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Since the time is nearly upon us, I thought I’d introduce a bit of festivity to Filmsapoi by a) making it snow on the blog – pretty, isn’t it? And b) give you my personal top three Christmas films. Now I should be honest, I’m not really a huge fan of Christmas films as they tend towards the heart-warming, which whilst not a bad thing, tends to come at the expense of actually being a good film. Nonetheless, there are three ‘Christmas’ films that I really like and I’d like to introduce you to them (even though chances are, you’ve all already met).

 

Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!

I’d actually forgotten that Die Hard was set on Christmas Eve until I watched it on a whim a few days ago. And oh, what a Christmas film it is. Action! Guns! Explosions! A battle of wits between Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, both of whom play the best roles they’ve ever had. With comedy and a little bit of Christmas heart-warming to boot. It’s certainly nowhere near the typical definition of a Christmas film, but if you’re bored on the big day and the incessant re-runs of old war films aren’t really entertaining you…

 

“Well, you know, I thought it might be something worse.”
“Worse than the total agony of being in love?!”

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t enjoy Love Actually. And yes, I realise the irony in scorning heart-warming Christmas films two paragraphs ago, and then picking probably the worst offender of all for my next film.. but well, I can’t help it. There’s something infinitely endearing about Love Actually – perhaps the veritable plethora of awesome British stars, or Richard Curtis’s fantastic script, perhaps both, perhaps something else entirely. It’s a potted summary of how lovely Christmas can be, a complete one-off.

This year, America tried to copy the formulae in ‘Valentine’s Day’, a similar film about intersecting relationships over the course of a single day, and maybe this is because I watched it 5000 metres above the Bering Sea on a TV as big as my hand with terrible reception, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good. It wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t have Love Actually’s sheer good-natured sense of fun.

 

‘There’s children throwing snowballs, instead of throwing heads. They’re busy building toys, and absolutely no-one’s dead!’

I almost feel bad for including The Nightmare Before Christmas, since it feels too obvious. But hey, hopefully I already sufficiently surprised you all with Die Hard, so you’ll let it go. Anyway, Tim Burton’s beautifully animated story of Pumpkin King Jack Skellington, and his ill-fated attempt to usurp Christmas still rides high in my Christmas list since there is still absolutely nothing comparable to it. It’s got frights and delights, musical numbers, comedy, and it always seems to pop up in cinemas in 3D at this time of year. In fact it was the first film I saw in 3D, before the craze took off in 2009.

 

So there you have it, my top Christmas films. Although nowhere near the quality I regard the above to have, Elf gets an honourable mention, if only because Zooey Deschanel is in it. In fact, yeah, that’s the only reason. ❤

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I was never a big Batman fan. I’m not really sure why. I thought at first it might have been due to the dark and grim nature of the comic, but it can’t be, because if I could successfully read the Gormenghast books, I can handle Batman easily. Perhaps it was because of my inability  to reconcile the darkness with the idea of a man dressing up like a bat, which is quite a silly notion. Anyway, despite this, I still watched Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (although I did miss both of them in the cinema, having not seen the first one before the second one came out).. and I was able to appreciate them.

Then I read The Killing Joke. Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s reverberation on the origins and motivations of the Joker and his opposition to Batman struck a chord with me, so I decided to go back and watch The Dark Knight again and take a close look at the Heath Ledger’s Joker.. An informed perspective, if you will. Of course, that also meant I had to watch Batman Begins again first – although one of The Dark Knight’s remarkable strengths is that it’s a sequel you don’t need to have seen the first film to understand (this being at least half due to popular knowledge of the Batman character as it is Christopher Nolan’s film-making skill), I felt obliged to experience the whole of the thing. Interested?

There is a certain art to telling an origin story that – well, let’s be straight up about it. If you have to spend half of your film telling the tale of how your protagonist decided to dress up like a flying rat, then you’ve already used up half of your film. And in turn, that means you’ve lost half of the time you could have been developing the film’s major antagonist. A good idea, then, is to combine these two halves of your story, for the sake of continuity. After all, it’s quite jarring to be expected to believe that a superhero and a super villain happen to pop up at the same time, independently. To have the two intertwined, like two different sides of a coin, often makes for a better story and certainly a better final showdown, even if we all know who’s going to win.. Making the antagonist responsible for the events that lead to the creation of the superhero, the same superhero who will in the end bring about their downfall has a certain impressive poignancy, after all. Iron Man did it with Obadiah Stane. Avatar kind of did it with whoever that military guy was, you know, that unstoppable force of nature dude.

Before both of those films, though, Batman Begins did it. Bruce Wayne’s origin story and path to becoming the Batman intertwines with the League of Shadows, some ninja style dudes who in the end turn out to be responsible for the murder of Wayne’s parents; the path that sends him careening down the path to vigilante crimefighter status.. a path which eventually brings him up against the League of Shadows. It’s cute how it all comes together.

What I find more interesting is that Nolan and his team didn’t choose to assign that role to the Joker. He is, after all, Batman’s arch-nemesis: who better to award the ultimate crime to? But I see why they didn’t do it. For a crime such as that, the only repayment is death. In the 1989 Batman, Jack Nicholson’s Joker was assigned the role of parent-killer, and he met his demise at the climax of the film. And that was it. This did present the interesting paradox that Batman and the Joker were both responsible for the creation of each other, but in ending the story with only one of them still alive, the duality is shattered. The entire crux of The Killing Joke is that both of them are the creations of a single ‘bad day’ that changed their entire world, and that only their reactions to that day define who they are: Bruce Wayne took a noble path, and whoever the Joker was before, he went completely nutso.

And that’s why I think The Dark Knight is so fucking good. Heath Ledger’s Joker is presented exactly as he should be; a psychopath bereft of empathy who springs, fully formed, onto the screen, to do battle with Batman. The Joker doesn’t need an origin story, he just needs to be what he is; an unstoppable force of nature. The film instead follow the arc of Harvey Dent, a much more tragic and human story that gives the film some empathy that the stoic, resolute Bruce Wayne can’t offer; Batman Begins was his story. This time around he gives the spotlight to someone else.

Plenty of words have been spilled by critics the world over about Ledger’s penultimate performance, but you know what, I’m going to add a few more to the alphabet soup anyway. To begin, it helps that Ledger is almost completely obscured by the character’s untidily applied make-up – it adds to the anonymity of the character. No name, no face, just a freaky mask and a sweet purple suit. Oh, and an ever-escalating sense of chaos, that’s good too.

At the end of Batman Begins, Batman and Jim Gordon riff for a moment on the theme of escalation, and this turns out to be a major theme of the sequel. The Joker’s actions throughout steadily raise the stakes, until by the end the entire city is running scared from one guy. Whilst it certainly makes for a compelling movie, it also emphasises the contradictions of Ledger’s character. In order for everything to work out has it does, the Joker has to have been meticulously in control of all that occurs; plans spelled out to the letter. But then he argues to Harvey Dent that he doesn’t have a plan at all. How can a mad dog chasing cars manage to pull off everything that he does?

This all culminates in his final showdown with Batman, in which is included one of the greatest cinematic scenes that I’ve ever seen. The Joker is hung upside down, seemingly defeated, but then the camera slowly twists around as he reveals his final toss of the dice, putting him the right way up but with the ethereal strangeness of his still hanging – just the wrong way round. The cinematography throughout the entire film is impressive; particularly the sweeping shots of the Hong Kong skyline during the Batman world tour segment, but this is the money shot, when a win becomes a possible loss and the Joker is left laughing manically to empty air as the Batman flees to attempt to undo his damage.

And that’s it. Not just for the film but forever; with the death of Heath Ledger, there dies his Joker. This is kind of good, because it could be argued that his appearing again would have diminished the impact of The Dark Knight, but then it’s also sad, because we’ll never get to know. Nonetheless, Ledger deserves commendation and the post-humous Academy Award he won for his role, because it takes a determined and focused actor to produce a legitimately terrifying force of nature. The only thing I’ve seen that was comparable was Javier Bardem’s ‘Anton Chigurh’ in No Country For Old Men, but that was a quiet, deadly intensity in comparison to the Joker’s madness. Oh yeah and the guy from Avatar as well, but only because he kept surviving increasingly ridiculous situations and seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of weaponry. Technological advance is not a substitute for skilled delivery, and that’s part of the reason I didn’t quite understand why everyone went quite Joker over Avatar.

“I believe that whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you… stranger.”

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FilmsAPOI, Now on Twitter!

That’s right! For a more daily feed about our film related happenings you can follow our journey.

You can find us by using the link above of the FilmsAPOI Tweets link on the right!

We look forward to seeing you there!

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Downtime

Just a message to let everyone know, we’ve pretty much managed to evade our real-life trappings and so our month-long downtime will be soon coming to an end. As a gift to all you wonderful people and your patience with us, we’ve given you a review of Watchmen for your pleasure. Normal service shall resume within..sometime very soon. Cheers!

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Since the occasion of the British Academy Film Awards is a rather major event in the movie world’s social calender, I had the funny idea of maybe doing a bit of a piece on it, so here it is, for your enjoyment; The 2009 BAFTAs, according to Filmsapoi.

Bafta award

I always have a vague worry when it comes to awards ceremonies that, apart from being potentially completely pointless in the grand scheme of things, unless you’ve got a space on your mantlepiece that needs filling, that sooner or later there will come along a film that will become so massive that it threatens to undermine the nature of the ceremony by just winning everything. I’m not saying such a film would not deserve its awards, just that films that are actually more worthy run the chance of getting overlooked by the hype machine. Not to mention I don’t trust the shadowy panel of people who decide who gets what one iota (although after they voted Mickey from Doctor Who to win the rising star award, I’m not sure I trust the general public either).

This year, two films ran the gauntlet for scooping up every award they could get their hands on. First was Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s epic underdog film which is by all accounts very good, although I still haven’t seen it. I bear this film no ill grace and I’ll happily concede that the 7 awards it won were pretty deserved.  Plus, Danny Boyle himself looks too cool to just not win.

 

As life gets longer, awful feels softer

As life gets longer, awful feels softer

So that’s that. The other big film of the moment, interestingly, is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which if you ask me actually looks rather dull. Again, I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t judge until I do (on thursday, hopefully), but apart from the fantastic feat of making Brad Pitt look unattractive (hoho – actually, come to think of it he did that pretty well himself with that comedy false moustache.. he just doesn’t get British humour).. the film doesn’t seem that brilliant. 

Another film that seemed to pop up a lot was The Reader, another one I’ve never heard of but which apparently quite, well, big. Every scene that was played at the show seemed to involve the same couple either falling out or having sex, which certainly explain its success since apparently people seem to like that kind of thing – it’s the philosophy British soaps have been drawing on for the last 40 years, anyway, and of course they’re not tired and dull yet. …

heathledgerjoker

Some people call me the space cowboy..

That’s right folks, it’s Joker time. Heath Ledger strolling up to collect his Supporting Actor award for his scintillating performance was quite something to see, wasn’t it? Well in an ideal world it would have been, but instead in his absence we’re left in the wake of controversy about whether his death is elevating him to honours he wasn’t quite at, and what the hell, since when did superhero films start winning awards anyway? 

Personally I’d say Ledger thoroughly deserved the award, because his performance is mesmerising if not comforting, and about the best competition he faced was Robery Downey Jr.  in some crappy Ben Stiller ‘make ’em laugh, make ’em cry’ outing (rather than, say, IRON MAN.. but perhaps that’s a bit too much superhero for the average audience idiot to be comfortable with. Why so serious?).

Philippe Petit

Perhaps we should all try to be a bit more crazy, like this mad frenchman. I confess I was literally cheering when Man on Wire won Best British Film, because it really is that good. Likewise, I was sad when it didn’t win the ‘first film special achievement’ award, and somewhat perplexed, but since I’ve not seen the film that did, Hunger, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt, especially since Steve Mcqueen (no, not that one (and not the rat either)), the man responsible for it, gave such a swift and neat acceptance speech.

Whilst we’re on the subject, Mickey Rourke’s acceptance speech for his best actor award – wonderful, wasn’t it? Bought a tear to the eye. Good for him getting his career back on track and all, but I think someone should inform him he can stop playing the role of the Wrestler now. Thank you for introducing a bit of profanity to the situation though, since Jonathon Ross is clearly too much of a good boy nowadays. 

He also had a bow tie that changes colour, if you believe my girlfriend.

 

All of your bases are belong to us

All of your bases are belong to us

There were some interesting events surrounding the ‘special achievement’ award at the end of the show. Not least that the montage we were shown repeated itself, without any clear explanation as to why this was so. My possible explanations are a) that it was a clever attempt at surreal Pythonesque humour that was a bit too subtle for me, and b) someone fucked up. The second seems more likely, but then that poses the question, why didn’t anyone comment on it? Or did the people at the show see the right thing first time? If they did, what were they doing for the minute or so whilst we were repeating ourselves? Did I imagine the whole thing? Is this even worth considering?

And then those trigger happy maniacs in the editing department made a very obvious cut when Terry Gilliam was reading his super-long list of people to thank, which ruined the joke. Did he intend to read them all? Did he do it? WAS it a joke? I don’t know. Some people just don’t get comedy (in leiu of the previous paragraph I may be one of them)..

2681124188_065abbd441

Waltz with Bashir gets a full-on picture from us to make up for how it got shoehorned into the ‘Best Film not in the English Language’ (because ‘foreign’ is too risque) and so didn’t get a chance to compete for cinematography, adapted screenplay, production design or any of the other things it did really well, all of which just highlights that the awards industry really cares more about itself than it does about the quality of the actual films it presents – rather, how sellable they are. We can champion them for lavishing Slumdog Millionaire but I’d say it was done in a rather patronising manner – my girlfriend, who I was watching the show with, commented on how everyone’s expressions whenever the film won an award were akin to ‘aww, didn’t they do well? Bless..’

So if you’ve read this far, feel free to discount everything I already said, because the truth is these awards don’t matter at all. That being said, we’re still going to cover the Oscars, if only to tell them where they’ve gone wrong.

A few closing thoughts:

  • It was nice to see In Bruges win something – I didn’t really consider it awards-material, thought it might be a bit lightweight, but Best Original Screenplay is a nice catch. Well done to them.
  • The whole ‘honouring the departed’ montage after Heath Ledger’s award win was rather suspiciously timed, almost as if they knew who it was going to..
  • When I saw that Garth Jennings was responsible for Son of Rambow I instantly wanted it to not win, because Jennings is at least partly responsible for the awful, awful film adaption of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But I’m not bitter (he didn’t win anyway).
  • I have trouble with the concept of a Bafta for sound; sound’s sound, how can it be award winning? (Note I’m talking about SFX alone, not music, as that’s how the awards classified them)
  • Finally.. there were a lot of shots on Danny Boyle during the show. Did he make a film recently?

Should you wish to gorge your eyes on the full list of awards, nominees and winners, go here, and enjoy.

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Over 1000 Wanderers!!

Thank you very much everybody! We’ve hit 1000 hits in just over a month!! Considering we are just two guys who like writing about films this is pretty awesome achievement!

Thank you to everybody for keeping with us and reading all our rambles we think everybody might like. Expect many many more.

Keep on joining us on Facebook, Myspace and joining in with the comments. We love hearing what you all have to say as well!!

Thank you everybody, pretty awesome feat right there!! =)

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I’d go as far as to say that there’s an interesting trend in modern media towards really intelligent characters. You know the sort, the quick-witted, naturally talented, probably good-looking TV show favourites who we all secretly wish we were. House is a show guilty of this; almost every character who’s made multiple appearances has a sterling intellect (which maybe we’re meant to take as, you need to be this good to work with House). But whilst it’s all well and good to see our idols on the screen and vanish into a fantasy land of their construction for an hour, it doesn’t always work.

When a show pulls a sort of soft reset, ending a certain character arc or coming back from the grave – not starting completely anew but rejunevating the franchise, they have a tendency to try to leap straight back to their hayday pose straight away, particularly in regards to these intelligent characters. Let’s look at House again, since I already conveniently mentioned it. Throughout the first three seasons we were introduced to and became acquainted with the characters of Chase, Cameron and Foreman (well, provided you watch the show, of course). To some extent we watched their characters evolve to where they were when, at the end of the third season, they all left House’s department for pastures new (and none of them got out of the hospital, but that’s not relevant). By the time they left, they’d evolved to be more evocative and interesting characters than originally. Personality traits had been magnified and convoluted, and they’d grown.

But now the series has reset, and House has a new team, which is where the problem lies. In order to shoot back up to the traditional level of House banter, the new team are quite compellingly intelligent – not, wow, how clever, how interesting, but more, wow, how the hell are they that clever? They’ve not gone through any evolution (unless you can call 13’s slapstick Huntingdon’s arc compelling), they’re pretty static characters. They just are. Reason and motivation for their action are irrelevent, and it makes me feel oddly uncomfortable and disinterested when they’re preaching to each other about the various maladies of the patient of the week (amazing how every patient can relate in some way to someone on the show). It doesn’t feel real.

What’s made me think that this is more than a one-show charade is that the same thing seems to have happened with Hustle as well. The show has gone through something of a reboot (and lost a lot of its soul in the pursuit of money, I think – don’t you agree Mickey just doesn’t seem very friendly anymore?), and two new characters have been introduced, one of whom is hyper intelligent – veteran con artist Robert Vaughn even goes as far as to say that she’s got the best grift sense he’s ever known (come on, subscribe to this for a minute). Now, this has happened before – Vaughn’s character Albert said the same of Danny Blue in the first season of Hustle, but Danny Blue wasn’t a hyper-intelligent superhero. He was quite flawed in his ways, but we saw him grow into an experienced con artist of his own (particularly in the 4th season when he took the leadership role in his group).

Now, we’ve got this new girl, who is super smart and on top of everything that happens, quipping and conning with the best of them. A girl who is completely devoid of backstory waltzes onto the show and makes off with the hearts of viewers nationwide without having any visible character effort. This is not really my idea of compelling television.

So I guess the point this is all leading up to is, is this what we want from shows? Do we not want interesting and believable characters anymore? Are we too depressed and cynical to actually care? It seems we want our characters so that the fun times can unfold and we don’t seem to care how we get them. And the people who make the shows know this, and they’re allowed to get away with putting jokes about someone trying to work out if a word is made up or not into Hustle, ferchrist’ssake.

But what do you all think, if indeed anyone has read this far? I’m leaving this open for debate if anyone wants to put some thoughts forward, I’d love to be convinced I’m wrong. I’m also quite prepared to go toe-to-toe with anyone who wants to contend that there were more seasons of House after the first two, and anyone who thinks the other new person in Hustle isn’t a massively annoying twat.

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