Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
This classic courtroom drama has interested me for a while now as it has James Stewart starring in it, one of my all-time favourite actors. He plays a semi-retired lawyer who just loves fishing; he returns to court to defend a man (Ben Gazzara), who murdered a bar owner who supposedly raped his wife, with the plea of temporary insanity or ‘irresistible impulse’.
The long runtime flies by in this gripping trial film where there are no flashbacks of the crime and it is up to the viewer to imagine what really happened based on the court case. This allows a certain sense of mystery to pervade throughout the film and heightens the tense oratory battles taking place between Jimmy Stewart and the equally brilliant George C. Scott, who is the prosecutor. The role of the seductive and rather wild wife of the defendant is brilliant played by Lee Remick as she provides a distraction for both the viewer and the characters in the film.
Well adapted from the original source, a book of the same name, this is one of the greatest trial films ever made and another film that simply increases my admiration for the late James Stewart and the director Otto Preminger. It may feel a bit dated in parts but a film such as this is timeless as well as immensely enjoyable.
Luxo Jr. (1986)
This short and simple film was one of Pixar’s earliest films; made back in the days when the computers used for animation took up most of the desk and weighed as much as the humans in Wall-E.
Only a few minutes long and yet this film sets the tone for all the wonderful feature length and short films that Pixar have lovingly created since. A young lamp playing with a ball in Luxo Jr., watched over by his beleaguered father doesn’t seem like much but after watching all the Pixar films, you appreciate this short for all its worth.
The Killing (1956)
One of the legendary Stanley Kubrick’s earlier films, this crime noir follows the story of a gang of crooks who plan, prepare and ultimately rob a racehorse track of around $2,000,000 in the perfect heist.
The story jumps back and forth with different characters providing insight into the different phases of the robbery and the preparation, clearly an influence for Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The characters are great and well fleshed out, particularly Marie Windsor as Sherry, the devious and teasingly cruel wife of one of the crooks. Being a film-noir, the black and white style is as you’d expect with moody lighting and great uses of shadow in parts. As the genre suggests, there is no happy ending but it is still brilliant as the seemingly perfectly planned robbery crumbles thanks to human error and a rogue poodle. The ending did slightly annoy me with its contrivances; however you do sense it is all part of Kubrick’s master plan where the most comical of events can ruin even the grandest of plans.
A stunning and influential film. A fantastic plot, great acting and a dab of humour combine to give The Killing a well-earned place amongst Kubrick’s prodigious work.
Director and producer Allen Hughes splits from his twin brother Albert, sits alone in the director’s chair and heads for the shadows with new crime-thriller Broken City.
Set in the big rotten apple of New York City, this is a place where injustice can be found on every street corner. Mark Wahlberg plays cop turned private detective Billy Taggart. A tale of revenge is on the cards after he is double-crossed by the corrupt Mayor, Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe). He pays Taggart to trail his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) for reasons that become increasingly ambiguous and leads Taggart to plunge into the seedy underbelly of the city to discover the nefarious links between business and politics.
First off, Broken City takes so much from hundreds of other political crime-thrillers that it becomes a simple and average film itself and brings nothing new to the table. Too many other films influence it; so it feels old fashioned and therefore fails to captivate with its unwarranted nostalgia. There is a fantastic cast yet no stand out performances; instead Wahlberg, Crowe, Zeta-Jones et al. are all guilty of just going through the motions with their stereotypical characters.
The film adds twists and complexities to expose the murky activities surrounding politics and lead detective Taggart deeper into the fold, but these don’t add depth or interest as they don’t create a satisfying whole.
VERDICT:Not bad per se, just plain average in all departments and woefully unoriginal. If you want a fresh and captivating take on the shadowy links between politics and business, leave Broken City and head for Chinatown.
5) The Tree of Life
This Palme d’Or winner was the marmite of 2011 cinema. Many hated it for being it for being too pretentious and abstract but for many others, myself included, it showed Terrence Malick was back to his best. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain are brilliant and this is the perfect arty film that Cannes appreciates.
4) Brief Encounter
This classic from the acclaimed British director David Lean, won the award way back in 1946. A wonderfully, British film which is filmed beautifully in black and white; this sets the bar high for Lean films and he didn’t disappoint with his follow-ups such as Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago.
3) The Pianist
Powerful, emotional and an utterly unforgettable film. Adrien Brody is incredible as a Polish Jew living in Warsaw during the Nazi invasion and subsequent ghettoisation of the city. His struggle to survive coupled with the beautiful piano music creates a worthy entry into the vast canon of WWII films.
2) Apocalypse Now
The definitive Vietnam film has inspired many more thanks to its sheer brilliance, quotable lines and the infamous ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ helicopter scene. Francis Ford Coppola hit the mark again just a few years after the first two Godfather films even with an overweight Marlon Brando causing radical changes to the ending.
1) Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino’s most famous film and one of his earliest is one of the most popular films of all time. Its witty, quotable script, dazzling cast and general slickness all round make this a real crowd pleaser and one of the coolest films to win the revered Palme d’Or award.
Judd Apatow returns to cinemas with his latest film: This is 40. Directed, produced and also written by one of the kings of Hollywood comedy, This is 40 follows in the footsteps of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Funny People and Knocked Up.
The film follows Pete (Paul Rudd), his wife Debbie (Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann) and their two kids Sadie and Charlotte (both played by Apatow’s children, Maude and Iris) as they go about their daily lives in California. Pete and Debbie, who were both characters in Knocked Up, are now entering their forties and the dreaded ‘middle age’. They have plenty of problems as Pete’s record business is struggling whilst Debbie is having trouble accepting she is turning forty years old. The whole film builds up to the finale of Pete’s fortieth birthday party at the house when everything comes to the boil.
Firstly, the film isn’t completely sure whether it is a comedy or a drama, but as a comedy it passes the mark, as it is very funny throughout. It also manages to be very accurate and well observed of what middle age does to people; seeing Pete cycling in full apparel with a group of similarly middle-aged men fits the ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ maxim perfectly. However, Megan Fox’s part and the related sub-plot seems shoehorned in, unnecessary and lowers the tone of the film. Though, the biggest gripe is the fact that the film is simply too long.
VERDICT: Unsure on whether it is a true comedy or a drama, This Is 40 still manages to be very funny thanks to Apatow’s witty writing. Unfortunately, this film could easily be called ‘This Is 40 Minutes Too Long’.