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Archive for November, 2013

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.  pandoras box poster

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.pandorasbox1

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.Pandora's Box

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.Louise Brooks  Pandora's Box

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.Louise and Alice Roberts

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. 

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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.mark kermode

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 .ENDER'S GAME

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.

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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.

In-Fear poster

 

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.

in fear

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.

In-Fear

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.in-fear Alice Englert

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.

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A few years ago I started compiling a list of my top ten horror movies decade by decade. I didn’t get beyond the 50’s and didn’t publish the list. In the latest edition of Film don’t Hurt Kia suggests that the 80’s were a great time for horror movies, so I thought I would post my top ten in response:

The Shining (1980): Stephen King doesn’t like Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel because it isn’t faithful to his original story. Who cares, it is an amazing movie.the shining

Near Dark (1987): Modern day western? Road movie? Metaphorical parable? Whatever you may think it is, Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire movie is probably my favourite vampire movie.near dark

Hellraiser (1987): Gory, horrific and disturbing, it is both ahead of its time and totally within the traditions of horror, it is also Clive Barker’s best movie.Hellraiser

Aliens (1986): Although essentially a sci-fi movie, Ridley Scott’s original film Alien (1979) just as much a monster movie, slasher movie and a haunted house movie. James Cameron’s sequel introduces a more action but retains a sense of dread, fear and desperation.sigourney weave aliens

The Thing (1982): John Carpenter’s The Thing falls somewhere between an remake and a sequel to The Thing from Another World (1951). A traditional monster movie utilising the best in 80’s effects.the thing

The Evil Dead (1981): Sam Raimi’s low budget classic is seminal in horror history. Although not the best film on this list it is probably the most influential.The Evil Dead

Scanners (1981): I could have filled half the list with David Cronenberg movies, I decided to just go with my favourite. Not as sexual as his earlier work or as abstract as his later work but forming a link between the two. And who can forget the iconic exploding head scenes.Scanners

An American Werewolf in London (1981): Probably the best werewolf movie ever made, and as you would expect from John Landis it is also very funny.An American Werewolf in London

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Wes Craven’s seminal horror hasn’t actually aged that well but it is still an import milestone in horror and Freddy Krueger is a great villain/monster.a nightmare on elm street

Spoorloos aka The Vanishing (1988): Forget the crappy Hollywood remake, the Dutch–French original is a classic. More a psychological mystery thriller than a true horror, but it is disturbing enough to make the list.Spoorloos aka The Vanishing

I might get around to finishing the other decades one day!

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11 11 11With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

“For The Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

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Thor and The Hulk are difficult characters within the Marvel universe. They are big brash characters that should be cinematic, and in some ways they are, but in others they are just a little dull and limited. The great success of Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 3 (2013) is that we see more of Tony Stark than of Iron Man. The biggest failure of Iron Man 2 (2010) is its reliance on Iron Man and not Tony Stark. And that is possibly why The Hulk has never really worked in his own movie, the various filmmakers have never found a balance between Banner and The Hulk.Thor and The Hulk

When the first Thor film came out two years ago I wasn’t really interested. I have never read any Thor comic books and knew nothing of the character. I was also sceptical of how a fantasy character would fit into the Marvel universe as seen in Iron Man. I went to see it out of curiosity and to see what Kenneth Branagh was doing with a film so far from what you would expect for him. The result was a total surprise. It fulfilled every expectation for an action adventure movie, but I never expected it to be so funny and such good fun. Tom Hiddleston who I had never heard of at the time was brilliant. Natalie Portman is sensational in everything she does. Stellan Skarsgård was surprisingly funny. Kat Dennings isn’t the best actress in the world but she is always adorable and her character is always hilarious. All the same is true of Thor: The Dark World, it also gives Idris Elba and Rene Russo a little more to do. All things considered it isn’t as good as the first movie, but it is still great fun and ticks all the boxes you expect it to tick.Thor The Dark World

The Hulk had the most memorable moment of The Avengers but until that point he had never really made his mark in movies. Despite its reputation, the Ang Lee movie from 2003 wasn’t bad. Eric Bana wasn’t a bad Bruce Banner. But it was just that, not bad, no better. The next movie, The Incredible Hulk (2008) was better and Edward Norton was actually really good. But the character never truly worked until The Avengers (2012). Mark Ruffalo is the perfect Bruce Banner, his banter with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark was brilliant, but more importantly the plot actually found a way to use The Hulk including the movies aforementioned best moment with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.The Hulk

The success of The Hulk in The Avengers is partly down to the time constraints of an ensemble movie, but Thor has hade it work Twice. As mentioned at the top, there is no getting away from the fact Thor is a limited character. In the first movie he was a fish out of water, in the avengers he was one of a collective, in the second Thor movie a lot of the plot is developed without Thor (Chris Hemsworth). This is a brave move, but one that pays of thanks to such a strong supporting cast. This is what The Hulk needs, if he is going to have his own movie again. That, however looks unlikely at the moment. While I am sure Marvel haven’t given up on the big green fella he doesn’t appear to be in Marvels plans at the moment beyond The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Other forthcoming Marvels movies are: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015) and possibly a Nick Fury movie after that. While I wouldn’t mind seing another Hulk movie I would be more interested in seeing move of Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS

Ultimately they are two characters that have a lot to offer but with limited cinematic appeal, one has been perfectly handled and scripted to overcome the limitations, the other that is yet to live up to its potential. As the first phase of The Avengers got under way, I don’t think anyone expected the immediate future of the franchise to be dominated by Iron Man/Tony Stark, but that is what happened. This is all down to great scripts and the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. In Mark Ruffalo, they have the perfect actor, if they are going to give the hulk another go they just need to find a great script.

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The Hollywood studio system came to an end in the late 40’s because of anti-trust laws. A Supreme Court ruling dictated that film production, distribution and exhibition should be separated thus ending vertical integration. Was it a good or a bad thing? There were merits and drawbacks, we will never know how things would have been different had the laws not been passed. Although on a smaller scale, we are seeing an example of government competition rules interfering with the film industry here in the UK following Cineworld’s purchase of The Picturehouse group.

The Ritzy in Brixton

Last December Cineworld purchased Picturehouse Cinemas for a reported £47.3m. With their largest cinema (The Ritzy in London) having five screens Picture house Cinemas are very different from the multiplexes that dominate the market (and form the basis for Cineworld‘s own branded sites). They also cater to less mainstream tastes with an emphasis on foreign language, independent and cult movies as well as mainstream Hollywood films. Most of their locations are named and include some famous cinemas: The Cameo in Edinburgh, The Ritzy in Brixton, The Belmont in Aberdeen and Phoenix in Oxford (not to be confused with The Phoenix East Finchley). They offer a good balance between independent and chain cinemas.

Arts Picture House Cambridge . Picture by David Johnson .

Unfortunately, The Competition Commission has decided that the group must sell venues in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. They have “reluctantly” agreed to sell The Belmont in Aberdeen, and its Picturehouse cinema in Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge. Concerned local filmgoers have written to Competition Commission and signed a petition (including a reported 14,000 names to save the St Andrew’s Street cinema in Cambridge), explaining that a new operator will change the nature of the cinemas or even worse fail to make a profit jeopardising the future of the venues. Sticking to their guns, the Competition Commission are sticking to their guns and have stated: “The sale of one of the cinemas in Aberdeen, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge to a competing cinema operator will restore competition in these areas and protect customers’ interests.”

cineworld

If one chain owned all the multiplexes in a town they could dictate what movies are available for people to watch and how much they pay for them. In this instance it would make sense to split them up, but the situation here is very different. The two brands are very different and can happily exist within the same group. Cineworld seem to be a good match for Picturehouse, even in their multiplexes they show a reasonable number of smaller independent and foreign language movies. They also have an “Unlimited Card” allowing customers to see as many films as they like for a monthly fee. This makes it much cheaper for regular cinema goers. On the downside, like so many multiplexes they make most of their money from food and drink, and in some locations close their box-office forcing customers to buy tickets from the concessions stand.

ElectricCinema

I could be overreacting, and a buyer could be found who will make a better job of running The Belmont in Aberdeen, The Abbeygate Picturehouse in Bury St Edmunds and Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge. Before I come across as an apologist for Cineworld, they don’t come out of this scot-free. I am not so naive to think that Cineworld would have spent a millisecond thinking about selling one of its multiplexes instead of one of the arts cinemas. However; it is hard to believe that a company like Cineworld didn’t employ an army of lawyers who warned them this could happen. As I don’t live near a Picturehouse cinema, I have no vested interest in the situation, however as someone who lives in a city containing a great multiplex (with an IMAX screen) and a fantastic independent cinema, I know how fortunate I am as s movie lover.

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