Wednesday, 30 December 2009

High Noon (1952) - A review

Long before the likes of the popular TV series called 24, there was High Noon - a Western originally released in 1952, starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly. I watched this movie recently, as part of my on-going mission to watch as many as I can out of the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movies.

I'm not typically a fan of Westerns, so I put off watching High Noon several times before I eventually bit the bullet a couple of days ago. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The story is told in real-time (hence my reference to 24). In summary, it's about a retiring Marshall (you know... Sheriff, law-man...) who finds out on the day of his wedding that a dangerous criminal he arrested has been pardoned, and is on his way back to the town, bent on revenge. He is then torn between his loyalty to his new bride, the town, and his own honour.

This movie had me gripped from near the beginning to the end, largely due to the real-time telling of the story, building up to the climax at high noon. It was superbly acted, each scene moving you steadily towards the inevitable showdown.

The movie's theme song, "The Ballad of High Noon" (or, "Do not forsake me oh my darlin") irritated me from the start of the movie, where it seemed not to fit squarely with the action on screen. However, the words clearly underpinned the motives of the hero as he proceeded along his chosen path. I must say, the song grew on me, and several days later, it's still playing in my head! Perhaps that's because it was played in one form or another throughout the movie from the beginning to the end! Seriously, I can recall no other tune in the movie - at all. Having said this, I wasn't too surprised to see that it won the Oscar that year for "Best Original Song". It was quite obvious to me while watching the movie that those concerned were shooting for this honour, and were keen to ensure nobody would forget the tune!

At the end of the day, I'd give High Noon a 4 out of 5. It had more story than action (which is a plus in my books), but I must deduct a point for their playing that song over and over and over again. I might reconsider the point if I ever succeed in getting it out of my head...

Friday, 25 December 2009

The Case Against Christmas

I enjoy celebrations as much, if not more, than the next guy. So why am I writing an article against Christmas? I'm not, really. I think it's fantastic that people have decided to set aside a day to give gifts and be merry. I'm just a bit frustrated with our calling it a celebration of the birth of Christ, and practically cutting him out of the whole affair! How many times do you hear someone going on about the spirit of Christmas, only to find that their conclusion has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ? I'm aware that the festival has it's roots in Pagan rites, so I guess it's no surprise to find it straying now from anything Christian.

What's all this about Santa Claus? Why do we insist on lying to our children for the first several years of their lives? I think it's despicable that kids are made and encouraged by a collective lie to believe in a fat guy in a red suit who flies in through the chimeny to bring them gifts! Why am I so irate? Perhaps it's because I believe in Christ and I don't want their dear little minds to think that the God I love is part of the same worldwide fuzzy conspiracy to keep them in line.

Down with Santa! Up with Christ!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The Return of Schumacher

Some great champions just don't seem to know when to call it quits, permanently. Pele, Mohammed Ali and Diego Maradona are noteable examples. Now, Michael Schumacher is in danger of adding his name to this list. According to reports, he has signed a 3 year deal with Mercedes, marking his return to Formula one. My question is, WHY? Why on earth does the great man wish to risk tarnishing his reputation as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Formula one driver of all time? Does he still have the magic? If so, he will further cement his place in the book of racing legends. If, on the other hand, Michael's reflexes and speed are not what they used to be, then we might be about to witness a tragedy. I do hope he knows what he's doing...

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Lost Art of Saving

I recall my growing up years, when if I needed a new gadget, I was encouraged to save for it. My father had 2 green wallets in which he would place any cash given to my brother and I. Each wallet had a slip of paper inside, on which was recorded all income and expenditure. Thus, we were taught to save. It just came naturally, and in the words of George Banks of Mary Poppins fame, I would feel a sense of conquest as my savings increased! If memory serves, we would spend most of the money at Christmas, then start again.

I miss that habit. As a society, we've strayed far from the savings culture and become creatures of credit. Rather than patiently waiting for things, we insist on instant gratification, relying on numerous lenders to help us satisfy our unquenchable thirst for human possessions. So, the vast majority of us live in debt, accepting this lifestyle as the status quo. Well, the global recession has burst our collective bubble and forced many to learn to save again. I welcome the news that increasing numbers of British families saved a high proportion of their income this year. Perhaps we're back on the right track. Or perhaps we're all just waiting for the all-clear before we resume spending with reckless abandon. Time alone will tell...

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - A brief review

I've recently taken to watching all the movies on the AFI's 100 years ... 100 movies (2007 anniversary edition) list. One of the best for me so far has been "It's a Wonderful Life" directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.

I watched the preview to this movie first, to get a good sense of what it would be about. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the preview gave little or nothing of the movie away, something which I would later find to be the norm for movie previews of that era.

"It's a Wonderful Life" was a moving tale for me, and one to which I can affix the tag "life affirming". James Stewart put in a beautiful performance as the lead character (George Bailey), with Donna Reed as the love interest. I can't really fault the move; the characters were well written, the dialogue was good and the pace was appropriate for the movie and its message.

I heartily recommend this movie! 5 out of 5!

Family Matters Season 2 - A review

I recently picked up Season 2 of the 1990's TV sitcom "Family Matters" to see if it was as good as I remembered. I was not disappointed. While many contemporary sitcoms have me yawning endlessly at the screen, Family Matters had me smiling, giggling, and yes, outright laughing at points. The characters have stood the test of time: Carl Winslow, as the dependable, moral and comical father of the house; Harriet Winslow as the strong matriarch, the sensible one in the family; Eddie Winslow as the irresponsible, girl-crazy teenager, who deep down has a good heart; Laura Winslow as the good daughter, and more importantly, the perpetual love interest of the season's (and series') most engaging character - Steve Urkel!

Urkel is the indisputable star of Family Matters. With a dress sense that seems to have been modelled on Michael Jackson, Urkel (played reliably by Jaleel White) is at the same time loveable and extremely annoying. His nasal voice, nerdy character and catch phrases "Did I do that?" and "I've fallen and I can't get up" still tickle me. Although he primarily interacts with Laura (played by Kellie Shanygne Williams), he plays best in the season when sharing the screen with Reginald VelJohnson (as Carl Winslow). The two seem to go off-script on some occasions, generating some fantastic physical-comedy moments.

Of the remaining primary characters in the season (Rachael, Mother Winslow, Richie and Judy Winslow), the only one that really does not acquit herself well is Judy (played by Jamie Foxworth). While admitting that the acting in the whole season is short of first class at points, Jamie has few if any high points. Her character is underdeveloped, she has few lines, and even these are not delivered convincingly.

Some will find Family Matters (Season 2) a little too sweet for their liking. To say it is cheesy would also not be an unfair comment. It is unashamedly optimistic and moral, so much so that at times the characters slip into a 2-dimensional straight-jacket (for example, when it's time to deliver a moral message, or to condemn some action as wrong). The mood music which cuts in towards the end of each episode and at climactic moments is somewhat dated, but it worked well at the time the show first ran.

In all, I give this season 4 out of 5. Bring on Season 3!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

2001: An Odyssey of the Emperor's New Clothes

For much of my life, I have harboured the view that 2001:A Space Odyssey must be a good movie. After all, it's ranked pretty high on the American Film Insitute's list of greatest American movies, and every self-respecting critic lauds it as one of the greatest movies of all time. I beg to differ.

I have just wasted 141 minutes of my life watching this movie, and it makes no sense to me. Okay, I could sit down and try to interpret it and come up with some high-minded intellectual-sounding jargon as many have done before, but I will be true to myself here. That little emperor's walking about in his birthday suit. The movie is long, boring, and way too arty for its own good.

To say that 2001 is slow-moving is an understatement. Call me uncultured, but I like a healthy dose of dialogue in my movies. I'm not particularly enamoured by watching flashing lights and scenery run by my screen for over 20 minutes at a time.

I will not sacrifice another minute commenting on this movie. If you haven't seen it and want to, good luck to you. Just don't say I didn't warn you. This is definitely one for the critics alone...

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The Tragedy of Tiger

Like many others, I have followed the story of Tiger Wood's personal life splashed across the pages of the world's newspapers, all sources eager to expand upon the news of the good guy gone bad. It was with a great sense of sadness that I came to realise that this would not just blow over; it was here, it was real and worst of all, it was likely true.

I feel sorry for Woods and his family. The last thing they need now is a media spectacle, but sadly, they will be unable to avoid this for a long time to come. Do these reporters have hearts? Do they not realise that by digging deeper into these stories, while increasing the circulation of their papers, they are making it harder and harder for the Woods family to work through their issues? Is money really this important that it has turned us into ravenous wolves ready to tear one another to pieces? Perhaps things have always been this way.

I remember watching (on TV) as Tiger claimed his first Masters, all those years ago. As he donned that green jacket, I knew I was witnessing something special - the beginning of a new age. This sense was proved right over the years as he won tournament after tournament, and marched on to become the most successful sportsperson of all time. Yet, I must admit that a transformation was equally evident on his face over time. He smiled less and appeared a lot more focused and serious in his photos; I have heard some say he appeared more mean. Perhaps his personal life had begun to seep into the public slowly, imperceptibly, through the mirror of a troubled man's eyes.

It's too much to ask in today's world that the media focus only on the man's golf and leave his personal life alone. I only hope that one day, we learn when to say "enough".

I wish Tiger Woods well as he takes time off golf to focus on his family. I hope they are able to work things out, and go on to be better, stronger people. The world of golf will dearly miss the Tiger, but in my opinion, he has done the right thing.