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“I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.”

In this very touching film featuring one of the all-time greatest actors, James Stewart, is a tale of friendship, care and tolerance. In Harvey, Stewart portrays the eccentric Elwood P. Dowd whose best friend is an invisible six foot tall white rabbit named Harvey. His sister Mae (Josephine Hull) has clearly had enough and decides to commit him to an institute. However, a comedy of errors begins to insure because of Elwood’s charming personality!

James Stewart without a doubt offers a superb performance as a very unusual yet extremely loveable gent. This gent is of course very different from most average American men as said before but is always capable of providing a warm face round town who always insists on new faces to come round his for a meal or a drink and constantly offers them his card and so on. Elwood’s mannerisms around Harvey such as his arm out in front out the public and the chatter in the tavern are beyond brilliant that it felt like I could see Harvey sharing a smooth glass of Martini with his fond drinking pal. Josephine Hull in turn creates a highly beautiful performance as Mae, implying obvious desperation for pride and superiority. Having been in the original Broadway production of Harvey, Hull shows strong determination in her role as an embarrassed yet concerned and loving sibling who really just wants Elwood to move on from his quirky lifestyle of drinking and constant chatter with an invisible rabbit.

The script written by Mary Chase, who based the film on her Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name offers a hilarious satire of keeping up appearances along with the notion of respect towards others which I found to be intriguing. The most important thing I could say about the film is that its very straightforward. It isn’t at all complicated, jumbled or something to really focus on for deeper meaning. It’s quite a simple film which was made to be enjoyed by all, the humour throughout really worked for me and personally found it touching and all the more enjoyable for its message. Although some can be put off by the idea of watching a film in black and white due to it being made generations ago; to them I’d say “Watch Harvey, you won’t regret it!”.

All together, Henry Koster as director of Harvey provided me with a lovely film on the importance of imagination and love, being good towards all and acceptance! A heart-warming film with real character and very pleasing performances.

5/5

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“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Into the heart? Does it see into me? Clearly? Or darkly?”

Richard Linklater, director of the classic School of Rock, takes us on a very unusual journey of identity, paranoia and surveillance amidst the backdrop of a dystopian L.A. where the war on drugs has failed. A Scanner Darkly follows Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves), an undercover detective who tries to find out more about the rise of ‘Substance D’ via his drug addicted friends James (Robert Downey, Jr.), Ernie (Woody Harrelson) and Donna (Winona Ryder). Bob never really gets up to much, considering all his friends really do (especially James) is have long paranoiac conversations, so, when at the police station he wears a ‘scramble suit’ which constantly changes his appearance and is code named ‘Fred’. However, Bob becomes heavily addicted to Substance D which makes him unaware of who he really is as he is told to investigate into himself more…

The film is visually outstanding. Linklater has previously used the Rotoscope technique in his heavily philosophical art-house film Waking Life. In A Scanner Darkly, he takes it to a whole new level in a very artistic world. For those who don’t know, the Rotoscope technique is when live action footage is traced over and animated, giving a very unusual and interesting effect. Shane F. Kelly as the cinematographer does a very good job presenting the constant fear that addicts of Substance D go through such as a close up of Bob hallucinating that James and Ernie are giant bugs. All the cast offer very good performances, Keanu for once puts a fair amount of effort in his acting in contrast to some of his poorer performances (hint hint, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula). I personally think this is one of Robert Downey, Jr.’s best roles because he perfectly suited the eccentric style of James and reminded me in a way of his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes due to the selfishness and drug addictions in both characters.

However as much as I liked the film as a very good adaptation of Philip Kindred’s novel, I felt disappointed in that the plot was very confusing at times and in a way I felt a lot more could have developed. A Scanner Darkly as a film portrays beautifully the experiences of addicts very much like what Philip intends in the novel since it’s based on his experiences as an addict of amphetamines and dedicates it to “some people who were punished entirely too much for what they did”, in this case, his friends who suffered from various physical and psychological effects. Philip even goes as far to include himself in the list, “Phil” – a victim of permanent pancreatic damage.

On the whole, a good adaptation of a classic sci-fi story. However, prepare to be lost in a very radical and colourful world of deception as the story moves quite quickly and in a very puzzling way, so be sure to pay attention to Bob and the gang talking a lot of meaningful nonsense! An interesting film with a strong message, A Scanner Darkly is one of more stimulating Philip Kindred adaptations I’ve seen in a while but it’s ever so slightly disappointing due to a confusing plot. All in all, I still recommend watching this film because of the good performances and of course the fantastic visuals. It doesn’t beat School of Rock but it’s still a trippy adventure into the future that’s worth tuning into!

3/5

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‘A day or a lifetime’ 

One of the Coen Brothers lesser known films in contrast to such great films such as the 2007 Academy Awards Best Picture winner ‘No Country For Old Men’, cult classic ‘The Big Lebowski’ and of course the very popular and critically acclaimed ‘Fargo’ which brought them popularity compared to their other great films in the past like ‘Blood Simple’, ‘Raising Arizona’ and…’Barton Fink’! Out of all the Coen Brothers films I have seen, ‘Barton Fink’ is definitely one of their best, and as usual they bring together so many aspects of film, one minute ‘Barton Fink’ felt like a Hitchcock film, then Kubrick, then a splash of noir, then comedy and even a spark of horror! 

The film is set in 1941 and stars John Turturro as the title character, an acclaimed playwright from New York who writes about and for “the common man”. He is then hired to write scripts a film studio in Hollywood, checks in the fading Hotel Earle and begins to suffer from writer’s block as he develops a friendship with his very friendly neighbour Charlie (John Goodman). There’s so much to this film which makes it so special. The many themes emphasised throughout are repeated over and over such as the dark contrasts between Hollywood and Broadway in that Hollywood is a much more manipulative place which obsesses over creative control over the notion of creating art. The Hotel Earle as an example of justification clearly presents that Barton wants to live somewhere “less Hollywood”. The Coen brothers frequent D.O.P. Roger Deakins provides beyond beautiful cinematography who creates an atmosphere within the hotel which I found profoundly unsettling such as the camera frequently returning to close ups of Barton stressed over writing his wrestling epic to his encounters with mosquitos and of course, returns again and again to the peeling wallpaper in Barton’s room which has a texture almost like decomposition. John Turturro gives an outstanding performance as Barton who clearly suggests the desperation of creating important art, not only that, but Turturro significantly implies that Barton can’t be a slave to a place like Hollywood. Frequent collaborator of the Coens, John Goodman portrayal of the common and larger than life Charlie is also very well played, providing a character who clearly has much less than Barton but seems to be the kind of guy who loves taking interest in people and helping someone in anyway he can. An astonishing piece of cinema and deserved winner of Best Director, Best Actor and the Palme d’Or at Cannes, I highly recommend watching if you’re love the work of the Coen Brothers or a fan of various genres of film. Enigmatic, disturbing and very funny!

5/5

Image“Humbug”

Now here is an amazing film which I obsessed over on VHS as a child. Oh of course I would…it’s the merry Muppets in the joyous and hilarious re-telling of Charles Dickens’s classic tale A Christmas Carol.

Directed by Brian Henson, son of the late Muppet creator Jim Henson, the Muppets take you on a journey into 19th century London with Charles Dickens himself (otherwise known as Gonzo the Great!) telling the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) as he encounters ghosts…and lots and lots AND lots of charming, humorous and smart Muppets! The film is without a shadow of a doubt, hilarious and I guarantee will make anyone laugh out loud!

I saw this film yesterday for the first time in 10 years at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square (highly recommend a visit!) who offered a sing a long to film (they were even so kind to provide subtitles, presents to audience members AND even screened the moving song ‘When Love Is Gone’ via VHS since it was sadly cut from the theatrical version). How did I feel after it? I must admit, very euphoric! This was always a favourite film of mine as a child and really took me back to the festive season over 10 years ago! This is a film which I will recommend to anyone which is touching, very funny and will make you realise the importance of Christmas for everyone!

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“A person doesn’t change just because you find out more.”

Orson Welles moved on from his magnum opus (hint: “Rosebud”) to something completely different from any other noir I’ve ever seen. The Third Man is a stunning collaboration between the great Welles, director Carol Reed (known for the Oscar winning Oliver!), the novelist Graham Greene as the screenwriter and finally…who can’t forget Anton Karas as the writer and performer of the score, his weapon of choice being the very Austrian zither. This is a film which was way ahead of its time just like the German expressionists of the 20s, Fritz Lang is an obvious auteur with his experimental use of sound in M.

The Third Man concerns an American pulp novelist named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who arrives in Allied occupied Vienna seeking his old friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) who has offered him a job, only to discover that Lime was killed by a car whilst crossing the street a few days before. The question is…how did Lime really die? This is the question which prompts Martins to investigate into Lime’s business all while the Brits tell him to clear off back to the States and Harry’s girlfriend Anna (Alida Valli) remains suspicious of Martin’s actions. Martins soon discovers dark secrets about Lime’s line of work and his death.

Where do I start to emphasise how beautiful this film is? Well, firstly the cinematography by Robert Krasker is possibly one of the best examples of camerawork I’ve ever seen! Krasker frequently uses the Dutch angle technique, whereby the camera is tilted off to one side, offering to the audience Martin’s alienation in a foreign environment. The use of this expressionist technique really reminded of the great German horror The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the unease that it created as much as The Third Man. The performances are also outstanding and should be greatly admired, Cotten and Valli portray two foreigners struggling to survive, one with a desire to discover whilst one with desire to remain silence.

Welles doesn’t enter the film until roughly an hour in, but when he does, it’s probably one of the greatest entrances in all of cinema. I won’t go into detail (my apologises in advance!) but you just have to see it for yourself, there is perfect use of cinematography, mise-en-scene and lighting! It all works so well within that scene, I was simply amazed at how the crew captured the sense of surprise within Cotten’s fantastic performance. Welles of course offers a very sinister yet stunning performance as Lime who reveals much more than one can really handle to the true purpose of his work if you can call it that! The music by Karas is without question one of the best examples of film scoring because it’s just so simple and fits in with the setting of post-WWII Vienna, offering a jangled sense of desperation which is repeated throughout the film as the theme of Lime. A very pleasing film, The Third Man remains thrilling today as it was 64 years ago and is certainly one of the prime examples of film noir! 

5/5

 

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“There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.”

Don Jon marks the directorial/screenwriting debut of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, all I can say really is that we have a lot to look forward from this fantastic filmmaker!

The film follows the titular character played by Levitt who has a deep obsession with online pornography, so much so, he even prefers it to casual sex with local Jersey girls. He encounters a beautiful girl (Scarlet Johanson) who dreams of finding the perfect man and live like in the soppy rom-coms she adores and becomes desperate in balancing love and lust. Through meeting a night-school classmate (Julianne Moore), Jon begins to understand the real meanings of losing yourself in someone else.

What I think makes very special is its originality. It firstly deals with a controversial topic that’s so relevant in society and often featured as a serious taboo in the news and TV programs but Levitt takes it a little step further and adds a lot of wit through many of things his character cares about. Levitt repeats the same techniques in editing and cinematography in activities such as going to gym, going to confession, going to the local club which all connote Jon obsessive routine which adds simplicity and yet I still found the some of the routines hilarious such as Jon pulling a girl that his friend wanted to pull and whilst going through a serious workout, he prays the Hail Mary. Personally though, Julianne Moore stole the show, offering a sublime performance as a highly sensitive yet extremely thoughtful and caring individual who clearly shows support to Jon’s problems. A brilliant debut which is definitely one of the best films of 2013, very funny, very clever and very unique!

4/5

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“This is not a horror film.”

Immediately after watching Berberian Sound Studio, I thought “this is something special from any other psychological thriller I’ve seen”. Indeed, Peter Strickland’s second film is a beautifully made triumph and a strange tribute to giallo horror!

The film is set in the 1970s and follows British sound technician Gilderoy (Toby Jones) being sent to Italy to work on a horror film called The Equestrian Vortex which we as the audience, never see, instead, we witness the grueling tasks of Gilderoy having to create the sounds of anguish and suffering through your average shopping basket such as melons being hacked to bits, cabbages being stabbed, blending tomato juice..you get the idea I hope! From then on, things get very out of hand with Gilderoy’s shift in his line of work as he becomes lost in a world of sound.

The film is without question, astonishing. I have to agree with Peter Bradshaw that this film definitely has a Lynchian feel to it with it’s unique dream sequences and explicit fear through not only Gilderoy, but also through Veronica (Susanna Cappellaro), a voice actress constantly under pressure and treated “like a whore” by the crew, who use various unorthodox methods to create the perfect, painful, frightening scream.

The music by the electronic group Broadcast provides a gorgeous representation of anxiety, not only through linking with the giallo film as Gilderoy does his magic; but also expresses his feelings on this dramatic change in contrast to working on softer works in his native land. Along with that, Jones delivers a spellbinding performance, presenting a timid man who has the magic to create any sound, including a very intimate scene creating UFO noises with a light bulb, all through candlelight! The cinematography by Nicholas D. Knowland is beyond interesting, offering close knit shots of fear through Gilderoy and Veronica and of course, the precious items to destroy! All of this is seen whilst edited by Chris Dickens to give an almost exploitative like feeling to this very dark film. This is certainly a very unusual thriller but alluring and left me in shock and awe to it’s originality! Weird, immersive and original. Berberian Sound Studio is something else, and something else worth I would highly recommend seeing. A top class piece of madness!

5/5

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“Spirits surround us on every side… they have driven me from hearth and home, from wife and child.”

A classic which existed before Nosferatu and Metropolis, this is horror which is truly influential and very special.

Directed by Robert Wiene, the narrative of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari concerns a mysterious showman (Werner Krauss) who arrives in a small town during their annual fair. He amazes the crowd with his Somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt) who sees the future. However, Caligari has more savage plans outside of his act.

There are various reasons why this film is very unusual and distinctive for a silent film. Firstly, the expressionism is astonishing through the use of a distorted film set. The characters live in a town full of sharp angles, trees with spikey leaves and diagonal stars. For an audience back in the early 20th century, when cinema was still developing, it must have been very disturbing to have seen something like this in contrast to typical light hearted comedies and historical dramas. The title cards are even stylised, something which I didn’t really except for a very old silent film and yet it really helped add a sinister nature of despair for audiences. Many scenes are also tinted in sepia, blue and green, almost giving the film a nightmarish appearance throughout as the investigations of the murders develop even more. The cinematography by Willy Hameister is also composed interestingly, there’s frequent use of close ups of characters such as Francis (Friedrich Feher) expressing constant dread due to the series of mysterious murders which includes his best friend as a victim. The close ups are also used on Caligari who expresses an obvious sense of fierce pleasure for horror whilst Cesare doesn’t really express, he merely awakens, foreshadows death and despair and sleeps again.

Krauss gives a fantastic performance as the sinister Caligari, portraying him as mad man wanting to cause grief for the local community whilst showing unconditional care for Cesare. Veidt also portrays the dangerous Cesare beautifully as a dark, shady and submitting character controlled by Caligari’s hypnotic methods. The music of Giuseppe Becce is also composed tremendously with frequent use of crescendos and fortissimos to add more thrills and chills. This is certainly one of the best silent films I’ve seen in a while and not only is a film with creative expression, style and beauty, but arguably the first horror film and most certainly the first film with a brilliant twist ending. If you are reading this and not a fan of silent cinema…just watch this. A film which I found very frightening at times that I even jumped out of my seat at one point! Thrilling, deceitful and striking!

5/5

Image“He came home!”

Here’s the film which became a huge success for John Carpenter. Here’s the film which launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis. Here’s the film which made the slasher genre a success. Here is one of the greatest horror films ever made!

The narrative is very simple. It tells the tale of Michael Myers, who on Halloween night in 1963 at a mere age of six, murdered his older sister with a kitchen knife. Fifteen years later, he escapes from a psychiatric hospital and returns home, stalking teenager Laurie Strode (Curtis) and her friends. Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) suspects his intentions and follows him home to try prevent him from killing.

This is a very special film made with pure ambition and passion with a budget of $320,000 and ended up grossing $70 million worldwide. This is because of it’s originality and style and ended being copied in classics such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, satirised in the Scream series and spoofed in the disastrous Scary Movie franchise. The chilling yet beautiful ‘Halloween Theme’, composed perfectly by Carpenter, sets the eerie mood at the beginning with a glowing jack-o-lantern which leads the audience to share Michael’s perspective when he stalks and kills his sister.

Halloween also introduced the cliqué of the morality play often used in slasher horror films. This means any teenager who is sexually active, smokes or who confidently states the AMAZING *sarcasm intended* “I’ll be right back” is at risk of meeting a very tall disturbing looking geezer wearing a William Shatner mask who breathes very very very heavily!

The cinematography by Dean Cundey is interestingly composed, creating fantastic use of the steadicam to make the camera lens appear as the stalker of the suburbs. The lack of gore is also very effective and instead, Carpenter uses cinematography, lighting and sound to create a frightening atmosphere rather than blood and guts everywhere.

The cast all deliver very naturalistic and charismatic performances. Donald Pleasence brings fear, control and dignity to his role. His character is someone who once cared for Michael but now lacks the ambition because he knows there is no way of getting through to a person who is “purely and simply evil”. Jamie Lee Curtis delivers a fantastic debut as an innocent teenager who tries to escape Michael’s deadly rampage whilst delivering it in a very realistic manner. No wonder why she earned her title and followed her mother’s (Janet Leigh from the classic Psycho) footsteps as a “Scream Queen”

Still frightening as it was 35 years ago, Halloween is a master of suspense, terror and fear in a peaceful appearing yet haunting setting. Simple, intimate and special. This was the film which single-handedly started and helped shape a new genre of horror! Now watch it on Halloween night, I dare you!

5/5

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“I don’t know if there is anything wrong because I don’t know how other people are.”

Paul Thomas Anderson has been called one of the greatest and unique filmmakers of his generation, especially after the releases of highly acclaimed Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Anderson stated after Magnolia’s release that he’d like to work with Adam Sandler in a film lasting only 90 minutes. Sandler is not exactly well loved by critics (especially by the late Roger Ebert) but boy oh boy! Both Sandler and Anderson have created a beautifully crafted piece of cinema portraying the realistic nature of finding love.

Sander portrays in the narrative Barry, a lonely small time business man who is constantly emotionally abused by his seven over-bearing sisters. Because of this, he goes through periods of enormous rage and has problems interacting with others. However, things appear more positive when Lena (Emily Watson) is introduced in his life. From there, Barry tries to find ultimate happiness through Lena and wants to change his life around for the better.

PTA’s script is fantastically written portraying the very unique relationship between Barry and Lena. What I think makes this film so much more special is how it deliberately avoids typical conventions of rom-coms and instead implies a very believable relationship because of the awkwardness of the developing romance. Besides that, the symbolism throughout the film is incredible and very clever such as colour connoting Barry’s psychological battle. Blue is frequently seen as the suit Barry wears, his workplace and his home. Red is used to serve as the colour to Barry’s ultimate happiness such as Lena wearing red on their first date. White is used to contrast red since Barry travels and works in white environments which are isolated such as his office.

The cinematography by Robert Elswit is outstanding. The use of lengthy long shots and close ups reinforce Barry’s loneliness and isolation to the outside world. My favourite shot from the film has to be the opening, I was amazed with how it instantly reflected on Barry’s emotional and physical state since he is so far away. Not only that, symbolism is used once again with Barry’s phone representing his connection to the outside world. The use of lens flares is also very effective (unlike J.J. Abrams’ overuse of it in Star Trek!) because it presents the genuine emotions Barry and Lena feel.

The score by Jon Brion is composed stunningly reflecting the relationship using frequent use of strings, accordions and the classic harmonium! What makes it distinct is that it sounds very much what you would expect from a rom-com score: lovely melody, no dissonance, perfect harmony, major key. These conventions all manage to fit in to this very authentic connection between Barry and Lena.

Besides all these unique features of cinema, it is also one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely up there with Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Adam McKay’s Anchorman despite not having any hyperbolic uses of comedy. Instead, it feels like a very true representation of isolation whilst having realistic humour. The funniest scenes had to be between Sandler and Philip Seymour Hoffman who also portrays a business man with a massive temper who delivers in my mind the best ‘shut up’ line ever and the notorious ‘bathroom’ scene!

A joyful, dramatic and hilarious film. Punch-Drunk Love proves Sandler doesn’t always need to play the slapstick, over-the-top, goof-ball and PTA can write and direct a very interesting take on the comedy genre. This is a film with real heart and soul. Highly recommended!

5/5