Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Artist - review

Looking at Wikipedia it describes this film as a “French romantic comedy-drama film in the style of a black-and-white silent film”. So as you see I was expecting something slightly unusual from the usual dreadful blockbuster films that you see. 

So basically the film is about an “artist” called George Valentin who’s essentially a Charlie Chaplin type-figure and here he is one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1920s silent-movie cinema age. It charts his rise and fall and then eventual rise again of his career while having a romantic relationship with an extra turned major movie actress (Bérénice Bejo).

First of all I would commend the lead actor Jean Dujardin who does a perfect job act conveying the aforementioned artist. He fits the role of the charismatic comedian character really well and conveys the charm and humour needed for the role brilliantly. He also has one of the most infectious and wonderful smiles I’ve seen in a while. Not only does he do that well he then flips it on his head and also portrays the tragic downfall of his character with similar impeccability.

As mentioned above Bérénice Bejo as co-star Peppy Miller does a similarly good job and should be praised for her endearing portrayal of a rather vain yet at heart well-meaning and good person. In fact I would extend that praise to all the actors as they all convey the emotions and feelings of the characters they are playing…oh yeah and also do that without speaking. At all. Throughout the film. Okay perhaps a tiny bit at the end but that doesn’t really matter. I’d say that this gets them extra kudos as I can’t imagine it was easy for them and shows what good actors they really are.

Directing wise this film is also excellent. The black and white look to the film is beautifully stylish and suits the era of the film perfectly. The director Michel Hazanavicius has managed to recreate 1920s America superbly with some shots looking like they were straight out of a documentary. He has recreated the feel of the 1920s golden age of silent films with effortless ease and makes you actually believe in the world he is presenting.

Music I’d say though plays one of the biggest parts in this movie. Rather than it being merely a backtracking to the events on screen it often acts as the main instigator in what you’re meant to feel at a particular moment. This is mostly due to the fact that there is no dialogue, the actors do a part in helping the plot move along but I’d say music is just as important. When George is at his highest and revelling in the love from the audience, the music’s high and upbeat. Yet when he is sitting alone in his little house watching films of his glory days the music is low and melancholy. It essentially acts as a mood changer and is crucial to your enjoyment to the film.  It’s not too surprising then that it won the Academy Award for Best Original Score at last year’s Oscars.

But it has its flaws. One of the biggest reasons this film was so famous was the amount of critical acclaim it got. And I can’t help thinking that it is a touch overrated. It’s a good film for sure and I wouldn’t want to trash it, but is it really one of the best all-time greatest films ever made? Does it really, really truly deserve the sheer amount of awards it got? Hmm, I don’t know. Probably. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I just think compared to some other film this got a near ridiculous level of hysteria surrounding it. Also I think the ending is terribly tacked on and felt very rushed. As if they were desperately trying to shoe-horn all the results in very quickly and try and wrap it up as soon as they could.   

But I think generally I can forgive them for any quibbles I have. The film is so ambitious and bold that I can easily way it’s strengths from its weaknesses (which are very few anyway). You have to admire the sheer bravery involved with this. What the director has done is say “Hey! I am going to make a 1 hour silent movie that relies solely on music and the actor’s performance with little to no text to help the audience understand what’s going on and the audience will like and be interested in it. ” That could off been a recipe for disaster, but y’know what? It wasn’t, it paid off and it paid off spectacularly.

And anyway, for a silent French film to be nominated for ten and to win 5 Oscars including best picture (the first silent film to win that since 1927), 7 BAFTAS including best picture, 3 Golden Globes and featured on countless top 10 best pics of 2011 lists is surely a testimony to this film’s achievements. Funny, smart, captivating, engrossing and solid, concrete proof that risk taking in art can work, and work well. 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Monty Python and The Holy Grail - Review

monty python and the holy grail poster 11

Monty Python and The Holy Grail was the Python's second film. The first was And Now For Something Completely Different  although the Python's didn't find this to be a very satisfactory movie as it was basically just a "best of" compilation of all their best sketches from the first two series of Monty Python's  Flying Circus. They didn't find this a very satisfactory movie so they decided to come up with something a bit more unique and definite.

Thus, The Holy Grail was born. The film is essentially another movie full of back-to-back sketches but this time there's and overriding narrative i.e to obtain the holy grail. It's a clever technique and gives the movie a sense of continuity and the feel that this is a story being told rather than just being a random higgledy-piggledy collection of sketches with no connection to them.

And it's damn funny in telling that story too. There are so many memorable and hilarious scenes in this film and they come with such skill and speed that there'll be very few moments in which you're sitting there stony-faced waiting for a laugh. Some of my personal favourites are the French people in the castle (which has me smiling thinking about it), The Black Knight scene (who doesn't love that scene?) and their meeting with the Killer Rabbit.

The production of this film was not without it's troubles. The two directors of this film (Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones) had vastly different directing styles with Gilliam feeling that Jones would undermine the scenes with conventional camera shots and Jones getting annoyed with how much of a perfectionist he was. Also by this time Graham Chapman alcoholism was in full swing in which on some occasions Chapman couldn't remember his lines.  But these behind the scenes problems show no signs in the film.

The star of the show for me really is Graham Chapman. The rest of the Python's are as good as they always are, but Chapman just nips the post for me. No one does upper-class outrage quite like Chapman did. Leading in the role as King Arthur he performs his classic role as the pompous twit that is repeatedly bamboozled and confused by the insane events surrounding him.

The film also look visually stunning. The northern Scottish moors where the movie was filmed are ideal for Arthurian Britain. From the moment King Arthur arrives on screen to the ending with the fantatsic looking boat the whole film's setting and direction is wonderfully done.

In short, a very silly film full of lots of silly people doing lots of silly things. That's pretty much the bare essence of all the Python's fantastic work. The second of their films is as funnier and as clever as it gets.  

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Update 22/07/12

So basically the books section will be officially dropped from this blog and moved to it'sown blog separately The Stewart Lee book and Great Gatsby will be moved over there to start it off and then I'll upload new reviews. So go over there if you want my reviews of books!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Dark Knight - Review

Well what with the final part of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises which is going to hit cinemas this Friday on the 20th I decided to take a look at the previous film The Dark Knight.

I have to admit I haven't actually seen Batman Begins so I can't compare it to the previous film but my god this is a good film.

One of the biggest gripes I've had with the Batman franchise in general is that no matter how much you darken it up and no matter how realistic you try to  make it, in the end the premise is always going to be silly. I mean the idea behind Batman, in short, is a guy dresses up as a bat and fights crime. That's a pretty silly premise from the start. But it doesn't really matter in this film as the world and society Batman is in seems believable.

But I guess I should get down to the meat of this movie and say why it rocks hands down. And I can say it only tow words. The Joker. Or if you want a more specific reason - make that 6 words. The Joker played by Heath Ledger.

The hysteria surrounding Ledger's sad death when this movie was being released may have been a little off-putting to most people but I can assure you the praise for Ledger's phenomal performance is rightly justified. Ledger had managed to pull of an incredible feat with his performance. It's one of those characters that I just wanted to keep focusing on and felt disappointed when he was gone and it was all over. He looks brilliant as well. The greasy looking green hair, the badly painted on white make-up, the horrific scaring on his mouth and the wonderful hunched, Kubrick stare in his deep-set panda eyes just add to the sheer horror of the character.

And also most importantly he feels realistic and genuine. Whereas previously he's the "clown prince of crime" here he's an anarchic terrorist wreaking havoc on a huge scale. His personality is really explored as well. With the exception of Alan Moore's superb The Killing Joke I can't think of any other Batman story that's given him such a genuine feel to his character and a good motive behind his actions. In particuar the Joker's extremely cynical and nihilistic outlook on life.  Quotes like:
"You see, their morals, their's a bad joke, which will be dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these...these civilized people...they'll eat each other."
Lines like that fit the Joker perfectly and makes him feel so real. Also with this Joker there isn't so much of the annoying wacko performances, it's so much more refined and subtle. He rarely laughs as manically as expected which I happen to prefer. He's so much more sinister and menacing when he's done portrayed as a terrorist threat. And in the real world we sadly are more than ever used to the idea of terrorism. 
"Do I really look like a guy with a plan?"

I also like how they gave him no back story to be lumbered with. Normally in the Batman cannon it goes that he was a low-life criminal who in one rather messy heist got dropped in a huge vat of acid which bleached his skin, dyed his hair green and turned his lips bright red thus turning him into the Joker. In this film that backstory is abandoned. The only real hint we get at the Joker's background is the numerous "why so serious?" speeches. Each of them however are different accounts so there hardly the most reliable accounts.

But having the Joker merely pop out off nowhere, cause as much damage and chaos as he can and then go away is in my opinion much more effective at making as a villain. He's not lumbered with some origin story that he has got to go threw with the whole story, he's his own man and he's free to do what he wants. It's a lot more threatening to have an enemy that you know nothing about that one you do.  

But I would add some criticisms that he's too invincible in his film. How does he just get everywhere with such ease? How can he be at one time in a mob hideout, then at a hospital, and then back into an abandoned building. He just zooms everywhere, I mean surely someone would notice him walking around? He's hardly the most inconspicuous guy what with the scars. And how does he manage to wire explosions on barges and a hospital without anyone finding out beforehand? When did he have the time to do it? These holes just stick out for me I'm afraid.

But I digress. I order to not make this just a huge Joker bum-licking I'd like to comment on the others in this movie. Christian Bale, Michael Kane, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Maggie Gyllenhaal are all their usual brilliant self in this film but I'd like to put a particular shout-out to Aaron Eckhart who plays both Harvey Dent and Two-Face in this movie. He put's on a fantastic performance as the suave, intelligent Dent and then manages to flip it into sympathy and both shock when he's turned into then mad, shrieking monster that is Two-Face. The change is really is really horrific and also tragic to see such a noble guy turned into this abomination. 

Christopher Nolan has made an almost perfect Batman film and has easily shown what lengths you can take the Batman franchise when put in the right world. I look forward eagerly to The Dark Knight Rises.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey - Review

My first real thought when coming away from this film is "What the fuck was that all about?" And to be honest I think that's most people's reaction when they first see this movie.

So it's not really surprising that this is one of the most debated films in history with many different people trying to work out it's meaning. Kubrick himself said that:

"You're free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film- and such speculation is one indication in that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level- but I don't want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obliged to pursue or else fear he's missed the point."     

The film has polarized opinion with some heralding it as a masterpiece of cinema that taxes and challenges yourself to think while others call it pretentious, self-indulgent bollocks with a rubbish plot and little to no structure. I fall into the first category.

I really like the movie's inaccessibility. Obtuse would be another good word to describe this as well. The film gives you no easy explanation of the events going on in it and forces you to make your own conclusions of the film. It provokes ideas and debate which is why this film appeals to me so much. Very few movies (as well as books, TV shows, comics...) force to think for yourself these days. Everything is usually hand wrapped, put in a box, and given to you as a gift with all the answers and the meanings laid out for you. To have a film that doesn't simply prepare everything for you in advance is really refreshing. 

But, whatever you think of the film's content you have to agree this film looks absolutely fucking stunning. The directorial work on this film in simply stunning and yet another example of Kubrick's immense skills in imagery. The shots in my mind that stick out for me in particular are the opening sweeping shots of all the space-stations accompanied perfectly with The Blue Danube. And by space-stations- I mean models. Hand crafted models, none of this poxy CGI shit we have these days. Models full of the most intricate and small details that make them all the more believable. Just watching them float through space really is an awe-inspiring sight.

Going back to the directing work, the interior shots of the spaceship are mesmerising. The way that the actors can not only walked in a straight line but also on the walls, over the ceiling and then back down to the floor. Seeing these for the first time truly was one of those "How in the name of fuck did they do that?" moments.

Kubrick's co-writer Arthur C.Clarke was a futurist and had a diverse and intelligent understanding on science and technology. These two factors made him very clever indeed on predicting what kinds of technology we would have in the future. And it's this knowledge that I think gives the this movie such 
credibility to me. Often with Sci-fi people's visions of the future can look very dated in deed. However with this movie what Kubrick and Clarke did was to say in even though this may not be the actual future it at least looks likes a credible alternate future. 

But sadly it's not all perfect. This film suffers terribly from the 60's scientific optimism, in which everyone thought at the rate the space race was going we most probably would be going to Jupiter in 2001. As we all now know, humanity stopped dreaming and space interest died in the 70s. So looking at this film with the title of "2001" always is a bit of a sore reminder to me.

But still that doesn't get in the way with how fascinating and awesome this film is. Check it out if you have an open attitude to films and are willing to have your minds incredibly taxed afterwards. 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Breaking Bad: Season Two - Review

Tragic. Beautiful. Funny. Suspenseful. Inspired. Shocking. Challenging. Intelligent. The list of adjectives that I could use to describe this sublime show just goes on and on...

What can I say about this show that hasn't been said already. It's one of the most critically lauded shows ever and this season saw it being rightly showered with awards winning a Primetime Emmy award, . This show excels itself on what you can do with TV and perfects it to the level of high art.

The acting - brilliant. The aforementioned Brian Cranston is refined as his role as Walter White in this season. He portrays the sadness, the desperation and occasional mad fury of Walter in effortless detail. And of course he would be nothing without his White's Dr.Watson, Jesse Pinkman. In the first season I didn't think much of his performance. It's wasn't dreadful but it didn't jump out at me as much as Cranston did. But this season completely undoes all that criticism. He really opens himself up this season and all the pain and suffering he goes too feels really real, and it's all to do with the actor's fantastic performance. 

Actually fuck that. ALL the actors and actresses have fantastic performances. In particular Anna Gunn wonderfully portrays Skyler White and delivers an affectionate although very desperate performance as we watch her and Walter marriage deteriorate. Her character also has developed nicely as well, last season I don't remember her doing much important and being more of a background figure. Here however she takes a much more central role and really comes into her own. Hank as well is greatly improved form a simple macho hard-man into a real person with his own fears, hopes and also weaknesses which are needed in any character to make them believable. 

As well as re-enforcing the old characters it also craftily introduces excellent new characters. The dodgy scum bag lawyer that is Saul Goodman makes an apperance in this season and is a very clever move on the writer's part as Saul manages to easily organize things for Walt and Jessie and really saves a lot of time and enables them to get to the plot much quicker and easier. There's also Donald Marglolis played wonderfully by John de Lancie who has managed to easily bring out the sorrow and the sadness of this character and make a really sympathetic character who we feel deeply sorry for. There was also the introduction of Gusatvo "Gus" Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut each accordingly played by Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks, who had very minor roles in this season but will become very prominent and key characters as the show continues.

Oh the writing - stellar. Vince Gilligan and his team have pushed the level of what a TV show is capable off and have really outdone themself. I have rarely seen a show that manages to construct such intelligence, passion, heartache and complex intertwining storytelling and still make it engaging and engrossing to the audience. Oh and the season finale...oh my's good.

So final verdict. Amazing and fantastic in pretty much everywhere I have struggled to find a fault on this season and on the show as a whole. Stop reading this review and rush out and buy it along with all the other seasons including season 4 which is coming out in the UK on October 1 2012. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Breaking Bad Black Mirrors

This is a kid of newsy-update thing about thing's that interest me.

First off all the news that made me jump with joy is that the superb Channel 4 drama Black Mirror written by the exceptionally funny and talented Charlie Brooker has been recommissioned for a second series. 

Who would of thought that pig fucking =quality drama. 
This was thrilling news to me as I considered this show to be one of the best of 2011 and I am excited of the prospect of new episodes to fill my irrational, technophobic head. The DVD is out now and I recommend it to people who have yet to see it.  Here's the Amazon link:

Also possibly even bigger news Breaking Bad (AKA: the best thing ever in the history of anything) is coming back for the fifth and unfortunately last season in 3 days on the 15th of July on AMC. This show has gone from strength to strength and people will no doubt be scratching their heads as to how Vince Gilligan and his team of writers will match the level of quality we have experienced so far. Or at least in the USA, we poor fools in the UK will have to wait. But their are still the DVDs so again for those who have not yet seen it (firstly, I pity you) you have time to catch up on this gorgeous, wonderful programme.

Breaking Bad:

Soooooooooooooo good.

Well that's all so far, there's more stuff waiting in the pipeline, sorry for taking such an immense amount of time writing the articles but it will be here.