Monthly Archives: November 2013

What is… a dénouement?

The dénouement is the last part of the film’s narrative structure, often also known as the conclusion. It is usually the final part of a five act structure – introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, dénouement. Its primary function is to wrap up the story following the main events of the film, solving conflicts and offering a release of tension for the viewer.

The term, which is unsurprisingly French, comes from the Old French desnouer, meaning “to untie”, which itself comes from nodus, the Latin for “knot”. This quite nicely gives the image of the film’s plot becoming unravelled as it concludes.

Most films have a dénouement and it’s not too difficult to identify it, although sometimes it may be very brief. Red leaving for the island where he meets Andy in The Shawkshank Redemption is a good example of dénouement, nicely tying the story up, as seen below. Other examples include the Simba reclaiming Pride Rock in The Lion King and Ripley putting herself and her cat into stasis in Alien.

Not all films have a dénouement, however. Some films simply cut to the credits as soon as the climax finishes, an example of which is The Blair Witch Project. This can either have excellent dramatic effect, possibly leaving the ending and following events ambiguous or it can leave the film feeling cut short and incomplete. Films may also dispense with any kind of dénouement (or have a very short one) if they are part of a series of films, with a longer dénouement likely at the end of the last film. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example has become known for having an incredibly long dénouement at the end of The Return of the King.

Are there any dénouements that stand out in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below.

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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Quickie: Sightseers

Tina (Alice Lowe) and her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) are escaping from her overbearing mother for a caravanning holiday around England. However, what starts as trips to tram museums and the like soon takes a dark twist that shows Chris’s true colours.

Ben Wheatley’s Kill List was a somewhat twisted affair and his follow-up film, Sightseers, is no different.

First and foremost it’s a comedy, but a very dark one. There’s a black-as-night core to the film that is at best unsettling and at worst really rather gruesome. But that’s where it excels. The mundanity of caravanning and visiting pencil museums, for example, juxtaposed with insanity and brutality is the crux of the picture and it works excellently. There are even a few nods to Kill List, making the whole thing seem even more twisted.

But it is funny, too. There are a few great one-liners as well as some rather bizarre surreal humour. Both Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (who also wrote the film) deliver their lines brilliantly, often with deadpan sincerity.

There are a few story issues here and there, however. It feels a little like a sketch turned into a film, and there are times when parts of the story don’t quite knit together or feel a little abandoned.

Sightseers is a very British film, particularly in its humour and, as such, might not appeal to everyone. However, if you do have a penchant for British wit and fancy something a little different, Sightseers is a lot of fun.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Philomena

After having a child out of wedlock, Philomena Lee (Dame Judi Dench) was forced to give up her son by Catholic nuns. 50 years laters, journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) hears about Philomena’s story and helps her to search for her long-lost son.

When I wrote my review of Danish film The Hunt, I said that it made me incredibly angry, an emotion that very few films have evoked in me. However, it didn’t take too long for another film to do the same, and Philomena left me seething as I walked out of the cinema.

Philomena is another of those films inspired by a true story – it’s based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by Steve Coogan’s character, journo Martin Sixsmith – and it’s this that makes the film all the more harrowing.

Without wanting to spoil anything, the film has its highs and lows, with certain groups portrayed less than favourably, namely journalists and the Catholic Church, and it’s the latter from which my anger emanated (although it’s not totally one-sided). What’s excellent, however, is that it doesn’t ram a particular message down your throat and, for the most part, lets you draw your own conclusions and pick your own side. At times it does feel slightly manipulative in trying to make you feel sympathy for Philomena when it really doesn’t need to; the general story does that by itself.

The two central performances of Dench and Coogan are fantastic and play off brilliantly against one another. For much of the film, they are very much ice and fire personalities, with Philomena’s simple, perhaps naïve, view of the world contrasted with Sixsmith’s much more negative (albeit probably realistic) view.

Despite the title, Philomena is just as much Sixsmith’s story as the titular character’s. At the film’s outset, we see him unsure of whether he’d stoop as ‘low’ as a human interest story but by the end we really see a transformation, and it really adds an extra dimension to the film. It would have been easy to just solely focus on Philomena but Sixsmith’s story is almost as compelling.

And what’s somewhat surprising is just how funny the film is. Coogan’s touch is all over the script (some lines could come straight out of Alan Partridge) and both main characters get their fair share of laugh-out-loud lines. It’s similar in subject matter to Peter Mullen’s excellent The Magdelene Sisters but comes at it from a much more light-hearted (but no less heart-wrenching) angle. This humour is needed, too; without it, the film could be very dour and a little too heavy, so kudos to Coogan and co-writer Jeff Pope for getting the balance just right.

After watching Philomena, you’ll likely side with one of the two main characters (I certainly did), and it’s this duality that the film hammers home, which should ensure almost everyone will come away with a different experience and opinion. It’s not always the happiest of films, but it’s filled with heart and at its most effective is one of the most powerful films of the year.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Gravity

GRAVITY

During a routine spacewalk, astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are caught up in debris caused by a Russian missile strike on a defunct spacestation. Stranded above the Earth and running low on oxygen, they must do what they can to survive.

There’s not much point in talking about Gravity without starting with how it looks. From the opening shot to the moments the credits role, the film is a technical marvel. It’s freakin’ gorgeous.

Director Alfonso Cuarón initially wanted to make Gravity a fair few years ago but was not satisfied that technology was advanced enough to take his vision to the big screen. However, with various technological advancements, was finally able to make the film he wanted to make, and to stunning effect.

Never before has the line between CGI and live action been quite so blurred. The teams at Framestore and Prime Focus have done an amazing job and the biggest compliment I can pay them is that it made me genuinely believe the whole thing was filmed in space rather than Pinewood and Shepperton Studios in London.

For a setting so vast, the attention to detail is staggering (you’ll not find anything about factual inaccuracies here). From Sandra Bullock nonchalantly brushing past debris during a spacewalk to the inch perfect shot composition, Gravity is a film that is so meticulous in its construction yet so simple and natural in its presentation.

Floating high above the Earth, there is no up, no down; everything just revolves and spins in zero-gravity and its a genuinely immersive experience. You really feel as if you’re floating there with them, and part of that is due to the 3D. I’m no fan of 3D whatsoever but it feels so intrinsic to the overall effect of Gravity that I would urge everyone to cough up the extra cash and give it a whirl in 3D. It’s not gimmicky or distracting; it just really helps convey the vastness of space.

It’s not all style, though, and thematically there’s plenty going on. There are themes of rebirth, loss, hope and even evolution. At time it also clearly uses Kubrick’s 2001 as inspiration.

GRAVITY

Clooney and Bullock are the leads here, and to be honest, they’re pretty much the only characters in the film. Bullock takes centre stage, however, and delivers a superb performance. She’s fine when Clooney’s wise-cracking at her, but it’s the times when she’s on her own that stand out as she really helps convey her loneliness and helplessness.

The film isn’t perfect, though. It’s easy to get blinded by the visual splendour of the film, but I had a few (minor) issues. The dialogue, Clooney’s in particular, is a little on the corny side and does briefly pull you out of the experience. It sometimes feel like a George Clooney character rather than a character played by George Clooney. My only other gripe is that the story is a little repetitive. It occasionally felt like a series of set pieces rather than a fluid story, each time something else going wrong and putting the astronauts in danger. Repeat to fade.

These really are only slight issues though. Gravity is a film that should not be missed and on a technical level deserves to be mentioned alongside films such as Metropolis2001Titanic, etc. So do yourself a favour; find the biggest screen possible, sit back and just drink it in.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review – Thor: The Dark World

With the Frost Giants defeated and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in prison, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is helping to return peace to the nine realms. However, after Jane (Natalie Portman) discovers an ancient force known as the Aether, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), leader of the Dark Elves, hatches a plan to harness the Aether to return the nine realms to darkness.

The unique thing and the Thor franchise compared to the other Marvel films is that its hero comes from somewhere other than Earth. This presents its own set of pros and cons, but what it does ensure is that it has the opportunity to stand proud from its peers such as Iron Man and Captain America.

Thor: The Dark World takes advantage of other worldly locales more than the first film and it’s better for it as a result. We get to see some of the other realms, albeit briefly, and Asgard feels more fleshed out, starting to feel like a living, breathing world. This is no doubt down to director Alan Taylor who has also directed TV fantasy epic Game of ThronesWe still get a good chunk of the film set on Earth, however; this time in London. This split between the recognisable Earth and fantasy of Asgard is well balanced and adds excellent variety to the film’s locations.

One area where the film really excels is in its humour. Marvel films always have a rich vein of humour running through them but Thor:TDW turns it up a notch. It’s genuinely funny in places, with much of the humour coming from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. His biting remarks towards Thor are frequent (maybe even a little too frequent) and more often then not will raise a giggle. Thor himself also some amusing moments, ensuring he’s not totally outplayed by his on-screen brother.

And it’s in the chemistry between the two brothers where the film really shines. Chris Hemsworth is a little held back by the nature of Thor’s character but still manages to inject a bit of personality into the role, particularly when he’s so obviously out of place during his time on Earth. Tom Hiddleston was undoubtedly the best thing about the first Thor film, and arguably also in Avengers Assembleand he’s similarly brilliant here. He manages to perfectly balance Loki’s smarmy yet scared persona masterfully; we see him goading Thor and hatching devious plots throughout, yet we also see a sadness and vulnerability that shows a deeper side to the character.

Unfortunately, this characterisation does not translate to the film’s villain. Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith is a frankly banal enemy devoid of personality or threat. This isn’t Eccleston’s fault, merely that of the character, and is a trend all too common with the recent batch of superhero movies.

Superhero films a ten a penny these days and it’s easy to become jaded by their familiarity and somewhat formulaic nature. Likewise, if you’re not a fan of the genre, there’s little here to suddenly change your mind (well, Chris Hemsworth maybe). However, thanks to some excellent set pieces and laugh out loud humour, Thor:TDW establishes itself as one of the best films in the Marvel series so far.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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Quickie: Ender’s Game

In 2086, aliens known as Formics attacked Earth but were halted by the heroic Mazer Rackham. Fearing the Formics will return, Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) of the International Fleet recruits some of the most gifted young people in the world to guard against an attack. One of these young people is the incredibly gifted Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield).

Over the past few years, young adult fiction has become a genre of its own, and Ender’s Game is the latest film to fall under that category (although the book was written in 1985). However, it never has enough excitement or substance to match most of its peers.

The main problem with Ender’s Game is that it tries to cram far, far too much into its two hour run time and, as such, spreads itself far too thin. Ender’s time being trained on the space station takes up the majority of the story but then throws in a rushed climax and frankly bizarre denouement that feels like it belongs in a different film. Throw in some scarcely explored family issues and a flimsy romance and the whole thing feels rushed and hastily cobbled together. There’s enough story to spread over two films but is barely interesting enough to fill one.

There’s a really quite dark undertone to the film, which is interesting but it still feels rather lightweight. Asa Butterfield and Harrison Ford do a decent enough job in their respective roles but never set the screen on fire.

This is the first time science fiction has had the ‘young adult’ treatment on screen on this scale but it’s not one that will live long in the memory. There was potential here, but it’s ultimately wasted.

2 pigeons

2/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Mud

Ellis (Tye Sheriden) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two Arkansas youngsters who go searching in a nearby forest after hearing of a boat stuck up a tree. However, when they find said boat, they also stumble across a mysterious fugitive by the name of Mud (Matthew McConaughey). The boys agree to help Mud fix up the boat and reunite him with his old girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), but can Mud be trusted?

Mud, like its titular character, is an enigmatic beast. At first glance it’s a harsh, troubling film full of people with flaws and an appetite for (their own and others’) destruction. However, look a little deeper and there’s much more to it. It’s a film about relationships: ones that fail, ones that grow and ones that survive no matter what.

It’s part family drama, part coming of age story, part crime drama, and a few other bits and bobs scattered throughout, too.  We see Ellis fall in love for the first time, have to struggle with his parents’ faltering marriage, as well as take on the responsibilities bestowed on him by Mud.

It recalls Stand By Me in the relationship between Ellis and Neckbone, as well as the opening few scenes where the two travel into the woods in search of a boat they’ve heard is stuck up a tree. It also bears similarities with this year’s The Way Way Back, particularly in the relationships between the central young lead and those around him, namely his parents and an iconic older figure he looks up to. In this case that’s Matthew McConaughey’s Mud.

mud

McConaughey appears to have completed his transformation from rom-com laughing stock to genuinely serious actor. His roles in films such as Killer Joe and The Paperboy proved he really can act, and he’s similarly impressive here. We have no idea if Mud is a good guy at heart or not, yet he’s intriguing, an allure that both Ellis and Neckbone are drawn to. McConaughey plays the role suitably aloof, almost as a kind of anti-hero, perfectly balancing the character’s dangerous and sensitive sides.

Equally as fantastic are the two child actors, Tye Sheriden and Jacob Lofland. The two are reminiscent of Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix in Stand By Me, with Sheriden in particular giving a quite superb performance, perhaps even outshining McConaughey in his genuinity and heart.

Set in Arkansas along the Mississippi River, the film’s location also plays a big part in helping to create a believable and vivid setting. From dense forests to river banks to motels alongside busy interstates, the locations aren’t anything new but still manage to feel unique, particularly Mud’s temporary home on a small island in the Mississippi. This is largely down to Adam Stone’s excellent cinematography which captures a perfect balance of the freedom of the wide open spaces and the claustrophobic interiors.

Mud might seem like a film for adults, but part of its brilliance is that it can actually be enjoyed by just about anyone. Even though the film feels somewhat separated from most people’s society and way of life, Director Jeff Nichols has created something that still feels very grounded and personal.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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