Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Director: George Roy Hill

1969

“The iconic teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford was so magical – and so profitable, scoring the year’s biggest hit – that this offbeat character study/action comedy in Western trappings and bathed in cinematographer Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning sepia hues has been a touchstone for bickering buddy pictures ever since.” (494, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I went through a period where I watched films in genres or by directors that normally bore me to tears and discovered that actually there were a few I enjoyed, such as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). And it turns out that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is, so far, the only Western film I’ve watched that hasn’t bored me silly. But then I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it strictly as a western. It may have a number of the western tropes but in reality it is much more character driven. It’s really about these two men and their friendship that just so happens to take place against a western backdrop. And this is precisely why I found it entertaining rather than turgid like so many other films in the western genre.

There is lots of humour and having watched a number of buddy movies it’s clear that a lot of them have been influenced by this movie. The core trio of Butch (Paul Newman), Sundance (Robert Redford) and Etta (Katherine Ross) are brilliant, and in some ways remind me a little bit of the ‘golden trio’ from Harry Potter (J. K. Rowling) – they work best as a trio, each complimenting and at times reigning each other in. I actually really enjoyed watching Newman and Redford in their prime. Paul Newman is often held up as one of the truly brilliant actors of recent Hollywood and yet he is an actor whose work I have really not seen very much of so it was interesting to see him working his magic on-screen. They make a handsome pair of bandits as well it can’t be denied.

“[But] the film is immortal for its final image of the pair, freeze-framed as they run out into a shoot-’em-up with an army.” (494) Having never seen the film I had still been aware of this iconic final image. Now I have the context behind it and it makes the image so much more powerful.

butchButch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is an utterly disarming combination of smart, original screenwriting, handsome visual treatment, and star power. With all the jokes and poses, there is still real interest in the well-defined, contrasting characters.” (494) I couldn’t agree more with Errigo. If it had been otherwise there is a high chance I would have been writing yet another blog about how dreary and tedious I find western movies so this was a nice surprise. However apologies for the crapness of this post – I’m pretty tired and clearly my brain isn’t working all that well. Don’t let my inarticulate ramblings dissuade you from watching the film because it really is so much more than I have touched upon in this update.

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Oscar Nominations 2015

It’s that time of the year again when the film world waits with bated breath to find out who has been deemed worthy of an Oscar. As the culmination of both the nomination announcements and the Awards season you go into the announcement with a fairly good idea as to who and what will be included. This year was no different.

As expected Boyhood (Richard Linklater), Birdman (Alejandro G. Inarritu) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson) came out on top in terms of nominations. I was surprised that The Lego Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller) was not nominated in the Best Animated Feature Film category – I thought that would be a shoo-in, not only for a nomination but the win too.

There’s a respectable British presence in the acting categories with Keira Knightley, Felicity Jones and Rosamund Pike nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress respectfully. And then of course you have Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch vying for Best Actor. I’ve been saying that Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking was an Oscar contender from the moment I first saw the trailer (and I haven’t even seen the entire film yet) I would love either of them to win (and I think one of them will take home the BAFTA certainly!) but I have a feeling that Michael Keaton will swoop in and take it … no pun intended. Rosamund Pike’s performance in Gone Girl (David Fincher) is one of the most unnerving things I have seen this year and the fact that the film isn’t eve a horror film makes it all the more disturbing.

I’m once again disappointed, but by no means surprised, that The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (Peter Jackson) has only garnered one nomination, and then in a more technical category like Sound Editing. I’ve never understood the Academy’s reluctance to acknowledge fantasy films. Harry Potter (various) didn’t win any of its 12 nominations and again all of those were in the more technical categories, overlooking some splendid performances. The same happened with the majority of the Middle Earth saga. The one time that the Academy actually nominated one of the films in anything other than the technical categories it resulted in a clean sweep as The Return of the King (Peter Jackson) walked away with 13 Oscars!! And Billy Boyd should have been nominated for his beautiful song “The Last Goodbye”.

Some of my favorite films to come out of last year are represented in the Visual Effects category, especially X-Men Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer). That sequence with Quicksilver in the Pentagon is outstanding – the moment I saw it I was sure it would be nominated at least (if it wasn’t then it would confirm the fact that sometimes the Academy can be idiots) However despite the incredible work on display in not only X-Men Days of Future Past but Captain America Winter Soldier (Russo brothers), Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves) I think Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) will win.

I’m not overly enamored of the films in the running for, what is arguably the most prestigious awards going in the film industry, this year. I was discussing this with my mum (as I always do seeing as she is the only one who will actually listen to me when I go all filmy) and she made an excellent point that there are two modes of thinking when it comes to the Oscars. There are the films that people, and by people I mean the general public – you know the actual cinema goers, actually like and then there are the films that the critics praise and ultimately do well in the Oscars. Rarely, if ever, do these two trains of thought align. And it’s demonstrated once again this year. The popular films (in terms of bums on seats) are relegated to things like Special Visual Effects, Hair and Make-up, Sound Editing and the like while the films that the critics made a fuss over are right up there with the big hitters (Boyhood, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel – top 3 in terms of total nominations) and are very likely to win.

I fail to see why The Grand Budapest Hotel is nominated at all and I’m astounded that it’s got 9! It’s a self-indulgent pretentious film that makes far more of itself then it actually is. Which is a rambling, confusing and jumbled mess of a film that tries to present itself as a comedy – I didn’t laugh once. The same goes for Boyhood.

I know you should go into films with an open mind (which is why I avoid all reviews) but I really don’t anticipate enjoying this film. I tend not to like either Richard Linklater or Ethan Hawke’s work and they have an unfortunate habit of working together which is just a double whammy of disinterest on my side. I think it’s going to be overblown and far too long for a film where actually noting happens. Also if you were going to make a mostly improvised film about growing up then why the need to hire well-known and established Hollywood actors in the role of parents? I have a feeling that it really would have worked better being a documentary shot over the same period of time. The entire concept of the film irritates me which from past experience means it’s a shoo-in to win multiple awards (and has already picked up a number at other Award ceremonies this season so far)

After all if there is one thing the Academy loves doing its rewarding self-pretentious, over indulgent films rather than any actual talent. But who knows? Maybe this year they’ll prove me and my cynical thinking wrong.

Harry Potter (Films 5 – 8)

SPOILERS

I’ve said it before but I’m gonna say it again …

Don’t read if you have not seen the films (where have you been all this time if you haven’t?!?!?) and don’t want to know what happens. I gave you fair warning you only have yourself to blame if you continue to read on from here.

And apologies for the rather long blog.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Director: David Yates

2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix continues the evolution of the series. Harry has become the surly teenager who is angry at the world. In some ways I’m surprised it has taken him this long considering how much he has gone though in his life already. As with the other films we have new characters introduced (not all are spot on though). Imelda Staunton has definitely got the mannerisms of Umbridge down to a tee and comes across as this sadistic woman in a pink casing, despite not looking right in my opinion – nowhere toad-like enough for me. Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) is a welcome addition and one that brings a lightness to an increasingly dark film. She is beautifully quirky, even by magical standards and I love her for it.

I love the formation of Dumbledore’s Army as it shows the students we have come to know and love take an active decision to fight for something, despite the danger inherent in making that decision. They have the feel of an underground resistance group and could be seen as the younger Order of the Phoenix … indeed many of the members of Dumbledore’s Army will go on to become part of the Order.

The Ministry of Magic is gorgeous with all that stunning tile work. The climatic battle between the Order and the Death Eaters in the Ministry is epic! I love the way that the Order are symbolic of the light with the whiteness while the Death Eaters all in black are their polar opposite. Seeing Dumbledore battle Voldemort is magnificent – he actually becomes the great wizard everyone says he is rather than this genial old man and you can see how uneasy Voldemort is around him.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix sees David Yates take the helm and really launches the final section of the franchise. Yates is a director who really understands how to use moments of silence, something that he continues to do in the following films. However the first time we see this is at the moment of Sirius’ death, which is so much more heart-breaking than Cedric’s as once again Harry is losing a family member and father figure.

Each film sees the main trio grow in strength but none more so than Daniel Radcliffe who not only copes admirably with the increasing pressure of carrying the juggernaut of a film franchise but also puts in an outstanding performance every time.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Director: David Yates

2009

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince sees the darkness level jump up once again. It no longer feels like a children’s film which reflects the audience growing up alongside the films. The London shots that whiz by when the Death Eaters are kidnapping Ollivander and destroying Millennium Bridge are brilliant. And ground the wizarding world alongside ours.

Jim Broadbent as Slughorn is wonderfully eccentric – exactly what a retired professor should be – and provides many comedic moments. I’ve said before that Yates understands how powerful moments of silence can be – he also understands the importance of balancing out the story with perfectly timed humorous moments in order to stop the darker moments from becoming overwhelming. Rupert Grint has excellent comedic timing, honed throughout the films but especially in the scenes when under the effects of a love potion gone awry.

The budding romance between Harry and Ginny annoys me but I think that is because of all the core characters she is the only one they got wrong. She isn’t nearly fierce enough to do the Ginny from the books justice and in no way is a rival to Mrs Wesley in the films. Tom Felton really comes into his own in Half Blood Prince but then it is fairly Draco centric. Having said that he gives a really powerful performance that moves Draco on from just your standard high school bully. You really feel that he is conflicted in where his life is taking him.

Seeing Voldemort’s history through the pensieve is illuminating and done extremely well visually. As much as I dislike Gambon’s portrayal of Dumbledore his death is incredibly moving. Once more Yates employs moments of silence masterfully really allowing the emotions and the moment to sink in, another father figure taken away from Harry! The moment when the entire school removes the Dark Mark by raising their wands in silence is one of the most poignant and memorable moments of the entire series.

I do have an issue with the climax of the film as I think it differs too much from the book. In the book when the Death Eaters breach the castle the core characters (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna) along with members of the Order all fight to protect the school. However in the film it is just Harry alone who goes after the Death Eaters, which just feels wrong to me. So much of Harry’s strength comes from the fact that he has people willing to fight with him and for him out of love as opposed to intimidation and fear like Voldemort.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Director: David Yates

2010; 2011

They definitely made the right decision to split the last book into 2 films. This way they really did the final installments in the franchise justice. If they had tried to do just 1 film so much would have been cut out that the story wouldn’t make sense. The first film (and indeed book) to break away from the formulaic structure surrounding the year at Hogwarts and I find it rather refreshing. It is very much an adult film now rather than a children’s film as the franchise started out.

As with past films the new additions slot in well with those already established albeit briefly in some cases – Bill Nighy’s Rufus Scrimgeour. Part 1 and indeed Part 2 are filled with poignant and moving moments. Seeing Hermione effectively removing every trace of herself from her parent’s life in order to protect them is heart-breaking. How many of us could make that sacrifice?

The scene with the 7 Potters is just fantastic – excellent acting from Radcliffe coupled with flawless CG creates one of the most memorable scenes for me (not just within the Harry Potter films but films in general!) I think they gloss over the death of Mad Eye a little bit, especially as he is such a powerful presence. All of the scenes with the Weasley twins cause me to well up and yet at the same time they still manage to provide much-needed comedy moments – especially George sticking his toothbrush in the hole where his ear used to be for safe keeping!

The pace of Part 1 is quite different to all the previous films and while some may argue it didn’t need to take an entire film I disagree. I think its important that the quest element was given enough time to set both itself and the rest of the story up properly. The changing relationship between the main trio is actually quite satisfying as it shows they are all growing up and nothing stays the same. You can really feel the tension between Ron and Harry during their stand-off in the tent which is a testament to both the writing and the boys’ acting.

The loss of Dumbledore is palpable especially as Harry begins to question how well he knew Albus and the task set before him. The wedding of Bill and Fleur provides a light-hearted moment in a film that has very few. Rhys Ifans is perfect as Xenophilius Lovegood … just so fantastically eccentric, it’s clear where Luna gets it from.

There is a lot of body swapping in both films which really highlights just how much the main 3 have developed as actors and how well the entire cast works together. Everyone’s morals are questioned – how far are they willing to go in this war and where to draw the line. I would have loved to see the change in Kreacher and his attitude towards Harry, Ron and Hermione.

I was distraught the first time I watched Part 1 when Dobby died. Yates handled it extremely well. I hadn’t expected to be as affected by the death of Dobby as he isn’t a human character so was overwhelmed with the feeling put into the scene by all parties involved. He is a completely innocent character who becomes collateral damage in a war between good and evil. It didn’t bode well for how I will react to the numerous deaths coming in Part 2.

The attack by Nagini is terrifying!! Yates found a simple but effective (and extremely stylish) way of telling the story of 3 Brothers and the Hallows. It could all too easily have become a cumbersome and boring part of the film yet Yates neatly avoids that trap. The set pieces just keep getting better and better, more spectacular all leading up to the epic final battle at Hogwarts. The reappearance of Ron resets the balance of the film – they work best as a trio!

I’ve never really been sure of Ollivander. Don’t get me wrong John Hurt plays him wonderfully with a delightful creepiness about him. It’s just I can never tell what side he comes down on. There has always been the sense that he admires Voldemort. Helena Bonham Carter plays Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix splendidly – she gets that touch of vulnerability, or rather nervousness, that Hermione puts on the character due to the goodness inherent in her.

The first set piece in Deathly Hallows Part 2 … the break in at Gringotts is spectacular with an awesome dragon. And it sets the tone for the rest of the film. I love the scene when the trio are trying to dress themselves after having jumped off the dragon. It makes me laugh out loud every time, not because it is an especially funny scene as it isn’t, but because the boys are having such trouble dressing themselves due to being so wet! The music has taken on an eerily melancholy tone in keeping with the film while at the same time retaining those elements that are quintessentially Harry Potter.

The battle at Hogwarts feels like a violation … this place of safety, the home for Harry is being destroyed by the embodiment of evil. Once again Voldemort is destroying something Harry loves!! There are however still moments of laughter to be had and Yates has placed them in just the right places – usually coming from Filch. These humorous moments are much-needed as they break up the tension and provide some light relief.

I love that Neville (Matthew Lewis) has really become a character to contend with. Gone is the chubby, forgetful boy nervous of his own shadow from the early films; instead there stands a hero! And it’s fitting that he gets to destroy one of the Horcruxes after all it could very nearly have been him rather than Harry that was destined to destroy Voldemort. For me the women really stand out in the final installment, two moments in particular. The first when Harry reveals himself in the Great Hall and is confronted by Snape it is McGonagall who takes Snape on. The women are also the first to step in front of Harry, bodily protecting him from the Slytherins. And then the fight between Bellatrix and Molly Weasley – two women both incredibly strong and yet polar opposites of each other in every respect.

I would have liked to see more of the Order appear for the final battle, especially Neville’s gran, but that’s just me. While the battle is quite different from the book Yates has kept the tone and created such a visually dynamic piece that it works splendidly. I do think that some character deaths were swept over too quickly (Tonks and Lupin!) and yet every death was moving … indeed I was distraught when Fred does but then the Weasley twins have always been my favourite characters! The death that was handled beautifully was Sanpe’s. You really felt his love for Lily and it was a heart-breaking scene when you realise he does actually have a heart. I was genuinely moved by his demise. Seeing his history added a greater depth to his character and an insight into life not only before Voldemort but also during Voldemort’s first reign.

When Harry goes to meet Voldemort is one of the most poignant moments in the entire franchise. Seeing the four people he loved the most in the world who were ripped from him by Voldemort there to greet him is beautiful. It’s something we all hope for – that at the end we will once again be with the ones we love.

The defenses around the castle are brilliant and seeing Hogwarts itself coming to its defense is outstanding. The epilogue is okay but that’s all and in some ways seems a bit of a let down after the rest of the film. While it is lovely seeing Harry talk to his son, Albus Severus, and explain about his names the parents hadn’t been aged particularly well and the humor from the books was left out.

There is a greater sense of cohesion or rather continuation with having Yates direct consecutive films. The final few films went from strength to strength and while I still have some issue with the decisions made this is a collection of films that I will never get tired of no matter how old I am or how many times I watch them.

Oh one last thing … Hello to Jason Isaacs!!

Harry Potter (Films 1-4)

SPOILERS

Don’t read if you have not seen the films (where have you been all this time if you haven’t?!?!?) and don’t want to know what happens. I gave you fair warning you only have yourself to blame if you continue to read on from here.

I have a love hate relationship with the Harry Potter franchise having read the books since the age of 10. Thankfully the love is gradually overtaking the hate – a bit more every time I watch the films. Now the thing that shocks me is that not one of the eight films has been included in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. How can you not include a single installment in the most successful film franchise worldwide in a book like 1001 Movies?

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Director: Chris Columbus

2001; 2002

 I have to say the first two installments are my least favourite of the films (and the books too when I think about it). They are however pretty much carbon copies of the source material. And clearly the safest of the series both in content and the visual style. I can’t help but draw comparisons between Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter (they were the focus of my dissertation after all!) as the first two films were made, and released, at the same time. The biggest difference is the standard of the CG – and it is an enormous difference! The CG in Lord of the Rings is flawless and still holds up today whereas certain elements in Philosophers Stone are … let’s say somewhat less than realistic. I’m thinking of their first flying lesson when Neville loses control; it is so obviously a computer generate human. 

The first two films set up the characters and the world extremely well creating a solid foundation for the subsequent films. And I absolutely adore Richard Harris as Dumbledore. He was such perfect casting; exactly how I had pictured the character in my head – it’s such a shame that he died requiring a change in actor.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

2004

Prisoner of Azkaban is the first example of films becoming a little bit darker and more grown up. It also sees a rather dramatic re-imagining of Hogwarts. Personally I really like the new Hogwarts. The Hogwarts of Philosophers Stone and Chamber of Secrets just didn’t seem magical enough for me where as the new layout did. For me you could always tell that Philosophers Stone and Chamber of Secrets had been filmed predominately in cathedrals which grounded it in our reality rather than the reality of the magical world created by Rowling.

The main actors are more comfortable in their characters, the result of staying with them for 3 years. The addition of David Thewlis as Remus Lupin is a welcome one – and one of my favourite Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers throughout the series. The necessary addition of Michael Gambon as the new Dumbledore is a less welcome one. I understand about creating your own character but for me he just never worked as Dumbledore. I felt (and still feel) that he is too far removed from the character in the books. He is too harsh and has lost all the geniality that Harris imbued the character with. It’s one of my biggest gripe with the series. Aside from that the rest of the new castings are spot on. Gary Oldman is brilliant as Sirius and Timothy Spall is delightfully creepy as Pettigrew. Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney is  pure genius. She is wonderfully kooky and spaced out just as the character is portrayed in the books.

I remember people saying when Prisoner of Azkaban first came out that you had never seen anything like the Dementors before and thinking have you not seen the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings as the Dementors are so clearly influenced by them. The expansion of the wizarding world through the introduction of Hogsmede adds another level of realism to the story. It is no longer self-contained within the school. Thankfully by Prisoner of Azkaban Rupert Grint is no longer pulling all those stupid faces! The comedy becomes more of a feature as are the little moments between Ron and Hermione.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Director: Mike Newell

2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is where my issues with the series began. It is one of the largest books and therefore a lot of things needed to be cut which I understand. What I don’t get is the stuff they cut that would be needed later on in the books/films, like Bill going to the final task where he met Fleur ultimately leading to their marriage, especially when the author was part of the production team. There were a couple of bum casting as well, made all the more noticeable by the surrounding cast, all of whom perfectly embody their characters. Both the Crouches were wrong. Barty Crouch Snr (Roger Lloyd-Pack) is much too weak and whimpering. He doesn’t match the person Sirius says is ‘ so cold-hearted he sent his own son to Azkaban’. And then there’s David Tennant as Barty Crouch Jr. While he is spectacularly crazy it is just so out of character with the person in the books – especially during his sentencing to Azkaban where he is incredibly cocky as opposed to the sniveling and begging cry baby from the books.

Goblet of Fire is the first film to break with the formula – it doesn’t start at the Dursleys but rather at the Burrow. Equally it doesn’t end with Harry, Ron and Hermione boarding the Hogwarts’ Express to go home at the end of the year. The evolution of the series continues, the uniforms have once again changed subtly. And the kids have begun to add their own style to their uniforms all of which echoes the reality of growing up. There is a much more grown up feel to Goblet of Fire, partly due to the cast growing up and the new interest in the opposite sex but also due to the ending. It’s the first death seen in the series, made all the more haunting because it isn’t an adult but someone they are at school with.

It is also the first time we see Voldemort properly as a real person rather than a slightly dodgy CG face like in Philosophers Stone. Ralph Fiennes is once again perfect casting as Voldemort – incredibly creepy and slightly insane. His appearance makes it all seem more real. Hermione’s comment at the end of the film that ‘everything is going to change’ is very true!