The Great 2011 Film Challenge Part 4

Ooh, get me: challenging myself to watch 150 films I've never seen before over the course of 2011 and writing about those I do watch. No, I don't get out much.

Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

Now, Part Four:

Monster In Law (12/06)

This film shows its hand very early on through showing its hand. I'm talking cards here. Specifically, the tarot. Near the start, somebody does a reading. Films very rarely do the tarot justice (Death hardly ever means death, for instance), but I think that this was the worst on-screen tarot reading I've ever seen. They played it like snap. Now, there might well be a method of reading which does indeed involve throwing down one card after another and, if so, I retract my criticism. But, this being a J Lo vehicle, I doubt they spent any longer than forty-three seconds in their research. Am I judging the entire film by this? Yes. Yes I am.

Secret Window (20/06)

Written by Steven King. Because it was written by Steven King, the protagonist's a writer. And, because the protagonist's a writer, I sort of identify with him. Furthermore, because he's played by Johnny Depp, I really cannot help but like him. However, anybody who's seen any more than one film before will be able to guess the "twist" about ten minutes in. Still, it's quite enjoyable, and his house is boss. And, once things get sinister, things get really sinister. It was written by Steven King, after all. He knows how to write.

Hotel Chevalier (29/06)

A short film which acts as an introduction and a companion to The Darjeeling Ltd, this doesn't make much sense unless you follow it immediately with a viewing of the main feature. That said, it's as engaging and evocative as anything by Wes Anderson, with the added bonus of being the most erotic thing he's ever done, too. 

The Darjeeling Ltd (29/06)

This year Wes Anderson's become so very close to completing my holy trinity of directors. That's right: He's very very nearly in a state to be rated by me alongside David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick asone of my very favourite film-makers. Everything he's done (for I've now seen it all) has been slightly odd but very affecting – and everything looks beautiful. His films are like dog-eared Penguin paperbacks: rough around the edges and a little faded, but crammed full of such things as make life worth living. This one, apart from anything else, made me want to visit India. Hell, it just made me want to travel with monogrammed luggage.

Conspiracy Theory (04/07)

Apparently, people haven't always thought of Mel Gibson as insane. Watching this, though, that's quite hard to understand. Of course, back then people would look at the neurotic gibbering lunatic on-screen and assume that he's just acting. These days, though, it's quite hard to watch without assuming that they've just set up a camera in his flat in order to follow his every move. This hasn't dated too well (it smells like the 90s), but it's nonetheless gripping and features a crazy interrogation scene with such images as have the power of being burned indelibly onto the retinas.

Pitch Black (05/07)

I don't know why, but I often feel sorry for Vin Diesel. Why do I often feel sorry for Vin Diesel? I shouldn't feel sorry for Vin Diesel. Vin Diesel, for one, doesn't feel sorry for Vin Diesel. It's just that, the Chronicles of Riddick came out, and Vin Diesel earnestly insisted that the whole saga would turn out to be this generation's Star Wars. It wasn't to be. I wish it had been, though. Heaven knows we need something to care about. And I think that's why I feel sorry for Vin Diesel. He doesn't quite seem to understand. Pitch Black I quite enjoyed, though. The darkness is so oppressive that it soon makes you forget about just how artificial everything looks when the sun's out. And those monsters are amazing.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows pt. 1 (06/07)

Though I've now sat through every Harry Potter film, I've can't admit to having enjoyed very many of them. This one, though, I enjoyed a lot. For the first time since The Prisoner of Azkaban it felt like a faithful adaptation of the book rather than a tired “will this do?”, and often things got brutal and devastating. The scene, at the start, in which Hermione erased herself from her parents' memories was incredibly powerful, as was the slow dance to Nick Cave later on. My faith was almost restored in the series as a whole, but it goes without saying that the books will always, always be better.

Ladies of the House (08/07)

An American made-for-TV affair in which three free-spirited, independent women do up a house for some reason. This leads to montage after montage of the women being free-spirited and independent whilst they strip wallpaper and move furniture. Their husbands are one-dimensional jokes (one's supportive, one's not. One didn't really have any lines) and there was an utterly cretinous bit in which one of the free-spirited, independent women went to a plumbing seminar. “Was that 'monkey wrench' with an O or a U?” she asked, simply because the writer's needed something ostensibly amusing for her to offer at that point. I was just sat there throughout saying “what the hell is this?”

The Ladykillers (08/07)

This was more like it. We're talking creepy Alec Guinness in Ealing rather than Tom Hanks in the deep south. Though I've not seen the remake, I cannot see how it could possibly live-up to this – Coen or no Coen. The sweet old woman is simply adorable – you can see why those crooks found it quite impossible to off her. That they had no difficulty at all in offing each other, though, was hilarious. Mr. Guinness shows his chops here through coming across as genuinely unhinged where many would simply ham it up.

Dark Water (09/07)

Being a remake of a Japanese horror, I was initially wary of this. I can't really abide remakes, because what's the point? This, though, was quite excellent. It wasn't really scary, because mainstream American horrors rarely are. It seems that either directors still think that flashing lights, and sudden noises are scary, or they're contractually obliged by their studios to include such tropes. Viewed as a drama dealing with divorce, motherhood and dark supernatural elements, though, this was really quite good. Apparently it's even better than the original, but on that I can't comment. It does feature Jason C. Reilly, though – so there will always be a place for it in my heart.

Bridesmaids (10/07)

The critical stance on this went full-circle really quickly. It was first identified as a genuinely funny bastion of modern comedy amongst such tired dross as The Hangover Part 2. Some predicted that it would usher-in a brave new era for women in comedy, whilst all seemed to agree that it was very, very good. But then everybody went to see it and everybody agreed that it was good. So, because there can never be such thing as something that's good because everybody thinks it's good, soon the “overrated” remarks began to pile-up to the extent that all seemed to forget something very important – this film is hilarious. Beyond that, though, it bravely, honestly and respectfully charts a woman's fall from grace into depression. It's been pointed out that this doesn't matter, as in true cinematic style, it all works out in the end. But sometimes we audiences need for things to all work out in the end. I certainly needed it that day.

How To Train Your Dragon (10/07)

There are a lot of CGI animated features being released these days. I've no idea why, but my default stance seems to be one of wary contempt. There's so many of them that they must all be bad, right? But then, time and again, I'm made to see the error of my judgement when I actually sit down to watch the things. I even enjoyed The Ant Bully. So when the film in question seems generally regarded to be not just a fine example of animation in general, but a fine example of cinema in general, I'm often overwhelmed. I was quite overwhelmed by this. On initial release a lot of people spoke about the epic scope of the 3D flying sections. Well, I saw in in 2D and on a small-screen, and I was still hooked. That there indicates that here we have an engaging storyline, loveable characters and a great script – you know, the elements that made up a good film before everybody got so hung-up on special effects. The best bit, though, was the dragons. They're basically nothing more than giant cats in their mannerisms and, as such, they're completely adorable.

Grown Ups (11/07)

An Adam Sandler film which didn't really have much of a plot beyond “five childhood friends go on holiday together when they're adults”. They bring their kids, though, and their kids are spoilt nightmares with overwhelming senses of entitlement. They pout and sulk whilst the grown ups have a whale of a time. It comes across, then, as a damning shaky finger pointed at today's video-game fixated generation and, as such, it's pretty sanctimonious. But I couldn't help but agree with these adults as they despaired over their children who seemed wholly adverse to the simple joys of life. And their simple joys were so infectious that it made me pine for such a weekend with my friends.

Wizards (11/07)

Despite the merciless slaughter of cute elfin creatures, the disturbing Nazi imagery, the fact that characters refer to each other variously as “slut” and “son of a bitch”; and, despite the fact that, apart from anything else, the overall message seems to be that sometimes it's necessary to murder siblings using dirty and underhanded means – despite all that – this is supposed to be a kid's film. One of the main characters – a fairy – walks around in a top so revealing that it's a wonder that her gigantic breasts don't escape from the flimsy fabric in which she's contained them – and our hero, Avatar, comes across as a sort of Jerry Garcia/Rodney Dangerfield hybrid. But in saying all of this I'm not complaining. This was incredible stuff. I'm reliably informed that it was all set to smash all box office records. But then Star Wars came out. Imagine how different our world today would have been if an entire generation of filmgoers were defined by this, rather than Star Wars.

Fantastic Planet (12/07)

Stoic and earnest sci-fi which somehow also manages to contain one of the most transcendentally dreamlike and downright strange atmospheres into which I've ever immersed myself. The fantastic planet in question is alien in the purest sense of the word – to find yourself there would be terrifying, but to observe the curious habits and rituals of its inhabitants would be endlessly fascinating. Great soundtrack, too.

Les Escargots (12/07)

A short piece by him what also made Fantastic Planet, this was crazy. After experimenting with such methods as balloons and pulleys, a farmer discovered that his tears could make his crops grow gigantic. But gigantic lettuce attracted gigantic snails -  obviously – who proceeded to terrorise a local town. What was funny was the way the hapless inhabitants of this town still succumbed to the giant molluscs even though they literally moved at a snail's pace – less funny, though, was the somewhat disturbing manner in which the snails consumed or destroyed their prey. It ended ominously and outrageously with our friendly farmer taking a similar approach to his crop of carrots – with similarly horrifying results. Rabbits can run faster than snails.

How Wang-Fo Was Saved (12/07)

A further short film from our Fantastic Planet-creating hero, this one was far less out-there than the previous two. Nonetheless, though, it still had such an otherworldly quality about it to make it feel like a bleary dream. It dealt with a Chinese Emperor whose only respite during his lonely childhood were the transcendentally beautiful paintings of Wang-Fo. When he was finally able to see the world, though, he discovered that nothing was as beautiful in reality as it apparently was in the mind of Wang-Fo. So, being a wholly unreasonable despotic ruler, he condemned the poor painter to death. But how was Wang-Fo saved? Well, let's just say that his abilities to blend the real with the fantastic ultimately proved very useful.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 (18/07)

Even though this had the finest opening line of any film, ever (“I need to speak to the goblin”), this was not as good as part one. Whilst my relationship with the books has always been mutually tender and loving, I've never really got along with many of the films. With the exception of The Prisoner of Azkaban and the first part of The Deathly Hallows, each of the films seems to have been made simply for the sake of making a Harry Potter film. By necessity, enough detail is omitted from the films that, often, they just feel like they're going through the motions. This one, unfortunately, felt just like that. They were finishing the series because they had to finish the series. The end felt watered-down, anticlimactic – nothing like the satisfying final mouthful that was the book. And, speaking of which, more-so than ever before, anybody who's not read the book will have difficulty in understanding several parts.

A Town Called Panic (19/07)

It's Horse's birthday. When Cowboy and Indian accidentally order him six-million bricks for his present, it sets off a chain of events which sees them incarcerated in a giant robot penguin, visiting the centre of the earth, shopping at a supermarket at the bottom of the ocean and missing piano lesson after piano lesson. The whole thing operates on a very twisted logic and is, therefore, unmissable.

Mirrormask (20/07)

Written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Dave McKean, this was always going to be special. It looks like an animated version of one of Dave's Sandman covers; it stars Rob Brydon and Steven Fry and features beautifully whimsical music. The plot is deceptively simply and, overall, it comes across as a mid-nineties CBBC serial with particularly high production values. Whilst for some this won't be a good thing, for me it simply means that the whole thing exudes a cosy and comforting atmosphere like a warm living room on a Thursday evening after school – it's lashing down outside, you've recently discovered tea, the worst part of the week is over, it's nearly the weekend and there's something magical on TV.

More to follow? Why not.


Vote Unconsoled!

I just listened to the full-album stream of Lulu.

Lou Reed + Metallica = Loutallica. But, thankfully, this sounds more like a Lou Reed album than a Metallica album. The first song I heard – The View – really didn't bode well: Its furious riffs don't gel with Lou's laid-back drawl, and it ends with James Hetfield screaming that he's a table.

But The View is by no means representative of the rest. The rest is very, very good – thematically similar to Berlin but with a sound more reminiscent of The Blue Mask, Ecstasy and the heavier bits of The Raven.

And ho yes, this is heavy – very heavy – in every sense of the word. Lou's lyrics are brutal like his Rock Minuet – but for perhaps the first time since Sister Ray, the intensity of the music matches that of the libretto.

Can I call the words a libretto? It was, after all, written for the stage.

Ultimately – and I never thought I'd say this, right – it seems that Lou Reed and Metallica were made for each other. Lulu is far better than I ever could have imagined.

But I got to thinking (Carrie Bradshaw I am) – here we have an album of dark intonations backed by the heaviest of heavy metal. Yes, I got to thinking. Specifically, I got to thinking about another band. A band who went their separate ways many years ago; whose sheer creative force set fire to the sky itself and burned a deep trench somewhere near Southport which hasn't stopped burning for almost six years.

Yes: I speak of a little band called The Unconsoled.

The Unconsoled were like a mistake made by God himself. Their time on this planet wasn't very long, but for the duration of their brief and brutal existence, all who looked on sort of winced and said “what the hell is that?”

There were five people in The Unconsoled. Alex “The Doctor” played the drums. Together with Jake's stilt-walking bass, they formed a formidable rhythm section often affectionately referred to as “The Cushions From Kent”.

Two-pronged guitar assault came from “The Bastards of War” - James and Eddie, who perfected a style of playing which owed more to troop movements than it did conventional guitar technique.

It's worth noting that there were originally three layers of distorted mettle. There was once a demigod called David who was so proud of his white Stratocaster that no-one else was ever allowed to even spend time in the same room as it – lest their moisture attack its beautiful sheen. This made rehearsals very difficult, so he later parted from the benevolent fold of The Unconsoled muttering that it was a “stupid name anyway.” He wanted for the band to be called The Edelweiss Pirates.

There was a singer, too – but he couldn't sing. Instead he intoned rhythmically.

The Unconsoled rehearsed in an attic lit by a red-lightbulb in Jake's house on Friday nights. The walls were adorned with pictures of Pete Doherty and Carl Barat. They couldn't afford much in the way of a PA system, and the singer didn't exactly boast a powerhouse voice. The music therefore had to cease completely every time the vocals came in. This led to a unique style which relied upon staccato stabs of metal brutality punctuated by fey sixth-form attempts at hip beat poetry.

Also, nobody in The Unconsoled quite understood music. This led to a style which would later affectionately be described as “flexi-rock”. Flexi-rock allows for the songs to last for as long – or as short -as The Unconsoled desired. Nowhere was this technique better realised than in their magnum opus – the almighty War Bastards – named, of course, after the unholy duo that was the dual-shock guitar line-up – James and Edward.

War Bastards only had two chords, but that's not to say that it had a chord structure. The Bastards of War would furiously thrum a single power-chord whilst the Cushions From Kent chewed over whichever rhythmical improvisations occurred to them. On an occasional signal from The Doctor – a cymbal roll and four strikes of the kick-drum – the music would suddenly halt for a primal scream of “War Bastards!” from all five of The Unconsoled.

Beyond this they had a cover of Napoleon XIV's They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha Haa – a song chosen because it features nothing at all in the way of music or singing. The drumbeat was easy-enough for them to replicate; and being spoken rather than sung, the vocals were ideal for The Unconsoled. The real challenge was in finding enough for five musicians to do in a cover of a song which features nothing in the way of an arrangement.

So their repertoire never really stretched beyond two songs. But given that one of these songs could, if The Unconsoled so desired, be played for three hours or more, this was never seen as much of a problem. Besides, The Unconsoled never got around to playing a gig anyway. Nor did they ever make any recordings. In fact, the only physical contribution they ever made to anything was in signing a birthday card as “The Unconsoled”. It was cheaper than buying five different cards.

No, for the duration of their short existence, The Unconsoled were defined less by their revolutionary contribution to music and more by their bitter rivalry with ex-guitarist Demigod David. Mistakes were made and harsh-words were exchanged – the rivalry culminating in the penning of a vicious diatribe entitled Vote Unconsoled! It consisted of a litany of slanderous accusations designed to demonise and defame the Demigod. It boasted such marvellous vignettes as “The Demigod quite enjoys setting his hands on fire. Are these the hands you want feeding your children?” It ended with a terrifying screech of “vote Unconsoled!”

It would have made for a malevolent musical maelstrom to match even the merciless tempestuous fury of War Bastards. But sadly, The Unconsoled would never get round to creating an arrangement worthy of the fiery libel they had penned. They were doomed from the start.

Most bands, upon splitting, cite such reasons as “creative differences” for their schism. The Unconsoled, though, must be the only band to have ever existed who could lay claim to being torn apart by shit. Almost literally: The Unconsoled were torn apart by shit.

One night, The Doctor delivered an almighty floater in Jake's toilet – the kind which just wouldn't flush-away. You know the kind. It was, regrettably, discovered by Jake's mum. It being her night-off, she didn't exactly relish the idea of having to bleach the toilet. Especially when she'd already got all-dressed up. She was furious to the extent that she banned  The Unconsoled from ever practising in her attic ever again. And, having lost their rehearsal space, The Unconsoled simply couldn't continue. Their exiled walk on the mean jaundiced streets of Hillside was a dark moment for all. The Demigod had won.

Nobody but The Unconsoled ever heard The Unconsoled play – and they didn't so much “play” as “interrogate”. This is a sad tale of what could have been. They sowed the seeds of metal poetry six years or so before Loutallica. Perhaps when Lou Reed, in 1972, promised to “reap just what you sow”, he was referring to the dark chaos of The Unconsoled.

I'm not accusing him of plagiarism. I'm just saying that when I heard Lulu, I heard The Unconsoled. Specifically, what is Pumping Blood if not a more disciplined version of War Bastards?

The Unconsoled live on in the cold, dead, unfeeling eyes of that dismembered abused mannequin torso which adorns the front of Lulu.

And the dark, clever twist in this tale?

That pretentious and inept vocalist? It was I all along! Aha!

The Unconsoled are dead. Long live The Unconsoled.

If I'm found slumped over my laptop – a trickle of blood oozing from the corner of my mouth – you know to blame The Demigod.

Vote Unconsoled!


Why You Should Boycott Tesco

I created this blog in order to write long and tedious articles about various aspects of film, music and television. My intentions were to create a sort of vein of positivity in the midst of a field in which people seem to score brownie points for cynicism. To that end I've tried my hardest to only write about things I enjoy.

However, evil does exist, and sometimes it just won't do to live and let live. You must allow for me to be serious for a few moments. And though I've written about evil before, when doing so I was still ostensibly writing about music. This time, though, I'm going to have to veer wildly off-topic, as it cannot go unsaid: Tesco are evil.

Or, if they're not evil, then they are, without a doubt, cold and unfeeling hypocrites to be boycotted immediately.

I used to write for Yelp. My position involved writing reviews of businesses and places of interest in the Liverpool and Manchester areas. I readily admit to dishing out scathing one-star reviews of every branch of Tesco I ever encountered. This wasn't pettiness on my part. The whole idea of Yelp is to inform you of what's unique and worth seeing in a city. Tesco, though, will always represent bland corporate homogeneity and, a lot of the time, they seem to exist at the expense of local and independent ventures. They got one-star on principal. They stood against everything Yelp existed to champion.

But then you learn of such initiatives as their Charity of the Year and you start to feel a little guilty. Each year, Tesco raises money and awareness for a specific charity through various fundraising ventures. To be reminded of this having criticised them so heavily – well, it's quite hard not to feel like some kind of dying-internally snivelling armchair critic.

But this year, Tesco's Charity of the Year is The Alzheimer's Society. They're aiming to raise £5 million “build a better future for people with dementia.” According to the website of their partnership, their aims are as follows:

1. For every day of our partnership, we want to help 300 people live better with dementia.

2. We aim to give 100,000 people easy-to-access support and information through the Dementia Community Roadshow.

3. We aim to help 10,000 isolated families get specialist care and advice through our new Dementia Support services.

4. We will also fund two vital dementia research scientists who will conduct groundbreaking research.

Fair enough.

It's just that -

My nan has Alzheimers, but she doesn't shop at Tesco any more.

Want to know why?

Because they banned her.

Why did they ban her?

Essentially, for displaying symptoms of Alzheimers.

If you have ever known anybody with this condition, then you'll know that they're frequently confused and often find themselves with no idea of where they are or what they're doing. So they go through the motions and routine and clutch onto that which is familiar.

So you're walking through a supermarket and you're carrying a bag. Because your brain itself is deteriorating, the action of placing things in your bag is literally absent-minded.

This happened in Sainsbury's. She was caught leaving the store with various unpaid-for items in her bag. When confronted, her confused reaction was such that – coupled with the fact that the staff knew her – it was enough to satisfy anybody that she was not shoplifting. She was just very, very confused on account of her condition.

But Sainsbury's have a business to run. Of course, they can't have people walking round taking stock from their shelves. Dementia or no dementia – if they leave the store without paying, then the store loses money. It's completely understandable that Sainsbury's should take exception to this. But Sainsbury's also happen to be human. They did the right thing: they contacted her family, told us what happened and asked firmly but fairly that should she ever come to their store again, that she does so under our supervision.

See that, Tesco? That's how you should have reacted.

For – yes – the same thing happened in Liverpool's Old Swan branch of Tesco. A small, confused elderly lady – a loyal customer for long enough to have accrued no small amount of points on her Loyalty Card – is caught literally absent-mindedly places several items in her bag.

I cannot stress enough that she simply had no idea what she was doing and would be absolutely mortified were she to suddenly realise what she were doing. Unconscious shoplifing is widely understood to be an unfortunate side-effect of Alzheimers.

But unlike Sainsbury's, when Tesco see this sad and sorry scene, they don't see a sufferer of the very condition they're this year apparently trying to help. No. Instead they apparently saw a cold, hardened criminal and treated her as such. She's marched to the back office where she is reprimanded.

We don't know exactly what happened because she was alone – and that's very important. She was alone. To be in the supermarket alone – even though it was a place familiar to her through years of visit – must have  been confusing and mildly terrifying for her. But to be marched by force to the back office? Even if it was for kind words and a cup of tea, the confusion alone must have been horrifying for her.

But there were no kind words and there was no cup of tea. Instead, they wiped-clean her hard-accrued loyalty points, banned her from the store and – apparently setting out to prove that they really are as bad as everyone secretly suspect – forced her to leave through the back exit. She therefore had humiliation to add to her terror and confusion.

She was so ashamed that she didn't tell us. We only found out when we found a letter from the store in her bag, and she was very reluctant to elaborate. But eventually she did. And the experience was so traumatic that she now very rarely seems to leave the house.

It's been pointed out to me that the manager and security of that particular Tesco may only have been acting in line with their store policy. This would be an acceptable explanation were it not for three things:

1.We have the precedent of Sainsbury's to show us that even big businesses do not necessarily have to act so heartlessly.

2.Their Charity of this Year is The Alzheimer's Society. Would a little bit of sensitivity therefore be too much to ask?

3.Even if they were so determined to make no exceptions for shoplifters – be they intentional or not – was it really so necessary to take away her loyalty points and force her to leave  - most probably sobbing and trembling - through the back exit?

We contacted Tesco to give them a chance to explain themselves. Perhaps these were merely the actions of a loose-cannon manager who plays by his own rules? Surely those who were that very year working to raise funds and awareness for sufferers of dementia would be horrified to learn that a sufferer had been so badly and unfairly mistreated by their own hands?

But they were remorseless. I've not yet seen the letter they sent, but I've been told of its contents. They essentially insisted that, having investigated the matter, they have no problems at all with the manner in which the Old Swan branch acted.

Which suggests that they really do have such stringent policies that they can make no exception for anyone. However,I am told that nowhere in the letter was a simple two syllable word used which would have, at the very least, suggested regret on their part. Not even, I'm reliably informed, a token “we apologise for any misunderstanding”.

What were we expecting? For them to lift the ban? For them to fire or reprimand the jobsworth manager of the Old Swan branch? For them to reinstate her loyalty points, or perhaps send some vouchers as a token of goodwill?

I really think we would have settled for an apology, even if it was followed by a firm “we have a zero-tolerance policy” caveat. I actually naively thought that an apology would be a given. This might be Tesco, but the bad PR that would stem from their behaving so insensitively towards one so vulnerable – a representative, indeed, of their charity of the year – would at the very least be worth an apology. But that was never going to happen. This is Tesco, after all.

So why, then, would an explicit champion of The Alzheimer's Charity be so remorseless in the face of hypocrisy on their part?

You'd think that they'd only started the whole Charity of the Year thing as an empty token gesture or something, wouldn't you? A sort of “look how benevolent we are” which is supposed to make up for every other unethical practice on their part.

To pledge to raise £5 million for any charity is undeniably admirable. But when Tesco itself embodies the very problem they're trying to fix (misunderstanding and mistreatment of dementia sufferers), you really do have to question their motives.

Imagine if they'd secretly funded arms-manufacturers whilst The British Red Cross were their chosen charity. I'm now convinced that the whole Charity of the Year conceit is designed to be one giant arrow pointing the other way.

That alone would be enough for me to vow to boycott. But no.

This time it's personal.


The Great 2011 Film Challenge Part 3

I challenged myself to watch 100 films I've never seen before in 2011. By September 4th, I had achieved this. Hmn.

So now the challenge is to breach 150.

That's doable. Harder, though, will be to write about all those that I've seen by the end of the year.

I shall do it in instalments, sir. Not only does that make it easier to read and write, but it also means that I get more content which should serve to raise my rankings in Google! Everybody wins!

So, here's part one, and part two was incorporated into my post about my afternoon at the BFI Mediateque.

Part three, then:

1. Valerie & Her Week Of Wonders
This one, coveted by those lovely hauntological types, almost defies categorisation. It's essentially a vampiric coming of age tale, but it's more Holy Mountain than Let The Right One In. Yes, it's so full of bleary dialogue, hazy imagery and striking symbolism that, even given its short runtime, watching it feels like sleepwalking. The word “dreamlike” was made for films like this.

2. Persepolis
Rendered in stark black and white so as to echo the graphic novel source material, this one's as humbling as it is inspirational. At one point our hero, having survived revolution in Iran, is driven nearly to the brink after having lost her European boyfriend. There's probably a lesson there – that if we ever feel as though things are bad in the west, well – you have no idea. And yet, it never feels preachy (even though it occasionally preaches) and, despite the weighty subject matter and poignant ending, it somehow manages to be a lot of fun, too.

3. Tropic Thunder
Idiot actors making a film about Vietnam get stuck in a real combat situation and, for a while, don't realise it. A pretty obvious idea, but nonetheless, this film is mental and very, very funny. The “grunt” dialogue is hysterical (“Our asses don't get fragged in this bullshit valley, first thing I'm doin' is payin' my two bucks so I can watch Brooklyn bust his cherry on a sweet little mama son's dinky-down poon-tang!”) and the films-within-films are fantastically realised. Only Tom Cruise's caustic and offensive producer threatens to ruin the fun, but apart from that this is a genuinely funny modern comedy that bears repeat viewings.

4. Step Brothers
At one point, Will Ferrell's character places his ballsack on his step-brother's beloved drumkit. But the testicles you see aren't real. Rather, they're synthetics which cost around $10,000 to make. That alone should give anybody an idea as to what sort of film this is: They take their gross-outs very seriously. That the synthetic balls cost so much entails that nobody can describe the scene as “throwaway”. They'll have you know that a lot of money went into it, thank you very much. Are we to therefore assume that just as much time and effort was dedicated to every other facet of this film? Well, if so, it certainly shows. As modern comedy goes, you can tell which films are doomed to be forever considered as trite and disposable (The Hangover and any recent spoof) and which are worthy to be considered as part of a new classic canon. I would without question place this in the latter category.

5. Romance & Cigarettes
One of these days I'm going to make a list of musicals for people who think they don't like musicals. This would be a strong contender for the top spot. Rather like Flight of the Conchords, the characters only break out into song when they no longer feel able to express themselves otherwise. In the tunes, then, are their secrets, their dreams, their desires. And it doesn't harm, of course, that the songs are such energising standards from the likes of Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, James Brown, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Presley. Add to this genuinely sympathetic characters, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken and a performance from Kate Winslet which can quite literally be described as “hot” and you have something which I found quite impossible not to enjoy.

6. Monster Squad
I wasn't sure whether to include this one. I had most certainly seen it before, but was so young when last I did that I didn't really – if you get what I mean. It had been so forgotten that when I watched it again, though the odd scene invoked a disquieting sense of deja vu, overall it felt like I was watching it with fresh eyes. So it counts, right? Right. Well, any child with even a passing interest in ghosts and ghoulies would be in their element with this one in which Dracula, Frankenstine, a mummy, a werewolf and The Creature basically team up in order to ruin everybody's day. Though ostensibly this is a horror film, it's almost certainly got a young audience in mind. That said, this particular incarnation of Dracula is one of the creepiest – and therefore best – that I've ever seen. The reason it works so well is that he's essentially your stereotypical image of Dracula – all fangs, capes and weirdly arched hair – but played not for camp laughs, but seriously. It works, trust me.


7. The Sea Shall Not Have Them
A World War II propaganda film in which a rescue mission is launched for a lifeboat full of spunky Brits which is floating dangerously close to the coast of occupied France. “But it's dangerous out there!” “Well we're going anyway, for the sea shall not have them!” Yeah, it's propaganda, but if propaganda is to exist, I've less a problem with this sort of stiff-upper-lip-spirit-of-the-blitz-chin-up fare than I have with something like, say, Birth of a Nation, in which the Klan are portrayed as heroes.

8. The Boys In Blue
The sole cinematic endeavour of Cannon and Ball – I've still no idea why I watched this one to the end. Never let it be said that I'm not prepared to suffer for my blog. Who are Cannon and Ball? Well, they're a comedy duo from another time. Some would describe this time as “more innocent”, others as “sadly regrettable”. To get a good idea of the sort of antics they get up to, just try and imagine The Chuckle Brothers if one of them was a sex offender. In this one they're policemen trying to tackle an art-smuggling racket. It ends with them disgraced and losing their job – despite having solved the crime and returned the art – and walking forlornly into the distance on a rainy airfield. I've no doubt that this ending was designed to open up the possibility of a sequel in which the had gained some other form of employment – window cleaners, or something – but seeing as their careers in film ended here, it ends up being quite hopelessly bleak.

9. Follow A Star
This is a Norman Wisdom film. It starts off quite brilliantly – with two sweaty men in vests tensely tackling a monstrous machine which turns out to be a trouser press – but after this things develop/descend into your more standard Wisdom fare. Personally, I've lots of time for the innocent antics of Pitkin, but overall this one's unusually cruel. The plot involves Norman shadowing and later eclipsing the fame of a concert hall singer. Of course it's all played for laughs, but I couldn't help but feel for the poor singer – the look on his face as his world collapsed around him was heartbreaking. If you consider that music hall really was all-but destroyed by the cinema, then this film comes across as quite vindictive – history as written by the winners.


10. Definitely, Maybe
A romantic comedy in which Ryan Reynolds – despite listening to R.E.M, Yo La Tengo and The Flaming Lips, at one point claims total ignorance of Nirvana. How the hell do they expect us to take this stuff seriously if apparently so little thought went into its writing?

That's all for now. Another ten soon. Sure.