Tag Archives: film

The Tower – movie review

imageIf, like me, you like action/adventure/disaster movies but are a tad bored with what’s been coming out of Hollywood lately, then maybe try this. This is a South Korean take on Irwin Allen’s 1974 all A-List classic The Towering Inferno (Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Fred Astair, William Holden). It’s in Korean with English subtitles, yet despite that I found this particularly gripping and I am the worst person I know for using the skip forward function on any media player. I never skipped forward once. The movie was released in 2012 and is available now to rent or buy on Google Play (£3 rent and well worth the splash).

If you are a fan of the original film, you will find all the imagekey elements there: dodgy builders and architects, overly ambitious bosses, a VIP party miles high on the top floors, scenic elevators, exploding water tanks, heroic firemen, love interests and tons of fire, explosions and mass panic. This is a deconstructed Apple Pie of a movie. Just as arty chefs nowadays can take a culinary classic and rework and deliver it looking nothing like the original it’s based on yet with all the ingredients in place, that’s The Tower.

imageEssentially this is a disaster and rescue movie based on the original but with echoes of Die Hard 1, The Poseidon Adventure, Speed and 9/11. Instead of one tower in distress here, you have twin towers (geddit?). The special effects from start to finish are stunning, realistic and evidently not cheap. This movie has a big feel to it.

No point me mentioning the cast as unless you are a film buff imageof the freakiest kind. Any readers I may have are very unlikely to have heard of any of them, yet I found the cast and especially the leads completely engaging and thoroughly watchable. The two lead females (one adult and one child) are particularly noteworthy.

imageThere is an attempt at humour in the film, which because I’m not Korean I didn’t really get. The hapless and disaster-prone chef delivers some of these elements (don’t worry…this is not a chip pan drama). The rest is provided by a family of evangelical Christians who pop up now and then like when they are praying for a tsunami to put out the fire while trapped in their penthouse swimming pool unaware that the Firemen are about to blow up the huge water tanks on the floors directly above them. The film appears to be respectful of the characters but could also be interpreted as taking the piss. Why that should be? Well, if you didn’t know South Korea has a huge evangelical Christian population with churches that meet in giant sports stadia that still can’t accommodate all their congregations in one sitting and they may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

If you are going to punt £3 on renting this, just bear with the imageslowish start but that does get you engaged with the central characters in the classic style of all good disaster movies. Self-sacrifice for the good of others is a recurring theme throughout the movie from several characters though interestingly not from the Happy Clappies, which further makes me think they are caricatures who are being gently mocked rather than play a key part in the drama…apart from one of the Firemen, that is.

Yes, I would watch this again. Probably will have to as when I searched for the original Towering Inferno, which is what I was planning to view, it is nowhere to be found among Google Play’s extensive library.

The Tower is rated 15.

Click to view trailer.

Roman Holiday

imageI can’t quite believe I’ve got to my age and I’m only just about to do this now. In a couple of weeks time I’m going to Rome for the very first time.

In fact that will be only my second ever visit to Italy, a country that has always fascinated me and whose ancient history was the focus of my higher and university education. Long before I got to exam-level education I was as a kid reading about what the ancient Greeks and Romans got up to while my younger brother got a more rounded education on his skateboard with friends in the street. I was more fascinated by the Greeks than the Romans and was a key influencer in persuading my Ancient History teacher at College to arrange a class trip to Greece, which they hadn’t done before and so we did. One of the best trips abroad I ever made and still lives that way in memory now.

Italy and the Romans never grabbed me like Greece and the Greeks and so I’m only now heading out to what has been dubbed (in error) by some as the ‘eternal city’. That will only always be Jerusalem for me.

This trip will be a follow on from my unplanned and impulsive explorations of places I’ve never visited last year. I booked it last year on the cheap and then more or less forgot about it until now and only now I’m wondering whether I’m giving myself enough time.

imageIt will be a 3 night stay in a small city hotel in the heart of Rome a short walk from the Colosseum. I read that it will be noisy. I had initially in mind to see as many of the ancient sites I read so much about as a student. The realisation is only now dawning on me that as a Londoner I think I live in a city steeped in history. Rome was the ancient equivalent of a high-rise megacity while Londinium was, well, no more than a northern irrelevant minor city (a bit like Leeds today).

imageThen I remembered that I could nip across the border into another country again just a few miles from my hotel. Two-countries-in-ones were a theme last year and so it continues. The world’s smallest independent state, The Vatican, should also be a must on my trip. Not sure if I have to carry my passport as I step out of Italy and into the Holy See. I’m not a Roman Catholic and so the place will not be of any awe to me this side of my visit. I will be posting up my feelings t’other side though so let’s See.

imageFinally it just struck me that I’m going to the city one of my favourite films of all time was set and filmed in: Roman Holiday starring Hollywood legends Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. I know I will want to seek out some of the locations in that movie: the steps where she eats her ice cream after she cut her hair short. The cafe where she and Peck first had coffee, the fountain of hopes and, of course, the Mouth of Truth.

How much will I get to do without being disciplined at setting a pace that will enable me to capture and experience a Rome in that best of all cameras – my memory – will be up to me to manage wisely at the time.

Meet the new Ben-Hur

imageThe unthinkable (for me) is happening. The moguls of Hollywood have dared to mess with something which to me is sacrosanct and never to be touched by human hands again. They are re-making the legendary epic movie ‘Ben-Hur’.

imageFinancing was secured some while ago and now cast and crew have been appointed and filming is currently underway in Italy. How bloody dare they? Don’t they know that for nearly all my life the original multiple Oscar-winning 1959 version starring Charlton Heston in the lead role was and still is my favourite movie of all time? In my home it is compulsive viewing every Easter and every time I still have to choke back tears. Actually to be fair, the movie in production will be the second remake. The 1959 classic was itself a remake of the 1925 silent movie original and the studio that commissioned the 1959 version, MGM, is also behind the remake.

imageAll three films are based on the novel penned by Lew Wallace in 1880 titled ‘Ben-Hur – a Tale of the Christ’. I’ve attempted to read the book a couple of times but it is hard going and I never made it through. I’m told that the character of Christ depicted in the book has a much more constant presence than is portrayed in the 1959 film, yet the four or five appearances of the character of Jesus in that film have profound consequences on the entire plot. The character of Judah Ben-Hur (or Judah, Prince of the House of Hur) was played by the legendary Charlton Heston in my original (so from now on all references to the ‘original’ refer to the 1959 version). British actor Jack Huston (top picture) will play the role in the remake and his most recent starring role was in ‘American Hustle’ last year.

Ben-Hur is a multi-faceted story with themes that include the struggle for national freedom under imperial oppression, the tearing apart of friendship by opposing world ideology the struggle within the human soul between love and hatred, the redemption and healing power of forgiveness. As the book’s title infers, central to the plot is the relationship between God and man.

The original had budget of only $15M back then, a pittance now for an epic (the recent ‘Noah’ movie budget was $125M and for me money that could have been better spent on almost any other project). It was filmed in the biggest international studios of its day, including the famous Cinecitta Studios in Rome. Filming is taking place in Italy but I’ve not heard mention of where.

imageAlongside Jack Huston as the lead, his main adversary and once childhood best friend, Messala, will be played by fellow Brit Toby Kebbell (‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’, ‘Prince of Persia’). His casting, bearing in mind his pedigree in blood and gore gladiatorial movies, immediately sets alarm bells ringing for me as to where they might be taking this remake, though, yes, there may be a gory chariot race to re-create. Interestingly Iranian-born actress, Nazanin Boniadi (‘Iron Man’, ‘Homeland’) plays the lead female and Judah’s love interest Esther, played by Israeli actress (and Miss World 2nd Runner Up in her day) Haya Harareet in the original. Ms Harareet is the only member of the original lead cast still alive today. Brazilian unknown actor Rodrigo Santoro will play the part of Christ.

imageMorgan Freeman’s addition to the cast adds gravitas and the weight of a Hollywood A-lister to the production. He will play the role of Ildarin, the Arabian horse trainer who persuades Judah to race Mesalla in the infamous chariot race of death that became one of moviedome’s most iconic scenes of all time. How spectacular the new race scene will be, no doubt super-enhanced by 21C CGI remains to be seen.

imageThe appointment of husband and wife Mark Burnett and Roma Downey as the film’s producers leaves me with another dilemma. Mark is behind some of the most popular coast-to-coast TV shows in the US and he and Roma were the driving force behind ‘The Bible’ TV mini-series that drew record audiences in the US and was screened on national terrestrial TV in the UK and many other territories. I have met Roma (whom some will remember as the Angel in the popular US TV series ‘Touched by an Angel’). She and Mark are committed Christians. She is from Northern Ireland originally and he from England. She is a very lovely lady who I met and sat down with in the context of steering the media company I work for promoting ‘The Bible’ series when it aired in the UK 2 years ago. My dilemma is that while Mark and Roma are practising Christians who it has been reported want to bring the movie remake back to its roots in the clear Christian message of the Lew Wallace novel, ‘The Bible’ series production ended up splitting Christian audiences in the UK in terms of its production quality, interpretation and delivery while not really making any major impact on national audience figures (though good for the non-prime TV channel it aired on). I’m not sure at this time of writing and with only first impressions what sence of production values to expect from Ben-Hur 2.

imageLet me take stock a bit here though. MGM-Paramount are not strapped for cash and they invested a hefty budget into ‘Noah’, which ended up with state-of-the-art treatment and a BIG movie feel, even though it was not my cup of tea. Morgan Freeman is no lightweight even if he is playing a minor character (unless they are beefing up his part). A release date scheduled at the moment for February 2016 (awards season) may mean that there is some weighty impetus behind this production, though the release date may be too late for any possible Oscar nominations. Were it to be scheduled for release in the US in December 2015, then that might indicate confidence by the production team in possible awards success. Awards success is an important consideration in comparing the 1959 Ben-Hur with the 2016 remake. The original swept the board in its day with 11 Oscar wins and still holds the record for the most Oscars held by any one single movie (as opposed to a trilogy etc). Yes, Hollywood has changed and the chances of that happening again are as remote as Torvill and Dean taking to the ice again at the next Winter Olympics and scoring top marks across the board.

imageJumping off the fence, at the moment I’m a cynic of the Ben-Hur remake, not because I’m judging a book by its cover but Because they are remaking my most beloved film of all time. That alone is enough For me to fold my arms in disapproval with a determination not to be moved but it’s not that simple. My job will require me to engage with this film whatever I think of it come the time and I’m not looking forward to that.

Selma – movie review

imageSelma is not the name of a girl but a town in Alabama or more specifically a place in time and space that irrevocably altered the course of American social history.I’m writing this personally and not for work.

I’m not a movie buff and it takes someting rare to drag me from the comfort of my home and large TV screen to the cinema. My movie choices are limited and predictable but ocassionally my job will require me to see a movie I would otherwise never have been inclined to watch to preview something a film company has approached the media company I work for to promote.

This film is not out in the UK yet and will not be for a couple of weeks but you may by now have heard the name. Selma is among the films nominated in this year’s OSCAR race for Best Film. It’s also up for Best Song in a movie but its lead (British) chap (David Oyelowo) narrowly missed out on a three-way British fight for Best Actor with Benedict Cumberpatch and Eddie Redmayne.

imageThere are no spoiler alerts. I could write anything I like at the moment as I dd not have to sign a confidentiality form before the preview some weeks ago, which you mostly have to do. I’m just going to write this review more from how it felt among the invited audience I watched the movie with rather than to critique it in any way, which I’m not qualified to do.

I saw the film sometime before Christmas with an invited audience of media people and around thirty or so of my colleagues. Pathe Film Distribution, with whom I’ve worked before gave me an usually large ticket allocation to share among our staff.

Selma is a town in Alabama that became a focal point in the American Civil Rights movement led by Dr Martin Luther King. Personally, I would hesitate to say the film is a biopoic of the iconic man or even totally about him. I came away feeling the film was about every black man, woman and child that fought or rather protested and made a stand for their civil rights at a time of quite incredible bigotry and vile racism.

imageLooking around the cinema that night, the audience was mostly white reflecting the general make-up of British media today, off camera. The cinema then darkened and the opening credits rolled. Oh…you know that no spoiler thing I wrote earlier? Well kind of half a spoiler. About four minutes into the film there is an explosive attention grabber that quite literally caused our audience to gasp and jump in their seats. From that moment on it would be safe to say Selma had our attention.

There’s no gimmick here. The attention grabber was a true-life event. There was no gratuitous nothing but as the film moved beyond this point I got the feeling that I have felt before on VERY rare ocassions that what was about to unfold before our eyes was an extraordinary production. I have only felt it before when watching the like’s of The King’s Speech’ The Iron Lady, Titanic, Gravity, Argo and so on. This felt quality and I know for a fact from the after screening foyer chat I was either engaged in or overheard and the buzz around the office the next day that I was not alone in feeling this way.

Selma is not about the origins, rise and history of Dr Martin Luther King. He has already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as the movie opens. It’s about the straw that broke the camel’s back: the freedom marches from Selma to the Alabama state capital Montgomery. The straw that caused the incumbent President Lyndon B Johnson to finally cave and drive through legislation that would allow America’s disenfranchised blacks to vote.

It is an emotional film. It’s very hard to watch at points. I felt the need to shield my eyes at times and fight back tears, rather unsuccessfully. I was not alone in that. I could hear sniffles right across the auditorium. The blonde girl I did not know in the seat to the right of me was just short of blathering and her tall, manly companion was pinching his nose at times to either escape the smell of my involuntary farts or stop himself crying too. I never fart in cinemas or in public so go figure.

imageThe real surprise to me was the buzz in the office the next day. The film was the topic of conversation well beyond the start of business. I’ve handled over 40 film and theatre promotions coming through but have not known a reaction like this among the staff. The reaction was not about the politics or ideals displayed in the film. It was about the art. How we felt watching it. What was new to us, what shocked us and what moved us.

imageThere is much out there in the press now about historical inaccuracies in the film and a quick Google will reveal these. I freely admit that while I thought I knew the story of Dr Martin Luther King and the US Civil Rights struggle, I realised by the end of this that I did not know that much. I’d never heard of Selma or the Montgomery marches. I did know Dr King had personal weaknesses that we wish he did’t have that take the shine off his hero status for some, who maybe forgot, glossed over or never read the exploits of King David in the Bible with whom Dr King would have been well acquainted and with whom he shares status as a flawed yet inspirational freedom fighter and man of God.

This is not the best movie I’ve ever seen as Ben Hur is entrenched in that position for me for all eternity (and it’s current re-make is doomed to suck). This is a film I recommend from an entertainment perspective as a film you will quickly feel is a high quality production and one that will engage your brain and emotions on a number of levels.

The film has high-powered backng from co-producers Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey, whose cameo role is in itself an entirely understated and moving performance.

the way

‘The Way’ – movie soundtrack

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s funny how you can have something in your music collection that you appreciate one way the first time you hear it and then it suddenly bites and moves you in another way altogether some indeterminate time later.  That’s my relationship with this soundtrack.

It was the first bars of this soundtrack that completely changed my mood when I was asked to miss my work’s staff Christmas party to preview a movie called ‘The Way’. OK, to be fair it wasn’t that big a sacrifice. I hate staff parties and will find any excuse not to attend them, not because I dislike any of my colleagues, mind.  At least…..     Anyway. so I’m there on a rain sodden December night in darkest Soho previewing a film about hikers in northern Spain. Joy is written all over my face.

Yet it was a combination of this soundtrack first and then the cinematography that just yanked me by the collar into a film I would never ever have expected to want to watch  once let alone again and then buy on DVD.This post is not about the film but the music in it. 

The movie is set in ‘Green Spain’ – the lesser known northern Atlantic coast of Spain bordering France, the Principality of Andorra and north of Portugal.  It follows a disparate group of hikers each following an ancient spiritual walk called ‘The Way of St. James’  (El Camino Sant Iago) each dealing with and working out the private traumas and pain in their lives.  To give a context to the music of the film and why I recommend it so much is that it’s helpful to know that the film is just about these 4 people on a journey of discovery – discovery on many levels: they with themselves, they with each other, they with the wider world….they with a horizon they never thought existed.   The music of the film expresses and captures all these feelings so perfectly the more I listen to it, yet it is a fantastic piece that stands alone outside and not dependent on seeing the movie.

So to the music.  I love it.   If you can identify with any of the following then this soundtrack is for you: driving on an open road in whatever weather and just wanting your heart and mind to soar and be free.  Patiently caught in a rainy city traffic jam and wanting to do the same. Taking some time for a stroll alone somewhere, anywhere just to be.  Grabbing some down time after putting the kids to bed or changing the umpteenth nappy and needing to feel there is life outside and before the next one. Slicing the carrots and potatoes for the evening meal….yet again.  Needing some think time between the next assignment.  Or riding the London Underground into yet another grey and samey day as I was doing today when my music player randomly selected this album.

‘The Way’ is an utterly beautiful album. It’s acoustic, contemplative and evocative. It essentially reflects the music of northern Spain… ‘Green Spain’.   The land of the Basques…a people with a music tradition that has a closer affinity with Celtic France, Ireland, Wales and Scotland than it does with the Flamenco passions of southern Spain or Catlunya. It embraces universal folk and country traditions including the music of 1960’s icon James Taylor and Alanis Morisette to the passionate rhythms of the Gypsy peoples.

If any of the above resonates with you, then you will love this.  Go to the usual places to find it if you want it.

‘The Way’ starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.

View the movie trailer here.

Oh go on then. Sample the music here….