Archives for posts with tag: critical

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‘There is no record of an orca doing any harm to a human in the wild.’

A compelling documentary which pushes the boundaries of captivity through astonishing filmmaking. Much like previous documentaries such as ‘The Impostor’, ‘Blackfish’ is constructed very much like a psychological thriller which had me at the edge of my seat whilst also mesmerised at how stunning the Orca truly is. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite captures Orcas in their purest form in the ocean, connoting how they aren’t just average mammals but very intelligent and beautiful who shouldn’t be captured for the sake of entertainment at places such as SeaWorld.

Experts are shown through the talking head interview style presenting that although the Orca is a magnificent creature in the wild, whilst in captivity the Orca is sadly a threat to the trainers of SeaWorld. Throughout the film, I was very disturbed by what was shown to me such as the number of dangerous incidents involving Orcas being emphasised. Archive footage is shown over the years at SeaWorld showing what an Orca is capable of doing such as dragging a trainer to the bottom of the tank in an attempt to drown them. I was once again shocked at how this can happen even though SeaWorld is presented as a company which doesn’t seem bothered at the problem which frustrated me. Former trainers at SeaWorld try and deduce why this would happen and it’s obvious that the Orcas are clearly frustrated with the very enclosing spaces they now have to live in. It seems that Cowperthwaite makes it feel very much like a prison with no hope of escape. 

SeaWorld isn’t exactly given a positive presentation in this film. I was appalled at the archive footage which presents some of the disrespectful things they state such as blaming trainers for their own deaths/injuries instead of the Orcas who are actually responsible. There were also ridiculous inaccuracies that were said by some of the workers who state to the general public that orcas can live up to 35 years when actually, the experts show they can live up to 100 years old. The film is very well directed and edited by Cowperthwaite and Eli Despres respectively that it really puts you in the mindset of an Orca, asking is it worth exploiting their amazing character for mere entertainment? The answer is clearly no as this results in crushing their positives spirits into something deadly and very upsetting. The music by Jeff Beal I also felt fitted in well, with frequent harmonies presenting both the good and bad sides of the Orca and how people felt witnessing this.

It isn’t just the trainers who are presented to be at risk of injury or death from an Orca but even the Orcas themselves. There are very unsettling scenes presenting some Orcas attacking others brutally out of, once again, frustration and suffering is implied from both Orcas involved which made me feel angered at SeaWorld yet again. The trainers interviewed for the film I felt had interesting stories to tell, they do indeed feel angered by SeaWorld but have fond memories with killer whales such as Tilikum, a 12,000 pound Orca who was involved in the deaths of two trainers. I was moved by what they had to say whilst the archive footage presents them at work bonding with the Orcas that it felt like Cowperthwaite was implying a deep kindred spirit.

I was shocked but very moved by ‘Blackfish’. It shocks me that this truth presented something that actually happened and impacted a lot of people. For me, this is a very important film about our morality and if capturing animals is an acceptable thing to do in this day and age. ‘Blackfish’ clearly states no and has profound evidence from footage, trainers and Orca experts that it really tries to persuade that we have to help killer whales be set free. I certainly agree, how can’t you after being moved by such amazing creatures? There’s so much charm to them and they deserve compassion, love and most importantly, the freedom to roam the ocean without suffering and without loss.

5/5

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“Our daughter’s been abducted by one of these beige lunatics!”

Wes Anderson, known for his distinctive narratives featuring eccentric characters and a particular emphasis on colour has once again left me spellbound with a very unusual film about young love. Wes, like in most of his other well acclaimed films, includes a fantastic ensemble cast and newcomers combined to create something pretty and different from any other film you’d see in a multiplex.

The narrative is set in the 60s on a small communal island and concerns two children who fall in love. One is a reliable but isolated Scout named Sam (Jared Gilman), the other is a troubled schoolgirl named Suzy (Kara Hayward). The two decide to leave their problems behind and run away together. However, a search party is formed which includes Kara’s concerned parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), a police officer (Bruce Willis) and Sam’s Scout Master (Edward Norton) which results in a desperate and hilarious adventure!

The film is without question, highly original and very funny. I particularly loved the humour in this film because personally, I feel anyone would enjoy this film due to the fact it’s not at all pretentious, it’s rather very quirky and doesn’t need to have severe amounts of crudeness, swearing and offensive taboos. The humour is all in the fantastic script written by the great Mr. Anderson himself and Roman Coppola and I felt it really stood out from most typical comedy films which have been pulverised by critics across the globe (Grown Ups 2 anyone?).

The cast all deliver fantastic performances. Moonrise Kingdom proves it really doesn’t matter how small some of the performances are, such as Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman portraying a Scout Commander and Scout Master respectively, it still provides a warmth and of course lots of continuous laughs. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward pull off brilliant performances considering this was their screen debut and both present a lovely and touching take on the development of a loving relationship. The ensemble in turn provide a huge backing of eccentricity. I love how Wes is able to get so many respected actors with brilliant careers and is able to make them portray characters that are so different from what they would usually portray, such as Bruce Willis, surprisingly offering an impressive performance in contrast to some of the more disastrous films he has appeared in (The Expendables series, A Good Day to *Cry* Hard…Why Bruce, why!?). Bill Murray and Frances McDormand also offer brilliant performances who engage in their roles so well as parents frantic for answers and a perfect plan of finding their daughter who they’re concerned with dearly. Edward Norton I believe gave the best performance overall as a shy but adventurous Master of Scouting, implying obvious desperation in finding and helping Sam with his isolation whilst trying to control the civil search party.

Wes Anderson overall offers a very sweet film with such stunning use of colour that the setting stood out and felt like a beautiful landscape painting made for the Louvre! Although it’s very different and silly for all the right reasons, Moonrise Kingdom is an eccentric and outstanding piece of filmmaking which is so enjoyable, original and downright funny.

5/5

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“What is there to see?”

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, known for his realistic controversial films and association with the Dogme 95 movement collaborates with Icelandic electronica singer-songwriter Björk to present something I’ve been incredibly moved by. I can’t get over how Trier as the director and screenwriter takes the musical genre and removes a lot of what you’d typically expect. For me, it was beyond beautiful and beyond brilliant. It’s real art in the deepest of forms.

Trier as an auteur is known for his different trilogies of films and Dancer in the Dark is no exception. As the final film of the “Golden Heart trilogy”, it’s set in rural America in the early sixties and focuses on Selma (Björk), a Czech immigrant in poverty who works in a blue collar factory with her friend Kathy (Catherine Deneuve). To escape her struggles, Selma imagines her life as an all singing all dancing Hollywood musical. However, Selma is going blind and becomes desperate in saving money for an operation for her son in suffering the same fate, all whilst tragedy insures and Selma’s life begins to slip more and more out of control.

Dancer in the Dark from the beginning offers so much, it appears to be very optimistic and pretty. The overture introduces various colourful images flowing against each other. I may be ghastly wrong, but personally, I felt the images were very dream like and reflected the dreams of Selma as an isolated person desperate for escape. The cinematography, lighting and sound like a lot of films from the Dogme 95 era is very natural. It’s shot in a similar way to documentary and made me feel like a contributor rather than a viewer. Robby Müller as cinematographer and Trier frequently use hand held cameras which constantly zoom and pan into the drama that Selma and the community face in their everyday lives. The natural appearance along with the use of only diegetic music through Selma watching musicals at the cinema (or more touchingly, Kathy dancing her two fingers along Selma’s palm to convey the beauty shown on the big screen) is heavily contrasted to when Selma begins to dream. These dreams are so different both visually and musical and is first introduced in the factory which conflicts its gritty and realistic atmosphere as the workers suddenly move to the beats.

As a fan of Björk’s music, the fantasies clearly sounded like what I’d expected, all the songs begin with loops from reality such as factory machines, trains and steps. Visually the dreams are very beautiful because of their unrealistic nature, the cinematography features multiple cameras which employ no motion whatsoever and the movement of the music and narrative is now provided by the editing. Although the music is very strange, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised by it. The soundtrack feels misplacing in a way to what you see visually due to the setting but it works so well in terms of lyricism and tone. Timbre wise, besides sampling and other electronic sounds, it features the classic sounds of orchestra but rejects traditional structure of musical numbers and instead Björk asks the audience to really listen to the sonic experimentation and arranging. The colour is also astonishing, instead of looking bleak and grey; the colour in Selma’s dreams is so much more fuller and vibrant that it made me feel like being there like witnessing a beautiful and peaceful world.

Björk offers a marvellous and extremely strong performance. She conveys a powerful sense of emotion despite not being a trained actress, her portrayal clearly presents someone whose only joy in life besides her son is American musicals. However, although American musicals have provided with a sense of optimism; America in reality has offered her nothing in return, instead she lives a life of poverty and despair further emphasising her struggle as a strong willed single mother. Many of the songs offer so much beauty and meaning to Selma’s character such as “I’ve Seen It All”, in which Selma persuades her would-be admirer Jeff (Peter Stormare) that she really doesn’t care about going blind and there’s much more to life than seeing great wonders. The supporting cast in turn offer fantastic performances. Veteran French actress Catherine Deneuve delivers a solid supporting role whilst David Morse and Cara Seymour portraying Selma’s neighbours provide another sense of desperation as Bill (Morse) is angered at his wife’s (Seymour) materialism and constant spending.

All and all, Lars Von Trier offers a stunning film which is so different from most musicals I’ve seen. I will warn it is of course very unusual take of the musical but I highly recommend it. Deserved winner of the Palme d’Or and Best Actress at Cannes (despite receiving a lot of criticism), Dancer in the Dark is a challenging, touching and innovative film which is unlike any other film you will see. Highly recommended!

5/5

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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 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

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