Mr. Craig's Film Diary

a very important document of my viewing habits

Frau im Mond (Woman on the Moon)Directed by Fritz LangScreenplay by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou (based on the novel by Thea von Harbou)Weimar Republic, 1929
Watched on 8th August 2014First viewing

Frau im Mond was Fritz Lang’s last silent film, but a first in many respects. It’s the first film to depict such standard things as weightlessness in space, the use of a multistage rocket, and counting down to a rocket launch — the first attempt at a ‘serious’ science-fiction film, basically.
But the film begins not as sci-fi but as espionage, with a sinister gang of businessmen trying to steal space travel plans from the outcast visionary Professor Mannfeldt (Klaus Pohl) and his entrepreneurial friend Helius (Willy Fritsch). Mannfeldt believes the moon holds vast reserves of gold, which the evil businessmen (represented by Fritz Rasp, as “The man who calls himself Turner”) intend to retrieve before it gets into the hands of those with better intentions. Turner eventually outsmarts Helius and Mannfeldt and joins them on their voyage, along with Helius’ assistants Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) and Friede (Gerda Maurus), who are newly-engaged — much to the distress of Helius, who secretly loves Friede. (Perhaps not so secretly, considering his rocket is named after her…)
It’s been a while since I watched a silent drama, so it took me a while to adjust to the relatively slow pacing. But once I had adjusted, I loved this film. The futuristic art deco design is delightful, Fritz Rasp is superbly sinister as “Turner”, and Gerda Maurus is mesmerising (and stunningly beautiful) as Friede.

Frau im Mond (Woman on the Moon)
Directed by Fritz Lang
Screenplay by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou (based on the novel by Thea von Harbou)
Weimar Republic, 1929

Watched on 8th August 2014
First viewing

Frau im Mond was Fritz Lang’s last silent film, but a first in many respects. It’s the first film to depict such standard things as weightlessness in space, the use of a multistage rocket, and counting down to a rocket launch — the first attempt at a ‘serious’ science-fiction film, basically.

But the film begins not as sci-fi but as espionage, with a sinister gang of businessmen trying to steal space travel plans from the outcast visionary Professor Mannfeldt (Klaus Pohl) and his entrepreneurial friend Helius (Willy Fritsch). Mannfeldt believes the moon holds vast reserves of gold, which the evil businessmen (represented by Fritz Rasp, as “The man who calls himself Turner”) intend to retrieve before it gets into the hands of those with better intentions. Turner eventually outsmarts Helius and Mannfeldt and joins them on their voyage, along with Helius’ assistants Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) and Friede (Gerda Maurus), who are newly-engaged — much to the distress of Helius, who secretly loves Friede. (Perhaps not so secretly, considering his rocket is named after her…)

It’s been a while since I watched a silent drama, so it took me a while to adjust to the relatively slow pacing. But once I had adjusted, I loved this film. The futuristic art deco design is delightful, Fritz Rasp is superbly sinister as “Turner”, and Gerda Maurus is mesmerising (and stunningly beautiful) as Friede.


Muppets Most WantedDirected by James BobinScreenplay by Nicholas Stoller and James BobinUSA, 2014
Watched (at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford) on 4th August 2014First viewing

Muppets Most Wanted follows on directly from the previous muppet movie. In true fourth-wall-smashing fashion, the gang wonders why the cameras are still trained on them when the story’s finished, until they realise they’re doing a sequel. So far so good… but it never lives up to that promise.
The muppets plan to consolidate their success with a world tour, encouraged by their new manager, the ominously-named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Constantine — an evil Russian mastermind frog — escapes from prison and disguises himself as Kermit, so he can plan an elaborate jewel heist to coincide with the international tour dates booked by Dominic, his partner in crime.
Meanwhile the real Kermit, assumed to be Constantine, is imprisoned in a Siberian Gulag guarded by the ever-wonderful Tina Fey. The human cast also includes Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo as Kermit’s fellow inmates, plus Ty Burrell as an interpol agent investigating Constantine and Dominic’s crimes, and an impressive (if indulgent) list of celebrity cameos.
Muppets Most Wanted is an okay muppet movie. There are plenty of laughs, but the film is longer and more densely-plotted than it needs to be. But even an okay muppet movie has plenty to please me — just seeing Kermit and the gang is a joy. A slightly less magical joy now that Jim Henson is no longer the man behind the frog, but a joy nonetheless

Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by James Bobin
Screenplay by Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin
USA, 2014

Watched (at the Phoenix Picturehouse, Oxford) on 4th August 2014
First viewing

Muppets Most Wanted follows on directly from the previous muppet movie. In true fourth-wall-smashing fashion, the gang wonders why the cameras are still trained on them when the story’s finished, until they realise they’re doing a sequel. So far so good… but it never lives up to that promise.

The muppets plan to consolidate their success with a world tour, encouraged by their new manager, the ominously-named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais). Constantine — an evil Russian mastermind frog — escapes from prison and disguises himself as Kermit, so he can plan an elaborate jewel heist to coincide with the international tour dates booked by Dominic, his partner in crime.

Meanwhile the real Kermit, assumed to be Constantine, is imprisoned in a Siberian Gulag guarded by the ever-wonderful Tina Fey. The human cast also includes Jemaine Clement, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo as Kermit’s fellow inmates, plus Ty Burrell as an interpol agent investigating Constantine and Dominic’s crimes, and an impressive (if indulgent) list of celebrity cameos.

Muppets Most Wanted is an okay muppet movie. There are plenty of laughs, but the film is longer and more densely-plotted than it needs to be. But even an okay muppet movie has plenty to please me — just seeing Kermit and the gang is a joy. A slightly less magical joy now that Jim Henson is no longer the man behind the frog, but a joy nonetheless


Anchorman 2: The Legend ContinuesDirected by Adam McKayScreenplay by Will Ferrell and Adam McKayUSA, 2013
Watched on 3rd August 2014First viewing

I haven’t seen another Will Ferrell film as consistently funny as Anchorman. The sequel, coming nine years after the original, replicates some of the highlights of the original, throws in some impressive cameos, and takes the absurdity to levels that stopped being funny to me. The original “well that escalated quickly” riot scene was funny, but this one — which takes place in a spacious New York City park and culminates in a large explosion from Steve Carell’s “gun from the future” — not so much…

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Directed by Adam McKay
Screenplay by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
USA, 2013

Watched on 3rd August 2014
First viewing

I haven’t seen another Will Ferrell film as consistently funny as Anchorman. The sequel, coming nine years after the original, replicates some of the highlights of the original, throws in some impressive cameos, and takes the absurdity to levels that stopped being funny to me. The original “well that escalated quickly” riot scene was funny, but this one — which takes place in a spacious New York City park and culminates in a large explosion from Steve Carell’s “gun from the future” — not so much…


Jour de FêteDirected by Jacques TatiScreenplay by Henri Marquet, René Wheeler and Jacques TatiFrance, 1949
Watched on 2nd August 2014First viewing

Jacques Tati’s Hulot films are among my all-time favourite things in all categories of things. Now I am the delighted owner of StudioCanal’s new blu-ray box set. I have been watching through the set in chronological order, starting with his early short films. Those are interesting to see, but only one of them (L’Ecole des facteurs, aka School for Postmen) hinted at the brilliance that Tati would later develop. Last night I finally got to watch his first feature film. Somehow I’d never seen it before…
Jour de Fête features Tati’s postman character from L’Ecole des facteurs, who is now given a name: François. He starts out delivering the post at a leisurely pace, often stopping to talk, drink, dance, and help his fellow villagers with their chores. When the local fête’s cinema shows a documentary on the efficiency of American postal workers, François is shamed and inspired to match their pace, leading to an hilarious sequence of gags mostly adapted from the earlier short film.
While L’Ecole des facteurs focuses solely on the postman trying to do his rounds at breakneck speed, Jour de Fête features characters from the whole town on the day of a visiting fête. The people struggle to erect a flagpole in the town square, the café owner repaints his chairs which then refuse to dry, a visiting carnival worker flirts with a local girl (much to his wife’s annoyance), and an old lady comments on it all while she’s out walking her pet goat. It’s not so much a story as an observation, good-natured and full of inventive gags both visual and audial.
If Tati’s early shorts were the work of an artist trying to find his own style, his debut feature film is where he most definitely found it. From there he would make three of my favourite films ever: Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot, Mon Oncle, and Play Time. I look forward to revisiting them all soon, and adding Jour de Fête to my rounds in future.

Jour de Fête
Directed by Jacques Tati
Screenplay by Henri Marquet, René Wheeler and Jacques Tati
France, 1949

Watched on 2nd August 2014
First viewing

Jacques Tati’s Hulot films are among my all-time favourite things in all categories of things. Now I am the delighted owner of StudioCanal’s new blu-ray box set. I have been watching through the set in chronological order, starting with his early short films. Those are interesting to see, but only one of them (L’Ecole des facteurs, aka School for Postmen) hinted at the brilliance that Tati would later develop. Last night I finally got to watch his first feature film. Somehow I’d never seen it before…

Jour de Fête features Tati’s postman character from L’Ecole des facteurs, who is now given a name: François. He starts out delivering the post at a leisurely pace, often stopping to talk, drink, dance, and help his fellow villagers with their chores. When the local fête’s cinema shows a documentary on the efficiency of American postal workers, François is shamed and inspired to match their pace, leading to an hilarious sequence of gags mostly adapted from the earlier short film.

While L’Ecole des facteurs focuses solely on the postman trying to do his rounds at breakneck speed, Jour de Fête features characters from the whole town on the day of a visiting fête. The people struggle to erect a flagpole in the town square, the café owner repaints his chairs which then refuse to dry, a visiting carnival worker flirts with a local girl (much to his wife’s annoyance), and an old lady comments on it all while she’s out walking her pet goat. It’s not so much a story as an observation, good-natured and full of inventive gags both visual and audial.

If Tati’s early shorts were the work of an artist trying to find his own style, his debut feature film is where he most definitely found it. From there he would make three of my favourite films ever: Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot, Mon Oncle, and Play Time. I look forward to revisiting them all soon, and adding Jour de Fête to my rounds in future.


Witness for the ProsecutionDirected by Billy WilderScreenplay by Larry Marcus, Billy Wilder and Harry Kurnitz (based on the play by Agatha Christie)USA, 1957
Watched on 2nd August 2014First viewing

I’ve been a fan of Billy Wilder almost as long as I’ve been a fan of classic films in general, and I sought out nearly all his classics in quick succession. As such, it’s been years since I saw a Billy Wilder film I’d never seen before. And what a treat it is!
Witness for the Prosecution is Wilder’s take on courtroom drama. The film actually focuses more on the barrister for the defence, Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton). Sir Wilfrid has just returned to work (against his doctor’s orders) after a heart attack, and is constantly pestered by his nurse, Miss Plimsoll — played by Laughton’s actual wife Elsa Lanchester. Their scenes together are delightful, full of spirited bickering and Wilder-esque humour.
[THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS]
The defendant is Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), accused of murdering a rich old widow who had made him the main beneficiary in her will. Circumstantial evidence points to his guilt, and even his glamorous German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich - who else?) seems unwilling to corroborate his alibi. Leonard’s case only starts turning his way when a mysterious stranger discredits Christine’s testimony.
The delightfully twisty plot would be a lot more effective were it not for the fact that the mysterious stranger is quite clearly Marlene Dietrich in disguise, sporting a very dodgy cockney accent. The pay-off is still a surprise, but a lot less of a surprise than it could have been. Still, most of the rest of the film was wonderful. I was pleasantly surprised by Tyrone Power, unsurprisingly beguiled by Marlene Dietrich, and greatly amused by the interplay between Laughton and Lanchester. Good stuff.
Now, I wonder what other Wilder films I have left to see…

Witness for the Prosecution
Directed by Billy WilderScreenplay by Larry Marcus, Billy Wilder and Harry Kurnitz (based on the play by Agatha Christie)
USA, 1957

Watched on 2nd August 2014
First viewing

I’ve been a fan of Billy Wilder almost as long as I’ve been a fan of classic films in general, and I sought out nearly all his classics in quick succession. As such, it’s been years since I saw a Billy Wilder film I’d never seen before. And what a treat it is!

Witness for the Prosecution is Wilder’s take on courtroom drama. The film actually focuses more on the barrister for the defence, Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton). Sir Wilfrid has just returned to work (against his doctor’s orders) after a heart attack, and is constantly pestered by his nurse, Miss Plimsoll — played by Laughton’s actual wife Elsa Lanchester. Their scenes together are delightful, full of spirited bickering and Wilder-esque humour.

[THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS]

The defendant is Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), accused of murdering a rich old widow who had made him the main beneficiary in her will. Circumstantial evidence points to his guilt, and even his glamorous German wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich - who else?) seems unwilling to corroborate his alibi. Leonard’s case only starts turning his way when a mysterious stranger discredits Christine’s testimony.

The delightfully twisty plot would be a lot more effective were it not for the fact that the mysterious stranger is quite clearly Marlene Dietrich in disguise, sporting a very dodgy cockney accent. The pay-off is still a surprise, but a lot less of a surprise than it could have been. Still, most of the rest of the film was wonderful. I was pleasantly surprised by Tyrone Power, unsurprisingly beguiled by Marlene Dietrich, and greatly amused by the interplay between Laughton and Lanchester. Good stuff.

Now, I wonder what other Wilder films I have left to see…

(Source: doctormacro.com)


Jack Goes BoatingDirected by Philip Seymour HoffmanScreenplay by Robert Glaudini (based on his own play)USA, 2010
Watched on 20th July 2014First viewing

Jack Goes Boating was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s first (and, sadly, only) film as director. Hoffman also stars as the eponymous Jack, a lonely limo driver whose friends set him up on a blind date. While he and Connie (Amy Ryan) are taking their first tentative steps into a relationship, the friends who introduced them (John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega) are reaching the end of their own relationship.
It’s hardly a unique story, but Hoffman’s sensitive direction and the four lead actors’ performances make it touching and compelling. It’s a sore reminder of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s talent, and the tragedy of his loss.

Jack Goes Boating
Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman
Screenplay by Robert Glaudini (based on his own play)
USA, 2010

Watched on 20th July 2014
First viewing

Jack Goes Boating was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s first (and, sadly, only) film as director. Hoffman also stars as the eponymous Jack, a lonely limo driver whose friends set him up on a blind date. While he and Connie (Amy Ryan) are taking their first tentative steps into a relationship, the friends who introduced them (John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega) are reaching the end of their own relationship.

It’s hardly a unique story, but Hoffman’s sensitive direction and the four lead actors’ performances make it touching and compelling. It’s a sore reminder of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s talent, and the tragedy of his loss.


The Station AgentWritten and directed by Thomas McCarthyUSA, 2003
Watched on 28th June 2014First viewing

I truly loved The Station Agent. I wish there were more films like it. How many films are there with a disabled central character, played by an appropriately disabled actor (the wonderful Peter Dinklage), avoiding the patronisingly “inspirational” overcoming-the-odds narrative. Finn’s achondroplastic dwarfism informs his character and the way strangers react to him — with intrigue, ridicule or pity, each one infuriating in its own way — but this is not a message film. It’s about the unlikely, sometimes strained friendships between disparate lonely people, one of whom happens to be disabled. It’s funny, melancholy, observed beautifully, and acted brilliantly by Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale.

The Station Agent
Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy
USA, 2003

Watched on 28th June 2014
First viewing

I truly loved The Station Agent. I wish there were more films like it. How many films are there with a disabled central character, played by an appropriately disabled actor (the wonderful Peter Dinklage), avoiding the patronisingly “inspirational” overcoming-the-odds narrative. Finn’s achondroplastic dwarfism informs his character and the way strangers react to him — with intrigue, ridicule or pity, each one infuriating in its own way — but this is not a message film. It’s about the unlikely, sometimes strained friendships between disparate lonely people, one of whom happens to be disabled. It’s funny, melancholy, observed beautifully, and acted brilliantly by Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson and Bobby Cannavale.


This Sporting LifeDirected by Lindsay AndersonScreenplay by David Storey (based on his own novel)UK, 1963
Watched on 27th June 2014First viewing

I’m afraid this film left me rather cold. I can see that it’s well made, well acted and all that… but it just didn’t do it for me. Oh well.

This Sporting Life
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Screenplay by David Storey (based on his own novel)
UK, 1963

Watched on 27th June 2014
First viewing

I’m afraid this film left me rather cold. I can see that it’s well made, well acted and all that… but it just didn’t do it for me. Oh well.


Tron: LegacyDirected by Joseph KosinskiScreenplay by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (based on characters by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird)USA, 2010
Watched on 22nd June 2014First viewing

Having recently revisited the original Tron — a childhood favourite — I thought I’d finally give the sequel a try. It’s a slick CGI affair which shows just how far computer animation has come in the intervening 28 years, but it lacks some of the charm of the original. (Possibly just because I have fond childhood memories of Tron, and I’m seeing this through my jaded adult eyes.)
Also, the technology used to make Jeff Bridges (as evil computer program CLU) appear 28 years younger gives him the eerie doll-like appearance of a Polar Express character. This is especially noticeable when CLU is face-to-face with Bridges’ appropriately-aged human character, Kevin Flynn. Perhaps the difference would be less distracting if all the computer program characters were similarly CGI animated, but CLU is alone in his creepy dead-eyed appearance, with the exception of a brief cameo by Bruce Boxleitner as the eponymous Tron.
Michael Sheen’s Bowie-esque performance as a flamboyant nightclub owner is fun though. (Wait, computers have nightclubs? Computers have nights? Don’t overthink it…)

Tron: Legacy
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (based on characters by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird)
USA, 2010

Watched on 22nd June 2014
First viewing

Having recently revisited the original Tron — a childhood favourite — I thought I’d finally give the sequel a try. It’s a slick CGI affair which shows just how far computer animation has come in the intervening 28 years, but it lacks some of the charm of the original. (Possibly just because I have fond childhood memories of Tron, and I’m seeing this through my jaded adult eyes.)

Also, the technology used to make Jeff Bridges (as evil computer program CLU) appear 28 years younger gives him the eerie doll-like appearance of a Polar Express character. This is especially noticeable when CLU is face-to-face with Bridges’ appropriately-aged human character, Kevin Flynn. Perhaps the difference would be less distracting if all the computer program characters were similarly CGI animated, but CLU is alone in his creepy dead-eyed appearance, with the exception of a brief cameo by Bruce Boxleitner as the eponymous Tron.

Michael Sheen’s Bowie-esque performance as a flamboyant nightclub owner is fun though. (Wait, computers have nightclubs? Computers have nights? Don’t overthink it…)


The GeneralDirected by Clyde Bruckman and Buster KeatonWritten by Al Boasberg, Clyde Bruckman and Buster KeatonUSA, 1926
Watched (at Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford) on 20th June 2014With live musical accompaniment by Ric Elsworth (percussion) and Peter Foggitt (piano)

Tonight was a truly special cinematic experience. I’ve been a Buster Keaton fan since I first saw The General on DVD six or seven years ago. Since then I’ve seen nearly all his silent films in numerous editions, but this was my first time seeing the Great Stone Face on the big screen - with live music, no less!
Live music brings the film alive for the audience. There were ooh’s and ahh’s aplenty as Buster Keaton performed death-defying feats for the camera, accompanied by cascading piano, rumbling of tom-toms, the shocking crack of a snare, clashing cymbals…
One scene (in which Buster uses one railway sleeper to knock another off the tracks) even elicited a ripple of applause. It makes me a little emotional to think that a stunt from nearly 90 years ago made a group of people in Oxford clap tonight. Bravo, Buster!

The General
Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton
Written by Al Boasberg, Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton
USA, 1926

Watched (at Ultimate Picture Palace, Oxford) on 20th June 2014
With live musical accompaniment by Ric Elsworth (percussion) and Peter Foggitt (piano)

Tonight was a truly special cinematic experience. I’ve been a Buster Keaton fan since I first saw The General on DVD six or seven years ago. Since then I’ve seen nearly all his silent films in numerous editions, but this was my first time seeing the Great Stone Face on the big screen - with live music, no less!

Live music brings the film alive for the audience. There were ooh’s and ahh’s aplenty as Buster Keaton performed death-defying feats for the camera, accompanied by cascading piano, rumbling of tom-toms, the shocking crack of a snare, clashing cymbals…

One scene (in which Buster uses one railway sleeper to knock another off the tracks) even elicited a ripple of applause. It makes me a little emotional to think that a stunt from nearly 90 years ago made a group of people in Oxford clap tonight. Bravo, Buster!