Films

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

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.

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.

Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Fred’s Number One

Posted on Updated on

The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen.So far, they have watched 24 of each others choices and there has been plenty or harmony, but just as much discord. Now the end is in sight and any criticism of the other man’s favourite is unlikely to go down well.

We finish with Fred’s favourite movie of all-time. It was made by the arguably the most famous film director of them all, right in between his most critically acclaimed film and his best known. Starring the ultimate male movie star and with a score to die for, it’s…

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

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
__________________________________________________________________

Fred: We come to the last review

Yasser: ‘Tis a sad moment, Fred

FS: It’s a film I’ve watched at least once a year every year since I first saw it when I was probably 15 or 16. Before then, do you know what my favourite film was?

YA: I find it hard to imagine you as a teenager as you act like an old gentleman most of the time. You say shit like “good grief!”

FS: (laughs)

YA: A musical? Or Laurel & Hardy!

FS: No, it was ‘Around the World in 80 Days‘ – a terrific film, but then as I started to take more interest in films, I watched one that I instantly knew was a large cut above everything else I’d seen

YA: And that film is…

FS:North by Northwest

North by Northwest‘North by Northwest’
1959 – USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Cary Grant, James Mason, Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau, Leo G. Carroll

YA: There’s something special about Hitchcock

FS: There is. You have seen this ‘wrong man‘ thriller before now…

YA: On your recommendation, yes. What is it about it that makes it your top pick?

FS: If you look at all of my choices it’s pretty clear that 1950s Hollywood is my favourite era of film-making. ‘North by Northwest’ brings together some of the key elements of that era, and the talent involved is universally at the peak of their Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saintpowers. I don’t know where to start, but when that first rumble of drums begins and the famous MGM logo appears on that bright green – not the usual black – background I feel tremendously excited

YA: Yeah, that green screen was a bit odd, I found, but a welcome change

FS: This might be an odd place to start considering the director, writer and cast involved, but the music is brilliant. Bernard Herrmann’s theme is definitely one of the best ever

Roger Thornhill gets into a spot of botherYA: The music grabs your attention first, but for me it’s the bright green titles

FS: Well, yes. Saul Bass – another legendary figure. I think his credit sequence is brilliant. I love it

YA: It’s odd that it’s the first thing we are talking about

FS: It’s because the tingle that the very first moments send down my spine is very, very real

FS: What did you make of the music in general?

YA: It was exciting. It had suspense in it. When I do notice music in movies I try to find all the little emotions in it. There’s a range of things this soundtrack did. It was very adept at keeping up with the many different story arcs – from suspense to comedy to romance

"Poured any good drunks lately?"FS: The music when Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is driving drunk is very different to when he’s on the train with Eve (Eva Marie Saint) for instance

YA: You still haven’t answered my original question – what makes this number one?

FS: (laughs) I think what I’m finding so difficult is this not only set the bar for thrillers, or Hitchcock movies, or MGM Technicolor flicks of the 1950s, or chase films. It set the bar for every film I’ve seen before or since and it’s not been surpassed. When I watch a film now, I often go into it almost hoping that I get the same Grant and Saintsensation that I have whenever I watch ‘North by Northwest’, but it has never happened.

YA: Okay

FS: I even worry that it’s my favourite because it’s been my favourite for so long, but as soon as I watch it that fear disappears. I just don’t enjoy any other film the way I enjoy this. It give me a different feeling inside. Sorry to be so abstract

YA: Nope, that is exactly what I am looking for. A sentimental attachment to the film

FS: This is going to sound pretentious, but I almost feel like the film is part of me – Saint and Martin Landauthat it is mine somehow (laughs)

YA: Yeah. That’s how I feel about ‘The Dark Knight

FS: Even if people criticise it, I don’t feel strongly as I am so assured of its quality that I don’t need their validation… which may be a good thing (laughs)

YA: We will see how it goes

FS: (laughs)

YA: I want to talk about the director

FS: Where better to start?

YA: Anyone who thinks of themselves as a movie fan has heard of Alfred Hitchcock, and if they haven’t seen any of his films then they don’t really understand cinema at all

Alfred HitchcockFS: Not many directors are as recognisable as their actors

YA: He crops up on the cover of new DVD releases of his films. How many other directors could get away with that? If they released ‘Jaws‘ and it had Spielberg on the cover as well as the shark, you’d look at it and think ‘whoever designed that cover is a cock

FS: I tend to use Charlie Chaplin as the benchmark for cinematic icons, but I don’t think there is a director as recognisable as Hitchcock. I even think if you showed a picture of Hitchcock, a picture of Cary Grant and a picture of Elizabeth Taylor to 100 people, more people would be able to name Hitchcock than the others

YA: We have looked at some wonderful directors over the fifty films, but Hitchcock… Fred… he’s on another level. He’s one of my favourites, one of your favourites and he’s still gaining fans. He was innovative and fresh and didn’t always fit the norm. I regret Hitchcock with Grant on-setnot having a Hitchcock film in my 25

FS: You are correct in that he is on a different level to anyone else. His reputation grows as time goes by as his films still look fresh 50, 60 years after they were made

YA: Without CGI too!

FS: Exactly! His hit-to-miss ratio is well above any other director I can think of

YA: Even now he is a breath of fresh air

FS: In terms of his direction, he had a definite style and rarely strayed from making thrillers. ‘North by Northwest’ reaps the benefit of the thirty years he’d spent making this type of movie

YA: Hitchcock does what he does best. I noticed how Thornhill is arrestedmany elements of most espionage movies, particularly the James Bond movies, are very much like ‘North by Northwest’. The investigation in the hotel room, the distinctive suit, the tall, dark and handsome lead, an attractive female who puts the lead at odds and helps him

FS: The first time we ever discussed this film I was surprised to hear you say it wasn’t a typical Hitchcock movie. Have you changed your opinion?

YA: Yes and no. It’s odd. It doesn’t have that typical air of suspense like the grittier Hitchcock movies, but you do feel the Hitchcock magic. It’s a brighter Hitchcock film

FS: I think all of his best films prior to this have a light touch to them, with the exception of ‘Vertigo‘. I think ‘North by Northwest’s evolution began back in the British Hitchcock movies of the 1930s like ‘The 39 Steps‘, ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much‘ and ‘Young and Innocent‘. They all deal with ordinary men plunged by Cary Grantmistaken identity or a twist of fate into a whirlwind situation

YA: The man is Roger Thornhill, played by one of the greatest

FS: Cary Grant. What a man

YA: Legend

FS: The perfect movie star and the perfect person for this role

FS: It was so nearly James Stewart, who would no doubt have been great, but Grant is just so right. He worked with some great directors but it was Hitchcock who brought out his dark side, like he did with Stewart

YA: Well, both were favourites of Hitchcock and both are amazing actors. Hitchcock brought out some sides of them that you only saw hints of in other roles. You see Grant and SaintJames Stewart getting frustrated and angry in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘, but have you seen ‘Rope‘?

FS: That’s right. It’s like watching ‘Penny Serenade‘ and then watching ‘Suspicion‘. Both show a side of Grant that we don’t see in the romantic comedies, but there is no comparison between them. Grant wasn’t the greatest actor in the world, but I don’t think there has ever been a more charismatic star. He’s perfect in this whether he’s trying to make light of his predicament and trying to charm his way out of it, or he’s getting angry or desperate. You believe him

YA: When I first watched it I thought he was too old for the role. He looked a bit tired at times, I thought, but having seen it again I can’t say that

FS: He was all too aware of his age, which is why he stopped making films in the end, but I think a younger man wouldn’t have been quite right. Cary Grant can be A publicity shot featuring Grant and Saintcharming and resourceful without coming across as cocksure. His slightly advanced years gave him more vulnerability, if you like

YA: I quite like the scenes with his mother (Jessie Royce Landis) and I liked his relationship with his assistant (Doreen Lang). I dunno – the more I watch Grant the more I think he’s a cool mofo

FS: Jessie Royce Landis’ role was only small but she was great fun. You sound as if you liked her

YA: I liked their relationship. I think Grant brings the best out of his colleagues most of the time

FS: I’d agree with that in the case of Eva Marie Saint. He really helps her shine, as Grant with Leo G. CarrollI don’t like her in much else I’ve seen

YA: I’m gonna say what I feel about Saint. When you first meet her she is charming and easy to like – a strong woman who goes for what she wants. But there’s one scene that really made me cringe

FS: Which was…?

YA: When Eve and Thornhill meet up in the woods and have that… romantic moment… if you could call it that. It was so terrible on her part. She turns into a soppy, fake mess. It felt like a bad advert where a couple say goodbye to one another at a train station

FS: Last time out, the discussion was dominated by the hero-villain relationship. The villain here, Phillip Vandamm (James Mason), is not a super villain like ‘The Joker’ but he’s not a nice man either. What did you think of the character and of Mason?

YA: I liked him, but it was one of those performances that was good enough to forget Grant with James Masonbecause he was right for the role. I don’t know if that makes sense

FS: Not really

YA: There wasn’t something significant about what he did that made him stand out, especially over Cary Grant. Actually, when you see him in the auction scene or in the cafeteria scene I like him the most

FS: I think James Mason is the equal of Grant in this. He’s another actor I love and Martin LandauI think the suave and urbane Grant needs an equally suave and urbane villain… and he gets one

YA: In the last act of the film, I think that Martin Landau is better than Mason

FS: Landau is another brilliant actor, but I don’t agree that he’s better than Mason. Creepier? Yes, but Mason has this ‘seen it all before’ air that is sensational. Nothing phases him. They are two very accomplished performers

YA: I’d agree with that

Landau and MasonFS: When we watched ‘Anatomy of a Murder‘ the ensemble cast didn’t really ‘wow’ you, but James Stewart did. I get the feeling it’s the same here, with Cary Grant providing the majority of what you liked

YA: Quick mention for Leo G. Carroll as ‘The Professor’. He was ace

FS: Like Mason, he had an almost weary outlook on the whole thing, like he’d been through it a hundred times before

YA: Exactly

YA: Let’s talk about the story. What is it that brings you back time and time again?

FS: When I was young it was the big Hitchcock set-pieces that grabbed me, but on repeated viewings I realised it is a really clever thriller and the way Thornhill gets himself involved deeper and deeper is brilliantly done. It’s classic Hitchcock – an ordinary guy getting involved in something way outside his comfort zone. He’s not a cop or an action hero or a spy

YA: I love the story. Some elements are far-fetched but most movies are. I must confess though that this wouldn’t make my top 5 Hitchcock movies

Grant and Saint

FS: That’s either very bad for me or very good for Alfred

YA: I’ve already spoken about the worst moment. Most of the time I’ve dropped a point for a leading lady who isn’t strong enough for the role but, bar that one scene, Saint was ace. I especially liked how Eve Kendall was introduced as a promiscuous, independent girl

Saint and GrantFS: Was there anything else you didn’t like?

YA: There’s always something about the Mount Rushmore scene that doesn’t fit. Why the fuck are they on Mount Rushmore?

FS: (laughs) I’m telling you, Yasser. The Statue of Liberty, the British Museum, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Albert Hall. How you can say this isn’t typical Hitchcock is beyond me

FS: Quick word for the best moments? I think you know what I’m driving at here

YA: The crop-duster scene?

FS: Yep! Just magic. A wonderful example too of how having no music in a scene The crop-duster scenecan be so effective. You just hear the hum of the plane’s engines in the background. The whole scene is a work of genius. When I watched this on the big screen last year there was a buzz around the cinema when it started. Everyone sat up a little straighter in their seats

YA: It’s iconic and very well done, but to be honest I was more impressed with the film’s dialogue. The auction scene for instance. How he manages to escape is great, as is the scene where Thornhill’s plastered in the police station

FS: The script is fantastic. Lots of good lines and the auction scene is probably my favourite section of the whole film

FS: Here is my last shot at selling this film to you. We have a cast made up of a talented actress, two incredible actors as the villains, memorable supporting players, and the ultimate male movie star. They all touch their best and the two leads – Saint and Grant – have probably never been better. The music from the legendary Bernard Herrmann is spine-tingling. Ernest Lehman’s script is packed with terrific lines, and you have Saul Bass’ outrageous, visually assaulting title sequence. Finally, no matter how much I think I prefer other directors, Alfred Hitchcock is really my favourite. The number of true classics he made is astounding, and in ‘North by Northwest’ he’s taken all the best elements of his films and packed them together

YA: Interesting. I think it’s sum-up time

FS: Go for it

YA: It’s rare to find a director whose name can grab a movie lover’s attention, but Alfred Hitchcock was such a man. His talent goes far beyond the norm, placing him above all others. Why I didn’t include my own favourite Hitchcock film, ‘Vertigo’, in my list still baffles me. The look and feel of ‘North by Northwest’ is not as dark as ‘Vertigo’, ‘Psycho‘ or ‘Rope’ but that is not to say the film should be taken for granted.

YA: Cary Grant is, in my estimations, one of the screen’s greatest actor. His charm, charisma and suave debonair character bring out the best in his co-stars. Throughout the film he is flawless. James Mason as the main antagonist is awesome, and perhaps I didn’t speak enough about him, but it’s difficult when another star like Grant excels with such minimal effort in comparison. Eva Marie Saint has a wobbly moment where her performance felt forced, but the rest of the time she is also up there with her Saint and Grantco-stars. The supporting cast of Carroll, Royce Landis and Landau didn’t have as much screen time but made their parts memorable.

FS: This is good…

YA: There’s technical brilliance throughout, some of which still hold its own nearly 55 years later, and the score helps everything along nicely. The stunts like the crop-duster scene are amazing and I believe all the majority of Bond films and other espionage movies take inspirations from this. It’s timeless and that is because of Hitchcock. However, does it deserve 10/10? From Fred’s list, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Way Out West‘ and ‘Back to the Future‘ all captured my imagination and I built an emotional connection to the films, Unfortunately I didn’t feel that here and for that reason it’s a 9/10. An amazing achievement and a film I respect, but there are other films, and other Hitchcock movies, I love more

FS: Super. It’s a good score. I’m a little disappointed but if you’d said before we started that my top 10 would average 8/10 I’d have been happy

So there we have it. ‘Film Club’ is over…. for now at least. Check back next time were we have one final chat and look back over the 50 films we watched.

Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Yasser’s Number One

Posted on Updated on

The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen.So far, they have watched 24 of each others choices and there has been plenty or harmony, but just as much discord. Now the end is in sight and any criticism of the other man’s favourite is unlikely to go down well.

We start with Yasser’s top choice and in keeping with the feel of his list it is a modern classic directed by a big name and featuring iconic performances in a battle between good and evil. Fred’s watch it and is ready to give his verdict…

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

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
__________________________________________________________________

Fred: Well… here we are. The penultimate review and the film at the top of your list

Yasser: Yeah. A film I’ve seen dozens of times

FS: Dozens? Wow! It’s only five years old

YA: I know it all word-for-word. I watched it again this week with my ‘Fred’ eyes

FS: (laughs) And how was that?

YA: It was refreshing. I’ve waited since July to watch it with a more judgemental pair of eyes

FS: What is the film?

YA: It’s ‘The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight‘The Dark Knight’
2008 – USA
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman

FS: It’s your favourite of favourites – your number one. Simple question for you – why?

YA: Brilliance through and through. The cast is brilliant, the direction, cinematography, visual effects, sound, editing, costume – all of it’s amazing. I love everything about this film

FS: Shall we start with the story?

YA: If you remember, one of my other choices was ‘Batman Begins‘, which you liked

FS: Very much…

YA: ‘The Dark Knight’ pretty much carries on from ‘Batman Begins’. It starts with a bank heist, and you know I like a good bank job. Were you impressed by the opening Christian Bale as Bruce Waynesequence?

FS: Yes. It really started with a bang. I’d thought it was a great way to start, as it would have been easy to begin with some moody shots of Batman/ Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) doing moody things, or a collection of shots showing Batman cleaning up Gotham to show what he’d been up to since the end of ‘Batman Begins’, but instead they went straight into the new story and introduced his new foe as quickly as possible

YA: And what a foe he is! We get introduced to ‘The Joker’ (Heath Ledger) very early on

FS: Yeah, and we are left in no doubt that he’s going to be something new and Heath Ledger as 'The Joker'different from what we saw last time out by virtue of how he handles the heist.

YA: The way he is introduced is epic. The whole build-up around him in a few moments

FS: All the double-crossing during the heist makes you think ‘this guy’s a ruthless SOB‘. Then you realise that he’s happy to do the dirty work too

YA: Just in those couple of minutes you already know this guy is clever and having fun

FS: We quickly get introduced to another major new player in Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). He looks every inch the American hero. Robert Redford crossed with Dan Marino

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey DentYA: He has that look, doesn’t he?

FS: Dent’s an all-round good guy – idealistic, but not an idiot – rather like Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman)

YA: The story has picked up the thread from ‘Batman Begins’ on how Batman has affected the criminal underworld, forcing them to work in daylight and unite instead of being competitors. It becomes a bit of a challenge for Gordon and Dent and makes them reliant on Batman

FS: The first meeting between Gordon and Dent shows that is going to be an issue as Dent tried to get a grip on Batman, but Gordon blocks him as much as he can

Gary Oldman as Lt. GordonYA: The plan they have to put an end to the mob is a good one, but the mob is one step ahead and manage to elude their efforts. This is why I find the story fantastic. It’s not about aliens invading Earth and then all the superheroes team up. ‘The Dark Knight’ is much, much more. Everything in the story ties to something else. It’s like ‘The Departed

FS: It does have a layered story and a lot of characters to keep up with, but like a good episode of ‘Seinfeld‘ everything is linked, even if it’s not immediately apparent

YA: I think the story of Harvey Dent is one of the best story arcs

FS: His story really showed how powerful ‘The Joker’ was. Dent is a symbol of good – “Gotham’s White Knight” – but the rampant, carefree evil of ‘The Joker’ still gets Ledgerthrough to him

YA: ‘The Joker’ is monumental to the film’s story. His actions make the whole city panic, and the brilliant thing is he just wants to create chaos. He doesn’t have any regard for himself. He just wants to watch the dominoes fall

FS: With the film not setting up any back story, it quickly becomes apparent that he’s doing all this for nothing but his own pleasure

YA: I think he’s the best psycho sociopath personality I’ve seen on-screen

FS: On one of his early appearances I was was worried for you. I thought for about 30 seconds that all the hype and expectation around Ledger in this film was going to result in a let down. The good news is that as soon as he stopped the annoying fake laugh those worries about him evaporated faster than a raindrop in a bush fire. Ledger was terrific

YA: Nolan got a lot of grief for casting Ledger, but Nolan and the rest of the cast told the press that what he was doing with ‘The Joker’ was something no-one has seen before

FS: I have seen him in a few things and always thought he was very average. This Ledger out of make-upis head and shoulders above anything else he did

YA: He also had to live up to the previous ‘Joker’, Jack Nicholson

FS: Was he better than Jack?

YA: Jack who?

FS: Jack was good, but he was Jack and we loved him for it. Ledger was so different from anything else he ever did. It wasn’t about ‘ha ha! Isn’t Jack great?‘, it was ‘God! ‘The Joker’s a bit of a cunt, isn’t he?

YA: I think Bale does a magnificent job again

FS: He lapses into his husky “I’m Batman!” voice a bit too often

Bale as BatmanYA: I knew you’d bring that up. I thought to myself ‘Fred is going to say that’s overused‘. The gravelly voice is all part of or Bruce hiding himself behind Batman. It’s the animal side he sets free. It’s his way of being intimidating

FS: He is very good. Don’t get me wrong

YA: From a viewer’s perspective it can seem excessive, but it wouldn’t be in character if Batman sounded like a yuppie

FS: I see what you are saying, but there’s a couple of moments that are verging on self-parody. It’s not a big deal, it’s just that Ledger is so good that Bale seems diminished. Taken on it’s own his performance is as good as it was in ‘Batman Begins’

Nolan with Caine and BaleYA: I think that’s the same for Freeman, Caine and Oldman. They are all pretty consistent

FS: They are reassuring presences

YA: How did Eckhart fare in your eyes?

FS: Initially you aren’t sure if he’s going to be a disruptive influence on the Batman-Gordon relationship, but quickly you realise he’s ready to accept it as it benefits Gotham

YA: The more I watch his performance the more I like it. You can see the resemblance between him before and after his personality change

FS: It was the most difficult role as, like Bale in ‘Batman Begins’, he has a few different faces to show across the story (no pun intended). He did very well. He’s not in Bale or Oldman’s league as an actor, but he holds his own

YA: He’s also the love interest for Rachel Dawes, played here by Maggie Gyllenhaal. How was she in comparison to Katie Holmes?

Maggie Gyllenhall as Rachel DawesFS: I was expecting her to be much better, but I don’t think she was any better or worse. Holmes surprised me in ‘Batman Begins’ with how solid she was and I think that’s the most you can say for Gyllenhaal. Solid without being great

YA: My sentiments exactly. Did anyone else stand out for you?

FS: Not really. This is Ledger and Bale’s film, and even Bale feels like a supporting player sometimes as Ledger dominates the movie so much. Whether that is a side-effect of what happened to him afterwards we will unfortunately never know

YA: Going back to the story for a moment, it’s really about how Batman is trying to clean up Gotham but he has rules for himself. ‘The Joker’ has no rules and even changes his mind throughout the film about what he wants in favour of what is fun in his mind. He creates a reputation, like Batman, and puts the same fear into people. He wants to test Gotham’s morality – through threatening to blow up the hospital, killing people daily unless Batman is unmasked, or during the ending with the sick, twisted game involving the two ferries

FS: That section with the ferries is very tense. It alludes back to the heist at the beginning where ‘The Joker’ Ledgerleft nothing to chance or to other people. I loved it

YA: Even the way he kept changing the story about how he got his scars showed he was always one step ahead

FS: The scars story thing was great as when you heard his first explanation you think ‘God! That is awful‘. Yet when he changes the story any smidgen of sympathy or insight into his mind disappears. In a weaker film the lack of explanation as to why he was so crazy would have driven me insane

YA: It’s the beauty of Nolan’s ‘Joker’

FS: You said it!

FS: Speaking of Nolan…

YA: You know, if he continues on this path he’s going to be remembered as one of the greats

FS: If he died tomorrow I’d consider him the equal of Spielberg for this type of film

YA: Praise!

Nolan and the castFS: He hasn’t done a ‘Schindler’s List‘ or a ‘Munich‘ so it’s difficult to compare him on that score, but for action/adventure movies I think he’s right up there with the best

YA: His films are mentally stimulating as well as leaving you in awe because of the visuals

FS: With ‘E.T.’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘ and others of that era, Spielberg didn’t have the sophisticated effects to work with so he knew the stories had to be nourishing too. What makes Nolan great is that he does have visual effects at his disposal that can show you pretty much anything and make it look real, but he doesn’t rely on that like a lot of film makers do

YA: What about the other technical aspects? Did you like the way the IMAX shots panned out the screen?

FS: It can be easy to worry only about what’s going on centre stage, but guys like Nolan and Wally Pfister, the cinematographer, know that to make a world real every inch of the screen has to be real. The editing was a bug-bear of mine last time and, again, there was some issues. However, that is nit-picking

YA: What about the score? Please tell me you liked it

FS: You know what I’m going to say. I didn’t notice it, but the film made me feel Bale and Ledgerhow it wanted me to feel so it must have done a good job

YA: I love the way the violin scratching happened every time ‘The Joker’ was lurking around the corner

FS: I listened out for that as you had flagged it to me beforehand. First time, I noticed it but after that I was so engrossed so I forgot to listen out for it

FS: Do you think there were any flaws with the film?

YA: Nothing major. A couple of plot holes maybe, but they are admissible

FS: I did think Bruce Wayne was pretty careless in this. There is a scene where ‘The Joker’ turns up at Bruce’s party and people see Bruce going into what the think is his panic room. I reckon, after Batman turns up five minutes later, I’d have put two and two together

YA: (laughs) Yeah! I was wondering if you felt it was a good move to make the Tumbler turn into the Batpod, or did it feel too childish?

Bale on the BatpodFS: Ehhhh… good question. Look, a film like this will always have bits where I think ‘Yeah right! As if that would work‘ and that was one of them, but it worked within the film as a whole. The tightrope a Batman movie walks is the most difficult. He’s an ordinary man, not a flying alien or a man bitten by a radioactive spider. With those sorts of stories you are instantly in a fantasy world whereas this is set in the real world with some fantastical elements. They have to make the unrealistic things feel as plausible as possible and I don’t think any film does that as well as it’s done here

FS: We were talking about flaws…

YA: Oh dear…

FS: I watched ‘The Dark Knight’ and really enjoyed it. I would watch it again and it is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. However, it may be a victim of ‘Film Ledger and GyllenhaalClub‘ itself. Doing this has made me a lot more critical so that I watch movies now that I would previously thought of as ’10/10′ movies and I feel that, as they aren’t perfect, I cannot rate them that highly

YA: Intriguing…

FS: Film ratings should be a bell curve where the majority lie between ‘4’ and ‘7’ and the ‘1’s and ’10’ are the smallest groups of all… however I’ll save the rest of this for my summary

YA: I too see flaws in movies i would have originally called ’10/10’s, but you can’t be too critical because if you are…. where’s the escape?

FS: So this is where you get a last chance to tell me why ‘The Dark Knight’ is so amazing

YA: Okay. I love Batman. Loved him since I was a boy. I watched the Adam West TV Show growing up and the Tim Burton franchise, which was ruined when it was given to Joel Schumacher by Warner Brothers after people said it was too dark, and he fucked things up in all honesty. They did the right thing to reboot Batman

FS: The results speak for themselves

YA: Nolan changed the the image for Batman in film and made it more real. With ‘The Dark Knight’, Warners gave Nolan more control and he made an absolutely brilliant film. The story is beautifully told and touches on many different themes. It’s long but never Echkartdrags. It’s ‘bang! bang! bang!’ all the way through. The main reason I love it is the storyline and the sacrifices Batman is forced to make. I’ve always said a hero is only as good as the villain, and Ledger as ‘The Joker’ is the best I’ve seen anyone play a villain ever. And I don’t think it’s quintessentially just a superhero movie. It sets the bar so high it will be hard for another superhero film to top it

FS: That’s probably true

YA: I love Batman. (laughs) That’s it

FS: (laughs)

FS: This has been the toughest film to assess as it is your favourite and I know you are a huge fan of Batman and the Nolan franchise in particular. However, I have to leave all of that aside and judge the film as I see it

YA: Do your thing

Ledger's family accept his posthumous OscarFS: ‘The Dark Knight’ is an excellent action movie that picks up the high standard of ‘Batman Begins’ and takes it up a notch. With no back-story to explore, the film goes straight into the action. We know Batman and know what he’s about. We know Gordon is the only honest cop and we know that Alfred (Caine) and Fox (Freeman) are Bruce’s father figures. We also know Rachel is the girl he loves but has cut adrift in order to do what Gotham needs him to do – to be Batman. The new elements that are introduced are Eckhart’s Harvey Dent, who does a very good job in high-class company, and ‘The Joker’ who the film revolves around. A lot has been said about Heath Ledger’s performance in the wake of his death. It has been eulogised to a ridiculous level and whilst nothing could ever live up to all the hype, it is a stunning portrayal of pure evil for evil’s sake

YA: I’m getting excited now

FS: The technical aspects of the film are almost universally superb, but what really makes the film great, in tandem with Ledger, is Christopher Nolan. All I can say about him is he is on his way to being the best in his genre and if he shows he can Posterdo other things too then the sky’s the limit. Now we come to the rating. Watching this, it struck me that action is a genre that I don’t find it difficult to watch or enjoy, but I do find it difficult to really love. I think ‘The Dark Knight’ is up there with the best of them, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t think I could honestly say it deserves top marks. I thought it was brilliant, but it didn’t leave me with the feeling the very best films gives me. I’m sorry Yasser but it’s a 9/10

YA: So the reason it gets nine is that it’s an action movie?

FS: Not exactly. I think I’ve become more realistic about what ratings films deserve since we started ‘Film Club‘ and there are very few perfect movies. Also, we all have genres we enjoy more than others and i wonder if I am hard-wired to be critical of action movies

YA: You should be judging these films objectively!

FS: It’s the same as what you have said about musicals and westerns. You can appreciate one now and again, but in general you don’t like them. I’m not saying it deserves a nine BECAUSE it’s an action movie, I’m saying that after watching it and awarding it a a nine, I started to wonder if there is something about action movies that will always make me think of them unconsciously as imperfect

YA: That’s disappointing… like, I don’t like you right now (laughs)

Next time: The final film of the fifty is Fred’s favourite. Fantastic or flawed?

Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Twenty-Four, Part Two – ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. It’s been a whole year since the first Film Club, and after a winter break it returns to look at the final four films. Will the boys’ favourites find appreciation or disdain from the one another?

In at number two on Fred’s list is a classic anti-war movie made in the early career of one of Hollywood’s most iconic directors. It’s a film with a message. Will Yasser enjoy it?

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

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
__________________________________________________________________

Fred: My penultimate choice, and therefore my second-favourite movie, is the 1957 film ‘Paths of Glory‘. It was directed by Stanley Kubrick, but it’s not exactly a typical Kubrick film, is it?

Yasser: I don’t think Kubrick had a typical genre. He was very much an all-rounder

FS: No, that’s true. I suppose what I mean is that in terms of style and scope it doesn’t have much in common with most of his work

YA: He was an ambitious film-maker, and he didn’t make as many movies as the studios wanted, but what he did make – ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, ‘Dr. Strangelove‘, ‘Full Metal Jacket‘, ‘Barry Lyndon‘ – are all very good films. ‘Spartacus‘ and ‘The Shining‘ are two of the best films I’d say I’ve seen

Paths of Glory (1957)‘Paths of Glory’
1957 – USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey

FS: Okay, you are a Kubrick fan. Where does this fit in?

YA: The decision to film it in black and white was a good one

FS: Why was that?

YA: I suppose the same reason why ‘Schindler’s List‘ would not have been as good if it was in colour. There’s a more serious tone to it

Kubrick on the trenches setFS: A more documentary feel?

YA: The gravity of the situation the people on screen are in won’t feel as desperate as it does at times. I might be talking absolute shite right now, but that is how it feels

FS: (laughs) No, I think you are right. The film has a serious message and if it looks like ‘The Great Escape‘ that might be taken away from. ‘The Guns of Navarone‘ has a strong anti-war message, but people just see it as a big action film. Gregory Peck was always disappointed by that

YA: I find in some serious films, black and white helps the directors as they know that the shadows help with the drama

YA: This is close to your top spot, Fredders. Why is it so high in your estimations?

FS: This is the only film I’ve seen in the last ten years that ever made me think ‘you know, this might be better than my number one‘. I want to say from the off that I am Kirk Douglas with Kubrick on setnot a big fan of Kubrick. For me, he was a wildly self-indulgent film-maker whose best work was done under the close control of the studio system. I’ve seen a number of his most famous works and, whilst they all have good moments, I found them to be all very disappointing. ‘Paths of Glory’, though, blew me away. It goes against every Hollywood convention for a war film that had been built up since Pearl Harbour and has a proper impact because of that

YA: It’s a sad story, not a heroic one

FS: Exactly. It’s not a ‘flag waver

YA: See, I gotta say that after I finished watching it I was left angry

FS: Good! That’s how you should feel. The film’s done its job if that’s how you felt

George Macready and Adolphe MenjouYA: It is a shocking film

FS: It is shocking. The ending in particular is not what you are expecting and left me stunned into wide-eyed silence the first time I watched it

YA: Yep. That’s why I was so pissed

FS: (laughs) But I think it’s that moment that turns it from a good film into a great one

YA: It really makes you think

FS: It’s an incredible story, isn’t it? Three soldiers put up on a court martial and facing the death penalty as an example to hundreds who were made attack an unbreachable position on the battlefield by their generals. To think it’s based on a true story, and I’m sure one of many examples where greed and megalomania took Wayne Morris, Douglas and Ralph Meekerover any sense of moral decency

YA: The motherfucker who sent these poor fucks to attack ‘The Anthill’ knew it was a bad decision but his ambition, his own personal gain, stuck in the forefront of his mind

FS: Ah yes! The excellent George Macready as General Mireau

YA: I didn’t like General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) either. He’s the one who offers Mireau the opportunity to get promoted, but then turns his back on him when Mireau Menjou and Douglasfinds disfavour

FS: Mireau is the more obvious villain, but Broulard is every bit as guilty. Again, he’s out to serve himself. I’m glad the film made an impact with you

YA: Mireau is the more one-dimensional character, but Macready’s performance is not. He plays him very well. You can see his eyes light up when Broulard mentions promotion

FS: Good, good

YA: Then this pompous air surrounds him whenever he talked to Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) or anyone else, like he’s been ordained to achieve this victory and what he says is always right

FS: He looked down on everyone. He spoke to Dax as Macready: The more obvious villainif he were a schoolboy, and there is that wonderful scene in the trenches where Mireau uses the same practiced patter with each soldier he talks to

YA: He was played very well, but I don’t imagine it’s hard to play someone like that. You just have to act like your shit doesn’t stink when it really does

FS: How about Menjou?

YA: Broulard had a more practiced apathy – a fake smile. He was quick to change sides when it suited him. He saw the whole thing as a Chess match

FS: I agree with you there. You see that Dax is very wary of him when they are on screen together, even though Broulard is a more jovial and welcoming presence Kubrick with Menjouthan Mireau. Menjou is very good – always has been when I’ve seen him – but he’s a bit forgotten

YA: I thought out of the two of them, trying to fuck each other over to get a higher position, Broulard was the more cunning and more likely to advance

FS: His attempts to make Dax his ‘yes-man’ despite everything that happens is a perfect example of what he is willing to do

YA: Speaking of Dax… Kirk Douglas

FS: How good is he?

YA: Well, we do love Kirk

FS: (laughs) Yes we do

Kirk Douglas as DaxYA: I don’t think I’ve seen him put a foot wrong in anything

FS: I was about to say the same, certainly not in his heyday anyway

YA: He never won an Oscar, did he? I think he got an honourary award, but that’s not the same

FS: Three nominations, no wins

YA: ‘Paths of Glory’ was released in 1957…

FS: Yes

YA: … I think Douglas’ performance in this pretty much cemented him as the lead in Kubrick’s next film in 1960, ‘Spartacus’

FS: Actually, it was the other way around. Interesting story. Douglas was the producer and star of ‘Spartacus’, having decided to make an epic in anger after being passed over for ‘Ben-Hur‘. He fell out with ‘Spartacus’s original director DouglasAnthony Mann and hired Kubrick

YA: Beautiful! Things have a way of working out. Kirk Douglas has a way of being broody on-screen

FS: Yes, and boy does he need it here!

YA: He grinds his teeth, sticks his chin out, and stares. He doesn’t need to say anything and you know what he means

Dax goes over the topFS: (laughs) Yes. Excellent! This is a great performance. He has some great scenes

YA: I think my favourite is when he’s sat with both Generals at the table in Broulard’s chateau

FS: The three of them only have two scenes all together, but they work really well together. The court martial scene contains one of the great movie speeches…

YA: He’s fighting a system he works for and there is nothing going in his favour

FS: Douglas plays the whole film with suppressed anger. Dax knows that losing his temper will get him nowhere so he keeps it under wraps, but it’s always there just Timothy Carey, Meeker and Joe Turkelbelow the surface

YA: Douglas, Macready and Menjou were all fine actors, but he one I really felt for was Ralph Meeker as Corporal Paris

FS: So, there are three soldiers court martialled, all with different personalities. Meeker plays the most ‘normal’ of the three and he’s very good

YA: It was important to touch on at least one of their backgrounds so you have a better understanding of who they were prior to being charged with cowardice

FS: Otherwise it would have been too impersonal

Carey in the court martial sceneYA: It was good to see them go through all of the emotions as they waited in prison – anger, sadness, hope, regret

FS: What did you think of Joe Turkel and Timothy Carey as the other two soldiers? Not much screen time, but right for the roles

YA: I don’t think there is one actor in the film who doesn’t perform well

YA: Kubrick…

FS: Yes?

YA: … he’s odd. He could have been bigger and better. I know he rarely had a ‘miss’, but he could have made more films

FS: I’m not against a film-maker picking and choosing their projects, but he took it Kubrick shares a joke with Douglas and Susanne Christianto an extreme

YA: I think it can be better for a director to have a ‘miss’ now and again to get them back on track

FS: You are asking the wrong person. I find a lot of his output pretty boring, if I’m honest

YA: There were bits of the direction and cinematography that I didn’t like – mainly because of the lighting

FS: Interesting…

YA: I felt it was too bright sometimes when it was night time

FS: I love the way it’s filmed

In the cellsYA: It’s a minor detail

FS: Was there anything else you didn’t like?

YA: The subject seemed far-fetched, but reading into it later, this shit really happened. research strengthened the film

FS: That’s good to hear

YA: You don’t understand how pissed I was. Powerful shit, Fredders. I’ve gotta give it to you. I think it’s the downfall of the film – everything in it is so bleak

Court MartialFS: Surely if the film has set out to make you angry, to make you think about the injustice and senselessness of what went on, and it succeeds in doing that then the film was pitched just right

YA: Yes, that’s true. I’m not arguing with that. It’s a good downfall, if that makes sense

FS: (laughs) No, but I like it

FS: Any questions before you rate it?

YA: Actually, yes. This is a war movie. Did that have a bearing on your decision to have this in second spot?

FS: I’m not sure I understand the question. I love war movies, though this is the only one on my list and it’s not a typical example of the genre. However the fact it’s a war movie has no bearing on how highly I’ve ranked it. I think as an example of story telling it’s nearly perfect. There is no long build up, just the salient facts and Richard Anderson, Douglas and Macreadythen we are on to the main body of the story. A lot of film-makers would have taken a sombre tale like this and spun it out over three hours

YA: A subtle jab at ‘Schindler’s List’?

FS: No because the story of ‘Schindler’s List’ needed that run time as it had more complex background to cover. I hesitate to use ‘High Noon‘ and ‘Bad Day at Black Rock‘ as examples, as I know you didn’t like them all that much, but those films and this show that a movie that clocks in at around 90 minutes can be just as effective as a longer film

YA: ‘Paths of Glory’ is a difficult film to watch as you have to allow yourself to get angry at something that doesn’t personally affect you. The film unfolds simply enough but it’s the character performances and the bleak story that make this film stand out. Kirk Douglas does what he does best. George Macready and Adolphe Menjou play two generals out for what they can gain at the expense of their subordinates. Out of the two, the latter is much better than the former. Out of the main cast, however, Ralph Meeker is the worthy winner out of an array of good performances. He, Turkel and Carey Paths of Glorymanage to give you a fair idea of what it would be like if you were faced with execution.

FS: Super!

YA: Kubrick did a wonderful job of getting the tone and pace right. He used the black and white effectively, even if the lighting was sometimes odd. All in all, the story is gripping and it leaves you questioning people’s morality. The film has stuck with me since viewing it. A very good film, but not completely perfect. 9/10

FS: I’ll take that all day long

Next time: We have made it to the top. What is the film at number one on Yasser’s list? Watch this space to find out