The Little Things

The Little Things ⭐️⭐️⭐

Director:  John Lee Hancock. Cast: Denzel WashingtonRami MalekJared Leto

This wanna-be-Se7en is a throwback to 90s crime films which to be honest adds very little to the genre. There is not a lot here that we haven’t seen before: two cops from different districts getting together to solve a crime, the serial killer playing cat-and-mouse with the police, the seedy dirty room where the victim has been slashed (plus the added gruesome details), the flashlights in the nights, the stakeouts… and I could go and on. In fact, I was so dazed and numbed by the familiarity of all that I found the first half of this film pretty unbearable. Even Denzel Washington looked a bit bored throughout (though arguably that was probably what his character required… who knows? I couldn’t tell). However once the Jared Leto finally came in, things did get slightly more interesting (yet still pretty unoriginal), enough at least to get me through the rest of the film. In fact the second half is a lot more tense and actually I won’t deny that at some point I even found myself midly entertained whether that’s enough to recommend the film, it really depends on your mood. Tonight I feel particularly forgiving… ask me tomorrow and I might tell you to give it a miss.

You can watch this via a digital store such as Google Play or Amazon Prime Video’s store

The Silence Of The Lambs – 20th Anniversary

The Silence Of The Lamb (1991)

(30th Anniversary Review)

Dir: Jonathan Demme With: Jodie FosterAnthony HopkinsScott Glenn

Yes, it has been 30 years since Antony Hopkins appeared for the first time as Dr Hannibal Lecter on Valentine’s day (not your typical date movie, is it?).

Back in 1991 it defied expectations by winning the “Big 5” Oscars (and a year after its release too!!), best film, director, screenplay, leading actor and actress: it was only the third film in movie history to do so (after it happened one night and One flew over the cuckoos’nest) and even more groundbreaking, it was the first horror/thriller to win for best film. 

30 years later, “The Silence of the Lambs” is still a preposterous film, camp as hell, absurdly over the top in its premise and its execution and yet it holds a place in American Movie History as a ‘modern classic’.

With Hannibal (incidentally a character that appears for only 16 minutes in the film) Hopkins became a star (yes, I know…  he was “good” well before this, but oly few really knew him from Elephant Man for example) and created an icon, which lived on throughout (or despite) its three sequels: Hannibal, Red Dragon (which in fact this is both a prequel and a remake of Micheal Mann’s Manhunter) and the very forgettable Hannibal Rising (another prequel, Hopkins-free). And that’s without mentioning the recent TV Series (dark as hell… and probably too weird to survive past 3 season… though I quite liked it). 

All of a sudden, we all started to love the bad guy, or at least we loved hating him: we loved the fact that he ate the despicable Dr Chilton at the end film (“I have an old friend for dinner”, is probably one of the most classic final lines of any film, up there with “Nobody’s perfect” in Some Like It Hot), we loved those over the top lines of dialogue, those chilling looks, his refined taste, his Southern English accent… And somehow we (or at least I) just wanted him to get away, despite the fact that we know he’s not just bad… but he likes to eat his victims. 

This is certainly nothing new, Hitchcock had done it  30 years earlier in Psycho, but arguably this is the film that started off the whole trend of “serial killers” with whom we identify, the whole puzzle solving murder mysteries and the mixture of dark horror and funny one liners. Surely without Silence of the lambs and its Hannibal the Cannibal character, there would have been no Se7en by David Fincher, possibly no Dexter on TV and probably not even Jigsaw from the Saw franchise…  And God knows how many others.

However what keeps this film anchored to the ground, despite the absurd (but obviously very effective) performance by Anthony Hopkins, is a combination of a very controlled and calculated direction by Jonathan Demme and the presence of Jodie Forster, who somehow counterbalances the campness of her screen partner.

Jonathan Demme, uses every little (subtle and non-subtle) trick in the book to suck in his viewers and bring them as close possible to the screen. He films the most intimate dialogue sequences between Hannibal and Clarice in extreme close ups, and has them delivering their lines straight to camera, as if they were confessing their inner secrets directly to us. As he does so, he drops the level of any other sound away from the central conversation, he kills the music and as as he slowly zooms in closer and closer into their faces, he very subtly pushes the bars of the prison cells that separate them away from each other until they actually disappear at the edge of frames, thus bringing the two characters even closer to each other.

It’s very effective trick and it works wonderfully!

He even uses the powerful the editing in order to deceive us to believe one thing instead of another. That famous sequence where we are lead to believe that the police is about to break into killer’s house and save the day, only to reveal that in fact they’re all in the wrong place: a trick have been copied over and over again in countless movies and TV CSI-like shows (and even the great 24) ever since, but never worked as well as they did here: it is an incredibly manipulative but just as accomplished moment.

Watching it tonight, I find so many clichés of the genre in it, but  only because most films that came after copied so many of its elements. If the film has aged a bit it’s just because everything that came afterwards drew something from it. It may not be a perfect film and it’s very debatable whether it did merit all those Oscars, but it definitely deserves its cult status and its place in history for paving the way for a new genre of thrillers and many brainer and more stylish horrors film. 

8.5/10

Check out the review of another modern Classic:

Back to the Future (1985)

The Sandlot

The Sandlot ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: David Mickey Evans. Cast: Art LaFleurTom GuiryMike Vitar Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi.

1993 was a pretty good year in movies, with things like “Jurassic Park”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Fugitive”, “Groundhog Day”, “In the Name of the Father”, “In the Line of Fire”, Falling down, Philadelphia, “True Romance”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and who knows how many others… So you will forgive me if “The Sandlot” had completely escaped me. So much so that I don’t think I even remember it being released. Possibly the idea about kids playing baseball would not have appealed much to me at that time anyway (and on paper it still doesn’t today).But I’m happy I finally got around to see it and even happier I was able to do it with Giovanni, because this is actually the perfect kids movie.The 60s summery settings gives it that ‘Stand by Me’ vibe, which I adore so much (obviously not as profound and emotional as that one, but hardly anything is in my book) and the group of kids feels straight out of stories like “It” or even “The Goonies”, just as nerdy and likeable (Incidentally, the cast here is spot on!).”The Sandlot” might not break any barriers for originality and it’s certainly miles away from being a perfect film, but it’s immensely enjoyable in a superficial sort of way, completely harmless and throughoully charming.

Another Round

Director: Thomas Vinterberg. Cast: Mads MikkelsenThomas Bo LarsenMagnus Millang 

Watching this Danish film tonight I found myself thinking that maybe one day I should start drinking too… 

Jokes aside “Another Round” is a story about a group of 4 high school teachers who decide to follow the theory of a Norwegian psychologist who claims that humans are born with a 0.05% alcohol content deficit in our blood. And so they embark in a rather reckless and “unusual” experiment where they’ll have to drink just enough to constantly maintain that small percentage of alcohol in their blood to be slightly inebriated and free from inhibitions, releasing their full potentials, but obviously without ending up drunk. No brownie point for guessing where it’s all going to go… 

This was sold to me as a comedy, but it’s definitely not one of those laugh-out-loud film. In fact it’s more of a tragicomedy: a parable about over-drinking, addiction, middle-age crisis, friendship and families.

Beyond the fairly predictable plot there are still plenty of small intimate, very human and rather touching surprises along the way. 

The whole cast is perfect, but Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is absolutely spectacular. Throughout the film he manages to play the “looser”, the depressed, the drunk, the man on the verge of a breakdown but also the amazing teacher we would all love to have… and a lot more.

Hard to believe this was the man playing “Hannibal Lecter” just a few years ago!

And then, that final sequence in the film, which of course I’m not going to spoil, which all of a sudden lifted the film up for me to a 4 star rating and left me with a big smile on my face (I actually laughed out loud at last freeze-frame!)

Cinderfella

Cinderfella (1960) ⭐️⭐️

Director: Frank Tashlin. Cast: Jerry LewisEd WynnJudith Anderson.

I have a strange and deep connection to Jerry Lewis: He was probably one of my earliest way into films at a time (a long long time ago… ) when Italian TV would play his films in prime time (I know.. weird.. bey it was the 70s after all). When I was 5 or 6 I used to love him, despite my mom complaining about his screechy voice… (yes even in his dubbed version he sounded screechy) and even though the singing bits bored me to death, I couldn’t get enough of him. Today my son and I ventured into this one, which I don’t think I had ever seen (He chose it among the full collection we have).

I recognise Jerry Lewis has a bit of a marmite effect on people, but beyond the over-the-top acting (or reacting), that high pitch voice and some pretty dodgy films, there’s no denying that when he’s at the top of his game, he’s up there among the best comedians who ever lived. This film contains just a couple of “golden moments”: a scene where he plays along to some music from a radio with invisible drums and various other instruments (which he did better in one-off his TV sketches) and his dance entrance to the Ball.Cinderfella has actually a rather lavish production design, but unfortunately the large sets and the sumptuous exterior locations can’t make up for the paper-thin story (Cinderella with reverse-sexes) , some over-indulgent jokes (most of which go on for way too long) and the extended time-fillers of people walking in wide shots from one side of the screen to the other.

The film does’t feel like it has enough in it to fill its mere 90 minutes and crowbars in some pretty lousy musical bits. One thing is sure: Jerry Lewis is no Dean Martin when it comes to singing and he should have probably sticked to crazy dancing.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Harold Ramis Writers: Harold RamisDanny Rubin. Cast: Bill MurrayAndie MacDowellChris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

Hope you got the joke 😉

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.

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