Saturday, 27 February 2010

Usually I waste no love on the rich. I didn't like him at first.

No 340 - High and Low
Director - Akira Kurosawa

Like Kurosawa I make mad films, 'k I don't make films but if I did they'd have a samurai. Kurosawa has become eponymous with films about ancient Japan, certainly he is most famous for films such as the 7 samurai. So I was quite surprised to step into this taut and modern (well 70's) thriller.
I was also impressed with how effective it is. The film is essentially split into two sections. The first half introduces the dizzying world of the ladies shoe business as Gondo gets into an argument with the other major share owners about the direction in which the company should go. The argument gets quite heated and there is a lot of besmirching of honour (which is still a big thing in Japanese culture) and the group separate on bad terms.
Once the board have left, we learn about Gondo's plan. He has invested everything into acquiring enough money to buy a majority share in the company and then he will be able to dictate the company's future. He has his cheque for 50 million Yen and is about to leave when he is informed his son has been kidnapped and is being held ransom for 30 million Yen. Of course Gondo is willing to pay instantly until an interesting twist occurs.
It is not his son. It is his son's best friend, the son of Gondo's chauffeur. We are left with a fascinating quandary. Should Gondo sacrifice everything he has saved up for the son of an employee. The police are called in and the scenes are genuinely taut and nerve wracking.

However, what is most impressive is that this entire section occurs in one room. It could, essentially, be a play. A very effective play (It might have happened, I can't be bothered to research it).

Finally a plan is made and the cash drop off is organised.
I enjoyed the guessing game of the who-dunnit (is it his business partners, is it him) but the middle bit does slightly drag as the police wander around trying to find the kidnapper.

When you finally find out who was it behind the kidnapping the answer manages to be both perfect and disappointing. You wish it was something deeper and more epic. But it makes perfect sense.

This is my view of the whole film really - I came in with preconceptions about Kurosawa which meant I was expecting grandiose and epic. What I got was something very low key but equally fascinating.

I am a rubbish film geek as I've never seen his work before, but I'm now excited in seeing more of Kurosawa's work

God does not foresake forever. He may punish, yet he will have compassion.

No 348 - Au Hasard Balthazar
Director - Robert Bresson

Donkeys are hardly the most iconic of animals. Besides their religious undertones, all I can think of is that Pinocchio almost turns into one. It is not an animal which really inspires much excitement. Unfortunately this film doesn't change my view.
We follow the life of a donkey, called Balthazar and how he affects the lives of people around them. Namely the following 4 characters:
Gerard (Francois Lafarge) - A big motorbiking bully of a man.
Marie (Anne Wiazemsky) - Who loves Gerard
Pierre (Walter Green) - Who loves Marie
Arnold (Jean-Claude Guilbert) - The town drunk

The film itself seems to look at two things. Cruelty and love. There are a lot of one way relationships in this film and a lot of scenes of abuse. Mainly, it seems, on Balthazar. Arnold seems to personally take offense to the donkey and see him as a factor for his downfall whereas Gerard is just a bastard.
As I watched the film I couldn't help put take personal offense to Gerard. He is cruel for the hell of it. But not even in a fun way. Just in a really petty way. He isn't an iconic villain he is just an annoying child. And he seems to have a personal vendetta against the donkey. I'm not entirely sure why Gerard and Arnold are so angry with Balthazar, he is a DONKEY, it is not like he personally wronged them, and yet they take any opportunity to beat him. Or, set fire to the donkeys tail.

For some reason Marie finds Gerard fascinating, maybe because he rides a (rubbish) motorbike or something. She longs after Gerard and is a co-victim of his abuse. So, over the course of the film she gets beaten up several times but always runs back to him.
I'd feel more sorry for her but she is really weird. Whilst nothing is ever actually said there are some very strong allusions that maybe, JUST MAYBE, there is a slightly too close relationship between Anne and Balthazar. I mean in one scene she looks longingly at the donkey and then gives him a kiss on the lips. THIS IS NOT NATURAL! I'm not calling Marie an all out zoophile but she is clearly mentally ill. Explains a lot of her behaviour. she does not behave normally.

The only character bordering on normality is Pierre, and that's only because he isn't in the film for much. He just turns up and has unrequited love for Marie. Every now and again he almost gets together with Marie and then she goes back to Gerard.

That's about it really.The film is quite boring, and none of the characters seem to have any motivation to do ANYTHING. They just wander around and are mean to each other and to donkeys.
Poor donkey.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Buenos Dias. I'm guessing this isn't the future you had planned for yourself when you first clapped eyes on that money

No 228 – No Country for Old Men
Directors – Joel and Ethan Coen

I have been trying to watch this film all week. For some reason, every time I have gotten 6 minutes into the film something has occurred to scupper my plans. However, I finally got round to it.

The first thing that this makes me think of is Electra Glide in Blue. The sweeping desert vistas, the film’s palette of shades of brown, the dusty jaded police driving through the dusty desert roads.
This is a dirty and brown film.

This film follows Josh Brolin’s Llewellyn as he discovers a drug deal gone wrong and manages to prise $2,000,000 from one of the corpses. Rather than make life better for him and his wife, it opens up a whole can of worms as it introduces the chilling Anton Chigurh, played brilliantly by Javier Bardem. Anton is a bounty hunter (or a tracker, or an assassin) hired to kill whoever stole the money, and get the money back. He is armed with two of the greatest weapons ever – an air bolt (as used for killing cattle in abattoirs) and a SILENCED shotgun which makes the most wonderful phwip noise each time it is shot – and he is a determined and callous man.
In fact, as I watched Anton’s progress I was led to one logical conclusion. Consider the facts:
- Bardem’s wonderful dead eyed and emotionless performance.
- The clinical scene in which Anton fixes himself up after being shot. Performing self surgery with nary a wince of pain.
- Anton’s unstoppable march.

The man is a fucking TERMINATOR. It is the only answer. It would certainly explain why everyone is so gosh-darned scared of him.

Anton’s pursuit of Llewellyn takes up most of the film and it is a story which expands to include a lot of characters, most of whom end up either shot or with a gas powered retractable bolt shooting through their brain. We have Kelly Macdonald as Llewellyn’s wife (performing a really adorable thick accent) we also have cameos from Woody Harrelson (who will always be Woody from Cheers, regardless how many badass characters he plays) and a man who I was convinced was Rip Torn, but actually ended up being someone called Stephen Root.

However the most important character outside of the Brolin/Bardem pairing (and arguably, including them) is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones. He is on the trail of Bardem’s killer and he is trying to find out about the drug deal. He flits in and out of the film and he is never the story’s central focus. Until the final scene.

Bardem’s remorseless killer seems to be the job which pushes him over the edge ad to retirement. So we see him, essentially bored, and at home. Life has moved on. The world has always been cruel and violent but he was younger, he had help (the dreams about his dead father show the comfort that comes from having someone up ahead, preparing safety for you).
It is his arc which is the main spine of the story.
It is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell to which the story’s title refers.

It is No Country for Old Men.

Look how she moves! It's like Jell-O on springs. Must have some sort of built-in motor or something

No 27 – Some Like it Hot
Director – Billy Wilder

EGADS!! Almost an entire month has passed without me blogging. If I continue at this rate I’ll still be watching these films when I’m 50.
Well, I firmly believe I’ll still be watching THIS film when I’m 50. I love it. It is genius.

This is a very important film; it is the film which convinced my youngest sister not to dismiss Black and White films. It is also the film with the funniest closing line ever.

This film is most well known for the middle section in which Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress up as women to join an all-girl jazz band. Yet there is so much more in this film. Some of it works utterly utterly brilliantly while others feel out of place.
I’m going to begin with the out of place elements so that I can then begin spouting on about the bits of the film I love.

The film is set in the 1920’s and the opening scenes do an excellent job of showing the excess and the glamour of the illegal speakeasies. It sets up the characters perfectly (you see Curtis’ Joe introduced as a gambling, vice ridden lothario the perfect foil to the incessant worrier in Lemmon’s Jerry) and it highlights the desperation in the characters. They’re in a bit of a financial pickle. They need money.
We’re then introduced to the gangsters. The film is bookended with some proper 20’s mob action; it is this that feels unusual, and wrong in the film. Now I love 1920’s mobsters. They dress well; they have excellent morals and the skirt just on the right side of Italio-American cliché.
Spats, for example, is just a fabulous mafia villain. He is cold and chilling. Calculated and callous. He is someone that Joe and Jerry are wise to run from. However his arc feels completely tonally wrong. Every time he appears on screen it ends in a murder. His first murder is witnessed by Joe and Jerry. It is the very reason that they’re on the run and dressed as women. It is a pivotal plot point for the film and yet it feels completely out of place in such a fluffy film about love (and deception).

The film’s real triumph is the middle act – the love stories. These are so ingenious, they still hold there own 50 years on.
It all begins with a character called Sugar Kane.

My ruddy goodness… Marilyn Monroe is sexy. Tony Curtis comes out of this film as quite a good looking chap all ruggedly handsome and that but Monroe is just a hypnotic blend of wide eyed naivety and pure undiluted sex. She is involved in some particularly hot scenes (more on that later) but even when she isn’t doing anything particularly raunchy she is utterly intoxicating.
It is only natural that both Joe and Jerry become obsessed with her and Joe’s seduction of Sugar is wonderful to watch. His character, Junior – the young heir of shell oil, is meticulously designed to tick all of Sugar’s boxes. He also is pulling of a wonderful mimicry of Carey Grant’s vocal style.
The culmination of this romance is the yacht scene. Joe and Sugar are alone on a yacht and Joe (as Jr) tells the tragic story of his failed libido and how kisses leave him cold.
Cue Sugar performing ever more passionate and ever more intimate kisses. I heard Tony Curtis in an interview a couple of years ago and he said (rather brilliantly) that Marilyn Monroe would deliberately push against him and move away as they performed these kisses. It seems right; the sense of sexual teasing is very evident in the scene, which is incredibly sexy. Incredibly sexy.
I’m not surprised to learn that Tony Curtis ‘exploded’ (as he so delightfully puts it) on several takes.

So what of Jerry? Well Jerry’s alter ego Daphne catches the eye of a genuine millionaire, and the best character in the film, Osgood Fielding III. Osgood begins a very sweet, and almost innocent, seduction of Daphne with diamonds and flowers (all stolen by Joe to aid his seduction of Sugar) and dancing.
What is nicest though is that Jerry begins to genuinely fall for Osgood. He enjoys the attention, the flattery and the affection. And Osgood is a genuinely lovely character.

Joe trying to explain how marriage couldn’t work between Jerry and Osgood makes for a wonderful sequence.
You see, really, for all the gangsters, for all the shootings, for all the sultry wide eyed blondes, this is a proper traditional farce. It is all about quick costume changes and having to hide and false identities and lots of manic running around.

It ends, of course, with big reveals. Joe has to tell Sugar that he isn’t a millionaire. But by then, she doesn’t mind. Jerry has to tell Osgood that they can’t marry as he isn’t a Daphne but a Jerry.
Osgood’s response closes the film and is both a perfect representation of his character and a perfect message to close the film on.

It truly is the greatest closing line in a film.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Against so home-spun a background, the magnificence of the Ambersons was as conspicuous as a brass band at a funeral.

No 334 - The Magnificent Ambersons
Director - Orson Welles

I've always known this film as the one that isn't Citizen Kane, which goes to show how decidedly uncultured I am.
Here, we follow a family in a small town. A successful and rich family which stand out in the smallness of their town.

The film's story is quite simple. We follow two wealthy families. The titular Ambersons and the Morgans. Whilst we follow 3 generations of the Ambersons, we focus mostly on two couples. Isabel Amberson becomes a widow and falls for her former sweetheart Eugene Morgan. Meanwhile, their respective children (George Amberson and Lucy Morgan) begin to develop feelings for one another.
The greatest character in this film, the nearest it has to a protagonist, is George Amberson. He is just a spoilt and horrible person, and he embodies the film's key message. It is all about the inability to move on.
George's prejudices and his 'stuck in his ways' view on the world means he refuses to allow it to develop. He refuses to let his widowed mother re-marry, certainly not to re-marry a former love and he refuses to believe that automobiles will replace cars. In face, his refusal to believe these points frequently lead to massive arguments and the eventual fall of the family. I began the film thinking that George was hilarious. I loved his grumpy stubborn bigoted views. But he becomes boring. Quickly. You're waiting for him to see the error of his ways.

Yet, as the Amberson's life comes slowly crashing down around them, you begin to feel sorry for him and for his aunt Fanny (who is far crueler and far more manipulative than George will ever be). They are spoilt and pampered and horribly selfish people. But it isn't refreshing to see them suffer. Nobody gets to relish in the Ambersons getting their come-uppance. Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Mainafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.

I have to say, I found the story quite dull. I find this a strange thing to say because I'm fairly sure that aspects of the Ambersons are echoed in the Tenembauns (certainly the crumbling family and the use of the narrator, as well as the film's feel), however what I found interesting were the stylistic elements.
Orson Welles is an excellent director after all and the film has some wonderful touches. I like the cutaways, which ask the villagers what they think of the story's progress. The way that the camera lurks and the angles ysed are incredibly advanced. Shots are frasmed in reflections or viewed through bannister posts. It is very bold and very daring. It even sounds different - voices overlap continuously. Not neatly, but in a muddled and broken and noisy way. It feels like a group of people speaking. It is a bold change from the neatness and crispness which seems to be evident in 1940's film.

However, the film's most interesting point (and I don't know if this bodes well for the film) are the credits.
The narraotr throughout this film is Orson Welles, and come the end of the film he narrates the entire credits. He explains who played each part and performed each role and then he signs off. I have never seen this in a film, neither films of that era or films after that era.

It is a fascinating move and a very interesting stylistic decision.

I mean, I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?

No 463 - Juno
Director - Jason Reitman

There are some films which are just cool. In which every element of it seems perfectly thought out and deliberately placed to make the film more cool. If it is done well it feels natural and organic, if it is done badly it will just feel like it is trying too hard.
Juno is an effortlessly cool film, it just feels like the world of Juno MacGuff is cooler than normal. It is echoed by the film. Everything, from the casting to the phrasing to the brilliant use of props (I, for one, would love to find a friend of mine smoking a pipe in a makeshift living room on my front lawn).

I think that this film's main benefit is in the casting. Every character is perfect and practically every character is dripping with an acidic wit.
It also helps that I love almost all the actors in this film. I realise that there is a strong risk that I could just repeat the words cool and love over and over again. I will try not to though as I talk about the cast. Starting with the titular Juno.

I think Ellen Page is a brilliant actress and very very cute. She is just adorable. In no film has she conveyed this more perfectly than in Juno. Page's little baby face, combined with Juno's acerbic wit and effortless cool, creates a character which is really easy to fall in love with... I took my mum to watch this at the cinema and she loved Juno's character and subsequently agreed that Ellen Page is both fabulous and adorable. She wanted to watch more of her films. I tried to push X-Men 3 (something I never thought I would do). I failed. We watched Hard Candy. Not a film you can easily watch with your mother. Not a film you can easily watch full stop.
However, as a double bill it shows the amazing range Ellen Page can play.

As Juno gets bigger and pregnanter, the tininess of Ellen Page becomes more and more evident, which makes her even more adorable.
She is a wonderful protagonist. Flitting between cock-sure arrogance, innocent naivety and unprepared terror. She is a fully three dimensional, utterly flawed, captivating character. She is the kind of person I wish I was friends with. I love her world view - I know I've already mentioned it... but... SHE HAS A PIPE. She may not smoke it (which is good, she is pregnant after all) but the fact that she has one as an accessory is aces mc-aces. Her character is only enriched by the rest of her cast.

I don't know where to start as almost every character in this film is worth mentioning. Even minor roles like Rollo, the shop keeper and Su-Chin protesting outside of the abortion clinic steal the show for their few seconds on screen.
Su-Chin's bad English just highlights her comical adorable nature whilst almost every line uttered by Rollo is comedy gold. My particular favourite line So what's the prognosis, Fertile Myrtle? - probably the best line in a film full of ridiculously self conscious lingo (which appears to be a token part of Diablo Codey's writing).

I think I shall speak about the characters who surround her. Leah is a typical teen (though made more interesting by her wonderfully bizarre perversion towards teachers) with an excellent attitude but not much else going for her character. She certainly pales in comparison when compared to Juno's parents.
They are helped by being played by two truly brilliant actors. Firstly Mac MacGuff played by the fabulous JK Simmonds - the man who single handedly made Spiderman great. Whenever he crops up in any film it makes me smile and in this film he is one of the film's key strengths. His character is made even stronger by the clear love he has towards his daughter. There is a beautiful chemistry between Mac and Juno. A love, mixed with an undercurrent of hurt worry (only natural considering his child has got pregnant) and a strong strong protective streak. It is lovely to behold.
Simmons can create wonderful relationships everywhere. See the protective love towards his daughter and compare it with the comfortable relaxed romance he shares with Juno's stepmother Bren. I know Allison Janney as the fabulously inappropriate Ms Perky in 10 Things I Hate You. However, you may know her as CJ from the West Wing - a character who is also, so I've been told, very cool.
The two of them, Bren and Mac, are such a fabulous pair, and you can see Juno's character in their laid back and sarcastic conversations.

This is a film which looks at how the course of true love never does run smooth. Mac has had a divorce (or is, perhaps, a widower - it is never really explained) but is happy with his second wife. The two have a wonderful relationship.
RICHARD NOTE - My friend Richard has rightfully pointed out that the situation with Juno's Mother IS explained. they are divorced and she sends a cactus every year. Silly old Tim.

Finally, we have Bleeker. The character who is responsible for the entire movie, the character who impregnated Juno. The love interest. Paulie Bleeker is played by Michael Cera, I can't state just how brilliant he is.
His bumbling hesitant awkwardness is a delight. I think 2010 will be a big year for Michael Cera. Youth in Revolt looks fabulous - Cera's moustache is a particular joy. Whilst the one shot of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World which has been released shows him with a FLAMING SWORD. That is pretty damned cool.
Here, Bleeker is seemingly punished continuously for his one act. As he tries to continue his life, confused by the events which occur before the film's start. He isn't really involved in the main body of the film. He is the love interest and whilst his and Juno's relationship is an important part of the film, it is not an important of the plot.

I feel like all I'm doing is listing characters in the film. But they are the film's strength, the film's key point. The final two characters I want to discuss are the pair of Vanessa and Mark Loring (played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). The pair's relationship is fascinating. Vanessa longs for a baby and her initial desperation masks her character. She comes off as neurotic and a pain but over the film you see how eager she is to have a child. That eagerness becomes something beautiful.
Likewise, Mark's casual laissez-faire attitude begins as quite a cool character trait. Until you realise what an inappropriate coward he is. Then your loyalties change... the character development in this film is superb. The arcs are so well done that you care for the characters. You can't help but feel let down by Mark.

This, in the end, is the main crux of the film. It shows how the process of having a baby affects the people involved. Everyone changes in this film. Whether subtly or fundamentally, the act affects everyone. That is what the film is about.
For all the wit and pithy one liners. This is a film about how a baby changes everything and everyone.