The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 25 February 2013

Awards Season 2013: The 85th Annual Academy Awards

So last night saw the 85th Annual Academy Awards, held at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. This year's Annual Giving Out Of The Little Gold Naked Men (as the Razzies call it) was occasionally funny, occasionally touching and sometimes cringeworthy but nonetheless a great celebration of film.

Seth MacFarlane took up hosting duties for the first time this year and I was a little nonplussed by him, if I'm honest. His opening schtick was nearly twenty minutes long and felt like it, and a few nice touches aside (Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron dancing, Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt joining him for 'High Hopes') it wasn't great. Whilst the idea of having William Shatner come on as Captain Kirk and show MacFarlane destroying the Oscars might have sounded good in theory, in practice it didn't work so well. After he settled into the role, things improved but I don't expect the Academy to be beating his door down to host again. But I will say this: Sally Field is incredibly game for a laugh.

The theme for this year's ceremony was 'music in movies' and a lot of the incidental music was done well- I particularly liked the use of the iconic Jaws theme music as a kind of countdown to wrap the speeches up. I particularly loved the celebration of movie musicals, with Catherine Zeta-Jones vamping it up through a brilliant rendition of 'All That Jazz' from Chicago, Jennifer Hudson belting out 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going' from Dreamgirls and the cast of Les Miserables doing a medley of 'Suddenly', 'I Dreamed A Dream' and 'One Day More'. There were also storming performances by Shirley Bassey (singing 'Goldfinger' during the brilliant tribute to 50 Years Of James Bond) and Adele ('Skyfall', naturally). Barbra Streisand also gave a touching rendition of 'The Way We Were' and a personal tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch at the end of the In Memoriam segment.

As usual, the guest presenters were very hit-and-miss: Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy were deeply, almost painfully, unfunny hosting Best Animated Short and Best Animated Feature, and the cast of The Avengers just about muddled through their awards (with Samuel L Jackson proving the best of them). Mark Wahlberg and Ted were pretty good hosting Sound Mixing and Sound Editing (even with Ted's expected Jewish joke) whilst Christopher Plummer was absolutely great presenting the Best Supporting Actress award. There was also a surprise co-presented for Best Picture... none other than First Lady Michelle Obama!

So, on to the awards themselves.

I was amazed to find my predictions were 100% right. Really wasn't expecting it. I did like that each of the acting winners acknowledged their fellow nominees; it shows a certain level of class, I think. All four nominees were well deserving of their honours. Jennifer Lawrence becomes the second youngest winner of the Best Actress Oscar (second only to Marlee Matlin who won for Children Of A Lesser God) and her speech was controlled and tight, despite her tripping on the stairs on the way up. Christoph Waltz has two Oscars from two nominations, which can't be at all bad. The Best Supporting Actor award was the first one awarded in the ceremony, so at least he got it over with early. Anne Hathaway's acceptance speech was lovely and Daniel Day-Lewis's was probably the best of the evening: how I would have loved to see him play Margaret Thatcher! Day-Lewis now has a unique place in Oscar history as the first actor to win three Best Lead Actor Oscars, and well-deserved it is too.

There was no real runaway winner this year. Life Of Pi won four Oscars (Best Director, Cinematography, Original Score and Visual Effects), with Argo (Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing) and Les Miserables (Best Supporting Actress, Sound Mixing and Make-Up) with three each. Lincoln, Django Unchained and Skyfall all walked away with two Oscars apiece. I was over the moon that 'Skyfall' won Best Original Song, and was pleased that Paperman won Best Animated Short- I caught that before Wreck-It Ralph recently and thought it was beautiful.

Below is the full list of winners at the 85th Annual Academy Awards:

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Argo

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)

Best Director: Ang Lee (Life of Pi

Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio (Argo)

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Brave 

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Amour

Best Cinematography: Life of Pi

Best Editing: Argo

Best Production Design: Lincoln 

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Misérables

Best Original Score: Life of Pi 

Best Original Song: 'Skyfall'

Best Sound Mixing: Les Misérables

Best Sound Editing: Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty (tied)

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Best Documentary (Feature): Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary (Short Subject): Inocente

Best Animated Short Film: Paperman 

Best Live Action Short Film: Curfew 

Congratulations to all winners!


Sunday, 24 February 2013

Awards Season 2013: Tez's Official Oscar Predictions 2013

Tonight, the great and good of Hollywood will convene to celebrate the best of filmmaking in 2012 at the 85th Annual Academy Awards, hosted for the first time by Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane. It has become a tradition for me to predict the nominations and the winners in the main six categories (the four acting categories, Best Director and Best Picture).  I've done this since 2003 with varying degrees of success. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for who will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

I will be shocked if any of the other names are read out for this award. Hathaway's performance as Fantine is probably the best thing about the film and her bravura heartrending rendition of 'I Dreamed A Dream' is just sublime. She's been the runaway winner throughout the 2013 awards season and I don't see anyone stopping that at the Oscars.

Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

This is one of the more open categories and we could well see any one of the five nominees named. For the first time in the Academy Awards' history, the Best Supporting Actor category is completely comprised of previous Oscar winners. There has been no clear runaway winner in this category throughout this awards season, but Waltz's wins at the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs puts him ahead. His performance as Dr. King Schultz, a talkative dentist-turned-bounty-hunter, is a warm and effusive one and the film does suffer when he is not present. If not Waltz, then I think Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

With no disrespect meant to the other nominees, this has been pretty much a two-horse race since awards season began. Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence have been neck-and-neck, claiming major awards apiece. Whilst Chastain's performance in Zero Dark Thirty is undeniably powerful, her character is a blank slate. You never get to know who Maya is behind the job. Whereas Tiffany, Lawrence's character in Silver Linings Playbook, has a full backstory and is a more rounded character. It's an astoundingly mature performance from a young actress- in one scene she more than holds her own opposite Robert de Niro which is no mean feat. I'm gonna say Lawrence for Best Actress but won't be surprised if it's Chastain (or even Emmanuelle Riva for a real left-field suggestion)

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Day-Lewis' performance as the eponymous President is just amazing. He really disappears into the role (as he always does) and what's left behind is a stoic, determined, dignified performance. As with Anne Hathaway, it's been Day-Lewis' show from the beginning of the awards season and I really don't see any other nominee coming close. If he does win, he will be the first actor to win three Best Leading Actor Oscars (Jack Nicholson also has three but one is for Supporting Actor) and he'll be the first actor to win an Oscar playing an American President. 

Best Director: Ang Lee (Life Of Pi)

This is the one I’m really not sure about. Usually you can count on the winner of the Directors Guild Award to also get the Oscar but this year's winner- Ben Affleck- wasn't nominated for the Oscar, so that theory goes for a burton. Whilst David O Russell and Michael Haneke get great performances from their respective casts, I didn't find the direction inspiring. Benh Zeitlin's direction of Beasts Of The Southern Wild is impressive, especially since he's dealing largely with a cast of non-actors. As you would expect, Spielberg's direction of Lincoln is polished, eliciting great performances across the board. But I think the technical challenges of Life Of Pi as well as a rare impressive use for 3D puts Ang Lee ahead. However, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's Spielberg.

Best Picture: Argo

Argo's blend of Hollywood satire and tense thriller might, on paper, seem like an odd combination- but it works. It ticks all the boxes that previous Oscar winners have- it's about films, it's about a real-life moment in American history, it's a surprisingly well crafted film- so it's kind of the whole package. If it's not that, I would imagine Lincoln would get it.  

Last year, I got 5 out of 6 (stating George Clooney would win Best Actor instead of Jean Dujardin). I have to be honest, I'm not even that confident this year. I'll be happy if I get 3 out of 6.

Check back on the blog on Monday February 25th for my thoughts on the Oscars ceremony and a full list of winners


Awards Season 2013: WGA, Independent Spirit and Razzies Results

Awards season is nearly over for another year (I hear some sighs and a lot of relief). There's just one more to go- the big one- the 85th Annual Academy Awards which is tonight (February 24th). It can be viewed on a dedicated Sky Movies channel in the UK and on ABC in the US. But before I turn my eyes to the Oscars, here's a round-up of the rest of the awards ceremony that have taken place in the last week. 


The WGA Awards- which honour both television and film writing, were presented on Sunday February 17th. Here are the film winners.

Original Screenplay: Zero Dark Thirty

Adapted Screenplay: Argo

Documentary Screenplay: Searching For Sugar Man

Both Zero Dark Thirty and Argo are nominated in their respective writing categories for the Oscars, so wins here will bolster their chances for winning at the Academy Awards. There is no category for documentary writing at the Oscars but Searching For Sugar Man has had a lot of recognition at various awards ceremonies so stands a good chance tonight.


Yesterday- Saturday 23rd February- saw the handing out of the Independent Spirit Awards. These honour films made (partly or wholly) outside the major film studio system. Some of the winners are below.

Best Feature: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Female Lead: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Male Lead: John Hawkes (The Sessions)

Best Supporting Female: Helen Hunt (The Sessions)

Best Supporting Male: Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike)

Best Director: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook

Best First Screenplay: Safety Not Guaranteed

Best Cinematography: Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Best First Feature: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Best International Film: Amour

Best Documentary: The Invisible War

John Cassavetes Award: Middle Of Nowhere

The John Cassavetes Award is given to the creative team of a film budgeted at less than $500,000. As an aside, I like the fact that most of the films mentioned on this list have had widespread cinema release. It's proof that independent film-making is not only alive and well but is breaking out of the niche that it's often put in. The full list of winners can be found here.


As is traditional, last night (the night before the Oscars ceremony) also saw the 33rd Annual Golden Raspberry Awards. Dishonouring the worst in film in 2012, there was one overwhelming 'winner' among the ten categories awarded.

Worst Picture: Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Worst Actor: Adam Sandler (That's My Boy!)

Worst Actress: Kristen Stewart (Snow White And The Huntsman and Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2)

Worst Supporting Actor: Taylor Lautner (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2)

Worst Supporting Actress: Rihanna (Battleship)

Worst Screen Ensemble: The Entire Cast of Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Worst Director: Bill Condon (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2)

Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel: Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Worst Screen Couple: Mackenzie Foy and Taylor Lautner (Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2)

Worst Screenplay: That's My Boy!

So that's pretty much covered the rest of the awards given out. But who will win the Oscars? My predictions for the winners of the Big Six, coming up soon.


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Review: Quartet (UK Cert 12A)

Quartet, Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut based on Ronald Harwood's play about a retirement home for opera singers, is the latest in several recent films who seem to be specifically aimed at the older cinema-going public. Now, I find the idea of marketing films for 'the grey pound' (as it's cynically known) rather disingenuous. Was I not supposed to be moved by Amour because I'm not an octogenarian? Am I not to empathise with the characters of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel because I'm roughly half their age? Abject nonsense. Good stories and well made films about universal themes- love, loss, forgiveness, redemption- will strike a chord with anyone, regardless of age.

At Beecham House, the residents hold a gala concert every year to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi's birthday (and to raise funds for the upkeep of the house). The arrival of Jean Horton (Maggie Smith) raises a few eyebrows, not least because she is the ex-wife of another resident, Reg (Tom Courtenay). Jean's admission to the home opens some old wounds, exacerbated by the suggestion that Reg and Jean- along with two other residents, Wilf (Billy Connolly) and Cissy (Pauline Collins)- reprise their famous performance of the quartet from Rigoletto ('Bella figlia dell'amore'). But will Jean sing?

Performances are uniformally great across the board. Maggie Smith is great as the spiky old diva, shaken by her change in circumstances and having to deal with her past. The script gives her a fine line in barbed comments which Smith delivers with aplomb- plus, I think, this is the first time I've ever heard Dame Maggie drop the f-bomb! Tom Courtenay is the very model of wounded dignity as Reg finds out who the new arrival is. Their initial frosty confrontation in the church is well played and the thawing of Reg towards Jean is nicely done.

Billy Connolly is an absolute scream as Wilf, a randy old codger constantly chatting up the young female staff and even having a crack at the head doctor (a great Sheridan Smith). However, he's not just there as comic relief and acts as a confidante for Reg. Pauline Collins' performance as Cissy, a singer with an undisclosed kind of dementia, is just lovely: she sweetly witters on but can turn on a sixpence to reveal a more poignant side.

The supporting cast are also brilliant; there's been a canny move in casting a lot of older musicians and singers as the residents (a boon for the gala scenes). In particular, renowned soprano Dame Gwyneth Jones is cast as a former singer who has had a previous rivalry with Jean- and who also gives a brilliant rendition of 'Vissi d'arte' from Tosca at the gala. Michael Gambon also gives a great turn as Cedric, the gala organiser- a bumptious old luvvie with a bad memory.

As you would expect, it's also got a great soundtrack- featuring pieces by Boccherini, Puccini and Verdi, amongst others. There may be no real surprises along the way- the plot is fairly predictable- but the journey is what's more important. Heartwarming, funny and touching and well worth 98 minutes of your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Monday, 11 February 2013

Awards Season 2013: BAFTA Winners

Last night (Sunday 10 February), at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the 66th British Academy Film Awards were given out in a star-studded ceremony hosted by Stephen Fry. Big names such as Amy Adams, Helen Mirren, Sally Field, Joaquin Phoenix, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Jessica Chastain and Javier Bardem attended on a cold and sleety night in London to honour the best of film.

Here's a full list of BAFTA winners:

Best Film: Argo

Outstanding British Film: Skyfall

Leading Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Leading Actress: Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Director: Ben Affleck (Argo)

Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Adapted Screenplay: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Outstanding Debut By A British Writer, Director Or Producer: Bart Layton (director) and Dmitri Doganis (producer) (The Imposter)

Animated Film: Brave

Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man

Film Not In The English Language: Amour

Cinematography: Life of Pi

Costume Design: Anna Karenina

Editing: Argo

Make Up And Hair: Les Miserables

Original Music: Skyfall

Production Design: Les Miserables

Sound: Les Miserables

Special Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Short Animation: The Making of Longbird

Short Film: Swimmer

Rising Star: Juno Temple

Outstanding British Contribution To Cinema: Tessa Ross 

BAFTA Fellowship: Sir Alan Parker

The ceremony was broadcast on BBC1 with a time delay, with Stephen Fry proving a capable and affable host (as usual); some of the guest presenters were totally dire (Chris Tucker and Jeremy Renner, I'm looking at you) but there were some good ones: I particularly liked Sally Field's acknowledgement that any film starts with the script and the screenwriter- so often, the writer is forgotten in the process.

As far as the winners go, the biggest surprise of the evening was Emmanuelle Riva winning Best Actress for Amour (and on a side note, I hope David O. Russell feels like a prize tool for his petulant little pout at Riva's win being caught on camera). No surprises with the other results and Daniel Day-Lewis gets extra kudos for a witty and amusing acceptance speech.

Les Miserables led the winners with four BAFTAS, with Argo claiming three and Life Of Pi, Skyfall and Django Unchained all winning two. A nice even spread, all said.

The awards season comes to a head over the next two weeks, with the Writers Guild Awards on 17 February, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Golden Raspberry Awards on 23 February and the 85th Annual Academy Awards on 24 February

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Review: Hitchcock (UK Cert 12A)

The story behind the making of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror/thriller, is as interesting as the finished product. Based on the book by Stephen Rebello which chronicles the entire process, from conception to finished product and beyond, Hitchcock is director Sacha Gervasi's first non-documentary feature film (after Anvil: The Story Of Anvil). 

The opening scene sets the tenor for the film. Wisconsin mass-murderer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) kills his own brother. After the fatal shovel blow happens, the camera pans across to see Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) standing there with a cup of tea. He then delivers a cheeky speech straight down camera. This blend of drama and wit permeates the film, making a likeable if slightly insubstantial drama, akin to My Week With Marilyn.

Anthony Hopkins gives a sterling performance as Hitchcock; Hopkins is a gifted mimic and has Hitch's rolling accent down to a tee. There are hints of his 'darker side' (explored more fully and unflinchingly in The Girl)- voyeurism,  his 'fantasy romances' with his leading ladies, his tendency to emotionally manipulate his actresses to get the desired result- but these faults never tip him over into being fundamentally unlikeable. Psycho was a massive gamble for Hitchcock and, as such, the stress and anxiety are there in spades. The prosthetic make-up is just brilliant too. The moment when he's outside the movie theatre and is almost conducting the screams of the audience during the shower scene is absolutely brilliant.

Helen Mirren is also just sublime as Alma Reville, Hitch's devoted wife and collaborator. She bears a lot with exceedingly good grace- her husband's infatuations, the people who look past her and through her (despite everything she's done to help Hitch get where he is)- but her performance is never martyred, never suffering. Indeed, one of the main plot points is whether she will have an affair with the silky Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston, turning on the smarm), a conflict that's never really a threat. Her quiet demolition of Hitch when he declares she should be giving him her 'full support' is a brilliantly written and played scene: she never gets hysterical, she keeps it under control but lets him know in no uncertain terms what she does for him.

There is uncanny casting for the cast of Psycho, so hats off to Terri Taylor (casting director) for getting so close to the original. Perhaps the best is James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins. Whilst he bears more than a passing physical resemblance to the late Mr Perkins, D'Arcy's brief performance evokes the actor fully. Scarlett Johannson gives a brilliant performance as Janet Leigh and there are scenes when she's shooting the car scenes for Psycho where I had to do a double take; the hair and make-up team have also done a sterling job. Good too is Jessica Biel as Vera Miles; Miles and Hitchcock had a famously fractious relationship after she dropped out of playing Madeleine in Vertigo due to being pregnant. She gets a couple of meaty scenes not only with Hopkins but also with Johansson, warning Leigh not to get to close to the maestro.

Other decent performances are Toni Collette as Hitch's secretary Peggy Robertson, quietly aghast at the content of the movie but still standing by her boss. Michael Stuhlbarg is also great as Hitch's agent Lew Wasserman, standing up to the studio boss when Hitch is determined that Psycho will be his next picture. Kurtwood Smith is good as head of the censor board Geoffrey Shurlock who clashes with Hitch over some of the content of the film (most notably the flushing toilet, a first for American cinema) and there's a nice one-scene cameo by former Karate Kid Ralph Maccho as screenwriter Joseph Stefano.

The film does take a few mis-steps in places- most notably the use of Gein to show Hitchcock's inner feelings. The killer- inspiration for Norman Bates, Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Buffalo Bill in The Silence Of The Lambs- appears to Hitch in dream sequences and even acts as his psychotherapist at one point. Whilst the scenes are used to show Hitch's internal feelings, I couldn't help but feel that a better screenwriter would have found a way around it. A cardinal rule of creative writing is show, don't tell. Sadly, John J. McLaughlin doesn't always do this and the film suffers a little because of it.

The other mis-step is the length of the film. At a positively svelte 98 minutes, the film nips along at a fair old pace. But I wanted more. More information about the actual making of the film, the nuts-and-bolts process, some of the stories (the blood in the shower scene). More about what the actors felt about what they were doing- there are hints that Perkins had a very similar relationship to his mother that Bates did (without the corpse-stealing and transvestism, of course), so that would have been interesting to explore. What the film has done is made me want to read the book it's based on, so that's no bad thing.

You don't really need any prior knowledge of Psycho before you go in, but it'll enhance the experience if you do. All said, a handsomely-made piece, impeccably acted throughout, a wonderful glimpse of behind the scenes of a classic film. It left me wanting more.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Review: Wreck-It Ralph (UK Cert PG)

For anyone who spent their formative years button bashing in a video game arcade, Wreck-It Ralph will be a lovely slice of nostalgia. Even if you didn't, this is an enjoyable homage to the format and a damn good film to boot. Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is the Donkey Kong-like villain of arcade classic Fix-It Felix Jr. which has been going for thirty years. Tired of being the bad guy, he dreams of being a hero and so jumps out of his game to try and get a winner's medal. However, Ralph jumping out of his game has consequences.

There's a wonderful array of animation styles throughout the film: each world has its own distinctive look, from the 8-bit world of Fix-It Felix Jr, through to the gritty futuristic setting of Hero's Duty (the first game Ralph jumps to, in order to win a medal; think Halo and you're halfway there) and the candy-coloured Sugar Rush (essentially Mario Kart on E-Numbers). It's a visually sumptuous film. 

It's also a retro-gamer's dream with cameos from many videogame characters- at Ralph's Bad Guys Anonymous Meeting, there's Zangief and M. Bison from Street Fighter II, Dr. Robotnik from Sonic The Hedgehog, Bowser from Super Mario Bros. and Clyde the orange ghost from Pac-Man. In Game Central Station, you can see everyone from Q-Bert to Sonic. One can only imagine the logistical nightmare of trying to secure all the rights for these characters. Repeated viewings would no doubt spot many more easter eggs that had been put in.

The voice cast is just superb: Reilly's great as Ralph and Jane Lynch is an absolute riot as Hero Duty's Sergeant Calhoun, a tough-as-nails soldier 'programmed with the most tragic back-story ever'. Jack McBrayer is great as the gee-shucks Felix whilst Alan Tudyk steals the show as Sugar Rush's ruler King Candy. Sarah Silverman also appears as Vanellope Von Schweetz, a racer in Sugar Rush who is an outcast as she's a 'glitch'. She gives a strong performance even if the character is a little annoying in places (part for the course in a film like this, though).

It's the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope that forms the back-bone of the story. She takes the medal he's 'won' in Hero's Duty and uses it as the fee to enter the Sugar Rush free-form race to decide which characters can be selected to be played by the game-player. When she wins, she'll give him back the medal. What starts out as mismatched characters forced to work together obviously mellows into something approaching friendship (Ralph's an adult, Vanellope's a child so there's never a suggestion of anything romantic) so there's a good deal of emotion when, at one crucial moment, that relationship is subverted. Of course, friendship wins out and sacrifices must be made but you're not deluged under a saccharine wave of emotion when it does happen.

Surprisingly, it''s a good deal darker than you expect from a Disney movie. The world of Hero's Duty is dark and the Cy-Bugs are quite creepy- when they infest Sugar Rush, there's quite an abrupt turn away from that cutesy-pie world. The nominal villain of the piece might also be a little scary for younger kids when they're finally revealed. Speaking as an adult, the darker elements were a pleasing addition which will give the adults something to enjoy (as well as playing Spot The Game Character)

Before the screening I saw was a beautiful animated short-  a boy-meets-girl story called Paperman which is well worth seeing. Stick around to the end of the credits as well, there's a lovely little tip of the hat to a retro game. I'm not a huge gamer- I'm the very epitome of the phrase 'casual gamer'- but I enjoyed this immensely.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Thursday, 7 February 2013

Psycho (1960)

Ahead of the release of Hitchcock, which tells the story of the making of Psycho, it's a good time to go back and take a look at the classic 1960 thriller.

Based on the 1959 novel by Robert Bloch, the story sees Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) embezzling $40,000 from her employer to help her lover Sam Loomis (John Gavin) and going on the run. She stays at the Bates Motel, run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives with his mother in an old house close to the motel. It's a decision that proves fatal... Much like The Exorcist, so much of Psycho has passed into popular culture that it's entirely possible to know the film without having seen it. No more is this evident than in the famous- or infamous- 'shower scene'.

Having decided to return the money she's stolen, Marion takes a shower. Whilst in there, a shadowy figure- Norman's mother- enters the bathroom and stabs Marion to death. Hitchcock plays an audacious twist on his audience by killing off his leading lady so soon into the picture. Up until this point, the story has been all about Marion. We sympathise with her, even if we don't agree with her actions. It's a truly shocking moment when she's murdered- but it's a truly iconic one too. It's a moment that has been referenced and parodied throughout popular culture- there's a particularly elegant pastiche of it in an early episode of The SimpsonsThe scene, which took a week to film, features seventy-seven different camera angles. Psycho is filmed in black-and-white so the blood in the shower was actually Bosco chocolate syrup which looks more realistic than stage blood. The sound effects of the stabbing were achieved by stabbing a knife into a casaba melon. Due to the frenetic editing during the attack, you never see the knife penetrate flesh (although it does touch it at one point). The audience's mind does most of the work. There is no truth to the rumour that Hitchcock made the water run ice-cold in the shower to elicit a genuine scream from Janet Leigh. There also seems to be no truth to the rumour that Saul Bass- who storyboarded several scenes and created the title sequence for this and other of Hitchcock's films (Vertigo and North By Northwest)- actually directed the shower scene, although he would have storyboarded it.

One of the integral parts of Psycho is Bernard Herrmann's sublime score. Recorded using only string instruments, it is one of the most recognisable scores in movie history. Despite Hitchcock's objection to there being music in the motel scenes, he soon changed his mind when he heard 'The Murder'- the infamous shrieking strings that accompany the shower scene. Hitchcock later remarked that '33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music' and reportedly doubled Herrmann's salary to $34,501. The film simply would not have the impact it does without Herrmann's score.

There are strong performances throughout, with Anthony Perkins giving such a brilliant performance as Norman Bates that it nearly ruined his career (as he was constantly typecast). He's nervy and can deliver lines like 'We all go a little mad sometimes' without sounding like a lunatic. Even though he doesn't say a word in the final scene, he is absolutely chilling. Leigh gives a warm and empathetic performance as Marion which makes her demise all the more shocking. Martin Balsam gives a solid performance as Milton Arbogast, a detective who is commissioned to find out what happened to her sister; his murder is another shocking and unsignposted moment. Vera Miles is also strong as Lila, although John Gavin's performance as Sam is a little wooden in places. Simon Oakland's slightly hammy performance as Dr. Richmond in the final scenes also slightly detracts from the explanation he's giving.

The marketing and promotion for Psycho was a masterstroke by Hitchcock. The original trailer was over six minutes long and featured Hitchcock giving a tour of the house and motel, culminating with a shock... Cinema managers were sent large cardboard cut-outs of Hitchcock pointing to his watch with a message stating that 'The manager of this theatre has been instructed at the risk of his life, not to admit to the theatre any persons after the picture starts'. There would be no late admissions to any screening; if you missed the beginning, you simply had to wait for the next screening (a ploy that should be revived today, if you ask me). Newspaper adverts confirmed the 'no late admission' policy, and also asked people who had seen the film not to give the ending away as 'it's the only one we have'. So determined was Hitchcock to preserve the plot that he forbade Leigh and Perkins from doing promotional interviews (preferring to do them himself) and also did not give advance private screenings to film critics- meaning the critics had to line up with the general public to get to see the film. Early reviews were, as you might expect, mixed; but one reviewer- C.A. Lejeune- was so offended by the film, she not only walked out of the screening but resigned as film critic for The Observer.

It was nominated for four Academy Awards- Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Leigh, Best Cinematography (Black-And-White) and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Black-And-White)- but sadly did not win any, although Leigh did win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. It was also selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992. It's also spawned two sequels- Psycho II (1983) and Psycho III (1986)- as well as a TV movie prequel- Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)- all of which starred Anthony Perkins. There was also a truly dire, excruciatingly pointless virtually shot-for-shot colour remake by Gus Van Sant in 1998 which is best avoided. A television series, Bates Motel, based on the early life of Norman Bates (to be played by Freddie Highmore) is currently in production.

I had the very good fortune to see Psycho on the big screen in 1998, in an art-house cinema in Cardiff. It was an absolutely thrilling experience. Shocking, tense and gripping, Psycho truly is a masterpiece.


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Programme 27: Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Gangster Squad and Musicals

The Watchers Film Show: Ep 27 from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

Programme 27 is our first show of 2013... and it's a giant!

With the release of Les Miserables, Tez and Rhys discuss their favourite big-screen musicals and also cast their eye over Les Mis itself. 

To balance things out, there's also reviews of Gangster Squad and Django Unchained; plus Tez talks Oscars and there's the usual round-up of movie news.


Monday, 4 February 2013

Awards Season 2013: Guild Award Winners

So, awards season is really starting to hot up with several of the Guild Awards being handed out. As the Guild Awards are often voted for by people who are also members of the Academy, it can sometimes be a handy indicator of the way things are standing re: the Oscars. Of course, it doesn't always work out like that as we'll see shortly.

Producers' Guild Award

The PGA Awards were given out on 26th January and the film results are as follows:

Feature Film: Argo

Animated Film: Wreck-It Ralph

Documentary Film: Searching For Sugar Man

This is a major boost to Argo's chances for being named Best Picture come February 24th. There's a good correlation between winning the PGA and winning the Best Picture Oscar, although it's not a perfect record: 16 out of  23 PGA winners have won the Best Picture Oscar (notable exceptions being Apollo 13, Brokeback Mountain and Little Miss Sunshine).

Screen Actors Guild Awards

The SAG awards were handed out on January 27th - the film winners are below:

Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture: Argo

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Leading Role: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Outstanding Performance By A Male Actor In A Supporting Role: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Outstanding Performance By A Female Actor In A Supporting Role: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Again, Argo does well to get the SAG's equivalent of Best Picture. Further wins for Hathaway and Day-Lewis further cement their chances at getting the equivalent Oscar, whilst Lawrence's win may put her slightly ahead of Jessica Chastain in the Best Actress category. 

Interesting again that a different name- Tommy Lee Jones- has picked up the Best Supporting Actor nod. It's a wide open field this year (Christoph Waltz picked up the Golden Globe, but Philip Seymour Hoffman won Critics' Choice). It'll be interesting to see who BAFTA give their award to.

Directors' Guild Award

Outstanding Directorial Achievement In Motion Pictures: Ben Affleck (Argo)

Now this is where things get really interesting. Usually, the winner of the DGA award is a practical shoo-in for the Best Director Oscar. However, Ben Affleck was overlooked for the Best Director Oscar. But, as with the PGA and Best Picture, whilst there's a very strong correlation between winning the two awards, it's by no means guaranteed (as we can see here). This does however suggest that Argo is well thought of among the Guild (and by extension, the Academy) voters.

The next major awards to be handed out are the BAFTA Film Awards on Sunday February 10th.