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New Year’s Resolutions

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We are three weeks into the new year and as the smell of pine needles finally fades from the living room it’s the traditional time to take a long, hard, massively critical look at one’s life. I have never been a big one for new year’s resolutions for one reason; that I am fundamentally a man who finds any sort of sweeping change to my lifestyle difficult to implement and maintain. My interests in life haven’t really changed since I was about 16 and whilst marriage, home-ownership, employment and the other side effects of living a fulfilling adult life have altered how I spend my time, I’m way more likely to be found playing Football Manager or watching movies in my spare time than I am exercising or learning a new skill.

How, then, to try to make and stick to some of the resolutions that I want to make? Make them public on my blog and write a monthly update on how it’s all going.

Wish me luck!
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RESOLUTION 1 – LOSE A STONE
Measure of success: Weigh 11 st 3 by January 1st, 2015
Surely the most common and traditional of resolutions. New Year’s Resolution 101, as it were. For about 12 years now I have been carrying a bit of extra Fred around my middle which is not only a symbol of a sedentary lifestyle, but also looks odd taken in tandem with my small, flat bottom. Without wishing to get too ‘Take a Break’ it’s time to make a concerted effort to lose some of that weight through the wretched and distasteful combination of a healthy diet and more exercise, which bring me on nicely to…

RESOLUTION 2 – RUN A HALF-MARATHON
Measure of success: Complete an organised half-marathon event in 2014

Last May, I ‘ran’ the Manchester 10km with some of my work colleagues. The achievement went to our heads and we all vowed to up the ante and run 21km next time out. As the months went by, people returned to sanity and began to drop out or make noises that they wouldn’t be able to commit. Undeterred, I started training for it, but then Christmas happened and I consumed a ton of fizzy wine, salmon roulade, and mince pies. In addition I ran exactly zero miles for six weeks.

My plan to run at Wilmslow in March’s has now been scrapped but there is a hundred other half-marathons to sign up for so I will pick one, pay my money, and then hit the road.

Running

RESOLUTION 3 – LEARN TO DRIVE
Measure of success: Obtain a full UK driver’s licence by 31st December, 2013

Two and a half years ago I started to learn to drive. Hundreds of pounds and three failed practical tests later I decided to have a break from it. That break lasted over 18 months, but will not last much longer. The current plan of action is to take an intensive course and try to get this accomplished over the space of a couple of days.

Drivers of Whitefield – you have been warned!

RESOLUTION 4 – READ ‘CRIME AND PUNISHMENT’
Measure of success: To read, engage with, and understand Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ by the end of the year

I love reading, but I am a very slow reader. Occasionally I get great bursts of it where I can polish off a book in a couple of days, but on the whole a single, 400 page book probably takes me about a month to get through.

I also haven’t read many of the great works of literature, so to that end I vow to read that red-spined, white covered copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’ that looks down at me, and on me, from the book shelf in the spare bedroom. It will not be enough to read it, however. I must engage with the story and understand what it is trying to say.

Raskolnikov

RESOLUTION 5 – WATCH 150 MOVIES
Measure of success: To watch 150 movies in 2014

This one should be easy. Last year I managed more than 130 and I’ve already done 21 in the first 21 days of the year. Expect this to be the only one I succeed with.

I will update on my progress each month.

The Freds 2013: My Year in Film Watching (Part Two)

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In my last post I took a look at some of the best films I watched during 2013. This time around I’m going to go through the very worst of the 131 films I watched over the last 12 months. Some were let-downs, some were wasted opportunities, whilst some were just downright awful.

Welcome to part two of ‘The Freds’

Cloud Atlas
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Worst Movie
Watching a really terrible movie can be quite difficult unless you are at the cinema or watching the premiere of something made recently. This is not because modern films are rubbish, it’s because the majority of truly awful or forgettable films made more than 10 or 20 years ago don’t get a home media release or a TV slot for the very reason that they are so bad. Nevertheless, there was a few films that I watched last year that can be described as one-star affairs.

It was a day or two after New Year and my then fiancée (and the current Mrs. Sullivan) and I settled down to watch ‘Half Light‘ (2006), a supernatural thriller set in Britain and a vehicle for the plummeting star Demi Moore. With poor performances, truly nonsensical plot twists, and story lines that appeared, went nowhere, and then disappeared unresolved this is an unholy mess of a film. A lot of these supernatural shockers are pretty lacklustre, but most of them manage to squeeze one or two jumps out of me. The only way ‘Half Light’ would make anyone jump is if they were jumping for the remote to switch it off.

The universally derided ‘Cutthroat Island‘ (1995) marked the stalling point of the career of another 90s sex symbol, Geena Davis. It’s hard to believe, given the financial and critical disaster this film was, that Disney dared to make the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies less than 10 years later. Like ‘Half Light’ the films story line is virtually incomprehensible and with a dearth of acting talent on show there is nothing to save it.

Leap Year

Set in Hollywood’s view of ‘Oireland’, the pathetic rom-com ‘Leap Year (2010) was another stinker. The likable Amy Adams can do nothing to rescue the film, especially considering the startling lack of chemistry she shares with Matthew Goode, who spends most of his time drowning under an Irish accent worthy of ‘Far and Away’. The film is also incredibly boring with one contrived, but undramatic situation following another. 2010 also gave us cheapo animation ‘Monster House‘ which is surely one of the ugliest films ever made. Neither creepy, funny nor charming, ‘Monster House’ goes to show that what the likes of Pixar make look easy is anything but.

On a much more serious and darker note, I decided to watch one of the Nazi regimes most notorious productions this year. ‘The Eternal Jew‘ (1940) sets itself up as a documentary but facts are impossible to find in this vile and disturbing piece of anti-Semitic propaganda.

And the Winner Is…:
‘The Eternal Jew’ is easily one of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen but it does hold a certain historical fascination. This is a tough choice between ‘Leap Year’ and ‘Half Light‘ but the Demi Moore thriller wins as ‘Leap Year’s weak plot at least made some sort of sense.

Half Light

Most Disappointing Film
Although ‘Secret Agent‘ (1936) has never been spoken of as one of Hitchcock’s great achievements, the directors record still meant I had high hopes for the film, especially considering it was made in the wake of the superb ‘The 39 Steps’ (1935). It’s not a terrible film, but it’s quite dull and lacks the great man’s usual skill in keeping viewers on the edge of their seat. John Gielgud is also badly miscast as the hero.

45 years later Gielgud popped up (and won an Oscar) for the highly regarded comedy ‘Arthur‘ (1981). Dudley Moore is the eponymous hero, a permanently drunk millionaire who risks his fortune for love. Petty-thief Liza Minnelli is the object of his affections and Gielgud is Moore’s redoubtable valet. Where the film’s big reputation comes from is a mystery to me. It had good moments, most of them provided by Gielgud, and Minnelli was still a charming screen presence at this point. The big problem is Moore. He’s really, really bad at playing a drunk and he’s just not funny when he tries. Unfortunately, he has to try for 70% of the movie.

As a big Orson Welles fan I was delighted when the opportunity to see ‘F for Fake‘ (1973) presented itself. There are sections of this documentary about frauds and forgeries that are compelling, but they are too few and far between and at least half the film is either dated, dull, or self-indulgent.

Finally, both ‘Frozen‘ (2013) and ‘Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs‘ (2009) were disappointing animated efforts. ‘Frozen’ was at least enjoyable enough that I would watch it again but ‘CWaCoM’ felt as if it was trying too hard for its few laughs.

And the Winner Is…:
It’s not the worst film of the five listed, but given its reputation as a comedy classic, ‘Arthur‘ was the biggest let-down of last year.

Arthur

Most Peculiar Movie
There were three films I watched last year that left me feeling more than a little confused for reasons other than a confusing plot. ‘Cloud Atlas‘ (2012), with its cross-cutting between seven different stories across several centuries, certainly had that, but it was the sight of actors such as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant playing multiple roles, many of which they were totally unsuitable for, that left me bemused. Hanks ‘bettered’ Matthew Goode in the ‘Worst Irish Accent‘ stakes with a turn as a violent gangster-turned-author in one story, Berry turned up as a white woman in another, and Grant played both an oriental villain and a primitive tribe leader at various stages. This film proved that David Mitchell’s novel was virtually unfilmable as it swung wildly between situation comedy, brutal drama, and nightmarish sci-fi.

More straight forward was the musical ‘Orchestra Wives‘ (1942), the second of only two films to feature Glenn Miller in a prominent acting role. The story concerns the difficulties and destructive jealousies of those married to a touring orchestra, but every single character was in some way or another repulsive. The women were bitches and the men, including Miller but especially romantic lead George Montgomery, were either total bastards or idiots. I’m all for a film confounding expectations by going against the template of the genre, but for a wartime American musical to have no hero or heroine worthy of the name was a step too far, and one I believe to be an accident, not designed.

With a plot similar to the classic ‘The Searchers’ (1956), director John Ford at the helm, and leading men of the calibre of James Stewart and Richard Widmark, ‘Two Rode Together‘ (1961) should have worked well. However, the turgid, old-hat comedy moments that Ford occasionally dotted his films with was so poor that is nullified the films serious story about white families seeking but ultimately disowning relations kidnapped by native American tribes.

And the Winner Is…:
‘Cloud Atlas’ get a pass here as it was at least ambitious in what it attempted. ‘Orchestra Wives’ and ‘Two Rode Together’ were just misguided. I think I will go with ‘Two Rode Together‘ as ‘The Searchers’ showed five years earlier what could have been achieved with more care and attention.

Two Rode Together

Guilty Pleasure
Finally, I am rewarding the films that were so bad they were good. ‘12+1‘ (1969) is based on the same novel as Mel Brooks’ more famous ‘Twelve Chairs’ (1970) but updates the story to the 1960s. It’s probably slightly too good to be included in this section and showcased the comic talent of tragic beauty Sharon Tate to great effect. Much more of a surprise was another comedy, the 1982 Cannon and Ball vehicle ‘The Boys in Blue‘. In no way is this a good movie, but it had the feel of one of the 1970s ‘Carry On…’ movies which are mostly enjoyable even when they’re terrible.

The Final Countdown‘ (1980) posed the moral question of whether it would be right to interfere in the events of Pearl Harbour if you found yourself propelled through a portal into the past. It’s woeful special effects (even for the era) and predictable finale didn’t stop me from enjoying the film which was undoubtedly helped by the presence of Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen.

Equally fantastical is the story of Shangri-La in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon‘ which had been brought to the screen in 1937 by Frank Capra. That straight version is very good, but in 1973 it was brought back to the big screen by Ross Hunter as a sprawling and colorful musical with an all-star cast, none of whom could sing or dance. Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the songs, but their relationship was close to an end at the time and it shows in David’s dreadful lyrics (the tunes are alright). Peter Finch looks uncomfortable, Olivia Hussey is visibly pregnant (her character is not supposed to be), and George Kennedy and Michael York don’t even get to try any musical numbers. Liv Ullman, Bobby Van and Sally Kellerman at least tried to inject some energy into proceedings but they are fighting a losing battle. Oh, and John Gielgud’s back again, playing a Chinese man, which should tell you everything you need to know about the film’s reliance on star names over suitability for the roles they play.

And the Winner Is…:
Lost Horizon‘ – no contest. Absolutely terrible and way too long, but I know I will go back again and again.

Lost Horizon

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The Freds 2013: My Year in Film-Watching (Part One)

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Sad **** that I am, I kept a record of all the films I watched last year. In 2013 I watched a total of 131 movies, from ‘Half Light’ (2006) in the early days of January to ‘Carry On Again, Doctor’ (1969) just before the year came to a close. The films covered a fairly wide range of genres and topics, though whilst the films came from a large span of time [earliest: ‘Rescued by Rover‘ (1905); latest: ‘Frozen’ (2013)], there was not enough variety in terms of their country of origin. Nevertheless, as we are now in 2014 I thought I’d look back and the great, the good, and the ghastly among them.

Frozen

I made a conscious effort last year to try to watch films I had never seen before, or had not seen for a number of years over familiar choices that I have returned to again and again. To that end ‘The Freds’ will be awarded to films that I watched for the first time in 2013, or occasionally to films that I re-watched after a long period of time had passed (more than five years). Also, whilst I have picked out some specific genres for special focus, I haven’t covered everything. They aren’t real awards, you know?

Without further ado, let’s have look at the highlights, lowlights, and down-right-shites that graced my retinas in 2013.
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Best Film of 2013
The first award is for films released in the UK in 2013 and, overall, it’s an underwhelming selection. Summer’s big blockbuster ‘Man of Steel‘ (2013) was terrible and Disney’s Christmas  offering ‘Frozen‘ was jolly, but generally disappointing. Both films suffered from the lack of screen time afforded to their most interesting or likable characters (Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent in ‘MoS’ and Olaf the snowman in ‘Frozen’). ‘The Conjuring‘ (2013) was built up as the horror film that avoided all the clichés but seemed to my mind to follow pretty much every one in the book.

Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter, both fine actors, were miscast as ‘Burton and Taylor‘ (2013), and whilst the subject matter of ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer‘ (2013) was undoubtedly fascinating, it is a straight choice between Pixar sequel ‘Monsters University‘ (2013) and warbling epic ‘Les Miserables‘ (2012).

And the Winner Is…:
‘Monsters University’ was good fun, but despite a few distinctly average vocal performances, ‘Les Miserables‘ was genuinely impressive, both in how it looked and how much genuine emotion was wrung from the story. Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks were good, but Hugh Jackman was particularly affecting as Jean Valjean. I cried buckets in the cinema, and for once it wasn’t due to the price of the snacks.

Les Miserables


Best Film I’d Not Seen Before

A little different to the above, as this award includes films from every decade as long as the first time I watched it was in 2013. There was five that stood out in particular.

After years of my sister badgering me, I finally got around to watching the superb ‘The Lives of Other‘ (2006), a gripping look at life in East Germany in era of the Stasi. Such a glowing recommendation often leads to disappointment, but ‘The Lives of Others’ actually exceeded expectations, mainly thanks to Ulrich Muhe’s perfect central performance.

The Name of the Rose‘ (1986) was another film with a lot to live up to, given that the book it is based on instantly became on of my favourites when I read it. The film truncated much of what makes the book such a thought-provoking pleasure, but it is a tremendous thriller with excellent performances from its cast.

More recent fare is represented by Tim Burton’s wonderful homage to (amongst others) the Universal horror movies of the 1930s, ‘Frankenweenie‘ (2012). Any horror movie fans are urged to check out this beautifully animated tale of one boy and his dog. ‘Kick-Ass‘  (2010) had a sequel released this summer which spurred me to seek out the highly rated original. Five minutes in I was wondering if it was going to be another ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ (2004), but I couldn’t have been more wrong. It drew you in by masquerading as a comedy about a loser-vigilante, a foul-mouthed child, and her wacko father, but then things took a much darker turn. It’s an exhilarating, breathless and, at times, heart-wrenching action movie that I can’t wait to watch again.

At the other end of the age scale was the Astaire-Rogers musical ‘Shall We Dance‘ (1937). Normally rated as one of the teams lesser vehicles, I thought it was charming, funny, and contained excellent musical numbers.

And the Winner Is…:
It’s a tough call but ‘The Lives of Others‘ just holds off ‘Kick-Ass’ to take the prize.

The Lives of Others

Best Revisited Film
Now for the best film I’d seen before, but re-watched after years. There were only three genuinely brilliant films that qualified and they couldn’t be more different.

The classic British documentary short ‘Night Mail‘ (1936) remains a fascinating snapshot of the past, whilst Alfred’s Hitchcock’s Nazis-in-hiding thriller ‘Notorious‘ (1946) was even better than I had remembered it to be. The 1954 western ‘Vera Cruz‘ boasts two leading men on the top of their game in Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster. Lancaster in particular raises this above the mass of westerns produced by Hollywood’s studio system with a performance that is part snake, part hyena, and a whole lot of startlingly white teeth.

And the Winner Is…:
Robert Aldrich is not considered one of the masters of the genre, but none of the John Ford westerns I have seen are as good as ‘Vera Cruz‘. It’s my favourite example of the genre in its classic form.

Vera Cruz

Most Surprisingly Good
Kick-Ass‘ nearly qualified for this due to its dark elements which I did not expect, but if we are talking about films I expected to be rubbish that turned out to be pretty decent it is between two romantic comedies.

The Accidental Husband‘ (2008) sees Uma Thurman in comedy mode, which is rarely a good thing. Opposite her are Jeffrey Dean Morgan (no, me neither) and Colin Firth in full ‘British actor trying to break Hollywood’ mode. The plot is preposterous and it tails off badly about half way through. And yet, for sheer laughs, it was one of the funniest films I watched last year. It’s not ‘When Harry Met Sally…’ (1989), but it’s not ‘Gigli’ (2003) either.

On paper, ‘The Break Up‘ (2006) looks terrible. Jennifer Aniston, who has never appeared in a good movie, is the female lead, whilst the male lead is Vince Vaughan. What’s more, he spends a lot of time doing that dead-pan, fast talk that crops up in every V.V. movie (except when he played Norman Bates… yes, he really did play him). It really shouldn’t work, but it’s one of those rare occasions where all the wrong elements somehow come together to make a half-decent film. It’s rejection of the rom-com’s ultimate cliché (which I won’t give away here) also went a long way to making me quite like the film.

And the Winner Is…:
‘The Accidental Husband’ is probably a better film, but I really thought I would hate ‘The Break Up‘ and ended up liking it so it wins on points.

The Break Up

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Other ‘Bests’
Documentary
I took in a fair few documentaries in 2013 and the best was unquestionably ‘The Celluloid Closet‘ (1995). However, as I’ve seen that a number of times we have to ignore it [ditto ‘Bowling for Columbine‘ (2002)]. That left ‘Night Mail‘ as the winner.

However, if we look at those documentaries I’d never seen at all before last year it was a pretty mixed bag. ‘Brother’s Keeper‘ (1992) was extremely dull and we will hear more about the disappointment of watching ‘F for Fake‘ (1973) in part two of this post. The ‘Pussy Riot‘ documentary deserves a mention as one of the better ones, as does ‘The Imposter‘ (2012).

It was ‘The Bridge‘ (2006) that was the best of them. It’s certainly not for the faint hearted as it contains footage of people throwing themselves to their deaths from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. This also makes it a morally questionable project especially when you consider their friends and families who were interviewed so movingly for the film were not aware the film makers had footage of their loved ones committing suicide. If you can take those interviews in isolation, though, it’s a very interesting attempt to try to understand what drives people to such a drastic measure.

The Bridge

Animation
Yet more chills as the unremittingly bleak yet beautiful ‘Grave of the Fireflies‘ (1988) takes this one hands down over ‘Monsters University‘, ‘Brave‘ (2012) and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ (1994) [once you discount ‘Up‘ (2009) and ‘Wall-E‘ (2008) which I’ve seen twice each in a little over three years]. This unforgiving tale of two children trying to survive after their parents are killed in an American bomb attack on Kobe in WWII doesn’t pull any of its considerable punches and shows that animated movies are definitely not just for children.

Grave of the Fireflies

Short Film
Historical interest drew me to ‘Rescued by Rover‘ (1905) as it was the first British movie with a plot line (no prizes for guessing it’s about a heroic canine) but if you ignore the cultural significance of the movie, it’s not very good. Likewise, two of the three W.C. Fields shorts I watched this year were close to worthless [‘The Golf Specialist‘ (1930) and ‘The Fatal Glass of Beer‘ (1933)]. ‘The Pharmacist‘ (1933), however, was very funny and gained Fields’ something of a reprieve in my eyes (I didn’t care for either of the two feature films starring him I’d seen either).

The Blue Umbrella‘ (2013) was a charming Pixar short that preceded ‘Monsters University’ in the cinema, but none of these could hold a candle to a French short that inspired ‘The Blue Umbrella’, the wonderful ‘The Red Balloon‘ (1956). This tale of a young boy and his mystically obedient, playful, pet-like balloon is surely one of the all-time great fantasy movies – as surreal and it is tragic, and as tragic as it is heart-warming. I urge you to seek it out if you have never seen it.

The Red Balloon

Musical
For all ‘Les Miserables’ quality and epic visual style, the 1936 version of ‘Show Boat‘ was the best musical I saw last year. Films like ‘Show Boat’, featuring black characters that can seem incredibly stereotyped, can be an awkward watch, but the film probably stays just the right side of eye-ball-rolling, Mammy-lamenting racism. The songs by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein are terrific, especially Paul Robeson’s seminal version of ‘Ol’ Man River’ and Helen Morgan’s incredible rendition of ‘Bill’, and despite couple of wooden performances it knocks spots off the 1951 MGM version.

Paul Robeson also featured in ‘The Proud Valley‘ (1940), a lovely British movie set in a Welsh mining village and another American musical legend, Glenn Miller, popped up in ‘Sun Valley Serenade‘ (1941). It was one of only two feature films to star the great trombonist and band leader and his band, and whilst the plot was pretty flimsy it is still worth checking out, if only for the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo‘ sequence.

Show Boat
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So there is a round-up of the best of 2013′s viewing. Please check back later in the week as I ‘reward’ the very worst films I watch last year.

Night Mail

Chevy Chase: Wrong or wronged?

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Having absorbed every episode of the first five series of ‘The Big Bang Theory‘, my latest obsession from the world of the American sitcom is NBC’s ‘Community’, a comedy about several pretty stereotyped characters (jock, repressed goodie-goodie, too cool for school hero, etc.) thrown together at an American community college. Despite the relatively broad characterisations, a distracting insistence on parodying various film and movie cliches (a la ‘The Simpsons’), and hit-and-miss writing, it’s still well above the average for current television situation comedy.

However, a web-search for the programme quickly uncovers the trouble and turmoil lurking behind the scenes of the show, which seems certain to be cancelled following it’s current, fourth series. The show was created by Dan Harmon, but he has already left following a very public falling out with the show’s most famous cast member Chevy Chase.

Chase has built a reputation for being arrogant, rude and difficult to work with over a 40 year career. ‘Community’ seemed to be his route back to the mainstream after two decades of dreadful TV movies and cameo appearances in 1980s throwback films, but the actor continually bad-mouthed the shows writing, the long hours of filming, and even situation comedy as a genre. By the third series there was rumours of physical confrontation with some of the other actors, and his continued clashes with Harmon culminated with the audience at an end of season party being encouraged to chant ‘fuck you, Chevy’ at Chase as he sat there with his wife and daughter.

The final straw for Chase was his alleged use of the ‘n’ word on set during preparations for filming a fourth-series episode. Shortly afterwards he announced he was leaving the show.

Now, whilst racism and racist abuse is not something I would ever condone, the context in which the word was used has to made clear. Chase’s character Pierce Hawthorne is an aging moist towelette millionaire with decidedly old-fashioned views when it comes to race, sexuality and female equality. He inherited his fortune and is not only a buffoon, but utterly devoid of any sense, common or otherwise. The laughs he gets in the show are derived from his ridiculous views and his habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong audience. As the series progressed, Chase felt the writers were going too far with this side of Pierce and following one boundary-pushing joke too far he is alleged to have said that the writers would be having him say ‘n*****’ in an episode before long.

Yes, he could have said ‘the n word’ or used another phrase to get across his meaning and dissatisfaction, especially with two black actors in the principal cast, and countless black people working behind the scenes, but to me it seems slightly  harsh that he should be pilloried to the extent that he felt in necessary to leave the show when using it in the form of complaint about how offensive he feels the show is becoming. It’s a fine line, and I’m sure many of you will feel Chase crossed it. Me – I’m not so sure.

All of this means that the show has lost it’s funniest performer and, almost certainly, any future it had. Whilst it’s not the funniest thing on TV, ‘Community’ is head and shoulders above much that we are asked to laugh at on our screens and it’s small but loyal following will miss it – and Chase – if it doesn’t return for a fifth series.

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

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Anyone going to watch one of this summer’s effects-laden blockbusters such as ‘Man of Steel‘, Iron Man 3′ or ‘Star Trek Into Darkness‘ should take a moment to remember the visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen who has died in London aged 92.

Ray Harryhausen

Harryhausen’s instantly recognisable stop-motion work in films such as ‘Mighty Joe Young‘, ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ and the 1981 version of ‘Clash of the Titans’ inspired a generations of film-makers who, in the 1970s, 80s, and beyond, transformed the landscape of the action and adventure movies that dominate the cinema screens during the summer months. Many of them, including George Lucas, James Cameron and Stephen Spielberg, were among the first to pay tribute to the American animator whose childhood interest in dinosaurs led to a career spent bringing extinct creatures, mythical beasts, and ghostly apparitions to life across seven decades of film making.

ray_harryhausen_a_l_0

Born in 1920, Harryhausen’s nascent desire to bring dinosaurs back to life was fueled by the creations of Willis O’Brien in films such at ‘The Lost World‘ and ‘King Kong’. He ended up working for O’Brien in Hollywood after the war with his mentor picking up an Oscar for 1949′s ‘Mighty Joe Young’ despite the younger man doing most of the work that ended up on-screen. The majority of his most famous work followed in the next 20 years with the ‘The 7th Voyage of Sinbad‘, ‘One Million Years B.C.’ and ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ remaining classics of their type. The stop-motion animation looks juddery and old-fashioned to us now but it’s still striking, charming, great fun and, at times, terrifying. Witness Harryhausen’s most celebrated sequence – Todd Armstrong’s fight with the skeleton army in ‘Jason and the Argonauts’.

By the time ‘Clash of the Titans‘ was released, the effects produced by Harryhausen looked creaky and outdated. Ironically it was the boundaries pushed by Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic in bringing ‘Star Wars’ to the screen that heavily contributed to methods like stop-motion being abandoned by mainstream movie makers. However the believable alien races in the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy along with Spielberg’s ‘E.T.’ and ‘Jurassic Park‘ owe a huge debt to Harryhausen’s innovation and imagination.

Rebrand Rovers win the 2020 Champions League

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Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan sports the red shirt he introduced at the beginning of the season.
Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan sports the red shirt he introduced at the beginning of the season.

The current football season is drawing to a close and as the weeks go by winners, losers, promotions and relegations are being decided. Last week, Cardiff City confirmed their elevation to the Premier League for the first time since it’s creation 21 years ago. Whilst the majority of fans were understandably happy about the chance to rub shoulders with the best teams in the country (not to mention their fierce rivals Swansea City), the joy was tempered due to the boardroom politics that have seen the club undergo the initial stages of an alleged total rebrand driven by Malaysian owner Vincent Tan.

Cardiff, nicknamed ‘The Bluebirds’, have spent the last decade on the brink or promotion, often setting the pace in the second tier of English football before collapsing after Christmas and suffering painful defeat in the play-offs. This season, they have finally kept going and confirmed promotion with games to spare. The fact they changed from a blue-and-white to an red-and-black kit at the start of the season, at Tan’s behest, will not have affected the performances of the players or coaching staff, but his investment in the team almost certainly has helped Cardiff City. This change of colours was the price they had to pay for that financial input.

The question is why do any fans see this as a bad thing? Surely the point of supporting your football team is to see them be successful and, in this day and age, that’s not going to happen without wads of cash. If, in exchange for the money, your new owner wants to pick the colour of the home shirt, the design of the badge or the suffix of the team’s name then let them go ahead. If the red-kitted ‘Cardiff Dragons’ win the Champions League in ten years time, won’t it all have been worth it?

Cardiff City in 1967, wearing blue and white.
Cardiff City in 1967, wearing blue and white.

Even more baffling than objections to alterations in the teams uniform or name is the issue of stadium naming rights. Fans support the team, not the ground so why do people allow their noses to be put out of joint because someone wants to pay the club millions of pounds to sponsor the stadium? The name won’t catch on for generations, so they are basically getting annoyed at a sign (that they can ignore) and what Gary Lineker is contractually obliged to refer to your chosen team’s ground to on ‘Match of the Day’ (which, again, can be ignored). If this is seen as a defilement of the club’s history, why aren’t there more angry letters to ‘When Saturday Comes’ about shirt sponsorship or advertising hoardings around the pitch? To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw (or Sir Winston Churchill, depending on who you believe) “We have established you’re a whore, madam. We are now merely haggling over the price”.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating MK Dons-style franchises that would see a club move to a different part of the country on the whim of the owners, and I also understand that seeing owners take money for naming rights etc. but not investing the money in the team, reducing ticket prices, or improving the club’s facilities is frustrating, but to challenge for titles, teams need investment and it’s unrealistic for fans to expect every club to have a benevolent billionaire fan who can bankroll a charge up the leagues.

Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: The End

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The time has come for parting…

… but Fred and Yasser got together one last time to look back at the lists as a whole and how they fared. Did either man make any mistakes in they scores? Did they feel hard done by? And have they learned anything at all from the experience?

Here’s your answers…

You can read the entires from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

You can also access the complete lists by clicking here for Fred’s and here for Yasser’s.

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Fred: Did you enjoy ‘Film Club’?

Yasser: I loved it, even when it made me hate you

FS: (laughs) I can guess when that might have been. Did you enjoy it more or less than you thought you would at the outset?

YA: I didn’t think it was going to be as fun as it has been

FS: Me either. I knew I’d enjoy my own choices, but I was worried about yours. It’s been great. It opened my eyes. We discussed in the last two posts how it has made us watch films differently

YA: Yeah, but I think I’m safe. Yesterday I watched the new ‘G.I. Joe‘ movie. I don’t want movies to constantly mentally stimulate me. Sometimes I just wanna watch shit get blown up

'Film Club' is over with 'North by Northwest' and 'The Dark Knight' topping the two lists. Both films come from the eras that proved most popular for each man.
‘Film Club’ is over with Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘North by Northwest’ and Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ topping the two lists.

FS: My first question about the lists themselves is to ask if there are any on my list that you think you would never have watched if you hadn’t been forced to?

YA: Honestly? (laughs)

FS: Be brutal…

YA: All the President’s Men‘, ‘Bad Day at Black Rock‘, ‘Inherit the Wind‘, ‘Cinema Paradiso‘, ‘Wild Strawberries‘, ‘Topsy-Turvy‘, ‘High Noon‘, ‘Breathless‘ and ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors‘. Would never have watched any of those

FS: A lot of the straight dramas, and all of my foreign choices. Interesting

YA: You?

FS:Fearless‘, ‘The Last Samurai‘ and ‘13 Assassins‘. Maybe the first two of the ‘Lord of the Rings‘ trilogy too. I’d already seen the third one

YA: Anything set in the far east or middle earth then

FS: (laughs) Yep! I’m not a lover of martial arts films. Now, ‘Breathless’, ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘Cinema Paradiso’ all scored fairly well. Do you think you’d be more inclined to give things a chance in future?

YA: Well, I would say I watch more variety than most people. I dislike westerns and ‘Bollywood’, but I try to give everything a chance

FS: Musicals…?

YA: I like ‘Oliver!, and many of the Disney films I grew up watching had lots of songs in them. I used to sing along. I would never watch ‘Mamma Mia‘, though

FS: With your list, I’m not sure I’d go for martial arts movies, but you did help to remind me that I like a good action movie now and again. Things like ‘Batman Begins‘, ‘The Dark Knight‘ and ‘Casino Royale

The controversial film-maker Roman Polanski was the only director to appear on both lists. (FS: 'Chinatown', YA: 'The Pianist'
The controversial film-maker Roman Polanski was the only director to appear on both lists. (FS: ‘Chinatown’; YA: ‘The Pianist’)

FS: Big question now. We have watched the 25. We have rated. Do you think there were any films on my list that you rated too harshly? And are there any you look at and think ‘that was generous‘?

YA: ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ was rated harshly. When I read the review we did I was bigging it up at times, talking about the imagery and irony, but there were some elements that I still didn’t like so it probably would’ve gotten a 6/10

FS: That’s good. Anything else?

YA: ‘High Noon’ was generous. Should’ve been a 5/10. ‘Wild Strawberries’ – I was being nice giving it 4/10

FS: No way! Fucking hell! (laughs)

YA: No lie. (laughs) That should be a 3/10. ‘City Lights‘ – Oh my gosh! If the girl was better that would’ve been a 10/10, but it’s still a 9/10

FS: Bastard

YA: Everything else would be the same.

Michael Caine and Liam Neeson are the only actors to appear in three films scross both lists. Caine pops up on each (FS: 'Sleuth'; YA: 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight') whilst all of Neeson's are on Yasser's list ('Kingdom of Heaven', 'Schindler's List' and 'Batman Begins')
Michael Caine and Liam Neeson are the only actors to appear in three of the 50 films. Caine pops up on both lists (FS: ‘Sleuth’; YA: ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’) whilst all of Neeson’s are on Yasser’s list (‘Kingdom of Heaven’, ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Batman Begins’)

YA: Your turn!

FS: Okay. ‘Fearless’ got 7/10. I think that was too high. It was a 6/10, mainly because I gave ’13 Assassins’ 6/10, but liked it better. I’d bump ’13 Assassins’ up to a 7/10

YA: Interesting

FS:Meet Joe Black‘…

YA: Emotional connection. Tricky

FS: I think the emotional connection I have with the film meant I was wildly generous. Taken on its own standing, it’s a 4/10. However, I’ll make it a 5/10 because I do like it even though it’s pretty dull

YA: Okay

FS:Amelie‘ would go up to 9/10

YA: I’m glad

FS: ‘Casino Royale’ is an interesting case

YA: Oh?

FS: I almost swayed towards making it a 9/10, but then I saw the superior ‘Skyfall and that cemented the 8/10 in my head

YA: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! ‘Casino Royale’ is better than ‘Skyfall’

FS: No it’s not. ‘Skyfall had a better villain, the characters were more rounded, and it was just generally more enjoyable

YA: The villain was a rip-off of Ledger’s ‘Joker’. The director said that himself

FS: We could argue about this all day. It’s staying as an 8/10. The rest of your top ten is spot on, except ‘The Dark Knight’

YA: Did you over-mark it?

FS: I didn’t think so when we were discussing it, but looking back I do feel the whole climax with the ferries and the ‘Bat-Sonar’ was well done, but a bit lacklustre. Neither part worked for me so maybe 8/10 was more realistic. It was really good, but the climactic confrontation between Batman and ‘The Joker’ should have been one of the main talking points and we barely mentioned it

YA: The initial plans were to continue ‘The Joker’s’ story in the third film, but with Ledger dying, Nolan couldn’t find it within himself to recast the role

FS: What lesson do we learn from this? Never do anything with eyes on a sequel

YA: Like ‘Back to the Future‘? “FS: touche”

FS: No, not at all

YA: ‘Back to the Future Part II’, man! It sets up ‘Part III’

FS: Yes, but they were filmed back-to-back which is different to making one and thinking ‘in four years time we can make a third‘. If Nolan had filmed ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ back-to-back and Ledger had died during filming then I would take your point, but it didn’t happen that way

At 64 minutes, 'Way Out West' was the shortest film we watched. The 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy was by far the longest, clocking in at a mammoth 682 minutes. All in all, it would take just over five days to watch all 50 films back-to-back.
At 64 minutes, ‘Way Out West’ was the shortest film we watched. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy was by far the longest, clocking in at over 11 hours. All in all, it would take just over five days to watch all 50 films back-to-back.

FS: The next question I have is would any of my choices threaten to break into your top 25?

YA:It’s a Wonderful Life‘ could threaten to enter my list, but nothing else. I should have picked a Hitchcock movie but I would have gone for ‘Vertigo

FS:Casablanca‘ should have been on mine. I think part of me didn’t choose it as it felt too obvious but that was a mistake. ‘The Godfather‘ is the big one, though. I don’t think it would make it into the top 10 but we would be looking at somewhere from 11-15

YA: I’m glad about that

FS: Maybe I’d have dropped ‘High Noon’ for ‘Casablanca’. I think if I was to include ‘The Godfather’ then ‘Breathless’ would drop out. I’d struggle to relegate any of the others though

YA: I’m curious. ‘Beauty and the Beast‘…

FS: Yes?

YA: … would that now be your top animation?

FS: Spirited Away‘ is the best animated film I’ve ever seen followed by ‘Up‘. After that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ might be number three

YA: ‘Spirited Away’ is awful. Awful, awful. I think you took more films from me, but your list opened my eyes

Steven Spielberg (top) is the only director to have had three films on the lists - all of them on Yasser's ('War Horse', 'Schindler's List' and 'Saving Private Ryan'). Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott both appeared twice on Yasser's list, whilst Billy Wilder (bottom) was the only man to direct two of Fred's choices ('Sunset Boulevard' and 'Some Like It Hot').
Steven Spielberg (top) is the only director to have had three films on the lists – all of them on Yasser’s (‘War Horse’, ‘Schindler’s List’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’). In addition, Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott both appeared twice on Yasser’s list, but Billy Wilder (bottom) was the only man to direct two of Fred’s choices (‘Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘Some Like It Hot’).

FS: That brings me on to my last point which is about what the main criticisms of each others list would be. For me, your list was limited in its scope both in terms of when the films were made and what genres they crossed

YA: Huh? My list is awesome

FS: I’m not talking about the quality of the films. I’m saying that your 25 is a narrow representation of cinema as a whole

YA: Oh yeah? (laughs) What am I missing?

FS: If we take ‘Birth of a Nation‘ as the first feature-length movie with a plot, that was made 100 years ago, give or take a year. You had 100 years of films to choose from yet 22 or your 25 were made since 1991. That’s nearly 90% of your list

YA: That’s what I grew up watching. You grew up watching things made from the 1950s-70s

FS: Yes, but your parents stop choosing what films you watch when you are how old? I’m not having a go. I’m just saying that whilst your list demonstrates that modern cinema is alive and thriving, there’s not much from before the 1990s

YA: I think my movie taste only improved, like, 5-7 years ago. That’s when I started watching things like ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Gone With the Wind‘. All I watched before that was things like ‘Con Air‘ or ‘Bad Boys

FS: So the majority of the older films you’ve seen just don’t do it for you like modern movies do?

YA: They do but, for both of us, film watching is a labour of love

The average age of Fred's choices is 50 years whilst Yasser's is 16 years. There were 10 films from the 1950s in Fred's list. Yasser chose 12 from the 2000s
The average age of Fred’s choices is 50 years whilst Yasser’s is 16 years. There were 10 films from the 1950s in Fred’s list. Yasser chose 12 from the 2000s making it the most represented decade.

FS: What about the style of films on your list? There isn’t much to smile about on your list, especially towards the very top

YA: Why don’t you just say it? The majority of my films have violence in them

FS: There is that

YA: Your list has lots of nostalgia in it. ‘Breathless’, ‘Singin’ in the Rain‘, ‘Cinema Paradiso’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard‘ all nod to the old days of Hollywood

FS: That’s true

YA: I like violence in films as it’s an escape but I don’t choose movies because they are violent. In my top 10 we have ancient Rome, superheroes, World War II, the mafia, fantasy, espionage, cops and robbers. I think that’s pretty normal

FS: Do you not agree that the films are all the same kind of movie?

YA: (laughs) No, I really don’t

FS: Gangsters, gladiators, soldiers and spies… There is a lot of fighting – big battles or shootouts

YA: Maybe, but my films are based on my interests. I’m very defensive here because I know what people think

Of the seven 'Best Picture' Oscar winners we watched, six were on Yasser's list, including 'Gladiator' (right). 'The Sting' (left) is was the only film on Fred's list to win the big one.
Of the seven ‘Best Picture’ Oscar winners we watched, six were on Yasser’s list, including ‘Gladiator’ (right). ‘The Sting’ (left) is was the only film on Fred’s list to win the big one.

FS: What about my list? What would you say about it?

YA: Some are thought-provoking and the majority have of the films have messages behind them. ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors’ and ‘Wild Strawberries’ in particular are movies where the writers and directors are telling the audience a life lesson they should learn and it felt very pretentious

FS: Interesting

YA: Your comedies were the highlight

FS: I was particularly pleased that my three 1930s comedies scored 27/30 all together

YA: Somehow, I dunno why, I don’t think comedies are as worthy to be in my high estimations as more serious movies

FS: That shows. It’s an attitude I have never, and will never, understand

Thanks to all our ‘Film Club’ followers.