Around the World in 80 Days

Around the world in 80 days ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Directors: Michael AndersonJohn Farrow. Cast: David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine

It’s hard to imagine what this film must have looked like when this film was first released in 1956. Back then it was the largest Hollywood production ever but the scale of some of it looks quite impressive even for today’ standards: 68,894 extras, 74685 costumes, 8552 animals as well as some of the large sets ever built. Showered with Oscars at the time, never the word epic was better suited to describe the scale of the production. This is also the film that started off the trend of cameo roles; most of the faces mean nothing to us today and I could only spot a few of them, but I’m reading on IMDb that there were dozens of them.

The film itself revels it its depiction of the foreign countries and the fact that at times it feels like a travel show, to the point where it actually becomes a bit indulgent too, but given that it’s a film which is 65 years old, it can be forgiven for that and for the fact that it is rather slow for our modern sensibilities including some long wide shots that seem to go on forever.

The film I’m that respect really belongs to a different era, also in terms of the depiction of women and its general attitude to them (there are some very uncomfortable lines about travelling the world to see the most beautiful women, which will make today’s audience cringe). On top of that, there are also some pretty dodgy stereotypes, not just about the British, which however cliche are actually quite funny, but some pretty racist views on people from India and Native American, both of which could be considered insulting today.

Having said that David Niven, despite the film itself doing next to nothing to build him up as a character, is splendid as you might expect him to be, constantly holding his cup of tea, perfectly dressed, quintessentially British, un-fussed by anything around him, while the score trumpets the notes from “Britannia rule the way” every few minutes. If ever there was a film which was due a proper remake (no, not that terrible one with Jackie Chan in 2004) this is one of them.

By the way, stay on for the extended end credits sequence designed by genius extraordinaire Saul Bass.

Meet the Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Stephen J. Anderson. Cast: Angela BassettDaniel HansenJordan Fry 

This one must have totally escaped me when it was first released, to the point that I was not aware it even existed. It is really the most un-Disney animated feature I can think of (together with the slightly superior Big Hero 6), but flaws aside (and there are a few) it is a rather audacious film, with an original “time travel” story and a couple of wonderful messages hidden within it which make it a definite worthwhile film to watch with your kids. Some of it may well go over their heads, so be prepared to answer quite a few questions during and afterwards: the film takes a few too many shortcuts, assuming you know what the time travel rules are and possibly assuming that you have even seen “Back to the Future”.

If only the makers has focussed on the core story and central message and wasted less time with chaotic subplots and secondary characters, this could have been a real gem. As it is, “Meet the Robinsons” is an interesting film which should be commended for at least trying, but loses itself somewhere in the middle where it overcooks it a bit.

My 4 stars rating should really be a three and a half but hopefully it’ll push people to re-discover it.

Evil Dead

Evil Dead (1981) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Sam Raimi. Bruce CampbellEllen SandweissRichard DeManincor 

I’m in classic horror mood this week. I haven’t seen this film in at least 20 years, but I remember when I was a teenager it was in a constant loop both at home (for some reason I used to show it to my then 5 years old sister… hahaha… she can testify that!) and with my friends from school (we discovered it in on VHS in our favourite video-store where we used to spend pretty much half of our lives).

At the time there was really nothing like it. We had never seen so much gore and graphic violence (nowadays intricate parts of modern horror) and it felt a complete revolution! To a teenager like me, lover of splatter and grown up with a passion for scary movies, this was pretty much heaven!

Aside from the stupidity and simplicity of the plot itself and the paper-thin characters (though that’s possibly also part of its charm), this is one a hell of a directorial debut for Sam Raimi. At the time I was probably too young to realise and appreciate the sheer inventiveness of the film-making behind it. The way it builds tension, how it makes us shiver and squirm (pen stabbing ankles, chopped body parts, zombie-like mosters), the way the action is staged and how the camera masterfully frames it all: dutch angles, 360 degrees pans, upside-down moves, super-tight close ups, those famous sweeps across the forest, handheld point of view shots down in the cellar… I mean, I could go on for ever. And that’s without even mentioning the sharp editing, the fantastic use of creepy sound effects (voices, rumbles, screams, whooshes, creaks, winds and so on) and the overall soundtrack with its eerie violins. Watching it tonight I was surprised by how tense and scary it still is, especially in its first part. It does become a bit repetitive half way through, before exploding (literally) into a “wonderful” gore-fest in its final act.

Today the film has a reputation of mixing horror with black humour, but I think it’s the sequel which actually embraced its madness and added a comedic twist to it. If you asked me I am not sure this was never really intend to make people laugh… and in fact the laughter is possibly unintentionally directed at the film for its terrible dialogue and not-so-great acting. However small the budget was, most of the special effects are still incredibly effective making Evil Dead one one of the goriest horror films of all times.

Clearly this is not everybody’s cup of tea (or blood), but within its genre (one which was probably invented by this film), Evil Dead is as close to a masterpiece as it gets.

An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: John Landis. Cast: Joe BelcherDavid NaughtonGriffin Dunne, David Schofield, Brian Glover

A good (actual a great) friend of mine posted about this film not long ago and ever since I’ve had a sudden urge to re-watch it again after years and years of abstinence.

I would have loved to have been able to see people’s reactions at the time, watching this unusual mix of horror, gore and comedy. It was certainly a first! And you know what? The comedy is still funny (“a naked man has stolen my balloon”) and the horror is still damn scary (the atmosphere in the woods at the start, the scene in the “tube” station… ). I’d love to test it with somebody who has never seen it. This film still contains one of the biggest jump scare I can ever remember in any film (the nightmare within a nightmare).But the real novelty here was actually to see both genres working at the same time within the same scenes as you keep finding yourself laughing and covering your eyes at the same time (the final mayhem in Piccadilly Circus is still incredible: masterfully choreographed and edited).

The choices of music was also very inspired, from the old classics blue moon (and its wacky rendition over the end credits, to brilliant Moondance by Van Morison And then of course the special effects, which were revolutionary and still very effective 40 years later (yes, you heard me right: this is its 40th anniversary!). It may have lost some of its edge and yes it does have some flaws (the abrupt ending always bugged me a little bit) but I’ve been claiming for years that this was one of my favourite horror movies of all time and tonight I’m going to stick with the statement.

I’m happy to report that I still love it and found things in it which are not just unique, but have hardly been done better since.


Fatima ⭐️⭐️

Director: Marco Pontecorvo. Cast: Joaquim de AlmeidaGoran VisnjicStephanie Gil, Alejandra Howard, Harvey Keitel.

The film is told through a series of flashbacks during an interview with a skeptic journalist (not quite sure what’s Harvey Keitel doing here) and Sister Lucia, a 95 years old nun who remembers her experiences in the small town of Fatima in Portugal, where she as a young girl and 2 of her friends had visions of the Virgin Mary.

It’s an intriguing story which powerful repercussions and important questions to ask, about faith, miracles, trust in God and so on, but never once I thought director Marco Pontecorvo (son of Gillo, from the Battle of Algeri) is quite able to convey the importance and resonance of the event in the eyes of the thousands of people who eventually said to have witnessed the miracle too.

This is a film that preaches to already “converted” and its by-the-numbers and rather superficial approach is unlikely to have any sort of impact on non-believers, in fact it will ultimately alienate them.And that’s a real shame because there’s a lot of technical skills behind the “Fatima” (mainly the impressive historical reconstructions and the huge number of extras). Instead the film depicts card-board characters, give us terribly cheesy lines of dialogue, unconvincing accents (everybody, including the Virgin Mary speak English with a Portuguese accent, which I found very distracting and constantly took me away from film) and wastes plenty of opportunities to both question the event but also to make us really understand the importance of it in the eyes of the believers. A whole crowd of them is treated as a mob, instead of a group of single individuals, they’re all reacting rather mechanically and dare-I-say stupidly to what’s going on with plenty of cliché and over the top reactions. The use of overly sentimental music tries to fill the gaps and stir those emotions in us which the film is otherwise unable give us.

The film plays it straight and simple for most of it, but when it doesn’t, that’s when it all falls to pieces.I would have probably been more impactful and real not to see any vision at all (or maybe keep it for the very end), which would have kept at least some sort of mystery about it. I also found the quick CGI visions of Hell completely out of keeping with the rest of the film.

In the end, whilst I admired the film’s pure intentions (I am sure this will certainly be a hit among religious communities) I found it all much too bland, rather superficial and crucially a bit unintentionally laughable too.

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