Celebrating Great Films

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Charlie's Top Ten Trailers

I watched the UK trailer for Biutiful again the other day, and I've decided that I like it very much. I love a trailer that doesn't need to tell me the whole plot, and this one is really compelling with its unsettling snapshots, beguiling music and grittily poetic voiceover.

For me, the single most important feature of a great trailer is that after watching it, I don't know what's going to happen in the film - but I desperately want to find out.

Here are some more trailers that really got my juices flowing...

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

First, possibly my favourite film of all time. I was ridiculously excited by this trailer when I saw it in the cinema. I couldn't wait to find out what was happening in that train station with people disappearing everywhere. And I'd never heard Mr Blue Sky before - what a song.


In a way I think it's a shame that this film is cursed always to be compared to the graphic novel. As an independent endeavour, it's a film of remarkable scope and vision - and the trailer boldly announces it as such, to the apocalyptic strains of Smashing Pumpkins.

Garden State

Who needs dialogue? This teaser does an extremely good job without any at all. The imagery is very creative; I remember particularly liking the wallpaper pattern shirt. And, once again, a great song - although the full trailer used an even greater song (albeit arguably to less effect), Such Great Heights by The Postal Service.

Kill Bill

Tarantino gives good trailer. For a start, he knows how to choose a tune. The scene that made me want to watch this movie was the one where Uma Thurman's character raises her sword and the army of armed men encircling her all step back in fear.


Probably one of the first films I ever wanted to see based on the ads and trailer alone. Iggy, tits and that painfully cool Choose Life monologue that was plastered on every University student's wall for years afterwards.

The Social Network

Based on the posters, the title and the subject matter this film looked like a dud. But two things excited me about it. First, David Fincher in the director's chair. Second, this trailer.


Pixar need a mention for their generally brilliant teaser trailers, sometimes a year in advance of the film itself, showing the characters up to some amusing mischief that makes you crave to see more. I was so psyched about WALL·E that I consumed every clip, preview and behind-the-scenes sneak peek that Disney cared to release.


Folding cities. Exploding groceries. Gravity going sideways. I needed to watch this film to find out what the hell was going on.

The Invention of Lying

Truth is, I can't think of a tenth favourite trailer. So, for now at least, here's an honorable mention to all those high concept trailers that make you laugh and promise so much - but then the film itself fails to deliver. Coming full circle, this trailer features Mr Blue Sky again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Swan

#49 at time of writing.

(Not the 1942 swashbuckler...)

This film left me shaking.

A fragile but technically brilliant dancer in a New York ballet company is selected for the lead role in a production of Swan Lake. As she rehearses, the pressures mount from all directions - from her sinister mentor, her overbearing mother, her jealous friends and her dismayingly carefree rival.

The main character, played heroically by Natalie Portman, teeters on the brink of nervous breakdown and a catastrophic fall from innocence. The upshot is an alarmingly effective psychological thriller that had me crying with empathy, cringing at the body horror, and squirming with anguish on her behalf.

Portman clearly poured her heart and soul into this role. She had previously trained in ballet (as a child), and resumed her training a year before filming began - so much of the dancing is genuinely her own performance (including the painful-looking en pointe). The role was obviously physically challenging; she suffered a dislocated rib and a concussion while filming the dance scenes. One can imagine that she brought some of the stress and strain of preparing for her demanding performance into the role itself.

The supporting roles are also masterfully acted. Vincent Cassel is chilling. Barbara Hershey is monstrous and tragic. Mila Kunis has come a long way since voicing Meg Griffin on Family Guy.

Darren Aronofsky - having directed Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and now this - has earned a place as one of my favourite directors of all time.

This has been a great month for films. I hope The King's Speech doesn't steal all the Oscars; Black Swan deserves the very highest recognition.

Click here to read the script.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The King's Speech

#185 at time of writing.

Never have I had so much trouble getting tickets at my own local cinema; this film is proving immensely popular. No doubt partly due to the royal fervour stirred up by the imminent marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

A hot tip for the Oscars, this movie appeals on three levels. First, as the compelling personal story of how King George VI - with the help of his speech therapist Lionel Logue - coped with having power thrust upon him when Edward VIII abdicated. The two lead roles are played brilliantly by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. The filmmakers had access to Logue's previously undiscovered diaries, so they had a first-hand account on which to base their portrayal of his relationship with the King.

Secondly, the film appeals as a period piece, full of glimpses of 1920s and 30s London shrouded in fog, when cars and wireless radios were a novelty and everybody of note spoke with impeccable RP. Nowhere are the charming traditions and antiquated strictures of interwar Britain more pronounced than in the halls of the monarchy.

And thirdly, for being set against a time of great crisis for the monarchy, for Britain and for the world, when tensions and attitudes built up to a flashpoint that culminated in the declaration of World War II - a war that marked the watershed between the British Empire and the modern world we know today.

The cinema audience clapped when the credits rolled, even though I doubt any of the makers were there to appreciate the gesture. I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens at many other screenings - there's just something about the pomp and ceremony of the film that rouses one to spontaneous applause.

Click here to hear the real King George VI's radio address to the nation on September 3rd 1939, the titular speech of the film. Listening to the King's halting words, it is easy to imagine Lionel Logue in the recording booth with him, gesturing and encouraging him to overcome his stammer.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ultimate UK Film Chart

I was looking today at the BFI's Ultimate Film Chart, the all-time top 100 films based on UK cinema admissions estimates. Quite a few unexpected entries on there. Like, did you know that the fifth most watched film in UK cinema history is Spring in Park Lane?

I got to wondering, is The Sound of Music's 30 million seats sold as impressive as the 28 million seats sold for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, given that the UK population grew significantly in the 27 years between the latter film and the former? What proportion of the UK population attended these films?

So, I plotted seats sold and UK population on the same graph. The x axis is films (in chronological order), and the y axis is 000s of people and 000s of seats sold.

The three big peaks, in chronological order, are Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (59.1% of the population); Gone with the Wind (an impressive 73.2%); and The Sound of Music (55.5%). Of course, those proportions assume each person only attended once, which is plainly flawed, but still the trend is clear. In terms of proportional attendance, the golden age of cinema is far behind us.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

127 Hours

#221 at time of writing.

Danny Boyle is a legend. He dares to be different, and his string of exceptional films has continually redefined the British film industry.

Many of us have seen a newspaper clipping and thought it would make a great story - Danny Boyle took Aron Ralston's visceral survival story and turned it into a film that is brilliantly conceived, excellently written and very stylishly directed.

The movie grabs your attention right from the off with Free Blood's Never Hear Surf Music Again (click the link for a free download), which sets the tone for a challenging and profound journey. The pace manages to keep you perched at the edge of your seat - with thrill, and then anguish - despite spending much of the screen time focussed at the bottom of one cavern.

For me, this is one to be experienced in a cinema rather than at home. Not for the beautiful scenery, but because I totally forgot I was sitting in the front row of Screen 3 of the Brixton Ritzy and I felt like I was there with him. That night, when I closed my eyes to go to sleep, images from the film ghosted before my eyelids.

James Franco's performance in the lead role is faultless. His reactions are often refreshingly unexpected, which adds to the realism and boosts the ruthlessly unsentimental treatment of the story.

Seeing the real Aron Ralston at the end made for an emotive finale, although a clip of the actual footage would have been the coup de grâce - a missed opportunity perhaps.

Ralston comments here on the authenticity of the movie: "They filmed in the actual canyon... the scenes in which I walk up to the spot where the accident happens were filmed there, then the actual accident – where the boulder tumbles – was shot on the sound stage, but from moment I am free they are back in the real canyon again. The rappelling scene is the actual place I rappelled, the pool I drink from is the real pool and the hike out of there is the same hike. The effort they went to bring all those details and that accuracy is incredible."

Check out this clip of Ralston talking about the amputation in situ. And while we're on the subject, here's the Top 10 Incredible Self-Surgeries.

Monday, January 03, 2011

How To Train Your Dragon

#173 at time of writing.

Dreamworks SKG was set up in 1994 by industry heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen. The animation arm later spun off as a separate company.

Dreamworks Animation has had nothing like the consistency of Pixar’s output, but has produced some great films along the way: Antz, Shrek, and its partnerships with Aardman Animations stand out in particular.

To those stand-out films, I would be tempted to add How To Train Your Dragon.

Set in a fictional world of dragon-besieged Vikings, the weedy protagonist discovers a revolutionary secret - the dragons aren't necessarily all that bad. The story that ensues, based on Cressida Cowell's book, is wonderfully inventive and action-packed, with some beautiful imagery. It would kick ass in 3D.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Time's up

Happy New Year all!

So, the deadline for the Terry Pratchett Prize was yesterday - and I just managed to meet it.

It was back on Friday 8 October that I decided to try and finish my science fiction novel in time to enter the competition, at which point 15,000 words were written.

I finally reached the end of the book on Tuesday 28 December (and then spent three more days on a quick edit). I wrote 70,000 words in 81 days - that's 864 words per day on average. My wife stuck a graph on the wall to help me keep track.

Now I know what it takes to get the words out; the next step is to get it published. Being shortlisted (or even winning!) the competition would be a dream come true; failing that, I'll make a go of it on my own. And, meanwhile, I'll get to work on the sequels. :)

It's been an ambition of mine to complete a publishable novel for nearly a decade. Mission complete. (And yet, only just begun...)