The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Rhys from The Watchers is running the Cardiff Half Marathon!!

HI all Rhys here, if you like reading our Blog or watching/listening to our webcasts - then please take a min and please consider sponsoring me?

Rhys' Shandy Ice Bucket Challenge in aid of Cancer Research Wales from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

At the Watchers were big supporters of Cancer Research Wales and about two years ago we raised over £600 for them with our Bondathon. So this year I'm trying to raise money by running the Cardiff Half Marathon - YES a GEEK RUNNING!!! Fat Boy Run is my inspiration, thank you Simon Pegg!!

So please sponsor me?
Thanks Rhys :)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Review: Before I Go To Sleep (UK Cert: 15)

Having sustained a head injury after a brutal attack, Christine (Nicole Kidman) is now an amnesiac. The minute she goes to sleep, she forgets everything, waking up and thinking she’s still in her twenties. Christine has two men in her life, her husband Ben (Colin Firth), who tries to care for her, and Dr Mike Nash (Mark Strong), who is helping her remember what happened on the night she was attacked. Soon Christine begins to suspect that both men have been lying.

Director Rowan Joffe’s adaptation of S.J. Watson’s bestselling novel, Before I Go To Sleep, is a tough film to review for anyone wanting to go and watch it. While not wanting to spoil anything, the film has one hell of a whole of Africa-sized flaw. Having watched the trailer, I had an inkling who the villain was here, the Who in the Whodunnit. Ten minutes into Before I Go To Sleep, and the only way it could be more obvious who the bad guy is if they had a neon sign flashing above their head, which reads, “I did it!”

As I’ve not read the book, I can’t comment on whether this is an issue with the source material, but because of a certain actor’s dubious behaviour, and the fact that – as far as mysteries go – they’re playing a by-the-numbers staple of the genre, it’s not long before you’ve already worked out most of what’s happening.

This is a real shame, as otherwise Before I Go To Sleep is a reasonably well made, occasionally even tense thriller. While none of the performances are career best, everybody does a solid enough job, especially Kidman who specialises in playing fractured women. Here she’s wide-eyed, her voice barely above a whisper, childlike in her curiosity and reaction to discovering the type of person she is. Even the cinematography makes you wonder whether Christine is going mad, if there’s any mystery here at all, Ben Davis shooting every scene with muted colours, external shots being bizarrely empty, with scarcely anyone around.

The trouble with Before I Go To Sleep is that unless you think Scooby Doo is the crowning glory of crime thrillers, you’re unlikely to be surprised at the film’s many twists and pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you moments, which just about kills most of the tension that Joffe has tried hard to craft here. Throughout the film I was hoping I was wrong, that there would be this bulldozer of a twist that turned things on its head and put a line through what I thought I knew; tragically, this never happens. Joffe tries to come up with a thriller worthy of Hitchcock, but too often the script for Before I Go To Sleep (penned by Joffe) feels like a TV movie on a never-heard-of digital channel.

2 out of 5


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review: Million Dollar Arm (UK Cert: PG)

With sports films “based on a true story”, you accept that you already know what’s about to happen: the main character will start from the bottom and work their way up, sometimes stumbling back to the beginning, but getting there in the end. The reason you watch a real-life sports film is for what makes it stand out; is it the performances, the script, the visuals? The trouble with Disney’s Million Dollar Arm is that, while it’s solidly made, there’s nothing that makes it tower over this over-crowded sub-genre.

The plot is a slight twist on an old formula. Agent to the sports stars JB (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm) is struggling to keep his business afloat. In a last ditch effort, he travels to India to launch a reality TV show to find an unknown baseball player and get them signed up with a major league team.

There’s nothing really wrong with Million Dollar Arm, but it falls miles short of classic status. The acting is all up-to-scratch. Hamm is a gifted actor; he turns on the charm as Don Draper, but can also play a convincing, clueless tool in Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids. Here he makes charisma look easy as JB, who initially sees his talent show winners as an investment, a commodity, but ends up forming a strong friendship with them. Alan Arkin may play tiny variations of the same role, but he’s done a fine job in all of his films. In Million Dollar Arm, Arkin is a grouchy as hell baseball scout who refuses to even look at potential players; he shuts his eyes and waits to hear that perfect strike. Pitobash raises a smile whenever he’s onscreen with his never failing enthusiasm as JB’s right-hand man, Amit. Lake Bell is given the love interest role, but at least her character, Brenda, has a personality; she’s quirky and feisty and given a reasonable amount of screen time. Last but definitely not least, Bill Paxton gives a rare understated performance as baseball coach Tom House. For most of the film, House clashes with JB over what makes a great baseball player. JB believes if you train a player for enough hours, eventually they’ll figure out what they’re doing. House, on the other hand, sees his players as family, adopted children who need to be nurtured, taken care of.

You can’t even fault the cinematography, Gyula Pados giving us different glimpses of India: Bollywood, show business India with its bright costumes, dancing, and blaring music; the diverse landscape of hills, rivers and frantic cities; the ramshackle villages and poverty in India, contrasting with the showy glamour of its film and TV industry.

What lets Million Dollar Arm down is Thomas McCarthy’s script. While the film is dotted with some smart one-liners (“That’s cricket? Looks like an insane asylum opened up and all the inmates were allowed to play.”), it is virtually scene-after-scene of seen-it-all-before clich├ęs. The broke hero who is up to his neck in debt; the underdogs from poor backgrounds get picked for the team; the rousing speech; the point where it looks like everyone is going home, hanging their heads; the players coming back, ready to prove everyone wrong – all of this features in Million Dollar Arm. While you can argue that the events you’re seeing happened in real life – and this is a Disney film – that doesn’t mean audiences should be sat knowing near enough what is about to happen in every scene. When you do that, you’re not engaged with what’s going on; you don’t care about the characters as much as you should. Films based on real-life tweak the facts all the time to make things more interesting and unpredictable; why couldn’t the same happen with Million Dollar Arm?

To sum up, Million Dollar Arm is enjoyable enough – you won’t be in the cinema, angrily kicking the chair in front of you – but it never reaches the giddy heights of Friday Night Lights, The Fighter, or Warrior. Too often while sitting through Million Dollar Arm, you’ll find yourself thinking, “This is about to happen” and it does, pretty much how you imagined it.

3 out of 5


Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mini-Countdowns: Film-to-TV Adaptations

Back in June, I did a post about films that are based on TV shows. I thought I would do a companion piece to this, by talking about TV shows that are based on films.

Recently, the TV version of Fargo (starring Billy Bob Thornton, Alison Tolman and Martin Freeman) has garenered critical acclaim and two Primetime Emmys. The 1996 Coen Brothers original movie is held in high esteem as a cult movie. 

Researching this piece threw up some interesting- and unusual- little tidbits. For example, did you know that there was a TV version of Blade made in 2006 (with rapper Sticky Fingaz in the lead role- it lasted 12 episodes)? Or that RoboCop has had not one, but two, televisual outings- a 1994 series, which ran for 23 episodes, and the four-part 2000 miniseries Prime Directives? There have also been two different TV shows based on Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita- one that ran from 1997-2001, starring Peta Wilson, and the 2010 version with Maggie Q.

So below are five TV shows based on films.

1. Buffy The Vampire Slayer


Joss Whedon was never very happy with how the 1992 film version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer came out. Luckily for us all, he got the chance to show his vision when the TV show hit the screens in 1997. Lasting seven seasons, we saw Buffy kick some serious undead ass, fall in love, sacrifice herself to save the world... then come back and do it all again. The show's quality does veer from absolutely excellent (The Body, Once More With Feeling) to utterly dire (Bad Eggs, Reptile Boy) but it's always watchable.

2. Stargate


Now this is how you do a television spin-off! The 1994 film with Kurt Russell and James Spader (as Dr. Daniel Jackson) has spawned no less than three full TV shows- Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007), Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009) and SGU: Stargate Universe (2009)- and several one-off stories (The Ark Of Truth, Continuum), as well as an animated version (Stargate: Infinity). Not bad for one- admittedly quite brilliant- film.

3. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

This TV show- which sadly only ran for two seasons from 2008-2009- was set directly after Terminator 2: Judgment Day and showed Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker) staying under the radar whilst trying to plot the destruction of Skynet. A decent series, Headey is kickass as always... plus it essentially retcons Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. Can't be bad! 

4. Friday Night Lights

Peter Berg directed the 2004 movie version which starred Billy Bob Thornton as the coach of the Permian High Panthers, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas. The TV version was commissioned in 2006 and ran til 2011 with Kyle Chandler in the lead role as coach Eric Taylor and Connie Britton playing his wife - Britton appeared in the film version, also playing the coach's wife.

5. M*A*S*H*

Robert Altman's 1970 war comedy- starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Robert Duvall- saw the staff of a Korean war field hospital use humour to keep themselves together whilst facing the horrors of war. In 1972, a television version was commissioned which ran for 11 seasons and over 250 episodes, with the final episode 'Goodbye, Farewell and Amen' becoming the most-watched TV series finale ever with over 105 million viewers. This is a record that still stands today.

And just one little added extra...

6. Carry On Laughing

The Carry On films are a staple of British cinema, from the gentle comedy of Carry On Sergeant in 1958 to the barely single-entendre shenanigans of Carry On Emmannuelle in 1978. In 1975, it was time for the small screen version. Pastiching such varied subjects as Lord Peter Wimsey, the Knights of The Round Table, and Upstairs Downstairs, it ran for thirteen episodes across two series. Some of the big Carry On names- such as Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey- did not appear at all, while others- Sid James and Hattie Jacques- only made very fleeting appearances. It's patchy as all hell, camp as you like, but- like Carry On itself- endearing and surprisingly funny in places.

There are dozens of examples of TV shows based on films, these are just a small selection of them. Are there any particularly good- or bad- examples? Let us know in the comments below.


Friday, 29 August 2014

Programme 39: Lucy, The Expendables 3, and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

The Watchers Film Show: Ep 39 from The Watchers Film Show on Vimeo.

Our latest programme is now available to view! 

In another packed show, we discuss Luc Besson's latest movie, Lucy, starring Scarlett Johannson and Morgan Freeman; Rhys gives his opinion on The Expendables 3, and (as promised) we discuss our thoughts on Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sin City (2005)

Currently in cinemas is Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the hotly-anticipated sequel to 2005's Sin City. This seems like a good time to go back to assess the original film.

Sin City is, on the very basic level, a comic book adaptation. Frank Miller wrote the Sin City graphic novels between 1991 and 2000 but- having had a negative experience of working in Hollywood (with his screenplays for RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3 being drastically altered)- Miller was not keen to release the film rights for any of his other comic books, for fear of the same thing happening again. 

Director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty) was a huge fan of the comic-book series and wanted to make a film version of them- but wanted it to be a 'translation, not an adaptation', sticking very closely to the source material. Choosing a 3-page short story entitled 'The Customer Is Always Right' from the 1994 collection The Babe Wore Red And Other Stories, Rodriguez got actors Marley Shelton (The Customer) and Josh Hartnett (The Salesman) to perform against a green-screen then added the background scenery in digitally. Once filming was completed, Rodriguez flew Miller into Austin to see the finished result. Very happy with the end result, Miller agreed for several of his Sin City yarns to be adapted for the film. This 'proof of concept' footage acts as the opening scene of the film.

Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton in 'The Customer Is Always Right'
The three yarns adapted for the film are 'That Yellow Bastard' (the Hartigan/Nancy storyline), 'The Hard Goodbye' (Marv's story) and 'The Big Fat Kill' (Dwight's tale), and the film takes the Pulp Fiction mode of having separate chapters but not necessarily seen in the proper chronological order. It is interesting to note there is no official screenwriting credit for the film, apart from noting they are based on Miller's graphic novels. That is because of Rodriguez' desire to translate Miller's work as closely as possible on-screen. Rodriguez and Miller worked very closely together, with Miller providing direction to the actors and Rodriguez using the original comic books as storyboards. Rodriguez felt both he and Miller should be credited as directors and, when the Directors Guild of America would not allow it, Rodriguez resigned from the DGA to allow the co-director credit to stand. Quentin Tarantino is credited as a Special Guest Director, for filming a scene in 'The Big Fat Kill' which sees Dwight (Clive Owen) imagining a conversation with Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) in his car, before being pulled over by the police.

Tarantino's scene
Along with Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow (2004), Sin City is one of the first films to be shot on a digital backlot. Whilst the majority of the film was shot on green-screen, using Sony HDC-950 high-definition digital cameras, there were several practical sets created, including Kadie's Bar (seen in all three stories) and Shellie's apartment (seen in 'The Big Fat Kill'). The film was initially shot in colour and then converted to black-and-white with colorisation of certain elements within a scene (the colour of someone's eyes or lips, a car, and so on). The end result is striking, stylish and not like anything that had come before it. The visual style of the film is absolutely sumptuous, the backgrounds beautifully rendered. The violence- and there is a lot of it, limbs flying round with abandon, blood splattering all over the place- is strikingly rendered in white (and yellow in one scene) which adds to the comic book feel of the piece. It would certainly be a different film if the bloodshed was rendered properly.

Nick Stahl as The Yellow Bastard
Performances are pretty good across the board, with Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen giving solid lead performances as Hartigan, Marv, and Dwight respectively. Willis' performance is emotionally affecting- Hartigan feels like the last good man in a corrupt police force, fighting to save the young Nancy from the clutches of an abusive child molester. Rourke is great as Marv, a solid lump of a man with a bizarre streak of chivalry which leads him to track down the killers of a young woman who was kind to him. Owen oozes danger and charisma as Dwight, a criminal caught in the crossfire between the girls of Old Town and a corrupt cop. There's a great turn by Rosario Dawson as Gail, de facto leader of the girls of Old Town and a former flame of Dwight's. Jessica Alba is similarly strong as the grown-up Nancy who still remembers the man who saved her, whilst Rutger Hauer has a nice cameo as Cardinal Roark, whose misdemeanours lead him to a confrontation with Marv. 

Mickey Rourke as Marv
The film was shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and was in competition for the Palme d'Or. Whilst it did not win, Rodriguez was awarded the Technical Grand Prize for the film's visual style. It grossed $29.1 million in its opening weekend in the US and took $158.7 million at the box-office worldwide. Reviews were, as you might expect, mixed. Whilst Roger Ebert called it 'uncompromising and extreme... and brilliant' (giving it 4 out of 4) and another reviewer stating 'Really, there will be no reason for anyone to make a comic-book film ever again', other reviews lingered on the 'murder, torture, decapitation, rape, and misogyny.' It is not a film for the fainthearted or the easily offended. It is a relentlessly macho film, a gritty throwback to the film noir style of the 1940s where men were men and women were either virgins or whores. There's a lot of female flesh on show but there's also a refreshing streak of unapologetic female sexuality (seen in Gail and the girls of Old Town). 

Sin City is hailed by some as a modern classic and its place in the evolution of film-making is undeniable. It's gritty, gory, stylish, visceral and one hell of a ride. But does A Dame To Kill For live up to it? We'll be sharing our thoughts on the film in an upcoming programme.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)

It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of Lauren Bacall. The Hollywood star of the Golden Age has passed away at the age of 89.

Born Betty Joan Perske in New York in 1924, Bacall came to the notice of Hollywood director Howard Hawks when she modelled for Harper's Bazaar. She made a very memorable screen debut playing lounge singer Marie 'Slim' Browning in Hawks' 1944 war adventure To Have And Have Not. The 19-year old Bacall starred opposite the 44-year old Humphrey Bogart, and gave one of cinema's most iconic lines: 'You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.' Called a 'sensational new discovery' and referred to by Variety as 'a young lady of presence' in their review of the year, Bacall impressed many- including Bogart, who she married in 1945. They starred together in three more movies- The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948)- and were together until Bogart died in 1957.

She had a memorable role in How To Marry A Millionaire (1953) opposite Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and appeared in televised versions of The Petrified Forest and Blithe Spirit. After Bogart's death, she appeared in a few mediocre films and then took to the Broadway stage, where she performed for five years in various productions to high acclaim. In 1967, she appeared in the Broadway comedy Cactus Flower- which she performed in for two years- and then proceeded to go into a musical version of the 1950 Bette Davis film All About Eve, now titled Applause. Bacall won a Tony for her performance and also played the role in London.

On the big screen, she put in a marvellous performance as the abrasive Mrs Hubbard in Sidney Lumet's star-studded version of Murder On The Orient Express (1974) and appeared in John Wayne's last movie The Shootist (1976). She had a rare starring role as an actress being stalked by a deranged admirer in 1981's The Fan, but the reviews weren't great (although many praised Bacall's performance). Later that year, she returned to Broadway to star in the musical version of Woman Of The Year. In 1988, she appeared in another Agatha Christie adaptation- Appointment With Death- an appeared as James Caan's agent in Misery (1990). 

In 1996, Bacall appeared as Barbra Streisand's mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces. For this role, she was nominated for her first- and only- Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actress category (but lost to Juliette Binoche). In the same year, she appeared opposite Jack Lemmon and James Garner in comedy My Fellow Americans.

In 2003, she appeared in Lars Von Trier's Dogville (reuniting with the director for his 2005 film Manderlay) and also provided the English language voice of The Witch Of The Waste for Studio Ghibli's version of Howl's Moving Castle. She also appeared opposite Dogville co-star Nicole Kidman in Jonathan Glazer's controversial 2005 movie Birth, and appeared as herself in an episode of The Sopranos. Her last on-screen credit was in the 2012 movie The Forger with Alfred Molina and Josh Hutcherson.

Whilst never winning a competitive Oscar, she was one of the first recipients of the Governors Awards (honorary lifetime achievement Oscars), receiving the honour in 2009. In her book Now, she wrote “I’m called a legend by some, a title and category I am less than fond of.” Legend, she said, was a reference to the past, and she was more interested in the present and future. Despite her reticence for the title, many do regard Bacall as a legend. I would go one further and say she is an icon of Hollywood's Golden Age. She leaves behind an impressive legacy. My thoughts are with her family and friends at this time.