Sunday, 8 September 2019

Rob's Amazing Film Collection: Part Two (Almost Famous - Argo)

We all know that a person's worth can be calculated by how many films they own. That's just a fact. But how much am I worth? Let's find out, in this, the second part of my journey into my astounding film library.

Almost Famous

I haven't seen this film since September 2001. I watched it during a very strange week where 9/11 had just happened, and as a not-quite-direct result, I had fallen from a ladder and broken my shoulder. 

I went to hospital and was given loads of very strong painkillers. Then a friend of mine lent me this film to watch. As a result, I can't remember anything at all about it, except that I was in lots of pain, and all the colours were really vibrant and wobbly.

I should probably give him it back. Though I bet he's forgotten.

I'll keep it. 

American: The Bill Hicks Story

I bought this in the wake of my Master degree dissertation, in which I explored the idea of whether stand up comedians could ever say anything meaningfully political, without ceasing to be a comedian.

I researched Hicks quite a lot as part of this. I liked him loads, but towards the end I started to get sick of the idolisation of him by his fans. This film, although interesting in its execution, seems to fall into the same trap.

Visually, though, I like the way the film works. They use a technique that makes still photos appear to move, by separating the various elements. I can't remember the name for it. Rasterisation? That doesn't seem right. Anyway, it looks cool. 

American Beauty

A great film, which I have watched many, many times. I loved the central image - the girl in roses you see above - before the film even came out.

Every time I watch it, the film seems to be about a different character, depending on where I'm at with my life. Mostly it's Kevin Spacey's Lester Burnham, with his mid life crisis and his confusion at where his spirit seemed to go, and when that happened. 

But other times I'll find the emotional spaces of the other characters resonate more with me. Everyone is confused, lost and trying to make meaning of lives that are shiny on top, but hollow inside. Great writing, direction and acting, making this a film worth revisiting. 

The only reason I don't watch it more is that I've often used the opening five minutes to teach semiotics to classes, so it's hard to watch as an actual film sometimes. Fellow viewers don't want to know about framing motifs, and often throw cushions at you. 

American History X

Another fantastic movie. Ed Norton at his absolute best, and a compelling theme, played out through a strong visual identity. There are some moments of incredible violence which stay with you long after the film is done.

I like this a lot, not least because Captain Sisko from Deep Space 9 turns up every now and then. Though he never says "Jambalaya!"

An American in Paris

Not the sort of film I generally watch. I'm very much a 'late 60s and onwards' kind of cinema guy, and often find it hard to get on with the way movies were styled before then. But this is great, and a constant reminder that I should watch more of this kind of thing, and try to develop my palate a little. 

This is just so joyous and colourful and stylish. And everyone in it is so talented. It's pleasing to see direction that allows the dancers to dance and the set design to dominate the mise en scene, rather than editing the life out of things. 

The American President

A pretty good film that I bought entirely to see Aaron Sorkin's first go at doing The West Wing. As a result, it's an odd experience. Lots of characters with similar names, doing similar things to the TV show, but played by more famous actors. 

Except, confusingly, Martin Sheen, who is the president in West Wing, but here plays a different guy. Like my life isn't confusing enough. 

American Psycho

A truly excellent film that I love more as time goes on. What genre is it? It was kind of sold as a horror, but it's more of a psychological thriller in how it's presented. But last time I watched it I laughed almost constantly. So maybe it's a comedy. Or maybe there's something wrong with me. 

Still my favourite Christian Bale performance. I love him when he's having fun. His Batman is basically this character, but slightly less exciting. 

American Splendor

Do I like this film? I'm not sure. I kind of admire it, and there's lots of great storytelling ideas going on. Flitting between documentary style, conventional narrative and - if I remember correctly - animation. But do I just think that because of the poster? I can't remember. 

I should watch this again. It's a great look at art, and the creative process. And there's Paul Giamatti, who's always worth your time. 

American Ultra

Another Jesse Eisenberg film, another complete blank as to what happened in the plot. Something about a guy who finds he's got super powers or something? I have no idea.

I like Eisenberg, I think. He's great at playing jerks, though, and so I think my brain sort of remembers him as an unpleasant guy. Which isn't really fair. But he can't be that great in this film, or surely I'd remember literally anything about it.

An American Werewolf in London

One of the best films ever. I know every moment of this film, inside and out. Every music cue. Every edit. Every sudden, horrifying shock. Every moment of Jenny Agutter's beautiful, luminous face. 

When we got our first family video recorder, back in the early 80s, we recorded this off BBC1. And I watched it dozens and dozens of times. I suspect I'm not alone, and that a generation of horror fans developed their love for this movie on a wobbly Betamax tape, along with Halloween 2 and maybe the odd Elm Street film. 

Doom laden, hilarious, sad and sexy, this film is all the flavours. It absolutely should not work. An American director hitting the small notes of life in England perfectly. A terrifying film that's also really funny. Ridiculous, outlandish situations taking place in a world that makes complete logical sense. 

A masterpiece, and part of my soul forever. 

Amores Perros

I sought this film out back in the days when I would scour Empire magazine for inspiration, and basically do whatever it told me to do. Empire said this film was great, and so I chased immediately after it. 

They were not wrong. It's an ambitious and layered film, with a lot to say. It's also visceral and exciting. I don't re-watch it often, mostly because it has subtitles and who can be bothered reading? 

Man, I've got lazier as I've got older. 


Both Anchorman films are in my collection, and with good reason. The original is, clearly, fantastic and has become a cornerstone of 21st century film comedy. Watching it is like watching a compilation reel of memes. The sequel isn't as good, obviously, but I was still surprised by how much I liked it, and how often I quoted it afterwards. 

Glass cage of emotion. I was in love once. Can't you see I'm blind? That doesn't make sense. I'm Ron Burgundy?

Annie Hall

It seems redundant to say how influential and funny this film is. Or to say how much everyone hates Woody Allen these days, I suppose. But this remains an amazingly sharp piece of work that everyone should see. 

It's very much of its time, but that's appropriate for something which is a) an existential document of the human condition and b) a piece of film history which defined so much of what came afterwards. 

Another Earth

Weird little movie that I think I like, but am not sure. It's very beautiful and meditative, and the central premise is very interesting. Another Earth appears. It is exactly like ours, in every minute detail, up to the point of contact, where things start to diverge.

I was sad they didn't play more with the possibility that we could be watching alternate scenes from the two parallel Earths. Or maybe they were, and I was just too dim to pick up on it.

I was also sad that they didn't have Cybermen, like in the Doctor Who story "The Tenth Planet", which has the same essential premise. But I guess that's 'art' for you.

Ant Man / Ant Man and the Wasp

Two great Marvel films, that I enjoyed a great deal. Yes, I would have liked to have seen Edgar Wright's take on the first. But they're both light on their feet and driven by great set pieces that make the most of the premise. 

Plus, how great is Paul Rudd? The casting of the leads has been mostly excellent in the MCU. 

My copy of the first film is conspicuous by its absence from my shelf. Which means I have lent it to someone, probably at the end of an evening, where I will have been spilling wine everywhere and shouting "You simply must borrow this! Take it! It's great!"

If you have it, please give it back. 

Apocalypse Now

I first saw this in Bradford in 1996, in a 70mm print. It was glorious, and I liked it big time. It's a film whose reputation proceeds it, which can make it hard to truly appreciate. But when watching it, the power of the film-making is undeniable.

I showed this to a bunch of friends one night at my house. I was full of caveats beforehand, about how it was really long and quite slow, and how its reputation as a war film was perhaps not a great indicator of the more meditative experience they were about to have. 

I needn't have bothered. They all loved it. I underestimated the smell of napalm in the morning, somehow conveyed through light and sound. 


Can't remember anything about this. I bought it because it won an Oscar, which is stupid because I generally don't like Oscar films. In my opinion, the Academy tend to reward worthy messages rather than good film making. And they really like worthy messages about how great media people are, and how sexy they are, and how the world would be loads better if people working in the Film Industry were finally recognised for how cool they are.

I don't remember not liking it. But it clearly hasn't made a mad impression on me. I should probably give it another go. But when you go to the shelf and this is there, and John Wick is also there, it's hard to stick to such a resolution.

That's all for now. See you soon, for Armageddon, and more.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Time is Relative - Season 12: Part two

Greetings humans.

Don't have time to watch all of Doctor Who in order? Or do have time, but would rather spend it doing literally anything else?

Well, great news. I have done it for you. Here you will find a quite accurate and occasionally amusing account of what definitely happened in every Doctor Who story. More or less.

The Ark in Space

Doctor Who has taken his friends, Harry and Sarah, into space to see what that's like. They have arrived on a space station in the future. There's no-one else about, so they can do what they want.

To their credit, they don't instantly start stealing things. Instead, they do an investigate. Well, Doctor Who and Sarah do.

Harry is just staring at the TARDIS in disbelief.  Travelling to the future in a little blue box has altered his entire perception of space and time. However, he is far too much of a gentleman to make a fuss, and so just says "Gosh" and "Crikey" for a bit, before settling down to enjoy the adventure.

Soon Doctor Who finds that the entire human race is on the space station, wrapped in freezer bags and having a long sleep.

Harry is carrying his shoes about for some reason. I can't quite remember why. Maybe he is just super polite, and always takes his shoes off when he enters someone's house. That said, he still has his blazer on, which suggests he might leave at any minute if the conversation becomes tedious.

Eventually some humans turn up, and say, "Hi, we've been frozen asleep for hundreds of years. What's been going on?"

They then discover that some of the frozen humans are missing. That woman in the background is staring at an empty freezer compartment, wondering where her friend has gone.

Sarah and Harry are wondering if now is a tactful time to leave. They haven't done anything wrong, but Sarah knows from experience that when people's friends die, what they absolutely don't need is Doctor Who being insufferably zany all over the grieving process.

Doctor Who decides to investigate the mystery of the missing humans. Here we see him striding purposefully. Doctor Who has worked out that if he strides purposefully, people will follow him about and assume he knows what is going on.

He does not know what is going on. In fact, you can tell by his face that he has already forgotten where they are and which adventure this is.

Doctor Who soon discovers a giant alien wasp thing. He instantly starts playing with it, while everyone else looks on in silent horror.

Well. The space woman is doing silent horror. Harry is just confused. Why is there a giant wasp? Why is it in space? Why is Doctor Who playing with it and pulling bits out of its brain? Is this what life is going to be like now? Watching a badly dressed madman do the most horrific things possible, in space?

Sarah is just deeply embarrassed. You can't take Doctor Who anywhere.

After a bit, the alien wasps take over one of the humans. He tries to pretend they haven't for a bit, but soon he is covered in green stuff, and even the most polite of his friends is forced to point out that he has something on his face.

He responds by shouting, "Die humans!" and instantly regrets his candour.

This is what the Alien Wasps look like. Which is to say, gross. They wobble about for a bit, shouting at the humans and demanding they be allowed to lay eggs in everyone's stomachs.

The humans say, "Absolutely not!" and ask Doctor Who to make the wasps go away please. Which he does, by murdering them all with explosions. None of that "Oh, but they're a noble race" nonsense this week. He just goes, "Die evil wasps!" and blows them up.

Good old Doctor Who. Making the universe a safer place, one genocide at a time.

Tune in soon, for the next exciting adventure.

Or go back in time, to the story of the Giant Robot!

Friday, 9 August 2019

Rob's Amazing Film Collection: Part One (About a Boy - All About Eve)

Morning. My, you look most fine with the sun behind you like that.

I've decided to share my film collection with you. Why? I don't really know. I'm probably avoiding doing some real work.

What inspired me was looking at my collection, and thinking "Man, I've never seen some of these films. And there are some here I have seen, that I honestly can't remember whether I liked or not. Why do I have all these films? Why do I keep buying more?"

So I thought I'd have a little stream-of-consciousness ramble through my shelves. See what comes to mind. Maybe you will find it entertaining.

Here goes with Part One. Come with me, should the mood take you.


There's a few anomalies right here at the beginning of the alphabet. Things I wasn't sure where else to put. So we start with 11.09.01, which is a collection of short films about the 11th of September 2001.

It's a nice conceit. There are eleven short films, all of which last, I think, eleven minutes and nine seconds. And one frame? Maybe? Something like that. Clever. Or pretentious, depending on your mood.

The subject matter is necessarily tough going. Some of the films directly address the events of the day and have people going "Oh no, the horror, the horror". Some are really oblique and leave you trying to work out the connections. So if you don't like to work at your entertainment, probably give this a miss.

The one I remember best involves a black screen and lots of cross chatter from the emergency services on the day. The main takeaway here is that I'm very arty and have an impressive social conscience.

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese

I bought this when I was teaching film studies, in the hope that I could just put it on during classes and say, "Here, watch this while I go flirt with the admin staff."

Sadly, my students were unimpressed by an old owl-like man, shouting excitedly over black and white films and saying "Look at these shadows! Look at this camera angle! I am Catholic!" So I still had to explain what he was saying afterwards.

It's quite interesting, though Scorsese does go on a bit and all the films he talks about are super old. I would like a new version, where he has to watch the John Wick films.

Early Cinema - Primitives and Pioneers

Another hangover from my film teaching days. These are pretty good, though. Lots of early films, from the late 1800s and early 1900s. They are all about 30 seconds long, and they were made before anyone really knew what they were doing.

Subject matter is often banal, as the film makers were just excited to be pointing cameras at things. So you get films expressing ideas like, "Look - a wall!" or "Here comes a train!" or "This man has a hat!"

The titles are good though, and would provide a goldmine for people looking for names for their alternative rock band. Highlights include "Extraordinary Cab Accident", "Rough Sea at Dover", "Mary Jane's Mishap" and - best of all - "Sick Kitten".

About a Boy

Hurrah. An actual film. You've probably seen this one. Hugh Grant flops around the place being nice to a young boy so he can sleep with the boy's mother. I think. Is that how it goes?

I remember liking this a lot, and particularly enjoying the soundtrack, which is by Badly Drawn Boy. I went to see him in Leeds in the five minutes when that was a thing you might intentionally do. He was very entertaining and we missed the last train home.

Annoyingly, this DVD is packaged with Notting Hill. Nothing wrong with Notting Hill - it's very much the underappreciated "Hot Fuzz" to Four Wedding and a Funeral's "Shaun of the Dead". But it annoys me that I can't put it under "N" where it belongs.

The Accused

Saw this once, ages ago. Jodie Foster tries to get justice against some guys who abused her. I assume she does. I can't remember. It's one of those films that everyone is impressed by because of its themes, so it's hard to recall if it's actually any good or just very worthy.

Jodie's always good, though, isn't she? So I assume it's good.


Crazy old Nicholas Cage has fun playing himself and his own brother, who happen to be the scriptwriters of this very film. It's one of Charlie Kaufman's clever postmodern films where the act of narrative itself is up for grabs.

I mostly like this. It's a bit drab, and claustrophobic. I think it's meant to be. And I like the clever stuff about how we construct stories. Plus there's some really funny dialogue. It's not as good as Eternal Sunshine - also by Kaufman - but it is way better than Synecdoche New York, or whatever that godawful self indulgent wankfest was called.


Not-as-good sequel to Kidulthood, whose inferiority is signalled by its not-as-clever title. Kidulthood is a smart play on the word "childhood". Adulthood is just a word.

It's not bad, I suppose. An attempt to represent diversity and youth culture in British cinema is a good idea. Maybe I'm just put off because a film about me would have to be called "GrouchyOldManHood".


I can't tell you a thing about this. I've seen it, but all that's left is a vague sensation that Michael Cera might be in it. And Jesse Eisenberg? And they're on holiday at an amusement park. Possibly. Or is that The Way Way Back?

Why make films that I can't even remember watching, world?

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Now this I remember liking a lot. Three drag queens ride round Australia in a bus. Something like that. And it's very colourful, and I think I watched it when I was feeling sad in 2010, and it cheered me up.

I do like films where prejudiced people get punched in the face. It's very pleasing to me, and makes me feel like I've done something to make the world better. When all I've really done is laugh because a bad man fell over.

I recommend this film. I should watch it again soon. I suspect it has many depths about which I've forgotten.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

This is very enjoyable. It does a decent job of expanding a TV-Sized narrative to a Movie-Sized one. No easy task. Especially with comedy, which doesn't lend itself easily to the most obvious way of upping the ante - raising the threat level.

In fact, the film plays with this very idea - a provincial character forced to step into a world that is just slightly bigger than he is ready to face. The stakes are relatively small scale in film terms, but massive for him. That's pretty clever.

It's not the funniest Partridge has been, but it's good fun.


A very good film and one I've watched a bunch of times. The first time I saw it I was surprised by how dark it got in places. Its image is all cheeky chappie, winks to camera, zooming round 60s London in fast cars and snogging dolly birds.

It does have some of that, and Alfie is often a fun, imitable character. But there's a deep sadness and emptiness here too, as I recall. Michael Caine is excellent, and you can see why he became the star he did.

The film is also notable, to me, for the dialogue snippets sampled on "Falling on a Bruise" by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, which I would like playing at my funeral.

Alien (and sequels)

In order of greatness, the original Alien films go

Alien 3
Alien Resurrection

Aliens is top monster shooting action, with a great script, believable characters and loads of thrilling set pieces. When I first watched it, on VHS one evening in 1987, I was so excited I persuaded three of my friends to knock off school the next day to watch it again with me. And we were the good kids! Such is the power of Aliens.

Alien is pretty good, and massively important for the way it developed the language of science fiction cinema. But it's a bit slow, and the monster looks a bit stupid sometimes, and there is no shooting.

Alien 3 is one of those films I like or hate depending on my mood. Some bold and interesting decisions were made, and I admire the attempt to do things differently. It looks great. But I don't think anyone really believes that it works.

Alien Resurrection has some cool ideas, like the clone Ripleys and the underwater aliens. But it is, unfortunately, complete nonsense and has a stupid looking monster at the end that makes you wonder if you feel asleep and are now dreaming about a much worse sequel that would never get made in the real world.

All that said, I'd watch any of them again in a heartbeat.

All About Eve

I saw this once, at Cineworld ten years ago, when they were doing a thing called 'Classic Wednesdays'. It was a good idea - showing old black and white films to a generation who would only ever have seen them on TV screens.

I remember being very excited about how powerful the imagery was on the big screen, and properly starting to appreciate the art of lighting black and white photography.

However. I also fell asleep, so I can't remember what happened. It is not as good as Killing Eve. Which goes to show that you shouldn't make a story "all about" just one person.

Cineworld chickened out of their cool idea before too long. The last time I saw them doing a "Classic Wednesday", the film in question was Sex And The City.

Sex. And. The. City.

Right - that's your lot for now. See you later, for whatever comes next. Oh - it's clearly Almost Famous. Right.