Thursday, 20 May 2010

Everyman's War

I'm fresh off the sofa after watching this interesting movie. It's definitely not a terrible war movie. In fact, it could be used to illustrate my previous post on high budget versus low budget; I preferred it over many of last years massive movies. Everyman's War is an interesting look at the closing stages of World War Two, in particular the Battle Of The Bulge which took place in the Ardennes, seen from the eyes of one man, Don Smith. Don't be mislead. This is not the sort of war movie brimming with "ZOMG HEADSHOT", Call Of Duty style action. It's entirely more engaging, thanks to sufficient character development, decent back-story, and a foundationary love interest.

There were two moments that really stood out for me in this movie, and I'd love to know how accurate they really are. There is a take-your-breath away moment when Don is wounded, dragging himself through an open snow-covered field, and a German has his K98 trained on him. Then he sees that he's wounded and lets him go. An honourable moment of chivalry. Then, the whole subplot with a German POW who commits suicide, only for Don to discover the truth behind a letter written in German once he's returned to the States. It's poignant and upsetting.

Despite a mostly unknown team of actors, the acting is mostly believable, and arguably better than the recent First World War based Passchendaele. The actual battle scenes are not as impressive though, in my opinion.

The writing isn't terrible but it could have been better. I can't put it simpler than that. The action is well written, but some of the dialogue seems off, but that could just be the way certain actors delivered their lines. The cinematography is engaging and effective, rarely, if ever, disconnecting us from the movie. The music/score is used sparingly but to good effect.

There was a definite amateur feel to the movie, but it is worth a watch. It's certainly not as bad as many reviews would lead you to believe. Authenticity, always key to a decent war film, seems to have been kept pretty high, with use of seemingly realistic costumes and weapons. In particular, I was impressed with the look of the MkIV Panzer tanks employed by the Germans. The only thing that really annoyed me about the costuming in Everyman's War is that the uniforms were prefectly cleaned and pressed most of the time. It doesn't ruin the movie if you can ignore it, but it is disappointing. I doubt anyone could keep their uniforms looking that clean after months of battle. That's the only real letdown for me.

To sum up, if you like war movies this is worthy, even if there is only one real battle scene. They make good use of realistic sounding artillery and explosion effects throughout, to keep you involved. I can't see any real incentive for someone who isn't interested in War films to watch this. The story outside of the battle isn't deep enough. It's sufficient to make us care for the characters. Considering the budget of this movie is estimated at 720,000USD, it does what it does well. Not quite at the same level as Band Of Brothers, The Pacific or even Saving Private Ryan (do bear in mind that one episode of Band of Brothers cost 12million to produce), it is the story of a real veteran, and therefore worth a watch.

I give this movie a thumbs up.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Film Or Theatre?

I apologise for the gap between posts, I've been a bit busy this month. Today I'd like to talk about Film vs Theatre (as the title suggests).

Maybe this opinion is shared by no other person, but it seems to me that the majority of people these days, would rather see: a movie. That's understandable really. It really is. Cinemas generally offer a much more comfortable seat, a clear, unobstructed view, regardless of seat and less, if any, volume issues (quite the opposite). Those are the basic things we think about, aren't they?

Well, how about quality? The quality of what we are actually going to watch...

Movie budgets, assuming you're watching it in a cinema, are generally in the millions. Hundreds of millions. There are exceptions, such as the recent "Paranormal Activity". But they are truly the exception. Let's assume you were one of the millions who watched "Avatar" in 3D. The quality was indeed awesome, and the production costs were astranomical. Your seat ticket cost between £8 and £10. Fair enough.

Production costs for a play are much, much lower. Significantly lower. So why does it sometimes cost so much more? Well, it doesn't have to. And it can be so much more enjoyable than seeing a movie. You feel like you're part of the scenery almost. A fly on the wall. You feel so much more significant to the show. That's because you are. Those are people on the stage in front of you, and they're there just for you. They are there to entertain you. Movies are churned out for people to flock to en masse, digest, and forget about. Also, despite budgets deep in the millions, some movies are just utter crap.

So what's my point? Well, here is a direct example.

I recently went to see my girlfriends University production of "A Ghost Sonata". An adaptation of the play by August Strindberg. At first you might think that, because it's free to watch, and being put on by students, it won't be worth the journey. Then you're told that you won't be seated. It's a walk-round show. You literally walk into different scenes. Sigh. "So we have to actually stand on our feet", I hear you saying. Shut up. Don't be so lazy. I am happy to report that, putting aside all biases for my girlfriend, the show was awesome. What have I to gain by being biased anyway? The show's finished. It was simply one of the most spine-chilling fifteen minutes of my life. The play, and if you ever read it I'm sure you will agree, is actually quite drawn out and obtuse. Their adaptation was nothing short of professional. A live "horror" show, where the bastards scream in your ear and grab you in the dark. Terrifying. From the excellent costume work to the brilliantly crafted atmosphere, the show was astonishing. I think they had a budget of roughly £300, (did I just make that number up....probably), but you wouldn't know it.

I'd like to compare it directly to the recently re-imagined "A Nightmare On Elm Street". I'll save you a few lines of reading here and say it outright; save your money. Do not see this movie. Just...don't. The story was bland, disgraceful and offensive to my eyes. I actually felt like I was becoming dumber as I watched it. The effects were also bland and ineffective. Freddie is nowhere near as wretched as the original. Compare the visual wonder of movies like "Avatar" and "District 9" to this movie. How the hell did they make it so bad? With todays technology, there is simply no excuse for falling off in the visual department. Actually, bad is not the right word. Inneffective is perfect. It's not scary at all. It's repetitive. The same use of loud strings with a bang to try and scare the audience. The same use of mirrors as every other horror film since the 70's. Is it really so hard to be innovative in the Horror genre? I think not.

There was almost zero character development. Almost zero back-story. Why should we care about these characters that you're killing off, one by one? Just because they haven't slept for a few days? Get real. I felt robbed after paying to see this film. It scared the hell out of my girlfriend though, so maybe I'm just too critical. Or do I mean skeptical? She says I'm negative. Either way, I know crap when I see it.

It's a fact that going to the theatre can be more expensive and more time consuming than going to the cinema. But it doesn't matter, because the theatre is a unique experience everytime, and you're pretty much guaranteed a good performance, good story and strong characters, every time. If I had to choose between seeing a mediocre film for £10, or a great play for £20, even as a self confessed movie lover, I'd pick the play every time. Even between the choice of a great film or a great play, I'd probably pick the theatre show. Then again, maybe not.

But now you know, that if you're ever given the choice between "Nightmare On Elm Street 2010" and a University production of a mostly unknown horror play, you take a chance on the students, because they're acting their hearts out.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Picks Of The 80's

A lot of people look down at the 80's in regards to movies. But after spending a bit of time looking at the selection, I can't see why. There were some excellent films released. Here are my top 20 from the decade of cheese!

1. Once Upon A Time In America (1984, Sergio Leone).
2. Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan).
3. Full Metal Jacket (1988, Kubrick).
4. Scarface (1983, Brian De Palma).
5. Big (1988, Penny Marshall).
6. Empire Of The Sun (1987, Spielberg).
7. Stand By Me (1986, Rob Reiner).
8. Platoon (1986, Oliver Stone).
9. Ordinary People (1980, Robert Redford).
10. Hope And Glory (1987, John Boorman).
11. E.T. (1982, Spielberg).
12. Do The Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee).
13. Back To The Future (1985, Robert Zemeckis).
14. Terminator (1984, James Cameron).
15. Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack).
16. Beetle Juice (1988, Tim Burton).
17. Ferris Buellers' Day off (1986, John Hughes).
18. Rambo: First Blood (1982, Ted Kotcheff, David Morrell).
19. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987, Barry Levinson, Mitch Markowitz).
20. Labyrinth (1986, Jim Henson).

Runners up were aplenty. Honourable mention to "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", "See No Evil, Hear No Evil", "Top Gun", "Airplane", "Beverly Hills Cop" (who can forget that theme song) and "The Breakfast Club". How can anybody say this is not a good decade for movies!? Idiots. Watch these movies!