Morgan Freeman in The Seven Samurai (well, almost…)

We went to see the Sunday matinee of The Seven Samurai at The Rex last weekend. I’ve wanted to see the film for ages and it was great that a chance came up at our lovely cinema. I wasn’t disappointed – for a Japanese film made in the 1950s it was surprisingly accessible and I could see exactly why it was remade as a western.

I couldn’t help feeling that I had seen the actor playing the main samurai somewhere before. Towards the end of the film it hit me – he was the spitting image of Morgan Freeman. A little digging turfed up this picture of Takashi Shimura – take a look for yourself to see what I mean. I think it was that he was doing so much of the ‘staring in disbelief and not daring to speak’ type-poses that really did it for me. I thought it was really cool that I wasn’t the first person to make this connection – see this review at the Internet Movie Database.

Great film, great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Young @ Heart

If you’re not doing anything right now I suggest tuning in to Channel 4 to watch ‘Young @ Heart’. It’s a lovely film about a group of singers in America who have an average age of 2-3 times my own but perform concerts of alternative music such as Sonic Youth and James Brown. We watched it a couple of weeks back on More4 and loved it. Heart-warming stuff!

Run, Fat Boy, Run

On location filming Run, Fat Boy, RunMy brother-in-law is visiting us this weekend so we thought we’d take a drive to Spitalfields Market in London. As we walked over to the market, past Exchange Square, we noticed a load of trucks, lights and cables all being shifted around. On the way back we saw scores of people hanging around in smart business dress – pretty unusual for a Sunday – and on closer inspection we discovered that they were all extras standing around waiting to be filmed. The director was none other than David Schwimmer of Friends fame.

Not that exciting but worth a blog! The film doesn’t look that original but at this early stage I’m not sure I can judge. Would be cool to see the Exchange Square scene in the final cut, though.

Bollywood season coming to Channel 4

I am very excited to see that Channel 4 are about to start their annual Bollywood season today. I’ve always been interested in Indian culture and music and after much research last year I bought my first Bollywood film – Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. My wife and I loved it (admittedly me a little more than her) and found ourselves singing the songs around the house. It’s a fun movie and had everything I would have expected from a Bollywood film – a big romance, tragedy and lots of comedy. Shahrukh Khan is very good – I found out later that he’s one of the biggest Bolywood stars out there – and Kajol is lovely.

Since then, I’ve bought a few more DVDs but haven’t quite got around to watching them yet. On recommendation from some of my Indian colleagues at work I now have Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Black and the strangely-named Jism. Hopefully now that my project has gone live at work I’ll have a bit more time to watch them. Perhaps I should organise a Bollywood night at my house once we’ve had all our building work done?

If you want to try one out on Channel 4 this year, I’m told that Murder is the Hindi version of Unfaithful which I thought was great. It’ll be showing at 00:45 on 17 November 2005.

The Rex Cinema

Soon after moving to Berkhamsted my wife and I were quick to find out about the Rex Cinema, a beautiful art-deco cinema built in 1938. The cinema had actually closed in 1988 but reopened in 2004 after three years of restoration from its derelict state.

The cinema is an absolute feast for all the senses. The films that are shown are fantastic – they tend to only be on for one or two days but vary between modern blockbusters, excellent foreign-language movies and classics that may not have been seen for some time. We’ve already been twice in the four weeks since we have lived here – the first was to see 5×2, a recent French film, and the second was to see five short silent Buster Keaton movies accompanied by live piano! We thoroughly enjoyed both of them, but the Buster Keaton night was particularly special for the sheer fun and novelty of the evening.

The cinema is absolutely beautiful inside. All of the seats are made of a lovely red velvet-like material and are gorgeous to sit on. The best thing for us, though, has to be the fact that in the lower half of the cinema you get a rotating red chair seated round a small table with easy access to the fab bar behind – just for a couple of pounds extra from what you pay for a normal seat in the top half of the cinema. A glass of wine with your film? The movies will never be the same again!

The Red Shoes

red_shoes.jpgLast night we stayed in and watched The Red Shoes, an absolutely delightful film. It tells the story of the Lermontov ballet; how a young talented composer (Julian Craster, played by Marius Goring) and a gifted dancer (Victoria Page, played by Moira Shearer) come to join the company and produce the ballet of The Red Shoes, based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Andersen’s story is about a young girl who wants to have and cannot stop thinking about a beautiful pair of red shoes. When she gets them, an old soldier puts a spell of them that makes them dance without stopping – eventually an executioner chops off her feet and ultimately she dies. In the ballet within the film, the shoes dance the girl to her death. This story is reflected in the plot of the film itself, with Victoria ultimately being given a choice between her life and her art.

The documentary on the DVD tells us that the theme of dying for your art has made the film very popular with talented directors such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. At the time of its release in 1948 this theme was quite a statement – World War II had just finished and people were used to people dying for their country and dying for democracy – dying for art must have seemed relatively frivolous and quite offensive. Gorgeous as it is, the film was not promoted extensively in the UK and did not prove popular at first, as this review from The Monthly Film Bulletin on the BFI website shows. However, the film was nominated for five Oscars and won two – for Art Direction (Color) and Music – and went on to become a classic.

Vera Drake

We went out on Thursday night to the wonderful Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley to see Vera Drake, the latest film from director Mike Leigh. I didn’t quite know what to expect – we had seen the trailer a week before, which looked excellent, but I had read the review in Uncut magazine, which didn’t like it at all. It’s a wonderful, if very tragic and depressing film – probably one of the saddest things I have ever seen. Good for a melancholy weeknight.

Having seen the film I completely disagree with the Uncut reviewer, John Mulvey, when he calls the film “crude and unconvincing” and says that the director “drags out his thin, grim plot with sadistic relish.” I felt the film got the pace just right – we got to know the characters and the family before things start to go awry. From the consolidated reviews over at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, it looks like most people agree.