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Archive for May, 2013

After being discover by a mysterious organisation who is tracking them a pair of female vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) flee and end up in a rundown English seaside town. It quickly becomes clear that the duo are mother and daughter (posing as sisters) and they are being hunted by other vampires. Living a lonely existence they do what they can to survive, in Clara (Arterton)’s case them means reverting to the only profession she knows, prostitution. Meanwhile Eleanor (Ronan) forms a bond with young local man Frank (Caleb Landry Jones).byzantium poster

It is interesting that in a month when biggest cinema release (The Great Gatsby) tries to get to grips with a character wishing to relive the past that there is a better film that will go largely unnoticed that has a more telling angle on the same idea. While Clara is always looking to the present and the future trying to forget or deny the past, her daughter Eleanor wallows in the misery of the past and is chained to the limitations of it preventing her from enjoying the present and planning for the future. This is explored in a particularly well handled scene when a character who is clinging on to what life he has mocks Eleanor for the desperation and unhappiness she carries with her into immortality. Like Gatsby, the prison the characters create for themselves is in the lies that live by hiding their past, and like Gatsby the freedom that may come honesty is fraught with danger.Byzantium Gemma Arterton

Every vampire story has to create its own “lore” whoever it by Nosferatu’s (1922) invention of sunlight killing vampires (that’s right it wasn’t in Bram Stoker’s novel) or Twilight’s glittering vampires. Other than the drinking of blood Byzantium does away with most conventions of the genre. These vampires don’t even have fangs. They do have another more subtle but equally as effective way of taking their preys blood. They are also more human and vulnerable than we have seen in other vampires in other years, making them more interesting. This vulnerability and humanity along with the tone of the movie and lack of cliché’s helps create a fantasy setting that feels closer to reality and more believable than many other vampires. The difficulty of introducing this lore is handled with the lightest of touches. There is almost no exposition, it is all implied of neatly worked into the plot of the movie. There is a scene where we see Eleanor watching Terence Fisher’s classic Hammer Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), interestingly they show a scene not involving Christopher Lee as the eponymous Count. This is a scene that like the rest of the film is handled supremely well. With a more heavy handed aproch it could have come across as either exposition or could have been an alienation device. These pitfalls are avoided, instead we get to see a nice juxtaposition of the perception of vampires and the reality of them (within the confines of the movie). This is further explored in aspects in reaction to things the characters say for example: When Eleanor explains that she learnt to play piano so well (she plays Beethoven’s complicated Piano Sonata Opus 2, No. 3) by practicing for 200 years, frank brushes it of as it feels like 200 years when you are practicing.Saoirse-Ronan-In-Byzantium

When you see Neil Jordan’s name attached to a vampire movie, you immediately think Interview with the Vampire (1994), while it may have plot similarities, Byzantium feels closer in tone to his earlier film The Company Of Wolves (1984). The story of lonely vampires travelling through a world where they have no place looking for love or acceptance chimes with many other vampire stories. Notably Tony Scott’s movie The Hunger and Mark Burnell’s novel Glittering Savages. Let the Right One In (2008) is certainly (in my opinion) the standout vampire movie of the generation, there are lots of parallels that can be drawn between the movies both in theme and tone. There is something about the seaside in winter that feels bleaker than any other place, this is used to full effect in what is essentially a melodrama of extreme melancholy. The charred remains of Hastings Pier (that burnt down a couple of years ago) give us a foreboding feeling of an inevitable ending. This has a similar effect as the snow and concrete architecture of Let the Right One InGemma Arterton Byzantium

Arterton and Ronan are both perfectly cast and play of each other brilliantly. Arterton is brash, loud and overtly sexual, Ronan is quieter, more reserved and introverted. The difference between the characters forms the crux of the plot and had we not believed in them the whole movie would have fallen flat. As it is the movie works supremely well. It isn’t going to bring any new fans to the vampire genre and those who come with certain expectations will be disappointed. It doesn’t have the action of Blade, the comedy of From Dusk Till Dawn , the sexuality of The Hunger, the horror of Near Dark and it certainly isn’t Twilight, but it does have the tone and style of Let the Right One In. And it is on that level that the movie works, it is beautifully shot, perfectly acted, expertly directed modern gothic melodrama that may just be the antidote to twilight and its imitators.  It lacks the depth or clear subtext that enervates some films to greatness, but don’t let that put you off, it is still a very good movie in a genre that hasn’t had many really good movies in recent years.   

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Three weeks to go until the Mixtape Movies blogathon as promised I plan to post one Mixtape of my own each week until the 22nd, here is number two.

Mixtape Movies Image 2

A group of films that are vividly beautiful in their own way but share an unreal otherworldliness, sometimes because of their setting others because of their dreamlike quality. Some of the movies you will all know, hopefully like all great mixtapes there will be a few surprises:

Mixtape Movie - Trouble in Mind

Streets of Fire (1984) directed by Walter Hill: Singer, Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped by a biker gang (led by Willem Dafoe) while performing a benefit concert in her rundown hometown. The police won’t do anything so its left to her ex Tom Cody (Michael Paré) and her nerdy manager (Rick Moranis) to rescue her.

The Dead Can’t Lie aka Gotham (1988) directed by Lloyd Fonvielle: New York detective Eddie Mallard (Tommy Lee Jones) is hired by a wealthy businessman to stop his ex-wife (Virginia Madsen) from harassing him, things get weird why he discovers she has been dead for ten years. It was actually made for TV but don’t let that stop you, it’s a great atmospheric noir thriller.

The Isle original Korean title “Seom” (2000) directed by Ki-duk Kim: A man on the run hides out on a floating fishing hut in the Korean wilderness. He forms a difficult relationship with the mute woman who rented the hut and looks after the fishermen.

Mud (2012) directed by Jeff Nichols: A newer pick than the others, so new you may still catch it in UK cinemas. Two young teenage boys find fugitive living in a boat stranded in a tree on a river island. They agree to help him despite the obvious dangers.

Trouble in Mind (1985) directed by Alan Rudolph: Rather than a plot synopsis I will just tell you a little about the cast: Hawk (Kris Kristofferson) a former cop fresh out of prison for murder, Wanda (Geneviève Bujold) a diner owner and Hawk’s ex-lover, Coop (Keith Carradine) and Georgia (Lori Singer) a penniless young couple with a baby, Hilly Blue (a rare none drag performance from Divine) a mob boss.

Wildcard pick – Lost In Translation (2003) directed by Sofia Coppola: All the movies have an underlying story involving crime except the wildcard: What is left to say about Lost In Translation? Well firstly, as hard as is to believe, it will be ten years old later this year. If you love it as much as I do, its time to watch it again. If you don’t like it, its time to give it a second chance.Mixtape Movie Trouble in Mind posters

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The dog ate my homework – Okay so I don’t have a Blind Spot entry for this month.  The real excuse, I have been on holiday for the past week, prior to going I failed to get hold of one of my shortlisted movies.  I will post a new blind spot entry soon until then, here is the re-post of an old article from the early days of my blog in 2009:

I recently got around to watching a film I had recorded form TV a few weeks ago, I had missed it at the cinema and never bothered renting the DVD. Now I have seen it the big question is why haven’t I seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang before? The most likely answer is the ridicules title, but having seen the film it is so ridicules (in a good way) that it needs a silly title.

Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr) is a petty crook who stumbles into acting (literally). Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) is a private detective with a sideline in teaching actors how to play detectives. Harmony Faith Lane (Michelle Monaghan) is a failing actress. They are all at a party hosted by actor turned mogul Harlan Dexter (Corbin Bernsen). Following the party dead bodies start appearing in a series of events that Harry and Perry don’t understand but can’t get away from. All this is held together by a voiceover from Downey Jr that frequently stops and rewinds the action to retell something he has missed out or to explain something that may be important later. It really shouldn’t work but for some reason it does.

The film is fast paced and full of very dark humour. The chemistry between Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr is excellent and they aren’t afraid of making fun of themselves and their screen personas. Michelle Monaghan, who is a vastly underrated and underused actress provides fantastic support for them. The story carefully plays with and even deconstructs the conventions of Film Noir and pulp literature making the film far more intelligent then its goofball appearance. Directed by Shane Black, his first and so far only attempt at directing but his real credentials are in writing. He was responsible for action comedies including Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. On the evidence of this film I would like to see him direct again, unfortunately the film didn’t perform well at the box-office barely making back its modest budget.

Also take a look at the great James Bond inspired (like the movies title) title sequence:

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Last week I wrote about how some stories are better on the page than the screen and that some novels should not be adapted, today I come to you with a book that is crying out to be adapted. Wool by Hugh Howey. Given the quote from the Sunday times on the cover “The Next Hunger Games” I think it is only a matter of time. A well known online encyclopaedia suggests the film rights have been purchased by 20th Century Fox “with director Ridley Scott and [Screenwriter] Steve Zaillian expressing interest”. The book started life as a short story, self published on through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system. It proved so popular that Howey begun adding to it until it became Wool, a five hundred page novel. A prequel Shift was published earlier this year and a sequel Dust is expected at the end of the year.wool

Set in what appears to post-apocalyptic (listeners to “wittertainment” will know that post-apocalyptic is an oxymoron, but it is an accepted term in popular culture so I am sticking with it) where people live in a giant silo berried deep in the ground. They are told that the outside world is uninhabitable as the land is ruined and the atmosphere is toxic. Most people take this as gospel, those that don’t believe keep their thoughts to themselves as it is a crime to question this and to express a wish to go outside and find out. Those that do are sent “cleaning”, sent through an airlock to clean the sensors that give the silo its only view of the outside world. Shortly after cleaning the exiles die, seemingly killed by the inhospitable outdoors, thus keeping people inside and satisfied for a little longer. The story starts with the silo sheriff, Holston volunteering for cleaning, for reasons that are explained in flashback. This leads the silo needing a new sheriff, the mayor, Jahns and a longstanding deputy sheriff, Marnes (who has refused promotion) travels to the depth of the silo to recruit their favoured candidate, Juliette. But the honesty and tenacity that got Juliette the job don’t fit well in a world of secrets.Ridley Scott Steve Zaillian

The most important thing about a story set in a dystopian future is that it creates a believable world for its characters to exist in. This is something that Howey does with ease, the silo is explained in perfect detail without getting in the way of the narrative and without huge paragraphs of dull exposition needed. And like all the best movie or literary incarnations of dystopia, everything seems okay on the surface. This isn’t a dystopia where the survivors are battling for survival against the un-dead or a terrible disease, they are just looking for information for the truth. This concept that drives the plot isn’t new, think Soylent Green (1973), Logan’s Run (1976) or even George Orwell’s novel 1984 where beyond the plot the characters motivation is to find the truth. Sometimes for the good of society, sometimes to their own determent, often for both.Andrea Riseborough and Jessica Chastain

The characters are well drawn and believable as are their motivations. Like Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games (2012), the casting is vital to the success of a movie adaptation. Here are a few suggestions: Andrea Riseborough or Jessica Chastain as Juliette – Tom Hanks as Solo – Brian Cox as Bernard – Helen Mirren or Judi Dench as Jahns. Not sure on Holston or Marnes. Lukas is probably the weakest written character so again unsure on the casting, possibly the most famous age appropriate actor at the time, Ryan Gosling? I look forward to seeing how it translates to the screen, given production times, it will probably be two years before we find out.

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Mixtape Movies Image 2

As promised I am posting a Mixtape Movies each week to give you an idea of what I have planned. For this first one as well as the final post I am going to quickly run through the process as it may help anyone unsure of what I was thinking.

I thought it would be fun to start with the movie that gave my blog its title: Fandango. Set over a single day during a time of transition for the young characters, Dazed and Confused and American Graffiti were obvious choices. I quickly added Stand By Me involving a younger group of friends. The journey they were on seemed appropriate to fandango and with Richard Dreyfuss it shares an interesting link to American Graffiti where he plays a similar character at a different time in his life.

For my final pick I was going to go for the quintessential high school movie; The Breakfast Club. I discounted it as a contemporary film and not a nostalgic one. It is also set indoors in winter where all the others are set outdoors in summer. I then considered: Animal House, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything, Rebel Without A Cause, The Last Picture Show, Rushmore and Risky Business. Discounting all of these for one reason or another I went back to The Breakfast Club because it just fits, and that’s what matters in a mixtape. As we are translating an idea from music to movies, I have also lent towards movies with memorable music.

Finally my wildcard movie: Big Wednesday. Where all the other movies are set over a day or two Big Wednesday is set over a period of years and shows the transition not just the turning point in the life of the characters. So here is my first Movie Mixtape:

Mixtapes Movies - Fandango

Stand By Me (1996) directed by Rob Reiner – Labor Day weekend, September 1959, four friends set off on a journey to find the body of a missing boy.

The Breakfast Club (1985) directed by John Hughes – A diverse group of kids attend a Saturday detention. What at first appears to be a simple tale of teenage rebellion against authority figures actually turns into a movie about acceptance and understanding.

Dazed and Confused (1993) directed by Richard Linklater – May 1976, It’s the last day of school in an Austin, Texas suburb. The following years seniors split their time between planning for a party that night and hazing the incoming freshman.

American Graffiti (1973) directed by George Lucas – August 1962, two high school graduates spend their last night cruising the strip in their small California town before they are due to fly off to collage.

Fandango (1985) directed by Kevin Reynolds – May 1971, a group of students set out on a final road trip from their fraternity house in Austin, Texas to the Mexican border on southwest Texas

Wildcard movie:

Big Wednesday (1978) directed by John Milius – Set over twelve years from 1962 to 1974, the life of a group of surfing friends is told against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.Stand By Me - The Breakfast Club - Dazed and Confused - American Graffiti - Fandango - Big Wednesday

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Mixtape Movies

Mixtape Movies Image 2Its been a long time since my last Blogathon, many people reading this will have read or taken part in A Life in Movies, My Movie Year or Desert Island DVDs. Like my first blogathon “Desert Island DVDs” my latest idea takes an existing idea and applying it movies.

Some of you, like me will be old enough to remember mix tapes. For those that aren’t, there was time not that long ago where they were commonplace. Put simply a mixtape is a collection of songs on a compact audio cassette. In practice they were, or indeed are so much more than that. Compiled for one’s own pleasure or to give to someone else, a mixtape is an art form in itself, they certainly says something about the compiler.

Mixtapes are most relevant when shared, to give someone a collection of songs, some they will know, others they don’t but will come to love is a true gift. The best mixes are of songs that are completely unconnected but fit together perfectly. So how does this translate to movies? The idea behind Mixtape Movies is to compile a list of movies that fit together. There are no hard and fast rules but here are my guidelines:

A selection of movies with no direct connection (star, director, source material) but that fit together or compliment each other.

Around six movies, five plus one wildcard (a movie that doesn’t quite fit but still belongs).

An idea on format: A paragraph explaining the theme of the mix, a list of the selected movies with an image, poster or trailer. You may also chose to write a sentence or two on each individual film. If you want to get creative design some cover art.

Unlike previous Blogathons the mixtapes are not definitive personal lists, they are just small expressions of creativity in linking the movies. Therefore participants are welcome to submit numerous mixtapes if they wish.

I will post a homepage with a link to all participants on 22nd June. Anyone wishing to join in send me an email: fandangogroovers@gmail.com please include this link to the homepage on an Mixtape posts: http://wp.me/prVbF-2T4

To give you an idea of what i have planned I will post a Mixtape Movies each week until the 22nd.  

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Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!”

As I walked out of a screening of The Great Gatsby I tweeted a 140 characters review of the movie concluding that some stories are just better on the page than the screen. The problem with Gatsby is that many of its 172 pages (in my Penguin Modern Classics edition) are taken up with thoughts and descriptions, the very things that it is hard to depict in film. The most notable thing about them is that Gatsby (and all the other characters) only have a voice through our narrator Nick Carraway. Is he a reliable narrator? He is clearly enamoured with Gatsby and disillusioned with the world he lived in. Is Carraway as much the embodiment of author F. Scott Fitzgerald as Gatsby is? The disillusionment certainly lends the new film version a certain relevance and prospective today. The format does however present problems forcing filmmakers to rely on voiceovers and in the case of Baz Luhrmann’s new version words floating of the screen with the aid of 3D.gatsby-original-cover-art

The only conclusion I can reach about this movie is that it is as good as it can be. The Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version from 1974 (directed by Jack Clayton with a screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola) is very faithful to the book but fails to capture the essence of the novel. And that was the problem, the book isn’t great because of what is going on in the story, it is great because of what is going on under the surface. I wouldn’t even go as far as to call it a subtext, it is more a feeling, an essence. Maybe the abandoned Truman Capote script would have “got it?” we will never know. Made post Watergate, the movie lacks the cynicism you would expect of the era but also misses the heroic but naïve romantic Gatsby of the novel. It lacks both the hope and the despair.the catcher in the rye

Long considered the “holy grail” of un-filmed novels, JD Salinger described his masterpiece The Catcher in the Rye as “unactable” and refused to let Hollywood adapt it. After his death in 2010 there was a lot of speculation that a film would be made. I have very mixed feelings about the prospect of a film being developed. I think it would be best if it were not made, but if it were I would want it to be the best movie it could be. That is why I would rather have seen the proposed Billy Wilder movie in the 60’s and not a big budget star vehicle made by whoever is fashionable in Hollywood at the time. But can it really be successfully filmed? If the rumours are true we will find out in about two years. If The Great Gatsby is the seminal novel of the Lost Generation, the equivalent for the Beat Generation has to be Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Filmed last year by Walter Salles. Well made, well cast, like Luhrmann’s and every other version of Gatsby it got the look and story about right but lacked the essence of the book, again it was about as good as it could have been for what is essentially an un-filmable novel.on the road

To give my thoughts prospective; I am a movie lover first and don’t hold with the notion that films are inferior to there source material, but I do believe that some stories are better on the page than the screen. And that is the problem with many of these great novels. In the wake of the release of The Great Gatsby I have read and heard many people (including the new movies star Leonardo DiCaprio) say how they read the book at school and didn’t think much of it. Literature is no different to music, film or any other art, it is so much better when we come to it ourselves in our own time. Anyone who reads a novel because they were forced to is going to appreciate it far less than someone who chooses to read it. The conclusion; if you have got as far as to read this last paragraph, you must have some interest in the books mentioned, so read them, if you were forced to read them at school, read them again, but only when you want to!

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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