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Heartbreakingly bleak tale of addiction and the human condition
Shame is a heartbreakingly bleak tale of addiction and the human condition.
The film has us follow Brandon (last name unknown), played by the talented Michael Fassbender. During the opening exchanges, we are greeted with no dialogue; merely action. A technique that I personally find to be very effective. We need no words, Brandon's actions and surroundings are all we need to build an initial impression of this man and his way of life. He lives in a sparse apartment, absent of colour or warmth. His facial expression remains in a fixed state of ambiguity. Most tellingly, he doesn't come close to smiling at any point.
Through the first act of the film, we learn of the severity of his addiction. From setting his sights on married women on the New York subway; to masturbating in the work place and hiring prostitutes for gratification. The act is fairly matter of fact; aside from the intriguing answer phone messages that he continuously ignores. Is she Brandon's girlfriend? ex-girlfriend? sister? It isn't too long until our intrigue is partly answered for with the introduction of Sissy (played by the equally as talented Carey Mulligan). For the first time in the film, we begin to see some real emotion from Brandon. Almost immediately, his seemingly cool (almost cold) demeanour begins to diminish. He becomes more irritable and impatient.
From here, the film gathers considerable pace in terms of emotion and character dynamics. Instead of wondering why Sissy has this effect on Brandon; you soon realise that it doesn't matter. The film is a study on the human condition and psyche. The writer/director (Steve McQueen) gently hints at the reasons, but they aren't important. What is important is the characters and the emotion.
The film seers with pain. It is an incredibly painful watch. And this is why it is such a good piece of cinema. The lead actors are mesmerising in their roles. Be sure to look out for a quite unbelievable scene in which Sissy serenades a small New York nightclub with her singing. The scene contains many of the factors that resonate within the film throughout; rawness, pain, sadness.
Shame is an incredibly bleak picture; but a picture that hits you on a deep emotional level. A film that leaves you satisfied through being in the presence of pure cinema.
Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story came out right in the middle of a golden period for Disney. It was released on the back of the critically acclaimed (and box office hits): Beauty and The Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Because of this (and Toy Story being Disney's first collaboration with Pixar), there must have been considerable pressure on the picture to succeed. The idea of toys coming to life is a seemingly sure-fire winner for a family film. However, this could easily have been handled badly. This is not the case with Toy Story.
The pioneering animation, brilliantly written script, top notch voice performances, and shrewd direction make this a timeless animated film.
Much has been said about the groundbreaking Pixar computer animation. This is understandable and justified. The visualisation of the story world is inventive and innovative. The quality of the animation enables the audience to capture the essence of the world and fully immerse themselves within it.
The film's script is incredibly tight. It is witty and exhilarating; whilst containing heart and drive in abundance. I would go as far as to say that this film has the best script out of the three Toy Story films (which is no mean feat).
The script is also effective in its use of characterisation, and it is especially prevalent with Woody. He's certainly not your archetypal Disney hero, but that's why he (and the film) works so well. He can be petulant, prone to jealousy and mood swings, insecure, and devious. These reasons (and others) are why Woody is loved; he has human qualities. He has his flaws, but he has a good heart.
The voice actors are exceptional in bringing the script to life. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen shine in their leading roles as Woody and Buzz. The supporting cast are also highly effective in their performances. A notable example would be Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head; he gets a fair share of the film's laughs (especially from the adult proportion of the audience).
Much of this would not have been possible without a safe pair of hands in charge of bringing all of these elements together. John Lasseter's directing expertise is there for all to see with his handling of this picture.
There are also some stand out moments from the film that solidify its stature. They are directly linked with the two backbones of the picture; Woody and Buzz. The 'Strange Things' sequence in which Woody watches his whole world fall apart before him (as Buzz takes over Andy's room) is beautifully shot and realised. The other stand out moment is when Buzz watches his perceived world (and sense of self) revealed to be false as he stares in disbelief at the Buzz Lightyear TV advertisement. His subsequent attempt to fly out of the window is, once again, exquisitely shot and ethereal. Another consistent ingredient between these two moments is the poignant and perfectly suited music by Randy Newman.
Toy Story is a film that seamlessly brings together the many aspects that make a great film. It possesses a strong premise and story, great characters, awesome visuals, and a great soundtrack. It is certainly no surprise that the film has gone on to influence many other computer animation features; whilst also being responsible for kick-starting one of the greatest trilogies in American cinema.
Life's Too Short (2011)
Surprisingly average series from the Midas hands of Gervais and Merchant
Life's Too Short is the new BBC/HBO television series from the comedy maestro's Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
The pair hark back to their 'mockumentary' roots in this new series, whilst blending it with elements of Extras. Gervais (normally a prominent figure), takes a back seat role as the reigns are handed over to Warwick Davis, playing a twisted version of himself. The series plot follows Davis (a former film-star Dwarf) through his life as he struggles to juggle work with his personal life. We see him go through a divorce, struggle to find work, and fail in keeping his 'dwarfs for hire' agency afloat. Gervais and Merchant make cameo appearances in each episode, alongside more of Gervais's new found Hollywood friends.
The hype surrounding this new series may have considerably hindered its eventual impact. Admittedly, my own anticipation and expectations may also have distorted any purely objective view. However, having read many journalistic reviews; I am certainly not alone in my disappointment.
Warwick Davis is a decent actor. However, unfortunately, he fails in carrying the series. His character is a (excuse the pun), mini David Brent. Not only is the character a blatant rehash; but it is also one of the most detrimental factors to the series, as Davis just isn't as funny.
The series failings are certainly not all down to Davis and his performance. The writing is considerably weaker. I lost count of the amount of times the 'Dwarf falls over' visual gag was used. It was mildly amusing the first time, and greeted with silence by the fourth or fifth time.
Davis's constant glances of desperation into the camera fail to capture the essence of Oliver Hardy and Tim Canterbury. This is mainly because, for example; Tim was the 'peoples' character. He represented the normal man. He was rational, funny, and a decent person (in direct comparison to the likes of Brent, Gareth, and 'Finchy'). Davis's character is not this. He is delusional, arrogant, and selfish. In fact, he isn't a likable individual at all (as well as almost every other character in this series). The series lacked scenes in which we could affectively sympathise with Davis. The connection between himself and the audience isn't firmly established because of this. It is another example of how the writing comes short.
The series also boasts an example of a cameo failure. The brief appearance of Steve Carrell (via online video link) crashes and burns. Even the appearances of the much loved Barry and Cheggars (Shaun Williamson and Keith Chegwin), fail to capture the imagination. The series suffers from thematic tiredness. The use of social angst and embarrassment is almost wrung dry.
Highlights of the series include: Liam Neeson's cameo, Johnny Depp's extensive cameo, Davis's accountant (played by the ever reliable Steve Brody), and the final episode. The final episode (featuring Sting amongst others) is the best of the six. It is funnier, and boasts the best narrative pacing of the series. I felt that many of the previous episodes were noticeably disjointed.
I have briefly run through some of the reasons Life's Too Short disappoints. It could be examined further but I'd prefer to leave that to the professionals and to evade any looming sense of boredom within this piece.
The true downfall of the series is the lack of laughter it creates. A comedy is understandably judged on its laugh factor, and unfortunately, I rarely found myself laughing out loud at this series (in stark contrast to The Office and Extras). A surprisingly average offering from the Midas hands of Gervais and Merchant.