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Monthly Archives: April 2013

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Derek Cianfrance’s debut feature Blue Valentine is one of the most emotionally devastating portrayals of love, family and everything else that we as human being seek to achieve in our lives. It is a film like no other romance in existence, because it accomplishes something quite extraordinary in its unorthodox structuring – a relationship is built, whilst at the same time it is destroyed. On viewing after viewing, the film’s existential power and heart only grows stronger for me, and I would happily proclaim it to be the quintessential love story of the century thus far.

Although the scope of The Place Beyond the Pines is much more advanced and ambitious, the two films are not that dissimilar. Blue Valentine analyses the rise and fall of a relationship in the same way that this depicts the lifespan of two families spread over three invisible segments. The first segment which introduces Ryan Gosling’s Motorcycle rider Luke Glanton seeking to provide for his family by robbing banks is no doubt where The Place Beyond the Pines is at its most lethal and devastating. Luke is a tough-as-nails figure, he is covered in tattoos from head to toes and he is dangerous, but he’s also a caring, passionate human being. He loves his Motorcycle and he loves his young son – at the very moment Gosling screams at the top of his lungs as he holds a bank hostage, I thought I was witnessing a masterpiece unfolding before my eyes. The power, the tension and the fluidity of the piece is astonishing, but it all soon goes downhill from there.

Without giving too much away, the film then transitions to Bradley Cooper’s police officer character. Cooper’s portrayal is of noteworthy importance to the act and his work here (as in Silver Linings Playbook) truly cements him as a talent to look out for, but the flow is completely shattered. Where Gosling’s act depicts scenes of raw power, Cooper’s sequences are a jilted mess. Although the tale is far from boring, it’s very frustrating and pales massively in comparison with the fear that the first scenes gave the film. As Cooper’s story unfolds in ordinary fashion and the title cards displaying “15 Years Later” appear, the story adapts to a new tale. This segment and the final one of the film is set around two young teenagers, one of whom is Cooper’s son. By this time I had lost all faith in the film and the contrivance and the predictability persist throughout to make it quite a chore to handle, the dialogue gets weaker and the irritating performance from Emory Cohen are the most suffering elements of the piece.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a film of immense ambition and strategic film making, but ultimately it’s a disjointed and destitute study of life that I hope I find some greater meaning in on another viewing as opposed to finding even more flaws.

55/100

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In 1977, Wim Wenders released one of my all-time favourite movies The American Friend. A harrowing and exhilarating portrayal of one man’s compromises and the lengths he will go to solve his problems. I had never seen anything like it. It gripped me from its early moments all the way through the courageous force of its action to the beautiful final sequences. It was not just a film that displayed tension in a way unlike others, but it made me fall deeper and deeper in love with cinema – a film that I desperately admired for all its unsettling framing and the addictive display of emotion. I loved it so much that I become infatuated with the talent of Wenders, but I couldn’t bring myself to explore his work in fear of the inevitable disappointment. I thought nothing the man could make could grip me in the way The American Frienddid – I was wrong.

Paris, Texas while showing minor similarities with the tone of The American Friendshows Wim Wenders working in a completely different realm of vision. The American Friend is an incredibly dark film displaying the decaying of a soul, but Paris, Texas, especially in the early sequences is a colourful, dreamlike film. Set in the mysterious landscapes of Texas, Wenders’ film focuses on the relationship on Walt and his long disappeared brother Travis Henderson, played by Dean Stockwell (later recognisable as the performer of “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet) and Harry Dean Stanton. The synchronisation between the two is not immediately effective, but as the second act winds to a close, the traumatic power between the two is quite extraordinary – Walt is curious as to Travis’ prior travels, as are we the viewer.

Early on, Travis will not speak. Harry Dean Stanton delivering his finest performance presents a harrowing envision of a mysterious soul whose first spoken word refers to the title “Paris…”.With even the simplicity of the word, Stanton’s presence is felt. He has, after being provoked, finally spoken. There’s something quite extraordinary about the delivery of the line – spoken under his breath at first, an immeasurable power is settled on the film.

Even more outstanding about Paris, Texas is the isolation in its tone. From the outlook, Paris, Texas is presented as a film that travels in a walking pace, a film taking its time to grow, but to me, Paris, Texas is one of the most destructive forces in all of cinema. There is honestly so much going on throughout, and if you take the time to notice it, you will experience one of the defining annihilations of the sense in any film I’ve ever witnessed.

There are very few films that carry themselves as flawlessly as Paris, Texas does. Harry Dean Stanton is remarkable in his deadpan emotion in his situation and his interactions with his long-lost lover are astonishing. This is a film that is very careful in its portrayal of the world, and it features some of the most staggeringly beautiful long takes ever seen on celluloid. As the film faded to black, I was reminded of why I love cinema so much. Paris, Texas is a masterpiece.

100/100

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As far as comedies go, In Bruges is undoubtedly one of the most hilarious films I’ve ever seen. Recognisable for the early sequence involving an overweight family of tourists, who a never better Colin Farrell refers to as “…a bunch of fuckin’ elephants”, In Bruges truly defines itself as a film that is not afraid to out step the boundaries of a common comedy film as over and over again it makes reference to difficult subjects within its brave, sarcastic manner, but the real brilliance of In Bruges goes down to its intense, disciplined examination of its characters.

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, both portraying two hit men named Ken and Ray, who after a job goes awry, are sent to Bruges (“it’s in fucking Belgium”) to keep a low profile. While the idea of sending a way a character to way for the heat to go down has been explored time and time again, In Bruges uses it in a devastating capacity unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Farrell is struggling to live with his actions (they are revealed eventually), and the relocation to Bruges is making it more difficult for him – after all, he thinks Bruges is a “…Shithole”. All of that changes when he encounters the glowing, performing beauty of Chloe, portrayed by Clemence Poesy, and he falls in love. The relationship signifies a connection he’s never been attached to, a love he’s never deserved and a feeling he’s always considered.

The devastating purity in Farrell’s portrayal of the Ray character is of immense proportions, and despite the heartfelt and consistently funny work from Gleeson, Farrell is the pivotal element of the entire film. Delivering the deadpan emotion required he shows his finest work to date, but it’s his effortless comedic talent that he really covers himself in glory with. He is sarcastic, rude and wonderfully witty – his intelligence to represent two very different sides of a character coming full throttle in a performance that trumps anything he’s ever done before.

Ralph Fiennes, most known for the intensity of his work in Schindler’s List or the emotion in The Constant Gardener also shows a different side here in this Belgium based classic. His character is originally heard via telephone calls until his first on-screen line is delivered, and it’s a good one – “YOU’RE AN INANIMATE FUCKING OBJECT!” The intensity and sheer provocative nature of the character presents a stark difference from that of Gleeson’s, or even Farrell’s, but Fiennes surrounds himself in some of his finest work to date.

In Bruges’ effortless wit and the dedication from the unlikely, but profitable trio of Gleeson, Farrell and Fiennes makes Martin McDonaugh’s film one of the most insatiably funny and grueling incarnations of a man struggling to live with his past actions. It might just be the comedic masterpiece of its decade.

91/100

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Krzysztof Kieślowski was truly one of cinemas revolutionaries – a man with all the capabilities to portray the systematic breakdown of the human form in the most damning of manners. In the first entry of his Three Colours trilogy, simply titled Blue, Kieślowski’s dramatic force isolates the viewer and breaks the realms of the conventional film in a way that could affect even the strongest of viewers, likewise in the following entries, Red, and White, the sheer force of his cinematic prowess comes to the forefront to complete one of the most mesmeric and extraordinary pieces of cinema in existence.

Blue, is the superior entry – and one of my utmost favourite films – but The Double Life of Veronique shows the man exploring a whole new world. Released just two short years prior to BlueThe Double Life of Veronique presents to the viewer one of the most traumatic and visceral experiences ever created. Led by the devastating talent of Irene Jacob, who would later portray Red’s protagonist, Kieślowski’s film analyses the imperious life situations she faces. As soon explored in the Three Colours trilogy, The Double Life of Veronique’s purpose isn’t just to tell a narrative, but to construct and simultaneously destroy all the elements of life.

One of my favourite aspects of Kieślowski’s work in the Three Colours trilogy, most notably Blue, is the framing. Each shot is crafted and labelled in such a devastating, divine fashion that gives the film its ultimate message – we are watching over the world of a person, torn apart by her life and struggling with all her might to survive. While, we as viewers regularly deem horror and thriller films to illustrate atmosphere, Kieślowski’s films are one of the finest examples I’ve ever seen to truly master the art in such a way that the viewer feels engulfed in the tale that is unfolding before their eyes.

Irene Jacob’s work here must not go unnoticed. Portraying such a character is a challenge for even the most colossal of talents, but her work here is truly remarkable. The life of a character is born because of the performance of its creator, and she handles herself in a way that I’ve never seen before. Her work is largely impressive in Red, but here she interprets the emotions and trauma her character faces and delivers one of the most divine performances in all of cinema.

The final moments are some of the most alluring I’ve ever seen, and while I have my minor problems, The Double Life of Veronique remains one of the most provocative and delicately crafted films I’ve ever seen.

85/100

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There isn’t a doubt in my mind that David Fincher is one of the most talented and exciting directors working today. His films speak in a language that so few directors of today can translate – his latter film Zodiac is one of the most astonishing crime dramas I’ve ever sat through and while my love for Fight Club has lessened over the years, it’s still a landmark thriller and one of those films that just about everyone has seen. The Game is also very solid as is The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and not forgetting the tense Panic Room and the very flawed, but adequate The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

David Fincher’s work is as absorbing as it is brutal, but it’s his first true feature (ignoring the production disaster Alien 3) that he’ll be remembered for. Even on repeated viewings, Se7en illustrates the true power of atmosphere – from its rich, dirty cinematography to Howard Shore’s score, Se7en is one of the definitive crime entries of the 90’s. Led by the formidable force of Morgan Freeman and the off-the-rails Brad Pitt, Se7en portrays a series of killings that grow even more disturbing and gruesome as the tale unravels.

The real sadistic nature of Se7en is not in the disconcerting visual evidence the film presents to the viewer, but the mild mannered and submerged embodiment of its characters. Morgan Freeman, portraying Detective Somerset, in one of his finest performances, delivers the systematic demise of an authority figure – he is retiring at the end of the week, which contrasts heavily to the presentation to his partner in crime. Detective Mills, played by the unmistakable talent that is Brad Pitt, presents the rise of an authority figure – a young detective looking for his big break. This juxtaposition of the two protagonists is just one of the many pieces of brilliance that Fincher so skilfully accommodates throughout.

As excellent as the work from Freeman and Pitt is, the show remains to Kevin Spacey. Portraying the sadistic killer Jonathan Doe, Spacey resurrects a performance that can only be compared to the work of Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs. As ever, Spacey devotes his entire soul to his work, making his character as harrowing and tormenting as required without ever going overboard. Before his entrance in the final act of the film, Spacey relies on one single phone conversation to dismay the audience, and he does it flawlessly. The chilling tone in his voice, in the way that he enjoys his crime is relentlessly disturbing and alongside the delicacy of his work in the final moments of the film, Spacey delivers one of the staggering portrayals of a demented soul ever committed to film.

Se7en truly defines the thriller genre with all its sadistic brilliance and macabre bravery.

86/100

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Roman Polanski has long been considered a master for his latter neo-noir extraordinaire Chinatown, and for good reason. Chinatown is one of cinemas defining films, rich with some fantastic cinematography and one of Jack Nicholson’s finest performances. Even as much as I enjoy Chinatown (I need to rewatch it soon), and love his more recent The Ghost Writer, Polanski will unlikely top Rosemary’s Baby.

As a part of his precise, assured “Apartment” trilogy, preceded by the claustrophobic Repulsion and concluded with the soaring The Tenant, the middle entry shows the great man’s devastating talent put to the ultimate test. Rosemary’s Baby analyses its disturbing subject matter in the most adverse and terrifying of ways by utilising an atmosphere that no film before it could achieve. Focusing on the nine month process of a pregnancy, Rosemary’s Baby analyses the paranoia that all parents’ likely face and the questions they must ask themselves. “Will the baby be okay?” “Will it be healthy?” “Will it live?” And while the film achieves its biting tone, Polanski’s film reigns so well due to the symbolic power and psychological manipulation it possesses throughout.

In the very early stages, Rosemary, played by the elegant Mia Farrow, and her husband Guy, played by the handsome John Cassavetes, move into their new apartment and things immediately appear to be out of the ordinary. One of the more memorable sequences of the movie actually takes place in the aforementioned scenes as a large cupboard appears to be hiding a closet. This particular moment, while it may only suggest an odd occurrence, proves to be very pivotal as the film progresses.

As the pregnancy hits difficulties and our protagonist grows weaker and weaker, with Mia Farrow showing fatigue and some shocking weight loss, the real eerie feel Polanski’s screenplay brings to the film intensifies even more. The mystery soon unravels in quite extraordinary and unforgettable circumstances, and even on a rewatch, the quite astonishing final moments of the film prove to be just as staggering as I first experienced.

The influence of Rosemary’s Baby on cinema cannot be overlooked regarding the demonic possession factor in something like The Omen, or something as simple as what Rosemary proceeds to do with the pills she receives in comparison to what happens in the Stephen King novel Misery. Polanski’s film is a very distinguished and unsettling experience, and his true masterpiece.

100/100

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Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the most treasured and beloved films of all-time. A film which such tranquil beauty, heart and immense power, it is certainly a film that I love and admire, and the film that Forman will be remembered for. But, I would find it extremely challenging to say One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is his finest achievement, because Amadeus, without a doubt, is Forman’s soaring, beautiful epic.

Only nine years prior to the release of Amadeus, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon showcased the costume drama in all its extravagant and breathtaking beauty. It is a film, however underrated amongst the director’s significant achievements, that truly astounds me. From its delicious screenplay to its magnificent set design, Barry Lyndon is the archetypal film of its genre, and Kubrick’s finest triumph, only falling short to the terrifying classic The Shining. It is emotionally raw and has a magnitude of exterior to it, but Amadeus, to me, presents the true power and dominating force that such a tale can bring to cinema and all the glorious dreams it can realise.

Amadeus documents the life of legendary, pioneering composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A name familiar with even the least intellectual of us, but my knowledge of his life and career is somewhat limited. Amadeus isolates our character and portrays him in such a devastating fashion, bringing the iconic figure down to his knees and tearing his world apart, bit by bit. Forman’s presentation is quite magnificent in the way that it is not told from Mozart’s angle, but formally told as a bedtime story by his foe Antonio Salieri. Salieri, played by F. Murray Abraham (you may recognise him from Scarface), and Mozart portrayed by the mercurial talent of Tom Hulce are revolutionary in their work.

Dynamically, this extraordinary portrayal of their rivalry and eventual familiarity is constantly fascinating and the precise exhibition of this significant period of time, signifying the birth of music as we know it, is brought to life by the referred Miloš Forman, in a film that is as absorbing as it is brilliant. Running at three hours, Forman’s film captures its luxurious era in definitive fashion.

Only my first viewing of this soaring, beautiful, transcending classic, but I could not be more impressed and satisfied with the result if I tried. Top to bottom, it is an astonishing, brutal, gorgeous and towering piece of cinema and the Blu-ray transfer is majestic.

100/100