300: rise of an empire

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Now the Oscars are over it seems to be slim pickings when choosing a film to go to see at the cinema. I did want to see 300 because I had enjoyed the previous one so much and since childhood I have always enjoyed Greek mythology, watching Jason and the Argonauts as well as Clash of the Titans. There are plenty of battle cries, bulging muscle and buxom lady warriors to see in this film following the battle between Persia and Greece, principally the city of Athens. I love the way the director film’s each sequence with its cloudy mysticism. Those more technically minded than me will know what type of filming this is, alas I love film but know very little about how it works.

The basic story is about a famous Greek warrior who is willing to take on the might of the Persian army. The Persians have a God ruling them in the shape of Xerxes who was once a man but became a God by immersing himself in a pool of evil after a long journey through the wilderness. Revenge is his sole endeavour as he wants to kill those that killed his father. The once powerful king was killed by a single arrow to the heart produced from the strong arms of the Greek warrior Thermestokles mentioned earlier. Xerxes is the God, But at his side is a warrior princess Artemesia who also seeks revenge, having been born a Greek, but living as a slave to the many men that killed and raped her family. She is definitely a lady not to be messed with as she can fight like a man, but can also use her body to allure those weak enough not to be able to resist temptation.

There are numerous battle scenes on the sea, but most are pretty much the same. It is a battle against the odds, skill verses numbers and one woman against one man. Eva Green is the perfect villain as she shows off her fighting skills on numerous occasions. The look of evil in her eyes most definitely keeps you hooked, there is no soft side to this warrior princess. Eva is never too scared to reveal her body in films and this is no exception. She is an attractive actress, but the camera is not so kind to her at certain angles in this film particularly when her beauty is mentioned. It is very hard to believe that Eva is French as she puts on an English accent to bring fourth her evil character. It’s funny how the English make such good villains.

Sullivan Stapleton ‘llays the Greek warrior Thermestockles and the hero very well although there are quite a few cheesy lines coming from that Australian mouth of his. This is all part if the fun and I think the hammy acting adds to the fun of the film and brings the characters to life. You can really believe that he is the hero although I’m not sure I believe that this man has has the brains and the tactics to win against such a sizeable enemy. There are more six packs on show then in a copy of men’s health, whether this is as a result of a major workout or whether they have been airbrushed on, I’m not sure?
Xerxes is the God although he looks very camp with his make up and large collection of jewellery. The difference between Xerxes human form and his change to a living God is spectacular, making you think that there are two actors playing the part, but I assure you there is is only one. In all honesty he is not the one in charge, it is Eva Green who has the balls in this war.

The film was hugely enjoyable with its many stylistic scenes, big characters and cheesey lines. It’s one of those films that does exactly what it says on the tin. The vast majority of the film involves sword play, blood, mysticism and a snippet of sex. If you don’t want to think too hard and don’t mind a group of muscular men running around with swords then this is a good film for you to see. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

6/10

my top 10

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I was asked what my top 10 films were, which is a common question really and one I never really think about too much. How do you compare films? What makes a film your favourite? Why do some love a film and some really hate it? e.g Gravity, which I thought was an awful film, but so many loved it. The best way for me to come up with a list was not to really think about it and write down the first 10 films that came to mind that I really loved and then put them into order. I think this was the best way to do it.

Here is my list

10) Champion- Starring Kirk Douglas and directed by Mark Robson (1949)
09) Moulin Rouge- Starring Jose Ferrer and Zsa Zsa Gabor and directed by John Huston
08) The Big Country-Starring Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Charlton heston and Burl Ives and directed by William Wyler (1958)
07) Spartacus- Starring Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Laurence Oliver, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis and Charles Laughton and directed by Stanley Kubrick (1960)
06) From here to eternity- Starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah kerr, Montgomery Clift, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra and driected by Fred Zinnermann (1953)
05) Ben Hur- Starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd and Jack Hawkins and directed by William Wyler (1959)
04) Oliver Twist- Starring Alec Guinness and Robert Newton and driected by David Lean (1948)
03) Great Expectations- Starring John Mills, Jean Simmons, Alec Guiness, Valerie Hobson and Martita Hunt and directed by David Lean (1946)
02 Kind Hearts and Coronets- Starring Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Valerie Hobson and Joan Greenwood and directed by Robert Hamer 1949)
01)Its a Wonderful Life- Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore and directed by Frank Capra (1946)

These films have given me great joy from a very young age, most of which were introduced to me by my grandparents. I think Champion was the start of some truly great boxing films, this was brutal, emotional and full of moral dilemmas. Kirk Douglas plays the part magnificently as only he could. Kirk is brilliant at playing parts with angst and anger also parts with spirit and emotion. One of my favourite films with him in it, is Lust For Life (1956) about Vincent van Gogh and as you can imagine Kirk was perfect with his ability to portray characters emotions, especially those in turmoil. Kirk Douglas gave an interview once when he was much older stating that he wasn’t the easiest person to get along with because of his drive and determination to succeed. He sometimes stepped on people to get his way and set very high standards for everyone else, ones he set for himself too. This often made him quite an unlikable man at times. He did mellow as he got older and I think the stroke he had put many things into perspective. When you look at the many films he starred in, it was and still is quite a career.
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Baz Lurhman is a great director and I love his unique style, especially the way he uses music, mixing modern with the classic tunes of the time periods. His take on the Moulin Rouge was exciting, full of energy and full of amazing characters. The film in my opinion doesn’t match up to the John Huston version telling the story of the poster artist Toulouse Lautrec. There is not quite the energy of the Lurhman take, but it does tell a very real story of a life that started promising, but ended in desperation as Toulouse was taken by the absinthe fairy and his feelings towards the CanCan girls of the Moulin Rouge were not returned. His work was iconic of the time and today he is celebrated, but then life was particularly difficult, especially having a disability like Toulouse had. Jose Ferrer played Toulouse brilliantly, spending a large amount of time on his knees to match the height of the artist, when today it could have all been completed by CGI. It has been a long time since I have seen this film as it is now rarely seen on television, but I suggest that people do because it shows what life was really like.
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A star studded cast make this western one of the best ever seen on the big screen, this coming from someone who dislikes the western genre of film. Gregory Peck once again plays the good guy, the fair one and the one who backs away from a physical fight if words are the better tool. Heston is the cowboy who is good at what he does, strong, but when something is wrong then fists start flying. These two do not like each other and do not understand each other, but have a common goal and respect is soon achieved by the end of the day. Jean Simmons is the beauty who has been brought up by a fair minded man and wants peace between the two families, she is the love interest. Burl Ives is the head of the other side and has a set of codes that he lives his life by. His family are wild, womanising and cut throat, much to his shame, but when he feels he is being dealt with unfairly then guns can do the talking. This makes for an exciting showdown between the two families. Burl Ives is a brilliant actor and has a very distinguishable voice, one I remember from a child film I saw, when he sang the Ugly Bug Ball. He plays the old fashioned father who will stick up for his family, but will deal with any misbehaviour inhouse, not being scared to use the back of his hand. Peck is the perfect good guy and Jean Simmons and him make for the perfect couple. There are so many interesting and contrasting characters, which make for a brilliant film,
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Kirk Douglas has already been mentioned as has Jean Simmons, but again the performances are brilliant, The contrast between Kirk as the warrior and the soft hearted Jean makes for a great love affair. Spartacus is on a crusade against the Romans, who are the callous and evil men, played so well by the greatest British actor to grace the screen Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis played the lover and musician, who became a brave solder alongside the warrior Spartacus and was willing to die alongside him for the cause. Films like this just do not exist now, despite all the advances in technology and the great sums of money paid to the actors. This was a big reason why I didn’t enjoy Gladiator as it had been done before and far better. Peter Ustinov brought a light heartedness to the film and through the pomposity of his character there were many laughs. The sets were amazing and the acting was superb from every member of the cast. This is just a beautiful film with great storyline to go with it.
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If you haven’t seen From Here to Eternity, you must because it is a film with love, passion, war and full of moral dilemma. Burt Lancaster is the picture of masculinity and the scene on the beach has become iconic. Lancaster is perfect in the role as he fights his love and passion for Deborah Kerrs in an affair that seems so right, but is obviously very wrong. This affair could cost both very dearly, but their love is too strong and the risks seem to outweigh their feelings. The chemistry between the two is perfect and you truly believe that there is love between them. Montgomery Clift who had his own battles off screen played his role sensitively as a soldier who refused to fight in the ring because he once blinded his sparring partner. Prewit is tested to the absolute limit by his superiors as they try to force him to fight. The punishments are severe and he is labelled a coward by those that do not know his reasons. The result would be a court-martial, but Prewit wont budge even when Lancasters character tries his hardest to get him to change his mind, looking out for his welfare in doing so. Frank Sinatra plays Prewits best friend and he supports him through, but he too has his own demons leading to many costly outcomes as the film progresses. Donna Reed pulls away from the wholesome image she portrayed in Its a Wonderful Life to play a prostitute down on her luck, who falls for private Prewit along the way. This is an outstanding performance from her, so much so that I didn’t realise it was her until a few years ago and I had watched the film numerous times. This is a film with a very strong cast, brilliant storyline, mixed up with love, war, women, drink and a strong bond between soldiers. This is the original story of pearl harbour and is a great tribute to those that died on that sad day.
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Epic is used too many times in my opinion, but Ben Hur is most definitely an epic, not just in the length of the film, but also the characterisation along with the wonderful storyline that gives us action, sports, rivalry, friendship, religion, Jesus and Rome. The Film follows the character Ben Hur as he falls from powerful beginnings to slavery as a great misjustice has been delivered by the Roman Masala played by Stephen Boyd. The once great friendship is destroyed By Masala and leaves Hestons Character and his family to a life of torture and survival. The fall is followed by a rise to become a powerful Roman Chariot racer, which gives him the chance to seek and act his revenge on the powerful Masala. Jack hawkins is the rescuer as he takes Ben Hur as his son, if only for a short time. Ben Hur seeks his Mother and Sister and is shocked by their decline leading him to seek Jesus and Christianity to help them. The film won 9 oscars and right;y so and it stands out as one of the greatest films of all time. The sets were epic as chariots raced around arenas, slaves suffered on large boats, mighty Romans lived in huge monuments and Jesus roamed the deserts and the hills. This is one of those must see before you die films.
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The next three I have spoken about in previous blogs, so I will lleave you to read those if you haven’t already. This leads me to my favourite film, which is full of sentiment, human generosity and love. The story is beautiful in itself and leads you to wonder about your own life and the impact you yourself have had on the individuals you have met along the way. It is a story of good verses evil, George Bailey being the good and Mr Potter being the evil. James Stewart plays George Bailey who grows up in a small old town, which he soon grows out of, leading him to aspire to get a good education and see the world. Circumstances mean that George has to stay and run the business, get married and have a family. Donna Reed plays George’s beautiful wife who has had a crush on George from the very moment she met him as a child at the sweet shop. They have a family and it seems that George is stuck in this town forever, running the family business. They are living in difficult times and an incident occurs where George loses everything and could possibly face prison. This plight leads him to contemplate suicide and he heads to the bridge to end it all. George’s life is being watched by a guardian angel who has not earned his wings and needs one good deed to help gain them. This deed is to save George and he does this by throwing himself over the bridge so that George will rescue him, which he does. From this point George is given a great gift, he is shown what life would be like he never existed and believe me it is a real eye opener and not for good reasons either. This is a beautiful film that makes you appreciate the impact you have on those around you and how little things can make big changes. James Stewart is perfect as George Bailey, with his distinctive voice, that always brings great warmth to the characters he plays. Donner Reed is part of a beautiful relationship, which is focused on family. There is nothing in this film that bursts from the screen, it is about the life of an ordinary man, who is kind, generous and has the same battles as any other person, but his actions have had a major impact on those around him no matter how small they seem.
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Well there you go, here are my ten favoutite films for you to look over and hopefully I have convinced you to see them yourself. Please let me know what you think and share with me the films that you greatly admire. To pick ten is almost impossible because there are hundreds of amazing films out there which can often be very personal to you and your life.

AWAY IN the DISTANCE

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This blog is about something that literally died out in the early 90’s. It was a dreadful disease that killed many from all walks of life, but now it no longer exists in the western world. This disease only occurs in countries with poor education, amenities and very little in the way of contraception. This could be the opinion of many of us, but it’s not true as aids is still here and still causes deaths although medical developments help those suffering a great deal. The first case of aids was in 1981 and since then 25 million people have died from the disease. There are currently 33.4 million people living with HIV/aids, 97% of which come from less economically developed countries. In 2008 2 million died and 2.7 million were infected. To get this into perspective the number of people living with the disease is equal to Half the population of England and those that died and we’re infected in 2008 is equal to the population of a country like Finland. Most with the disease do not have access to prevention, care and treatment and this is a disease where no cure has been found. There is good news however as those living in poor countries and being diagnosed with HIV/aids are more likely to receive treatment as treatments have increased 10 fold since 2002, now reaching an estimated 4million by 2008.
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The virus doesn’t just infect those in the third world because even countries like the USA still have people dying and being infected by aids. 1.1 million people in America are infected by aids and 1 in 6 are completely unaware that they have the virus. This is staggering when you think that this is one of the most powerful countries in the world. Living in England, I very rarely here about aids and its almost like it doesn’t exist. I think the only mention of it is when comic relief is on and money is being raised for third world countries. In the UK there are nearly 100,000 people with aids 21,000 of which are undiagnosed. This means that those suffering from aids is equal to the number of people living in a town the size of Hastings and sadly nearly half of those diagnosed are diagnosed late when treatment should already have started. 1 in 4 of those that have aids are in the 50+ age range which suggests that people with the virus are now living longer.

Why am I talking about aids on a film blog? Well today I saw Dallas Buyers Club, which follows the life of a Texan male diagnosed with the virus in the 80’s when this was a new virus and extremely scary. The story tackles a lot of misconceptions about the virus on how it is caught and who tends to catch it. Aids stood for Away In the Distance back then as people were scared to be touched by anyone with the virus and kept themselves as far away as possible. The saying “ignorance is bliss” could not be more wrong in this instance because ignorance meant fear when aids was even mentioned. Most believed it was a virus that only gay people caught at a time when there was still a great deal of homophobia.
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The film depicts a guy who doesn’t quite fit the picture of the stereotypical aids sufferer. He was an electrician in a very masculine industry, who rode bulls, slept with lots of women, drank beer and was brought up despising gay people. The diagnosis left him in disbelief as he linked aids with gay men as did many of his friends and co workers, leaving them to completely ostracise him from their group. Doctors gave him 30 days to live, which was something that he couldn’t accept. New drugs were being developed all the time to help treat the virus and this guy was determined to get hold of them even if it meant smuggling them in from other countries.

This was when he took up the chance to make a profit and sell the drugs to those that needed it. As the film goes on you see new friendships develop, ones which due to his ignorance and prejudices would have been impossible before. A close bond develops between him and his doctor as she begins to realise how important these drugs are and how effective they are in treating the virus. It is not clear whether this develops into love, but they at least have a close friendship. As the film develops it becomes clear that this man is changing and has become a far better person as a result of the virus. He becomes a clean living guy, no longer doing recreational drugs, sleeping around or drinking heavily. What starts off as strictly business turns into a campaign to help those suffering by giving them access to the drugs they need. This guy slowly begins to realise that gay people deserve respect and are nothing to be afraid of. It is a dreadful virus, but made this Texan a far better man who broke down a lot of barriers and misconceptions that he himself once had.

Mathew McConaughey gave the performance of his life and truly deserved the Oscar. To be able to portray such a guy and to portray the emotion that went with a person suffering with aids was remarkable. The feelings of anger, the tears of sadness, the sense of desperation and the determination to live were all performed so well by an actor that has never really shown this capability before. To watch as this person changed physically, emotionally and to see their prejudices slowly disappear was amazing. The commitment to the role was clearly shown by the physical change from being a muscular guy to becoming scrawny and almost skeleton like.

A lot was made of the physical change made by Matthew, but Jared Leto looked horrifying as his bones protruded through his skin. He too picked up an Oscar and rightly so, playing the transsexual who has an adoration for Mark Bolan and a love for make up and wigs. The emotion that came across as Jareds character became fearful of death was truly powerful. The short scene with his father as he revealed that he had aids was particularly moving. A father that could not accept his son as he was, but of course fought back tears at the realisation that his son could die.
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This is a remarkable film about remarkable people who fought to stay alive when aids was a death sentence. The performances by all were of the highest standard and fully deserving of every accolade they received. This is a film about breaking down barriers, about prejudice and how with knowledge the prejudices can be removed, it is about the determination to live and how money should never decide whether someone lives or dies. I left the cinema wanting to see this film again and with so many thoughts and feelings going on in mind.
9/10

He shoots, He scores.

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I love sports of all kinds and have tried my hand at many of them and watch as much sport as I can. I obviously love film too, so surely a film about sport has to be the stuff of dreams. Two of my favourite things combined should make for a perfect film, “should” being the important word here. There aren’t too many sporting films that really hit the mark or receive great accolades.. Some films involving sport are biographical, actually more then some, but there are those that are created from the imagination.
Boxing seems to be the sport that gains the most notice from the film studios and tends to pick up the awards. This I think is due to the massive characters in the ring, the drama that unfolds during a fight is perfect for film and the theatrics between boxers at the press conferences is sometimes bigger then the fight itself. We have films like Champion starring Kirk Douglas, Rocky starring Sylvester Stalone, Hurricane with Denzil Washington, Cinderella Man portrayed by Russell Crowe and The Fighter starring Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg. I have always enjoyed watching the Rocky films even though they became a bit too commercial as the film’s went on. Rocky is a brilliant film and the best of all six made over the last 30 years. It is the American dream devoid of the glamour and filled with blood, sweat and tears. There is a love story mixed in which is beautiful because it is real. The fights are brilliantly choreographed, with close camerawork adding to the brutality. Sylvester Stalone is the perfect Rocky because he is Rocky and no doubt wrote the script thinking of himself. Champion is very similar with a real hard edge to it without the bright lights and tinsel because back then boxing was an art, but it was also the vision of masculinity and brutality, especially outside the professional ranks. Robert Deniro gained sixty-two pounds to portray Jake Lamotta in Raging Bull, which has to go down as one of the greatest films of all time. I think boxing will be involved in film for years to come.
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Athletics has also been played on the big screen a number of times, Chariots of fire being the most famous. I must confess I have never watched the film and can only talk of the famous soundtrack that many would recognise even if they had not seen the film. Let’s face it we have all run along in slow motion humming that tune as we pretend to cross the line. Steven Spielberg made the film Munich based on the tragedy at the Munich Olympics where many athletes died due to a terrorist attack, this down to the issues in Israel and Palestine. The famous record broken by Sir Roger Banister was also made into a film called The Four Minute Mile strangely enough. Jesse Owens a hero of sport and for black people at a time when Hitler ruled black people Inferior has also reached the big screen. Maybe one day Usaine Bolt will become a film star as well as the fastest man in the world.
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American sports seem to be particularly well matched with Hollywood, no doubt because of the great show that is put on during games. The superbowl is massive in America and the show beforehand gives you an idea of how big it is. Can you imagine such a show before the FA cup final? I think the only wardrobe malfunction seen on FA cup final day was the Liverpool Suits in 1996. Blindside is a great film with big performances from its stars particularly Sandra Bullock who took away the Oscar for her role. Films like Any Given Sunday starring Al Pacino have critical acclaim as well as Jerry Maguire and Remember the Titans. I think everyone remembers “show me the money.” Baseball has also been created into film roll a number of times with films like Field of Dreams and A League of Their Own. Basketball seems to have missed out somewhat and I can only think of Space Jam as an example of a Hollywood film created from the basketball courts.
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England is famous for inventing sports and then passing the sport around the world and watching as everyone becomes better then us. Football is the nation’s sport, but I can’t think of too many great films involving the game. Films like Escape to Victory, Fever Pitch, When Saturday Comes, Bend it like Beckham and Goal are the ones that come to mind. Bend it Like Beckham introduced us to Keira Knightly for the first time. Who’d of thought the Tom boy footballer would go onto have such a glamorous career mixing it up with the likes of Jonny Depp. Sadly I did really enjoy this film, which was both extremely British and Indian at the same time, emphasising both cultures stereotypes. Escape to Victory with its mix of actors and footballers proves to be an interesting watch as Bobby Moore makes Sly look like an amateur both on the pitch and on the screen. Even Pele gets in on the act while Michael Caine dons some shorts to get on the pitch. I think the football was worse then the acting, but it is still worth a watch.
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Some English sports just wouldn’t transfer very well at all. Cricket for example would make for a very long drawn out film without any result at the end of it. Tennis has never really captured Hollywood either apart from the film Wimbledon. Rugby has made the screen from the South African perspective but the red rose has never quite encouraged a writer and director to create a hard hitting masterpiece. Invictus made the big screen because the rugby world cup in South Africa was not just sport, but the change in a nation moving on from a time of repression, violence and racism when apartheid had finally been destroyed and a new South Africa born. This shows that there is often more to sport then just kicking a ball around. Those that know the history of the Olympics will be well aware of how sport can be used.

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Sport is a part of a countries culture and sports often produce exciting and historic moments that everyone can remember. Sometimes actions outside of the sport itself become newsworthy and therefore perfect for film. Sports promote those competing and participating and sometimes someone special comes along and performs unbelievable things, which become a directors dream. Sports can be political, involve crime, can test morals and the human spirit, can create drama and promote big and bold personalities. There can be amazing stories of people coming from nowhere and becoming sporting superstars. For some sport is more then a game it is a way of life and can often feel like life and death. There are tragedies, deaths as well as moral issues involved in sport. All these things make sports perfect for the big screen and make big Hollywood producers rub their hands with glee.

An English Master

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I must confess that I have only seen a few Alfred Hitchcock films in my lifetime. I have seen Marnie, Psycho, The Birds, Dial M for Murder, Rebecca, Rope and North by North west. I have also seen the short film about murder with a frozen lamb joint. The film that I have not see is vertigo starring one of my favourite actors James Stewart. The reason this film comes to mind is because it reminds me of my current predicament. Don’t worry I’m not viewing you from my window and have no intention of doing so. I’m not suffering from agoraphobia, but I now rarely go outside due to my injured knee. I have become thoroughly bored despite having stacks of DVDs and working my way through the Cheers box set, which I got for my birthday. It’s funny that when you have time to watch your DVDs you don’t want to because there will always be another day, where as when you have no time you really fancy sitting down to a good film.

When you are stuck indoors you do start musing about the outside world and imagine what people are up to. I think everyone has a healthy fascination about other people’s lives. You hear arguments going on next door and you try not to listen, but you can’t help yourself listening to a few words. Im not saying you would put a glass up to the wall or get your binoculars out because that’s just weird, but there is that interest in what is going on. I believe that the film Vertigo takes this to the extreme although it starts with an innocent look. The man becomes obsessed with what is going on and what these people are getting up to. I believe it turns out that their acts are criminal and he starts off wanting to find out more, never intending it to take over his whole life. I do intend to watch this film because I believe Hitchcock is completely unique in his direction.

I watched The Birds and Psyco as a young child and they terrified me. The camera always seems to suck you In with Hitchcock so you are amongst the terror. The scene in the shower works so well because the victim is so helpless against the knife slicing down on her. The knife is always a far more emotional way of being killed on screen. It can take more than one cut, the victim has some hope of getting away and it can either make shallow or deep wounds. The fear is almost like the nightmare of a slow moving object or person moving towards you, but no matter how fast you run you cannot get away. Anthony Perkins was perfect as Norman, so creepy and strange especially in ladies clothing. Again black and white made the film that bit darker and scary. I think black and white could be used a great deal more in modern film making. The film Nebraska is a perfect example of how effective black and white film can be.

The Birds is another great film and the use of birds is pure genius because it plays on many people’s fears and it doesn’t feel like it’s beyond the realms of possibility. We have all seen a group of birds together, either on the ground or hanging around on telephone wires and felt a little threatened by them. If birds decided to turn on us then we would have very little chance to get away. The horrible thought of having your eyes pecked out by birds baying for blood is almost sickening. I do believe they used real birds when filming many of the scenes from the film which makes it even more harrowing. The sounds of the wings flapping was used to great effect, adding to the fear produced by the thought of wings flapping around you. Like the knife the birds are relentless, but there is still hope to get away, but you can’t. I have never been too keen on birds, but this film made me even less trusting of our wingered friends. I think this is my favourite Hitchcock film and one I never tire of seeing time and time again.

That’s just a small snippet of Hitchcock and I would love to hear your views on the great man and hear about your favourite Hitchcock film and why you love it so much.

The Monuments Men

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The Monuments Men was a surprise as I wasn’t expecting too much to be honest, mainly as I am not a particular fan of George Clooney. The film was also directed and written by George, so this didn’t really fill me with confidence. I had wanted to see it after watching the trailer as it depicted a piece of the war that I knew nothing about. The cast is strong too with the likes of Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett. It seems John Goodman is in every film this year and 2013 as I seem to see him quite a bit on my cinema visits.

The story follows a group called The Monuments Men who are on a covert operation to claim back all the artwork stolen by the Nazis during WW 2. Hitler had a plan to display the famous artwork in a purpose built gallery. This was not just stealing paintings, this was stealing history and culture which is priceless. Imagine every film created over the last 100 years being stolen and displayed where no one, but a select few could see it. So many films recreate history, show cultures from all over the world, display ideals, fashions, biographies of people’s lives as well as creating a message for those that see them. Imagine a generation of people who could not see Casablanca, Ben Hur, Psycho, Jaws, A Clockwork Orange, Forest Gump and 12 years a slave to name a few. This would be a tragedy! The film picks up near the end of the war when it was becoming clear that the Nazis would lose. The instructions were to destroy all the artwork if the loss became a reality, making the need for these men to be successful even more important.

The film had some light hearted moments as you would expect considering Murray, Goodman and Clooney were starring. I think this was important and I believe the aim of the film was to portray what happened, but not horrify it’s audience with the bloodcurdling parts of war, this had been done before. The war however wasn’t shown as a big joke and for the most part this was a serious film documenting a serious story. There were lots of sad moments as well, delving into how these men felt. Remember these guys were not soldiers who were trained for war, they were art curators and art experts, but still playing a vital role in the war effort and still risking and giving up their lives. The film wasn’t too over sentimental either, there were no sickening speeches, no Independence Day cringe worthy moments although there were tears and moments of sadness.

I really enjoyed the performances of the cast and felt as a group they worked well together and clearly had chemistry between them. George Clooney gave a good performance as the man in charge, there was no wisecracking and he was never too casual during the performance. He was able to portray the emotion and the passion that his character had for the cause. When the group started to diminish I really believed the sadness and the determination to succeed. I felt this man would give up his life for his comrades and the operation he had in front of him. This is how it should have been in Gravity, not the smooth Clooney drifting through space without a care in the world. I think I am more disappointed in Gravity knowing that Clooney could perform like this. I really did feel for the men and at no point did I feel that it was unimportant because they were saving artwork and not lives. The cast were a huge reason for me feeling this way as they delivered performances that made me believe that there was a bond between them and a real passion and belief for the cause.
Bill Murray delivered the light hearted moments as you can imagine. His partnership with Bob Balaban worked really well and offered a few laughs along the way. There was a beautiful moment at the camp as Murray’s Character heard his family over the loud speakers. It really brought home that these guys were at war and there was a possibility that they would never see their families again. John Goodman played his part well despite how ridiculous he looked in uniform. I don’t think he could ever get away with looking like a soldier. I think he would have given the Nazis quite a lot of confidence in their war efforts.

Matt Damon was his usual self, the tough one who attracted the attentions of Cate Blanchetts character. Cate played part of the French resistance and was vital in the capture of many pieces of artwork. She had details of a great number of pieces and where they had been taken, giving the men a great chance to take them back. I thought Cate was pretty good, but I wasn’t quite convinced by the French accent. She was convincing other than that and it was important that she was sexy, but still realistic in her role of working with the Nazis and the resistance. It was important that she didn’t stand out by flashing too much skin. The love/hate relationship between Matt and Cate’ s characters developed well and although there was a clear attraction, nothing came of it. This was important in showing that the operation was the main focus of the film.

The search for artwork continues to this day as so many pieces are still missing. There were a great number of monuments men who managed to rescue five million pieces of artwork. That’s a number I can’t even begin to imagine! How many galleries now hold one of the pieces that went missing? How did they transport so many? And who decided where they should go? We also need to remember that some lost their lives bringing the artwork back to its rightful place. A group of men died trying to save a sculpture by Michaelangelo, which may seem crazy, but what if this great artist disappeared from history because no one saw his work? I have been to Rome and the Sistine Chapel and it blew my mind, for people to forget who painted the masterpiece on the chapel ceiling would be a tragedy.
I think you should watch this film, even if it only encourages you to learn more. It’s not an amazing film and the performances won’t win awards, but it does make you think and share with you the thoughts and feelings of those who set out to save the Culture and history of so many countries, sometimes losing their lives to do so.
6.5/10