captors she's kicked in the stomach and the bag ruptures. This sparks a transformation, and she gradually begins to become more powerful, ultimately gaining Godlike abilities.

I enjoyed the film, but I have to admit that it has plot holes as big as the gaps in the sweaters my grandmother used to knit. At the beginning the drug is only to be sold as a recreational drug, but as the film progresses the crime boss seems to realise what has happened to Lucy. If he had known this, why didn't he ingest the drug himself? In the final scenes Lucy doesn't deal with the approaching criminals herself, because she doesn't want to be distracted. She could easily have incapacitated the criminals within seconds before going on with her work. This plot hole was just an excuse for the insertion of action scenes to make the film more attractive.

At only 90 minutes (minus credits) I felt that the film was rushed. If another half hour had been tagged on we could have had more character development. In particular, Morgan Freeman's character, Professor Norman, could have been fleshed out. Maybe Luc Besson wanted to avoid the mistakes made in "Transcendence", which dragged on too long. "Lucy" does deal with similar issues to "Transcendence", but with different moral conclusions.

"Lucy" further establishes Scarlett Johansson as one of Hollywood's most talented actresses. The film is flawed, but if you are prepared to overlook them you'll see that it contains a lot of fascinating ideas.

A word of thanks to Nick, my favourite employee at Cineworld in Birmingham. Today I panicked when I arrived at the cinema, because I realised that I'd forgotten my Unlimited Card. I asked him if I could get a refund by keeping the receipt and showing my card the next time I go, but he solved the problem a lot more easily. He said he would let me in without a ticket. That's great customer service, but I doubt it would work for everyone. Nick knows me because I often make complaints, usually about Cineworld not showing films I want to see.