Friday, 31 May 2013

Dancer in the Dark (Lars Von Trier, 2000)

"In a musical, nothing dreadful ever happens."


Asked what type of filmmakers inspire and influence Lars von Trier, the last thing one would consider is Busby Berkeley and The Sound of Music. As unlikely as it sounds, these established Hollywood musicals are what contribute to Dancer in the Dark, a musical tragedy starring Björk in the lead role. Contrasting filmmaking methods of hand-held naturalism and 100-camera musical-numbers, von Trier manages to fuse together a story of sadness and truth within a contextual setting that is the great US of A  -a world whereby the American Dream is real for many, but unattainable for others.

A Clear Message

Located in Washington during the 1960's, we follow Selma (Björk), a Czech immigrant working within a factory and saving for an operation for her son, Gene (Vladica Kostic). He - and she - carry a hereditary illness that leads to blindness and Selma is in the final stages - using only touch and sound to help her work and travel. A version of the story could be told in fairytale form. The traveller (Selma) is cursed by blindness and to restore the sight of her Son, she must collect riches to offer a doctor. The Prince is Geoff (Peter Stormare), a man whose sole purpose is to protect Selma, with the assistance of Kathy (Catherine Denueve). The beast or villain is Bill Houston (David Morse) and his evil wife - products of the capitalist America. They take money from Selma (as she rents on their land) and are threatened by her - the evil wife suspects Selma and Bill are conducting an affair and Bill is jealous of Selma's money.

Subtle moments as Selma attempts to refuse a gift from Bill create a clear conflict of attitudes towards innate values. Selma says she is "not that type of Mother" who accepts gifts - or will even consider buying a bike for her Son. It is through the pressures of those around her that she relents and, due to Gene's happiness, she accepts the bike. As a sequence early in the film, this moment may give the impression that Selma - and Gene - have clearly been overpowered by the American values of wealth through the ownership of items.

But Dancer in the Dark is not merely a commentary on America - and it is not primarily political in its message (as Dogville is) as Selma, throughout the film fantasizes that she is within a musical. The clicking and valves within the factory becoming a rythmic beat that Selma leads in chorus. Wooden-tracks and industrial-trains are the percussion to a song about sight - as Selma sings to Geoff how she has seen everything. This escapism is intertwined within the naturalist fairytale offering an alternative perspective on America. Hollywood - a jewel in the crown of Americanism - may be seen as a perfect blanket used to cover the contradictions and paradox within the great USA. An image America sells to the world; a lie that those within America like to believe to give themselves a sense of safety and pride.

You Can't Leave...

Stig Björkman writes in Sight & Sound how Dancer in the Dark is part three in Lars von Trier's 'Golden Heart' trilogy, preceded by The Idiots and Breaking the Waves:
"Golden Heart was a picture book Lars had when he was a small child. It is the tale of an uncommonly good-natured girl who sets out into the woods on her own with bits of bread and other things in her pockets. At the end of the book because she has shared everything she possesses with those who have crossed her path she is naked and destitute. But her last line is full of implicit fiath: 'I'll manage all right, just the same'. This expression of the extreme consequences of playing the martyr is engraved on von Trier's consciousness." 
This particular intepretation feeds into the fairytale interpretation presented, but also argues a cynical pessimism too. Selma, as our protaganist, is likeable and in Björk's touching, sensitive performance, lovable. She needs and demands protection - and Geoff's sincreity shines through moreso than Bill and Linda (Cara Seymour) despite the roof they provide - for money - over Selma's head.

It is clear that to ensure a strong education for Gene (the opening sequence portrays Gene as a serial truanter), to gain the best health (for Gene's sight) and even to gain fair trial in the courts you need money. This money defines your way of life and your attitudes towards others. It corrupts Bill and ultimately destroys the goodness they have inside. Imagination and escapism is all anyone has to escape the relentless monotany of life.

Last Breath

The final act of the film reinforces how Americanism dilutes the brutal and horrific reality of a society built on contradicting foundations. Despite the musical numbers and the final moments that attempt to "brighten" up what is difficult to view - we see through the dancing and the singing; we see through the glossy, "Hollywood" version protrayed; we see only animalistic, dog-eat-dog values.

You cannot leave; you cannot walk away. Björk holds her own as we are fully invested in her character - as we don't believe this is a musical anymore. There is truth in this fairytale as there is truth within all fairytales. Dancer in the Dark polarised audiences - critics complaining of the "sentimentality" and "fakery" of the film.  But you can argue that this is what resonates the most as von Trier, though shooting naturalistically, the musical-numbers and the character of Selma are products of Hollywood. Selma, as a character, personifies selflessness and beauty - and in that beauty is truth. Indeed, in Dancer in the Dark, the truth resonates.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Byzantium (Neil Jordan, 2013)

"Eternal life will only be given to those who die"


Neil Jordan has a had a long career in filmmaking, with a cover-article in this months Sight & Sound. Prior to filmmaking, Jordan was a novellist too writing fiction including Night in Tunisia (1976) and, most recently, Mistaken (2011). Therefore considering Byzantium is based on a play - Moira Buffini's A Vampire Story - it is no suprise that Jordan has chosen this project, proving that his latest vampire film is not another film aspiring for Twilight success, but instead a neat re-tread of similar themes of his 1994 film Interview with a Vampire. Saorsie Ronan and Gemma Arterton play the timeless vampires, set in the coastal town, and at a point whereby the everlasting life Saorsie Ronan has been given is taking its toll - will she turn into the angry, dangerous woman her Mother has become? Or will she stop herself from sinkming her teeth into the next victim and consider a different way of life?

The Real Vampire

Setting the scene, we see Eleanor (Saorsie Ronan in a calm, measured performance) tearing pages from a book, narrating the story and introducing herself from a council estate. We then see an elderly man speak to her - a man who has collected and read the torn pages - and cautiously, he invites her into his house. As an allegory of the film as a whole, we question whether Eleanor will be the victim before it is revealed that it is the elderly man, aware of his final moments of life, who is offering his blood to satisfy her thirst. Eleanor is a vampire, who is due to remain a teenager for the rest of her life - the eternal school-girl. Our assumption of her innocence swiftly changes in these opening moments - akin to the innocent Eli in Let The Right One In, a young woman whose kindness and sensitivity is marred by a dangerous thirst for blood. The two films carry much in common, but Byzantium seems to build upon a sense of history and tradition that is left ambiguously open-ended in Let The Right One In. This manages to give a sense of scale and scope that we rarely see, as Byzantium manages to jump through time and weave together a story that is set across 200 years.

Eleanor and her Mother, Clara (Gemma Arteton) are two female vampires - a rare anomoly due to the traditions of an established order that was, and remains, dominated by men. Clara uses her body to raise money for herself and Eleanor - and she kills when hungry opposed to Eleanor who feeds on the weak and the elderly who are ready to die. Hastings was a location as Jordan was keen to create an environment that had a haunted feel - a seaside town that reflects an ever-changing world through the waves eroding the past. He lingers on historical buildings that have lasted through hundreds of years; the wind blows and the sky is grey. A true sense of Britishness and naturalism that we can relate to when visiting a seaside town on a dull-day. This is not a glossy film as the fairground rides are dirty and often remain static while the buildings are decaying. The old traditions and attitudes of sexism are dying too...

A Mature Twilight

The adult themes of sexuality, prostitution and abuse push this film to a new, maturer level that many will appreciate - including fans of Twilight, who may have watched the first film at the age of 12 and are now 17 - especially as Stephanie Meyer's series was known for a sexist and simplistic attitude towards relationships. But, as a pro-feminist film that depicts the stripper/prostitute central character with revealing attire, it seems to contradict itself - especially when the hyper-sexual content will surely attract a male audience with only one thought on their mind.

Gemma Arteton, as the strong and powerful Clara, carries the role with confidence. A victim, but a dangerous threat, could be turned into a clear-cut villain, but this unease is well-place and continues until the end. Johnny Lee Miller seems to be channelling his scarred Ruthven on his role of 'the monster' in Danny Boyle's production of Frankenstein - albeit without the innocence, while Sam Riley's Darvell is the Vampire chasing after Clara and Eleanor - his cherubian looks seem to offset his unclear motives. The stand-out role was Caleb Landry-Jones as Frank, Eleanor's love interest. His greasy hair and confused expressions seem to  clearly communicate the lack of confidence of the teenager - a contrast heightened by Eleanor who, born in 1804, is 200 years old and knows herself better than most humans do.

A Dark Truth

It is the darkness and grim truth that simmers beneath the surface of this Vampire Drama. Themes of protection of the weak - and hunting the powerful. The power and abuse of men through to the empowerment of women by illegal methods. As with many vampire stories and supernatural narratives set within a naturalistic context, we are very-much aware of the lonliness and depression that envelopes our lead characters. Eternal life is a difficult cross to bear - but lonliness is something we all experience. Through the loss of a loved one or a recent break-up - these are elements we cannot control and yet we survive nevertheless. Neil Jordan portrays a haunted and lonely world, whereby the monotany of life is eternal for Clara and Eleanor, and as viewers we can appreciate the many themes weaved throughout the story as Byzantium remains much more than a scary movie.

Originally written/published for Flickering Myth on 30th May 2013

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Dogville (Lars Von Trier, 2003)

"The residents of Dogville were good honest folks, and they liked their township"


Cubism, as an art movement, can be simplified as a style that depicts an object or person through distorting perspective and space. Cubism argued that, as an artist, if you look at an object, though you might depict what is observed , why not include what is not observed,yet remains a part of the object. So, though you cannot see the opposite-perspective, there are no rules to stop you from including it anyway. This sense of transparency and an all-seeing eye is what Lars Von Trier uses to great effect in the theatrical and political Dogville.

The film is located within a single set, whereby only props and floor-markings denote where each house is located. Tom (Paul Bettany) is a philanthropist, gathering the town regularly in the hope of creating change and ensuring the development of the community. His world shifts when, late one evening, Grace (Nicole Kidman) arrives following gun-shots, promising her that the town will look after her when it is clear that Grace is being pursued by gangsters.

Profound and Political

This vague description of the narrative does not truly demonstrate the complicated politics weaved within the story as, across nine chapters (with a description of what is due to happen), this story evolves into a perverse tale of power, corruption, abuse, arrogance and control that forces you to reflect on your own attitudes towards society. Though common-place in many of Von Trier's films, the description of each chapter forces you to acknowledge the themes rather than dwell on what will happen next.

Alluded to in the chapter description, a moment of horrific abuse is further amplified as we see the attack from afar. The theartical bare-staging depicts a lack of awareness (or ignorance?) towards the attack - a topic that is clear through this type of production. Ma Ginger (Lauren Bacall) continues to sell her wares; Liz Henson (Chloë Sevigny) continues to gossip; children still play on the road. This single moment is as profound as it is upsetting.

Von Trier, throughout the film, manages to make similar observations and insights into the Western world, and particularly the US as the film clearly intends to provoke a discussion. In Dogville, he comments on the arrogance of forgiveness that, by definition, criticises Christian doctrine whereby forgiveness is at the core of the belief. He comments on genocide, the purposes of it and where it can emerge from. In an interview with The New York Times, Von Trier even explains how "the point to the film is that evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right.".

A Relevant Retrospective

As part of a Lars Von Trier retrospective at the BFI, Dogville is as relevant today as it was in 2003 - indeed, maybe moreso as we now live in a world that celebrates how transparency. In education, the government will argue the changes and "improvements" on the basis that things should be more "transparent" - in the same manner as every other element of the public sector. Furthermore, the automatic response from those in power - the press over phone-hacking; politicians over expenses; banks over the recession; Starbucks and Jimmy Carr -  is a public apology for their sins. We are now in a society whereby the contradictions, deciet and dishonesty is known, and yet we continue nevertheless.

This is, ten years on, one of the most important films of the 21st Century - but be prepared to challenge yourself. Simply enough, Grace is a woman who is simply trying to do the right thing and yet she becomes a victim. As you punch in your ticket or collect your paycheck; as you work hard to live another day - think of Grace. Think of how an open-minded, generous and optimistic woman becomes twisted and destroys the world she was welcomed into.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Epic (Chris Wedge, 2013)

"I'm going to destroy the forest. But I'm only going to do it once, so try to pay attention"


Based on children's book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce, Chris Wedge (Ice Age, Robots) directs this family-adventure with outstanding 3D and thrilling chase-sequences that are let down by a story that lacks the moral-core it clearly should have. With a Toy Story-esque "secret life" of characters within the forest, we join MK (Amanda Seyfried) as she magically shrinks and is tasked with saving the forest as a great battle is due between the Leafmen and the Boggans. It begs the question as to whether Epic live up to its name.

Down in the Forest...

A 3D production, the film begins as we see perfectly-lit, sundrenched woodland as Amanda Seyfreid narrates. We see the beauty of nature as Seyfreid tells us to "look closer... look closer..." and suddenly small birds playing in the distance becomes birds fighting against "Boggans". This fantasy film has rules and, it isn't long before we are introduced to the hidden world of "Leafmen" and Boggans. The stylistic, angular-jawed Leafmen are led by Ronin (Colin Farrell) and, amongst these men is Nod (Josh Hutcherson) a "rookie" leafman who fights against Boggans in the opening action sequence. The Boggans are the villains - led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz in a villainous role that we know all-too well) who, in shades of grey and wearing rodent-attire, lurk in the shadows and - those moudly, bubble-like absesses that often cover bark? according to Epic, these are due to the Boggans as, what they touch, decays and dies.

The various other characters in the forest are often interesting designs based on well-known plants - such as dandelions that, when shook, all the white petals fall from the head. The snail and slug friendship has not got the playfulness and, ultimately, strong humour that is required for these comedic-roles - and it's not Chris O'Dowd's fault, some jokes are simply not funny. When you imagine Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King, whereby they were so strong they steal the show every time they are on screen, these characters do the opposite; slowing the film down (to a snails pace?) as you wait desperately for the film to move on. In another strange 'joke', the slug (Aziz Ansari) constantly pines over MK - and it is accepted that, as a slug, this is ridiculous and everyone in the audience laughs at him. Unfortunately, I don't know the "rules" of the natural world of talking plants and animals, but why is the slug attracted to a human if the prospect of a relationship is impossible? Or is the comedy in the fact that fat, slug-like creatures don't have a chance with a slim, likeable girl?

The City to the Country

Sensitively, MK - spunky, and with redhair akin to "MJ" of Spiderman - has lost her Mother, forcing her to move to the country to live with her Father (Jason Sudeikis), a crazy professor whose research is the small people of the forest (though he has yet to prove their existence). A brief mention of New York is the only evidence of this previous urban-life, which is a shame as a contrast between the two lifestyles is missing. Despite a clear moral agenda, it doesn't go out of its way to highlight the core argument that nature is unappreciated. As an audience, we are in the forest throughout - fantastical rides through the trees and leaves are thrilling and exciting, but it could be an alien planet for all the thematic relevance. To some extent, the very fact that it is a CGI animated film means that we are well-aware that everything is false and fantastical.

The opening narration whereby we are asked to "look closer..." would resonate more if we saw depictions of real magnificent natural wonders - even depicted in flawless animation, knowing the location is real would root the film in our world and highlight the ever-increasing concerns regarding actual environmental issues that are the foundation of this story. An opening contrast between the smokey, claustrophobic streets of NYC and the beauty and space of the woodland, would only serve to amplify the importance of nature.

But it's for Kids...

These are thematic issues that, as an adult, we rarely see in family-fun animated-adventure - though the success of Pixars films (notably Finding Nemo and the opening moments showing the loss of family and Wall-E and the dystopian world the robot inhabits) are due to brave decisions that thematically resonate throughout the film. It is ultimately a film for the family and, like Ferngully and Avatar, it will surely be a success as the many chases are fast and jaw-dropping in 3D - in fact, it is bright animated films like this that truly benefit from 3D. Add to this an incredibly touching resolution to the story - as Beyonce passes the 'spirit fo the forest' to another - and I am positive that children won't leave unsatisfied. But be prepared because the screening it may influence children greatly. As the Leafmen are so small they move faster than humans and so when they hear humans, they sound aaa-lllll slo-o-o-o-o-owed do-o-oo-o-own ... something that children will repeat again, and again, and again.

Originally written/published for Flickering Myth on 22nd May 2013

Sunday, 19 May 2013

100W: Star Trek Into Darkness

As a writer, it is expected that you keep to a strict word-count. When you pick up a magazine, articles can be a 100-word write-up or a 1000-word analysis. Notes created for films are easily over 100 words - so this feature will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words. No more, no less.
Star Trek Into Darkness (JJ Abrams/2013)

We’re back on board the USS Enterprise with risk-taker Capt James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and logical Spock (Zachary Quinto), but this time they face off against new terrorist threat John Harrison (A scene stealing Benedict Cumberbatch) after he bombs Future-London. An opening sequence breaks a Star Trek rule as Kirk violates the Prime Directive. Indeed, this playful approach shows that this rebooted series will toy with known Star Trek lore while newbies, who’ve watched since 2009, will appreciate the explosive action. A fast-pace combined with a confident cast makes Star Trek into Darkness a strong continuation to the series.

100W: Star Trek

As a writer, it is expected that you keep to a strict word-count. When you pick up a magazine, articles can be a 100-word write-up or a 1000-word analysis. Notes created for films are easily over 100 words - so this feature will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words. No more, no less.
Star Trek (Dir. JJ Abrams, 2009)

Turning back the clock, and adjusting it, Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) is born at the moment his Father (Chris Hemsworth) sacrifices himself when his ship is attacked by Romulans (led by an unrecognisable Eric Bana). On planet Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is half-human, half-Vulcan and therefore seen as an outsider. Allegorical themes are established from the outset; Spock’s outsider status akin to homophobia; Kirk’s unresolved personal conflicts against Spock’s lack of emotion. It’s a similar set-up to Donner’s Superman but Abrams creates a new Star Trek with high-quality action and intriguing characters that will garner new fans of the cult-series.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

100W: Fast & Furious 6

As a writer, it is expected that you keep to a strict word-count. When you pick up a magazine, articles can be a 100-word write-up or a 1000-word analysis. Notes created for films are easily over 100 words - so this feature will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words. No more, no less.
Fast & Furious 6 (Dir. Justin Lin/2013)

Fast & Furious 6 continues Justin Lin’s flawless streak in upgrading the series from bottom-barrel teenage shtick to high-octane, slick-stunted action heists to rival The Expendables. The latest instalment moves the crew to London to take on Shaw (Luke Evans), a unique villain as his crew includes Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) lost-love Letty (Michelle Roderiguez). The car-chases, by no means ignored, are amongst gun-fights and hand-to-hand combat adding to the pace and excitement on display. It resolves issues from previous films and despite the ridiculous tank and airplane finale, F&F6 is the strongest instalment through confident direction and increasingly likeable characters.

100-word reviews are available on all the Fast & Furious Films:

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)

"I feel the need...the need for speed!"


Watching a film feels far more comfortable with a cold beer and hot pizza in hand. The Prince Charles Cinema, off Leicester Square, is home to evenings that celebrate "old school" classics including Tank Girl and Road House amongst many more. Top Gun was recently screened in this manner, and I can only recommend the evening.

What separates Top Gun from the multiple "cult-classics" of the 1980's, is rather than electro-pop and big-hair  (though this is included), Top Gun includes dog-fight aeronautical action-scenes that adhere to the "MTV aesthetics" that led to the dominant style of filmmaking in mainstream action. Ridley and Tony Scott emerged from the (British) world of advertising - as did Fatal Attraction's Adrian Lyne - and moved into filmmaking through producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer at Paramount Studios. To be trained in filmmaking by creating short, less-than-a-minute adverts that grab your attention and stay in your mind, is a style of shooting and editing that hadn't crossed over into feature-filmmaking - until the mid-eighties. During this period, "the average shot length dropped an astonishing 40 per cent, from 10 seconds to 6"*, so despite the cult-following that Top Gun garnered, it truly is a staple of US cinema by establishing a style of filmmaking that continues to this day as pace and "non-stop action" remains at the heart of blockbuster films. 

Predictable, but Fast

Opening on fact-like text, gives a sense of importance: This is the military - we don't joke. This immediatly changes as synthesizers and iconic 80's pop thump on the soundtrack. The moment is similar to the use of "Push it to the Limit" in Scarface - with both films tackling masculinity and power. Combine the male camraderie with the quick-cutting and flawless MiG manouvres and within seconds Tony Scott has grabbed our shirt and firmly taken our attention. We're in the "Danger Zone" as pilots swoop and twist around in - and beneath - various multi-million dollar aircrafts. There is a sense of awe, coupled with an immedicency as pilots communicate using pilot-jargon - "you got a 'bogey' on your tail!" or "this 'mig' can't handle that type of speed" (or words to that effect). Roger Ebert says "It knows exactly what to do with special effects" - and, as the director of Enemy of the State, Man on Fire and True Romance, we know from Tony Scott, action is his strongest asset.

Characterisation and heartfelt story-telling on the other hand is not his strong-suit and the many clanger-lines, but apparently "romantic" moments are unforgiving - to the point that I would argue that the cult-following largely stems from the laughable moments of romance and friendship that often feel forced and predictable. Haunted by his missing Father, Maverick (Tom Cruise) and his partner Goose (Anthony Edwards) are promoted to an elite flying-school, in the hope of becoming "Top Gun" - amongst many pilots, Iceman (Val Kilmer) aspires for the same badge of honour. Inevitably, Maverick falls for Astro-physician and 'Top Gun' instructor Charlie (Kelly McGillis) and he slowly begins to realise that becoming 'Top Gun' is not as easy as it seems.

Homosexuality Subtext

Any half-interested film viewer will be hard pressed to ignore the homosexual subtext to the film - and that rather than a film about pilots challenging and pushing themselves to the limit, it is apparently a film about a man coming to terms with his sexuality. The tension is clearly between Iceman and Maverick, as Iceman attempts to "win" Maverick to his side of the team and there is a crucial, awkward set-up as Maverick doesn't consumate his relationship with Charlie in the first instance - taking a shower and then leaving. The uniformed appearance of all the pilots even adheres to the gay stereotype, something well-known by pop bands such as The Village people in the late 1970's. The motorbike representing Maverick's masculine identity and even the love-interest has a genderless name in 'Charlie', further confusing these themes. Ultimately, each pilot has a partner - in their wingman - and Maverick's partner, Goose, has a name that has a sexual undertone as it is akin to the slang term to "goose" somebody.~

But the eroticised men playing volleyball takes a different interpretation as Mark Cousins compares the depiction of masculinity, and power, to Leni Riefensthal's Olympia, whereby she was tasked to depict German Olympian's in 1936 - championing the superior beings and transmitting it across Germany (and indeed, the world) as World War II began. Cousins writes how Top Gun "celebrated ... masculinity and patriotism as Leni Riefensthal had done with her characters". Furthermore, he simplifies the story as a "study in power rather than character".

This argument is against the aforementioned subtext, and may be more about attracting a female audience rather than purposefully building-in a controversial theme amongst a clearly butch film. Joanna Berry believes Tom Cruise is portraying a  "macho but deep-down-I'm-sensitive performance [that] appealed to the female audience", and even in the sex it is shot sensitively with romantic, moody music as characters are in silhouette (tongues licking in the dark...). 


The use of The Righteous Brothers 'You've lost that loving feeling' immediately recalls Ghost and Dirty Dancing's 1960's soundtrack, released in 1990 and 1987 respectively. It seems that is part and parcel of the films at the time and, though the clear influence became Hot Shots!, any film with vehicles and men facing off against each other since Top Gun owe something to Tony Scott's flight-film. How perfect that this weekend see's the release of Fast & Furious 6 - a series that owes much more to Top Gun than it lets on. Indeed, I believe there is a theory about a gay-subtext in 2 Fast 2 Furious ... 

* The Story of Film, Mark Cousins

100W: Fast Five

As a writer, it is expected that you keep to a strict word-count. When you pick up a magazine, articles can be a 100-word write-up or a 1000-word analysis. Notes created for films are easily over 100 words - so this feature will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words. No more, no less.
Fast Five (Dir. Justin Lin, 2011)

We’re taken to the streets of Rio in Fast Five, whereby Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) bring together characters from every previous film to take down Mob-boss Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Again, Justin Lin directs an action-packed, rough-ride with the added bonus of Dwayne Johnson playing the FBI agent extraordinaire ‘Hobbs’, intent on catching the fugitives. Bullish-cars, gun-fights and bald-men-fighting deliver on their promise of testosterone-fuelled entertainment and returning cast members give a sense of camaraderie that has lacked previously. Fast Five knows what we like, and Lin has created a film-formula that absolutely works.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

100W: Fast & Furious

As a writer, it is expected that you keep to a strict word-count. When you pick up a magazine, articles can be a 100-word write-up or a 1000-word analysis. Notes created for films are easily over 100 words - so this feature will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words. No more, no less.

Fast & Furious (Dir. Justin Lin/2009)

Fast & Furious ditches street-racing completely and turns into a brotherly-bonding exercise set within the drug-cartels, and tunnels, operating between Mexico and the US. Brooding Dom (Vin Diesel) is on a revenge mission, while Brian (Paul Walker) is decides whether he is a “good guy acting bad” or a “bad guy acting good”. Justin Lin continues directing, confidently upping the stakes in fresh stunts and hand-to-hand action – including a Casino Royale inspired foot chase in LA. Diesel and Walker command your attention, and their initial meeting is electric – setting foundations for a dynamic that is built for longevity; I’m sold!

Monday, 13 May 2013

100W: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

As a writer, it is expected that you keep to a strict word-count. When you pick up a magazine, articles can be a 100-word write-up or a 1000-word analysis. Notes created for films are easily over 100 words - so this feature will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words. No more, no less.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (Dir. Justin Lin/2006)

Sean (Lucas Black) is a young-driver forced to move to Tokyo, joining the local car-gangs who excel at “drifting”. Revamping the series, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is clear-cut - Sean learns: he must make his own way in the world. Director Justin Lin focuses on the stunts; rather than cutting to front-facing shots of drivers or squeezing through the engine using CGI, Lin pulls the camera back and marvels at the “drifting” on show. The neon-lights and effortless charisma the supporting cast exude - specifically Han (Sung Kang) - makes TFATF:TD a refreshing addition to the franchise.

100W: 2 Fast 2 Furious

As a writer, it is expected that you keep to a strict word-count. When you pick up a magazine, articles can be a 100-word write-up or a 1000-word analysis. Notes created for films are easily over 100 words - so this feature will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words. No more, no less.

2 Fast 2 Furious (Dir. John Singleton/2003)

The curious morals of The Fast and the Furious are further complicated by the shinier, brighter 2 Fast 2 Furious. Brian (Paul Walker) has run from police and is now on the streets of Miami. After a race-gone-wrong, Brian makes a deal to assist in capturing drug kingpin Verone (Cole Hauser) and chooses unlikely childhood-friend and ex-con Roman (Tyrese Gibson) to assist. The beaches, bikinis and boats give a gloss that its predecessor didn’t need, and, unlike Vin Diesel, Roman is a petty-thief and dirty-fighter – and there is no tension in their central relationship. Intense - but it lacks personality.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

100W: The Fast and the Furious

As a writer, it is a regular expectation to keep to a strict word count. Every time you pick up a magazine, articles can be a small 100-word write-up or a 1000-word review. My own notes for the many films seen are always over 100 words - so this is a new feature that will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words.

The Fast and the Furious (Dir. Rob Cohen, 2001)

Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is top-dog in illegal street-racing LA, as Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) tries to join in. An opening race establishes a simple world whereby the diverse cars match the diverse cultures that clash in this criminal world. But, an early reveal – that Brian is a cop – places this film in the clear-cut “good-guy-is-white” category – against the illegal criminals who seem to be anything but. Through brilliant stunts and a bass-pumping soundtrack you breathlessly see unbelievable races – and an unbelievable outcome as it portrays an America whereby crime’s allowed if (a white man decides) you’re a nice guy.

Further Reading:

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987)

"Well, what am I supposed to do? You won't answer my calls, you change your number. I mean, I'm not gonna be ignored, Dan!"


According to Barry Norman, on BBC's Film '87Fatal Attraction was "the most talked about movie of the year for all manner of reasons". Consequently, it sits within the 1001 Films to See Before You Die, usurping My Beautiful Laundrette and The Long Good Friday - two established films of the 1980's - as neither appear in the film-blogger bible. Indeed, whilst Fatal Attraction became a "talked about movie", it is clear that the set-up - of a man conducting a one-night stand (It's a weekend but ...) affair while his wife and child is out-of-town - will inevitably start tongues wagging. I would argue that the sexist-plot pretends to argue a feminist-opinion ... but upon closer inspection, it remains mysogynistic and ignorant and therein lies the discussion. Dialogue, written by James Dearden, spark up the highly-intelligent concept behind the story - but the narrative-by-numbers structure, ultimately stops the film from becoming anything more than a talking-point.

What A Woman...

As a viewer, we stick-close to Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas). Dan is a happily married man with a child, comfortably moving up his lawyer-career ladder before he meets Alex (Glenn Close) and the two seem to be content in agreeing to a one-weekend fling - as Dan's family (Anne Archer playing his wife) are away at the parents. But Alex wants more from Dan - she calls him at the office; at 2am at his home; she confronts him at his office. Dan desperately wants out - but she continues to seek him by meeting his wife by pretending to be interested in his house; she kidnaps his daughter and kills her pet rabbit. Dan reveals all to his wife, but Alex pursues him further - climaxing in a flailing knife-in-the-bathroom shocker, harking back to Hitchcock's Psycho.

Considering the perspective we witness the film from, unfortunately Alex - though a top, humanised performance from Glenn Close (owing to arduous research to ensure that she was not a "one-note evil witch") - is clearly, and definitively, insane. You could assume that, because of her lost sanity, filmmakers could portray Dan as a philandering hsuband - but instead, he seems to attempt the opposite. Jonathan Rosenbaum highlights how prior to Dan's affair, after walking the dog he returns home to find his daughter comfortably asleep with her mother. She had a bad dream and will therefore spend the night in her parents bed. Poor Dan can't be intimate with his wife and, as if to pre-plan his affair, it is almost a justification for his actions.

Alex is the sexualised, contract-hired (and therefore temporary) fantasy to men - her madness later on becoming a "moral" to the story. Alex is the fearsome predator, waiting to trap the married man in her web, to women - her madness later on becomes the evidence to support the distrust in her initally. The intelligence in the film is how audiences became so wrapped into this clear good-guy/bad-girl dichotomy, they failed to appreciate the psychological depths the film tapped into. Mark Kermode wrote how "audiences screaming 'kill the bitch!' at test screenings of Fatal Attraction ... persuaded the film-makers to shoot a new ending in which Glenn Close's character became the victim of a shooting rather than a suicide, thus destroying whatever internal logic the film may have had.". Audiences were so-much sold on the good-guy/bad-girl set-up, they couldn't appreciate the suicide (rooted in reality) closure that should've befelled our crazy-in-love seductress.

The complicated position we are in. We are angry with the protaganist as he has risked his entire marriage for satisfying his lustful urges - but we ignore the abuse and disposable-attitude Dan has towards this one-night-stand victim. Indeed, Alex is a human too - and such a disregard for another person cannot be ignored. How fascinating it is as Alex explains how she wishes he wasn't married - how brutally true she is as she reminds him that his actions were selfish and ignorant of her. Despite this - we cheer on Michael Douglas and support his reactions.

What a Man ...

Michael Douglas himself took the role as it was "closer to myself than any part I've played before" , and director Adrian Lyne support this "truth" as the film represents "every married man's nightmare - every married womans nightmare". Of course, the role does manage to portray a damning portrayal of men and the lust we all fall victim to - but, I would argue, that this is the tone (and perspective) of the entire film.

The wife, Beth, is a good wife who stays at home and prepares dinner for her man as he returns home. He is a lawyer (a respectable well-paid job) in an incredible apartment opposed to the low-rent apartment Alex lives within, whereby sex in the elevator is always on the cards.This framing of a man who is, not only happily married within a nuclear family (the family we see framed in the final shot...), but also financially successful within a close-nit friendship group, also dictates that we look up to him. He truly has it all.

A film containing a popular talking-point is always going to be a success at the box-office - but let's not kid ourselves. This is a man in a exist world of power and wealth - whereby his attitudes towards women are disposable (in terms of sex) and family-focussed (in terms of the health of his child). Fatal Attraction is a thoroughly enjoyable watch due to a strong concept and a high calibre of actors on show. The conflict of interests is clear in the decision to change the ending. A problematic compromise between intelligent-storytelling and mass-appeal lowest-common-denominator filmmaking is always a tough balance. But then, maybe the only reason the film became so successful 25 years later may be because of that compromise. If the film did not include the shock-ending, it may never have earnt such a large audience - and if it catered to such a broad audience throughout, it would simply sit alongside the erotic-thriller films of the 1980's. Instead, it remains an interesting snapshot of the time's attitude towards sex and marriage.

Originally written/published on Man, I Love Films on 9 May 2013

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Thursday, 2 May 2013

My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985)

"You need to know how to squeeze the tits of the system."


Following from last weeks The Long Good Friday, we continue a streak in British 80's drama with My Beautiful Laundrette. Unlike The Long Good Friday, in Stephen Frears controversial film we are now firmly embedded into the Thatcherite era. The Iron Lady has been in power for over 5-years and, dealing with issues as polemic as racism, sexuality and immigration, it begs the question as to the type of commentary the film has on the time-period. Hanif Kureishi, son of a Pakistani Father, but born-and-raised in South London, clearly has a first-hand perspective on many of the issues within the film, but you would be hard pressed to  pin down the political issues being raised. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best screenplay, but lost out to Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters. It is most notable for its appearance of Daniel Day-Lewis in an early role, but clearly establishing how demanding and dominating his screen-prescence is - even when he was starting out.

An Eighties Business

Omar (Gordan Warnecke) is taken under his Uncle Nasser's (Saaid Jaffrey) wing to run a beaten-up Laundrette - and, within a Pakistani community, he is subjected to racist intimidation by the local neofascist gangs while within his own community he is expected to move up and become a successful businessman. IN addition to this he (it is implied) resumes his relationship with Anglo-Saxon Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), who assists him in establishing the Laundrette business.

We watch with baited breath as to whether the couple will be "found out". Though a tense element - highlighted in a moment of interrupted love-making as Omar's Uncle dances with his mistress in the Laundrette prior to its grand opening - it is clear that this is not a film about the acceptability or unacceptability of homosexuality. It appears to highlight the changes in attitude to class, and social-change, rather than an attempt at changing attitudes towards sexuality. Uncle Nasser, though succesful in his transition to London-life, he loses touch with his cultural roots - leading to a fractured relationship with his daughter and a sham-marriage. Indeed, Omar himself becomes increasingly money-obsessed as the film progresses - leading to a shocking confrontation with Johnny. The film purposefully begins as Daniel Day Lewis's Johnny squats in flats - before we change to see the difficult family-life Omar copes with as his Father is an alcoholic and so, consequently, his Uncle takes him away to work in his car dealership - in turn, leading to the laundrette. How many have become increasingly successful through a political-power that valued building privatised buisness over destroying the poverty that plagued the streets of London in the 1980's. 

Racist Attitudes

Indeed, the 1980's was a difficult time as the country was divided. The racism that is tackled with My Beautiful Laundrette is the same racism that we see in 80's-set The Is England in 2007 (The picture on the right must've been a reference for Shane Meadows). There is a sens eof community that appears to be lost due to the attitudes towards immigration - and Kureishi manages to show boths sides of the coin as, in an almost throwaway moment we see a cousin of Omar throw money to the ground to mock the white-businessmen who they work alongside. Salim (Derrick Branche) has clearly seen and experienced so much abuse, he is anti-White and clearly despises the culture that he is now a part of.

It is clear that My Beautiful Laundrette is not trying to play a moral-tale as, in many instances, he portrays an opposing opinion. When you see the success of the Laundrette, it is not long before we are reminded that illegal drug-trafficking is what has partially-funded the enterprise. Johnny - though we could argue is a tragic figure who is constantly reminded of his outsider status to Omar's Pakistani family, we also know little about. We know that he ran with the skin-heads and squatted in flats ... but he doesn't follow the law.

Great Britain's Mistress

Even Uncle Nasser has a mistress,but her pride in her status and the clear benefits she achieves from conducting this relationship (shown when confronted about her immorality by Nasser's daughter) hints at a possible representational-role she is portraying. Rachel (Shirley Anne Field) is a figure to Nasser who fulfills his urges - and his dreams. Indeed, like Margaret Thatcher, she may be what he wants; he may take advantage of her change in laws and funding of private enterprise ... but ultimately, she is a character of sin who is corrupting his values and comprimsing the future he wants. Inevitably, this affair will rip his family apart ... and in many ways, Thatcher seemed to be responsible for the "ripping apart" of society. I'll bet Nasser's mistress believes "there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women...", because she - like many entrepreneurs in the 1980's - was only looking out for herself.

Originally written/published for Man, I Love Films on 2 May 2013
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Wednesday, 1 May 2013

I'm So Excited (Pedro Almodóvar, 2013)

"I need a booster to face those savages"


Pedro Almodóvar is a force to be reckoned with. A director who doesn't appear to make any compromises, making a film almost annually in the eighties and becoming accepted in the mainstream market since 2000. He has a back-catalogue as diverse as Bad Education, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and a close-knit group of actors to turn to - including Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz  who owe their careers to him. It is clear that although themes of sexuality, identity and gender appear often in his work, Almodóvar can equally raise these issues in cine-literate moments such as the silent-film within Talk to Her or within the context of a crazed-surgeon and his kidnapped-victim in The Skin I Live In. Pedro Almodóvar is part of the roster of filmmakers who owe their own style of film-making to the film-makers that preceded them and  upcoming directors who surround them in cinema today. His previous exploits are as cinematically aware as Tarantino and Scorsese, with references to Hitchcock, Fellini and Bergman rather than exploitation and Powell & Pressberger. Does I'm So Excited build on Almodóvar's work so far? or is it merely a footnote in his ever-growing canon?

"It's my gayest film ever!"

Giles Tremlett for The Guardian, interviewed Almodóvar for him to "joyously" state that I'm So Excited is his "gayest film ever!". Though incredibly camp and a complete move aware from the seriousness of Almodóvar's films in the last decade, this is not unheard of. Indeed, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is a film that is comedic, camp and playful in the same manner as I'm So Excited

A plane is forced to stay in the air as all the Spanish airports cannot accept the faulty plane to land. On the plane itself, we are forced to be amongst the business-class "savages" and their respective cabin-crew; three camp air stewards until the situation resolves itself. The pilots equally have a role to play as both are unsure, sexually, where they stand. It is clear from this basic overview that the film is full of subtext an allegory as it alludes to the financial issues in Spain. A plane that cannot land; those leading the people - the pilots - are indecisive about their sexuality and truly don't know who they are and where they should go; the passengers all have their own goals and motives to pursue - without looking out for each other. We are forced to stay in the small-space of the elite upper-class - whilst the rest of society/the plane is fast asleep in economy.


Generally speaking, this film remains within the plane - often taking place in ever-decreasing smaller-spaces as the air stewards argue and joke within the preparatory-area at the front of the cabin - to only move into the cock-pit, whereby we remain squeezed in amongst all the dials and gadgets that litter the front of an airplane.

But this film is about capturing the mood of a nation. Pedro Almodóvar is famous for creating an image of Spain to the rest of the world. The cultural attitudes towards death in Volver; the almost-iconic look of the pastel-coloured rooms that he regularly uses. Almodóvar believes we are in a "bleak place" right now - and I'm So Excited is about filling that void with a playful, comedic and upbeat attitude towards our own defencelessness in the face of the recent banking crisis. I'm So Excited is an "unrealistic, metaphorical comedy", and so you seek out the political and personal issues raised amongst the sex, alcohol and drug-taking on board Flight PE 2549.


This is Almodóvar for the fans. This is Almodóvar for the hard-core film-completest. Since 1999's All About My Mother, Pedro Almodóvar has been a film-maker who has not only challenged viewers but he has also become a film-maker who weaves profound and deeply-poetic themes and ideas within accessible international cinema. I'm So Excited features a cast and cameos from many actors who have featured in many of his previous films - Javier Cámara (Talk To Her), Lola Dueñas (Volver) and Cecilia Roth (All About My Mother) to name a few - and so we have a film that almost feels like a Best Of... Almodóvar. Using this idea as a jumping-off point, it is more a Best Of... The Early Years of Almodóvar. That's not a bad thing of course, but personally I preferred his later records and despite a huge success in his native country, I don't think the film is as accessible as his later films. Enjoyable, quirky and metaphorical - yes. But not as profound as I expect.

Originally written/published on Flickering Myth on 1 May 2013

100W: The Last Airbender

As a writer, it is a regular expectation to keep to a strict word count. Every time you pick up a magazine, articles can be a small 100-word write-up or a 1000-word review. My own notes for the many films seen are always over 100 words - so this is a new feature that will focus on reviewing films in a concise 100 words.

The Last Airbender (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan, 2010)

The infamous comparison to Spielberg stops as Shyamalan takes on multi-million pound blockbuster The Last Airbender. Adapting the Nickelodeon TV-series may have appeared an easy hit, but alas, script simplicity plagues the film despite top-notch special effects. The story revolves around Aang (Noah Ringer) – the only one who can “bend” all four elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth – who, in a messianic manner, will bring balance to the planet. Katar (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), two flat-characters join Aang on the journey as they challenge Fire-Nation exile - Zuko (Dev Patel). Good effort – but complete misfire – from Shyamalan.

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