While The Good, The Bad and the Ugly falls into the subgenre of “spaghetti Westerns”, this earlier film is more of a classical Western, where the hero is less ambiguous and the atmosphere is less harsh. It stars John Wayne as a sheriff who, after arresting the brother of a powerful rancher, is subsequently left with just a few allies to defend his town against the rancher and his goons. The film is pretty drawn out at 141 minutes but still very compelling, helped by a varied cast of characters who play off each other in all sorts of different ways. I liked the scene where the gang of defenders are all gathered in the sheriff’s station, singing with each other; it creates a good sense of simple, hopeful unity. The best of these characters is Dean Martin’s Dude, the deputy; suffering from alcoholism as the film begins, he seems especially vulnerable, and we get to see him work through it as the film goes on. There’s not that much action overall, but you never forget the danger; there’s constant tension, as if the town is under siege. Overall, another very good Western. Rating: 4.5/5.
I might not have even heard of this film (at least until the Oscars) if not for Smilingldsgirl, who strongly recommended it. So I’ve seen it now. This film depicts twelve years in the life of a boy named Mason, from childhood to starting college; however, it was in fact filmed over a period of twelve years, with the same actors throughout, meaning that we are genuinely seeing the characters growing up. This is certainly an impressive feat, especially considering how the script must have been handled; any original draft certainly couldn’t have Mason talking about the effect of social media on society.
The overall film has quite a strange structure: really, it’s just watching this boy’s life as he grows up – there’s no real story, although some philosophical and political themes are carried through the whole thing. I would say that there’s nothing really special about Mason’s life, except that – and perhaps this is the point – every person’s life is special; Mason deserves to have his depicted as much as anyone. The various situations presented happen to plenty of people, and while the editing of the whole thing doesn’t necessarily show all the most significant moments, it always shows enough for you to figure things out; plenty of inference is required, though unfortunately some things do get left unresolved. The acting always feels genuine – Patricia Arquette is particularly good as Mason’s conflicted mother – and the soundtrack is always used very well to set the scene. Boyhood probably isn’t for everyone – it is admittedly a little dull to begin with; you need some time to get into how it works – but it’s undoubtedly a very well constructed film, and I imagine different people will take all sorts of different messages from it, whether about the meaning of life or just about appreciating every moment. Rating: 4/5.
Withnail & I (1987)
This comedy stars Richard E Grant and Paul McGann as Withnail and Marwood (though the latter is never actually named in the film), two unemployed actors who try to take a break from their problems with a holiday in the Lake District. It’s hard to define, but this is one of those works of fiction – like the book Good Omens – which retains a constant sense of Britishness throughout. The two main characters – the over-the-top Withnail and more reserved Marwood – make an excellent double act; Richard E Grant’s performance in particular provides a lot of the film’s humour. At the same time, they’re both complete wrecks and are occasionally a bit uncomfortable to watch. Their holiday puts them in all sorts of uncomfortable situations which continue to be amusing, though there is quite a sudden shift in the story towards the end, and I think I’d need to watch it again to understand what the overall journey is supposed to be. Rating: 3.5/5.
The Secret of N.I.M.H. (1982)
This film by Don Bluth is very highly rated among animated films – Doug Walker put it on his top 20 favourite movies of all time, and the heroine Mrs Brisby as his third favourite character in movies and TV – yet I never saw it as a child. The aforementioned Mrs Brisby is a mouse living in a farmer’s field; with the field about to be plowed, and her unable to simply move away since her son is sick, she goes on a quest seeking help from the highly advanced Rats of N.I.M.H. This is a very creative film, which does well in depicting relatively small animals in an oversized human environment; any messages about the negative impact of humans on the natural world are handled with relative subtlety. In some of the more dramatic scenes, the animation is used in quite frightening ways – the rotoscoping on the farmer’s tractor makes it look alien and intimidating – plus sound effects, particularly in the scene with the Great Owl. The voicework is also very good, particularly Derek Jacobi as the lead rat Nicodemus. Mrs Brisby herself goes through an excellent arc, her courage and willingness to do what’s necessary building as the film goes on. While it’s not a very long film, it’s well paced and doesn’t get convoluted; many of its elements feel minimalist, not doing more than necessary, while still being sufficiently complex. Definitely one of Don Bluth’s best. Rating: 4/5.