Thursday, 12 December 2013

American Hustle (2013)

American Hustle, 2013, USA
Director: David O Russell
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams & Jennifer Lawrence

''Did you ever have to find a way to survive and you knew your choices were bad, *but* you had to survive?''

'MERICAN Hustle!

I ventured outside my room for the first time this month after many hours of movie order to watch another movie!  I sat down to watch David O Russell's latest release, 'American Hustle', a film kinda based on a true story and featuring a star studded cast.

Christian Bale continues his freakish knack of changing his weight immensely for the role of Irving Rosenfeld, a lifelong hustler who is in a loveless marriage with his eradic and unpredicatable wife, Played by the always incredible Jennifer Lawrence, with whom he has an adopted son. Irving begins hitting his stride as a hustler when he meets his lover Sydney Prosser, the amazing Amy Adams, and the two pull off several big cons, until the paths transpire with an unhinged cop Richie DiMaso, Bradely Cooper, who forces them to skills to work against the mafia and crooked politicians.

I have pretty much liked all of Russell's filmography up to this point and I'm quite a big fan of his. The man does a great job in fleshing out characters and making the either memorable or relatable. So it comes as no surprise that this is the area in which 'American Hustle' strives. All the major characters, and even some minor ones, are really fleshed out and rarely will you come across a character that is one dimensional. I realize that Russell values character over plot which is great, I feel the same way, but it comes as a disservice to the well written characters when they are put into such an unremarkable premise.  I didn't hate the story by any means, It just didn't move or entice me. It was entertaining but I feel like we as the audience were supposed to buy it as this wacky and elaborate hustle story where everything is almost to crazy to believe, it's not that kind of plot. There are some twists and turns but nothing that you'll truly remember. It is entertaining though and the great characters elevate it immensely.

'American Hustle' features a really star studded cast, which features three of my favorite actors. Christian Bale, one of my all time favorite and one of the best performers of his generation, gives yet another amazing performance and physical transformation. Although an excellent performance, this may only be the second time in which Christian Bale does not give the show stealing performance, that honor goes to the female Bill Murray, Miss Jennifer Lawrence. It's almost scary how Lawrence seems to be getting better and better with each film. She is most definitely the most memorable thing about this film, she is crazy and hysterically funny here, such a confident and fearless performance and it's telling when Amy Adams is only the second most beautiful woman on screen. Speaking of Adams, she is her usual amazing self here, essentially playing two roles, A lot of the narrative rested on her shoulders and she gave a powerful showing. I've become a bit of Bradley Cooper fan, the man was fantastic in 'Silver Linings Playbook' and 'The Place Beyond the Pines' and he continues that trend here, great great stuff from him. He played the role of a kind of sleazy and mentally unbalanced cop perfectly. I really can't stand Jeremy Renner, when news about casting of this film was released it came as a major disappointment when Renner's name was among the likes of his talented co-stars, I will give him his due though, he was good here. Even Comedian Louis C.K is awesome in his role. This film also had one of the most effective surprise cameos in recent memory! I won't spoil who it is but it honestly shocked me when he appeared. It was my dream to Christian Bale act beside Mr. Surprise cameo, so it was a great site to see. Great stuff all round.

I don't think 'American Hustle' is as good as Academy voters will have you believe. It will absolutely be over hyped and it will only be a detriment to the film. It's a good film though, well made, compelling characters and  excellent performances. 'American Hustle' may just be my least favorite Russell film, but even at his weakest, Russell is an enthralling artist.


Saturday, 7 December 2013

12 Angry Men (1957)

12 Angry Men, 1957, USA
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Henry Fonda, Lee J Cobb & Martin Balsam

''It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. And wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know.''

In ’12 Angry Men’, you won’t find guns, explosions, car chases or extensive action sequences. There are no big action stars that will fire off a witty one liner as they dispense with another enemy, there is no masked killer or a giant a great white shark, but Sidney Lumet’s 1957 courtroom drama may just be the most suspenseful and thrilling motion picture experiences ever devised.

All but 3 of this 93 minute film are set in the almost claustrophobic jury room. Our players are 12 jurors, all from different walks of life and all with varying personalities. The crime is murder, the accused is a young boy who is on trial for his life for the murder of his father. When the men first shuffle into the room, on which coincidently happens to be the hottest day of the year in New York City, we get a sense that all of these men would rather be anywhere else as few of them elaborate on having other plans and cracking jokes. Only a couple of these men reveal their names, but all reveal their character. Juror #1 (Played by Martin Balsam) ask the jurors to politely to sit around the large table in the middle of room, the men proceed to take a guilty or not guilty vote, 11 men vote guilty, 1 does not.

That one man is known as Juror #8 (Played by Henry Fonda), who doesn't pretend to know all the answers, actually the only reason he does not vote guilty is because he ‘’doesn't know’’, he has a reasonable doubt and he may be the most honest man at the table. It’s a truly difficult thing to stand your ground in the face of adversity; this gives an even greater depth to this character. When the men become hostile to him, he does not budge, stating that it’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.’’ All he wants to do is talk about it, go over it again, and dissect all of the evidence. The men reluctantly and stubbornly do so, and Juror #8 slowly forces them to think about the monumental decision they have to make.

’12 Angry Men’ is a simple and minimalist film; yet if focuses on array of various themes. Through the men’s arguments, we get insight onto racial prejudices, as several of the men seem to vote guilty simply because the kid is from the slums and different from them. It shows how beneficial doubt can be, if not for one man’s doubt, the kid would have been sent to death. One of the most evident themes though is father and son relationships, not only is the boy being accused of killing his father due to years of abuse, but also Juror #3 who is mainly voting guilty due to the disconnection he has with his own son, and is obviously weary of the kids in modern days ‘’It's these kids - the way they are nowadays. When I was a kid I used to call my father, "Sir". That's right. "Sir". You ever hear a kid call his father that anymore?’’ he proclaims. It’s a testament to the film that, what appears, to be a straight forward story that can weave in so many different outliers.

This is a film that, almost more than any other, proves how instrumental good dialogue is. Simple words and questions convey so many various emotions, as I alluded to into the intro, this film manages to excite and thrill no other. We as the audiences are not sure if this kid is guilty or not, we have to rely on the characters views and perspectives, which forces us to filter out the bias, the thrill comes from watching Juror #8 attempt to stand his ground and the way in which begin to realize. The story by Reginald Rose is so brilliant and complex, and something we can learn about now more than ever.

Sidney Lumet was a terrific filmmaker, and to think this was his debut film is just incredible. His camera placement is marvelous and is able to make this small room seem mammoth at times. The performances from all 12 players are absolutely phenomenal; everyone plays the role to perfection. Henry Fonda is magnificent and Juror #8 has to be one of the greatest heroes of the movies.

I’m not sure if Rose knew whether the kid was guilty or not, and I hope Juror #8 is his narrative voice. In terms of story, it really doesn't matter whether or not the kid was a killer, what we really need to take from this film is not to jump to conclusions and that doubt can be a life saver. Whether you buy into the theories that Fonda is actually the killer and is looking to get the kid off the hook to clear his conscience or maybe that he was actually an angel or something, but any way you look at it. ’12 Angry Man’ is one of the greatest and most effective films ever made.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Carrie (2013)

Carrie, 2013, USA
Director: Kimberly Pierce
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Julianne Moore & Judy Greer

''They're gonna laugh at you, They're all gonna laugh at you.''

With bullying, most likely, at an all time high, Stephen King's 'Carrie' seems ripe for a remake (it's second overall). I guess I have been desensitised by the 'Psycho' remake in that I just assume that they are going to be watered down, carbon copies of their predecessor...and 'Carrie' really is no different, it's a mere shell of De Palma's original just with more blood, IPhones and Youtube. Despite that, for some strange reason I actually enjoyed this film.

Carrie White is a shy outcast who lives with her overbearing, religious mother. She posses telekinesis powers, unbeknownst to  her school bullies who are planning to play a horrific trick on her at the school prom.

I had very low expectations going in, so maybe that's why I came out of it with more positive thoughts than I expected. To be clear, this is not a film that breaks any new ground, if you've seen De Palma's original, you have seen everything except done better. 'Carrie' (2013) isn't really a film where you go in expecting a cutting edge new horror film, all I really wanted was an entertaining and it pretty much delivered in that area.

It never really feels Director, Kimberly Pierce is willing to slow it down and take time to flesh out the supporting characters, this is evident with the Sue Snell character, whom we are supposed to feel is a good natured person who regrets what she does to Carrie at the beginning of the film and is seen as almost a  protagonist of sorts, but the way she is focused on and written is so one sided and cliched that it is really hard to care about her presence on screen at any point. Everything just moves at such a fast pace and the only real objectives seems to make Carrie sympathetic and to create as many awkward situations as possible.

In terms of ''Horror'', 'Carrie' doesn't really provided many scares, sure there are some lame jumps here and there but there aren't any genuine ones. The film does do a decent effort in creating tension, and the prom scene climax is well executed but once again, it was done so much better in the original. Unfortunately 'Carrie' isn't ''Creepy Carrie''

The titular character is portrayed by Chloe Grace Moretz this time around. Going in, I was honestly a little critical at the casting choice of Moretz, a good actress no doubt but she's to cute and likable to play the weird outcast (also she seems so much younger than everyone else in this film) it's hard for me to buy the fact that people at her school would have such a strong hatred of this girl. With Sissy Spacek, who is beautiful but has something about her that makes her perfect this kind of role. As usual though, Moretz defies expectations and gives another excellent performance. Carrie White can be such a relateabe character for some (sans teleknesis), and if you aren't the type of outcast Carrie is, you surely must not someone like her. Moretz uses her immense likability perfectly in order to make Carrie as good a character as she possibly can. She does a great job with Carrie's shy, outcast side and brilliantly flips it and makes Carrie intimidating when she needs to be. It's another really good showing for a young actress with loads of potential.

Following on from Piper Laurie's excellent performance in the original film, Julianne Moore takes on the role of Margaret White. Moore is a brilliant actress and she proves it yet again here. Margaret is a god fearing character who uses the bible as an instruction manual for life. Moore's version of the character is far more visceral than Laurie's and I would go as far to say she is more intense. I don't think the two central performances from this film quite live up to the ones in the original, but that's not to take anything from Moretz and Moore, both of whom are excellent here.

'Carrie' doesn't make any new ground, if you miss it you won't be missing much, but it's far better than I expected and there is a good time to be had, Definitely check out the original over this one though.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Harvie Crumpet (2003)

Harvie Krumpet, 2003, Australia
Director: Adam Elliott
Staring: Geoffrey Rush

"Life is like a cigerret; smoke it to the butt"

(Note- Harvie Krumpet is a short Film so this is a relatively short review)

Sometimes, a film demands empathy from the audience by presenting confronting notions such as death, old age and depression in sad and sympathetic ways. Harvie Crumpet does not do that. This 22 minute film does not romanticise these ideas but merely presents them as what they are: part of life. It's an interest and different approach to film making and I was very impressed.

Harvie Crumpet is the biographical film of a fictitious character who some how always manages to find bad luck. Despite the many tragic occurrences in his life however, Harvie always attempts to "seize the day," and the film explores his many ups and downs in life.

This is a very confronting film. The use of stop animation as appose to traditional cartoon methods employed in Harvie Crumpet allows for a simplistic and raw feeling which perfectly match the unique direction of this film.
I say "unique" because of the way this film tackles some challenging real life issues in an accepting kind of way. Dramatically, film does not encourage you to feel sorry for the many tragic events Harvie encounters and the film does not try to make you feel sad. However because of our general attitudes towards these things, the audience finds that they will feel a strong sense of empathy for Harvie, making the film highly emotive to watch.

The abrupt scene changes an quick changes in characters attitudes and emotion is done in an almost childlike way. Despite that, I think it is a clever cinematic style for this film and allows for us to relate to the characters in such a short space of time.

Geoffrey Rush's narration of this film is excellent. His non-empathetic, almost monotone voice supply's and excellent parallel to the overall feel Adam Elliott attempts to create. He is perfectly casted.

I have never seen a film presented in such a way as Harvie Krumpet is... unique is defiantly the word to describe it. I don't know if these kind of techniques could be incorporated into a feature length film and I don't want to see a movie adaptation of Harvie Krumpet. This probably isn't a brilliant film but incredibly creative and singular, and deserving of all accolades. Whilst I haven't given this a really high mark, it is a really good and interesting film and I marvel in Adam Elliott's achievement.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo, 1958, USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak & Barbara Bel Geddes

"Its Difficult to put into words exactly what Vertigo means to me as both a film lover and as a filmmaker. As Is the case with all great films ,truly great films, no matter how much has been said and written about them, the dialogue about it will always continue. Because any film as great as Vertigo demands more than just a sense of admiration - it demands a personal response." - Martin Scorsese

To me, 'Vertigo' represents the work of a filmmaker who is at the absolute peak of his powers and in complete control of his medium. Alfred Hitchcock is rightly regarded as a ''master'' of cinema, and it's films like this that truly validate these claims. Every second of 'Vertigo', you get the feeling that you're in the hands of an absolute genius who is directing the audience as much as he is the actors. Hitchcock's works are never narrowed down to just one genre or theme, while he is usually regarded as purely a ''master of suspense'', which he does perfectly, but I always a lot more human elements to his films. 'Vertigo', while it is one of the finest suspense films ever devised, is also a gripping and emotive analysis of obsession and grief. Hitchcock isn't afraid to delve into the depths of the human psyche after suffering loss and agony, 'Vertigo' displays how good the man was, not only at creating suspense, but making it mean something. 'Vertigo' is as good a psychological character study as it is a thriller, which is really saying something.

Jimmy Stewart gives, in my opinion, the finest showing of his entire career as 'Scottie' Ferguson. An amazingly detailed and complex character who can never seem to escape heartache or guilt, his fear of heights(Vertigo) has cost the life of a fellow police officer and seen him forced into retirement. Scottie is hired by a former college to tail his wife who is displaying some strange behavior. Stewart sheds his ''aw shucks'' American sweetheart persona to give a gritty and edgy performance, his performance in the second half of the film is truly brilliant. Stewart is well supported by Kim Novak who is truly excellent.

I'm ashamed to say that I didn't fully appreciate 'Vertigo' the first time I saw it, I was burning my way through Hitch's filmography and loving every second of it, but when I got to 'Vertigo' it just didn't click with me, I assume now that it was probably the overwhelming sadness to it that is absent from most of Hitch's other films. When I saw the film for the second time I finally saw its greatness, and the third time around it became one of my all time favorite films. After this viewing I can say that I hold in as high regard as any film I've ever seen.

Many, many years from now when some historian is sitting around and pondering the age old question ''what is the greatest film of all time?'', many titles will be thrown around and discussed, but only a select few will be truly considered, 'Vertigo' is one of those few.


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Last Of The Mohicans (1992)

Last Of The Mohicans, 1992, USA
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Danile Day Lewis, Madeline Stowe & Steven Waddington
"My father's people say that at the birth of the sun and of his brother the moon, their mother died. So the sun gave to the earth her body, from which was to spring all life. And he drew forth from her breast the stars, and the stars he threw into the night sky to remind him of her soul."

Often the notion of complication can be mixed up with sophistication. Sometimes we a presented with complicated films (such as Inception or the Matrix) and as viewers are inaccurately lead to believe the film is sophisticated, which is not necessarily the case. I hate it when this occurs because people start to say stupid things like "Inception is like the Shining because there both 'sophisticated'" Aaaahh!
This film however, is defiantly NOT one such film. This is a detailed and elaborate film which gives an in-depth insight into US history through the awing and sophisticated story that is Last Of The Mohicans.

As the American War of Independence begins to infiltrate the lives of various different Native American tribes, three men who represent the Mohicans become unwittingly involved with the war. After siding with the falling British army, the Mohicans (one of which is actually an adopted white son) become subject to the pressures of the revolution, the British command, Magua; leader of enemy Huron tribe, and love.

This is a really good film that contains a verity of different underlying concepts and plots. The film is focus around the North American Revolution during the 18th centenary and the ideas of responsibility, honour and loyalty are all thoroughly explored through the characters and scenes concerning the war. Along with this, the relationship between rival Indian tribes is also wonderfully developed during the entirety of the film and deservingly becomes the central focus at the end of the film. These two opposing plots are equally developed and the constant overlapping of the two provides for some amazing screen adaptations. The film has been extremely well written and produced and is a credit to Mann's terrific direction.

Also to the credit of the production team behind Last Of The Mohicans, this film has been wonderfully shot. Cinematically, it's wonderful. Lighting, camera angles, the use of slow motion movement, and fast camera transitions all feel appropriate and are cleverly executed. The battle scenes between France and Britain were particularly good in the way that they presented the struggles of both sides by means of correct camera placements and swaps. I felt like I was in the trenches with the French and because of the wonderful cinematography I could feel the impacts of the explosions and gun shots. When they Mohicans are stuck under the waterfall I felt wet and trapped with them because of the dull colours and slow motion moments of characters on the screen. It's a glorious feeling when the cinematography, and miss-en-scene, of a film can make you feel like you’re actually there.

Love also plays a vital role in this film. Unlike some of my friends, I actually dig on screen love relationship but only when developed in the correct way (ie- cheesy love sucks). Whilst I can't say I’m convinced that two strangers can fall in love over the space of 3 days consisting of only 2 descent conversations, I was impressed with the development and realism of Hawkeye and Cora's relationship in the film. I was equally impressed, if not more, with the Uncas-Alice affair which, whilst subtle, is very well portrayed.
It is the level of detail given to both love stories of the film, plus the way  in which they do not compromise the two major plots (the war and the Indian rivalry) in any way that has lead to the triumphant sophistication of the film which I earlier referred too. What amazes me about all this is that despite all this overlapping and detailed film developments, I never once felt confused with the film and everything always feels in place.

Finally, the supreme acting by one of my favourite actors and a Hollywood giant greatly adds the the Last of Mohican sophisticated sceptical. Daniel Day Lewis is always awesome, but especially in this film. The character of Hawkeye is greatly portrayed by Lewis, and though I didn't really enjoy his optimistic humour at times and his ability to understand everything... always, I found him a relatable character and in my opinion it is his best performance.
Having said that, all performances are good, especially the characterisation of the sisters Cora and Alice by Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May retrospectively. Personally I found some characters under developed but all were indeed well acted. Whist I did like the inclusion of new characters towards the end such as the Suchem, some character need and deserve more then what they were given. Having said that, I really dug Steven Waddington as Duncan; he plays a great jerk come honour man.

There is a lot of implied material in Last Of The Mohican.  Whilst I would have liked to see the better development of back stories for different characters and tribes, this film invites you to create your own back stories for them. I actually don't know why the Huron hate the Mohicans, or why the reinforcements for the British don't arrive, but what's good about the film is that, similar to other great sophisticated films like a Kubrick or Scorsese film, I guess I can make it up for myself. Because of this my viewing of the film might be very different to yours, but I would hope that we could all appreciate that no matter how you see this film, it'll always be great.


Saturday, 5 October 2013

Psycho (1960)

Psycho, 1960, USA
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles & John Gavin

Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching... they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly..."

Honestly, I don't know what to say about a film that has been so perfectly made and so seemingly flawless that all I can do is be spellbind by the sheer awesomeness of Alfred Hitchcock's unmatched film making and the brilliance of this epic film. This is truly the horror-of-all-horrors, the unmatched thriller of cinema history. This is the film that movie buffs and occasional film watchers alike have told me to watch. It was the first real horror-thriller-drama-suspense-mystery movie and certainly didn't disappoint.

After stealing $40,000, a young and beautiful bank clerk flees to her boyfriend in California. But as tiredness overcomes her, she agrees to stay in the Bates Hotel, run by a charming young, yet puzzling fellow called Norman. That's when things get interesting... And when I say interesting, I mean fucking awesome.

Before I go on to praise Hitchcock for the ultimate achievement of cinema I must first marvel at the incredible acting displayed by the cast of Psycho. I truly think that this film contains some of the best acting ever seen. Anyone from film actors, stage performers, drama students or anyone who has ever put on a wig and pretended to be someone else should aspire to match the performance of Perkins, Leigh and Miles. Anthony Perkins adaptation of the most mysterious, misunderstood character is perfect. This is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen, and i am happy to admit  it is most likely the second greatest on screen performance of all time (James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause is first).  Janet Leigh does an outstanding job as Psycho's leading lady and an equally convincing and superb characterisation is portrayed by Vera Miles as the sister Lila Crane. But even minor characters like Martin Balsam as Det. Minton Arbogast or John McIntire as the Sheriff are developed so well and performed outstandingly.

Despite the amazing acting, this film will forever be remembered as the epitome of film making. The storyline is original, unseen and unmatched. Similar to what my friend Tom said, this film is pretty much a masterpiece and has been directed so incredibly by the ultimate film director. Hitchcock's film making is unparalleled and beautiful to say the least. The set, characters, story and spooky and classic shots of the now famous Bates household is... Well just Psycho!! Just so distinctively Hitchcock!!!

This film consists of some of the best cinematography ever and Hitchcock is so clever in the way he has created such a superb visually montage. I dig the opening credits, the way in which the dates and dimes are projected onto the screen, the close up of bates’ crazed smile and the lighting is also outstanding. I especially like the way in which the camera follows Norman up the stairs to his mother’s room, and then drifts into a stationary position the ceiling. To me, that is beauty.

To give you an example of how powerful the screenplay and cinematography (and music) of this film is, I shall try my best explain my response most famous movie scene in cinema history. As the beautiful Marion Crane slips of her gown and walks into the shower, a mysterious figure can be seen through the shower curtains. They are pulled back to the screams of Marion as she is stabbed multiple times with the knife to those unforgettable suspenseful sharp chords of the stringed orchestra. Despite the amount of times I have seen that footage, been told that of that scene, heard that music, and despite the fact that this film is 53 years old, I was still terrified watching that.

I have put off writing this review for a while. But it’s hard to describe the historical significance of the film and even harder to explain the way in which I love it and how proud I am to actually like such a cinematic achievement. I honestly think that Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was the birth of modern cinema and every movie since has been trying to be kinda like it. Despite those attempts, I feel that it still remains unparalleled and will forever be.

***** (5)

Monday, 30 September 2013

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, USA/UK
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood & William Sylvester

''I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.''

My thoughts about '2001: A Space Odyssey' can almost be summed up by a line from Harmony Korine's 'Spring Breakers' in which James Franco's character proclaims about his luxurious bed that ''it isn't a bed, it's an art piece''. Substitute ‘‘film’’ in for ‘‘bed’’ and you have the most straight forward possible description of Kubrick's space epic. But the film, and it's one of kind creator, are anything but straight forward.

After the discovery of strange monolith buried under the lunar surface, a space team goes on a mission to Jupiter investigate the monolith, with the help of HAL 9000.

There may be no other picture in history that completely represents film as an art form, quite like '2001'. Every single frame of the film seems like an individual piece of art, and the film as a whole would not be out of place playing on an endless loop at any prestigious art museum. In addition to being the most visually arresting cinematic experience available. '2001' is also a triumph in the story telling. Kubrick's use of minimalism and lack of a coherent narrative, instantly make ‘2001’ a unique piece of work, but its scope and execution make it immortal.

Only a filmmaker as ambitious as Kubrick could even attempt to orchestrate a film on the scale of '2001. It's almost a work of a mad genius, beginning a film with a 20+ minute stretch of no dialogue (sans the screaming of apes and growl of leopards) and apes seemingly fighting for territory and discovering an artificial monolith, would have had to be a courageous move for a filmmaker in 1968. One of the infinite things I respect about Kubrick is that he never took his audiences for granted, he didn’t usually waste time on introductions and had the trust in audiences to be prepared for the journey he is about to take them, ‘2001’ is exhibit A when it comes to this. The lack of a grounded narrative here may alienated some viewers who are used to having Directors walk them through films, but if they simply dismiss the film at 15 minutes in and refer to what they have seen as boring and nonsensical, then they are doing themselves the displeasure of missing out on one of cinemas greatest journeys.

Like he did with ‘The Shining’ 12 years later, ‘2001’ sees Kubrick create a labyrinth of mystery and unanswered questions. As his co-writer and author of the source material, Arthur C. Clarke once said of the film that ‘’If you understand 2001: A Space Odyssey completely, we failed’’ going by the way in which audiences have been baffled by and absorbed by interpretations in the decades after its release, the film was an almighty success by Kubrick and Clarke’s criteria. I’m a huge fan of when great films leave themselves open for interpretation, It’s such a great attribute for a film to have and it transcends being used simply for entertainment value, ‘2001’ is a prime example of getting this aspect utterly right. This film that you have the urge to watch over and over again in order to form an opinion of your own. Kubrick being Kubrick most likely has dozens of underlining themes hidden throughout the film that people have yet to tap into.

As I, and everyone else, have already alluded to, ‘2001’ is beautiful. There has been almost an infinite amount of visually beautiful films, the likes of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Days of Heaven’ and even Kubrick’s own ‘Barry Lyndon’, but in my opinion, ‘2001’ truly trumps them all as the most awe-inspiring looking film in the history of cinema. So many shots throughout the film are incredibly innovative, scenes like the famous million year spanning transition shot in the films prologue with the ape throwing the bone in the air and it transitioning to a space shuttle, the air hostess using her grip boots to ascend to the roof of the ship, and of course Dave’s trip at the films climax. These three scenes are some of the most iconic you may ever see, and they’re simply 3 of the many throughout the film. The incredible Visual effects (for which Kubrick received his only Oscar) are as incredible as almost anything you will see from Science Fiction films today. Dave’s trip at the end of the film is the definition of mind blowing.

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ may be one of the most difficult films to critique. The film is almost intimidating in its perfection. There is also no way which someone like I can do this film justice, its cinema at its most artistic and awe-inspiring. A true iconic masterpiece, whose influence is still being felt to this very day.


Sunday, 1 September 2013

Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane, 1941, USA
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten & Dorothy Comingore

''You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man.''

Being considered to be , possibly, the Greatest Motion Picture ever created has to be as great a curse as it is an honor. For all those that have critically lauded 'Citizen Kane' over the years, there has been many that have been willing to disprove it's status as being ''the best''. This is perfectly understandable as it seems like human nature to buck the system and have an opinion that strays from the general consensus, but in all honesty it is hard to comprehend how anyone can deny the greatness of Orson Welles' unprecedented film debut.

When famed newspaper tycoon, Charles Foster Kane passes away, his final words are revealed to be ''Rosebud''. The Media are in desperation to decipher it's meaning.

It's truly incredible to think that a film of this grand magnitude, was created by a 26 year old in his feature film debut. What Welles achieved with 'Kane' has become the stuff of legend, and efforts have more than earned their acclaim. The film is so ingeniously crafted, so precisely paced and so beautifully put together that it is mind blowing to think that this young man had never worked in the medium before. Welles' non-linear approach to deciphering Kane's mystery makes it all the more enthralling, and the scenes in which the reporter, Mr Thompson, is interviewing those who were integral parts of Kane's life could not have been orchestrated any better. Sure, the film may have still been great without them but with them it makes it all the more great.

One of the most admirable aspects of 'Kane' is it's beautiful, and at times Gothic, look. From the stunning opening shots showing the exterior of Kane's palace, Xanadu, to the final scene the final scene inside Xanadu, Gregg Toland's fantastic Cinematography is just incredible, as is Welles' keen eye for camera placement. It would be foolish to talk about the film's cinematography without mentioning the great deep focus shot in the scene where Thatcher claims Kane from his poverty stricken family, there is shot in which the little boy Kane is in the far distance and can be seen through the window, while Thatcher, Kane's mother and father are conversing in the foreground, the beauty of the scene comes from the fact that everything single thing on screen is in sharp focus, which is awe inspiring considering the distance between the characters in the shot, it's a clever little example of Welles giving a hint to the audience about the film's final reveal, it's also things like this small attention to detail that make this film so great. The use of lighting is also phenomenal and completely enhances every scene it's used in, it was a brilliant move to distort the face of Mr Thompson with shadows for every shot he is in, and I took it to symbolize the ''faceless media''.

'Citizen Kane' is a film that focuses on an array of various themes, most notably corruption and consequences of being wealthy at a young age. While I never I personally never saw Charles Foster Kane as a bad man by any means, it is definitely evident that he is indeed corrupted, but no by any one person but wealth and greed in general. This was never Kane's fault but instead the result of being taken away from a loving family at such a young age. 'Kane' probably one of the greatest examples of a character study there is, the film is such manages to be such a thorough analysis of a character by technically using only flashbacks. 'Kane' succeeds at every sub theme it focuses on as well as having a majorly compelling main storyline. The film is the very definition of an ''emotional roller coaster'' with moments of overwhelming hapiness, inspiration and joy as well as instances of anger, heartache and sadness. 'Kane' conveys that wealth and fame are no substitute for love and compassion.

In addition to being one of cinema's finest filmmakers and screenwriters, Orson Welles was also a gifted performer, as made clear by his immortal performance as Charles Foster Kane. I truly that no other actor, living or dead, could have portrayed the character quite like Welles did, his charisma, his outspokenness and legendary personality fit the character to a tee and results in Welles greatest achievement as an actor. Orson is well supported by his collaborated from The Mercury Theater, including the brilliant Joseph Cotten who plays Jedediah Leland, Kane's best friend, as per usual Cotten gives a wonderful showing. Another notable showing comes from Everett Sloane, playing Mr Bernstein, Kane's manager who continued to be loyal to him, is perhaps the most likeable character on screen.

'Citizen Kane' is truly one of cinema's greatest achievements, the film solidified Welles legacy as one of the greatest filmmakers to grace the medium. I still believe the film is as powerful and effective as ever and is a great time capsule of the time where newspaper was the king of media. 'Kane' is also a phenomenal character study of an impactful man's life and legacy aswell as highlighting the themes of corruption and wealth. Like the famous poster proclaims, ''It's terrific!''


Friday, 16 August 2013

No Country for Old Men (2007

No Country for Old Men, 2007, USA
Director: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Stars: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin & Woody Harrelson

"My grandfather was a lawman; father too. Me and him was sheriffs ant the same time; him up in plano and me out here. I think he's pretty proud of that. I know I was." 

Often during reviews, I will give suggestions as to how I think this film can be improved. This film has been said to deliver everything I have ever asked from a film, including cinematography techniques, intensity, sophistication, Woody Harrelson, strong character development and a less-is-more approach. This film promises to be a cinematic legend, so during my fist viewing I was nervous and excited for the ride No Country for Old Men promises to give me...

In the “badlands” of rural Texas, hunter and welder Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stubbles across the bloodied bodies of several drug runners after a “drug deal gone wrong” to discover 2 million dollars of drug money which he naturally takes. Unbeknown to him, the psychopath Anton Chigurh (played by Javier Bardem) is about to pursue Moss for “his” money. This leads to one of the deadliest of man hunts expanding Texas and Mexico, which threatens Moss’ existence and that of his wife. Coinciding with this, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones) attempts his own pursuit for the man responsible to countless deaths in his county. 

This is a very, very good film. Perhaps the most intense film I have ever seen and the sophistication of such a minimalistic film unmatched. Though I personally found some parts confusing, but I can only likened it my viewing of the Shinning to explain how the viewer doesn’t need to have full understanding of the film to be content with it. No Country for Old Men has certainly achieved everything I have ever wanted from a film. Everything from set, location, cinematography, cast and acting is second to none for this film. 

The whole less-is-more idea has been implored heavily in this film and is a credit to this renowned direction duo. Similar to other Coen film like The Big Lebowski (which I acknowledged I discredited in a previous review but have recently change views), this film contains very little in terms of storyline. I would often discredit this approach to film making but it has work exceptional well in this case. The direction is superb and minimal lighting; set location and camera transitions are the best I have ever seen in a Coen film. The “Badlands” of America are depicted as the baron and deadly waste land I always imagined, but I never imagined I could love it as much as this film has made me love it. 

Performances are truly amazing as well. The film begins with an inspiring monologue by the legendary voice of Tommy Lee that gives detail into life in Southern Texas, and he does not shy away from its horror. His character is superbly executed and well developed, as are all characters. The amount of time and effort made by both the actors and the character developers should be the bench mark for any film. Characters are portrayed and developed excellently. But the true stand out of this film is Bardem’s interpretation of one of the scariest bad guys of the decade (and perhaps all decades of cinematic history). This character is so ruthless and sooo cool (despite his weird hair), that he oozes perfection wherever he goes. His method of murder is also chilling to say the least, and his reasoning even colder (hense why is so ‘cool’). The fear of this character is also enhanced by the other characters attitudes towards his. Josh Borlin’s acting is also fin in this film. I felt an isolation and a connection the Llewelyn throughout the movie and that is not often achieved by actors. But the best part of the film for me was when a handsome cowboy walled out of an elevation and lifts his head to identify himself as Woody Harrelson. He is sooooo cool and especially in this film. Other characters such as Llewelyn’s wife Carla Jean (played by Kelly Macdonald), Wendell (Garret Dillahunt) and even Gene Johns as the Gas station owner all add to the intensity and awesomeness.

Sometimes, I can’t believe just how good a film can be. But No Country for Old Men simply is that good. I was incredibly impressed by this film that the only thing I can do is to watch it again. After a recant re-watch I found nothing I could suggest, I had nothing to add because this film has it all, despite its minimalism. I have only seen this film two times but it is quickly becoming one of my favourite films of all time.
***** (5)

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Thing (1982)

The Thing, 1982, USA
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley & Keith David

''Why don't we just wait here for a while... see what happens''

I have this theory about John Carpenter's 'The Thing', I am damn near convinced that this is the least disliked film ever made. I'm not saying there aren't detractors if you look hard enough, unfortunately its the case with even the greatest of things (pun slightly intended) but I have never encountered a human being on earth who claims to even remotely dislikes 'The Thing' and who can blame them? The film is a bonafide masterpiece.

A group of scientist working from a secluded research center are thrust into paranoia after learning that one of them may be inhabited by a shape shifting alien.

I first saw 'The Thing' around about four years ago and I have been in love with it ever since. Coming into this film as a young and ignorant teen who really knew nothing about it only to sit through 109 minutes of pure atmospheric terror is really a one of kind experience. I can't really grasp the idea of audiences in 1982 not realizing the films greatness at the time, I know that it was basically the anti- E.T but this film should have been as critically lauded then as it is today, well at least we're making up for it now.

'The Thing' is undeniably one of the most terrifying film experiences ever created. Very few films have ever been able to replicate the tension and atmosphere that John Carpenter does here. Even with nothing but the sound of the snow outside the base camp, this film will keep you on edge. One of the films most incredible traits is its portrayal of paranoia. The way in which the characters trusts are lost and friendships disintegrate are simply enthralling to spectate. As the characters mindsets are being challenges so are the audiences allegiances to characters are to. Just like MacReady and the crew, we are as unaware of who The Thing as they are.

Then there are the visual effects. I have no qualms about saying that 'The Thing's effects are my favorite ever put on screen. I can not emphasize enough how well they hold up. These visuals are as horrifying today as I imagine they were at the time of the films release. There is just some kind of visceral thrill to these practical effects that the CGI today simply can not replicate. From the horrific sight of the mutated dog to the explosive climax, 'The Thing' is a visual effects masterclass, I can not truly do these visuals justice, they must be seen to be believed.

I am a big John Carpenter fan and it really is heartbreaking to admit that he had severe career downfall but what makes it even more heartbreaking is how great he truly was. The mans knack for creating nail biting suspense and an eerie atmosphere was just remarkable and the stars really aligned when he made this film, all great directors have at least that one great film that is the centerpiece of their legacy and although it has some steady competition with the likes of 'Halloween' & 'They Live', 'The Thing' really is Carpenter's magnum opus. It's almost like he could no wrong, artistically wise,  with this film and it results in the phenomenal experience we receive.

Yet another aspect of the films greatness is sound. On one hand we have the phenomenal theme by the legendary Ennio Morricone that does it's job perfectly in setting the tone of the film, the thuds that the theme provides sounds almost like heartbeats and establish the anxiety we are about to be in. The fact that Morricone's score was nominated for a Worst Musical Razzie is probably the most irritating tidbit of information I have ever heard, it's almost like if Stanley Kubrick got nominated for Worst Director for 'The Shining'...oh wait. In addition to the film's great score is the use of no music. The fact that Carpenter elects not to pipe in the score at unnecessary is a great move and it's even better when simply the sound of the snow storm on the outside of the base. 'The Thing' is a film that uses sound to its full advantage.

Sporting what is undoubtedly THE GREATEST BEARD IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND, Kurt Russell is the definition of badass as the awesome R.J MacReady. Seriously, Russell has to be one of the most likeable action heroes of all time and did I mention his beard in this? its perfect. Everybody in the cast does a really terrific job and completely sells the paranoia of the frightening situation they are put in, Wilford Brimley is excellent as Blair and Keith David is great as Childs.

To me, 'The Thing' is just a perfect film. Few films have ever reached the terror and suspense that Carpenter is able to here. 'The Thing' has always been in top 10 films of all time but after this viewing it has to have cracked my top 5.

P.S: That beard...


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Mud (2013)

Mud, 2013, USA
Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan and Sam Shepard

''You go to know what's worth keepin' and what's worth lettin' go''

Jeff Nichols' third feature film 'Mud' is many things, a crime film, a drama, a thriller, a comedy, a coming of age film but above all, 'Mud' is brilliant. The film poses one of the most intriguing and enthralling premises I've seen for a tale of youth naivety and growing up that I've seen a long while and Nichols manages to get the very best out of all aspects of the film and creates an experience to remember.

The tale of two young boys who discover a fugitive living in a boat in the trees of a Mississippi island and are determined to help him escape those who are hunting him and to return him to the woman he loves.

The genre of coming of age films has been done many, many times over the years and in countless of different ways, but for some reason 'Mud' seems so fresh and original. Now, I know that this film isn't exclusively a coming of age film but it still does a better job a telling a realistic tale of growing up. The characters of Ellis and Neckbone really embody to naivety of youth, even when the two are aware of Mud's past they continue to help him out so that he can return to his girlfriend, Juniper, simply because they love each other. Things like this may sound a little too sentimental for some but the way in which Nichols handles it makes his film exude charm and likability.

'Mud's folk tale like approach to its narrative that mixes with its realism gives audiences the sense of the line between reality and fantasy being blurred. Its admirable when a film even attempts to dip into both worlds but when it is able to reach success like this then it becomes all the more admirable. Fashioned as a story you may hear around a camp fire, utilizing it's southern setting to its full advantage as its factual location is the perfect backdrop for fantastical events.

It's incredible to hear the story of how 'Mud' came to be. Nichols envisioned the film as a student, even the casting of McConaughey, and was inspired by the novels of Mark Twain. You really get a sense of the passion with which Nichols is assembling the film with, I always love hearing stories of filmmakers who get the chance to creates projects they dreamed of when they were younger and this gives me an even deeper appreciation for this film.

As I have alluded to many times above, the film is incredibly well Directed by Nichols he's execution of the realistic folk tale is really incredible. Another highly impressive aspect of film making here is Nichols screenplay, there were a couple scenes I really could have done without but overall I thought the script was just excellent. Also, Adam Stone's Cinematography is absolutely awe inspiring capturing the inner beauty of South.

If a few years ago you were to say that Matthew McConaughey was going to become a great and important actor, you probably would have been laughed at in the same way if you said that Ben Affleck was going to become one of America's finest filmmakers. If his phenomenal turn in 'Killer Joe' last year, solidified his remarkable career turn around then his performance in 'Mud' could label him a future Oscar winner. McConaughey is phenomenal here as the loveable and enigmatic Mud, from the moment his character appeared on screen I became invested in the film and his performance, truly great stuff from the man and I really hope he can keep this hot streak up. The two young actors Tye Sheridan and Sam Shepard are incredible as well and really help make this film as good as it is, the interaction between McConaughey and the kids is one of the films greatest traits. Reese Witherspoon does a decent job too in a role which doesn't allow her to do a hell of a lot and I damn near jumped out of my chair when I found out that Michael Shannon was in this, that guy's so awesome.

I came into 'Mud' with really high expectations and I am thrilled to say the film really lived up to them. A truly beautiful, emotive and charming coming of age film that is terrifically crafted and well performed. Destined to be one of 2013's best films.


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Only God Forgives (2013)

Only God Forgives, 2013, France/Thailand/USA
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas & Vithaya Pansringarm
''Time to meet the Devil''

'Only God Forgives' arrival to the screen has been almost as enigmatic as the film itself. After Nicolas Winding Refn’s instant cult hit ‘Drive’ was released to an overwhelmingly positive reaction and was renowned for being able to strike the perfect balance of a mainstream hit and an arthouse one. Audience goers would not be out of place in expecting ‘Only God Forgives’ to deliver in the same way that ‘Drive’ did, but this film is a very different beast.

Julian, a drug dealer who uses a Thai boxing club as a cover, has his controlled life thrown upside down when his Brother is murdered and his demanding mother compels him to find his killer.

While ‘Drive’ was a film that had an undeniable entertainment factor, it is very hard to say the same about ‘Only God Forgives’, this is a film that may mesmerize and enthrall but it is better to not going in expecting a fun time or just to see the film because it features one of the biggest stars in the business, because disappointment will be eminent. ‘Only God Forgives’ pretty much embodies what it means to be a modern art house film, there is an infinite amount of long tracking shots, brooding performances and no relatable characters. The question is though, is Refn’s film able to deliver one of the best films the sub-genre has seen in the last decade? Meh, not really.

It’s not that ‘Only God Forgives’ is a bad film because it really isn’t. It’s a film that is a mix between a pleasant surprise and major disappointment. ‘Forgives’ is slightly more coherent than I was expecting but because of this it becomes almost a little too self-reserved and self-indulgent. If it were too have gone all out and become this incredibly visceral experience, I believe it would have been all the better for it.

Refn is a very talented guy who has been on a real hot streak, so even though this is a good enough film, it still feels slightly disappointing. Refn’s 2008 film ‘Bronson’, it is able to convey and extract so many different emotions and is a joy to watch, ‘Only God Forgives’ isn’t. I know it isn’t fair to compare the two but the contrast in quality is undeniable.

For all its short comings, there are still things to appreciate here. It really is a beautiful looking film, using an extensive amount of neon lights to mend with the grunginess of the Thai underbelly. ‘Forgives’ also features a substantial amount pretty interesting and bloody violence, the scenes in which Chang is torturing other characters are easily the best of the film.

The stand out performance of the film comes from Vithaya Pansringarm as the cold, calculating and vicious Chang. Whenever Pansringarm is on screen the film is better for it. Chang is really the only redeeming character on screen. I love the contrast his character has in the scenes where he has where he is a complete badass and partaking in incredibly violent acts and then the ones where he is singing karaoke in a bar in front of an audience of cops, the guy is so awesome. Ryan Gosling is probably the films main selling point and while I am a really big fan of the guy, I have to say that he really doesn’t add a lot to the film. He isn’t bad but this role could have been played by anyone. Gosling is very quickly becoming typecast as the brooding tough guy, which is kind of disappointing. Coming into this I was really expecting Kristen Scott Thomas to overact like crazy, but while there was instances of it, she really wasn’t as bad as I though she may be. She actually gives the second best performance of the film and I actually thought she was underutilized in the end.

‘Only God Forgives’ is not a bad film but neither is it a memorable nor necessary one like I’m sure many were anticipating it to be. The film is a beautiful yet morally empty film. ‘Only God Forgives’ is a fine film but it is more disappointment than it is a home run. Hopefully the highly talented Refn and Gosling can collaborate on another project that is as great as ‘Drive’ in the future. Damn, I really wanted to like this...


Saturday, 20 July 2013

This is the End (2013)

This is the End, 2013, USA
Directors: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Stars: James Franco, Seth Rogen & Jay Baruchel
''Hermione just stole all of our shit. And Jay suggested that we rape her. I think the only reason he did that is because he knows he's about two minutes away from becoming the house bitch himself.''

In what was my second cinematic venture of the day, my friend and I saw 'This is the End'. Truth be told, I probably didn't have  much interest in seeing this film at first but it's overwhelming reception overseas virtually made this a must see for me. I'm very thankful I did as 'This is the End' is not only the best comedy of 2013 but one of the years best films.

After Jay Baruchel comes to Los Angleses to visit Seth Rogen, the two attend a party at James Franco's house, unfortunately this coincides with apocalypse and Rogen, Baruchel & Franco along with Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill & Danny McBride must all find a way to survive.

I dont think I have ever laughed as much in a cinema as I did with 'This is the End'. This film is just flat out hysterical from the very get go. Being a film that is co-directed by Seth Rogen and staring a majority of his buddies, this has all the ingredients of being a giant pretentious mess, unfortunately it doesn't come too that due to all the actors being great sports and allowing themselves to be the butt of the joke on multiple occasions. It was also a masterstroke to have all these stars portray themselves, it gives a great sense of familiarity and makes all the gags even funnier.

'This is the End' features a screenplay written by its co - directors and its just satirical genius, the joke of  actors not being worthy enough to be accepted into heaven is very funny and differs from the popular view that actors are simply more important than the average person. Speaking of genius, the best scene of the film has to be when the guys make the amateur 'Pineapple Express' sequel 'Pineapple Express 2: Blood Red'. The plot being that Danny McBride's charcater from the first film has turned evil and is forcing Rogen and Franco's characters to assassinate Woody Harrelson (played hilariously by Jonah Hill) because he is making a speech that will legalize marijuana, I dont think I have ever laughed at something so hard in the history of my existence.

In addition to being uproariously hilarious, 'This is the End' actually gets surprisingly intense in its final half (albeit hilariously intense). The demon monster actually feels quite threatening to the characters. The proverbial ''shit hitting the fan'' scene at the beginning is really well done as is the scene with the giant chasm engulfing Los Angleses.

Sans James Franco, there really isn't anyone in the cast that I am that big a fan of, but after seeing the film I have grown more respect for damn near everyone on screen. The real life chemistry of the cast  really shines through here and you can tell the actors are having as good a time making the film as the audience is having while watching it. Seth Rogen is great playing too his strengths of the loveable guy, James Franco is as awesome as usual, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel are all very good and Jonah Hill just may be the show stealer as he plays himself as seemingly condescending and smugly kind. All the lead actors do a great job of poking fun at themselves and the film benefits from it greatly. There are also some really good cameos, Michael Cera is probably the most memorable as a drunk asshole, Channing Tatum is also pretty awesome here too. There are also a few cameos that I wasn't a big fan of, like Emma Watson's, I like the scene which revolves around her but whenever she was on screen I thought it fell flat. There were some cameos that should have been played out more i.e Paul Rudd, and some cameos that really didn't add a thing i.e Rhianna. Overall though mostly everyone does a great comedic job, especially the main six.

'This is the End' is a brilliant comedy that features plenty of laughs and a nice satirical touch. The lead characters all do a great job and have no problem in poking fun at themselves. At this point, I definitely believe 'This is the End' is one of the years best films and the comedy to beat.


The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring, 2013, USA
Director: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Famiga & Lili Taylor
''You have a lot of spirits in here but there's one that I'm most worried about, because it is so hateful.''

Today was the first time, to my knowledge, that I have ever been on two cinema ventures on the same day. My friend whom I went with, mentioned some interest in seeing 'The Conjuring' a few weeks back but he had never really seen much Horror (preferring films along the lines of 'Speed') so it was always going to be a fun experience to see a Horror film with a horror newbie so to speak, especially one that has as much positive buzz as James Wan's latest offering.

Based on the true story of a family whom moved into a rural farm house and begin experiencing some horrifying apparitions, they enlist the help of renowned paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren, but even the Warren's had never experienced a haunting as disturbing as this.

I was actually a fan of Wan's previous film 'Insidious', I thought it had a really great first that built suspense brilliantly and had some genuinely scary moments, but unfortunately the last half was too cartoonish and lost all credibility when the entity was revealed to be the illegitimate offspring of Freddy Kruger and Darth Maul. Fortunately Mr Wan has learned from this and with 'The Conjuring' has made Horror film that is able to maintain a constant level of quality throughout.

Some may say that this is a film that takes a little too long to get going but I think its refreshing when a Horror film takes its time and strategically places its scares and doesn't try to throw everything at the audience from the get go. It's honestly suprising that 'The Conjuring' has such a high level of quality, I dont mean that as a knock to Wan as I do like the guy but it just surprised me that he helmed a film that exudes such quality. From his well his well timed direction to Chad and Carey Hayes excellent script. 'The Conjuring' is a film that will constantly surprise you and not just because of the scares.

I had never heard of the Warren's or this case before I saw this film but if even a majority of the events that took place in this film actually occurred in real life, then it makes it all the more frightening. The film is able to build some really impressive tension and will most likely keep audience members on edge until the big jolt. 'The Conjuring' features some really terrific scares throughout, culminating in a very nerve wracking climax that really delivered on all the good work that had been done prior.

The film really benefits from its terrific cast. The brilliant duo of Patrick Wilson and Vera Famiga portray the Warrens and do a fantastic job with it. Regardless of the quality of whatever shes working in, she is always great and her performance here is absolutely no exception, Definitely one of the best actresses working today. Wilson also continues his constantly consistent form with another good showing. The whole Perron family is also tremendous, all the of the kids give completely believable performances and really sell the fear of their situation. Ron Livingston is also good as the father but it is Lili Taylor who damn near steals the show. Taylor is a very familiar face but the only thing that I kept recognizing her from while watching the film was the god awful first segment of 'Four Rooms', she was really fantastic here and was completely believable as the frightful mother of the family, her work in the last half of the film was really great. The biggest flaw in the cast was John Brotherton, whose bumbling cop character made absolutely no sense to me.

For me, 'The Conjuring' has been one of 2013's nicest surprises. A really good Horror film that delivers on the scares and tension. James Wan seems to be really understanding the genre and here's too hoping 'Insidious Chapter 2' is even half as good as this.


Monday, 15 July 2013

Before Midnight (2013)

Before Midnight, 2013, USA
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ethan Hawke & Julie Deply

''I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing.''

I only saw Richard Linklater’s first two ‘Before’ films for the first time in the latter half of 2012 and instantly realized why these films are so beloved. I thought ‘Sunrise’ & ‘Sunset’ were brilliant and I enjoyed damn near every second of Jesse & Celine’s conversations. When I discovered that there was a third instalment into the ‘Before’ being released in 2013, it instantly became my most anticipated film of the year. The question though was could Linklater, Hawke & Deply capture the same magic for a third time? Short answer: Yes, Slightly longer answer:  Hell Yes! Even longer answer: Hells freakin’ yes, ‘Before Midnight’ may be the best installment of the trilogy!

9 years after the events of ‘Before Sunset’, Jesse & Celine are together and have twin daughters and are vacationing in Greece. When Jesse’s son leaves to return home to his Mother in the States, Jesse & Celine reassess their lives and where they go from here.

The success of these ‘Before’ films really comes down to two factors, 1) Linklater’s uncanny ability to write realistic and immersive dialogue 2) Ethan Hawke & Julie Deply’s incredible on screen chemistry. Without these two factors I’m afraid these be nothing more than pretentious emotionally hollow films, but the contribution of these three talented people make these films national treasures that ooze reality and genuine emotion.
Making films that are so dialogue heavy is always going to be a hard sell but Linklater has made a career out of it. With the ‘Before’ films it is so successful because of the fact that subtly encourages audience involvement, in the way that the conversations these characters are having may not be too dissimilar to ones that anyone could have. These characters are talking about universal and down to earth issues that resonate with society and it never feels too glamorized, sure they are in these extravagant locations but they take their problems with them. It really brings the human element to these films and makes them even easier to appreciate.

‘Before Midnight’ is a film that can, so simply and subtly evoke so many different emotions from their audience. Whether it is happiness, sadness or humor and anger It’s all done in such a way that it never feels to orchestrated and emotionally manipulative. There were moments in the film that had me laughing out loud, Jesse eating one of the kids apples at the beginning; ‘’Ella, this is a family apple and I’m teaching you value of sharing, I love you honey’’, and moments that had me on the verge of sadness, Natalia’s speech about ‘’Passing through’’. It’s really beautiful when a film doesn't have to be contrived when taking you on an emotional journey. Ultimately, ‘Before Midnight’ is a portrait of unconditional love and the issues that arise from lifetime commitment.

Another great aspect of the ‘Before’ series is the social contrast between installments. Jesse & Celine’s three days in focus all take place in different decades so we get the illustration of society’s values in the 90’s, 2000’ and 2010’s.  It’s so intriguing to watch the characters grow with the times yet keep that piece of them that made us love them in the first place. It’s also kind of funny to hear these characters mentions things like Skype and using IPhones.

I honestly was never really a fan of Ethan Hawke before I saw ‘Before Sunrise’, to me he was a simply a guy who was just there, not a bad actor but not one I really looked forward to seeing. The ‘Before’ films changed all that and I now absolutely love the guy. Hawke and Julie Deply’s on screen is almost unparalleled, the way these two actors form this incredibly believable relationship never ceases to amaze. There back and forth converses always feel realistic and, even after 18 years, I can’t think of a single moment in ‘Midnight’ that feels like these two are actually acting. Both Hawke & Deply are just amazing.

Ultimately, the only negative thing I can say about ‘Before Midnight’ is that makes me so anxious and overly excited for the next film which could properly be 8 or so years away. ‘Midnight’ was the only film on the horizon that I could see dethroning ‘Spring Breakers’ as my favorite film of 2013 and alas that has occurred. This whole review may just seem like hapless rambling about the film but I insist that it is simply that good. I can’t wait to see Jesse & Celine again…


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Eyes Wide Shut, 1999, UK/USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman & Sydney Pollack
''If I told you their names... no, I'm not going to tell you their names... but if I did, I don't think you'd sleep so well at night.''

Has there ever been a film that has been as cruelly misunderstood as ‘Eyes Wide Shut’? Stanley Kubrick’s final film was released posthumously and to, understandably, monumental expectations. Due to these circumstances, the film failed to impress a majority of the masses. In recent years ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ has gained a more favorable look and was even ranked as 4th on Martin Scorsese’s best films of the 1990’s. But to me, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is still no aware as heralded as it should be.

After the revelation of his wife’s intentions of an affair in the past, Dr Bill Harford takes a stroll through New York City in an attempt to vent his frustration, but in doing so, Harford has begun a mysterious odyssey that sees him stumble onto something sinister.

I have no misconceptions when I label ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ as a masterpiece. I don’t put this view down to my Kubrick fandom but instead due to the films quality. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is an endlessly intricate tour de force that is being assembled by a master of cinema. At its heart, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is a dream, as Mr Scorsese said ‘’it's not to be taken literally. Its Manhattan as you’d experience it in a dream, where everything feels familiar but very strange’’ this quote from Scorsese got me thinking about the films location. Due to Stanley’s fear of flying the entire film was shot in England as a stand in for Manhattan. To me, the film never feels like it is actually taking place in New York, now I have never been to either the NYC or England but I know how these places come off on film and its seems very evident this is taking place in England. Maybe this feel is simply down to Kubrick’s fear of flying but the fact that the Manhattan portrayed in the film doesn’t feel like Manhattan, this perfectly complements Scorsese’s statement and drives home the theory that the events being portrayed on screen are merely a dream, but then again ‘’no dream is ever a dream’’.

I’m a huge admirer of films that take a central character and send him on an odyssey, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ ranks along ‘After Hours’ when it comes to this category.  ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is definitely a fantastical but Kubrick is able to keep the events frightening and always engaging. Like he did with ‘The Shining’, Kubrick asks more questions than he answers, while that can infuriate some viewers for being so vague, Kubrick makes it all seem so mythical and is subject to decades of debate.

One scene that must be talked is the orgy scene where Bill Harford arrives at the party in the mansion. This is perhaps one of the most, eerie, intense and spellbinding scenes I have ever witnessed. The visual of a crowd of wearing cloaks and masks watching what appears to be a spiritual ceremony taking place. As unsettling as the scene would come off in the script, Kubrick makes it even more unforgettable due to his use of camera angles that make see through Bill’s perspective, giving us the sense that we are an onlooker at this bizarre goings on. We then follow Bill through the house where there are many sexual activities taking place and even more masked people are looking on. There is also the use of that incredible piano theme which sends chills down my spine and elevates the scene even more.

As is the case with almost all of Kubrick’s work, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is highly rewarding on a rewatch. There are so many little small details and clever camera shots that can escape the viewer on an initial viewing but can become omnipresent on a revisit. For example, the opening scene in which Bill and Alice are getting ready for Ziegler’s party and when the two exit there front door there is a transition from that shot to the next which is the front of Ziegler’s mansion, so that it seems as if Bill and Alice have walked right out of there front door and straight into the location of the next scene. Its small details like this that separate Kubrick from the average filmmaker, this attention give audiences the sense that the man orchestrating the film you’re seeing is truly passionate about what he’s making. Unlike others who simply point out where they want the next explosion to take place.

This is a film that is very much a one character film; everyone else on screen is simply a part of Harford’s dream. I know Tom Cruise can catch some flack in the acting department but every time I hear this argument I simply the likes of ‘Magnolia’ and of course ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. Cruise is great here, sure there is Cruise-esque like antics but they all seem to have a place here. Bill Harford is a character that, despite his choices, is still a sympathetic character and pretty easy to follow. Nicole Kidman is good here but despite her billing, is a big name bit role. There are plenty of great characters that round out the cast including Sydney Pollack who is really awesome here. Also this film marks one of only two (apparently) Stanley Kubrick cameos; he is a man sitting at a table in the restaurant where Nick Nightingale is playing.

I regard ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ as one of my all-time favorite films and I honestly believe it is the very best film of the 1990’s. A frightening yet beautiful swan song for cinemas greatest son.


Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Big Lebowski, 1998, USA
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman & Julianne Moore
''Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.''

If you are one of those folk who has grown increasingly weary of reading review after review about people proclaiming their endless love for the Coen brothers’ cult classic and how the character Jeffery ‘’The Dude’’ Lebowski borders on demigod status…then I recommend not reading the rest of this review, as I am no different to those people in that I have no problem professing my admiration of ‘The Big Lebowski’. As for The Dude…I don’t think of him as god like, He’s far cooler than that!

The Dude is a man at complete ease with his life of bowling and white Russians, but when he is mistaken for a millionaire and his rug is soiled, The Dude attempts to get reimbursement for his rug but stumbles into a world of crime, mystery and Nihilists.

‘The Big Lebowski’ is one of those films that I have a hard time imagining how someone could dislike. I just cannot fathom the concept of someone sitting through the film and coming out on the other side saying that they didn’t enjoy it. This is why it came as such a shock to me that my best buddy had this feeling after seeing the film for the first time, to which my reply was probably something along the lines of ‘’but…but. The Dude, man!...and the rug and the hillariousness’’. If I had to say what would be something that may make ‘Lebowski’ a little more inaccessible to some audiences, is probably it’s simplistic and seemingly laid back approach. I believe the whole film can be summed up by a quote from Walter in the handoff scene ‘’the beauty of this is its simplicity, once a plan gets to complex everything can go wrong’’ with this line of seemingly throw away dialogue, I believe the Coen brothers are basically outlining their entire film. If you think about it, the entire situation at the start of the film isn’t really all the complicated but through the (hilarious) actions of The Dude and Walter, the situation becomes complex, and therein lies the beauty of the Coens’ film, it is such a perfectly executed, character driven film that the events the audience is witnessing feels like they are solely the responsibility of the character’s choices and actions and not just words on paper. That’s part of the Coens’ genius, they create a world of their own and make the audience oblivious to the fact that they are even there.

‘Lebowski’ is a film that exceeds in so many different genres, apart from being one of the greatest comedies of all time, it also a terrific crime film and even a compelling Mystery. It was actually loosely based on the Howard Hawks – Humphrey Bogart classic ‘The Big Sleep’, while that is definitely a good film, I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it nearly as much as I do ‘Lebowski’. The Coens are such versatile filmmakers that they are able execute the combination of all the different sub genres beautifully, thus resulting in the most watchable of films. As per usual, the film is packed with Coens-esque dialogue with such hilarious and witty characters exchanges throughout, which a testament to the actor’s performances and the incredible script they are working with.

‘Lebowski’ is one in a long line of many collaborations between the Coens and revered Cinematographer Roger Deakins, there are reasons why Deakins is arguably the most respected Cinematographer working today and this film is one of them. The man is able to compact so much into the frame and his work really embodies the fact that film is an art form. From the incredible sweeping, opening shot to those mesmerizing dream sequences, Deakins is on top of his game here. The musical choices in this film are also amazing, classics from the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan and Kenny Rogers play throughout and accompany a riveting score by Carter Burwell.

Another element of brilliance in this film is the performances from its incredible cast. As I alluded to before, The Dude is one of cinemas greatest characters, the man is damn near impossible to dislike, his laid back attitude, Zen personality and love of bowling make him the most loveable of hero’s, throw in the fact that he has about as much idea of the proceedings as we do and you have an icon for the ages. The Dude is played to absolute perfection by Jeff Bridges, it is impossible to elaborate how cool the man is. Bridges is supported by a phenomenal cast that includes John Goodman, in his best performance in a career full of great ones, playing Walter a War vet who can’t let the memories of Vietnam go. One of the biggest problems my friend had with this film was that he really disliked Walter’s character, I can understand this as Walter can be pretty abusive and stubborn, especially to Donny, but I love the character and I feel like his heart is always in the right place…plus his outbursts are hysterically funny as is his commitment to Shabbos, The Jewish day of rest. Steve Buscemi is great as the always sympathetic Donny, who is always being told to ‘’Shut the fuck up’’ by Walter. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is hilarious as devoted servant to David Huddleston’s ‘’The Big Lebowski’’ and Julianne Moore gives another example of why she is one of the very best actresses of her generation playing the role of the enigmatic Maude Lebowski. There are also plenty of appearances from the likes of John Turturro, Tara Reid, Peter Stormare and Sam Elliott. Everyone is on top of their game here.

There are plenty of reasons why ‘The Big Lebowski’ is the beloved cult classic that it is, the main being that it is simply a comedic masterpiece. It’s an incredible piece of filmmaking from two incredibly talented filmmakers. Plus it features the iconic character of the Dude…man. In my view, ‘The Big Lebowski’ is one the greatest comedies ever made…but that’s just like, my opinion man.