Welcome

Welcome to this blog of my film reviews. Some have been drafted carefully on paper, others I have sat and typed. I'm going to make it clear right now that I don't expect you to agree with my (re)views, or to like my style of writing. However, I want my views to be just out there and open, as a person who wishes to express himself from deep within. Feel free to comment and debate with me, but I do ask that you are civil and not harsh, as any comments which are basically swear words and insults will automatically be deleted. Also any text that is in orange (and often bold) is a Hyperlink to either a source, or a previous post for background reference.

Monday, 31 January 2011

The Immigrant


****

A twenty minute piece of Silent Cinema, that sees The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) as an immigrant, arriving in New York, accused of theft on the voyage and befriending a young woman (Edna Purviance) along the way.

Charlie Chaplin is so heartwarming as The Tramp - since when is he not? - he just has such a cheeky, friendly face and brings so much childlike innocence to the dimwitted, unlucky character he is best remembered for. The film is silent, but this is not a problem for Chaplin who gives a wonderfully over the top performance, with great energy and some acrobatic skill in which he is almost a piece of elastic. As for The Tramp's stupidity, it is so believable and wonderfully created through Chaplin's top comical expressions and childlike charm.

The entire film is wonderfully fast paced, and there is never a dull moment as The Tramp goes from different parts of the voyage and spends the last five minutes of the film in a cafe where he realises he is low on money. Here he angers the Head Waiter (Eric Campbell) with his stupidity, and the banter between the two is so well made to create wonderful comedy, as is the contrast in size (Chaplin being skinny and 5"5; Campbell being 6"5 with the body of a rugby player with a bowel problem).

Ultimately, the ever farcical, ever witty Tramp that Chaplin made steals the show, but his childlike innocence and almost acrobatic skills will make you fall in love with watching the character on screen. He is wonderful, he is precise in his comedy and he steals the heart. This film may only be twenty minutes, but it is twenty minutes you'll love.


1917.
U.
Silent with Intertitles.
Stars:
Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, Henry Bergman.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

An Andalusian Dog

Un Chien Andalou


***

A piece of Experimental Cinema created by legendary Spanish Auteur Luis Bunuel and Surrealist Artist Salvador Dali, the film bombards us with a series of shocking images and sequences. A woman's (Simone Mareuil) eyeball being cut open with a razor blade; a man (Pierre Batcheff) who has ants living in a hole in his hand, who hauls dead donkies and live priests (Salvador Dali, Jaume Miravitlles) in a grand piano; severed hands poked at with canes; and other unsettling images.

My first reaction to this film is "thank goodness it is only sixteen minutes of my life that have now gone forever", as this is Experimental Cinema which I, like many, have difficulty getting through. Experimental Cinema as far as I'm concerned is generally a waste of time as many such experiments just fail. During A2 Film Studies we did a module on Experimental Cinema and I just couldn't work out how they even managed to produce DVDs of most of them. The majority of the titles I have forgotten, but the most pointless film we watched was a five hour film that was just shots of peoples' bare backsides, most likely one of the ones we watched that was made by Andy Warhol.

An Andalusian Dog, however, is semi-bearable, not just because of its mere sixteen minute running time. It may have no logical narrative or coherent structure, but it is engrossing to watch just because of the images. They are bold, they are shocking and the are seriously graphic, especially for a black-and-white film. The slitting of the eyeball will get that stomach of your's clenching and bring a lump to your throat, especially when watched on a massive projector, which is how I watched it. Trust me it shocks. And they are also quite clever. For example, the man with ants in his hands hauls the piano towards a woman (Fano Messan) he intends to kill, bringing the French phrase "ants in the palms" (which means somebody is "itching" to kill) to literal life, which is quite ingenius.

Yes, the images are shocking and even engrossing at times, but there is no proper logical narrative structure, which is what makes this such a tough film to watch, and even tougher to follow. However, it is definetly worth watching once, just because it contains such bold images, the eyeball slitting being now one of cinema's all time most iconic images. Just remember, it is only sixteen minutes of your life that you will spend watching this.


1929.
Silent, with French intertitles.
15.
Stars:
Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff, Luis Bunuel, Salvador Dali, Robert Hommet, Marval, Fano Messan, Jaume Miravitlles.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Hotel Rwanda


****

Set in 1994, the film tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), whom, during the Rwandan Genocide, sheltered over a thousand refugees in his hotel, Hotel des Milles Collines, at huge personal risk, both to himself and his family, headed by wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo).

Exploring the themes of genocide, political corruption and the repercussions of violence, Hotel Rwanda is not a film that tries specifically to engage its audience in a story of genocide (which it does), but to make said audience realize just how truly devastating genocide is, particularly the Rwandan one that killed almost a million people in only a few months, in the hopes that the awareness will help prevent something so tragic from ever happening again.

The film is really made as powerful as it is by its screenplay. Covering the course of several months, we are made aware of numerous military regimes, as well as vast numbers of dead. It is tense, it is gritty and it is powerful, showing the fear and pain the Genocide has caused in numerous refugees, as well as the turmoil Paul feels, and his and Tatiana's fear for the safety of all within the hotel. The heartstrings are tugged by the number of distraught extras, and it really makes you realize how much people were affected by it all. A number of extras, if not Rwandan themselves, are relatives of people affected by the Rwandan Genocide, so the feelings that they display are real feelings, as it would surely have brought it all back. The mise-en-scene is very atmospheric, with vast numbers of both machine-gun carrying soldiers, and dead bodies in the streets, blood spatters and burning buildings, showing just how horrific and destructive it all was and bringing a lump to the throat by doing so.

Couple all of this, with an excellent cast of actors, who carry the screenplay from start to finish - especially Sophie Okonedo who makes Tatiana's struggles so heartwrenching and emotional that you will really feel her emotions, but none more so than Don Cheadle who gives great power and authority to the role of Paul, giving the greatest performance of his career - and you have a very powerful, thought-provoking and heartbreaking picture that makes you so aware of the awful Genocide in Rwanda over sixteen years ago.


2004.
12.
Stars:
Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Fana Mokoena, Cara Seymour, Jean Reno, Desmond Dube, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Leleti Khumalo, Tony Kgoroge.

Oscar nominations: Best Screenplay (Keir Pearson, Terry George), Best Actor (Don Cheadle), Best Supporting Actress (Sophie Okonedo).

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Misery


*****

After crashing his car during a blizzard, author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is nursed back to health by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), his self-proclaimed number one fan. However, the supposedly lovely woman soon appears to have psychopathic tendencies, and after some digging Paul finds out that she is a serial killer, and that the rest of the world assumes he is dead.

There are many strong components to this very creepy and very deep psychological horror film, and I will focus on three of them.

Firstly and most memorably is Kathy Bates outstanding performance as Annie Wilkes, which won her her first Oscar. She is absolutely terrifying as Wilkes and really puts her all into creating the character. In the early scenes of Annie Wilkes she is very calm, charming and collective as Wilkes and creates a feeling of reasonable security, although at the same time creating uneasiness as she just seems a bit too good to be true. This film is a psychological horror and that is a very pyschological play for an audience, as psychologically if something seems too good to be true a fear builds in our hearts and minds, even though we often are unaware of this. As for the rest of her performance where she is clearly psychopathic, Bates gives a phenomenal performance that will genuinely scare you (the moment where she shoots Richard Farnsworth's Sheriff dead will make you scream if you watch the film after midnight with no lights on), but at the same time you can't tear away your eyes due to her incredible screen presence.

Secondly, is the incredible feeling of isolation there is of Wilkes Farm. The blizzards of snow, the empty roads, and the fact that the Farm is in the middle of nowhere really make you feel isolated watching it, and this builds up so much suspense, as you just feel that it all looks so bleak for Paul Sheldon, who you really bond with during this film due to the fact that you genuinely fear for him as he is trapped in the house with the psycho serial killer, plus almost all of the parts of the film set in the house are seen from his angle.

Finally, let us not forget a superb performance from James Caan. Yes, Kathy Bates steals the show as Wilkes, but Caan is just as strong, his character simply isn't as bold as Wilkes. His feelings of fear are so convincing, and the unease he creates around Wilkes really draws you in so that you start to feel a real emotional bond with the character throughout the film. His performance is well timed, his charm and his "act natural" around Wilkes are created superbly, and he is just such a wonderful actor throughout the film.

In short the feelings of being trapped and alone are brought across marvellously throughout, and the film features a great leading man in Caan, however, it is Bates's film from start to finish, and without her this fantastic film would surely have failed.


1990.
18.
Stars:
James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall, Graham Jarvis, Jerry Potter, Rob Reiner, J.T. Walsh.

Oscar: Best Actress (Kathy Bates).

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Freaks


****

Set within a travelling circus, the film sees the beautiful Cleo (Olga Baclanova) marry dwarf Hans (Harry Earles), after hearing he has inherited a fortune. When it soon becomes clear that she intends to kill him and get his money, however, Hans and his fellow circus "freaks" devise a plan to give her a taste of her own medicine.

There are a number of ways in which one could look at this film, all of which I will go into...

Firstly, one could look at this as a documentary. Today if you wished to make a film such as this you would just use some make up and CGI to create the majority of the "freaks". Director Tod Browning, however, chose to use real circus "freaks". All of the characters are suffering from real life ailments in real life - The Human Torso (Prince Randian) really is a limbless individual; Half Boy (Johnny Eck) in real life had nothing below the midrift and walked everywhere on his palms; and Schlitze (himself) really was born with microcephaly. For them the film is a natural habitat as it was filmed in the type of circus they spent most of their lives in, and to a certain extent this can be seen as a document of a week in their lives - they're made fun of, Human Torso rolls and lights a cigarette (a seriously impressive skill for somebody with no limbs) and the Siamese Twins (Daisy and Violet Hilton) feel each other's emotions - and all of the three mentioned were part of a daily routine for them.

Secondly, one could look at this as a horror. *If you don't mind Spoilers then keep reading.* There may be no real monsters, such as vampires and werewolves, but one could look at the "freaks" as monsters. They hide in the shadows when spying on Cleo, and it won't fail to make you jump when they loom out of the darkness towards her. They take their final act of revenge in the middle of a storm and the way they seem possessed, unwilling to back down until they get revenge, crawling, running and stumbling through the storm with murder in their eyes will get the heart racing. The final image of Cleo is the biggest shocker. The revenge is left with Cleo screaming as she is cornered by the "freaks" in the middle of the storm. When we next see her we see what their revenge was - she is turned into the human duck - hands melted and deformed to look like duck feet, and the lower half of her body permanently tarred and feathered.

Third and finally, one can look at this film as a representation of why we should not discriminate against people who are different to us. Ultimately, all "freaks" want to be treated normally, and they do live the most normal lives possible. The Siamese Twins engage in romance, the Human Torso rolls cigarettes, and the Bearded Woman (Olga Roderick) and the Human Skeleton (Peter Robinson) have a child together. Ultimately they may be disfigured but they are human and do have human emotions, as shown by their hurt when Cleo insults them.

Ultimately this is a horror film just because of the main plot of how they take revenge on Cleo, and it is made very effective due to the way they are so driven and harsh in their revenge, and their final revenge won't fail to shock. However, what makes this (for me) so effective is the fact that the "freaks" suffered from the ailments that they do in real life, and it really makes you feel sympathetic towards them as you think how much abuse and mistreatment they must have recieved for their differences. Whether you want to look at this film as documentary, horror or a sympathetic view of circus "freaks", it is an effective film that will hit you hard, making you think. It is no wonder that most of the world still ban this film, and the UK only unbanned it in 1963.


1932.
15.
Stars:
Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles, Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Henry Victor, Roscoe Ates, Daisy Earles, Josephine Joseph, Johnny Eck, Prince Randian, Olga Roderick, Peter Robinson, Daisy Hilton, Violet Hilton, Rose Dione, Schlitze, Frances O'Connor, Koo Koo, Martha Morris, Elvira Snow, Jenny Lee Snow, Elizabeth Green, Angelo Rossitto, Edward Brophy, Matt McHugh.

Kick-Ass


***

Having spent his life questioning why nobody ever became a superhero, nerdy teen Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) dons costume and mask, and becomes a hit as vigilante Kick-Ass. Dave, however, gets caught in a bigger fight when he meets Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his 11-year-old daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz), who are battling to bring down rich drug lord Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong).

The film boasts a very witty screenplay, full of verbal and physical comedy which is quite frankly a laugh a minute, thanks to some excellent comic timing and delivery from the majority of the cast. Kick-Ass's struggle with girls is made quite funny and brings some gross humour into the screenplay - I think we can all work out what I mean by gross humour - and his initial foolish bumbling as a superhero is wonderfully over the top to make it just as funny as Peter Parker trying to control his web in Spider-Man (2002). Ultimately, however, the most hilarious and memorable character is Hit-Girl. A four foot assassin who swears more than Gordon Ramsey in a bad temper, the comic relief with this character comes from the fact there is still a lot of childlike innocence about her (e.g. the fact she agrees to test guns with her dad if it means they can go bowling then get a hot fudge sundae afterwards), so when the profanities begin it makes it all the more hilarious to think that a seemingly innocent child could be that foul mouthed. As for the action sequences, yes, many of them are gory, but they are sharp and colourful, retaining an essence of their graphic novel origin.

The flaw with the film, which is its major flaw, is the performances. Yes, Johnson is quite entertaining as Kick-Ass, but he struggles to give a performance good enough to carry a whole film, which irritates when you think his character represents somebody caught up in something too big for him to handle, and a strong performance should be expected for such a character. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who plays D'Amico's son who becomes 'Red Mist') tries too hard to play a nerdy wuss of a kid, and can't even play it cool when Red Mist starts smoking pot while driving. And Nicolas Cage, as he often has been this century, is just wooden, there is nothing strong or in depth about his character or his performance, and you just want to cry out in frustration by the halfway point. Ultimately, Chloe Moretz steals the whole film as Hit-Girl with her vast amounts of energy, enthusiasm and profanities. And Mark Strong more than makes up for Mintz-Plasse, by creating a very cold and very chilling gangster in the form of D'Amico. Yes, these two are wonderful to watch, but in a film with the names of five leads on the poster you always want/expect at least three to give strong, memorable performances.

Very exciting and rather witty, the main problem is the overall cast. Ultimately this is a generally weak cast, with the entire film stolen by Hit-Girl, meaning that this may as well be entitled Hit-Girl, instead of Kick-Ass. One has to question the film's violence - an 11-year-old girl who kills and is almost killed - but it is done in such wonderful comic book style that you can't help but resist it. This film is a very entertaining film most definetly worth watching, despite its flaws.


2010.
15.
Stars:
Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Lyndsy Fonseca, Kofi Natei, Stu "Large" Riley, Michael Rispoli, Yancy Butler, Omari Hardwick, Evan Peters, Clark Duke, Sophie Wu, Dexter Fletcher.

British Independent Film Award nominations: Best British Independent Film, Best Director (Matthew Vaughn), Best Screenplay (Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn).

Saturday, 1 January 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Happy New Year to all readers, may it be a prosperous, enjoyable and rewarding year for you all!

In terms of the blog, I have a lot on in the next few weeks so will very rarely upload a review between now and February. At the minute I have 45 unfinished reviews so when I have time for the blog this month I'll be working on them, and when they are published they will go into the archives for November and December 2010.