Monthly Archives: April 2013

Film Review: The Imposter

The ImposterThink of the biggest lie you’ve ever told. Where did it sit on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most elaborate)? OK, now double that score. Then triple it. Then multiply it by the number of times Sean Bean has died on screen. That’s where The Imposter would fit on that scale.

Sometimes a story comes along that is so bizarre and so unbelievable that it has to be true, and this is certainly one of those times. Through a series of interviews and reconstruction we are told the story of how Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin managed to convince a Texas family he was their son Nicholas who had been missing for three years. That’s not even the craziest part. He managed to do so despite having different colour hair and eyes and a French accent.

Just take a second to think about that. If someone had come up with that idea for a feature film, it would be dismissed as ridiculous; there’s no way anyone would believe that. Yet it happened. For real. He hoodwinked the authorities and Nicholas’ family, spinning lies about being kidnapped and abused that are so absurd you almost forgive everyone for thinking non-one would be crazy enough to make it all up.

Throughout the film, you constantly question whether any of this can really be true and are appalled that anyone would believe any of it. However, at the same time you’re almost impressed by Bourdin’s audacity to even attempt such a lie and applaud his commitment to pulling it off. His interviews are astounding and his calmness and lack of remorse somewhat chilling. This is juxtaposed with the equally unbelievable instant acceptance of the story by Nicholas’ family.

You question everything, from all sides. Why would someone do this? How did the authorities not pick it up? Did Nicholas’ parents really believe this was their son or did they just want him back so much that they went along with it? Just when you think you might be starting to get your head around it, you’re then thrown a complete curveball which makes you re-question pretty much everything you’ve already questioned. It is a truly compelling story but one that does have some pretty big holes. Obviously, it can’t explain everything, but even with a story so unbelievable there are some things that just don’t stack up, which can be a little frustrating.

It’s also interesting that much of the story is told from Bourdin’s point of view. Can his account really be trusted or is he manipulating us from the start just like he has done to everybody else? This review is full of questions, but that’s exactly the kind of response The Imposter elicits. You’re left with far more questions than answers, which may annoy some, but ensures that the story will certainly stay with you for quite some time.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Oblivion

oblivion

The year is 2077 and Earth has been attacked by aliens known as Scavs who have blown up the Moon. In retaliation, world leaders decided to release nuclear weapons, defeating the Scavs but effectively destroying much of the planet. Humans have since left for a giant space station known as the Tet and the Saturn moon of Titan, although Technicians remain to oversee mining of the Earth’s remaining resources. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one such Technician, living with his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). However, when Jack is captured by the Scavs, everything he thought he knew is turned upside down.

The scale of Oblivion is vast, and despite an apocalyptic setting, much of the film doesn’t feel beyond the realms of possibility. The scenes based on Earth, which is most of the film, feel real enough to buy into the story, creating a setting that feels alien but at the same time familiar. This is helped by the film’s unbelievable visual effects. There are few individual instances that stand out but the whole minimalist aesthetic is just impeccably realised.

Oblivion is most certainly not short of ambition, but ambition isn’t enough; it needs to be backed up with substance, which is perhaps it’s biggest failing. A handful of scenes have no importance whatsoever (see scene in the swimming pool for an example) and the motivations of the characters are seemingly non-existent. The film’s set pieces, big reveals and final climax feel just a little hollow and don’t hit home as perhaps they should.

The characters and their relationships are also paper-thin, particularly Olga Kurylenko’s Julia, a survivor from a crashed spaceship somehow linked to Jack’s past. Andrea Riseborough does an admirable job with what she’s given, whilst Cruise, well, he just plays Tom Cruise. Morgan Freeman’s role here is also entertaining enough but his very limited screen time gives little room to work in. It could be argued that there’s a narrative reason these characters and relationships don’t feel fully developed, but it only really succeeds at keeping you at arm’s length rather than pulling you in.

Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) has stated that Oblivion pays homage to the science fiction films of the 1970s, but it’s evident that inspiration has come from films spanning more than just the one decade. You don’t have to look too closely to see nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Star Wars, and various others. Some are so blatantly referenced that it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between homage and a simple dearth of originality. However, that’s not to say Oblivion doesn’t have at least some identity of its own. Its setting feels unique enough to work well, even if some of the aspects within it do not.

Oblivion feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity; there was the potential here to create something dark and mysterious rather than something that feels slightly ‘Disneyfied’. However, it’s a little unfair to judge it on what it could have been rather than what it is, which is a solid sci-fi film that doesn’t have anything that truly spoils it, but equally nothing that truly makes it stand out. It could easily have been a great, memorable sci-fi adventure. Conversely, it could just as easily have been just a generic vehicle for Cruise. As it stands, Oblivion sits somewhere in between.

3 pigeons

3/5 pigeons

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What is… the 180° rule?

The 180° rule is a principle of film making that allows the viewer to better understand spatial relationships between characters and their surroundings. Obviously, there are very few proper ‘rules’ in film making, and as such the 180° rule is more of a basic guideline.

Here’s a (hopefully) simple explanation: A line (imaginary, of course) connects characters, and by keeping the camera on one side of that line throughout the scene, the viewer will better understand the characters’ spatial relationships, even if they don’t always appear on screen or we don’t see a wide shot of the scene. It is probably most helpful during conversations between two characters; it will keep one person talking from what appears the left side of the room and the other from the right.

If this rule is not adhered to and the camera doesn’t stay on one side of the line, it is known as jumping or crossing the line. Using the conversation example again, jumping the line would result in both characters appearing to be talking from the same side rather than looking at each other. Here’s a delightful little diagram to illustrate the idea…

Screen-Shot-2012-08-28-at-11.29.00-PM

The 180° rule is essential for a style of editing called continuity editing, making a smooth series of events from what is essentially a collection of separate shots. However, it is not uncommon for directors to jump the line, and there are various reasons why they might do this. They might jump the line to create a sense of disorientation and confusion in the audience, perhaps in a dream sequence or to show someone going insane. It could also simply be a purposeful disregard for standard cinematic practice, such as during Jean-Luc Godard’s French New Wave classic À bout de souffle.

Another possible use is to show an integral link between two characters, suggesting that as they appear to be talking to and from both sides of a room, that they are similar or the same. This would support the jumping the line in the bathroom scene in The Shining with Jack Torrence and Delbert Grady, and also during Batman’s interrogation of The Joker in The Dark Knight. However, one of the most obvious examples is during The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where Gollum shows his dual personality by talking to ‘himself’. This example is essentially done by jumping the line, giving the impression that there are actually two Gollums. Watch the video below for a little reminder…

Of course, a director may have myriad reasons for jumping the line, and it is only really a ‘rule’ in certain circumstances. It helps to create the shot reverses shot of a conversation but it’s probably not necessary in situations such as people sitting in a car as it’s abundantly clear the spatial relationships between the characters and their surroundings.

For more entries in the ‘What is…?’ series, click here and (hopefully) learn a little bit about deep focus, chiaroscuro, German Expressionism, and more.

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LAMMYS 2013 – Peddling My Wares

I’m very pleased to announce that I have been nominated for 3 LAMMY awards – Best New Lamb, Best Reviewer and Best Rating System. I had the potential of being nominated for a few others but there were so many amazing blogs in the mix that it’s not disheartening in the slightest to have only got the 3 nominations.

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I would like to say a huge thank you to anyone who has voted for me thus far – Mark from Marked Movies, Keith from Keith & The Movies, and Ruth from Flixchatter all threw my name in the hat at the initial submission stage, so a massive thank you to them. If I have missed you out here, I apologise and I of course extend my thanks to you too. Also, a big thank you to Joel and David who have worked so hard to make the LAMMYS possible. So here’s a little blurb about why you should vote for me in the aforementioned categories…

Best New Lamb

The blog has actually been active now for over 12 months but this is my first year of taking part in the LAMMYS. It was a somewhat slow start and took me a while to build up a readership (something I partly blame on my ambiguous blog title), but I now feel a proper part of the movie blogging community. I try to pitch in with comments and ‘likes’ when I can, as well as taking part in blogathons and offering guest reviews. As with all categories, there are some truly brilliant blogs in the mix here and it’s an honour to be nominated alongside them.

Artist’s impression of my potential winning speech

Best Reviewer

Most of the posts on here are reviews. I mix it up occasionally with features and whatnot, but it is mainly reviews. I like to think I’ve found a good style of writing and hope that I offer both the positive and negative aspects of a film. I try not to be totally subjective and do try to recognise whether the film would appeal to other people rather than just my own tastes. I try to review as wide a variety of films as possible from new releases to classic films and everything in between. Again, I’m in very esteemed company with this one, but it’d be nothing short of amazing if you gave me a vote.

Best Rating System

The big one. I’m actually quite surprised I’m nominated in this one to be honest, must have been rather slim pickings. I just use pigeons instead of stars, nothing much more to it than that to be honest. Still, if you want to vote for me, I’m not going to stop you! Didn’t really do a good job of selling this one, did I? Still, my pigeons are happy 🙂

5 pigeons

So there we go, that’s where we’re at. You can place your votes here, although you do have to be a member of the LAMB to vote. Whether I end up winning or not, it really is amazing to be nominated. However, I am practising my gracious loser face and modelling it on the below…

UiGBL

Thanks,

Chris

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Film Review: Room 237

Room 237Since the birth of cinema all those years ago, there are few films that have captured people’s imagination quite like The Shining. There are some who think Stanley Kubrick butchered Stephen King’s original text (including, famously, King himself), whilst there are many who believe it is one of the deepest, most meticulously put together films of all time.

Room 237 is a series of theories on the The Shining’s themes and messages from some who very much believe the latter.

Now, you’re enjoyment of Room 237 is going to hinge on a couple of important factors. The first is whether or not you’ve seen The Shining. For those who somehow haven’t seen it yet, then there’s probably not going to be much here to like. The second factor is how you feel about modern film criticism. If someone analysing films’ smallest and seemingly inconsequential details irks you then, again, this probably isn’t wise viewing.

Here we have five film theorists picking The Shining apart in excruciating detail, their interpretations carrying varying levels of plausibility. There are suggestions that the film is really about the genocide of the native Americans, whilst another theory is that this was Kubrick’s Holocaust film. Whilst these seem reasonable given the evidence presented, other theories carry less weight. That The Shining was Kubrick’s admission that he helped fake the Apollo 11 moon landings, whilst still interesting, is stretching things ever so slightly.

Kubrick is famous for the attention to detail he lavished upon his pictures and there’s a very good chance that some of what’s being offered here was indeed the filmmaker’s intentions. However, assertions that an office paper tray has been purposely placed to create a phallus when Overlook manager Ullman stands next to it is laughable at best. According to one of the theorists, whether Kubrick intended these messages is besides the point; what matters is that they’re there. How anyone can judge what Kubrick has unconsciously put into his films is bizarre and a even a little arrogant.

In terms of how the documentary has been created, Room 237 is a little amateurish. We are never see anything of the five theorists; they are simply faceless voices, which does diminish their claims somewhat. As you’d expect, we see a series of scenes from The Shining to help explain the various claims, but we also get a number of scenes from other Kubrick films, as well as several other unrelated films, that actually make everything a little confusing. A random scene from Spartacus or A Clockwork Orange adds nothing to what’s being shown.

Whilst much of what’s being said can be disputed or flat out denied, what cannot be refuted is the lasting impact of The Shining. Above anything else, what Room 237 makes blindingly obvious is that this is a film that enraptured film critics and fans around the world and continues to do so. Maybe a paper tray does resemble a huge penis (it doesn’t) or perhaps Kubrick’s face can be seen in the clouds during the title sequence (it can’t), but what’s not up for debate is the passion some have for The Shining and that its impact doesn’t look like diminishing any time soon.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Rust and Bone

Rust and BoneAlain (Matthias Schoenaerts) is put in charge of his young son and takes a job as a nightclub bouncer to earn a wage. When he helps killer whale trainer Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) home after a fight, the two part ways, but after she is the victim of a horrific accident that severs both her legs, she leans on him for support and the two strike up a bond.

The story of Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os in its mother tongue) is so typically French: unusual, quirky, heart warming, but also often harsh and brutal. It strikes a nice balance between being character and narrative driven, which really helps you become invested in the characters and what they become. The film splits its time between Alain and Stéphanie, both of whom have their obvious issues, but more of the focus falls on Alain, which is unfortunate as his story is the least interesting of the two and some may find him rather difficult to relate to based on some of his actions.

One of the standout features of Rust and Bone is its cinematography; virtually every shot is simply stunning. Whether capturing Stéphanie swimming for the first time since her accident or Alain’s gritty world of underground boxing, Jacques Audiard’s direction and Stéphane Fontaine’s cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking.

One of the few contentious issues with the film is its ending. It is too easy a conclusion that focuses far too much on the destination for these characters rather than the journey and, as such, may not feel fully satisfying. Having said that, Rust and Bone is a real life-affirming film about overcoming whatever demons you may have and is one of 2012’s real gems.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Trance

TranceWhen Danny Boyle was announced as the creative director for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games, there was a fair amount of WTF-ing, but he managed to turn something no-one really cares about into something really quite impressive. Of course to us film fans, Danny Boyle is pretty well known but this brought the diminutive Mancunian attention on a truly global scale, even more so than his 2009 Oscar win for Slumdog Millionaire. And what better advert for his first film since the Olympics, Trance?

Simon (James McAvoy) is an art auctioneer who gets involved with a Franck (Vincent Cassel), a criminal who has agreed to wipe his gambling debts in exchange for helping to steal a hugely valuable painting. However, when Simon gets hit on the head and can’t remember the location of the painting, he seeks the help of hypnotist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help him remember.

Trance does an excellent job of keeping you hooked throughout. It’s pretty perfectly paced and is neither a minute too long nor too short. However, it’s a film that had very little lasting impact for me. I was entertained for the 100 odd minutes the film was on, but almost as soon as the credits rolled, I felt somewhat indifferent to the whole thing. It plays out like a pretty standard heist flick for part of the film but when Elizabeth gets thrown into the mix, it becomes much more cerebral with nods to films such as Inception without ever displaying the style or the substance of Christopher Nolan’s film.

It ticks along at a fair old pace, which constantly keeps you glued to the screen but, much like Soderbergh’s Side Effects, when it comes to twists, turns and double bluffs, there are just too many in too short a time and the whole thing starts to feel a little brain bending. This is no doubt the point, but it doesn’t really give you the opportunity to fully make sense of things before the end of the film.

One area where Trance does excel is in its aesthetics. It looks superb, which is something we’ve come to expect from Boyle’s films. Each one of his films has a distinct visual style and Trance is no exception. From dark and grimey underground settings to spectacularly lit nighttime vistas, Trance is visually very impressive, but it does feel like Boyle is papering over the cracks a little. For example, his constant use of canted camera angles to give the film a dream-like quality is less than subtle and becomes a little distracting.

All of the actors do a decent enough job, but none are particularly exemplary. James McAvoy is fine and does nothing wrong, whilst Vincent Cassel could be replaced with just about any other actor; his talents simply aren’t put to the test here. Rosario Dawson probably comes out of this with the most credit, but the script still doesn’t really allow her to stretch herself as perhaps it could.

Trance is by no means a bad film. It’s fun and frenetic, but it’s also largely forgettable, which is not a criticism often attached to Boyle’s films. It’s a film that definitely deserves a place in the director’s filmography but, unfortunately, doesn’t come close to troubling those at the top.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Killer Joe

Killer Joe

William Friedkin has had an odd career thus far. He directed acclaimed classics such as The Exorcist and The French Connection, picking up an Academy Award for latter, which would have led many to assume he would continue knocking out major pictures such as these. However, have a quick glance over his filmography since then and it’s littered with rather underwhelming films that you’d do well to even recall the name of. Killer Joe is Friedkin’s first release since 2006’s Bug and is probably his most commercial film in over a decade.

Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a down-‘n’-out drug dealer who owes a lot of money. With time running out to repay he concocts a scheme to have his mother killed and collect on the life insurance. Enter Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a corrupt police officer who moonlights as a killer for hire, whom Chris enlists to help off his dear ol’ ma. However, when Joe takes a liking to Chris’s younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple), the whole situation becomes an even more twisted nightmare.

The tone for Killer Joe set is from the off as Chris’s step-mother Sharla (Gina Gershon) opens the door to their trailer with absolutely nothing on her bottom half, her excuse being “I didn’t know it was going to be you”. From that point on, the film doesn’t pull any punches and is drenched in the kind of depravity and filth that would normally have many turning off. Instead, there’s something fascinating about this family and their warped world that challenges you to keep watching more than it invites you to turn away.

Killer Joe

It really isn’t an easy watch by any means and there are instances that make your skin crawl. Joe’s lust for the clearly mentally inept and indeterminably aged Dottie is hugely creepy, whilst the infamous fried chicken scene is nothing short of fucked up. It really does need to be seen to be believed. In fact, this is the only scene where Killer Joe actually feels maybe a little too gratuitous for the sake of gratuity, although its dark (dark as in black as the night) humour just about saves it from crossing that line. And it’s this humour that is the film’s most important element. Without it, it would be too dark, too twisted to really work, but instead it wears its sadism with a wry smile that lightens the mood just enough.

Killer Joe is a somewhat claustrophobic film and, as such, it’s important that performances are strong, and they generally are. Emile Hirsch is decent without ever being spectacular, whilst both Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon are entertaining as Chris deadbeat father and step mother respectively. Juno Temple is brilliantly naive and disturbing as Dottie, but it’s Matthew McConaughey who absolutely steals the show and continues his successful ‘McConnaissance’ (a phrase stolen from whichever genius thought it up). McConaughey is downright creepy and sadistic as Joe, but he plays it so well that you can’t help but somehow be drawn to him, very much as everyone else in the film is.

Killer Joe isn’t a film to settle down with for some light-hearted viewing. It’s depraved and backward, right down to its no doubt divisive conclusion, but it’s this very depravity that is much of its attraction. It never allows you to feel truly comfortable, largely thanks to Friedkin’s direction and McConaughey’s performance, but it’s a mesmerising snapshot of a family dynamic you pray to God doesn’t exist in real life.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: A Late Quartet

A Late QuartetMidway through A Late Quartet, Christopher Walken’s character is teaching a music class during which he tells a story of an incident when he played a piece of classical music for one of his peers and thought he’d messed it up good and proper. However, the other musician told him that he’d done well and that it’s important to focus on the good stuff and leave the morons to pick on the faults. He may very well have been inviting the film’s audience to do the same as A Late Quartet does do some things well but it also has its very clear faults.

The films tells the story of a world-renowned string quartet comprising of cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), first violinist Daniel (Mark Ivanir), second violinist Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and violist and Robert’s wife Juliette (Catherine Keener). However, when Peter is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and his future in the quartet becomes uncertain, the group’s professional and personal relationships become strained.

A Late Quartet is a film about classical music that isn’t really about classical music. Those hoping to delve into the world of Beethoven, Mozart et al will be somewhat disappointed as this is very much a character piece that relies on the dynamics between the characters and the performances of the actors. It’s a rather slow film with no discernible action to speak of, but it does very well to keep your attention, which enables you to invest in much of the plight the characters experience.

However, some story arcs are a lot stronger than others, and perhaps the most interesting is Walken’s Peter. He is the old master, the one that all of the others look up to and it genuinely feels like a hammer blow when he is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Seeing him come to terms with the news and deteriorate as the film progresses is interesting but it’s something that ends up being on the film’s periphery. It is used as the catalyst for the other characters’ problems but it’s the most interesting story of the film and is not afforded enough attention. Robert is another engaging character and is superbly played by PSH, but his wife Juliette is much less interesting and feels very much like a weak link. Daniel is hot-headed, arrogant but undoubtedly talented but he’s a character who’s difficult to warm to and a relationship he develops with Robert and Juliette’s daughter feels contrived and a formulaic addition to an otherwise generally intelligent script.

Once you’ve bought into these characters’ lives (or some of them at least), the film delivers with an emotional climactic punch. It’s a little manipulative and it doesn’t really come as much of a surprise but it’s still satisfying enough. There was room for A Late Quartet to be something a little more than it ended up being. Some characters and storylines are stronger than others which leaves it feeling slightly uneven, but it’s still an engaging watch. Maybe only a moron would focus on the faults but when those faults prevent it from being as good as it potentially could have been, they’re worth mentioning.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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