It’s because of this that we at HeyUGuys (and in this case we is myself and Gary) have decided to set ourselves a project. To watch and review all 250 movies on the list. We’ve frozen the list as of January 1st of this year. It’s not as simple as it sounds, we are watching them all in one year, 125 each.
This is our 27th update, my next five films watched for the project. You can find last week’s update here.
The Wrestler (2008) – 8.2 No. 126
Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler began as a docu-style film exploring the tragic world of the independent wrestling scene, and some of the washed up stars that end up there. What it became was Mickey Rourke’s triumphant return to the Hollywood spotlight, and a genuine Oscar contender.
Rourke is Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, a former headlining professional wrestling star whose day is far past. Once huge in the eighties, Randy is making pennies on the independent wrestling scene. He is behind on his rent, has lost contact with his estranged daughter, and in the lead-up to a big anniversary match with his former nemesis, suffers a heart attack following a particularly brutal match.
Robinson attempts to live a life away from the ring for the sake of his health. Trying to build relationships with both stripper ‘Cassidy’ and daughter Stephanie. When his new jobs, and his attempts at building human relationships fail, he risks it all to get back in the ring.
It is easy to see why The Wrestler was in contention at the Academy Awards. Rourke cuts a tragic figure as ‘The Ram’, almost the perfect mirror of his own fallen star. He brings an air of authenticity to the part, and the documentary style cinematography makes the story seem so real. It works because it IS real. Whilst the story of Robinson is fictional, anyone who has seen the brilliant Beyond the Mat documentary knows that everything put up on screen here is a mirror of real life events.
This, perhaps, is the biggest flaw. Having seen Beyond the Mat, The Wrestler comes across very much as a dramatized version of the events within the doc, cut together with the same character in each segment. There is a bit too much happening to the same guy, making it seem just a little too extreme. A fantastic film nonetheless, and a brave one to make and try to sell. A brilliant performance by Rourke, great direction from Aranofsky, and an all around very good film.
Snatch (2000) – 8.1 No. 138
After the well received and surprisingly successful Lock, Stock… Guy Ritchie followed-up with another mockneycrime caper. Witha bigger budget, and some American acting support, Ritchie hoped to build on the success of Lock, Stock… on both sides of the pond.
Boxing promoter Turkish (Jason Statham) manages to cross infamous gang boss Brick Top when his fighter, Gorgeous George, comes a cropper on a shopping trip to the local Pikeycampsite. With the imminent threat of pain looming over him, he must somehow convince Gipsy Mickey (Brad Pitt) to not only fight for him, but throw the match in the process.
Meanwhile, Frankie Four Fingers (Benicio Del Toro) has a diamond to sell following a successful heist in Antwerp, but his boss convinces London based Boris the Blade to steal the diamond before it can reach proposed buyer Doug the Head. Boris employs jewellers Sol and Vinnie to get the stone, not knowing that American Avi has entered the country, and enlisted the services of Bullet Tooth Tony (Vinnie Jones) to try and locate his missing stone.
There is a lot going on in Snatch, making it a difficult film to summarise. This is one of its strengths however, as the rapid nature of the twisting storyline keeps the pace flowing, and in turn holds the interest of the viewer. There is action, humour and some clever plot twists on show, making Snatch a very watchable film.
However, the two-dimensional characters and complete lack of emotional complexity make it a very shallow watch, and whilst the first time round this wasn’t really a big problem, on second watch it is left woefully obvious. There is added glamour thanks to the presence of Brad Pitt, but the reappearance of a large section of the Lock, Stock… cast leave Snatch feeling like a lazy sub-sequel, and for me, to call it one of the best 250 movies ever made is almost a joke too far.
The Great Escape (1963) – 8.3 No. 101
The Great Escape has become almost a yuletide joke. Along with The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music, it is commonly thought of as ‘that film they show at Christmas’. As a result, it is easy to forget how good a movie it really is in parts.
The location, time and characters have been condensed, but The Great Escape is the story of WWII POWs who havebeen secured in a ‘super prison’, a compound built and guarded especially because of the sheer volume of recorded escape attempts of its inhabitants. The group is very organised, with a forger (Donald Pleasance), a scrounger (James Garner), the tunnel king (Charles Bronson) and big X himself (Richard Attenborough) amongst others.
We follow the life of the prisoners, including newcomer Hilts (Steve McQueen) as they live a seemingly peaceful existence in the camp, whilst secretly working on three tunnels, in preparation for a mass escape attempt. The plan is to try and pull as many German soldiers as possible into searching for escapees, whilst the Allied Forces attempt to turn the tide with the Normandy beach landings.
The Great Escape has snappy dialogue, classy acting performances, and in the end some genuinely thrilling action. An important story is told about the contribution, and sacrifice, of POW’s towards D-Day, and the events that lead to Allied victory in Europe. The storyline is a serious one, and whilst there is much humour, it is always tactful and tastefully done. What could have come across as a boy’s own adventure tale (there are no female characters) actually works as an at times genuinely touching drama, of men making the best of a bad situation.
Entertaining, compelling, and perfectly constructed, The Great Escape never fails to surprise me, as with each watch i find myself just as entertained as the last. Probably one of the most well put together war films ever made, i’m glad it has found itself on the IMDb5250 list.
Sin City (2005) – 8.3 No. 93
Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, Sin City is a film noir that follows several of the town’s hard-boiled inhabitants. Directed by Miller himself alongside Robert Rodriguez, it had an at the time unique look, and unusual structure.
Over the hill cop Hartigan(Bruce Willis) saves a young girl from a serial child killer. Despite his success, he finds himself framed and incarcerated, as the child killer was the son of powerful Senator Rourke. Marv (Mickey Rourke) also finds he has been framed, this time for the death of a prostitute he awakes to find murdered in his bed. In an attempt to clear his name, Marv follows the trail to the Roarkfamily farm. After teaming up with the dead prostitute’s sister, Marv kills the real murderer Kevin, and his accomplice Senator Roark. He is then sentenced to death for these acts.
Dwight (CliveOwen) defends his girlfriend from her abusiveex Jackie Boy, pursuing him through Old Town. Whilst there, he becomes mixed up withthe town’s prostitute sorority when they kill Jackie Boy, only to discover he is a Sin City Detective. Dwight helps them escape mercenaries out to uncover their mistake. We rejoin Hartigan in prison. The young girl he saved has now grown up, and is a target for a mysterious yellow man. Can Hartigan save her once again?
Whether you like the movie or not, Robert Rodriguez’ Sin City is certainly a slick picture with a distinctive style. Based on Frank Miller’s cult graphic novel, the comic book visuals of the film were at the time unique. The whole thing was shot with the action in front of green screen, with backgrounds edited in later in post-production.
The movie was also shot with high definition cameras, making it an entirely digital movie. Willis’ hardboiled Hartiganis a real throwback to pulp detective stories, and his thread in the film is done the way that the videogame adaptation of Max Payne should have been done. The film-noirstyle narration by Willis seems like an easy thing to do, but listen to Clive Owen’s attempt in his thread, and you can hear the difference in quality.
Willis role as Hartigan does two things. It gently pokes fun at Willis’ action movie persona, and as the cop with the bum ticker in the twilight of his career, it’s his way of holding his hands up and accepting that age has caught him up. Willis now (mostly) takes on roles as the grizzled veteran, the old-school policeman in his retirement year. Sin City can also be credited for the beginning of Micky Rourke’s triumphant return to Hollywood, 3 years in advance of The Wrestler. His role as Marv is as perfect a portrayal of the graphic novel’s character as you could hope for, with extensive prosthetics used to achieve the perfect look.
A beautiful looking movie, with some unique ideas. Definitely worth a watch, but upon repeated viewing you may well find yourself yearning for something more, something a bit deeper.
Brief Encounter (1945) – 8.0 No. 204
Brief Encounter is the romantic tale of a housewife who falls for a handsome stranger, based on Noel Coward’s 1936 play Still Life, from a screenplay written by Coward himself.
Housewife Laura (Celia Johnson) leads an unexciting, suburban existence with husband Fred, and feels completely unappreciated. One afternoon, after a day in town, she meets dashing Doctor Alec (Trevor Howard), and the spark is immediately obvious. They run into each other again in town on another occasion, and arrange to to meet again.
After spending several days together, the initially innocent relationship inevitably becomes something more. As Laura’s feelings deepen, so do her lies to her husband, as she tries to keep her actions secret, and her feelings under control. With both parties married with children, it is a potentially explosive affair, and after several near misses, the guilt becomes too much. They finally say farewell to each other forever, both devastated by what might have been, but only too aware of what they stand to lose.
The developing relationship between the two protagonists is well written, perfectly paced, and is totally convincing. You can see how the affair started off innocently, but the whole situation has an air of inevitability about it from the beginning. The story attempts to paint both people in a sympathetic light, but it is difficult. Their actions are pretty unforgivable, and whilst you can understand how the situation could arise, and their dissatisfaction with their current relationships, the layers of deceit start to strip away your understanding.
The two lead performances are perfectly well measured, with a very natural air. The recurring theme of the train station, and the rush to make the last train keeps the tension level up, and the near misses they experience with those that know them are just coincidence enough, without resorting to extremes. That is what makes the story work, the gentle, true feel of the blossoming relationship. What Brief Encounter doesn’t succeed at is winning the characters your sympathy, which makes it hard to connect with the film.
Very well made, and brilliantly written, Brief Encounter is a successful portrait of an all too common extra-marital affair. Because of the time in which it was made, it avoids being too graphic, and its only real failing is its inability to connect you to the two protagonists, as both are guilty of reprehensible behaviour. If we were given more backstory, and a better insight into their respective relationships before the fateful day they met, it may have been easier to feel sympathetic. As it is, a very good film, with very few flaws.
Come back next Monday for update 28. You can follow our progress at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and www.twitter.com/gary_phillips_