I have been disillusioned with the Oscars for many years possibly since Forrest Gump beet Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption and Three Colours: Red (nominated for best director but not best picture) to the best picture Oscar. Despite this, as a movie blogger I still take something of an interest in movie awards. As such a I recently had a conversation about next years Academy Awards with a friend who is move interested and excited about them than I am. The basis of the conversation was if Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) or Sandra Bullock (Gravity) have a chance at winning the Best Actress Oscar or if Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) has it sewn up. The conversation then moved to a film that for me is head and shoulders above everything else I have seen this year but is unlikely to be nominated for any major awards. Normally I would keep my thoughts to myself until my own awards next year, but Stevee Taylor’s “Make a Case for blogathon” caught my eye.
The film I would like to make a case for is Stoker:
Best Picture: A coming of age melodrama, a simple genre horror or a clever and intense thriller? I am really not sure what Stoker is, it feels very familiar and totally original at the same time, it is a weird beautiful and sublime movie.
Best Director: I first became aware of Chan-wook Park when Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) was shown as part of the Asia Extreme Season in 2002. A year later I saw his masterpiece Oldboy (2003). Since then I have taken a great interest in his movies. As much as I love Lady Vengeance (2005) and Thirst (2009), Stoker is Park’s next best film after Oldboy.
Best Original Screenplay: Second rate actor Wentworth Miller (the bloke from Prison Break) has crafted a melodrama worthy of Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray, a thriller worthy of Alfred Hitchcock and a teen drama worthy of John Hughes.
Best Actress: Australian actress Mia Wasikowska appeared almost from nowhere when she appeared in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right in 2010. Her performances here is so measured and un-showy that it won’t even be on the radar of the academy.
Best Actor: Matthew Goode is so creepy that he must be channelling Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.
Best Supporting Actress: So often the star and centre of attention, Nicole Kidman plays a colder and more restrained character and plays it to perfection.
Best Cinematography: Shot by Chan-wook Park’s long time collaborator Chung-hoon Chung. The colours, shadows and unusual camera angles leave you feeling very uncomfortable, but at the same time every scene looks like you could freeze frame and hang it on your wall.
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As a movie fan I am relatively well located. Living just a short drive from the centre of a major UK city, England’s so called second city, Birmingham, I have access to many cinemas including a great independent and a multiplex with an IMAX screen. However I am beginning to feel a little short changed.
For the second time this year a much hyped movie doesn’t appear to be coming anywhere near my city. The first was Upstream Colour (2013) Shane Carruth’s long anticipated follow up to Primer (2004). More recently Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013), the controversial Palme d’Or winner from this years Cannes Film Festival. Earlier in the year Amour (2012) received a single screening after it had won the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Had it not won, it is unlikely that it would have made it to a multiplex.
Back to my local multiplex I mentioned above. They have over 80 UK cinemas. Five of them are showing Blue Is the Warmest Colour. All but one of the five are in London. While I accept that we don’t get as many of the smaller movies as they do in the capital, but if they are unable to show a Palme d’Or winner in England’s second city what is the point of modern technology? The modern technology that is supposed to make it easier and cheaper for cinemas to show more films making smaller films more accessible and available.
Upstream Colour and Blue is the Warmest Colour are set for release on DVD on 30th December and 17th March respectively, I fear these will be my first opportunities to see them. I am also confident they will find their way onto FIlm4 before too long. This however isn’t the point, I don’t just want to watch movies, I want to watch them where they are made to be seen, on a giant screen in a cinema.
Before you feel too sorry for me, I do get to see more films than many people and will most likely be going to see Alexander Payne’s Nebraska tomorrow.
Posted in Movie Blog | Tagged Alexander Payne, Amour, Birmingham, Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Cannes Film Festival, IMAX, Nebraska, Palme d'Or, second city, Shane Carruth, Upstream Colour | 3 Comments »
Paul Walker (1973–2013)
Earlier today I logged onto IMDB to research an article I was planning to write. I was confronted with the news that actor Paul Walker died yesterday following a car accident in Valencia, California. The report stated that he was the passenger in a car on the way to a charity event for his organization Reach Out Worldwide. Both he and the driver died. Within a few clicks on the internet I came across comparisons to James Dean, although Walker is neither as young or iconic as Dean, any untimely death is a tragedy. The only tribute a film fan can make is to talk about the films that made him famous that given the manor of his death will be much talked about.
I have a difficult relationship with The Fast and the Furious franchise (2001 – 2013 so far). When I first saw the original movie back in 2001, I has mixed feelings. I immediately spotted the plot stolen form one of my favourite action movies. I found it predictable and clichéd. However it was great fun and stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez where always watchable. As the series progressed there were highs and lows culminating in the last two movies actually being quite good. The greatest criticisms is the wanton destruction of classic cars. Putting all this aside, the appeal of the movies has always been mindless fun.
Walker’s other career highlights include the underrated Joy Ride (2001) (co-written by J.J. Abrams and directed by John Dahl) and Varsity Blues (1999). What this means for Fast & Furious 7 and the future of the franchise is a conversation for another day. It may well go on without him, but it won’t be the same.
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This months contenders include a comic book sequel, a young adult adaptation sequel and acouple of original movies, but which is the movie of the month?
Thor: The Dark World: Thor and co restored order to the nine realms but the peace doesn’t last long. A race of Dark Elves are on the hunt for a MacGuffin that could bring the end of the world(s). Thor is on hand to save the day but not without the help of his treacherous brother Loki. Following the Iron Man blueprint, it is well balanced and paced with just enough humour. A fun movie that does what it is intended to do, makes me want to watch the next Marvel Movie.
Philomena: True story of a woman’s search for her son who was taken from her fifty years earlier when she was sent to a convent/forced labour laundry. Billed as a serious Steve Coogan movie, but it is actually very funny in places. Coogan and Judi Dench are both fantastic and play off each other really well making a film you just can’t help liking.
Gravity: After a collision in space astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock have to try and find a way home. Generally I hate 3D but once in a will it works, once in a very long while, it really, really works, this is that film. To call it stunning is an understatement. My one reservation, it just won’t be the same on TV as it was in IMAX 3D.
In Fear: Ultra low budget British horror thriller about a couple who get lost in rural Ireland. There isn’t anything particularly original about the plot and there aren’t many scary moments but there is a real sense of dread and fantastic building tension. The real reason the movie works so well is the fantastic and believable performances from the young cast.
The Counsellor: Crime thriller directed by Ridley Scott, from Cormac McCarthy’s first original screenplay. The Counsellor of the title gets mixed up in drug trafficking and his seemingly perfect lifestyle enders a downward spiral. A sumptuous looking movie with a subtle plot and a fantastic performance from Michael Fassbender. I can understand the negative reviews, they just happen to be wrong!
Flu: Korean disaster thriller about a mystery virus that envelopes Bundang (a suburb of Seoul). The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a by the numbers disaster movie a or a satire on human nature. The comedy aspect of the movie doesn’t really work but the rest of it does. Not as hard hitting as Contagion but worth seeing.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: A year after the events of The Hunger Games and revolution is in the air. A new variation on The Hunger Games is devised to try and quash the thoughts of rebellion. Like the first movie, every character is perfectly cast. Bigger bolder and in some ways better than the first film despite weaker source material.
The Movie of the Month is: Gravity; see it in IMAX 3D if you can.
Posted in Movie Of The Month | Tagged Flu, Gravity, In Fear, Movie of the Month, Philomena, The Counselor, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Thor The Dark World | 2 Comments »
Having already seen a handful of Louise Brooks movies it now seems strange that I have only just got around to watching her most iconic Pandora’s Box but as with so many others, silent cinema has been a blind spot for me for a long time. It is a sad fact that most people I know have no idea who Louise Brooks was, those that have heard of her know little beyond her iconic haircut. With the renewed interest in silent cinema after the success of The Artist I can only hope that more people people discover Brooks’ movies. I have certainly seen more silent films in the last couple of years than at any time since I was a student.
Based on two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind; Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (1904) and written/directed by Austrian filmmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst. Brooks plays Lulu a former dancer and mistress of wealthy middle-aged newspaper publisher, Dr. Ludwig Schön (Fritz Kortner). Schön announces that that he is going to marry Charlotte von Zarnikow (Daisy D’ora). Lulu agrees to perform in a musical production produced by Schön’s son Alwa (Francis Lederer). Schön brings Charlotte to a performance where she walks in on Schön and Lulu embracing in a store cupboard, she breaks of the engagement. Schön then agrees to marry Lulu. Events at the wedding that a series of events resulting in a downward spiral for Lulu and those around her.
I’m glad that I didn’t see the movie in the early 90’s when I first saw Brooks’ other seminal movie Beggars of Life, as it would have been a very different film to the I have just watched. When the film first came out there were different versions shown in different territories. By changing the dialogue cards, the relationship between the characters was changed. some versions also included an unconvincing but redemptive happy ending. The 131 minute version I saw is believed to be the closest to the directors original.
Silent cinema can be a little alien to modern audiences, Pandora’s Box is surprisingly accessible. The acting although within the traditions of silent movies is more naturalistic than you would expect. Brooks’ performance is expressive and alluring. The character is often described as a femme fatale, but she often comes across as too innocent for this moniker. More reminiscent of the Jessica Rabbit line “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” She isn’t looking to hurt others, she just wants a good time and doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions or allure. This combination of innocence and sexuality is something that no one before or since has been able to portray like Brooks. It could have all been so different, director Georg Wilhelm Pabst nearly cast Marlene Dietrich to star, that would have made a very different film. Brooks remains an alluring and engrossing screen presence, it is a tragedy of cinema that she didn’t have more great parts.
The appeal of the film is more than just its star. The themes of the carefully and cleverly constructed story are classic, they had been seen in theatre for years and would become a mainstay for cinema for a generation or more. The photography is brilliant making the film look fantastic. Unlike so many movies of the time that look like they have failed to move on from their theatre origins use a small number of similar looking sets, Pandora’s Box makes use of different styles depending on the setting and tome of the scene. The Berlin apartment sequences at the start of the movie are bright sharp. As the film gets progressively darker, the images do too, culminating in the oblique angles and long shadows of German Expressionism. Despite these dark tones and themes the film isn’t without humour, there are many funny moments. Ahead of its time in so many ways, it is often quoted that Countess Anna Escheats (Alice Roberts) is considered by historians to be cinema’s first lesbian character.
I am sometimes hesitant to recommend silent films to people who aren’t used to watching them. A little like foreign language films, if not attuned to the style you may struggle to get into the rhythms of the movie. Pandora’s Box, however is probably accessible to far more film fans than other silent films.
Click HERE for other November Blind Spot Movies.
Posted in Blind Spot Series | Tagged Alice Roberts, Blindspot Series, Daisy D'ora, Francis Lederer, Fritz Kortner, Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Louise Brooks, Pandora's Box, silent cinema, Wedekind; Erdgeist | Leave a Comment »
Anyone who has seen Contagion (2011) will know that “Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation”. but what is film criticism? The most notable difference between a critic and a blogger is what they watch. As a film fan I watch a lot of movies (over 100 a year at the cinema) but the difference between me and a critic is that I only see what I choose to. While we may all love a Kermodian rant the fact of the matter is that Mark Kermode had to sit through all 146minutes of Sex and the City 2 (2010). Although I have seen some truly terrible movies (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)) but, I have seen them by choice, not obligation.
It would be foolish to think professional film criticism has no place in the world of the internet but what is that place? When I first started blogging I saw it as an outlet for my ramblings, I didn’t expect to become part of a community. But that is what has happened, I have become part of a community, as such when I want to know about a film I am more likely to visit the blog of someone whose opinion I have grown to trust than a professional critic. I accept that what I am reading is the opinion of an individual, I understand this and treat the information accordingly. However if the uninitiated wants to know about a film and choose to read the words of a professional critic on a website or in a magazine they expect it to be gospel. But ultimately, whether it be a blog or a professional critic it is all just opinion. A perfect example of this is Ender’s Game (2013). As reported in my October movie of the month list I kind of liked the movie despite its faults. However two of the nations most respected magazines; Total Film and Empire had greatly apposing views .
Total Film stated that Enders Game: “aims to marry The Hunger Games’ adrenaline rush with brain-teasing philosophical inquiry” its verdict of the film was “Like its hero, Ender’s Game relies on brains more than brute force. An absorbing portrait of Lord Of The Flies-style morality housed in imaginative sci-fi casing” they gave it four stars out of five and suggested: “whatever the icky personal politics of its creator, makes you hope it isn’t game over for Ender after this first round”. Empire on the other hand started by saying of the source novel: “Ender’s Game is a very odd novel” and “barely cinematic” they describes Asa Butterfield’s performance as “generally effective”. Their verdict: “It admirably avoids many of the pitfalls of adapting this book, but seems to have lost some of the life and pace as well”. they gave it a mere two stars out of five.
It isn’t that Matt Mueller from Total Film and Helen O’Hara from Empire are wrong, it is just that their opinion is just that, their opinion.
Posted in Movie Blog | Tagged Ender's Game, film criticism, Mark Kermode, professional critic | 5 Comments »
With Thor: The Dark World and Gravity opening in the last couple of weeks their has been no let up from the summer blockbusters before the big autumn/winter movies come out. During this time it is often hard to find smaller releases, but they are often worth hunting out. I am not just talking about documentaries and art house movies, but low budget genre movies that have failed to receive a wide release. One such film is Jeremy Lovering’s micro budget In Fear. Shot two years ago before star Alice Englert’s mainstream debut Beautiful Creatures, it premiered at Sundance “Spotlight, Park City at Midnight” and has just received a limited UK release.
Two weeks after meeting Tom (Iain De Caestecker) invites Lucy (Alice Englert) to a music festival in Ireland. On their way to meet friends Tom announces that he has booked a hotel for the night before the festival starts. Lucy is a little unsure at first but is won over by the romantic gesture. On the way to the hotel the pair get lost in maze of country roads. There really isn’t any more I can say without revealing too much of the plot.
There aren’t that many really scary moments. Instead the movie is full of tension that gradually builds as the movie develops. The story is beautifully simple, it is the audacity of this simplicity that makes it a rare treat for horror fans. The cynical may dismiss it as something they have seen before and those who aren’t fans of the genre just won’t get it. For the rest of us it is a perfectly executed movie made with the confidence to know when to show its hand without being tempted to dilute its central idea. Both in themes and visuals it is full of cues to other movies that I won’t name through fear of giving too much away.
You could describe the way the movie was shot as experimental, writer director Jeremy Lovering kept the script and story from the cast only telling them what they would be filming a day at a time. The scenes were then often improvised to capture genuine shock and surprise from the young cast. On the whole this works well and the cast is excellent: Alice Englert (Daughter of Jane Campion recently seen in Beautiful Creatures (2013) and Ginger & Rosa Ginger & Rosa (2012)), Iain De Caestecker (who can currently be seen on TV in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey). They are all the perfect blend of relatively unknown but vaguely recognisable actors. They let us as an audience invest just enough in the characters to care what is happening to them but keeping them at just enough of a distance to let the filmmakers push all the right buttons.
There isn’t anything new or original about the plot, but that really isn’t a problem. There are times when the Irish (although shot in England) setting is reminiscent of the American backwoods so often used in American movies. To see this idea played out in a familiar setting closer to home is both refreshing and unnerving. Horror fans please make an effort to check it out. The more people who watch smaller movies like this at the cinema, the easier it will be for them to get funding and distribution.
Posted in Movie Blog | Tagged Alice Englert, Allen Leech, Horror, Iain De Caestecker, In Fear, Jeremy Lovering, Sundance Spotlight Park City at Midnight | Leave a Comment »