Passion (2012)

Written & Directed by Brian De Palma

So I recently watched a YouTube video of Edgar Wright, “What’s In My Bag” in which he mentioned a Brian De Palma film I had never heard of before. Having studied Carrie for my horror module last year, I thought I was pretty confident in all things De Palma related. Turns out this film was only released in 2012/13 and is a remake of the French film Crime d’amour. So I searched Netflix and lo and behold, it streams the film I was looking for. Passion.

Starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace (a collaboration of two of my all-time favourite actresses), Passion is a tale of lust, revenge and bloody murder.  All of my favourite things in one film, the Film Gods must have been looking down on me that night. It starts as a tale of two business associates with very clear sensual underlying chemistry, a forceful Blonde, Rachel McAdams’ Christine, in which she channels some of the old Regina/ Mean Girls evilness, and Noomi Rapace’s Isabelle a quiet underling whose sanity comes into question, just as she comes into her own. It begins as a tale of a ball busting executive taking credit for an assistant’s work, harmless enough unless you bring into that adultery, psychosis and, my old favourite, cold bloody murder.

As a Brian De Palma film, not only do you expect to be presented with the lustful male gaze, but the lustful male gaze intricately hidden through incredible camera work and editing decisions such as the split screen of a Ballet and beautifully choreographed throat slashing, as well as the “was it a dream or was it real” sequences which is one of my favourite directorial motifs of De Palma. As a De Palma fan, you will not be disappointed.

De Palma’s focus on the two, possibly even three, female leads is refreshing, these women do not need men to help with their plans, men are used and abused then thrown to the dogs. I may sound a bit harsh on the male gender here, but as it is directed by a man, and therefore supposed to be viewed this way, I think I should be forgiven. These are two/three beautifully complicated characters in the male orientated world of work, for which Brian De Palma should be praised, he has characterised his women perfectly.

If you are going to watch this film for anything, do it for the anticipation of the tiniest bit of blood so beautifully put on the screen that it is as if De Palma has inverted his 1976 masterpiece, Carrie, proving he can create the same reaction without going to the extremes. If I could some this film up in two words it would be Subtly Beautiful. Or Complete Mind-fuck. You make the decision.

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The Selfish Giant (2013)

The Selfish Giant (2013) Poster

Written and Directed by Clio Barnard

Having been lucky enough to see this film at the Gulbenkian Cinema at the University of Kent, where I study, the very campus at which Clio Barnard is a reader for Film Studies, I may be slightly biased in my review of this film, as my pride as a Kent Film student may have swayed my views, slightly. Never the less, this is undoubtedly one of the most moving films I have seen in my life, leaving me sobbing, it is a must see especially as it is an extreme exposé of the poverty that is an everyday occurrence for such families as Arbor’s.

The film follows a young boy, Arbor, whose mother and school struggle to cope with his extreme behaviour caused somewhat by a mix of ADHD and energy drinks. His saviour, it seems, his friendship with his best friend, Swifty, or at least it would be had this film been made with the typical Hollywood storyline and ending in mind. However this is not the case, we are drawn into an unfair world and so are given a true and realistic ending, possibly so that the harsh facts of this kind of life hits home with its audience. The emotion that is forced upon us is not just done so through the plot, but through such technical aspects as the motif of a shot of the Swifty and Arbor holding hands. This signifies the importance of their friendship to both of their lives, in the end this is all these boys seem to have that is certain, by the end the presentation of this motif is a bitter reminder of the reality outside of this film

The most obvious question that arises from the film is not the most obviously answered. Who is the Selfish Giant? The nerdiest answer would be that, after watching the film, the Selfish Giant is society, its unforgiving attitude and lack of help given towards these characters we see portraying Britain’s vast problems with poverty. It could also be Arbor, as he is the main character; however he is forgiven of his lack of consideration for others by the end as he is only a child. It could then be Kitten, an adult who takes advantage of these children in poverty, giving them work, treating them as adults when what they need is parental guidance. This is the choice that many a reviewer and critic have opted for as it is a tangible person who the audience looks to blame, however he is also a victim of circumstance as Arbor is.

It is no surprise that this film has been nominated for many awards, and won them, such as Best Independent Film and Best Director at the BIFAs. It has also been acknowledged for its technical achievements, as the cinematography is also one of the things that stand out as incredibly sophisticated especially considering it is only Barnard’s 1st Feature length film, not including her also acclaimed documentary, The Arbor.

This film is definitely one of my favourite of 2013, and a must watch when it comes out on DVD, I know I’ll be buying it and making everyone I know watch it. This needs to be seen buy as many people as possible, not only due to its unforgiving social commentary, for the political enthusiast in you, but also its sophisticated cinematography, for the film lover in you. For every other side of you there is the incredible characterisation of both Arbor and Swifty who you will both fall in love with and pity, as well as Barnard’s storytelling skills.

 

Let The Right One In (2008)

“Låt den rätte komma in”             (original title)

Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Directed by Tomas Alfredson

A tale of innocence and vampirism, Tomas Alfredson directs this coming- of- age film in which a 200 year old vampire trapped in a young girls body befriends a young teenage boy, bringing him into her dark world, in which she needs blood to survive. Set in the suburbs of Stockholm, mysterious murders invade young Oskar’s world, an alluringly beautiful girl, Eli, moves in next door, but can only come out to play at night. And can walk barefoot in the snow.

This film captures the innocence of the love which the American remake does not. Eli’s need for blood to survive, not as monstrous, but as pitiful, she cannot help who she has become and yet she is not ready to die. This story of young love pulls on the heartstrings very unexpectedly. Our protagonist is the 12 year old Oskar, who is a character we come to care for, we hate the bullies almost as much as him and worry about his preoccupation with crime. We seem to fall into the role of the caring parent rather than seeing the world from his point of view. The tender moments between our two main characters, include using Morse code to communicate through the wall, Oskar accepting Eli for who she is and Eli returning his love the only way she knows how, through revenge.

As one of my favourite films, I would say this has to be added to your must watch list. Forget about watching the American remake Let Me In, there is no comparison. None. Nada. Every time I’m almost brought to tears, as well as being terrified by the suspenseful, fearful and bloody murders. This is a horror, love story, tear jerker and all round an incredibly made film. Subtitles may put some people off but it’s their loss, Let The Right One In is one of them films that five minutes in, you won’t even realise it isn’t in English. Forget Edward Cullen, the lovable Oskar will steal your heart.

Compliance (2012)

Compliance (2012) Poster

Written & Directed by Craig Zobel

Craig Zobels “inspired by true events” Sundance film festival film stars Dreama Walker as an unfortunate fast food employee whose world gets turned upside down when a prank call leads to her 19 year old character, Becky, having the worst shift of her life. Although I am an advocate of no spoilers, I have to warn you that this film can be disturbing to some audiences, having watched it with my housemates and viewing the different shocked reactions, ranging from confused laughter to researching actual events, Compliance is not a film to be entered into watching lightly.

It can be quite a difficult film to watch at times due to Zobels choice in cinematic features. His choice to almost play out the events in real time means that you will need a lot of patience to watch this film, but it is worth it in the end, you truly feel the humiliation of Becky through the length of time she was put through this ordeal. The combination of long takes and revelation of the prank caller to the audience but not the characters gives that sense of dramatic irony, us knowing it is a prank call, waiting, wishing that they would just realise. I myself got really involved with the film. I think the fact that it is based on true events, makes it seem even more painful to watch but, as one of my housemates put it, you literally just can’t stop watching.

There are a few Kubrickian and Tarantino elements in it, but as a massive fan of both directors I seem to find that in everything. The opening credits of block capitals seems Kubrickian although can also be compared to the start of Cabin in the Woods, and the constant food shots reminds me of some Tarantino films, specifically the recent Django: Unchained. The food shots also prolong the film and humiliation, the constant reminder that this is all happening in the back rooms of a fast food restaurant just makes it seem even more … dirty. Although there is nudity there is nothing sexual about it, again this all adds to the humiliation we feel for Becky, and, although some sexual events are included in the story, nothing is shown, just suggested by innuendo shots to do with food and drink, they are so subtle and not absolutely necessary to the story ,at the time, as a more extensive explanation is given in an investigation part of the narrative at the end, to the point where one person I was watching it with actually asked aloud what was going on. It’s effective though, it gives those who are able to handle it the fuller picture and for those who aren’t, they can overlook it. I suppose dividing the audience into different character camps, those oblivious to the events like the manager and those who know full well what’s going on, like some of the other employees, allows us to know what the characters, outside the main story, are feeling. This is emphasised at the end where a televised interview is given, which I am guessing is a replica of a real one.

Throughout the film, us as an audience are asking “how can they believe this?”, “how did they not know?” which is exactly what the public asked. An explanation is almost given through the mention of the Milgram experiment at the start of the film. For those who didn’t do A Level psychology, it was an experiment in which the influence of an authority figure was tested on the participants’ willingness to inflict pain on other subjects. It has now since been deemed and unethical but gained the result of a majority being able to inflict pain if they are not directly responsible for it. This is explored through this film, and the real life result is scary.

My recommendation is to set aside some time to watch this film, you can’t really watch it half-heartedly. Compliance will no doubt give you food for thought for days and, disturbing as it is, this analysis of human compliance is a must watch for any film lover. The bold choices of Zobel in his topic for this film and expectations of his audience makes it not only enjoyable but slightly enlightening. You will come away from the screening with a lot more knowledge about human nature than, maybe, you would like to.

Anna Karenina

 

Written by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Joe Wright

This is probably the most visually interesting film I’ve seen this year. Keira Knightly delivers an emotional performance as the title character, living in 1870s Russia and dealing with the social etiquette of that time. Tolstoy’s heart breaking novel, commenting on Russian society of his time, is a surprising choice for a movie, but Joe Wright brings the elegance of the novel to life. As a married Russian socialite, Anna has to uphold certain values in her lifestyle, so when temptation comes falls into her path in the form of Aaron Johnson-Taylor’s Vronsky, her world is turned upside down.

The incredible use of theatre-come-film set making and the transitions between scenes are like nothing I’ve seen before. Building a city in the stalls and setting up a room around the character, just gives this film that little bit more awe, as we see Anna’s world literally building up and falling down around her. This style of set allows for incredible camera movements, we see characters peering down from the lighting bridge onto the stage viewing the secrets of the society, our high angle shots, therefore are allowed to swoop from one characters point of view to another. Longer takes are allowed as the set is moved around the camera, not the other way around.

Lighting both hides and reveals Anna’s secrets to the audience, it emphasises the feeling of the whole room looking at you in high society, through the spotlight literally being on her. Anna’s happiness moments are in brilliant light, away from the stage, away from the eyes of society, while her darker days are literally in the dark, onstage, for everyone to see. Moments with her husband are always onstage, her marriage under the scrutiny of society, she can’t escape judgement from her peers. Anna Karenina is trapped. Trapped by her marriage, trapped by society, trapped by her love. In this we watch her life spiral out of control, due to the constraints on her love.

If you love elegance, if you love heart break, if you love tragedy, you will love this film. Think Victorian type society ideals to the extreme, mixed with the harsh background of cold Russia, and a woman in love with the wrong man caught in the middle of it all.

Warm Bodies (2013)

Warm Bodies (2013) Poster

Written & Directed by Jonathan Levine

In the not too distant future the majority of the USAs population are zombies.  We see this through the eyes of R, our zombie tour guide taking us through his seemingly monotonous zombie life. Until he meets Julie, that’s when it gets interesting, that’s when we realise that we are in for a different kind of zom-rom-com, one where your root for the zombies, and the love affair between a human, and zombie who is struggling desperately to regain some sensation of being alive. Even if it means doing that cliché zombie thing of eating brains …

R, played by Nicholas Hoult, offers us some hilarious zombie/teen idiosyncrasies, almost endearing, making us root for the love affair being able to conquer all, even death. Jonathan Levines fresh take on the zombie genre is surprisingly enjoyable. The trailer doesn’t do it justice, I had no desire to see this at the cinema but having watched it on dvd, I really wish I had. As you can imagine with a zombie film from the point of view of a zombie, the pace starts off slow but as R’s pace increases so does the film, and with the introduction of love into this zombies life, a more human pace is then adopted.

This film can be described as so many things, a coming of age film, as zom rom com, but neither really fully explains it. It can be enjoyed as a new age zombie film by nerds like me everywhere as well as by groups of girls who will be surprised at the uncanny accent of British actor Nicholas Hoult, or better known as ‘Tony from Skins’. It really is one for all audiences. It pulls you in, the more R feels, the more we do. If you’re looking for a dawn of the dead style gore fest then this isn’t for you, although fair warning there are a fair amount of brain shots, but if you’re looking for a genuinely surprising story line, and after all, a feel good film, then I’d definitely give this a watch, this is one for the dvd collection.

The Cornetto Trilogy – Mint Flavour – The Worlds End (2013)

Witten by Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright

Directed by Edgar Wright

My most anticipated release of 2013 provided appearances, within the first 60 seconds, from Peirce Brosnan, Michael Smiley and Bloody Mary from Shaun of the Dead. My first thought: how am I going to afford all the repeated viewings I’m going to need to fully appreciate the brilliance of this film?

Determined to finish the ‘Golden Mile’ in his home town of Newton Haven, Gary King (Simon Pegg) rounds up his gang of friends, now family/ business men, to finish what their 18 year old selves could not. To reach The Worlds End. When they arrive, their town is not what it used to be, and the name of the final pub takes on a whole new meaning. Appearances from previous Wright/ Pegg/ Frost collaborations will not leave cult fans disappointed, and the mixture of Bromance, Rom-Com and Dystopian end-of-the-world sci-fi genres are guaranteed to reel in the imaginations of new fans.

I was lucky enough for my local cinema to be showing the full Cornetto trilogy along with the midnight release of The Worlds End and so my mind was refreshed and ready for the newest instalment of my favourite trio. I was happy to notice that the classic Edgar Wright montages are again present along with incredible performances from classic British actors, such as Martin Freeman and Rosamund Pike, and inside jokes that I know I will be sharing with my friends for a long time to come.

What sets this apart from the other two films in the trilogy is the much deeper back story to the main character, which some fans may find shocking as it is emotionally a lot darker than the other films. Also the much stronger willed character of Nick Frost, who plays T- total wingman turned business man Andrew Knightley as opposed to the unemployed Ed of Shaun of the Dead or inept police officer Danny of Hot Fuzz. As those of you who have seen interviews with Wright Pegg or Frost will know, the film also contains less direct references to other films which I have become accustomed to when watching a film by this trio, but it does not take anything away from the film, it was just a decision by Wright to pay a more subtle homage  to Sci Fi literature. Never the less,  The Worlds End has the funniest most unpredictable ending I have seen in years, relatable to everyone in the cinema, you will love this film.

As I have been waiting for this final instalment of the trilogy for so long it may come as a surprise that it actually met and exceeded my expectations! Although my favourite will always be Hot Fuzz, this is an incredible ending to my favourite zom-rom-com-police-parody-dystopian trilogy. I woke up with my ribs hurting from laughing so much from the screening last night, that’s the best way I can describe how much I adored the film. Literal rib cracking laughter. Words cannot describe how much I love this trilogy, but I have tried. For anyone who is yet to go and see The Worlds End, be prepared to wake up as I did, sides hurting from the continuous laughter, and for those who already have … Lets Boo Boo.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

 

Written & Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Based on Anthony Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick, was the centre of much controversy when it was released in 1971. This meant that it was withdrawn from distribution and was released in the UK over 20 years later. Stanley Kubrick’s approach to directing is described as a “self-conscious approach to filmic story telling … [which] demanded an equally self-conscious spectator” this is obvious in this film which is, in itself, conscious of being an art form shown in such scenes as the opening scene.

The mixture of electronic and orchestral music played in the background of the opening scene establishes the film as almost futuristic but with Kubrick’s view on contemporary Britain. The establishing shot introduces the protagonist, Alex, staring straight at the audience, fearless, the leader of his “droogs”. Crime and Beethoven is his world, which is soon turned upside down with his droogs turning on him resulting in him spending time in jail and leading to an experimental rehabilitation treatment in which, it seems, Beethoven turns on him too. Kubrick’s view of the youth of that time is shown, although Alex is seen as immoral, the film will be from his point of view, and so Kubrick can be seen as sympathetic towards these youths as he is encouraging the audience to see their view of the world by making Alex the narrator of the story. Not forgetting Kubrick’s famous bathroom scene, later on in the film, which links both back to one of the first crimes we see Alex commit and directly to the ending of the film.

There seems to be no clear genre for A Clockwork Orange as it has been described as an “ultra- violent” film which is a term taken from the film suggesting it is a completely new genre of film. The term suggests a cross between a film about the nightlife culture of the time, due to the play on the words “ultra violet”, and a crime film. Another attempt at naming the genre of this film is “dystopian” which suggests an element of a zeitgeist of distrusting both the government and the youths of that time. The most commonly used genre that this film is put into is “art-house” which isn’t as much of a description of the film as the kind of audience it has, due to the fact that art house films generally have niche audiences.

One of my favourite films of all times and one of the most controversial, A Clockwork Orange is a must see for any film lover. Whether you love it as much as me or you are appalled by the graphic violence, you are bound to have an opinion.

Suspiria (1977)

suspiria header

Directed byDario Argento

Written by Dario Argento & Daria Nicolodi

A film set in a German Ballet academy, directed by an Italian film maker and spoken in the English language is bound to have a mixture of influences, but what struck me about Suspiria is the cinematic influence it has had on many of my personal favourite films. Never has a film reminded me so much of so many others. The story, although long and a bit slow, is clearly a classic tale of good and evil, with an American student travelling halfway around the world to study her passion at a dance academy when some strange occurrences start happening . After a gruesome death reminiscent of the slasher genre, the story follows Suzy as she struggles to fit into the academy, whilst trying to ignore the signs of things not being quite right in her new residence. Inspired by such gothic stories as those of the Grimm Brothers, this film uses many horror conventions to send shivers down your spine.

Suspiria reminded me of some of its contemporary films such as Carrie (1976) with the significance of blood to the story as well as later films such as The Shining (1980) through the use of a red setting, like the blood red of The Shining’s Bathroom scene, and the red exterior of the academy in Suspiria, giving a bloody first impression of the place. This visual choice by Argento gives the ominous effect of the supernatural, making it seem as if the walls are dripping with blood, clinging to the setting as the centre of the haunting atmosphere. The cinematography and tinkling music in an interesting non dialogue scene where the blind piano player walks through the town is also reminiscent of the famous Tubular Bells walk near the start of The Exorcist (1973). The similarities extend to the foreboding elements that the two scenes suggest and the suspense, the waiting for something to happen, the tense atmosphere just waiting to be released through a scare or shock. This era of American cinema has to be one of my favourites, and this film fits so well into that category, amongst some of the best horror films of all time, it seems it’s only a matter of time until its remade by some Hollywood studio, as is happening to all truly great horror films, no doubt with Chloe Moretz playing a lead role.

To me it also seems to have influenced more modern films such as the quick editing style of Edgar Wright, the suspense caused by it, the almost waiting to be scared through contrasting this with long takes of the country side, again, waiting for something to happen. It also has such images as this …

… devil’s snare anyone?

Although not the most imaginative of narratives or endings (without giving too much away), the cinematography, editing and just composition of everything are amazing, I have never seen anything like it, never watched a film and been in complete awe of the visual aspects of it. The way everything is placed on the screen, how one shot suggestively slides into another, the narrative, which I always focus on, comes second in my eyes to this astounding artistic piece of cinema. There’s one particular shot in which a glass of wine is being drunk, the deep red matches the almost black background of the door, in deep focus, it’s like the wine is pouring into or away from it. There are so many shots like this; I’ll be amazed if you can’t find just one shot that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

There isn’t much focus on the dancing aspect of this film as it is a horror not a musical, but one of my favourite scenes is that of Suzy, dancing on point (dancing term for standing on the tips of your toes), feeling faint and staggering, still on point and then her falling from such a height. Seeing this from a high angle, the helplessness of her is presented. After which a close up on her face reveals pinky-red blood dripping from her nose. One of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. The utter helplessness of our protagonist fighting against the music to dance, a stark contrast with how the other girls are dancing, shows the significance of her to the story, her inability to fit in, to keep up could possibly save her.

It’s so difficult to explain just how enchanting the composition of this film is without watching it. So that’s my advice to you. Watch this film, guaranteed you will be as lost for words as I was when I first saw it, which Is why I took so long to write this review. It’s difficult to put into words just how chilling and mesmerising and tense this film is. Not necessarily scary but you will get a few jumps out of this, but mainly the effect of the film is the fear of the jumps that you Argento takes his time setting up. You will not be disappointed.