Sometimes an idea is so simple you’re amazed nobody thought of it earlier, and this is one of those concepts. Thankfully the idea waited until 1993, which meant that it got to star Bill Murray, which is most definitely a good thing.
I’m a huge Bill Murray fan, and while the idea and script of this flick are wonderful, the film’s major strength is Murray doing his usual sarky, slightly sleazy schtik as Phil Connors, a TV weatherman who goes to view the groundhog day celebrations, only to find himself inexplicably reliving the same day over and over again. Phil can remember doing it all before, but when he falls asleep it all resets and he wakes up, once again at 6am to the sounds of Sonny and Cher, forced to go through it all again.
The idea of having to live the same day again and again is genius, and it’s a credit to Harold Ramis as the director that he choreographs everything that only Murray’s reactions to events around him differ. It’s also rather well done in the way that the movie handles Phil’s response to this bizarre turn of events.
At first he staggers through the day thoroughly confused, fearing that he’s going mad. Then he embraces the fact he has a life free of consequence and uses it for selfish reasons. Shortly after that he falls into a funk of depression and tries to kill himself to escape the repetition, only to always wake up at the start again. People often talk about edginess in comedy, but there are few things darker or braver to do than have your main character attempt suicide, repeatedly, halfway through a romantic comedy fantasy.
That’s what the movie morphs into, with Phil trying to manipulate events to woo his producer Rita, played by Andie MacDowell. He learns her likes and dislikes and repeatedly tries to build the perfect day to win her over, but something always goes wrong leading to a montage of slaps.
I’m gonna go off topic here and discuss MacDowell, who I find infuriating. She always seems to have been dubbed by another actress, and is just one of those actors who rubs me up the wrong way. Despite this, she stars in two movies I adore, this and Four Weddings and a Funeral. I can’t quite work out how an actress I dislike can still manage to crop up in two movies I genuinely love, even if she is one of the weaker elements of both movies.
She’s not terrible, it’s just, well, she’s kinda bland.
After failing to win Rita over, Phil decides to try and use his knowledge of the day’s events to try and help as many people as possible. Using the opportunity to improve himself, through learning piano and working out where he has to be to help everyone.
Finally, after a perfect day he impresses Rita enough for her to bid for him at a charity auction and the two spend the night together, with Phil waking up the next day, finally free from February the 2nd.
I love this movie, because not only is it really funny, but it also has a solid message and moral core. Phil repeating the day over and over could be seen as an allegory for reincarnation, but it works in a wider sense, in that it proves what life is really about, it’s not about chasing individual happiness, but rather about trying to make life better for others, or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it far more eloquently:
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
I love that this isn’t about Phil just winning Rita, or proving himself worthy of her, but rather about the selfish Phil having to realize what’s really important in life. What makes this movie even better is that it manages to avoid schmaltz and remains funny throughout, even when the moral hits in. Ramis handles the shifts in tone magnificently and captures the frustration of the same day repeating (perhaps too well, I tried to get MWG to watch this at the weekend and she got annoyed by the repetition and kept wandering off or playing on her phone, the philistine!)
But as I’ve said, the real strength is Bill Murray who is just an utter delight in the lead role. He’s great at the sarky one-liners and manages to capture Phil’s reinvention and improvement in a way that feels natural and not too cliche or saccharine. Murray has perfect comic timing and a real knack for making his slightly roguish characters remain likable, when they could easily just come across as jerks.
It’s easily one of my favourite Murray movies, and I never get tired of watching it over and over.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
There are very few truly excellent trilogies, all too often there’s one part that lets it down, or in The Matrix’s case two, and sometimes they just stick on a fourth part which stops it being a trilogy. In my mind there are just five trilogies that pull it off properly, these being- Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the Evil Dead trilogy which works because all three parts are different, Christopher Nolan’s Bat-Movies, the original trio of Star Wars movies and these three movies, the Toy Story trilogy.
There’s word that a fourth is coming, but I may just have to do a Jurassic Park and mentally erase it from my mind, because these three movies work perfectly as a trio.
The first movie came out in 1995 and was pretty ground breaking, a feature length CG animation movie which saw the arrival of Pixar, who would become one of the animation powerhouses. Even at nearly 20 years old the animation of this movie still holds up and looks wonderful, sure, the sequels improved, but this still hasn’t dated in the way that some of Disney’s 80s animation has or ‘90s visual effects have.
It’s all based on a fantastically cool high concept, which is sure to appeal to kids everywhere, what if your toys were really alive? But it’s far more than just a neat idea.
The movie follows Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), the favourite toy of a young boy, Andy. Things are pretty cool for Woody until Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear toy (voiced by Tim Allen), who slowly starts to replace him. Unlike Woody and the others, Buzz is unaware he is actually a toy, believing himself to be a real space ranger.
Ultimately they become friends and have to work together, Buzz realizes he’s a toy, but Woody helps him understand that this is a wonderful thing and that he can bring joy to Andy’s life.
The sequels build on the friendship and introduce new characters as well as continuing to deal with issues surrounding love, friendship and the fears of being abandoned, forgotten or replaced. There’s too much plot to go into here, but the second movie sees Woody get damaged and worry about being cast aside, which is shown in a truly unsettling nightmare sequence. Stolen by a toy collector his faith wavers, before Buzz rescues him and he remembers being loved by Andy and seeing him grow up is what he wants.
In the third movie Andy is growing up and going to college and the toys fear he’s discarding them. Only Woody keeps the faith but at the end he has to realize that it’s time to let go, for Andy to go off and grow up and for him to stay with the other toys and bring fun to the life of a new child, Bonnie.
Each movie is magnificently written, crammed full with wonderful humour, thrilling stories and exploring the characters so that they become rounded, relatable and loved by the audience. The humour is pitched just right, with plenty of silly gags for the kids but clever, witty ones aimed at the parents.
There are sight gags, references to other films, quips and slapstick, but the film succeeds because it gets you engaged with the characters. Woody, helped by Tom Hanks’ fantastic voice work, is the most likable character for older viewers- noble, heroic, but with a sarcastic streak. He’s really who the movies follow most closely and it’s his fears that are the subject for each flick.
In the third movie he’s the true believer who stays loyal to Andy and that’s what makes his final decision all the more touching. He still loves Andy, and is honoured to have watched him grow, but knows the time has come to move on and help make Bonnie’s childhood fun.
It’s an ending that works on lots of different levels, with parents being able to view Woody’s decision to let go as mirroring the way they’ll have to step back a little as their kids grow up. While for small children it is Woody saying goodbye and they can imagine having to put away their own toys for good. As for folks in my age group, who grew up with the movies, its realizing that we may have to grow up too and missing our childhoods.
It’s saying something these three animated movies each include at least one moment that jerks the tear ducts. In the first there’s the moment when Buzz finally realizes he’s a toy, and is devastated, but rallies to fly, and soundtracked by Randy Newman leaps for the window only to fall. It’s a magnificent scene that I’ve found more touching on repeat viewings.
Of course, it’s nothing compared to the musical knockout “When She Loved Me”, where Jessie the Cowgirl sings about her old owner and we see her being set aside as the girl grew up. If you can stay cool and collected throughout that then you’re a damned robot or something.
But the third movie is a rollercoaster of emotion. The farewell at the end will have you choked up, but the real emotional gutshot comes earlier. As the group of toys are slowly being swept towards the incinerator they scrabble against the avalanche of rubbish, fighting to escape and then in a painfully quiet moment Jessie stops and extends a hand to Bullseye to reassure him, and all the toys link hands, with Woody being the last to stop fighting. Linked together in a chain they advance towards the flames, together and accepting of their fate. Just thinking about it has choked me up again and Kevin Smith’s description of it as “Schindler’s List with toys” seems more than just a glib, throwaway line. In that moment you’re utterly destroyed as a viewer.
We watched it in my flat last year, and as with all movies there was a smattering of jokes throughout, but during this scene one of the guys who hadn’t seen the flick before cut off an attempted gag, sitting forward and utterly gripped by the drama on screen.
It’s one thing to make a good film about toys, it’s another to make one that puts the audience through the emotional wringer and can reduce people to tears. Pixar managed to pull that off three times, and that’s why it’s a great trilogy, if not the best.
I grew up with these films, and they mark different stages in my life, but I think whatever your age when you first see them, these movies will have an effect and will go on to be regarded as classics of not just animated film, but film in general. Simply sensational.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Comedy is harder than it looks. A lot of folks think that when a serious actor does a comedy its because they want an easy time. But that’s not true, because while improv and riffing results in a few decent gags, the best comedies tend to be the ones meticulously written and thought out. Timing is everything, and there’s a brilliant precision at work in most great comedies to assure they get the biggest laughs possible.
Of course, there are exceptions and this is one. The Blues Brothers is many things as a film, but precise and disciplined are not two of those, as the whole film has this crazy, anarchic feel to it. In places it’s baggy, overdone and even self indulgent, but it powers through on charm, humour and, of course, music.
Written by Dan Aykroyd and director John Landis the premise is simple- two musical, criminal brothers must raise money to save their old orphanage. To do so they put their band back together and perform a big show.
But then a bunch of stuff is thrown in and the brothers are pursued by various people they’ve annoyed- the police, a psychotic ex, neo-Nazis and a country band. Cue tons of over the top car chases where cop cars fly across the screen, piling up all over Illinois. It should feel aimless and stupid, but pulling it through are two wonderfully deadpan performances by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as Elwood and Jake Blues.
The characters were born out of SNL sketches and the movie works well as a series of “bits”- the blues band having to perform at a rowdy country bar, causing a scene at the posh restaurant an ex-band member works at (including the memorable, but never appropriate quote “How much for the little girl?”), the brothers commenting on the mall as they speed through chased by police etc.
Among my favourites is the brothers’ visit to “the Penguin” the mother superior of the orphanage they were raised in, played with stone faced toughness by Kathleen Freeman, it’s a hilarious scene as she scolds the two grown men, thwacking them with a wooden ruler when they swear, which only provokes more expletives. It might be where my fear of nuns began.
Aykroyd and Belushi work brilliantly off each other, bickering like real brothers and remaining deadpan as explosions, car chases and general madness ensues around them. Belushi in particular is sensational, especially in moments like his stone faced performance of the theme song of Rawhide, where he stands stock still before crossing the stage to pick up a bullwhip to crack for the finale.
The dark glasses help them and provide the film’s iconic look, but they’re still fantastic performances.
The supporting cast, like John Candy, Charles Napier and Carrie Fisher all do their jobs perfectly well
But the movie’s real strength is the music. John Landis would go on to direct “Thriller” probably the greatest music video of all time, and he shows his chops here with fantastic choreographed pieces to “Think”, “Shake A Tail Feather” and “Minnie The Moocher”. The Blues Brothers band might not be the best actors, but they play wonderfully and convince as an infectious, fun live lounge and a string of cameos from music greats ensure that there are some belters on the soundtrack.
In the end its the film’s crazy excess that make it stand out as one of the coolest, most bizarre movie musicals. Its easy to see why the movie has built up a cult following and its a movie that for me never fails to make me smile and want to shake a tail feather.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Okay, this is how it works- they either had to be released this year or I saw them in the cinema in the last twelve months, so if they were released in December 2012 but I only caught them in January they’re allowed on the list. Anyway, here we go.
Honourable mentions- World War Z, The World’s End.
10. Side Effects
A gripping thriller taking place against the background of America’s drug culture and boasting great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, along with a brittle, cold turn from Catherine Zeta Jones. Gripping and interesting, with a few nice twists towards the end. Review.
9. Man of Steel
Henry Cavill impresses as Superman and Amy Adams is wonderful as Lois Lane in this enjoyable superhero adventure. The final fight is a bit overlong, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, and Kevin Costner is fantastically cast as Jonathan Kent. More than makes up for the woeful Superman Returns. Full review here.
Centred around a typically charismatic performance from Denzel Washington, this is a rather entertaining thriller which leaves you in two minds, partly rooting for the hero to get away with it but knowing he needs to mend his ways. It’s a tad predictable in places, but Washington holds the attention and there’s enough humour to keep it fizzing. Review.
7. Warm Bodies
A pleasantly sweet and endearing romantic comedy with zombies, I really dug this movie and it appealed to both my soppy liking for romance and love of the undead. My thoughts here.
6. Star Trek Into Darkness
JJ Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise moves ahead with the second installment, and ups the tension. For newcomers there are plenty of thrills and for old fans like me a few nice riffs on the old universe. The big reveal of who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character wasn’t a massive surprise, but it’s still a great fun watch and expands the Kirk-Spock relationship, although I hope we get more of Karl Urban’s McCoy in later films. Review here.
5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
As with the books the second part of the story builds on the first, expanding Suzanne Collins’ fictional world and upping the stakes. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress in the lead role. Full review.
4. Pitch Perfect
Hilarious comedy with some nice musical numbers and a brilliant lead in the wonderfully charming Anna Kendrick, even though she has the whole film stolen from under her by the fantastic Rebel Wilson. Review.
3. Django Unchained
Tarantino’s long anticipated Western finally arrived and was superb, gloriously OTT but with a darker, more emotional edge. Much is played for laughs, but the violence against the slaves is done in such a way that shows it’s callous brutality in painful terms. The script has the trademark QT edge and the performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and particularly Samuel L Jackson. And the “hoods scene” remains one of the year’s funniest moments. More.
2. Iron Man 3
Shane Black takes over the reins and guides it to new heights, with this hugely entertaining superhero romp which cements Robert Downey Jr as possibly the best cast superhero in movies. Deals with the fallout from Avengers and shows us a more fragile Stark. Review here.
Ben Affleck continues to impress behind the camera and his execution of this historical thriller is sublime. Managing to capture the edgy tension of the hostages in Iran and the humour in the CIA’s unorthodox plan to extract them, swinging between belly laughs and nail chewing suspense. Review.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Years ago I read the book The Beach, in which a backpacker travels to an idyllic Thai island before things quickly go tits up and he gets pretty messed up. I remember enjoying the book immensely and when I finished it, despite the horrors that befall the narrator it made me want to pack up my bags and go travelling.
I was reminded of this as I watched this movie.
The movie, directed by Sean Penn, is based on the real story of Christopher McCandless, who after graduating uni in the early 90s, gave all his cash to charity and set off to live in the wilds of Alaska. Emile Hirsch plays McCandless who despite academic success chooses to drop out of mainstream society and hit the road, leaving behind his hypocritical, bitter parents. The film is narrated by McCandless, who adopts the name Alexander Supertramp and his sister, Carine (Jena Malone) who fills in some of his background as well as updating on the effect his absence has on his parents.
In a beautifully shot and lyrical movie, Penn cuts between Supertramp’s life in the abandoned bus he discovers in the Alaskan wilderness and his time on the road, meeting and forming relationships with the different characters he meets along the way.
These include a hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian H. Diereker) who become sort of surrogate parents for him, and who’s fractured relationship his presence helps to strengthen. He encounters them twice, living with them briefly and exemplifying one of film’s major themes, the impact people have on the life of others and, as Supertramp writes, “Happiness only real when shared”.
The scenes with these two older travelers are among the film’s most poignant, with Keener in particular excelling in a toned down performance as the woman who understands Supertramp’s traveling but knows the pain of losing touch with a child. There’s a real sadness in her character and it’s part of McCandless’ tragedy that he feels compelled to move on to isolation while encountering several people who want him to stay with him.
McCandless’ quest is oddly inspiring and his determination admirable, but there’s a futility to it, of a young man running from life with no real plan. Trapped in the wilderness of Alaska he begins to miss the connections of the real world and despite his books struggles to adapt to his surroundings, and much of his time there is hard.
Alone for much of the film Hirsch delivers a phenomenal performance, capturing the character’s wide eyed enthusiasm and the effects of life on the road and living in the wild. He makes McCandless a charming, likable dude and you understand why people warm to him, his youthful good looks and cheerful demeanor making it understandable why so many people help him out. Hirsch captures McCandless’ determination and drive along with his sweetness, and the way he handles the attentions of Tina (Kristen Stewart, proving again that she deserves more than to be “the Twilight girl”), a younger girl who falls for him is tender and admirable.
Best of all he manages to stop McCandless’ habits of quoting books and navel gazing from seeming pretentious or dopey, and instead interesting and natural. McCandless was clearly a smart dude, and his love of books flows naturally into the narration.
The film made me feel really good and cheerful about life and the universe, despite the slightly sad ending and the tragic fact that all of McCandless’ friends from the road are left to get on without him, when many wanted him to stick around. There’s also the effect on his parents played by William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden, who are truly odious at the beginning of the story and in flashbacks to McCandless’ youth, and who only start to grow together and as better people when he leaves.
This is Sean Penn’s fifth film as director, and I haven’t seen any of his others but it’s an accomplished movie that echoes the poetic beauty of Terrence Malick, who Penn worked with on The Thin Red Line, and he grafts and utterly gorgeous and well paced movie that develops through it’s chapters in a wholly engaging way.
Verdict: A beautiful and captivating movie, Penn imbues it with a real poetic feel and the performances, Hirsch in particular are wonderfully warm and engaging. An inspiring tale of the kindness of strangers and the way people interact. 9/10
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I like musicals, but for some reason I’ve never seen Les Miserables all the way through before. My sister owned a copy on VHS when we were kids, having seen it live, and I remember watching some of it a few times, but it’s a bit of an epic and I don’t think I ever made it to the end without wandering off to play football or pretend to be a Ghostbuster.
I remember a few of the songs and that it was rather bleaker than my favourites in the genre (Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music, The King and I and Grease), but the movie released earlier this year stoked my interest- it looked suitably epic in tone and execution and boasted a pretty good cast, however, I missed it on the big screen and have only just got round to watching it on DVD, so I thought I’d write a little review.
Plot break down is going to be a bit tricky, but I’ll try to get through it quickly- France, the early 1800s, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has just ended a 19 year prison for stealing bread under the watchful eye of unforgiving and tough officer Javert (Russell Crowe).
Valjean is allowed out on parole but soon breaks this and starts to try and live a good life. Years later he is a respectable man who runs a factory and is mayor.
One of the workers in his factory is Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who works to send money to her young daughter. Fantine’s fellow workers don’t like her and get her fired, down on her luck Fantine has to sell her hair and some teeth and eventually resort to prostitution. After she injures an abusive customer Javert wants to arrest her but Valjean intervenes and takes her to hospital. Valjean promises to look after her daughter and Fantine dies. Valjean’s cover is blown when another man is mistakenly thought to be him and arrested. Valjean rushes to the court and reveals his true identity before fleeing.
Valjean finds Fantine’s daughter, Cosette and takes her from the dubious care of unscrupulous landlord Thenadier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter). He clears Fantine’s deaths and they leave, with him promising to raise Cosette as if she was his own daughter. Javert discovers this and vows to track him down.
Several years later and Valjean and the grown up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in Paris. At the same time a group of students plan revolution, one of their number, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) sees Cosette and falls for her. He is friends with Eponine (Samantha Barks), Thenadier’s daughter, who is in love with Marius and who recognizes Cosette. Cosette and Marius meet and exchange letters, but Thenadier plans to claim the reward for Valjean and they must flee. Cosette’s note to her love is found and hidden by Eponine.
The students start there revolution and hope the public will join them, but aid is not forthcoming and they find themselves trapped behind their barricades with soldiers surrounding them and resolve to fight to the death. Eponine is killed saving Marius and gives him Cosette’s letter, and he sends a note to her. Valjean intercepts it and goes to the barricades to protect Marius. Meanwhile, Javert is also at the barricades having been exposed attempting to spy on them and taken prisoner.
Will the rebellion work? Can Valjean finally free himself from Javert’s pursuit? Will Marius be reunited with Cosette?
I dug this movie, although knowing the vague story I knew what the ending was going to be like, but I think that was easy to guess anyway, because an air of doom hangs over the whole film. Tom Hooper directs it all with a down and dirty style and his decision to film the performers singing live on set works wonders in grounding it. It also helps that it’s more of an opera than a standard musical, with people singing all the way through meaning there are no awkward transitions from chatting to crooning.
The songs are magnificent as well, the standout is probably the rabble rousing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” which is a beautiful, anthemic call to arms. It’s the song I remember from seeing it as a kid, and Hooper shoots it beautifully, with it building throughout and feeling like a proper protest song.
Performance wise it’s a real treat, Hugh Jackman is the standout as the noble Valjean, who’s survival instinct constantly clashes with his sense of morality. Jackman is also a great singer having done the Broadway thing in the past, and he has real talent in conveying raw emotion through his singing. Having only seen Jackman as Wolverine and a few duff movies (Swordfish and Kate & Leopold) I was pleasantly surprised by his performance.
The other standout is Anne Hathaway in her Oscar winning supporting role as Fantine. Hathaway has this heartbreaking frailty as the woman who falls from grace in a truly distressing sequence. And her version of “I Dreamed a Dream” is beautifully heartfelt and sad.
The rest of the cast do well with their roles. I heard a lot of criticism of Crowe’s singing, and while he’s not up there with the rest of the cast I didn’t think he was that bad. In fact, I think in a way his more reserved performance and stiff mannerisms works for the character of the rigid and disciplined Javert. Crowe should also be applauded for the way he allows the character’s obsession to bleed in and starts to fray around the edges.
I also liked that the character isn’t a complete bastard and there are flashes of humanity throughout, and Crowe does a brilliant job as Javert starts to doubt himself and his pursuit of Valjean.
There are problems though, Redmayne and Seyfried are both pretty good, but their love story progresses extremely quickly. Even Verona’s star crossed lovers would consider it hasty the way they fall for each other after less than a handful of meetings. Because of this it never quite engages and Eponine’s unrequited feelings for Marius are sketched a little too shallow for any serious resonance.
Another problem I had was that the street urchin who joins the revolutionaries, Gavroche, played by Daniel Huttlestone sounds like he’s wandered off from the Oliver! set and his heavily cockney accent was just offputting.
Also, the tone is continuously grim, with HBC and SBC’s scheming scumbags providing the film it’s only levity and their bawdy antics make a nice change from the gloom and moping of the others.
Hooper directs wonderfully and it tugs at the heartstrings well enough, but for me it was all a bit glum and hard going in places.
Verdict: A well executed and moving musical, but it’s unremitting bleakness is a bit draining, and a few good songs can’t quite salvage it . 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.