Staff A-Z of Film: G is for… (Pt. 4)

 GhostDog_quad-1DAVE SAYS G IS FOR: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily… And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

So begins this unique crime tragedy from one of America’s master filmmakers. Jim Jarmusch has been staking his claim as the US’s independent cinematic voice par excellence for some 30 years now, and in 1999 he furthered that claim with this strange, hypnotic, spiritual, cynical, lyrical noir gem. Forest Whitaker stars as the eponymous Ghost Dog, a hired assassin who has pledged his life to an aging Italian mobster. He lives on the rooftops of an unnamed city, training the carrier pigeons he communicates with (and only with) and living his life strictly by the Bushido, the ancient Samurai code. Nobody knows his name, or where he lives, or how to contact him. They know him only by the moniker he has chosen, and by the flawless record of assassinations he has left behind.

The film is an eclectic mixture of Eastern wisdom, hip-hop soundscapes and jagged-edged New York wiseguy cynicism. When Ghost Dog leaves a witness to one of his assassinations, the mob gives his master, Louie, an ultimatum: either Ghost Dog dies, or he does. And so Ghost Dog sets out to weave a bloody trail of death throughout the mob in order to protect the threatened Louie. Unfazed by the fact that not even Louie understands his unwavering devotion, Ghost Dog will do anything to uphold the Code of the Samurai, including hilariously shooting his master (twice) in order to throw the mob off the scent.

We never learn Ghost Dog’s true identity, and he becomes as much a myth to us as he is to the befuddled mobsters he sets out to take down. His only friend is Isaach de Bankolé’s Haitian ice-cream salesman, despite the fact that neither speaks the other’s language or has any idea what the other is saying. And the only way we get to know him at all is through the tentative friendship he forms with local school kid, Pearline, a kindred spirit who takes a liking to Ghost Dog and seems to understand his strangeness in some beautiful, unspoken way. This mythic quality is really what sets this film apart from other ‘hood’ or crime flicks.

Rather than bombastic and action-packed, Jarmusch’s film is elegant and understated, both in its treatment of character and its occasional outbursts of violence. It pokes fun at many tropes of the crime genre, not least with its Italian mafia that cannot afford to pay rent on time and who more closely resemble Scooby-Doo baddies than Goodfellas. Whitaker’s magnificent performance is at the heart of all of this – quiet and controlled but concealing a deep underlying emotion and a moving sense of loyalty and justice. He lets others do the talking, preferring to say only what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. In many ways, his profound inner peace is what most inflects the atmosphere of the film, despite the high body count.

Ghost Dog also features one of the great scores in recent film history, by influential hip-hop producer The RZA, who cameos (above left) in one scene as a mysterious fellow samurai. With this score, straddling the same gulf between urban grit and Zen harmony as the film itself, Ghost Dog creates a completely unique atmosphere, quite unlike any gangster film before or since. Those familiar with Jarmusch’s previous masterwork, the psychedelic western Dead Man, will also find this something of a spiritual successor, and the director leaves more than one Easter egg in here for the keen-eyed viewer.

There are not many films that can be called completely unique, but Ghost Dog, while perhaps not for everyone, certainly has no equal. By the end of the film one is left with the sense that one has not so much watched a slice of life as been told the story of a myth or tragic passion play, with a hero who represents a set of ideas and principles that have come into conflict with a time and place in which they do not belong.

One of those films that bears multiple viewings over time in order to truly let the weight of the ideas and the drama truly sink in, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai should be top of the list for anyone with a taste for daring, independent or unique pieces of cinema.

Check out the trailer right here:

Staff A-Z of Film: G is for… (Pt.2)


LALLY SAYS G IS FOR: Garbage Warrior (2007)

“We’re trying to develop a method of living that allows people to take care of themselves”

Garbage Warrior is a documentary about American architect Michael Reynolds and his quest to evolve his designs for independent, sustainable living. Highly critical of the wasteful nature of his profession, Reynolds began his career experimenting with various technologies including thermal mass construction, wind and solar power, and green house designs. His experiments resulted in the Earthship, a self sustaining house built out of recycled materials such as car tires and beer cans.


“You’ve got to be able to make mistakes otherwise you never evolve”

Filmed over the course of three years, Oliver Hodge’s film introduces us to the architect’s designs and the long standing New Mexico based community who build with him. Reynolds’ 35 year battle with waste, however, was forcefully halted in the early 2000s by the State Planning Department due to the buildings’ unconventional nature and experimental design. Whilst he was caught in a bureaucratic ‘catch 22’ in America, Reynolds and his crew were invited to Indonesia where in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami their Earthship technology was immediately welcomed and put into practice by the residents of the devastated Andaman Islands.


“If you don’t want to look at the problem, why would you want to come up with a solution”.

Michael Reynolds, ‘warrior’ against waste, had to wade through years worth of paperwork and petitions just to be allowed to experiment with his radical designs on his own land. Ironic, given that in the past New Mexico sacrificed thousands of acres to irradiation experiments for Atomic bomb testing.

Oliver Hodge’s film provides us with an interesting insight into the inner workings of the State legislature, where hidebound attitudes and pitfalls await around every corner. It is not a scaremongering film intent on shocking its audience into action, but rather an inspiring account of how much positive change just one person can make with enough determination.


Garbage Warrior is the story of one man’s passionate and energetic efforts to change the way we treat the world, and to show us that change is not only obviously necessary, but well within our capabilities; the technology is here we just have to examine how we live our lives and act.

Since the release of Garbage Warrior, Reynolds and his crew have continued to evolve their designs and share them all over the world. You can check out his adventures and progress here:



STAFF A-Z OF FILM: ‘G’ is for Great and Gorgeous (films and staff :) p.t.1


garage-movie-poster-2007-1020546151G is for GARAGE (2007) – dir. Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, 2012 and Frank, 2014 starring Michael Fassbender)

Ok, I know what you are going to say: “He likes bleak films.” Yes, I do, but only when they’re as good as this.

Garage is a little gem of a film whose central character, Josie (played by Pat Shortt), has spent all of his adult life working in a run-down petrol station on the edge of a small town in rural Ireland. He is lonely, and a bit of a misfit, but seems content in a rather strange way until, one summer, with the arrival of David (Connor Ryan) at the petrol station, his life changes and we are given an extraordinary insight into how difficult and isolated Josie’s life is. It also vividly illustrates how much most of us are wrapped up in our own lives with our stopping to give a moments thought to those around us.

Garage+(2007)It’s a wonderful snapshot of just how difficult life can be in a small rural community – lookout for Abrahamson’s new film, Frank, starring Michael Fassbender and Domnhall Gleeson which will be released on DVD on the 15th of September.



So… where to begin…?
 Not suprisingly there’s quite a hefty amount of really good films that I could choose from!
I mean, should I go with Robert Redford’s Great Gatsby? Or John Travolta as Chilli Palmer in Get Shorty? Matt Damon as the special operative on the hunt for WMD’s in Green Zone? The Italian dark drama / thriller Gomorrah set in, well, Italy about the power struggles and violence that comes in the wake of the mafia crime families? What about Tom Hanks and Sam Rockwell in The Green Mile…? Or the heroics, lies and violence of my guilty TV pleasure Game of Thrones? Or even the ultimate childhood family great, Ghostbusters with the now sadly departed Harold Ramis…? Wait.. what about Good Morning Vietnam with the great Robin Williams or The Goonies…? Did I mention Russell Crowe’s emperor-defying soldier-come-slave in Gladiator...? In fact, cue the music, The Great Escape…oh G*d… hold on… this could take a while….
 2 days later….
Right… I’ve decided. I’m definitely, maybe, choosing one… no, make that two films to share with you.
Firstly, God Bless America from 2011. This film in my humble opinion was largely over looked and very quickly made its way to the cult comedy shelf with not too many a customer giving it the chance that it really deserves. What swayed me to choose this film is as I was sitting down to write this segment, an advert for the X Factor appeared on the TV. As I am, to say the least, not the greatest of fans of these kinds of shows, it reminded me of the film in question. So, let me give you a brief rundown of it.
G is for God Bless America (2011) – dir. Bobcat Goldthwaite (World’s Greatest Dad – 2009).
 God Bless America follows Frank (Joel Murray – Mad Men / The Artist), a man to whom life seems to have dealt an unbelievably s**tty hand. His wife has left him for another man. His daughter seems to despise him unconditionally. He works in a place where he cannot stand his co – workers. Then , just to top off the disastrous life, he finds that he has a severe illness, where by, due to it and the medication, he ends up being awake all night watching television shows about people whom he grows to despise because of their seemingly undeserved good fortune.
    Unsurprisingly, Frank reaches breaking point – not unlike Michael Douglas in Falling Down – and makes the ultimate decision that these pseudo celebrities that have become the bane of his life need to be gotten rid of. However, Frank is not a trained killer… in any way.. shape… or form…! Now I should state that this film is a dark comedy, not that I’ve described it as one, but I promise it is and it’s in this bumbling attempt to get rid of his nemeses where the comedy lies. As Frank’s killing starts he meets an unlikely friend and accomplice, 16 year old Roxy, with whom he shares many an opinion about how and why American culture appears to be going to the dogs and who are responsible. Let the unlawful, but not necessarily unjust, killing start….
 As I said, this film is a comedy, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (yes thats a real name and yes its pretty cool) who is himself a comedian, which is more than apparent when its comes to some of the cutting lines Frank exchanges with his ex wife… This film may not tickle everyone’s funny bone, but if you’ve enjoyed In Bruges, The Guard, Calvary or indeed just really dislike reality TV shows, then this film is a must for you. It is an 18 rating so expect some strong language and violence to say the least… but if you’re dreading the winter TV schedule – ahem X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and the like – then rest assured this will ease the pain of what everyone will be talking about around the water cooler at work!
 My second choice is a film I’ve loved for a long time and I’m sure for many of you it’s one that you have seen in the near 30 years since its release.
G is for Gorillas in the Mist (1988) – dir. Michael Apted.
 I am of course talking about Gorillas in the Mist from 1988, starring Sigourney Weaver. The film follows the true story of Dian Fossey, an anthropologist who embarks on the adventure to follow, study, record and understand the gorillas that live in the depths of the Congo mountains. As she arrives in the Congo and finds her way to the edges of civilisation, she realises that these incredible primates are barely understood and that their way of life and habitat are in serious danger from the humans that share their lands
    As the years go by, Dian faces many a danger not just from the gorillas themselves but from militants and poachers who have their own agendas at heart. But, thankfully, her persistence and unequivical bravery allows Dian to be a part of the gorillas’ social group and is ultimately accepted by the alpha male. This, in turn, enabled her to be allowed for days at a time to live, study and move freely within the group without being perceived as a threat. Because of her unique study, Dian’s efforts are noticed by National Geographic back in the US who, in return for her work, help fund her research out in the Congo.
I don’t want to say too much more on this film because if you have never seen it then it really is something that I believe everyone should watch. I would also heartily recommend it as a family movie, for i think its engages people of all ages. I should say, although it may seem obvious, that there are dark moments in the film which come from her fighting poachers and militias, to those that want to take the gorillas to zoos around the world for profit. But despite these darker moments, I believe that the true story’s message and inspiration to go out to the unknown and become a pioneer in whatever interests you should be something that is encouraged to everyone, especially those of a younger age where it seems social media is more enticing than going out to discover what an amazing world we live in…
Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 21.47.34


Staff A-Z of Films… F is F-f-for (Pt. 3):


freaks-posterF for Freaks (1932)

Based on the short story ‘Spurs’ by Clarence Aaron “Tod” Robbins, Browning’s ‘Freaks’ is set at a sideshow and is a story of unrequited love, honour, discrimination, and revenge. Hans (Harry Earles – The Wizard of Oz), a midget, recently rich through inheritance, is seduced by the Circus’ gold-digging trapeze artist, Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova – The Man Who Laughs). With the help of the show’s strong man, Hercules (Henry victor), Cleopatra plots to marry and kill Hans for his fortune, underestimating the strength of the ‘code of the freaks’ and their familial bond.

“We accept you, one of us! Gooble Gobble!”

The plot may sound quite familiar, it is an age-old, love-triangle tale. However, it is the setting and supporting cast that makes “Freaks” so distinguished. Unlike many of today’s films in which we have 5-6 foot tall actors portraying 3-4 foot tall characters, ‘Freaks’ the pre-CGI horror film had its titular heroes played by bona fide stars of the American sideshow and circus industries.

tumblr_l7vzslZ4Pq1qbbjxvo1_500In 1896 a 16-year-old Tod Browning ran away from his well off family in Kentucky, to pursue one of his life long fascinations, the circus. He travelled for many years with various sideshows and carnivals featuring as a Talker for ‘The Wild Man of Borneo’, as a clown for the Ringling Brothers Circus and performed as ‘The Living Corpse’ in a live burial act. In Vaudeville theatre he worked as clown, actor, dancer and magician, and in New York City he was the director of a variety theatre where he met fellow Louisvillian W. D. Griffith. Browning’s directorial carrier evolved into silent cinema throughout which he worked frequently with horror legend, Lon Chaney. In 1929 he directed his first talkie The Thirteenth Chair with Bela Legosi, a partnership that only two years later would lead to the immortal Dracula.

Browning’s successful yet, oftentimes tumultuous career in the horror genre was brought to a rapid halt after the release of Freaks, only making four more pictures before leaving the director’s chair altogether. Now considered a milestone in cinema, this film is also one of history’s most controversial features. From the first test screenings, in which one lady claimed it to have caused her miscarriage through shock, until today, this pre-code horror has continued to maintain its dangerous reputation. Soon after production, Freaks was reduced from its 90 minute running time to just 64 minutes (the cut footage is now considered to be lost), a happier ending was clumsily added as ordered by MGM studios and it wasn’t until 1963 that the UK finally lifted it’s 30 year ban on the film.

tumblr_m69fvbVGMX1qbbjxvo1_500In general the film presents the ‘freaks’ as honourable kindly characters, whilst the ‘normals’ come across as shameless and a-moral. However, no individual is presented so simply. For example, as Hans’ infatuation for Cleopatra increases, his consideration for his fiancée Frida is almost entirely neglected.  Meanwhile, of the two good ‘normals’ in the film, Phroso and Venus, who are kind to the ‘freaks’, Phroso, has his morally grey areas with regards to his attitude to women: “You dames is all alike. Yer sharp-shootin’, yer cheap, and how you squeal when you get what’s coming to ya”.
After the initially shock-inducing introduction to some of the ‘freaks’, where those who call them “monsters” are invited to see them as the “children” they are, the film plays out as more of a drama than a horror film. Browning elegantly turns from the exploitative and sensationalist nature of the side-show industry, to look at the every day mundanities of the ‘Freaks’ Lives. Once we have become accustomed to their way of life, and have learnt to distinguish the performers by their personalities and not just their abnormalities, Browning reverts to utilising sensationalism once again. The infamous scene in the woods helps establish Freaks as one of the greatest horror films of its time. This visually powerful sequence, in which a host of the ‘freaks’ crawl to attack, is enhanced by the erratic dance of storm-induced light and shadows, with beautiful yet hauntingly monstrous results.

002As controversial as it has been over the years, Freaks is a fascinating study of the sideshow world, one all too seldom looked at with such honourable intentions as Browning clearly held. Freaks may not be considered a scary horror film by today’s high-definition, gore-fest standards but it is horrifying in the true sense of the word, and yet also tender, funny, and quite unforgettable.

Interesting facts:
After Freaks was withdrawn and shelved by MGM, the notorious American director and producer of exploitation films, Dwain Ester, bought the rights at low-cost and travelled the country showing it under titles “Forbidden Love” and “Nature’s Mistakes”.

***with spoiler***

Olga Baclanova’s bird suit worn near the end of the film was originally designed by Lon Chaney, but he unfortunately died before being able to put it to use. It was kept in an MGM store cupboard for years before Browning brought it out.



ku-xlargeF is for A Field in England (2013)

A psychedelic, black and white, British civil war movie – what more do you want?
Ben Wheatley has put his stamp on the gangster film (Down Terrace), hit man movie (Kill List), and caravan comedy killer flick (Sightseers). Here set out to revive the much missed midnight movie.
With visuals that mix Jodorowsky with Sergio Leone and a script by Amy Jump that feels completely authentic but also fresh and alive, Wheatley takes us down a psychological rabbit hole into a world of alchemy and spiritual hoodoo. The trademark intensity of Reece Shearsmith will sear into the mind, Michael Smiley intimidates with venomous vigour and you’ll find yourself sucked into a world out of kilter.
a-field-in-england-2013-001-man-in-wheat-field_1000x750Does it all make sense? I’m not sure, but it’s trip you won’t forget in a hurry.


Staff A-Z of Films: F is For… (Pt.1)

F is for First Blood (1982) – dir. Ted Kotcheff
I was really wracking my brains trying to come up with an F-Film, then I checked the list. It happens that a lot of my very favourite films begin with the letter F, including two that I claimed were “My favourite film of all time” at various points, but only when badgered for an answer. (Do real people really have a favourite anything of all time?) These “all time” tops were The Fly and Faces. Faces has some of the most exquisitely natural performances I’ve ever been blessed to see and The Fly has a scene where Geena Davis gives birth to a giant maggot… but, I really really need to tell you about the original Rambo film, First Blood.
The film is about Vietnam veteran, John Rambo, who in searching for his friends returned from the war, finds them prematurely dead in an uncaring America. He is bullied by small town police who he escapes and is then pursued by. It is a simple film dealing with big themes of authority, responsibility, freedom, societal constraint, and wilderness. Stallone is perfect for this role, part everyman, part fearsome force of nature, part wounded animal. 
firstblood1The film’s thrust mirrors that of the song Born In The USA by Bruce Springsteen, and like Springsteen the film is very populist whilst not pandering. For the reasons that a Springsteen song will always hold me tighter than a meandering ramble by Bob Dylan, I believe First Blood is an infinitely stronger film than The Deer Hunter, arguably its closest and more critically acclaimed rival.
 Born In The USA – Nebraska recording video.

First Blood’s reputation as an elegant and sensitive film is ruined by its sequels. James Cameron, the blame is at your feet, and not just for this. Mr Cameron made a series of weak action movie sequels to a string of amazing original films, sparking them into awful movie franchises. Aliens was a saccharine bloodbath that followed the nuanced terror of Alien. Rambo: First Blood part II, (arguably the dumbest title ever) reduces meaning, style, content, …basically everything except the body count, until you are left with a dulled-out nothing of a feature in which even the endless killing is completely flat. Just when you’re starting to believe he is doing all this out of some kind of demented malice you realise even his own films aren’t safe, and he runs the terrible formula on Terminator. I concede his original is a solid sci-fi horror which he proceeds to pump full of Disney morality for a horrendous joke of a follow on. 
fargo14F is for Fargo (1996)

This quirky and darkly funny thriller is the brainchild of Joel and Ethan Coen. Set in the locations of Brainerd, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota it tells the tale of a ransom gone horribly wrong.

William H Macy plays car sales man Jerry Lundegaard, who due to financial difficulties decides that he can make some good money by having his wife kidnapped…! His plan is to pay his hired kidnappers, played by the brilliant Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, $80, 000 but tell his wealthy father-in-law that they have requested a cool one million dollars. However, this being a Coen brother’s film, things don’t go quite the way Jerry had planned.

fargo09As with many of their films, the Coen brothers deliver a clever, twisted thriller with moments of brilliant dark humour, helped fantastically by William H Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare whom are all on excellent form. Bare in mind this film isn’t for the faint of heart or for viewers looking for a light comedy. But if you don’t mind the odd bit of blood and strong language then this film really is a must… Just a quick word of warning, if you’re planning on using a wood chipper soon after watching this film, you might want to do some other house hold chores. Trust me!


fugitiveThe Fugitive (1993)

I know, I know… every one over the age of 20 has probably seen this film and it really doesn’t need recommending, but I don’t think you can possibly have an A to Z list of film recommendations and not include it…

If you’re one of a unique band of people whom have not watched this film with delight then allow me to give you a brief over view…

Starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, it centres on Ford’s character Dr Richard Kimble coming home one night to his house to find his wife being brutally attacked and murdered in their home. During the fight between Kimble and the assailant, the assailant escapes into the night and Kimble is left to pick up the pieces. Sadly for him things go for bad to worse and he is subsequently the main suspect in the crime. Faced with no alibi, he’s found wrongfully guilty and sentenced to life in prison and death row… Then just when things couldn’t get any worse for Kimble, he finds himself in an explosive bus accident when a fellow inmate attempts to flee the prison bus en-route to the jail. Seizing his chance, Kimble decides to make a bid for freedom and to try to clear his name and bring his wife’s killers to justice. I know… exciting eh? Well just when you think it couldn’t get any better, in steps Tommy lee Jones as US Marshal Samuel Gerard who is assigned the task of bringing in the now fugitive Dr Kimble at all costs. Let the chase commence…

fugitive-740If you really have not seen this film then I can assure you it’s a Saturday night must. Although rated 15 at the time, I think most of us would agree that now it would be a 12 rating and actually quite good fun if you’re looking for a family film looking for some edge of your seat thriller action. Enjoy!


MSDFADO EC034Falling Down (1993)

What else can I say but Falling Down….

If you’ve ever had a day that you wish would just end and everything and anyone is making it worse than this may, or may not as the case may be, the film for you…

It’s a simple story of one man, played by Michael Douglas, who finally reaches breaking point on his morning commute to work and decides he has had enough with it all and simply wants out and to spend time with his young daughter now living with his estranged wife. As he walks away from his car after snapping, his day simply goes from bad to really really really bad as he finds himself in an attempted mugging, forced to walk through gangland territory, missing the breakfast menu in a fast food restaurant for being 2 minutes after they have stopped serving and well you get the point…

large-falling-down-blu-ray9As twisted and dark as it is brilliant, Michael Douglas doesn’t let up as the simple white-collar worker who has finally had enough of being on the bottom rung of society. His portrayal of frustration and anger at the way modern society has become is attention grabbing to say the least and in some ways reflects how many of us have felt at some point in our lives, especially with the way we move through life almost too quickly for our own good. (Just FYI the fast food restaurant scene alone makes the film worth watching…!)

BEN SAYS F IS ALSO FOR:fight-clubFight Club (1999)

The first rule about fight club is you “don’t talk about fight club”

So I wont…. (But please watch it! Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter and Meat Loaf… what more could you want?!?)


Full-Metal-Jacket-006Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film follows a group of US marines in training in 1967, during the Vietnam War. Its central characters, Privates “Joker”, “Cowboy” and “Pyle”, become the main three protagonists in this very dark and bleak war film.

As the recruits go through week by week training under the demoralizing and often brilliantly crass and blunt Gunner Sergeant Hartman, we see how their innocence and spirit are slowly dwindled down, forcing them to question their own morality. For many, Kubrick’s portrayal of military life showed how it was far from glamorous to say the least, (compared to Top Gun made only a couple of years prior) and that he, Kubrick, wanted audiences to understand what it was like being a young G.I. in 1960’s America in war they knew little about. In fact, Kubrick’s want for realism was a major factor in casting the actors, namely actor R. Lee Ermey, who played drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. For Ermey was himself a former Marine and real life Marine drill instructor! (Which also may explain most of the ad-libbing he does when confronting his trainees!!) As the film continues and their training completed they are then sent off to Vietnam in 1968 where they learn very quickly how little they are prepared for such a horrific and violent conflict. As humorous as it is dark, Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket touches on the dark physique that often goes hand in hand with war. Yet despite the dark moments, Kubrick manages to weave in moments of humour into otherwise deeply dark scenes that many other directors have tried and failed to do. So for that reason, Full Metal Jacket is regarded as one of the 100 films you must see before you die…

Other F films I recommend:

The Fighter

Family Guy Series and their take on Star Wars.

Fifth Element


easy_rider poster

Staff A-Z of Film: E is For… (Pt.3)


Empire-of-the-Sun-posterE is for: Empire of the Sun (1987)

Based on the 1984 book of the same title, with inspiration taken from author J. G. Ballard’s own personal experience, this huge war epic, directed by Spielberg, follows the story of Jamie Graham, a young boy living with his parents in Shanghai. The film follows Jamie’s plight as the Japanese forces enter and occupy the lands of Shanghai in 1941.


During the invasion, Jamie is separated from his parents and ends up on the run trying to avoid capture and doing everything he can to survive. However after scavenging through his parent’s house he is eventually captured by the Japanese and held in a civilian holding centre. Whilst captured he makes an unlikely friend in an American sailor, Basie, and it is this moving story of friendship and courage that the films follows.


With a fantastic blend of humour, action, compassion and friendship, its one of Spielberg’s best and with a cast featuring a young Batman (Christian Bale), John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and even a brief encounter with Ben Stiller this is one epic (and it is an epic at 2 and a half hours long) for the whole family.


end_of_watch_ver3_xlgE is also for: End of Watch (2012):

I won’t go into too much detail on this film, as the skipper (Simon) has already recommended it.

But what I will say is that this is an unexpected dark thriller told in a simple, yet highly effective way. There’s a little bit of bro-mance in there which isn’t always a bad thing (!) but it’s definitely a must see for all those who loved films such as Heat (1995), Collateral (2004) and The Departed (2006).


elite_squad_ver3_xlgE is also for: Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite) 1 (2007) & 2 (2010):

Centred in Rio de Janeiro, this films follows the story of Brazil’s police special forces, known as BOPE. Their job is never to question who or why but simply to put down and get rid of criminal targets too dangerous for anyone else to hunt down.

The first of the two films follows a young police officer, Matias, who is assisting on a drugs bust in one of the many sprawling favelas that dominate Rio’s poorer districts. During an operation that goes horribly wrong, Matias and his colleagues are left in a ferocious fire fight which unbeknown to them has involved BOPE teams also on an operation.


As the film progresses we see that Matias is a studious young man trying to better his life but in doing so is caught between the lines of morality and the law. After his close encounter with the BOPE, he is faced with life altering choices about his future which will lead him to not only test his own physical and mental strength but the morals he has stood by for so long…

elite_squad_1239469cThe second instalment of Elite Squad: The Enemy Within follows on 12 years later with the captain of the BOPE from the first film, Captain Nascimento who is now promoted to the rank of Lieutenant colonel, taking centre stage once again. In this instalment, (which in my opinion is the better of the two films but won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t seen the first) the story follows a prison riot in which the BOPE teams are brought in to assist in the situation. When negotiations start to fall apart and a tense stand-off leads to the death of a well-known prisoner, Nascimento becomes the centre of an investigation as to what happened and in turn becomes the scapegoat of the political corruption that sadly affects much of Brazilian life.

from-elite-squad-to-robocop-20111110032831145Although this film is a work of fiction there is a lot of real life inspiration that is drawn from to create this fantastic thriller and is definitely a film that shouldn’t be missed… especially with the football world cup looming next year in Brazil…!!


easy_rider_xlgE is also for: Easy Rider (1960):

Regarded as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest road movie ever created, it features screen legends Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda.

I won’t go into too much detail here as many of you I’m sure have already seen this classic. But for those who have not, here is a little taste of what lies in store…


The film follows Fonda and Hopper on a drug sale where after their aim is to ride to New Orleans to party and let loose during the famous Mardi Gras festival…. And that’s all I’m saying….

It’s defiantly not a family film, but if you’re old enough (18 rating) and you have never seen this film them what are you waiting for….?!?!


mpaeasternpromisesbE is also for: Eastern Promises (2007):

This dark and unflinching film centres on the Russian Mafia based in London and their control on the sex trafficking trade, as well as other activities, that go on in the underbelly of a modern metropolis.

The story follows a mid-wife who finds a journal and other information upon the personal effects of a 14-year-old girl whom has died during child-birth. Her inquisitiveness and want for truth leads her to meet some unsavoury characters that plague the streets of London and for whom power and control is everything.

10_eastern_promises_blu-rayThe combination of director David Cronenberg (Crash, The Fly, Videodrome, A History of Violence) with a fantastic cast featuring Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassell, whom are all on great form, has meant that this unrelenting, violent and brutal drama is something that maybe not be for everyone. Having said that, if you have the stomach for it and want something a little different then you’re in for a dark treat.

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Staff A-Z of Films: E is for… (Pt.2)


The_Elephant_Man-135262381-largeE is for The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man tells the true story of John Merrick, a severely deformed man who was paraded as a circus freak in turn-of-the-century England. David Lynch’s follow-up to his singular debut Eraserhead has an authentic feel for the time while also evoking the classic horror of Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon with atmospheric black and white imagery supplied by veteran cameraman Freddie Francis.
The heavy-weight cast includes John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller and Anne Bancroft, but at the heart of the film is an unrecognisable John Hurt as Merrick and Anthony Hopkins as the doctor who tries to help him.
So much of the film is about how others react to the Elephant Man: in horror, fear, pity, confusion. Hopkin’s beautifully nuanced performance is full of conflict, love, and gentleness. He shows that true acting is all about reacting in what could be his greatest achievement.
Anthony+Hopkins+The+Elephant+Man This is a monster movie flipped on it’s head. Lynch begins by building the sense of dread around this freakish man and then shifts to take his side against the far more horrific humanity that surrounds him.
The film unfolds with a quiet power and bit by bit it will break your heart.


8-MileE IS FOR 8 MILE (2002)

8 Mile is an autobiographical movie directed by Curtis Hanson (Chasing Mavericks) about a young white wannabe rapper Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit’ Smith (Eminem) who tries to defy the boundaries of class and race and break into the rap industry.

8-mile-2002-06-gThe story shows how Eminem, who lives in a trailer with his mother (Kim Basinger) and younger sister, struggles to survive and how he lives only to rise above his circumstances to make it as a successful white rapper.

8mile1With the urban masses at the local rap battles having booed him off stage once already, contending that rap is a black man’s world, Eminem shows that if at first you don’t succeed, try again!

A little piece of trivia that I learnt after watching the film…..The sheet of paper that Jimmy writes on the bus is the real sheet that Eminem wrote “Lose Yourself” on. The sheet of paper sold for $10,000 on an eBay auction.


8-mile-8-mile-8894000-970-647R.I.P. BRITTANY MURPHY



end_of_watch_ver3_xlgE is for End of Watch (2012)

Really original take on a cop movie – Michael Pena plays the role of the guy you expect to find in the force in south central LA – Hispanic, married with kids – yet his partner (Jake Gyllenhaal) doesn’t quite fit in. A little aloof and resented by some of his colleagues, he forms an unlikely friendship with his partner.

What’s really original with this movie is it doesn’t just centre on the violence and carnage of this notorious district of LA – it is a very human tale of the hopes and aspirations of two regular guys set against the backdrop of a very dangerous workplace.

Well worth the watch – no pun intended!

Video City Staff A-Z: E is For… (Pt.1)



E IS FOR EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) – dir. Georges Franju

Eyes without a Face is both a haunting fairy tale and a poetic nightmare, that has influenced multiple films in the 53 years since its release. The second feature film by archivist and co-founder of Cinematheque Française, George Franju, tells the story of a prominent doctor whose guilt for disfiguring his own daughter in a car crash leads him to steal other girls faces, hoping to restore Christiane to her former beauty. He is helped by his loyal assistant Louise (Alida Valli), a former recipient of one of his successful yet experimental face lifts, dragging her into the pit of moral corruption he has already carved out for himself.

22184_Eyes-without-a-Fa-6The film is shot by Eugen Schüfftan (The Hustler, Port of Shadows) who’s elegant yet simple imagery compliments the stark A lines and high collars of Hubert de Givenchy’s gowns (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade). Thus attired, Christiane is a bird in a gilded cage and the princess in the tower of this tale. Beautifully played by Edith Scob, she wanders through the mansion, wearing an expressionless mask barely veiling her anguish, looking like the apparition of a china doll.

Maurice Jarre provides a sinister yet jaunty score suggestive of a carnival you’d be relieved to escape, which is well dispersed amid the sounds of dogs and crows dropping in their calls of ill Omens. For all its sinister elegance, Eyes Without a Face does not shy away from the realities of the doctor’s experiments, particularly with the striking scene in which he removes the face of one of his victims.




east_is_east_27307_film4_itunesE IS FOR EAST IS EAST (1999) – dir. Damien O’Donnell

One of my favourite British films, East is East, is a family comedy-drama set in 1970’s Salford, Manchester. Featuring a strong cast, the movie is centred around a mixed-race household, headed by a traditional Pakistani Muslim man, played by legendary Indian actor Om Puri; his English wife played by Linda Bassett and their seven children, one of whom is played by a young Jimi Mistri.

B0016005-4CApart from being very funny, the movie also touches on socio-political issues, religion, race, gender, cultural identity and the complications and adversities of life in a multi-cultural community. East is East will go down as a timeless British classic. Its well worth the watch!


Video City Staff A-Z: D is for… (Pt.2)



D is for… Don’t Look Now (1973)

 “Nothing is what it seems”, says Donald Sutherland early on, warning us to keep our guard up in Nicolas Roeg’s masterpiece of creeping horror.

Based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, Don’t Look Now understands that real fear comes from knowing that your fate awaits around the next corner.

This is the story of a married couple haunted by the death of their daughter. Venice is a lead character: a city submerged, a maze of alleyways and dead-ends.


Roeg brilliantly weaves together the past and the present, the seen and the imagined, into a tapestry of grief and hope.

There is a casual realism here that makes Sutherland and Julie Christie an utterly believable couple and sets the film closer in tone to the Exorcist than any Hammer Horror schlock fest.


What else? – the famous sex scene (copied by Soderbergh in Out of Sight), the iconic red coat (ripped off by Spielberg in Schindler’s List), and not forgetting Donald Sutherland’s magnificent moustache (replicated by Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Accept no imitations and ignore the plea of that title – do look, it doesn’t have to be now but soon would be good.


“See also: Genova – Michael Winterbottom’s modern horror clearly doffs it’s cap to Don’t Look Now and features an excellent performance by Colin Firth (before he became royalty)”



“D” is for…. hmmm well, I have 4 main choices that spring to mind.

Firstly, and one of my personal favourites, I would say Donnie Brasco from 1997 starring Johnny Depp, Al Pacino and Michael Madsen. Based on the best-selling book, the film depicts the unbelievable true story of a FBI undercover agent, Joseph Pistone, who was sent to infiltrate the New York Mafia throughout the 1970’s. What originally started out as an experiment to see if it could be done with a ‘shelf life’ of only a few weeks, ended up lasting several years and in turn becoming one of the most intense and high-profile investigations ever undertaken into the Mafia. To this day and because of his actions, Joseph Pistone now lives with a new undisclosed identity and a several million dollar bounty on his head… Great tense drama and thriller rolled into one, highly recommend it!


My next option would be Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Christopher Waltz. I won’t bore you with the details of the story as I’m sure most of you have seen this film whether at the cinema or from coming in to the store. For those of you who have not seen it…Watch it! With slick lines, great action sequences and every Hollywood star on great form, its one not to be missed…

dmsquadAnother one not to miss is Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) starring Paddy Considine. The film follows Considine’s character Richard who lives in a rural part of Britain where there is little to do but get drunk, get high and torment the locals. Whilst away on military deployment, Richards younger mentally handicapped brother Anthony, played by Toby Kebbell, is left to the torment and bullying of the local low lives. Upon Richards return, he learns of the horrible acts done to his younger brother and vows to exact revenge on those who hurt Anthony. Filled with dark torment, violence and the rare moments of black humour this film is not for the everyday viewer. But with fantastic performances and simple but effective dialogue, this revenge style film is one to watch.


Lastly and purely for stupidity to counter act the darker films I’ve suggested, Dumb and Dumber (1994) starring Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels. It’s simply Jim Carey at his  “best” playing the moronic idiot alongside his partner in stupidity Jeff Daniels. With no money, no jobs and owning only a dog van and a briefcase (which isn’t there’s) they decide to embark on a journey to re unite the briefcase and it’s owner. With a great 90’s sound track its a fun road movie meets ridiculous love story. It’ll make you laugh and cry for all the wrong reasons, but for those reasons exactly is why it should be watched! Enjoy!



D is for Down by Law

 New Orleans. A pimp (John Lurie), a disc jockey (Tom Waits) and a tourist (Roberto Benigni) are arrested in separate incidents. They are imprisoned together; they jailbreak.
Down by Law, a film about John Lurie’s pout. See how his sunken cheeks suck laconically at hipster skull. Down by Law, about Tom Waits’s shoes and Ellen Barkin’s fury at a DJ’s malaise – “not the shoes NOT THE SHOES not the shoes”. Also about Benigni’s mother tongue ‘Bob’ Frost recital, and Robby Müller’s smoooth, spacious, black and white cinematography.

Such cool. Here Jarmusch gets the fundamental reciprocity between being cool and admiring cool. He pretty much hinges the film on it. “I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream”. Really really cool film.

Video City Staff A-Z: D is For… (Pt.1)



D is for Despicable Me (2010)

Despicable Me is a fun-filled family tale by Pixar (Up, Wall-e, Toy Story) about a super-villain, Gru (Steve Carell) who is finding life tough when a new villain comes on the scene! Gru decides to hatch a new plan involving adopting three orphans who he will use to pinch his rivals new gadgets. But then, inevitably, he finds himself becoming attached to his little kids, and wonders whether fatherhood is more his style after all.

This film made me laugh non-stop especially Gru’s army of minions – tiny, goggled yellow marshmallow creatures who are loyal but not too bright. It’s lots of fun for kids of all ages and all the parents that have watched have said it made them laugh too.
Word of advice – make sure you watch the extra features especially the Minions Short Films, lots more laughter guaranteed there!

D is for Death in Gaza (2004):
A heartbreakingly sad watch, particularly if you know the outcome. It certainly puts our somewhat insignificant worries to rest when you see the lives of some of these children.
A good documentary is unbeatable, and this is one you should invest two hours of your life on.

1986-down-by-law-poster1D is for DOWN BY LAW (1986) – dir. Jim Jarmusch


A prison comedy that walks at its own pace,  ‘Down by Law’ which stars Tom waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni is Jim Jarmusch’s break through film.
The plot is relatively simple as films go, but DBL is not so much about what happens to some characters but about who these people are and what is learnt about them through their enforced interaction with each other. The simplicity of the story allows room for the characters’ development and Robby Müller’s beautiful cinematography, which together, create a powerful comic beat-noir atmosphere.
A fairly consistent theme of Down By Law is the dispelling of preconceptions, from the type casting of the three stars to the projection of their characters’ relationships with each other. Before Waits and Lurie starred in this film both were, for American audiences at least, already cult names predominantly in the music world. Their contribution to the film would have initially been a pull for these audiences, but through the film we understand a little more of the people themselves over the stage characters already projected.

6310_2Waits and Lurie’s characters, have a “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” type situation, partly symbolised by their rhyming names, Jack + Zack. It is the optimistic sincerity of Benigni that allows them to look beyond their initial personality clash.
The collaborative nature of this film heavily contributes to its charm. The soundtrack was provided by both Lurie and Waits, while certain lines and monologues were improvised both accidentally and intentionally by Benigni. The line ‘It is a sad and beautiful world,’ was the happy result of a misunderstanding due to language difficulties (DBL was the Italian actors’ first visit to the USA),  whilst the rabbit monologue was taken straight out of Benigni’s childhood memories of his mother.
down-by-law-1986-02-gIn comparison to Jarmusch’s first two films ‘Permanent Vacation’ and ‘Stranger Than Paradise’, which both carry a more thoroughly ‘Beat’ pace, the almost classic slapstick nature of Down By Law’s comedy makes this film an easy heart warming ride.”I am a good egg…we are a good egg, my friends.”

Video City Staff A-Z of Film: C is For…(pt.1)


C is for A Canterbury Tale

This is Powell & Pressburger’s modern riff on Chaucer’s medieval stories. In one brilliant cut we’re transported from a time of men in skirts on horseback to present day men in uniform driving tanks. Meanwhile women do their jobs amongst the blackouts and boredom of a country at war.

The plot is pure hokum of the Ealing variety. A man in a soldier’s uniform has been terrorising a small village by pouring glue into the hair of local young ladies. Our three leads Alison (Sheila Sim), Peter (Dennis Price), and Bob (John Sweet) set out to solve the mystery. The real story here is the deep sorrow buried within these three and the hope that their wishes may come true in a modern-day pilgrimage to Canterbury. It’s a great film about life during wartime, about the beauty of the English countryside and rural existence. Above all it shows Powell & Pressburger’s deep love for their characters. This may be a propaganda film but there is a genuine sweetness devoid of any Hollywood cheese.

You come to expect wit and invention from Powell & Pressburger but here you also get a large dollop of unusual poetic romance and a very English cheery resilience against adversity.

See also: A Matter of Life and Death, Life and Death of Colonel Blimp


C is for Coach Carter – (2005) directed by Thomas Carter

This film is based on a story about a High School basketball coach that tries to teach his players that there is more to life then being “ghetto hoop stars”!

Despite most of the parents, other teachers and all the players thinking his methods are a bit extreme, coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) continues to employ his teaching methods and the players soon learn that it’s the coaches way or they’re off the team!
A combination of sports, a true life story with a powerful message and a good cast, enough to make this one of my top choices!

C is for Come and See
Elem Klimov’s 1985 Come and See tells the story of a young mans coming of age in the midst of Nazi-occupied Belarus. From the outset, the film displaces its audience mixing almost farcical scenes of partisan recruitment officers with a scene of the protagonist, Florya and his friend (who sounds like he’s talking with the aid of an electrolarynx) sifting through a sandy beach searching for a discarded rifle.

As the film progresses, this initial displacement acts to unsettle us, and as we continue, and the subject matter intensifies the difficulty we’ve had in placing the film’s genre or position only unsettles us further. Coupled with the film’s intense and intricate aural and visual design – which is constantly pulling itself apart and re-intertwining – drags the audience with Florya into the madness and disorientation that enshrouds him.

Although not a graphically violent film by todays standards (only rated 15), Come and See is certainly not for the faint-hearted (for example, there’s an extremely difficult scene, where Florya and a girl he has met wade through a swamp, whilst the soundtrack bears down on us oppressively. Seemingly pushing downwards from above). This said, I have watched the film numerous times, and maybe it’s just the masochist in me, but I’ll certainly be watching it again and sharing it with all my loved ones.

Interesting review here:

Video City A-Z of Film – Staff Picks: B Films (But Not Necessarily ‘B-Films’…) (Pt.3)


B is for Bill Cunningham: New York

A modern documentary about a pioneering street fashion photographer. Mr Cunningham spends most of his time riding his bicycle through busy New York traffic, looking for and always finding something special. I must admit, before seeing the film a large part of me was expecting a fashion world sycophant gush-fest, but my curiosity won out. And thank heavens it did, because since seeing it several months ago, I must think about it every other day.

Not breaking too much with the typical art-doc form, the film follows his day-to-day life, taking in a handful of recent events, whilst also tracing his past. The films greatness lies in the ability to let its star dazzle. It deals with bizarre contradictions. Those of a man leading a monastic lifestyle, worker’s attire, modest meals and a cramped apartment filled with file cabinets of a life’s work, who deals (significantly but not exclusively) with the wonder and awe of high-end fashion and the glamour of New York society. He has complex and inspiring politics, remaining somehow both clear and mysterious. Deeply concerned with surface. Bill Cunningham is ever curious, and ever generous. What strikes me most about Mr Cunningham’s practice, is how he maintains a total openness, an almost complete lack of ego, and yet is able to form such a unique and personal vision of the amazing world that surrounds both him and us, through his tirelessly ecstatic work.

Here are some of my other B film recommendations:
Bringing Up Baby
Blood Of The Poet
Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls
Blue Angel
Blue Velvet
Brief Encounter
Before Stonewall



B is for Borat.


Based on one of the characters from the hit TV comedy series, The Ali G show, Borat is a documentary-style movie about a fictional Kazakh journalist who travels the United States recording real life interactions and interviews with Americans.


In his relentless pursuit to create controversy, Borat does and says the most unimaginable  and cringe-worthy things as he goes on a rampage to offend and annoy everyone he comes into contact with. 



Through his purposefully created comical appearance and persona, his character very cleverly invokes genuine reactions and responses from his subjects on various social and political issues. 


Its global popularity and commercial success was overshadowed, however, with record-breaking law suits, accusations of racism, homophobia and sexism. 


Borat is by far one of the funniest and most ingenious comedies I have ever seen.


Video City A-Z of Film – Staff Picks: B Films (But Not Necessarily ‘B-Films’…) (Pt.2)


B is for Ballast (2008)

B is regretfully not for Billy Brown, “Hero” of Vincent Gallo’s 1998 Buffalo 66, but rather for Lance Hammer’s 2008 debut feature Ballast.

Ballast, which came out on DVD last year, is set in and inspired by the Mississippi Delta, a dreary and downtrodden area of the American south. The region has a distinct cultural heritage and is considered the birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll, with numerous Delta Blues and jazz musicians influencing the early pioneers of the genre.

Today, and shown bleakly through Ballast, this cultural vibrancy is gone. The Delta brought business to it because of the land’s rich fertility, bringing a large slave population with it. Now that the soil is depleted and the production of cotton in the area no longer economically viable, the business has left and the communities raised there have been left without modern infrastructure and without care for their well-being. Houses left to rot, racial inequality in public schools and lack of employment opportunity, leave the area unable to function as a community and care for itself.

Ballast is not a political film, nor is it a film that begs its audience to weep for the characters it portrays. It’s opening half hour feels like the beginnings of a The Wire-esque gangland thriller, chronicling a young man’s descent into crime, but through its sparse language and naturalistic performances, the pace soon decelerates as we watch the family at the films’ centre try to deal with the death of one of its’ members. Over the films’ 96 minutes we are subsumed into British cinematographer Lol Crawley’s stunning photography and the gentle unravelling of the films’ narrative, which upon completion leaves you uncertain of both the family and the regions future. Akin to Debra Granik’s 2010 Winter’s bone, it is an unrelenting portrayal of poverty in rural America, told through deeply affecting visuals and performances of real power.



B is for… Bad Lieutenant (2009)

Don’t be misled by the title. This isn’t a remake or a sequel to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film but it is one of the most waywardly enjoyable films you’re ever likely to see.

Bad Lieutenant could have been yet another corrupt cop flick with a hip hop villain (in this case Xhibit) and a pair of out of favour leading men – Nic Cage and the increasingly wide-faced Val Kilmer. Fortunately Herzog fills it with delirious ideas and lose energy to create a bizarre journey into the ecstatic truth of evil.

Cage is back to his best here, giving the most beautifully unhinged central performance since Christopher Walken in Donald Cammell’s Wild Side (search it out).

Herzog’s instinct is key to this film’s success and Cage commits fully to become his modern-day Klaus Kinski.

This film is no masterpiece – many parts don’t gel and the plot isn’t up to much – but who cares about plot when Herzog delivers a perfect antidote to Hollywood blandness. Bad Lieutenant wallows in personal lunacy with unflinching, gob-smacking, brilliance. One line to whet your appetite:

“What are those iguanas doing on my fucking coffee table?!”



B is for Black Orpheus (1959)

Black Orpheus  – set at the carnival in Rio; an amazing combination of music, colours and tragedy. Based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, it won an Academy Award in 1960 for Best Foreign Language Film.

Watch the original not the remake!


Video City A-Z of Film – Staff Picks: B Films (But Not Necessarily ‘B-Films’…) (Pt.1)


Boyz N The Hood (1991) Directed by John Singleton

B is for Boyz N The Hood; one of my favourite films as it shows just how hard life can be “growing up in the hood”. The director John Singleton tells a ‘real’ but revealing story about the struggles of growing up and making adult decisions, maybe before you are ready to make them.

A memorable moment in the film that I will always remember is when Tre’s (Cuba Gooding Jr.) father tries to teach his son about doing the right thing and to take responsibility for his actions after he finds out that his son wants retribution after his friend gets killed in a gang shooting.

Definitely a must watch film if you look past the violence for the powerful life messages Singleton tries to portray.



Biutiful (2010) Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

B is for Biutiful. But B is also for Bleak and in Biutiful it doesn’t get much bleaker! Nevertheless don’t be put off because this is a remarkable film with a remarkable performance from Javier Bardem (of No Country for Old Men fame amongst others). Many of us are familiar with the magical city of Barcelona but this shows us a side of it that few will have ever seen.

Uxbal (Bardem) survives operating as middleman in business with illegal immigrant workers in the Chinese community. He also has the ability to communicate with the dead and is the father of the ten year-old Ana and the little boy Mateo. Their mother suffers from bipolar and is an unstable alcoholic. When Uxbal learns that he is terminally ill, he sets out to find someone to look after his children when he has gone.

The cinematography is exceptional, with some fantastic depictions of Uxbal’s troubled world. It’s a film that will stay with you visually and narratively – yet amidst the carnage of the storyline, the director still manages to portray hope and ultimately a chance of redemption.



Battleship Potemkin (19225) Directed by Sergei Eisenstein

B is for Battleship Potemkin.

Brutal and beautiful. This one’s about toppling the crooks in charge and taking the power back.

Dramatising the 1905 mutiny on the ship Potemkin, an important step toward revolution in 1917, Eisenstein’s masterpiece of montage presents a rigorous demonstration of his theoretical principles and findings, as well as a total surpassing of them in the creation of truly sublime film images.

Indeed, only through Potemkin’s dialectical unfolding did Eisenstein truly succeed in building a structure of images that enables us to comprehend and truly feel the validity of the communist position.

My two favourite sequences:

1) Fog on the water following the murder of sailor Vakulinchuk … Shots of empty waters flicked by reflections of light from the rising sun … Vakulinchuk’s death giving birth to popular support for the mutiny, coupled with a duration that trumps politics and revels in beauty for beauty’s sake.

2) A mass of sailors asleep in their hammocks, strong key lighting drawing alllll attention to their muscular backs … Revolution is for the strong, but as Eisenstein well knew, it’s also for the sexy.

Be a (wo)man, not a maggot – rent this and raise the red flag.


Video City A-Z of Film – Staff Picks: A is for… (Pt.3)


A is for Amadeus (1984) – Directed by Milos Forman

 Mozart, but not as you’d expect.


The film centres on a retelling of Mozart’s time in Vienna by his contemporary Antonio Salieri. An accomplished yet restricted composer, the film investigates (a highly fictionalised version of) his struggle with glaring exposure to Mozart’s genius in all its fantastic and boorish reality.

Highly entertaining, the film does for Mozart what Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet  did for Shakespeare, without being so irritatingly wet. Having said that, Tom Hulce’s laugh will be ringing in your ears for days.


A is for The African Queen (1951) – Directed by John Huston

The African Queen has everything. Directed by cinema-behemoth John Huston (Asphalt Jungle, The Misfits) it stars the perfectly matched odd couple, rough and ready Humphrey Bogart and the potently prissy Katharine Hepburn. The plot revolves around Rose Sayer (Hepburn), a christian missionary, having to make a difficult river journey through German occupied east Africa with only small boat captain Charlie Allnut (Bogart) for company. This film has laughs, tears, romance, high adventure, and some of the most brilliant cast chemistry you could hope to see in film.

An interview with Anjelica Huston, talking about the shooting of The African Queen:




A is for The Apple (1998) – Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf

This semi-documentary – Samira Makhmalbaf’s first film, made when she was only 17 – tells the true story of a pair of 11 year-old twin sisters who have been kept imprisoned for years by their impoverished father and blind mother.

When concerned neighbours write-up a petition and send it to social services, the family are summoned and the girls examined; whilst the twins are physically healthy, they are severely mentally impaired due, it would seem, to their totally lack of social interaction. The father is ordered to release the girls, to which he protests that he keeps them locked up for their own good: whilst he is away at work, local boys climb over his walls – he is trying to protect the honour of his girls.

As the girls are set free, in turn imprisoning their father in the cell in which they were once kept, they roam the city, encountering strangers and making friends for the first time.

The apple, a symbol of consciousness and social knowledge, is a motif that crops up throughout the film, whether it be as the girls’ most favoured treat, which at one point, having dropped, one of them grasps to reach from between the bars, or as in the last scene when, her husband locked away and her daughters who knows where, the blind mother leaves the home herself, perhaps for the first time in years, and encounters a schoolboy’s prank – an apple that he is dangled out of a window by a string. At first she merely bumps into it, unsure what it is, she grasps for it and eventually catches it, clasping the apple in her hand.

It is hard not to read the film as a clever  metaphor for the position of women in Iranian society (clever, because, such public dissent must be formed cautiously), a metaphor in which women are prisoners of the socio-political order that is the Islamic republic. The film indicates (as does Makhmalbaf’s later film, At Five in the Afternoon) that only through the liberation of their consciousness will women be able to stand up against the beatings inflicted to their bodies and minds by the iron arm of tradition.

The Apple, like Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, weaves a poetic story in which it is unclear which parts are fact and which fiction. In both cases, this bittersweet disorientation is heighten by the use, not only of non-professional actors, but of the actual people involved in the true story playing themselves. Their lives are, quite literally, being played out before our eyes, giving the viewer not only an extraordinary sense of privilege, but also of discomfort in the face of the conflict between the consciousness of our privilege, our guilt in the face of this privilege and of the poignancy of the story which, ultimately, moves us to enjoyment.

Interview with Samira Makhmalbaf on her film At Five in the Afternoon:


Interview on her film Blackboards: