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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Big Daddy? oh dear...
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof- it's uneven, unsubtle and the dialogue often irritates (is it really necessary to say 'Big Daddy' in every other sentence?) But somehow this is still a very good film; gripping, intense and emotional. The fact that this is oh-so-very-obviously an adaption of a play is it's downfall, but what comes with it makes up for it- namely intense confrontations between characters, powerful acting and simple but effective story. Paul Newman and Elizabeth Tayler are great, their performances creating the only two likable characters in a film full of hateful liars. It's a better film than it should be; you may find yourself rolling your eyes half the time, but the rest of it is too powerful to let this spoil it. The films biggest fault is actually the character's names. Brick, Gooper, Big Daddy- cringe inducing attempts at colourful names. And i'm sure you'll agree the hundredth time somebody says 'Big Daddy', before forgetting all about it as the extremely dysfunctional family argue their way to forgiveness and redemption.
Alphaville is a hard film to define. It's futuristic but very much of its time, yet it also harks back to the past. It could be called science-fiction but it's themes transcend the genre and stylistically it is heavily influenced by Film Noir with a New Wave twist. The plot is complex- similar to what you might expect from an action film, but essentially the film is poetry. This is film as philosophy, deconstruction humanity as it does the medium itself. It may be hard to get into it, but when you do it's bewildering and thoughtful, social commentary as art. Above all, this is Goddard, and this is the film that makes me want to explore the rest of his work.
La plage (1992)
A wonderful combination of image and sound
I just got the chance to see a collection of Bokanowski's short films at the Aurora film festival. Not being familiar with his work, I didn't really know what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by the opening film La Plage, which turned out to be the best of an excellent bunch. The most striking thing about this film (as well as the other shorts by Bokanowski that we saw)was how captivating a non-narrative film could be. The absolutely gorgeous and surreal imagery on screen, accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack by his wife Michele is a captivating combination, allowing you to appreciate the film as a piece of art, without constantly needing to look for hidden meaning. I also got to meet and briefly talk to Mr Bokanowski, and he is a most friendly French fellow. I actually did meet him before the film, as I was going up the stairs in the cinema, but of course I didn't know who he was then!
I would definitely recommend these films, especially La Plage. Even if you are not familiar with experimental film, this would be a perfect introduction; beautiful, accessible and bizarre.
I got a chance to see Gomorrah for free, and after reading Empire's 4 star review, I couldn't possibly turn down the chance. Despite the torrential downpour of rain that I had to battle through to get to the cinema, it was definitely worth it. Sitting in a dark room with legs soaked to the core (and becoming increasingly colder by the minute) is not the most pleasant of experiences, but as soon as the film starts it draws you in with it's most stylish and possibly most violent moment. From there on the pace slows down and the film becomes more of an interlinked multi-character study. Taking the usual route in representing crime stemming from poverty is starting to get old now, but thankfully it does not dwell on this too much (we've seen this far too many times in the likes of City of God or Sweet Sixteen) but it is important to have this themes as a backdrop, adding realism to the motivation of the characters. One shot that impresses is an introduction to Toto's home; a dilapidated block of flats that is frequently framed to resemble prison cells, not only highlighting how bad the quality of life in the area is, but also suggesting that the inhabitants are 'imprissioned' by the crime, and end up partaking in it as a means to get out. The violence of the film is handled excellently, with sparse but strong moments of incredibly realistic killings that sneak up on the audience as much is it does the victims. The downfall of the film, however, is lack of focus. As with several films that use a structure made up of interlinked plots, cutting back and forth between different story lines prevents the audience from being able to identify with the characters, and the several plot strands arn't really strong enough to hold your interest in each one. This isn't a disaster though, because the film is still fantastic in moments and the acting and cinematography are often superb, it's just a bit too vague on the whole to really capture your attention and make you care about the story.
The Boys (1962)
Out of obscurity
Why have I never heard of this film before? Why is it so unknown? I watched this last night on BBC4 as part of the courtroom drama season (I do love a good courtroom drama) and i wasn't exactly expecting much, I'd never even heard of 'The Boys' before. And sure enough, when the film opened, i got what i expected. It was clumsy, ill paced and badly timed. But THEN...it got going! After 20 minute i was gripped, amazed at how well the film manipulated my emotions, making me sympathise with different people at will, changing my mind at every turn! The flashbacks are dealt with superbly, without the cheesy, dreamy dissolves and instead the witness testimonies abruptly change in to the actually events. Without going into too much detail on the plot, the way that the truth is subtly hidden from the audience is masterful, and it grips you even as much as something like The Lady Vanishes (which is saying a lot!) From its unpromising start, the film just keeps on getting better until its chilling conclusion, not only will it provoke your emotions but also your mind. It certainly isn't as beautifully shot as To Kill a Mockingbird, or as well acted as 12 Angry Men, but it's every bit as powerful and i think that this deserves to be recognised as one of the all time great courtroom dramas.
Lost in Translation (2003)
As of last night i have seen this film 3 times, and each time i have loved it more and more. To but it simply, i now consider this to be quite possibly one of the best films i have ever seen. It's hard to justify this opinion with words, its just something that i feel when watching it. It's magical yet real, intimate yet distant, soul-warming and heart-breaking. It's a huge mix of contrasting feelings, all contradicting one and another, and this couldn't be more fitting. It's like love, gentle but engrossing.. but perhaps that's enough about 'feelings'. More technically, the cinematography is fantastically suiting to the story, with shallow focuses creating a delicate world around the lonely protagonists who are so out of place with it. The acting is superb, Bill Murray is the best he has ever been (evoking a whole spectrum of emotion, but also making us laugh)and Scarlett Johansson.. well, she may well be the most beautiful creature ever to be put on film. Lost in Translation feels like a very personal film, as if Coppola is putting herself into these characters. One specific moment brings this to mind, when Charlotte muses about being lost in life, to paraphrase; 'I tried writing but i hate what i write, I tried photography but my pictures are so..mediocre'. This feels like a reflection of the film-maker's own frustrations (for example, being shunned out of the acting world by the harsh criticisms to The Godfather Part3), But i am very happy to say that this films is every bit as good as anything her father has made, and whats more, i even prefer it. With Lost in Translation, Coppola has truly proved that she has found her vocation. It's fresh, different and excellently made. But more importantly it's magical.
Death Proof (2007)
Ladies...THAT was fun!
First things first, I love Tarantino. Pulp Fiction, both parts of Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs all rank among my favourite films, and Jackie Brown, whilst not as 'Tarantino' (that's right, it's a quality!) as these others, is still an excellent film. And that's not even mentioning his scripted films; True Romance, From Dusk Till Dawn and, to some extent, Natural Born Killers. (Although I admit I have not yet seen four rooms, but only because I hear that...it's not so great). Bearing this in mind, and after waiting for over a year since first hearing about Grindhouse, I couldn't help having certain expectations when I finally saw Death Proof.
This is probably why after first viewing, I came away slightly disappointed. The film seemed flawed in many ways that Tarantino had always seemed to avoid. But saying this, there were many things that I loved about the film, and therefore looked forward to watching it a second time. And I must say, I enjoyed it a lot more.
The main problem for me is actually the casting. Don't get me wrong, Kurt Russell is fantastic in his role and it's a classic Tarantino piece of casting, but many of the other characters just don't seem to fit. In the first group of girls, the first thing that really put me off was just how obnoxious and annoying they were, and unfortunately this was also true of the second group of girls too. At first I thought that this was due to Tarantino's writing, that he had really gone over the top this time, but this is proved wrong by a couple of redeeming performances.
The first of these was by the very sexy Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito) or as I prefer, 'Butterfly'. This girl, opposed to the others, comes off as likable, human and very hot! (thank you for the lap dance!) The second would be Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who gives a great performance as a cute-but-dumb actress. I also feel like I should mention Rose McGowan as Pam, Stuntman Mike's first victim, because her happy-go-lucky blonde is simply a joy to watch, and the dialogue and action between the two of them are some of the best parts of the film. Oh, and Rosario Dawson's character Abernathy is mainly acted well too. But unfortunately, apart from this the girls in this film simply don't seem to be able to handle the Tarantino dialogue, which is a big shame. (I wont even go into how big a mistake the casting of Zoë Bell was; sure he wrote the part for her, sure, she's a great stunt woman, and sure, Tarantino obviously likes her a lot, but the woman just can't act! Her acting is simply distracting (hey, that rhymes...) and is one of the two women in the film whom I refer to as 'the squinty faced ones'.)
The casting of the men wasn't much better. The men in the bar just don't fit in with the tone of the film (why cast Eli Roth for God's sake?!), with the exception of Tarantino's cameo as the eccentric bartender Warren,. You just get the feeling that he's trying to make his characters too modern, which really doesn't fit in with the old B-Movie style, and instead of making unappealing characters likable (think of the depictions of hit men, criminals and assassins that populate his previous films), Tarantino seems to make these normal kids very un-likable. But alas, I fear I might lose myself if I rant anymore about that, so I'll move on to what I think was the other mistake; the structure.
The film jumps to a completely different set of victims almost half way through, and seeing as the first half almost reached the pure ecstatic highs of Kill Bill at times, this seems like a big mistake. It also feels disruptive to the flow, and as a result, Death Proof never really feels like a whole film. This is not helped by the under use of Kurt Russell's character, who never seems to get enough screen time despite being one of the films biggest attributes. As for the action (i.e. The car chase/ killings), there is not much to complain about. It's done well; the final chase is tense and thrilling as long as you don't expect too much, and the deaths are suitably gory and darkly funny.
Once again, Tarantino shows just how well he can frame his shots, making even the static moments somehow full of life and aesthetic beauty, so there are no disappointments here. But then there is the ending. I suppose it will be a matter of taste, and that some will like it and some will not, but I'm afraid I belong to the latter category. However well made it is, I just don't think that the audience *wants* to see the cowardice side of Stuntman Mike, simply because we grow to like the psychopathic killer more than his annoying victims! And the abrupt 'The End' finish seems to cut the film off when we're still expecting (and perhaps, needing) more to happen, to bring us out of the action smoothly. So it seems that Death Proof is a flawed film, and arguably Tarantino's worst to date. But it's saying a lot about a director when his worst film is as good as this! Hugely enjoyable and mostly memorable, Death Proof only just falls short of excellence through some poor pacing and some bad choices.
There are few things as fetching as a bruised ego on a beautiful angel
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Why did it have to be snakes?...
I have recently re-watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, after seeing it many times on television in my childhood, but watching it now for the first time in years (and certainly the first time since I have become a big film fan) it is obvious just how superb this film really is.
My enjoyment has been dampened slightly due to having seen it many times before (and seeing no end of parodies and homages to many of the key scenes over and over again in television programmes such as The Simpsons and Family Guy) but now I can appreciate the wonderful cinematography, the fantastically low-key lighting and brilliant acting by Ford to create a very tree-dimensional character in Indy. I was also astonished at just how many of the key moments from this film have gone down in cinema history and are imprinted on the minds of audiences everywhere. Even if they haven't seen the film many people will still be aware of scenes such as the fantastic opening (with Indy navigating through a trap-filled cave and narrowly escaping from a giant boulder), so I think it says a lot about a film when it has so many moments that have gone on to become so famous. Apart from the possible expectations of Star Wars and The Godfather, I can't think of any other films that achieve this memorability so well. My personal favourite moments from the film, as well as the opening scene which I have already mentioned, have got to include the hilarious moment when a swordsman challenges Indy, showing off his sword skills only for our hero to casually shoot him and continue on his way. Another fantastic moment is the plane fight, where Indiana is fighting a large henchman resulting in the man getting quite brutally killed in the propeller of an aeroplane. Not to mention the glorious melting faces of the villains at the end of the film when the ark is opened.. Despite my positively glowing account of the film so far, it's not without its faults. The film is so well known by now that it has admittedly lost a lot of the original sparkle (which is similarly true for the Star Wars trilogy) and also some of the special effects and matte backgrounds don't always convince...but these things are expected as they are due to age. Despite these small niggles, Raiders of the Lost Ark is pure cinema, a funny, engaging exciting adventure that is full of charm. If you've been living in a cave the last 25 years and haven't seen this film, then you need to. NOW!
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
A real ray of sunshine...
The first thing i would like to say about Little Miss Sunshine is that it is nothing like what i was expecting. In fact, i wasn't sure what to expect as it's hard to classify the film into a particular genre, sheerly because of how original it is. I mean sure, its a comedy, but simply shoving it into this genre does no justice whatsoever to how good the film actually is. Because of what i had heard about Little Miss Sunshine before seeing it, i was more or less expecting a smart, and funny film with something to say about life. And that's exactly what i found, but so much more.I certainly wasn't prepared for the emotional depth of the characters,the,in places, stunning cinematography (i was especially impressed with the camera work in the opening sequence) and one of the best feel good endings i've seen in a while! The main point i want to get across is that its not everyday that i see a film that makes me think 'wow' and actually inspires decisions in my own life. Three kings, American beauty, and Rain man made me feel similar, just to name a few. However i realise that the film would not affect everyone in this way, some people may miss the point all together. but for those who want to see a group of people with more messed up lives than your own trying to tackle bizarre circumstances with life-affirming results, then you're in for a real treat...
True Romance (1993)
IT'S so cool
I first decided i wanted to see this film after becoming completely obsessed with Quentin Tarantino. Pulp Fiction is my favourite film ever and i also loved Kill Bill (1 and 2), Reservoir Dogs and Jackie Brown, so i wanted to see true romance, which Tarantino wrote the script for.To be honest i wasn't sure what to expect, as the name seems to suggest a romantic comedy of sorts, but this definitely not a chick flick. From the very beginning you can see the 'tarantino-ness' of the film, the coolness, the pop culture references, the clever, quote-able dialogue, and although it lacks the visual flair of the films he has directed, this is still top notch entertainment. The main thing that hit me was the way i felt at the end of it. You know a film is good when u are still thinking about it long after the end credits have rolled, and the thing i couldn't get out of my mind was the line 'You're so cool'. you have to see it to understand, but i'd recommend this to anybody; a clever, entertaining, iconic film that has the 'cool factor' all the way through. Who said romance was dead...