Films, And The Paintings of Edward Hopper

Any readers of this blog will be aware of my love of films and cinema. I also admire the paintings of Edward Hopper, an American artist I have featured on this blog previously.

Edward Hopper: A Tribute In Photographs

My friend Antony sent me a You Tube video, where the presenter discusses how films influenced Hopper’s work, and how those paintings in turn influenced film-makers. It is only 12 minutes long, and the comparisons are fascinating, at least to me. Anyone who enjoys films, and also likes Hopper’s paintings, should enjoy this video as much as I did.

Film Review: Ad Astra (2019)

One very hot afternoon when I was feeling a bit ‘floppy’, I sat down to watch this film that I had recorded from the TV a while ago. It is a Space/Science Fiction film set in an unspecified future not that far removed from what we know now.

People are living on The Moon, and commuting there by commercial spaceship. Others are living on Mars, long enough for someone in their late 20s to have been born there. On Earth, we would recognise daily life, though NASA has been replaced by ‘Spacecom’, a branch of the US Military.

Brad Pitt stars as astronaut Roy McBride, a major in Spacecom. He is dedicated, committed, and very focused. So much so that his wife has left him. He is the son of a very famous astronaut, a man who travelled to Neptune to try to discover alien life and is believed to be dead. Then strange energy pulses begin to cause devastation on Earth, as anti-matter is projected through space. The authorities trace the source to Neptune, and believe it is something to do with the earlier mission involving Roy’s father.

So Roy is recruited to travel to Mars, where a special laser-guided communications system can project his message to Neptune, hoping to discover if his father is still alive, and responsible for the anti-matter pulses. First he travels to The Moon, where a special rocket wil take him to Mars from the dark side. We soon discover that The moon is a dangerous place. Not unlike the old Wild West, it is lawless, and bothered by Space Pirates trying to steal the valuable minerals. (Or anything else) After an encounter with said pirates, Roy gets to his spacecraft to travel to Mars.

On the way, they answer a Mayday call from a Norwegian spaceship. (Norway apparently has a space programme by then.) If you have ever watched any modern Space epic, you can guess that doesn’t end well. But Roy survives, and continues on to Mars. Once there, he is used by Spacecom to contact his father, and then suddenly told he is being sent home. When he discovers that they intend to explode a nuclear bomb on his father’s old spaceship, he hijacks the ship carrying the bomb.

No more spoliers in this long film, (124 minutes) so I will stop outlining the plot.

What we have to do is to suspend some belief, ignore the science, and treat this a lot like an adventure film set in space. Yes, we have elements of Conrad’s book ‘Heart of Darkness’, and the film ‘Apocalypse Now’, but ‘Ad Astra’ manages to overcome those comparisons with some excellent special effects. Those effects are never overblown, and mostly believeable. In fact, they are on a par with Kubrick’s ‘2001’ at times.

Much of the film is slow-paced, but the viewer always understands why. I didn’t feel it dragged too much, though some complained that it did. If you can forgive the liberties taken with some of the science, and treat it like a drama, you should not be disappointed. Hollywood stalwarts Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones make the most of small but significant roles, and though I didn’t know anyone else in the cast that well, they all did their jobs supporting. (Including Liv Tyler as Roy’s wife, mostly seen in flashback.)

This is Pitt’s film completely. He is in every scene, and earned his money. Brad stepped up, delivering a quiet performance with no flash, in a film that I surprised myself by enjoying.

Here’s a trailer.

RIP ‘Paulie Walnuts’

Gennaro Anthony Sirico Jr. (July 29, 1942 – July 8, 2022) was an American actor best known for his role as Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in ‘The Sopranos’. He also made numerous appearances in the films of Woody Allen.

Paulie was one of my favourite characters in my favourite TV crime drama ever. Despite numerous appearances in films and other television productions, Tony Sirico will always be ‘Paulie’ for me. He has sadly died at the age of 79.

Trains And The Cinema

Ever since they started to make films for entertainment, trains have been a popular inclusion. Brief research has shown me that there are 100 or more films with the bulk of the action taking place on a train, and hundreds more where a train features as part of the story. Perhaps the most well-known of these are the various film adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’, so I will not be mentioning that one here.

But I will be featuring some of the others I have seen, and how having characters trapped in the relative confines of a moving train can add tension and mystery, as well as a list of suspects for anything that happens during the journey.

Not all films featuring trains are mysteries though. Some are comedies, others are set during wars, and more recent ‘train films’ have involved futuristic scenarios, and even zombie invasions.

The Lady Vanishes. (1938)

Set in the pre-war European tensions of 1938, this film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, alongside May Whitty, as ‘the lady who vanishes’. Travelling through a fictional country in Europe on a train, a young woman realises that her elderly travelling companion has vanished. She enlists the help of a young musicologist to search for the old lady, and what follows is a hugely enjoyable ‘whodunnit’ with drama and comedy combined. Despite being filmed at studios in London, causing the film to feel very ‘set-bound’ at times, that in no way spoils the enjoyment of a great film that got Hitchcock noticed by Hollywood.

The Train. (1964)

This is a WW2 French Resistance thriller, concerning Nazi plans to remove precious artworks from France to Germany, set in August 1944, and based on real events. Burt Lancaster stars as railway inspector Labiche, and gives his usual square-jawed and reliable performance. Other cast members include the excellent Paul Scofield as a German Colonel, and Jeanne Moreau as a hotel owner. Determined to sabotage the train to stop the art being stolen, Labiche uses his Resistance contacts and fellow railway workers to divert the train, much to the annoyance of the Germans. When this delaying tactic is discovered, he eventually manages to derail the train, saving the art for France.

This film has authenticity, and a lot of tension throughout. A convincing cast and a real feel of the period sets it apart too.

Von Ryan’s Express. (1965)

This is a POW escape film, set during WW2. British and American prisoners of war are due to be moved from a camp in Italy, following the Italian surrender. But a plan is hatched to take over the train, and divert it to Switzerland, a neutral country. Ryan is played by Frank Sinatra, who to be honest looks more like a singer than an Air Force officer. British interests are played by Trevor Howard, and John Leyton. Managing to overpower the German guards, the POWs wear their uniforms, and as the train travels through Italy, they work out a way to get the track switched for their train. On the way to Switzerland, they realise a second train is following them, and it becomes a race against time. At the border, it is decided that some men will get off the train and attack the German SS troops about to catch them. This sacrifice ensures the remainder will escape.

Like the previous film, this also manages to keep the tension high, and the viewer is never really sure if the POWs will pull off the escape. Although many of the characters are stereotypes, they all take it seriously, and that ensures it remains exciting right until the end.

Siver Streak. (1976)

This comedy thriller was the first pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, along with a great cast including Ned Beatty and Jill Clayburgh. The setting is the train journey from Los Angeles to Chicago on a train named The Silver Streak. This film has a lot going for it. A snappy script, mistaken identity, wrong suspects, and a great finale on board the train that has now become a runaway, with nobody driving it. To say much more would spoil the fun, but if you have never seen this often madcap comedy, you will not be disappointed.

Snowpiercer. (2013)

More up to date, with a post-apocalyptic story based on a graphic novel that has an element of Steampunk added too. The only people left on Earth after a climate change catastrophe all live on a train that never stops, the Snowpiercer of the title. The train is self-powered by an ingenious device, and makes a constant loop in the wintry conditions that now dominate the planet. Societal and class structures are maintained, with working people living in poor conditions at the back, and the wealthy enjoying luxury at the front. Eventually, the low class passengers stage a revolt, working their way through the train and fighting the guards trying to stop them.

The cast list is impressive. John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Chris Evans as the leader of the revolutionaries. With some scenes filmed in specially constructed train carriages, location filming in snowy wastes, and elements of CGI that are not really intrusive, this is a good sci-fi action-adventure that doesn’t try to leave us with too many ends untied.

Train To Busan. (2016)

Last but not least, for my money the best zombie-horror film made so far, and set on a train where nobody can escape the zombies! Made in South Korea, the cast list will not mean much to anyone, but this is a first-rate action-horror, with a relentless pace, incredible set-pieces, and breathtaking action from the start. The story is simple enough, concerning travellers taking a train from Seoul to Busan just as a zombie outbreak begins in the capital. One zombie manages to get on board and infect someone else, and so on. Those not affected have to fight to survive, as the train speeds through the countryside. So much better than it souunds, this film really is outstandingly good.

There you have it. Six examples of films where the train is as much the star as any of the actors. There are many more similar films to discover, but I hope you will take my recommendations and watch these when you can.

Film Review: Knives Out (2019)

This film was released to stellar reviews, both from critics, and many bloggers. I didn’t much like the sound of an ‘Agatha Christie-Style’ film that wasn’t actually written by Agatha, so waited until it arrived on TV (Film 4) to watch it. I finally got around to doing that last night.

Now I have to say that I rarely turn off a film before the end. I am usually happy to give even the most disappointing film its full running time, in the hope of being proved wrong. So if I tell you now that I turned this off after 45 minutes of its 2 hours+ running time, you are already getting some idea of how this review is going to go.

Let’s examine this in detail.

Stellar cast.

Daniel Craig.
Christopher Plummer.
Jamie Lee Curtis.
Chris Evans. (Who?)
Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Toni Collette.
Michael Shannon. (Great actor)
Don Johnson.
M. Emmet Walsh.
Frank Oz.
And many more…

Written and directed by Rian Johnson. (No relative, never heard of him. Have you heard of him?)

What could go wrong?

Well the first thing that could go wrong is that Daniel Craig plays an American private detective called ‘Benoit Blanc’. Someone decided that this actor, who is from England, should play Benoit with a ‘Southern American’ (as in New Orleans) accent. That fell at the first hurdle, so completely ruined the film. In the same way that Dick Van Dyke’s ‘London’ accent completely ruined ‘Mary Poppins’.

Daniel Craig might be an accomplished actor in many roles, but accents are not his forte. And a deep-south American accent was one too far for his talents.

After that, someone gets killed, everyone else except Benoit is a suspect, and after listening to his accent for 40+ minutes, I turned off this lamentable film.

That’s it. That’s the review. It is bloody awful, and if you liked it, I must have been watching a different film.
Here’s a trailer.

If you want to see Agatha Christie done properly, watch this instead.

Some films I shouldn’t like

As well as reading no books lately, I am also at an all-time low for film watching. So here is a reblog of an old film post from 2013 that very few of you have seen previously.

beetleypete

There are certain films that a serious film fan just should not admit to liking. They should revile them, pour criticism upon them, and expose their flaws and weaknesses, all the time secretly enjoying them, in private. The following films all fall into this category, for some reason or another. Trouble is, I really like them all, and I will try to explain why.

Pretty in Pink. A 1986 American romantic drama, with High School kids fretting over relationships and Prom dances. Come on, me? It should just go into the bin, surely? But no, you would miss out on some great performances, good characterisations, and some young actors really stepping up, to lift his film out of its brat-pack roots. You even get Harry Dean Stanton, as the pouting Molly Ringwald’s dad. This hackneyed tale of poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks, falling for rich boy…

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Rita Hayworth Dances To The Bee Gees

The lovely film star Rita Hayworth was also an accomplished dancer. A clever person on You Tube has managed to include numerous clips of her dancing, to the background of one of the Bee Gees’ biggest hits. The timing is really good, and it is a joy to watch.

Thanks to my blogging friend, David Miller. He sent me this to cheer me up. And it did.
https://millerswindmill.wordpress.com/

“Sit Anywhere You Like”

In 2015, I wrote about a trip to our local cinema in Dereham. I remarked that we were the only two people in the cinema for the film. At least until it had already started, when two others came into the auditorium and sat at the back. When we bought the tickets on arrival, the lady cashier said to us, “Sit anywhere you like”. Julie took a photo of me sitting there when we were the only two people waiting for the film to start.

A cinema experience

This morning, Julie’s ‘Facebook Memories’ included that photo.

Worrying Film Censorship

As everyone who reads my blog knows, I am not a religious person. However, I believe that everyone should have a right to their own beliefs, unless those beliefs interfere with others, or cause harm to people. I know that many religious people get comfort from their faith, whatever that faith might be.

As a result, I rarely comment on religion on this blog.

But today, I feel the need to talk about something that does concern me.

On release in cinemas around the UK is a British film, ‘Lady In Heaven’. This is an historical epic written by a Shia Muslim cleric, Sheikh Yasser al-Habib of Kuwait, and it concerns the story of Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.

As a film fan, I confess that it is not a film that interests me that much. However, I suspected that in modern multi-cultural Britain, it could find a large audience. It was actually taken up for distribution by Cineworld, one of the largest multiplex cinema chains in this country.

So far, just a normal film release.

Then a cinema in Yorkshire was surrounded by an angry mob of local British Muslims who objected to the film being shown. The staff were threatened, and the producer of the film received death threats. Despite the presence of police officers, no arrests were made, and the banner-waving and chanting mob was allowed to continue to make their protest outside the location.

That’s the right of free speech in a democracy.

Then Cineworld decided not to show the film, in any of its cinemas in Yorkshire. Perhaps not in any of their cinemas nationwide. They issued a press release saying that they were concerned for the safety of the staff, disruption of performances, and damage to buildings. Varous people involved in making the film continue to receive death threats, and still no arrests have been made.

One of the main reasons why people who were not born in Britain were eager to come and live here is because we have a tradition of religious tolerance. But then some of them seek to undermind our tolerant society by telling others what they can and cannot watch at the cinema. And they are allowed to do this, by our own laws.

To my mind, such behaviour will only increase racial and relgious hatred. It will give ammunition to the Far Right and Neo-Nazi groups in the UK, and perhaps generate ‘revenge’ attacks against Muslim communities in this country.

Such protests causing a film not to be shown to those who want to pay to see it are not acceptable to me. They are the beginnings of a slippery slope of censorship based on political correctness and mob rule that has no place in a modern society.

With that in mind, here is the trailer for the film that they do not want you to see.

Feel free to issue me with a death threat.

Top Ten Films

Back to 2017, and a film post many of you have seen. My main interest in reblogging this is that I have recently reviewed my choices, and I find they still hold good now. New followers might like to see them.

beetleypete

When I first started this blog in 2012, Top Tens were all the rage. Most days, it seemed to me as if there was a Top Ten of everything on the blog. This ranged from the top ten cute cats, to the top ten favourite film stars, through to the top ten favourite places to go in the world, and the top ten best snack foods. Top Ten mania had hit blogging, and could not be avoided.

Not long after I started to write posts about film and cinema, the ‘Top Tenners’ came knocking on my door. They sent me links to their own top tens, and asked to know my own preferences. Who were my favourite actors? My list of best directors? The questions went on and on. The barrage was relentless, for a while. Some blogging sites were even called ‘My Top Ten’, and other variations. These Top…

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