Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 14

Thanks to the U.S. version of The Office currently taking over my life on Netflix, my film-watching hasn't been as extensive as normal this week, but I have managed to squeeze in a Disney film, a superhero film, and a Die Hard marathon. Obviously.

Plus, I've given 5* to the newly released The Theory of Everything, which is the sort of stunning and utterly remarkable movie that reminds you how truly great film can be.

* * *
Sky Movies // 2010 // DVD

"The magically long-haired Rapunzel has spent her entire life in a tower, but now that a runaway thief has stumbled upon her, she is about to discover the world for the first time, and who she really is."


With Tangled Disney yet again says firmly within its creative box, producing exactly the type of film it's proven over time to excel at with this adaptation of the traditional tale of Rapunzel. However, although it may boringly adhere to all the conventions of a standard Disney story Tangled is still a thoroughly charming and enjoyable film.

There's nothing particularly ground-breaking about Tangled and yet it still works. Alongside the plot of the lost princess with magical (and ridiculously impractical) hair completely unaware of her true parentage held basically against her will at the top of a tower by an old woman claiming to be her mother, there are the obvious elements of a Disney film, such as the plucky animal sidekicks who physically say nothing but seem to communicate better than most of the humans; the roguish yet handsome bad boy who achieves redemption by falling in love; and plenty of 'spontaneous' songs and choreographed dance routines. This apparent unoriginality could have ruined the entire film but instead it manages to still hit all the right notes and tick every box such that by the end you'll definitely have a couple of songs stuck in your head and a lump in your throat before the credits roll.

The animation is stunning - I could watch the lantern scene in the middle of the film a million times over and still be blown away - and the voices of Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi as Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are perfectly cast. There's no getting away from the fact that Tangled is unfortunately nothing special, but as it's significantly less irritating than Frozen, if you're looking for an animation full of princesses, magic and catchy songs then this is the film to pick.

* * * * *
ITV // 2008 // DVD

"When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the caped crusader must come to terms with one of the greatest psychological tests of his ability to fight injustice."

The Dark Knight is a 150 minute goose-bump inducing, jaw-dropping thrill ride, and I will forever question the sanity of anyone who doesn't think it's an utterly brilliant film. Christopher Nolan continued to show that superhero films don't have to be camp and ridiculous, all capes and black pants over tights, and running through dry ice; but can instead be dark and filled with sinister chaos. Bizarrely, though, it never feels like a superhero film: Nolan has lifted Batman from his comic book origins and moulded the masked vigilante into a multi-dimensional tragic figure who cannot avoid the double-edged sword of heroism in a flawed world. He also proved that sequels can miraculously be better than their predecessors.

If anything it's made unmissable by Heath Ledger. The late actor created one of the greatest and most iconic villainous performances of all time as the chilling and terrifying Joker, and it's worth seeing purely to hear him snarl "why so serious" with a manic grin. It's a brilliant piece of acting in a wonderful, gripping and heart-pounding film.

* * * * *
2014 // In U.K. cinemas now

"A look at the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife."

As Hollywood hurls itself towards awards season with alarming speed, The Theory of Everything is securing itself a place as a serious contender for the highest accolades by racking up nominations left, right and centre. Praise has been heaped on the film since its first premiere last year and having now seen it - it's finally been released in the U.K. - I can fully understand why. It's a truly astonishing film that actually deserves all of the positive reviews its been receiving.

First and foremost it's a beautifully shot and edited film, and when accompanied by a truly stunning score the effect is whimsical, romantic and thoroughly captivating to watch. As Jane and Stephen fall in love at Cambridge director James Marsh ensures that the audience falls effortlessly in love with them - and the film - at the same time, making the physical hardships ahead and unravelling of their marriage even more devastating. It's because of the remarkable performances of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones that the audience feels so swept up in the dizzying heights of their relationship at the beginning and thus so emotionally invested in the couple as the film progresses. Both actors will break your heart.

Eddie Redmayne expertly portrays Stephen Hawking's deteriorating health at the hands of ALS, transforming himself so convincingly that at times it's difficult to watch. It's an awe-inspiring transformation and one done with respect, sensitivity and the air of a man who's done his homework. Every single movement seems measured and deliberate, from a slight falter on a bicycle at the start to the twitch of an eye at the end. There's no denying that such precision and dedication has paid off, and the preparation, research and sheer skill involved all come together in a tremendous performance. As excellent as Redmayne is - and he's INCREDIBLE - his characterisation of Stephen wouldn't be half as good if he wasn't matched by Felicity Jones's portrayal of his wife, Jane, whose memoir inspired the film. Jones is at her absolute best, with a strength, compassion and resolve that gives the movie a hugely unforgettable emotional presence.

You could be forgiven for thinking The Theory of Everything is purely about Stephen - he's the name we know, and the man whose brain and story is celebrated the world over - but it's not. For once the wife of a brilliantly talented man is shown on screen to be just as brilliant and talented in her own right, and is rightfully afforded her own voice within the film. Stephen and Jane are equals on so many levels, and it's wonderful that the film that acknowledges both sides of the story without assigning blame to one of them or belittling the lives of the family as less important than Stephen's inspiring tale of survival.

The ensemble cast is also superb, and I can't praise the film enough. I just wish I could wind back the clock and experience the beauty and wonder of it all over again for the first time.

* * *
Sky Movies // Entire collection currently available at Sky On Demand or alternatively DVD

DIE HARD / * * * * / 1988 - DVD

"John McClane, officer of the NYPD, tries to save wife Holly Gennaro and several others, taken hostage by German terrorist Hans Gruber during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles."

DIE HARD 2 / * * * / 1990 - DVD

"John McClane, officer of the N.Y.P.D. and hero of the Nakatomi Hostage Crisis, attempts to avert disaster as rogue military officials seize control of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C."

DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE / * * * * / 1995 - DVD

"John McClane and a Harlem store owner are targeted by German terrorist Simon Gruber in New York City, where he plans to rob the Federal Reserve Building."

DIE HARD 4.0 / * * / 2007 - DVD

"John McClane and a young hacker join forces to take down master cyber-terrorist Thomas Gabriel in Washington D.C."

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD / * * / 2013 - DVD

"John McClane travels to Russia to help out his seemingly wayward son, Jack, only to discover that Jack is a CIA operative working undercover, causing the father and son to team up against underworld forces."

Yesterday Sky Movies programmed a Die Hard Marathon, from the 1988 original right through to 2013's A Good Day to Die Hard, and given how I'd only seen the first two before it seemed like the perfect opportunity to sit down with my dad and be educated in all things John McClane. It was exhausting and I'm very glad I did it, but I'm not entirely sure if I'll be watching all of them again.

The first Die Hard is growing on me. The action is wonderful, the catchphrases are so quotable and Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber is slowly turning into one of my favourite villains. Yes it's cheesy and unbelievable at times but some of the best films are and I see nothing wrong with that at all. The sequel is a solid film, and although the premise and plot are pretty much identical to the first it still works. Unfortunately it's at this stage that I think it starts to lose its way.

Die Hard: With a Vengeance has some of the best action sequences I've ever seen, and it's brilliantly tightly-wound and full of tension as McClane and Samuel L. Jackson's Zeus engage in a terrifying game of 'Simon Says' with German terrorist Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons). A lot of the fast-paced scenes seem just as fresh and exciting as the original film, but it fundamentally doesn't feel like a Die Hard film. It's an excellent action film, but it's so obvious that it was originally a different script that has the names of characters changed to McClane/Gruber. It doesn't seem to fit comfortably in the Die Hard universe: to me, it was a weird one to watch as it's a brilliant film but just not exactly a Die Hard film.

There's the same problem with the last two films - the links to Die Hard are so tenuous that it's embarrassingly clear that they're just cashing in on a well-loved franchise. They both contain none of the charm or originality of the first two films, or the nail biting action of the third. Die Hard 4.0 and A Good Day to Die Hard are virtually identical to every other action film being churned out by Hollywood, adhering to so many stereotypes, unnecessarily dragging out fight sequences and car chases to way longer than they needed to be, and unfortunately making Bruce Willis look completely past it. As far as I'm concerned they either needed to overhaul the scripts of the last two films or just stop at 3.

Watching all 5 in a row was definitely the way to go about a Die Hard education, but sadly it's shown how bad the last two are in comparison to the first! I'm ridiculously happy that I've finally seen them, and if you haven't then I'd recommend them, but maybe just watch three…

What have you watched this week? Is there a classic collection like Die Hard that you think I need to see? Do let me know in the comments below!

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