Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

"Maybe I'll live so long that I'll forget her. Maybe I'll die trying." 


Two years after Citizen Kane, the genius Orson Welles married Rita Hayworth. This was her second marriage lasting three years before they separated – but not before a brief rekindling of their romance on the set of The Lady from Shanghai. It didn't last long and they divorced in 1948. In that regard, Hayworth and Welles relationship is an important factor to consider when analysing this strange mess of a film. Detailed by James Steffen and Rob Nixon on Turner Classic Movies, a rough cut of the film was 155 minutes long and was chopped down by editor Viola Lawrence to a mere 87 minutes - David Benedict, introducing the film at the BFI Retrospective, was under no illusion about the distorted and clunky "short" film we were yet to watch. This is not Orson Welles at 100% - indeed, he is barely at 50% - but amongst the awkward accents, cold (but dull) characters and gossip-fuelled production there lies something brutal and beautiful about filmmaking and art - and the mysterious question raised as to whether Art reveals the Artist; whether intentional or not...

Scene Hopping Story

Orson Welles is Michael O'Hara - or "Black Irish" to his fellow shipmates - a seaman who assists on-board a yacht owned by sneaky lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett Sloane) and his wife Elsa (Rita Hayworth). Elsa falls for Black Irish, but Arthur doesn't intervene highlighting the dangerous game the two are playing - we wonder whether foul-play is at hand. The two lovers slowly realise an opportunity to escape together, but all is not what it seems as friends of the Bannisters become deceitful - whilst even Elsa and O'Hara become distrusting of each other. Can they ever live a life together? Or are they simply not meant to be?

The characterisation is immediately unbalanced, as you try and find your grasp of the narrative out at sea. Orson Welles is putting on an Irish accent as he attempts to woo this upper-class rich woman - a woman who, opposed to the ravishing red-head Rita Hayworth defines, is a short-cut, platinum-blonde. The latter was a choice Welles made without consulting Harry Cohn and consequently added another reason for studios to despise him. The story sporadically jumps from a yacht (owned by Errol Flynn) to a courtroom, before leaping to an empty fairground making you dizzy as you desperately reach for some sort of solid foundation that The Lady from Shanghai simply doesn't have. As if recalling a dream, you question what happened - were we within a Chinese Theatre? Or were we within San Francisco? (We were within both)

The finale is a shoot-out in a room of mirrors and, though the characters look desperately to see what is a mirror and what is not, we realise that the confusing and surrealist edge that is successfully shown here does not reflect the film as a whole - and simply reminds us how confusing the story is. Both holding mirror shoot-out final sequences and Chinese themes, Guy Hamilton's The Man with the Golden Gun clearly realised how effective the finale was by using mirrors and guns within the opening action-sequence too or the maligned 007 adventure. In the repeated-reflections of the mirrored-maze, Welles even nods to The Great Train Robbery as Rita Hayworth shoots to camera.

Controlled Chiaroscuro

Kim Newman writes how The Lady from Shanghai is a "broken mirror of a film, with shards of genius that can never be put together into anything that makes sense", and the mirror truly is shattered into small pieces. Orson Welles frames so many shots in a manner that echoes his incredible film-noir framing in Touch of Evil. A clear use of background and foreground; defined silhouettes of the couple within an aquarium (that has surely inspired every couple-meet-in-aquarium scene ever since); a birds-eye-view shot above the yacht looking down on Hayworth as she sunbathes is geometric in its framing, except for her feminine figure.

But the story itself remains a convoluted confusion. The Irish narration draws our attention to the strange accent Welles is using and, in many instances, voids the entire purpose of narration completely. In the hope that a character explaining the story illuminates elements we're not privy to, instead "Black Irish" seems to ramble on when describing, multiple times, how he won't join the Bannister's on the yacht ... only to be convinced easily enough when he is offered money and Rita Hayworth says she'll "make it worth his while". Why did we even listen to his thoughts in the first instance?

But, there is a reason Woody Allen references The Lady from Shanghai at the end of Manhattan Murder Mystery. A murder within the story and a relationship whereby we are not sure who is playing who. It begs the question between Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, two stars at the top of their game in 1943 (though Hayworth's Gilda was a couple of years away...), and who may have chosen to be with each other for more financially-motivated purposes. It is a strange beast, but it is unforgettable - and Orson Welles clearly struggling to effectively adapt a novel (Sherwood King's If I Die Before I Wake) is something worth watching unto itself. But this is a Rita Hayworth film - and her refusal to become the cliché vixen that Gilda had sold as her image is fascinating. So calculating and cold, with her wide-eyes become tight and sly, proves how versatile she was. For this, The Lady from Shanghai is a crucial Golden-Age Hollywood viewing necessity.

Originally written for Flickering Myth on 30th June 2013

Friday, 28 June 2013

Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin; Chris Renaud, 2013)

"That's right, baby! Gru's back in the game with cool cars... gadgets... and weapons!"


Whether you enjoy Despicable Me or not, it is clear from the outset that this is a heavily manufactured product. Small, silly-voiced creatures for Lemming-like comedic effect; a villain clutz at the centre of a story with imitatable foreign-accent and finally, to top it off, three "leedle" girls - including a wide-eyed cute one that proved you had a heart of stone if you didn't think she was adorable. Despite these animated film cliches, Despicable Me was touching in the depiction of adpoted children teaching a Father how to be a better role model. A role model that, in turn, impacted on the "minions" themselves. Released in 2010, Despicable Me capitalised on the "new" 3D trend and included multiple exciting 3D features including a rollercoaster ride and a playful end-credits sequence as the minions attempted to reach further and further into the audience. Could Despicable Me 2 use 3D in such an interesting way? More key to the original films success, we wonder if Gru (Steve Carrell), now "good", could retain his "superbad - superdad" charm?

A Happy Family?

To re-establish our favourite characters we see how Gru has set up a perfect family home for his girls - they continue to sleep in old nuclear bombs - but Gru has begun to organise parties for them, much to the delight of the parents as women try and set Gru up with single women. But things change dramatically when Lucy (Kristin Wiig) appears and, though a secret agent for AVL (Anti-Villain League), she knows of Gru's past achievements and kidnaps him to assist in catching a new villain. He has created a serum that turns cute bunnies - or cute minions - into crazed, dangerous killing machines. We join Gru and Lucy as they investigate the many quirky characters of a shopping mall (where the serum was last detected...) - and watch as they begin to work out who is the real super villain. Is it the Mexican Restaurant owner? Is it the Asian hair dresser? Who knows...

The real heart of the story though is now on Gru - the three girls are merely accomplices and assistants to his new role as AVL Super Spy - and his growing relationship with Lucy. The minions are in a slightly improved role as the final act reveals the super villain kidnapping the yellow creatures and transforming them into crazed-purple animals. But, personally, I felt the that the family established at the end of Despicable Me was more than successful

Interesting Parrallel

Considering Despicable Me 2 is released the same summer as Monsters University, it is interesting to reflect on the story behind Monsters Inc: Two (assumed fearful) male monsters, we find out, are brilliant parents to an adorable girl. The successful celebration of non-traditional families is clear-cut as both Mike and Sully become ideal parents despite their same gender and incorrect judgement (from us) that they are dangerous. Despciable Me 2 argues that, actually, children need a Mother - and parents need a partner - to successfully create a family. Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher) pleads with Gru as she questions, in mock-frustration, why he has no partner. Gru awkwardly and uncomfortably manages to join forces with Lucy to give the children what they want - a Mother. Heaven forbid he is a strange, single parent - imagine if he was gay! Not in this sugar-coated, incredibly-popular kid-friendly film. Imagine the children of non-traditional families leaving the cinema - why can't I have two parents?

Furthermore, we notice that, unlike Despicable Me - whereby the foreign-accented character is outed as a loveable rogue - Despicable Me 2 assumes that (outside of the lead characters) foreigners are not to be trusted. Thematically, DM2 rewinds the clocks to a different time.

Spies and Comedy

But the film remains enjoyable and playful to the point that it seems to know all to well what we want from a fun, colourful, funky film. A nostalgic nod to All 4 One's 'I Swear' acknowledges the slightly-too-old-for-kids-film audience that clearly adore the film whilst the duck-and-dodge dynamic of investigative secret spying weaves into the film an energy that harks back to The Incredibles.

Despicable Me 2 hasn't lost the plot and understands a little of what we liked about the original, with one lovely flashback to Gru's childhood - something we all enjoyed in the first film. But if you are hoping that it pulls on the heart strings as much as DM did, unfortunately it fails to deliver. Despicable Me 2 is enjoyable and kids will be as quote-happy as they were the first time round, but it fails to break any ground in telling a story that hasn't been told many times before. As unexpected as it may have been, Despicable Me felt fresh and new opposed to Despicable Me 2 that feels expected and recycled.

Origially written/published for Flickering Myth on 28th June 2013

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946)

"I thought we agreed that women and gambling didn't mix."


In The Shawshank Redemption (titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption in Stephen King's Different Seasons) there is a moment whereby we see a scene from Gilda. Andy Dufrane (Tim Robbins) attempts to ask Red (Morgan Freeman) to bring him "Rita Hayworth" but before he can ask, Red tells him to wait so that he - and all the prisoners - can fully appreciate her cinematic introduction: "Gilda, are you decent?" [she throws her hair back] "Me? Sure. I'm decent".

The prisoners cheer in what may be one of the most iconic moments in Hollywood history; a moment that truly established her as a star from the trailer alone. But Gilda carries more than mere eye-candy for the viewers, it is also considered the "gayest, straight film" according to  David Benedict (who introduced the film at the BFI) as the love-triangle seems to be more between Gilda's (Rita Hayworth) husband Ballin Mundson (George Macready) and Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) ... at last until the final act anyway.

The Dark Alley

Opening on Johnny Farrell rolling the dice and winning a fixed gambling game, we realise that this is a man down on his luck, despite his winnings. Attacked briefly, he is saved by Mundson - carrying a cane with a concealed blade - and the two strike an unlikely friendship. It does beg the question as to why does a high-rolling, Casino-owning Ballin Mundson lurk in the dark alleys and save attractive men? Considering the 1946 time-period, you can leave it to your own imagination as to the subtext raised in these opening moments.

Ballin and Johnny form a partnership, with Johnny as manager of the Casino Ballin owns. After a short holiday, Ballin returns with a new wife: Gilda. Within moments, we realise there is more to her than meets the eye as she has a history that, somehow, involves Johnny. Rather than adhering to a strict generic code, Gilda manages to blend a wide range of filmmaking styles to become unique in its own right. Briefly, Johnny Farrell's immorality and narration firmly root the film in the Film Noir genre, but the romantic edge, musical numbers and comedic touches obscure this simplistic description.

Glenn Ford plays a character who holds unclear motives. Though he had a relationship with Gilda, he is cruel and unkind to her - as if to highlight how she is what has come between himself and Ballin. At one point, Ballin orders Johnny to go home with Gilda - but Johnny refuses, arguing that he should be with Ballin. He reluctantly leaves, but their relationship is clearly hinting at something more than friendship. Johnny Farrell's weak smile, sense of self-loathing and his abusive treatment of Gilda turns him into a character who you find difficult to like - but I think we all know the true challenges he faces and how his actions are all in re-action to his true love of Ballin Mundson, and the conflict of emotions he has towards Gilda.

Eroticism and Class

But Gilda oozes sexuality and the single movement of removing a satin glove, within a dance routine, in a repetitive stroke is considered one of the most erotic scenes in cinema. Her moody, sultry singing of the unforgettable "Put the blame on mame", whether it is front and centre in the middle of a club - or as a late-night private song - still draws you into her animalistic prowess. The strange narrative that twists and turns in a manner that loses a sense of consistency by the end doesn't destroy the performances - and indeed, George Macready plays a villain that wouldn't look out of place in a James Bond movie as he wears a long formal dressing-gown and, akin to Oddjob, a concealed weapon. Even his baldness precedes 007's arch nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Like Johnny, we are viewing this world as a visitor. We are introduced and mesmerised by the world Ballin inhabits. They are all despicable characters - Gilda marrying a man for his wealth; Johnny content in his gambling occupation; Ballin as the owner of a Casino that makes money off Nazi's. But we are still drawn to the world and the complex and unlikely relationship between the characters. This explains the love for the film, and why people continue to be drawn to the story. The romantic couple "hate" each other; the villain confesses how he loves his wife - and yet we root for down-and-out Johnny. All these elements ensure Gilda is not forgotton, but I doubt it would remain as unforgettable without the graceful, elegant Rita Hayworth portraying the reckless and wil Gilda, who manages to portray a confident woman - but a woman men love to hate.

Gilda is playing at the BFI this week on June 28th - click here to get tickets!

Originally written/published for Flickering Myth on 23rd June 2013

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Monsters University (Dan Scanlon, 2013)

"I've been waiting for this my whole life! I'm gonna be a scarer!"


Despite the critical success of Toy Story 3 - Oscar nominated and widely considered the closing chapter of a flawless trilogy - the release of Cars 2 proved that not everything Pixar touched turns to gold. Monsters Inc. was the fourth film in the Pixar canon and was the first film released in the new Millennium, in 2001. Can a series whereby the original is 12 years old continue? Is Monsters University as profound and poetic as Toy Story 3 or is it as hollow and thematically-stunted as Cars 2? Mike and Sully clearly have something to prove...


Clearly, the Monsters of Monsters Inc. are ideal for a series - loveable, colourful (akin to Cars, ripe for toy-manufacturing...) and set within a world that has comedy fed into its foundations as 'scares' are merely the day-to-day job and us humans are oblivious to this alternate world. How frustrating it was to end this set-up in Monsters Inc. as Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) realise that laughter is more powerful than scares - and the fate of Monsters Inc. is changed irreversibly.

Directed by Dan Scanlon, this is his first feature at Pixar after working in the Art Department for Cars and, rightfully, he takes us back in time. Monstropolis still creates energy through scaring and we are shown the academic route necessary to become an elite "scarer" as Mike joins Monsters University and meets Sully for the first time - a world whereby Sully, the son of a historic monster, is laid-back, lazy and selfish. Many things has to change to join the dots between Monsters University and Monsters Inc. including Mike and Sully joining the company, Sully changing his carefree attitude and Mike - who has obsessed and dreamed about working on The Scare Floor since childhood - altering his passion and choosing to be a sidekick to the mighty James P. Sullivan.

But, they connect together well, offering us a story from Mike's perspective primarily. He rallies the troops of the nerdy Oozma Kappa fraternity and completes in the Universities "Scare Games" to prove how scary he truly is... 

Monsters Got Talent

In a range of quirky and vibrant set-pieces, akin to reality TV shows such as The Voice, Mike, Sully and the Oozma Kappa's prove how scary they are. Running through a gauntlet as pink-spikey things swell up the body-parts they touch, silent-library sneaking and a "scare-off" competition as each team member scares robot-kids add pace and fun 'quests' for our characters to complete. They highlight how versatile the universe of these monsters truly is - and so, when we fall into "reality" in the final act the tone shifts and we realise how dark and scary our world is in comparison.

This really is the films strength as Monsters Inc. hints at the idea that many of things we fear are not scary at all while Monsters University clarifies how the true fear may be the world we live in - as Mike and Sully live within a playful world of fantastical games and comedic creatures. This final act, in terms of pace, seems slower and therefore acts more of an extension to the core narrative - but the shift in tone and connection to reality is worthwhile and offers an interesting theme to sneak through.

Monsters University is thoroughly enjoyable and it establishes a set of characters that we want to see more of - but it unfortunately ends with very little scope for a further story (Maybe "Monsters Pre-School"?). Though we have devilishly funny moments (Steve Buscemi's 'Randall' is absolutely hilarious) there seems to be an unclear message to the story we're told. Children will believe Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren's) is the villain of the film - but she's not evil and is merely a strict disciplinarian. Indeed, the true villain is Mike himself as he ignores how unscary he actually is and, through all the games and action, this is where the tension lies. In this theme, and in how it is resolved, it is heart-breaking and troubling to imagine children taking it too seriously.

Pixar's greatest strength was the morals and sentiments that were embedded in the stories - ideas that appealed to adults moreso than children; Wall-E and social-change; Cars and industrialisation; The Incredibles and diversity. Monsters University has no such sentiment, and it is this that is the films greatest loss.

Orignally written/published on Flickering Myth on June 21st 2013

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

100W: Signs

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts of a broad range of films...

Signs (Dir. M.Night Shyamalan/2002)

is Independence Day from the perspective of a small family in rural USA. Graeme Hess (Gibson) has a crisis of faith following the death of his wife as aliens invade Planet Earth. Hess and his brother (Phoenix) display the usual awe and wonder that we’ve seen before but the small-town environment draws you into a family that you fall for through a strong young cast (Culkin and Breslin). We run through crunchy, crop fields and look closer at news footage to see purpose in supernatural occurrences as Signs maintains power, but lacks the subtlety of M.Night Shyamalan’s previous films.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

100W: Unbreakable

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts of a broad range of films...

Unbreakable (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan/2000)

A dark Superhero film rooted in reality, whereby X-ray vision is instinct and superhuman strength is unbreakable bones. A patient and tragic story as David Dunn (Willis) tries to find his place in the world following his lone survival from a train crash. We watch to see if Dunn is truly “Unbreakable” and meet Elijah Price (Jackson), who suffers from a breakable bone disorder. An urban world soaked in luxurious deep-blues and Milk-Tray purples, Unbreakable effortlessly convinces us that heroism exists in this modern world. Comic book heroes and villains have never been so gracefully depicted on the cinema screen.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 17 June 2013

To The Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2012)

"Life's a dream. In dream you can't make mistakes. In dream you can be whatever you want."


Released in 2012, To the Wonder marks the shortest timeframe between Terrence Malick films - with Palme D'Or winner Tree of Life dominating 2011. To the Wonder didn't garner the same attention as Tree of Life, but it holds a similar DNA as it dreamily reflects on the relationship between Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko). As an artist, Malick reacts to the moment and ruthlessly excises unnecessary characters and ideas if they do not relate to the core-story he is trying to tell. The Thin Red Line removed performances by Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke, while To The Wonder removed characters portrayed by Rachel Weisz, Barry Pepper and Jessica Chastain. Creatively, this demonstrates a sense of expression that is honest and true. At this point in his career (and his success in 2011) he has absolute freedom and the final edit is absolutely what he wants - unlike Clooney in The Thin Red Line, whereby studios forced him to include an A-List star. Additionally, Oscar-winner Ben Affleck appears in the film and, rather than an acting job alone, Affleck was bound to use this opportunity to observe what many believe is one of the greatest living directors, on the job.

Romance and Reality

Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset/ Sunrise/ Midnight triptych philosophises on relationships through constant dialogue between characters that, whether relatable or not, give the impression that lead characters Celine and Jesse are a little too self-involved. To the Wonder doesn't philosophise with the excessive dialogue and, instead, manages to explore similar issues by using extreme close-ups of intimate moments to direct our attention.

Marina (Kurylenko) is front and centre as we see her relationship begin (in Paris) and break down (in the USA), through an obsession towards her American lover Neil (Affleck). The opening of the film depicts the only moments of hand-held video-recording as Neil and Marina are deeply falling for each other. Malick remains close to the couple throughout and the subtlety of hands caressing and feeling for each other, while they laugh and smile, romantically set the foundations of this film as a deeply personal story. The relationship in Badlands hints at an almost self-destructive journey as Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek are on the run - To the Wonder doesn't seem to hold such pessimism in these opening moments. 

Beauty and romance are overpowering in these early scenes - and the addition of Marina's daughter (Tatiana Chiline) provides Neil with a paternal role which he manages to live up to. Again, akin to Linklater's trilogy, it romanticises Europe - and Paris in particular (the setting for Before Sunrise) - in this opening before transferring the film to Oklahoma and the suburban lifestyle Neil affords through his environment-inspector profession.

Faith and Future

Outside of the relationship, in Oklahoma, we are also introduced to Catholic Priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) who supports Marina while he has a crisis of faith on his own. The separation in story as we see Quintana visit the poverty-stricken citizens of the town invites comparison - as does the re-location from France to America. We question whether Marina and Neil fell in love because of the journey they shared - and whether the static moments in the US combined with the industrial surroundings are what chipped away at their initial moments of happiness. We also reflect on the "struggles" they have as we also see the challenges of other town members when visited by Father Quintana – Marina and Neil are unique and lucky to have each other in such comfortable circumstances. Quintana's support of them is potentially the reason he has this crisis, especially when you consider the support he offers those in prison that far outweigh Marina and Neil's sense of confinement and apparent lack of love.

Jane (Rachel McAdams), is described as Neil’s lost-love and a woman who he conducts an affair with when Marina is forced to return to Paris. This period is ambiguous as Marina now sees the tall, modern buildings of Paris as oppressive and dreams of the beauty of the endless fields and landscape Neil and Jane conduct their affair upon. It begs the question as to whether Jane exists at all considering the perspective is primarily Marina's and the two never appear to meet. Is it these thoughts of hers that pre-empt the end of their relationship? Does Marina imagine that she is not good enough, in turn prompting her to destroy and end their marriage? Ambiguity is what Malick does best and I can only marvel at the endless questions that arise from these various plot-threads.

The Pair

To The Wonder remains a strong example of Malick's vision, as waving fields of grass and graceful horses inhabit a world whereby peace and solace can be found - and these moments of peace are what Malick effortlessly portrays. But this is a story about one couple in a large world - the scale of Tree of Life managed to truly live up to the planet-wide relevance, while To the Wonder remains small in scale and, as such, it fails to resonate in the same manner. Edward Hopper inspired depictions of a laundrette show an appreciation and love of America - and this is the strength of the film; indeed, the strength of all Malick's films. But, in the closing moments, Marina seems to direct our attention to nature - and the intertwined nature of womanhood and faith. Where God is in such impoverished circumstances? We ask, and the answer seems to be within nature. Something that maybe Malick is arguing America has lost an appreciation for as it is built over and turned into business. To the Wonder seems to be the female portrait of life opposed to the structured, purposeful-focus of Tree of Life. In Tree of Life we see a man reflect on his upbringing and imagine where his whole life is due to lead; To the Wonder is more organic and ambiguous as Marina wanders through and follows her emotion and her passion for life. We can only appreciate such ambition and passion for filmmaking as Malick shows here - despite the small-scale of the story.

This post was originally published for Flickering Myth on 17th June 2013

Sunday, 16 June 2013

100W: Lincoln

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts of a broad range of films...

Lincoln (Dir. Steven Spielberg/2012)

Directed by Steven Spielberg, the iconic Abraham Lincoln (Day-Lewis) leads an epic story about the fight to emancipate the slaves. Soaked in information on the historical era, we are educated on the closing moments of the Civil War as a multitude of figures (who are critical to the evolution of the USA) vote to amend the constitution. The “countdown” narrative, as each vote is returned, gives a sense of pace, but the level of detail is overwhelming and it will take multiple viewings to fully appreciate the expansive scale and clear depiction of one man fighting for the greater good.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 13 June 2013

100W: Amour

100-word reviews for clear and concise verdicts of a broad range of films...

Amour (Dir. Michael Haneke/2012)

Amour tells us what love truly is - and why we love to watch. We observe Eva (Riva) and Georges (Tintignant), an elderly couple, who are coping with the declining health of Eva following a stroke. Winning the Palme D’Or in Cannes, (and only within 3 years of winning the prize for The White Ribbon) Haneke delivers again in this sensitive, heart-breaking portrait of those final moments in an elderly woman’s life. Confined to a Parisian apartment, it’s tragic as it is tender as we experience the isolation of the aged contrasted with the loyalty of marriage. Profound and unforgettable.

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

100W: The Sixth Sense

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 Sixth Sense (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan/1999)

14 years ago, The Sixth Sense proved Shyamalan as a master filmmaker. Psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Willis) helps social-outcast Cole (Osment) face a fear of ghosts that haunt him - while Malcolm himself tackles his own demons, as his marriage breaks down. Relationships between Cole and his Mum (Collette), and Crowe and his wife (Williams) provide solid foundations that connect the audience with deeply distressed characters. When Cole confesses his sixth sense, we become fearful. As the temperature drops, we see the horror he does. Themes of loss and regret haunt this exceptional film, as it only improves when viewed again…

Rating: 9/10

Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)

"I'm hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me."


Recently, Top Gun played at The Prince Charles Cinema and, writing a review of the film, it is clear that the success of Top Gun is in the aeriel sequences of brutal, streamline fighter-jets swooping and speeding across the sky. Both Top Gun and Only Angels Have Wings were nominated for Special Effects at the Academy Awards but are separated by almost 40 years but Only Angels Have Wings still portrays flight sequences that make your jaw drop. Starring Jean Arthur, Cary Grant and - in her first major screen appearance - Rita Hayworth, Only Angels Have Wings was another success under the direction of Howard Hawks. But it is Rita Hayworth that the BFI are celebrating this month, showing a retrospective of her entire career with sold out screenings already for many of her films - and in Only Angels Have Wings she steals every scene she's in.

"Calling Barranca,.. Calling Barranca..."

Showgirl Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) arrives at Barranca Airport by boat and is pursued by two flirtatious pilots - denying their advances and showing her independence, they arrive at a bar and we are introduced to their Captain - Geoff Carter (Cary Grant). Carter manages the flights that deliver mail through treachourous terrain but, in an attempt to woo Bonnie, the two pilots both travel through rough weather leaving only one to survive. Bonnie is horrified to find how casually the men take it - laughing and joking and, even repeating "Who's Joe?" when she begs them to think about the deceased pilot. These men are used to such horror and have developed a way to bury it deep down and move on quickly so they can live another day. This carefree attitude - and Geoff Carter - ensure that Bonnie stays for a little longer.

We are also introduced to a pilot who is frowned upon for choosing to parachute from a plane, leaving the remaining mechanic on board to die. This is Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess), married to Judy (Rita Hayworth), a woman who previously had a relationship with Carter. Despite the Golden Hollywood edge, this dark story places Cary Grant in the middle of two women - but with the clear intention of setting up Cary Grant with Jean Arthur. In that regard, Rita Hayworth is the sexy, seductress - the drunken, attractive lady who Grant could have... but chooses not to, because he appreciates the homely Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur).


It is interesting to note how Cahiers du Cinema believed Only Angels Have Wings was an example of auteur Cinema. Written, directed and produced by Hawks, it has all the trademarks of the theory but the crucial connection is how it manages to marry together elements of both his pre-1939 career and hints at the future. Dave Kehr writes for The Chicago Reader how Only Angels Have Wings depicts "themes he was developing throughout the 30s [that reach a] perfect clarity ... without yet confronting the darker intimations that would haunt his films of the 40s and 50s".

Howard Hawks is a fascinating figure in cinema through his varied career, directing hit-after-hit to the mainstream while retaining a freedom of creativity and independence when choosing each project. Contemporary directors such as Ang Lee and Danny Boyle could be compared to how eclectic his mix of genre's were including Westerns such as Rio Bravo, Gangster films in Scarface and comedies in Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. Even Only Angels Have Wings can't be easily pigeon-holed into a genre and instead seems to successfully move between drama, romance, comedy - and ultimately adventure shown through the majestic, free-falling planes that drop and curve in the sky.

The airplanes are front-and-centre for many audiences - myself included. Kim Newman writes how the sequences are "remarkable, exciting, stunt-heavy flying sequences" but it is the drama and tension in the airport that dominates - and it does through playful banter, enjoyable sing-a-longs and heartfelt dialogue. Geoff Carter is a man that cannot be tamed and Bonnie soon realises that her love for him needs to tolerate his "need for speed".

Only Angels Haves Wings is all about balance - balancing love and loss; balancing stasis and change; balancing stoicism and grief. It's clear from the start that is is Bonnie who balances Geoff - and Rita Hayworth is the unforgettable, sultry one that got away. Lucky for us, this was only the start of her career...

The next screening of Only Angels Have Wings is on June 14th 2013 at BFI Southbank - click here to buy tickets!

This was written/published for Flickering Myth on 11th June 2013

Monday, 10 June 2013

100W: The Great Gatsby

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 Great Gatsby (Dir. Baz Luhrmann/2013)

The Great Gatsby explodes onto the screen like popcorn – flavours of fashionable 1920’s fused with Jay-Z hip-hop deliver an innovative and glossy adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story. Nick Carraway (Maguire) guides us through the world of Gatsby (DiCaprio) while his friends Tom (Edgerton) and Daisy (Mulligan) show the ugly side of affluence. The enormous scale director Baz Luhrmann works upon can only be commended, but it is narrator Tobey Maguire who crumbles under the lavish world created. But don’t be disheartened as DiCaprio delivers an intelligent performance that steals the show ensuring only fond memories of Gatsby remain.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Aguirre, Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)

"The earth I pass will see me and tremble. But whoever follows me and the river, will win untold riches. But whoever deserts..."


Werner Herzog in 2013 is something very different to Werner Herzog in 1972. Herzog in 2013 is the villain in Jack Reacher; director of surrealist-remake Bad Lieutenant; director of Grizzly Man. His unique, accented voice-over making him a figure of ridicule whilst a memoirs book by film critic Mark Kermode recounts a story whereby Herzog was shot during an interview and casually laughed it off - as Kermode feared for his life. In the early 1970's, Herzog was amongst the very-best of the New German Cinema movement, alongside Wim Wenders and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. But unlike Fassbinder and Wenders, Herzog created cinema that was "set neither in Germany, nor in the present, nor did it explore the emergent themes of gender politics or national identity" (The Story of Film, Mark Cousins). Herzog, and his contemporaries, were crucial in reviving German filmmaking for the first time artistically since the 1920s. Aguirre, Wrath of God is merely one example of these ground-breaking films ...

Spaniards speaking German

Spanish conquistadors, in 1560, try to find El Dorado. Led by Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés), we see  hundreds of men (and what appears to be two women), clad in half-armour and carrying canons, across dense forest and within deep valleys. The epic-scale of the lush landscapes and rocky cliff-faces is breathtaking - something complemented in this re-release by the BFI. The difficulty in travelling through the landscape takes its toll and Pizarro decides to send a smaller group ahead on rafts - in the hope of finding El Dorado "for God" (for Gold...). But Pizarro also decides to place the disliked Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as second-in-command of the expedition despite the advice of others.

The film continues as Aguirre dominates the group and slowly, but surely, they seem to get lost further into the wilderness. The strange dynamic between the conquistadors and their Indian slaves is unsettling and the arrows that seem to kill those on the raft appear from nowhere - almost as if the surrounding forest is attacking the uninvited guests.

Kinski and Guns...

The core of the story is the madness that envelopes Aguirre and destroys those on the expedition. The acclaim Aguirre, Wrath of God received was partly through this metaphorical talking point that emerged, but less than five-years later, it became a crucial visual and thematic reference point for Francis Ford Coppola and his outstanding Apocalypse Now.

Famously, on set, Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog argued to a point whereby Herzog pulled a gun on Kinski to force him to finish the film. Mark Cousins considers this an example of how the "physical feat and dangers of the production process became absorbed into the emotions that appeared on screen". In that regard, Aguirre, Wrath of God is an example of capturing the madness within the story - and within the primitive environment they were exposed to. Considering Herzog and Kinski continued to work together in the future - notably in Fitzcarraldo - it is an integral moment in both careers that is captured on screen.


Geoff Andrew confidently describes Aguirre, Wrath of God as a "masterpiece ... [combining] a flair for the epic with moments of incisive miniaturist observation". His overwhelming praise for the film is difficult to decifer as a viewer in 2013 - and after Apocalypse Now, there is a preference between the two whereby the latter will surely overshadow the former. But it is worth reminding ourselves of the multiple further influences Aguirre, Wrath of God has had on others including Predator and The Blair Witch Project. In fact, any film that features the madness of man in the jungle or wilderness will owe a debt to Aguirre, Wrath of God. Then again, harking back to "Herzog 2013", his documentaries have often focused their attention on the same themes - Grizzly Man is Timothy Treadwell becoming so obsessed with nature that it becomes the death of him; Into the Abyss tackles prisoners on Death Row and such an animalistic world-view clearly runs parrallel to the jungle, as humans are bound to change in such a strange, contained environment. My own assumption that Herzog has changed dramatically may not be true at all - because the fight between man and nature - and the madness created by nature - continues to be shown in his latest films, indeed, throughout his entire career.