Joe Blogs Film

Opinions and Reviews on The Latest and Greatest in Film

I’m not an expert when it comes to music, or composing. But, I do know a thing or two about film – which would be expected, when my website is called Joe Blogs Film. There are thousands of factors that go into making a good or great film, and composing is up there with acting, directing and writing as the make-or-breaks. A film with a bad score is doomed, but a film with a world-class score has the potential to go down as one of the greatest in history. This is what happened with more than a few films that Ennio Morricone was involved with.

A frequent collaborator of the legendary director Sergio Leone, Morricone rose to prominence within the Western genre, and expanded in time to cover Drama, Action, Horror, and even Shakespeare, with Hamlet (1990).

Tributes have being pouring in for the late composer, and he recieved praise this week from other musical icons, most notably from Hans Zimmer, who cited Morricone as one of the main composers that influenced him to follow that career path. Additionally, Morricone was that much of a Hollywood icon, that in 2007, an album was released called We all Love Ennio Morricone, with covers of his most popular compositions from artists including Celine Dion, Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Andrea Bocelli and Quincy Jones. So, who am I in comparison to these musical greats? Joe Blogs. Literally. So, instead of writing a touching tribute to an icon that I, like other film buffs, absolutely adore, I’m just going to list a few of my favourite songs of his below.

The Ecstacy of Gold – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)

Although The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is most famous for it’s iconic opening theme – you know, the one in literally every stand-off spoof ever – this song is nothing other than absolutely beautiful, and displays the sheer talent that Morricone had.

Gabriel’s Theme – The Mission (1986)

You may have heard this song in “study” soundtracks, meditation soundtracks, or covered by Yo-Yo Ma. This piece is stunning, so utterly serene and calming, and it speaks volumes that this score was nominated for an Academy Award.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Shamefully, this is the only film on the list that I haven’t seen, and I don’t have a good excuse as to why. I suppose when I finally do, this theme that I have embedded into my memory will enhance my experience tenfold.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Can you see that there was a theme here, once upon a time? This Sergio Leone classic comes in at nearly four hours running-time. It’s a long watch, and the music seems to evolve alongside the protagonist, David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert De Niro), creating a strangely immersive experience.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly – Main Theme (1966)

Did you really think I was going to miss this one out?

Rest in Peace, Maestro.

So far, I’ve posted my thoughts on 9 of my top 10 films, and before I reveal my all-time favourite, here’s a few films that I absolutely love, but just didn’t have room for in my top 10.

Love Actually (2003) – Yes, I will unashamedly admit that I love Love Actually. So much so that I saw it at Theatre Royal with a live orchestra, and my girlfriend recognised my love for Love Actually, and bought me a framed piece of film from the movie; the Hugh Grant dancing scene, obviously.

Hugh Grant says dance scene in 'Love Actually' was 'absolute hell ...
Hugh Grant doing his iconic dance to “Jump”

Trainspotting (1996) – Most Scots have a penchant for this iconic 90’s film, and I’m no exception. I’m a fan of everything Irvine Welsh, so it’s no major surprise that this film gets a mention.

Trainspotting: a look back at the most unforgettable scenes | CBC ...
Fun Fact – Kevin McKidd missed the shoot for this poster because he had a holiday booked

This is Spinal Tap (1984) – If you haven’t seen this film, go and watch it. It’s creative, inventive and absolutely hilarious. Especially if you’re a fan of Rock music.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984) - Rotten Tomatoes
The Lads

Paddington 2 (2017) – No, I’m not joking. This film is the most positively surprising film I’ve ever seen – I didn’t expect it to be even “good” but it was far beyond that, so much so that is one of the very few films with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Paddington 2 - Movies on Google Play
Paddington holding a 100% fresh Orange

Bananas (1971) – I love this film for many reasons, including a great wee appearance from a very young and undiscovered Sylvester Stallone.

Woody Allen is about to get yeeted by Sly Stallone

City of God (2002) – This film often finds itself in the “Ten Films to see Before you Die” type-list, and for good reason. It’s phenomenal.

City of God Analysis - Characters, Worldbuilding & Themes - YouTube
This Brazilian Crime Drama will have you in tears

The Shining (1980) – Stephen King famously doesn’t like Kubrick’s adaptation of his 1997 best-seller. I have to disagree with King on this one. I rarely prefer the film to the book it was adapted from, but The Shining is an exception.

Doctor Sleep: How Will Shining Sequel Resurrect Jack Torrance ...
Doctor: You shouldn’t be able to hear images. Me: Heeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!

Adaptation (2002) – If a screenwriter is struggling to write, this is the film for them to watch. From Charlie Kaufman, the writer of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, comes a screenplay about the process of screenwriting, with some wild twists and a genuinely great performance from the hot-and-cold Nicolas Cage, for which he bagged an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Adaptation review | Film | The Guardian
Nicholas Cage and Nicolas Cage in Adaptation

Shaun of the Dead (2004) – I haven’t seen anything from Edgar Wright that I have disliked, but I love this one the most. Sean of the Dead does horror-comedy better than any other film, and it’s simply iconic for British 90’s kids. Watch Shaun of the Dead | Prime Video

Parasite (2019) – The newest addition in the list, Parasite is just unbelievable. If you haven’t seen it, see it, and if you have, you’ll understand why Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece swept up at the 2019 Academy Awards, becoming the first foreign language film to win Best Picture.

Parasite 기생충 - Official Trailer - YouTube
If you haven’t seen this film, you’re missing out

Stay tuned for my next post, where I reveal my favourite film of all-time.

Fiddler on the roof is the film that makes me proud to be Jewish; and that’s pretty important, as Judaism is a huge part of my identity, and my life. Some fellow Jewish friends have repeatedly called me “The most Jewish Jewish person they know” – not the most religious, just the most Jewish – and I take that as a huge compliment. In the same way, I find this film to be the most “Jewish” film, as no film encapsulates the charisma and passion of the Jewish people better. Because of this, every time I watch it, I feel an overwhelming sense of both pride and joy, or ‘nachas’, if we’re getting technical and bringing Yiddish into it.

It may seem odd that I have a musical movie as my 2nd favourite films of all time, as these types of films, particularly stage-to-screen adaptations, can get a lot of flack from film reviewers, and more often than not, tend to be a shell of the original. But not Fiddler.

I’m listening to the iconic soundtrack as I write this, and I think that may have been a mistake, as all I want to do is shout out “yananainai” at the top of my lungs.

Watching Chaim Topol perform as Tevye, commanding the screen, being such an incredible presence, oozing chutzpah in every frame, that performance is what made me get into theatre as a kid, and kept me going onto drama school as a young adult. But Topol isn’t the only iconic performer in this film; in the credits are Norma Crane, Rosalind Harris, Leonard Frey, and of course Molly Picon as the legendary Yente – the entire ensemble works together to create one of the best films of the 70’s, and one of the best musical adaptations of all time.

Meanwhile…We suffer | A Life in Exile
The Iconic Molly Picon as Yente the Matchmaker

The long and short of it; I love this film. The only reason it’s not number one is because there are some glaring errors in the film; there are some hammy performances, some clumsy dancing, some rather outdated ideals, the unnecessarily terrifying “dream” sequence – and other things I could sit and pick apart, but I don’t want to – because as I said, and will say again, I love this film.

When I made this list, I didn’t go with films that I think are the most technically perfect or the films that would make the Academy gush, instead, I have chosen movies that resonate with me on a personal level, and affirm my love for cinema.

Growing up as a 90’s baby, both of my parents were huge fans of the Back to the Future series, so I recall watching all three films quite regularly when I was a kid. I was fascinated with the concept of time travel, and equally fascinated with the different time-periods portrayed on-screen.

I think, however, the main reason that this film enters my top 3 is because of the unforgettable viewing experience I had. When I was living and studying in New York, a good friend of mine gave me a ticket to see a special commemorative screening of Back to the Future at Radio City Music Hall, to celebrate the first film’s 30th anniversary. The performance came complete with a live orchestra playing John Williams’ epic score, an introduction from Doc himself, and the buzz of seeing a film alongside thousands of fellow fans that may be unique to Radio City. Additionally, seeing at-least 200 Marty’s, 100 Docs and a pair of the Nike MAG shoes modelled on Back to the Future II that retail for silly money (over $100,000) were all instrumental to the experience.

Nike MAG trainers, modelled on BTTF II

Anyway, Back to the Film…It’s no secret that BTTF has it’s problems, ; the blatant O.T.T stereotype of the Libyan terrorists doesn’t play well in 2020, and is horrifically offensive. And, of course, any time-travel film will undoubtedly have several plot-holes and paradoxes, but I think it’s so nostalgia-filled, so heart-warming and so damn funny, that it has held-up over the years.

Back to the Future

The tragedy of having a show as hyped-up as Hamilton, is that very few people actually get to see it. Despite hundreds of thousands people flocking to see Hamilton on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in The West End, in Puerto Rico, and Australia, there are still millions of fans and potential fans that haven’t had the chance to sit in the theatre and see this phenomenon, thanks to high ticket prices, unprescedented demand, and finite seats.  And, now, due to to Covid-19, it is impossible to see any live theatre, now, or in the foreseeable future.

That’s where Disney Plus comes in to save the day. Of course, here in the UK we have not been deprived of online theatre, with countless shows being made available from The National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and several other heavy-hitters in UK. And, across the virtual pond, productions such as Falsetto’s, Jesus Christ Superstar, and even Cirque de Soleil have been made available to watch/stream. And don’t get me wrong, I have loved taking my seat on my sofa and watching Frankenstein, The Barbershop Chronicles, and getting my Shakespeare fix in the form of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, but I’m a HUGE Hamilton fan, and when I heard the news that it was coming to Disney Plus, I was pretty excited.

I watched Hamilton as soon as it was available on Disney Plus, and I absolutely adored it. I am incredibly fortunate to have seen Hamilton on the West End twice (it’s that good, – if I’d won every raffle/lottery I’d entered, I would have gone many more times). I never saw the original cast perform, and I just assumed I’d thrown away my shot at that. When I was living in New York, Hamilton was picking up speed and hype, but it wasn’t yet the global mammoth that it is now, I was offered cheap tickets to either Hamilton or previews of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s never-before-seen School of Rock. I chose the latter, and had absolutely no complaints; Alex Brightman is hands-down one of my favourite performers, so much so that I specifically went to see Beetlejuice when I visited New York in February of this year, despite never having seen the film, and it was brilliant. Both that and School of Rock were.

Anyway, back on track; as brilliant as both sets of casts were in The West End’s Hamilton, I would have loved to seen Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr, Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Jonathan Groff – I could go on and on and on and on. Disney Plus allows it’s subscribers to do just that, in a way that is just not possible even if you are in the theatre; up close – like, really up close. So up close that you can see Jonathan Groff literally frothing at the mouth during You’ll be Back. There were tons of minute details that you miss watching the show on stage; Hamilton is a show that has so much going from the acting to the choreography to the costumes, that it is impossible to see everything, but watching it on screen allows you to do just that. And if you miss anything, you can watch it 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 times. Like I will absolutely be doing. Now, it’s just been uploaded at the day of writing this, so I suggest you “Sit Down, John”, and watch it.

Joe Blogs Film Rating: 5/5

I know. You were probably thinking that this far up the list, I’d go for the classic film-school choice of Citizen Kane, or a Hitchcock film, or at least something in Black and White, but the truth is, I absolutely adore Disney’s animated film; The Lion King.

This is the movie that made me fall in love with movies. In one of my earliest memories, I recall watching The Lion King on VCR with my Auntie and late Grandma, and I remember feeling. That’s the best way I can describe it. Film is an incredibly educational tool, and for me, this film – or morality tale, really – taught me lessons about loss, hope and survival that were instrumental to my upbringing, and helped shape me as a person.

This may sound ridiculous, and it probably is, but it’s undeniable that movies can teach you life-lessons, and this movie taught me that it’s OK to feel sad. Which sadly – pun absolutely intended – is a lesson that a lot of men that I grew up with, young and old, never learned. Now, I’m not suggesting that The Lion King or Disney Films can combat toxic masculinity, but any man that can proudly admit that he still weeps freely when (spoiler) Mufasa is pushed off the cliff by evil brother, Scar, is pretty damn masculine in my opinion.

Unlike most of the other films in my list, I was far too young to really “get” the Lion King from an adult perspective, because I would have been no older than 4 when I first saw it. For those reasons, I’m not going to try and analyze the voice acting, or praise the cinematography or any or anything like that. The true reason this film makes my top 10, is because it made me fall in love with movies, and I think that is a pretty important trait for a film reviewer to have.

Anyone who knows me personally will be surprised that this film isn’t higher up on my list. I’ve been obsessed with the Rocky series since I found old copies taped on VCR when I was a kid. Of course, there are better technical movies, there are movies that depict sport, and even boxing, more accurately, however there is no movie that can pick you up when you feel unmotivated, down, or lost better than Rocky can.

We all know the synopsis. We all know the iconic “Adrian” chant, and most of us also know about the story behind the film, which may be more inspirational than Rocky itself.

Sly Stallone was down on his luck, with very little to his name; he even sold and re-bought his dog in the process of trying to get Rocky made. Regardless, he wrote it, he pitched it to studios and demanded that he starred in it and somehow, Rocky was made on a modest budget of 1.1 Million USD, and the final box office figures were astounding – 225 Million USD. It sounds like a fairytale, one even more unlikely than the World Heavyweight Champion picking out a fight with “The Italian Stallion” because he had a funny name.

Everything about Rocky makes you feel good; the iconic music, the uplifting dialogue, the rags-to-riches underdog story, the montage; Rocky practically invented (or at least popularized) the training montage, something seen in countless films since – albeit often ironically, but it’s Rocky’s.

Despite the fact that there have been countless sequels and re-iterations of Rocky since, no film makes me feel ready to face the world than the original, although the soundtrack from Rocky IV is the most eighties soundtrack ever, so if I ever need a quick boost, that goes on. Additionally, Creed (2015) is an incredible successor, and is essentially “Rocky for Millennials”. But, like a true millennial, I love the sequels, but I LOVE the original.

Rocky got me into boxing, it was the film that really made me appreciate film scores, and I think that Sly’s success story with the script might have subconsciously nudged me in the direction of becoming a writer. The film even got my to wake up at 5 AM and drink raw eggs; both suck, I don’t know which more.

I think it’s important to also note that I love Rocky so much that my dressing gown is literally a replica of his boxing gown from the film, complete with the sponsor on the back saying “Shamrock Meats Inc.” There, that’s off my chest. Well, it’s technically hanging up on my bedroom door waiting for winter. Anyway, you can go now – or comment below and tell me if you’d place Rocky in your top films list, and where.

In 2008, I travelled to Poland to visit the home country of my ancestors that perished in the Holocaust. I know, not the cheeriest of opening sentences in a film blog. But, I think it’s important to discuss. The trip was an educational one, and of course, I learned a lot by visiting Krakow, particularly by going to historic locations including the Jewish quarter, Oscar Schindler’s factory, and concentration camps including Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau. What I saw there was horrific, but absolutely nothing compared to what family members of mine saw and endured. My ancestors entered Birkenau through the infamous train-tracks, crammed into cattle-carts, and suffered at the hands of the most monstrous genocide known to mankind. I, however, was incredibly fortunate, because I got to walk out of the camp again. 

And as soon as I did, as soon as I returned home to Scotland, I was heartbroken. I was emotionally numb. So I did what I always did; I turned to film. I watched everything I could, Schindler’s List, Conspiracy, The Pianist, and several more.  Each film I saw, I became more hurt, more saddened, more absolutely crushed and angry at the horrors of the holocaust. So I did something bizarre, I searched for “Comedic Holocaust Films”.  As a Scottish Jew, both my nation and my religion deal with tragedy with humour, and I try to find the light in even the darkest of times, to loosely quote Albus Dumbledore (but not J.K Rowling). 

I wanted to see if there was a movie out there that portrayed the holocaust in a different light to only showing the pure horror that it was; a film that still kept the memories of the Holocaust alive, but one that also showed that no matter what happens in life, humans can still strive for survival, and that despite the disguting, vile, and inhuman treatment of the victims of the holocaust, life, still has positive elements, and life can still be beautiful. So what better film to start with. I have since seen several lighter-toned holocaust films, including Jacob the Liar (1999) and Jojo Rabbit (2019), but I still haven’t found any movie more moving, powerful and life-affirming than Life is Beautiful, although Jojo Rabbit comes close.

The film takes place in Italy, and it is initially a comedic love story in Mussolini-ruled Italy. What starts as quirky, funny, and warm slowly turns into a tragic, unrequited love-story between a cheeky, optimistic Jewish joker; Guido Orefici (Roberto Benigni) and his love-at-first sight, Italian woman Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), who are husband and wife in real life. Guido wins Nicoletta’s heart with charm, wit and serious amounts of humour, and eventually, they have a child, Giosuè (Giorgio Cantarini). The family are taken to a Nazi concentration camp, where Guido tries to shield his son from the true nature of the situation that they are in, and makes out to his child that they are in a game – a competition – and the winner gets to win a tank. Guido uses this game to keep his son safe, and the juxtaposition between the game and the sickening treatment of the victims of the Nazi regime, is truly heart-breaking.

Benigni directed and wrote this film, and won best actor and best foreign language film during the 1999 Academy Awards. But that is not why I like the film. I like the film because it shows that despite horror, despite tragedy, despite oppression, hatred, evil, Nazis, abuse, loss and death; life, still, can be beautiful. 

Every now and then, a film comes along that shatters cinematic convention; Birdman with a one-shot style, Hardcode Henry with a unique first-person view giving it that video-game feeling, and Boyhood. Usually, if a film takes place over a long period of time, certain techniques are used: flashbacks, creative shooting, employing younger look-a-like actors or using de-aging software. Boyhood, however, does something rarely seen in film, and known mostly by British documentary series ‘7 Up!’ which follows the lives of a group of British children every seven years, starting from when they were aged seven in 1964, and the latest episode ’63 Up’ aired in 2019.

Filming for the ambitious Boyhood started in 2002, and parts of the filming were completed every year until its release in 2014. The project was so ground-breaking that Hollywood didn’t have an official process for it; the cast and crew – including 6-year-old Ellar Coltrane, who played the main character, Mason – were unable to sign contracts as California law prohibits contracts longer than 7 years.  In fact, director Richard Linklater, known for School of Rock and the ‘Before’ series, told his frequent collaborator Ethan Hawke, who plays the father in Boyhood, that if he were to die during filming, Hawke would have to take over as director.

There is a cliché that the cast and crew become like one big family onset, but it was different for Boyhood, because this family had a re-union every year for 12 years. Additionally, Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, plays the part of the protagonist’s sister in the film, so for him, it really was family, and he got to see his daughter grow up before his eyes, or before his lens, throughout the process.

Despite the technical achievements of Boyhood, the film managed to capture the perfect ‘coming-of-age’ story with a generation-spanning playlist of iconic songs featuring artists including Coldplay, The Flaming Lips, Gotye and Arcade Fire.

The acting was truly something special, too. It’s therefore unsurprising that Patricia Arquette won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her incredible performance as the protagonist’s mother, and that Ethan Hawke also got a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

All in all, no film – particularly one as small-scale and low-budget as Boyhood, has impressed me as much since its release. It needs to be said that although Boyhood isn’t the only film to span over several years, I do feel that it is the most successful in doing so.

Would you place Boyhood in your top 10/25/100/1000 films? Comment below and let me know!

Most Eurovision fans were eagerly awaiting Will Ferrell’s new comedy, which focuses on two Icelandic singers trying to fulfil the dream of winning the iconic competition. Does the movie live up to it’s expectations? Kinda…

The Good: The film has some cracking cameos from some of Eurovision’s fan favourites, who appear in a cheesy, Pitch Perfect-esque mash-up. It also has plenty of Eurovision staples; key changes, great set design, questionable costumes and Graham Norton. It also has some incredibly catchy tunes, which were brought to life with the help of songwriter Savan Kotecha, who writes for Ariana Grande, Ellie Goulding and Demi Lovato (the latter who appears in the film as an Icelandic pop-star).  The cast is also pretty impressive; Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan, to name but a few. Additionally, there is a cracking duo in the form of real-life siblings Jamie and Natasia Demetriou, who provide belly laughs whenever they pop up on the screen (but, then again, I might be biased on that one, as would any fans of Channel 4’s Stath Lets Flats).

The Not-So-Good: When you watch a Will Ferrell film, you know you’re going to get a ton of stereotypes, but it gets tiring quickly with CGI whales jumping out at the Icelandic coastline, as well as a barrage of jokes that Iceland are the butt of, few that actually land.

As a Scot, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the Edinburgh setting. Firstly, there are several jokes on how every other country hates the UK, yet, the UK must have done something right, because the competition takes place in Edinburgh, and as Eurovision fans are well aware, whoever wins Eurovision hosts the next one.  Secondly, I know that movies can take liberties with settings, but as a Glaswegian who has studied and lived in Edinburgh, it was incredibly weird to see the SSE Hydro (a Glasgow venue) super-imposed at the bottom of one of Forrest Road. And, as if that wasn’t enough, one scene shows Will Ferrell’s character being schlepped around the city centre in ways that make no geographical sense, and it definitely pulled me out of the film. And, yes, I’m aware that my quibbles with the setting are petty and small, but considering the fact that Edinburgh is rarely showcased in Hollywood (or Netflix-wood) films, it would have been nice to see fewer liberties being taken.

Also, it was TWO HOURS LONG.

If You Liked This Film, You Might Like: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007), Sunshine on Leith (2013), Blades of Glory (2007).

Joe Blogs Film Rating: 3/5

Weekly "What's on"

Sign up today for a free weekly "What's on" list to see the latest releases on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney + and in cinemas.