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A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
A Matter of Britain and America
The film starts with an impressive look at the universe, which itself is interestingly voiced over. This scene is probably one of the films most impressive when you consider the era in which it was made. Soon though we join the lead on board his rapidly plummeting Aircraft. It is quickly established that he has no way of surviVing this situation, the plane is too badly damaged, his parachute is shot through and his friend is dead. We hear Peter discussing all of this with a young American female who is at the other end of the radio and instantly we can tell that these characters, given the chance would be a perfect match However too soon Peter has to jump into the fog and to his death...
As I watched this film I had a nagging sense of annoyance building inside me, I wasn't quite sure what caused it, other than perhaps the unsatisfying nature of the film after the initially promising opening scenes. The film itself is based around quite a unique concept, a man being missed by Heaven, he then subsequently falls in love and is given the right to appeal the decision of his death. What bugs me though is that the realisation of this idea was not everything it could of been and the film instead focuses to much on the relationship between Britain and America as opposed to, in my opinion, the far more interesting one of life and death.
It makes perfect sense that the film was designed as a propaganda piece to boost Anglo-American relations. After all it did come at a time when there were a few difficulties between the nations. What doesn't make sense though is the way the film is so obvious in its attempts to improve and cement that relationship. This, inevitably, brings me on to the trial. Where do I start with the Trial? I give it that it was entertaining, amusing and good fun. What I don't give it though is much credit for anything else. I thought that the trial, perhaps naively, would be more about Peter and his life and why he should be allowed to continue to live. Alas though it wasn't, instead we are given a debate about which country is better, Britain or America. There is not much more to the trial than this and sadly, despite the amusement I got out of place from the scene, it kind of ruins the film. The scene is so out of place with the rest of the film that it jars horribly and feels somehow shoehorned in.
I want to briefly mention Frank, he is perhaps the best character in the film but I think that he is unnecessarily killed. We are told by the French operator that anyone who has ever lived could be Peters defence in the trial, which of course indicates that Frank could perform the role even whilst alive. Alas no though, the character is killed in perhaps the most contrived motorcycle crash of all time and is then taken up to Heaven were he is given the role of Peters defence Despite this though Frank is an interesting character, he is not over the top like the Operator, nor is he a caricature like Peter himself, he is just a normal person
So in all it is an interesting film but it is one which makes things difficult for itself. It offers a lot of interest, but not on the subjects you would of thought. By no means a masterpiece but neither is it junk
Shallow Grave (1994)
Danny Boyles first ever film, Shallow Grave is a solid and enjoyable thriller. The film definitely exhibits some very Boyle characteristics, from Nudity, to realism, and the film using two of Boyles preferred actors, Eccelstone and McGregor.
I really enjoy this film, at 89 minutes it is a short film by most standards, yet it fits a lot of action and plot into that time. The 3 lead characters are all great, they are all supposed to be cold hearted and horrible people. The acting of Eccelstone in particular though is amazing. I really enjoy watching him going crazy on screen. I also enjoy the other characters reactions to his increasing Paranoia.
Mcgregor is also good, a lot of people criticise his acting in recent years, yet I think a lot of his earlier films show that he is actually a very talented individual. I really enjoy how his two counterparts become more and more worried about what they've done, whilst it really doesn't affect him at all, until his sudden bout of self serving concern towards the end of the film.
I really enjoy the setting and the music in the film as well. The music, it could be said is very standard thriller stuff, but to me it adds a lot to the picture and builds up the on screen suspense well. As I say I also think the setting is good, I like the flat, and I think it certainly increases the sense of creeping madness, with the deliberately toned down colour scheme and the long spiralling staircase.
I do have some criticisms, there are some obvious gaffes, on occasion there is camera or crew visible. Also the film does seem to steal a lot of it's aspects from many other thrillers, especially Psycho.
I do enjoy the ending, it is certainly a surprise. I also like the small amount of ambiguity, we know enough to make assumptions about the film, but beyond the obvious it is unsure what happens. For his first film, Boyle has done a good job and he has clearly laid the foundations for Trainspotting
American Graffiti (1973)
American Graffiti at first glance appears to be a typical American High School film, with all the stereotypes that go with it. On watching I'm afraid it does very little to alleviate that sense, yet it is an important film for it's genre and probably created many of the stereotypes which are common place today.
I think a lot of the films value probably comes from nostalgia and having grown up in similar times, with events like this going on around you. I can't really relate to any of the characters, that doesn't in any way mean I don't find some of them interesting, I just think that most of the time they are too obvious.
The film is well made, and certainly proves that Lucas can direct without entering too deeply into the realms of fantasy. The music of the film certainly fits it perfectly, and adds to the flavour and feel of the piece.
It is definitely a believable film as well, whilst watching you certainly get the idea that this actually happened and the characters, even if horribly 2-D, are reflections of real people.
It was also a novel experience to see actors like Harrison Ford and Ron Howard so young on screen. Apart from the novelty factor though that really doesn't add anything to the film.
I would say that American Graffiti is a good solid film, but it is no way one I can profess to love.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Bridge on the River Kwai
I enjoyed the Bridge on the River Kwai a lot more than I initially remembered doing. Not having seen it for a considerable time a lot of the plot points and story where lost to me. In a lot of ways it is very similar to most other war films. A lot of the characters are certainly the same and are almost interchangeable.
My favourite part of the film is probably the first hour. I really enjoy the coming to terms scenes of the two Conoels. It is well acted and portrayed in a believable and enjoyable way. The interplay between the two characters is well done. Alec Guiness portrays the stuffy Conoel Nicholson perfectly, he is once again superb. I especially enjoy the scene where he and the other officers stare down a machine gun, reflecting the courage and tenacity which was common place in the military of that time.
The two story threads, one attempting to complete the bridge, one to destroy it, are an obvious contrast to each other, yet they work well and it gives the viewer a sense of knowing dread for both sides as the climax approaches. The bridge building part of the story is the superior to the two, I simply prefer the characters and enjoy watching Alec Guinness slowly descend into obsession with completing the bridge.
The character I really dislike is the American. He embodies all the irritating and stereotypical characteristics which are so common amongst cinematic versions of American characters. It is perhaps a redeeming feature of his character that he is killed rather than saving the day, which is what many would expect such a self righteous character to do.
The ending is fun. The obvious question it leaves is, did Nicholson mean to destroy the bridge or not?
Black Swan (2010)
Career Best Performance from Portman
A lot has been made of Natalie Portmans performance in Black Swan and rightly so. To put it simply, she is spectacular. Having seen her in many other films and thought her average in those, I was surprised at how well she performs in this. The amazing thing is that this is the same person who played Queen Amidala in Star Wars. She is completely unrecognisable.
I think a lot has to be said for the Director, he has clearly managed to connect with Portman on a level which George Lucas was never able to. Aronofsky masterfully uses intrusive shots and clever camera work which seem to go hand in hand with Portman's delicate portrayal of Nina.
The premise is simple, young female Ballet Dancer lands role of Swan Queen in a production of Swan Lake. As soon as we reach the scene where Nina confronts the choreographer and asks him for the lead role, we know where the story is going. The film can only end one way from this point onwards but I don't think that damages it. The fact that it is a typical Psycho Drama in which the lead descends into insanity is not what is great about this film, as anyone could tell a story as simple as that. What's great about Black Swan is how the story is told.
Performance wise and Direction wise I think the film has everything. I especially enjoyed the way the dancing scenes where shot, with the Camera moving with Portman as she danced. I also adored the scenes showing Nina getting ready to dance. There is something very compelling about watching preparation on screen and the scenes with Nina's Ballet shoes are no exception.
All in all a High class, adrenaline filled thriller, with some magnificent performances and brilliant direction.
Good, but doesn't really leave me hungry for more.
OK so Ravenous. What do you expect when you see the film's synopsis, to be honest you expect a run of the mill Hollywood flick. Yet what you get is not such a thing, whilst the film definitely is a very Typical piece of Anerican film making, it does have a few interesting and different tricks up it's sleeve. I would say that it is an enjoyable picture, but it has sone very obvious and irritating flaws, although I'm able to suspend my disbelief for the duration of the film, it is not without some difficulty, which is somewhat surprising as there are many other films with far stranger plots that I find easier to be pulled into.
Robert Carlyle, for me, is the best thing about this film. His acting is great, whatever scene he is in he manages to bring real life and energy to, which is something the lead seems to lack. The lead is obviously supposed to be a coward and a wimp, I am however unsure wheter the actor manages to pull this off. In many ways he seems subdued overly quiet and looks like a fish out of water, I am however inclined to think that this has nothing to do with his portrayal of the character, but more to do with his inabillity to act.
My personal favourite scene is the fight on top of the mountain, where Carlyle reveals his true, if not somewhat obvious, colours. The scene is cleverly shot, making use of a wide range of interesting angles, I noticed a 'Vertigo' shot, the famous zoom in and tack back shot. The music is also fun and adds a lot to the pace of the film. Although at moments, it seemed to remind me of the Benny Hill music, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I don't think the film was supposed to be taken entirely seriously.
The films concept, cannibalism, has been used in so many films that it often becomes boring, and unexciting. I have seen a lot of films where the fact that Humans eat other Humans is supposed to be scary, that usually when people try to do it, it becomes a snooze fest. However with Ravenous, I think that they have managed to change the basic idea of cannibalism about a bit, so that there is a at least an interesting plot playing out on screen, and not just humans eating.
Whilst definitely not the greatest film I have seen, it is a long way from being the worse. Like I say it is an enjoyable film, it doesn't get too bogged down, and it moves forward at a good pace. It does have numerous flaws, like being shot in a blue tone, which I could really see little or no reason for. Overall I would say a solidly average film, it can never be more that that, but honestly I don't think it even wanted to be.
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Well, where to start. The beginning seems a very good idea, I first saw this film in 2000, although at my then young age I was put off by some elements of the film, I generally loved it. It's possibly the quirkiest and strangest film I own. It is surreal, and has an original, clever and funny plot. It is rare to find a film quite like this one, the acting is superb, especially the title character of John Malkovich. Cameron Diaz is also worth a mention, for an engaging and brilliant performance, I would like to see a lot more of this sort of thing from her, as opposed to the usual stuff she makes. Her appearance in this film proves that she can act.
Spike Jonze, the films director, previously made his name directing music videos. Being John Malkovich, was his first foray into the feature film, in my opinion he has acquitted himself honourably. The direction is brilliant. Especially, a lot of the puppet sequences, which were fantastic and show real skill. Jonze has also filled the film with quirky little touches, for instance when Craig first discovers floor 7 1/2 it is exactly 7 minutes and 30 seconds into the film. While adding nothing at all to the film, it does come across as a clever thought. Another clever clue, is when Lottie ( Diaz) enters the Malkovich room in Lesters house, if you look at the door knob, it is precisely the same one as on the portal door.
One of my favourite scenes of the film is when Malkovich himself enters his own mind. The first time I watched the film I had a due sense of horror and dread as he crawled along the little tunnel. I really had no idea what was going to happen. It is rare to find a moment in a film which is as clever as it is funny, yet when Malkovich enters his own mind we are rewarded with just a moment.
The pacing of the film is excellent, in films of this variety, it normally works that the build up is excellent, but the ending is a total let down, on thus occasion I don't think that is the case at all. Throughout the films entire length, you're eyes are glued to the screen. The story moves forward at exactly the pace you want it to, I never once feel desperate for the ending, and I don't have any unanswered questions at the end of the film, which is always a good sign.
I must talk about John Malkovich, who I tghink was crucial for the film to work. In my eyes had you replaced Malkovich with any other big name actor the film wouldn't of worked. Malkovich's acting was excellent, and you can clearly tell that he had fun playing a fictionalised version of himself. On some omissions actors clearly go for a role they know will be fun, I think that is what Malkovich has done here. Taking on an extremely rare opportunity to portray himself. Well I say portray himself, for that is another brilliant part of his performance, how he is able to get the audience to suspend their disbelief and really believe there is someone else controlling his body, actions and life. I can't speak highly enough of Malkovich, he has taken everything in his stride and has clearly had a good time, and is a very good sport for allowing certain childhood scenes to be shown, when most actors would of refused.
The film does have some serious issues, for example it does offer an opinion on the American publics growing obsession with celebrity, and the desire to achieve fame and wealth. The films tag line 'Ever Wanted To Be Someone Else?', sums this up. The film does show the lengths some people are willing to go to, to get what they want. But it does it in a light hearted and funny way.
All this said, there admire things about the film I don't like. The surrealism at times goes to far, with the flashbacks to the Monkeys childhood being a particular example of this. The character of Maxine is also very weak when compared with some of the others, being shallow, self serving and with little depth. However on the whole I can't really fault it on these two grounds. It is a cult classic, and is perhaps one of the most loved independent American films for a very good reason.
I am dubious where to score this, I know it definitely deserves an 8, but reading what I've written it is going to be...
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Planet of the apes was released mere days after 2001: A space odyssey. It is unusual for two such films to be released in close proximity. I think that 2001 has a considerable advantage over this film. I don't by any means think it is a bad film. It has lots of elements and features of a good one, good music, a good story and an interesting plot. What I think brings it down is its lead actor Charlton Heston and its long winded and often irrelevant talking scenes.
Obviously films need to use dialogue and conversation between characters to make the film work. The impossibility of this film without dialogue is obvious. However what I found is that many of the scenes were basically Heston sat talking to the camera and whatever other characters appeared on screen. The film made very little use of it's potential for large visual sequences, there were a couple of instances of this, but mainly I thought, in something like planet of the apes, which has so much potential for such scenes, it was lacking. Instead relying mainly on dialogue to push the story forward.
There are exceptions to the above, like the child's doll which is found in the cave. When the doll makes the noise, it is a brilliant moment, the look of triumph on the humans faces, compared to that of shock and dismay on the Apes, is a great contrast. The soundtrack is also good, with the music almost always fitting the moment in question on scene, what I will say is that some of it could be quite repetitive, with the same music sequence being used for several scenes. However that barely matters, because I still maintain that the film would of lost some of its effect with no soundtrack.
The cinematography is pretty standard, there is nothing paticyualy exciting about any of the shots. The camera Is often stationary, and I did sometimes think that the characters were just talking heads.
I feel that my point on dialogue needs expanding. The things I enjoyed about this film were some of the more visual scenes. Whilst I accept that the film does need some dialogue to move the story forward and to explore the society and system, what I don't accept is that dialogue is the best way to do it. There are some films which solely rely on dialogue, but these are of a different sort and on a different sort of scale. With Planet of The Apes, which is essentially about exploration and discovering a new world, I would of expected more to be done with this. Yet what we get is essentially characters sat on screen and talking. This can work as other films I have seen have shown, but really here the talking is dull and unimaginative, with some of the characters spouting some terrible one liners. What I think the film needed was more scenes like the awesome chase scene, when Taylor tries to escape from the Apes custody. This scene is probably one of the best in the film, and all it is is Charlton Hedton running around the screen being pursued by a group of Apes. Yet it is more interesting than a lot of the dialogue which was mainly unimaginative and lacked anything to keep my interest.
I want to mention the chase scene, which to me was one of the best bits about the film. Yes it's a tried and tested formula. But I really enjoyed it, I loved how the supposedly inferior human first escapes from the cell and then goes on to allude capture against a vastly larger force for far longer than expected. To me this is more telling than a lot of the dialogue, and is a direct demonstration of one of the ideas of the film which is the superiority of certain classes etc.
I can appreciate that other people may find this film more entertaining than I and that they like the commentary on society that the film offers. I do accept that there is an awful lot of this, but in my eyes it is unsubtle and very obvious. Maybe it's meant to be obvious, but even so I don't think that this does the film any credit and I would rather have a more subtle commentary on our society. As in some ways the way the film is means that this part of the story takes over, and doesn't leave much room for manoeuvring other more minor plot points, and leaves little room for character development, with Charlton Hestons Taylor being an obvious example of this.
The ending of the film, if you haven't seen the film is a shocker. As Heston rides along the beach, it leaves you wondering how the film is going to end. It is a good ploy, because the main action sequence has played put, and it feels like everything is coming to a close. In some ways I still expect to see the Horse ride off into the distance, and the credits roll. So when the real ending emerges it is definitely a shock. It is perhaps a cheeky trick by the director, and it is not acted in the best way. But nevertheless it is enjoyable, and that is what really counts
Shutter Island (2010)
Starts very well, but is ultimately let down by a poor resolution
I was looking forward to seeing this film, I had heard plenty of good things about it, and I know that some of the directors previous efforts are excellent films. I was also looking forward to seeing Dicaprio in this role, as recently his acting has improved so much that he is unrecognisable from some of his earlier films. However I was again disappointed, this seems to have been a step back for him, as opposed to forward. His acting swung from extremely wooden, to bouts of massive overacting.
The film however does have good production values, and the cinematography is good. The film is a pretty standard idea for a psychological thriller, detectives hunting down missing person. It is however slightly different. The director deliberately uses a confining technique, setting the film on an island. It is a clever idea, it creates a sense of entrapment and helplessness. It also allows things to stay small scale, rather then the pan America man hunts some films of this type have become.
The way the film is shot is interesting, there seems to be a reliance on flashbacks to push the story forward, which I think is not a good technique. Rather then finding out what is happening in the here and now, we are slowly drip fed information from the past not all of which is relevant. The set up is interesting, the two agents have not previously worked together, allowing for a better way for the audience to get to know the characters. As the characters relationships develop, so does our knowledge of their backgrounds.
I have commented on Dicaprios acting, which I feel was poor at best. However I must add praise for Sir Ben Kingsley, who in my opinion is brilliant. The actor clearly appreciated the role, because his acting is great. Kingsley is truly the star of the show, and for me steals the lime light from the lesser Dicaprio. What is testament to his skill is that even the most awfully written scenes are delivered faultlessly, like the terrible scene in the lighthouse.
The first half of this film had so much atmosphere, tension and power, I am at a loss as to explain where it goes to after that. But strangely everything seems to disappear after that point. The ending is predictably bad, I mean it seems to be a cheap imitation of so many other films. The ending is so cliché, that it was even used in The Simpsons as a joke several years before this films release. I'm afraid the use of the unreliable narrator was this time poor, it reminded me of the ending of Fallen. Which was in many ways better than Shutter Island.
I still can't quite fathom what happened in the second half, and how they managed to waste such grand potential. I'm afraid this can be scored no more than 6/10
This Is England (2006)
This is Cinema
This is England is a very engrossing and enjoyable film. From the opening titles, which is the brilliant montage of images from the 1980s, right through to the closing scenes of the film keeps a high level of entertainment and of brilliant cinematography.
The director, Shane Meadows, has made a collection of small and independent dramas. Many of which are worth viewing, I however think that This is England is by far his best film. Meadows when shooting encourages actors to ad lib when they are not the centre of attention, he says that this leads to a more natural look, and creates more realism. I completely agree with him on this note. The film is nothing, if not realistic. The characters are endearing, the shots are natural, and the dialogue is really how people speak.
The film has a very serious message at its heart, which is of course the dangers of a certain type of national pride. Although it is set in the 1980s it is definitely not only a commentary on that era, but on modern day England. However despite its serious message the film manages to install a lot of humour into many of the scenes. The character of Gadget is mainly used for this purpose, being the obvious comic relief, when compared to the far more serious leader figures of Woody and Combo. That said, although Gadgets presence is for comic relief, he still manages to be a useful and important character on the serious side of things.
The acting of the lead is impressive to say the least. I am normally not a fan of many child actors. I often find them lacking in range and ability compared to their adult counterparts. However Shaun is very impressive for someone so young. He adds so much to the film, and without his presence it would really lack a lot of the authentic feel that the picture has.
The film screams 1980s. The opening titles serve to take us back to the era in which the film is set, at the same time conjuring up a sense of nostalgia amongst the viewers. The colouring and way the film is shot, also makes for an authentic 80s picture. Nothing about it says modern day, and there are no anachronisms that I have noticed. The authentic period feel is important in making the viewer actually believe that what they are seeing is the 1980s. Everything from the clothing, to hair styles, to cars was correct. Without these things it wouldn't work, and I'm thankful that Meadows has an eye for the minor details which combine to make this film work.
The major theme is of course about the dangers of racism, although hinted at in the early parts of the film, it doesn't really come into full fruition until about half way through, with the appearance of the excellent Combo. The character of Combo is brilliant, although his racist views and some of his attitudes are of course abhorrent, the character is still an interesting one. Throughout the film he portrays this image of a hard man, who has done time, he presents him self as someone who is proud to be white, he comes across as typical of certain members of the National Front groups. Yet, as is the point of the film, his character is shown to be human, the scene with Lol in the car is particularly memorable.
I have mentioned the opening montage, but I must briefly mention one of the others. The montage which shows, Seans transformation into the racist skinhead is fantastic. The interplay of the flag, and the music in this scene really come together to create a compelling and drawing scene. Meadows manages to grab hold of your attention, and refuses to release it.
I do have criticisms about this film. Its sentimentality is both one of its impressive and its irritating features. It seems to me that Meadows, is in someways longing for a time which was in many ways terrible. He also sometimes allows his own personal views to take over, and this is reflected in his attacks on Margaret Thatcher, and his glorification of certain types of unemployed layabouts. The film is also, like 2001 better viewed at the cinema. However these criticisms feel a lot like nitpicking, in light of what is actually a truly great film and a fine example of what cinema should be.