Thoughts on ‘The Theory of Everything’

theory of everything Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones take to the big screen as Professor Stephen Hawking and his first wife Jane in this awards heavy triumph.

I find myself in quite a good place at the moment as I am making regular trips to the cinema before the big awards ceremonies take place. Having been through a period where the cinema became something of a rarity for me I am pleased to say that I am back in full swing and visiting on a near weekly basis. The latest film I managed to see was the critically acclaimed Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh. It is safe to say that I did thoroughly enjoy the film and it was because most elements are finely polished.

In terms of narrative structure I don’t necessarily have a problem. I think the film has the difficult task of covering a lot of events that span across years but it manages this very well. I have been informed that some events have been changed on the big screen because there were certain things that weren’t allowed in the film and obviously as we can expect certain things had to be changed in order to help the pace, certificate rating and various other elements as we see in most films based on true events. I was worried when I was approaching the film because I went in wanting it to focus on Hawking’s work to a certain extent. I feared that this may have been jeopardised by the fact it was said to focus on the relationship between the young couple. I found myself pleasantly surprised because my cynicism was without cause. It was not over indulgent or watered down Hollywood romantic nonsense. There was a very nice balance of the relationship and his work as well so I think it worked perfectly in that sense.

The screenplay was also quite impressive, managing to present this young couple who are falling in love and then progressing them through to married life but it does so in a manner that doesn’t make you want to be sick in to your popcorn. It shows that yes Stephen Hawking was a nervous sort, and yes he was unconfident around women, but this didn’t fall into the region of trying to show him as some quirky character you often find in romantic films. The screenplay was actually rather impressive, showing how the two of them fell in love by talking. There’s a wonderful scene when the two of them first meet and the young Stephen Hawking is trying to explain his subject field to Jane and finds it difficult because she’s quite religious and his subject is the complete opposite. I think it was scenes such as this that made the film stand out for me because it showed how the love between the two of them was not something instant like a firework going off, but rather it was like a wall being built brick by brick or a puzzle fitting together piece by piece and it was very romantic. Also on the flipside of this it manages to show the failures of the relationship rather well, much like seeing that once the wall has been built it can easily be taken apart again brick by brick, which in this instance was done so in a heartbreaking fashion that did squeeze a few tears out of me.

I have to say I thought visually the film was very good. The cinematography was rather impressive because this is a story in which the little details matter. I thought it was very good how the camera focuses on little things like the positioning and direction of Hawking’s feet as he walked, or the movements of his mouth because it all shows how his health is slowly deteriorating so it helps to show not only the smaller changes that take place gradually but also the quite large ones that happen at a greater speed.

If you haven’t heard about the acting then one can only assume you live in a hole in the ground and spend your days whitewashing your walls because the cast is superb. The supporting cast is very strong, in particular actors such as David Thewlis stood out for me. However, it is the two leading roles that are the most impressive. Eddie Redmayne is of course fantastic as Professor Hawking, mastering the speech and physical movements to give a performance that is quite rightfully nominated for the Academy Award. I would love to see him get it but the chances of the Academy favouring him are very low. I am overjoyed that he has taken home the BAFTA as I really like the awards, so I guess him missing out on an Oscar wouldn’t be such a big deal because they don’t mean an awful lot to me anyway. But in all of quick fire reviews or posters and tv spots there is never really a mention of how wonderful Felicity Jones is as Hawking’s wife. She manages to capture all of the excitement of being young romantics, but then also the jaded look of the woman who tried as hard as she could to keep the love alive but knew her efforts were in vain. There was a scene in particular featuring Jones and a letter board that I defy anyone to watch without it tugging on their heart strings. It was an outstanding performance and again one I would love to see awarded by the Academy but I have doubts.

The thing I didn’t expect from the film that I think I found most interesting was the philosophical side. There’s quite a lot of talk of God and whether or not this universe was created by a God and it adds an extra dimension to the film. Hawking was complex in his views about God and you do see him shift backwards and forwards on the belief scale, but the scenes in which the characters openly debate are the ones that I found most interesting. In particular there is a scene in which the conductor of the church choir, who later goes on to fall in love with Jane, is sat at the dinner table with Professor Hawking and they end up in quite a heated debate on the matter. I thought this scene was fantastic and actually quite comical on a number of levels. However, what I liked most about the film’s approach to this debate was how it leaves it very open. It would have been easy to sit on one side and say that yes a god does exist or sit on the other and say no gods exists at all, but what the film does is just remain open. It doesn’t make it’s mind up. It even shows how Hawking had an open mind and was merely seeking the answers. What the film does not do is attempt to provide an answer, and that is nothing short of admirable.

I’m glad to have seen this film have success at the BAFTAs, not only for Redmayne’s rightful win but also the win for the best British film. I just feel like this film is important. Not only is it a big and bold British film that clearly secures our seat at all of the awards ceremonies, but also because the story is so important. It’s a film that celebrates one of the most important minds that this world has ever seen. It celebrates the work of a man who constantly questioned things around him, he constantly pursued answers to some of the largest questions humanity can form. He is even a man who questioned himself. He would finish his work and then immediately challenge it. He is a truly remarkable human and he shows what determination really is. The doctors gave him a time scale in which they thought he would pass away, and he has consistently defied that and still lives today. It was an utterly fascinating film about a fascinating man and the person whom he loved, and I just admire it as a whole for being a bold and unashamedly British film that can give any of the other motion picture nominees a run for their money.

Now there is a small matter I need to address. Exactly one week before I saw this film I went to see the film Whiplash which is another film that is tipped very heavily at the awards. And when I came home from seeing the film I posted a picture on Instagram of myself and my good friend Holly who I saw both films with, and the picture’s caption was “go and see this film now” because we both really enjoyed it. And underneath this a good friend of mine, Mr Tom Allison, posted a comment saying “let me ask you this… is it better than the theory of everything because I think that movie is simply the best movie I’ve ever seen?”. At the time I couldn’t answer the question because I hadn’t seen The Theory of Everything, however now that I have seen it I can answer that question. In my opinion, they’re not really comparable. I think Whiplash managed to grasp my attention more and intrigued me because I barely knew anything about it, but on an emotional level and in terms of scale and cinematic mastery I think The Theory of Everything was above Whiplash. I do need to see both films again and I think I will have to write a more detailed comparison of the two, just so Tom’s question gets the answer it deserves, but for the time being it is difficult for me to say which is better.

Overall I felt that the film was fantastic, a really impressive piece of storytelling that is brilliantly made and executed. For the most part it did not feel as though I was watching Eddie Redmayne because his performance was so incredible. It reminded me very much of Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, and I honestly feel it would be an act of injustice if he does not take away the Oscar this year. It was not perfect and it is not the best film I have ever seen (apologies Tom) but it was still hugely impressive and it had me crying at different points. It may have been more emotionally draining for me as I’ve recently been through a break up so it was crushing to see this relationship blossom on screen and then slowly decay right before my eyes, but then again I would challenge anyone with a beating heart to see this and not get emotional.

As always thank you very much for taking the time to read this. If you’re a regular reader then this is your fault if you didn’t enjoy this. If you’re new to this blog then please feel free to leave through the door you entered, however I cannot guarantee a refund of the minutes spent reading this. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share or any questions you would like answering then please feel free to leave a comment below and I shall respond hopefully within twenty four hours.

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Thoughts and Analysis of “About Time” by Richard Curtis

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I was not prepared for this film to be as good as it was, and that only made the experience better.

I couldn’t help but like this film. It takes an awful lot to impress me when it comes to writing comedic films, or indeed romantic films for that matter. I’m old fashioned, I love films like Annie Hall that show the harsh reality of relationships where love is both a sword and a shield in a battlefield, so when a smaller more delicate film comes along and takes me by complete surprise, I am overjoyed.

I have always been a fan of Richard Curtis, I think he is a fantastic writer and really understands his trade, so I cannot possibly understand why I have put off his latest film, About Time, for so long. A film about a man who can travel back in time to any point of his own timeline and change things as he sees fit, it’s a different take on the usual romantic comedy structure. It felt somewhat like Ruby Sparks because it develops this idea that love is malleable and lucid and in fact can be played with, as opposed to something that is set and either works or doesn’t. It’s drawing on works such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which we see love as something that is influenced by others and is shaped instead of being something that happens naturally. But instead of being something that shaped by external factors, such as fairies, it is something shaped by the individual.

That’s why I found the film thought provoking, it sparks off so many questions in my mind and makes me happy, sad, angry and god knows what else all at the same time. There points raised in my mind that I simply have to address and so I thought I would take this opportunity to share them in my usual style.

It’s not just a film about relationships in terms of couples, it’s about fathers and sons and family connections in general- I know the film is largely based around the protagonist aiming to find love with a female and settle down with the perfect person for him, but this isn’t the only kind of relationship that is explored. The scenes in which we see the young man playing ping pong with his father and his father adding this hilarious commentary that imagines himself as an olympic player really adds to how hard the film hits me. It shows the importance of family and shows just how precious every moment with your parents is.

It develops this idea of if you could go back would you change anything? – what made this film as brilliant as it was is the transition from comedy to sincerity. It starts off with the protagonist going back and changing situations that he ends badly the first few times by embarrassing himself, before finally getting it right and that is funny. But then it moves on to show how seriously events can be changed when certain elements are altered. And that is when the sincerity kicks in, because we see suddenly see Tim actually start to question his decisions and think them over carefully based on what conclusions they will bring about. Furthermore this leads to the point of reflection in which Tim and indeed the audience start to question if they would change anything if they could go back. And that is interesting to think about. Is love really something we should experience as perfection? Is love really about getting everything right and making the best decisions? If you had the chance to go back would you change anything or relive it how it really was?

It’s fantastic that the film shows the full extent of responsibility – I was concerned that the film would delve too far into the comedic side of the spectrum and show love to be like putty in Tim’s hands, which would have been grossly inappropriate because that undermines just how serious relationships really are. It manages to show how Tim must start taking responsibility for his decisions and his trips into the past, and how he has to start using it to take care of other people and not just himself. It is a classic case of a gift becoming a curse but not in such a fatalist style.

As a science fiction nerd it is refreshing to see a new take on time travel – throughout cinematic history time travel has always been something that requires a huge clunky machine and a large power source to create a painful journey with lights and explosions, and yet this film doesn’t include that. It was refreshing to see a film feature time travel as a natural ability that people have. It is just something they can do as and when they like, with no flashy effects, just a small place and a simple thought. I just found it interesting really because it’s something I haven’t seen before. It was like seeing a large part of science fiction become house broken and domesticised. Weird.

It is a rather ugly concept to think about not letting love happen naturally – I know it has been a funny topic to explore in the past, as I previously mentioned Shakespeare proved this perfectly with A Midsummer Night’s Dream which still stands as one of the greatest pieces of comedic writings of all time, but aside from the embarrassment and subsequent laughter that follows, the concept is quite disgusting. I don’t know if I can speak for anybody else but personally I feel that with my latest relationship I am glad that things happened naturally because it made love seem real. Being able to play with love and mould it makes the whole idea of love just something that is constructed and perfected, which isn’t what love is about. It takes away the excitement factor of not knowing what’s coming next, or where you’ll be in a few months time. So as funny as the film can be when it explores this idea, it thankfully does not idealise it in any way.

Time and age are key factors in how the time travel is used – the character development of Tim is spot on as it shows a three dimensional character who learns and matures with age. The purpose of the time travel changes for him, initially starting out as a way for him to become the ideal partner to copulate with but then when he is older and in a more serious time in life his motives switch to keeping his family stable. That’s what I like about it. If this was an American comedy then Tim would continue fucking around for the rest of time and everything would work in his favour, whereas what this film shows is how Tim can’t try to be a player all of his life, he has to settle down. Eventually this game he sets out to play has more and more rules and he has to abide by them in order to achieve stability.

Would returning to an event again and again remove how special it is? – just food for thought really, because as much as I love certain memories I don’t know if I would relive them again. I think the more times you experience it the less special it becomes. I know not everyone will agree with that but it’s just a point that had me thinking after seeing Tim revisit an event several times.

The film begs the question is love really about being perfect or doing things correctly? – I know I mentioned this previously but I just wanted to touch upon it again briefly because there are numerous scenes in the film in which we see Tim experiencing events for the first time and then attempting them several more times until he feels they are perfect. This for me only shows how absurd the whole idea of it is and it shows how love has been contextual and does depend on time. It’s going to show how much of a nerd I am when I say this but there is a beautiful moment in a recent series of Doctor Who in which we see how Clara’s parents met by a leaf falling on her dad’s face and then her mum having to save him from being hit by a car whilst blinded. It was beautiful because they go in to detail about how that specific tree had to grow in the specific way so that the specific leaf could be formed to fall when that specific wind blew near it to land on the man who was walking in that specific location and that exact time etcetera until it just shows how so many different factors have to be in place, and if one of them was ever so slightly different then events may follow a different path and they would have never fallen in love. Which is a scary thought to think about how something so small could lead to a relationship never starting, but it’s also exciting to think about how a chain of events leads to people falling in love. That’s something the character of Tim does not allow himself to experience because he is too focused on trying to do the right thing.

As I have discussed in previous blog posts, I am loving the use of the f word in a 12 rated picture –  This does seem to be a recurring theme for me now with films but honestly it makes me so happy to see screenplay writers being brave enough to use the word “fuck” in a 12 rated picture because it is a risk worth taking. If you’re going to be a child like James Cameron with Titanic and waste it then it’s not the same thing, but when it is used for comical effect or is used to show the raw emotions that a character is feeling then it is worth it. It adds a shock value, which either makes us laugh or allows us to connect with the characters more because we understand their emotional state more. In the case of this film the word is used a couple of times and for different reasons but all of them justified. I really like Richard Curtis as a writer already but I think this film has made me like him even more because it shows how he is talented and takes risks that pay off.

The film isn’t just about young love, the relationship between Tim’s parents is crucial to how relatable the film is – It’s very easy to explore the young relationship that Tim experiences in which a lot of things happen and it’s a busy time, but some of the more hard hitting moments of the film take place when the relationship between Tim’s parents is focused on. These are the times in which we don’t see a new relationship, we see a partnership that has been years in the making and that has strengthened over time, with deeply pitted roots. Without wanting to spoil the plot for anyone I will say there is a line that really had me thinking in the second half of the film in which Tim’s mother is facing mental health issues that are impacting on her husband and she says “I am fucking furious, I am so uninterested in a life without your father”. This really had me thinking because on one hand it shows how love stands the test of time and brings people together for an entire lifetime, but also it challenges what Shakespeare says in Sonnet 116 (incidentally one of my favourites) about how love can withstand anything and if it is true then it does not die. Tim’s mother challenges this statement by showing how eventually her husband has become someone different, someone she didn’t fall in love with, and it’s crushing. She has spent so many years with this man and now he has become another person that she does not necessarily know, which seems negative and like it brings the mood of the film down, but honestly that is how life is. It’s upsetting because it is so realistic and does not shy away from the truth, but that is nothing short of admirable.

There is a lot more I could say about the film because it is fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it, but I think a second viewing is in order just so I can pick up on things I possibly missed the first time around. It’s always good to get a fresh perspective with an open minded revisit.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I hope you gained something out of it, be it entertainment, thoughts, a time filler or just a reason to need read this blog again, I am grateful for your time either way. If you have any thoughts or opinions then please do not hesitate to leave a comment below, I will get back to any comments that are posted. Also if there are any questions you have about the film that you would like me to address then I will be more than happy to respond to them.

Until the next time I shall leave you with a quote from the film, which comes from the character of Tim’s sister, someone who feels that their place in this world is somewhat questionable:

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“I’m the faller, every family has a faller, someone who trips up, who doesn’t make the grade”

 

Thoughts and Analysis of ‘Blue Jasmine’ by Woody Allen

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Woody Allen returns to film with a poignant piece of thought provoking cinema. 

When people who have a passion for cinema, such as myself, hear that an auteur who has made films for decades is returning with another motion picture one of two thoughts will occur to them. Either “that should be interesting to see what they’ve got in store for us” or “what does that old bastard want? Doesn’t he realises the eighties ended?”. Hence when new films by people such as Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese are released the audience is always split in to schisms of those appreciating a new cinematic approach or complaining that the glory days are over, and both sides are understandable. But when a film maker truly stands the test of time and continues to create new and exciting pieces at a consistent rate, now that’s special.

Just recently Wood Allen made the latest installment to his catalogue of cinema with his new romantic comedy Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett. It’s a film that has roots in older Allen work but doesn’t necessarily linger in the past. I think the film completely disproves the cyniques who say that Allen has lost his touch and is playing on past successes, because this isn’t the case at all. What he has done with Blue Jasmine is shown us that he has deserved all of the praise in the past and then supplied us with a new reason to praise him. It is a fantastic but delicate piece of film that is not for everyone, but for me it was very good. I usually don’t think much of comedies because they’re not made to be good films in todays world; modern comedies are just made to make people laugh in any way possible whilst taking their money in the process. Woody Allen is still fighting against that wave of idiocy and is writing intelligent comedic pieces that work perfectly as films.

To summarise for those who haven’t seen the film, and speaking spoilerese as a means of not spoiling it for anyone, the story centres around Jasmine, a woman moving in with her adopted and considerably poorer sister after having lived a life of luxury. We are made aware that there were complications with her ex husband and his activities both in and outside of work and so she has basically found herself at the bottom of the pile facing up to others for help. From there the film follows Jasmine as we look back in to her troubled past whilst moving to the present to see her trying to place her life back together piece by piece. As simple as that sounds the way the film explores certain topics, such as the class system, what love really means, and various mental health issues really adds layers to it and forms a complex film in the usual Woody Allen style of being wrapped in this brutal sense of humour that makes you question if you should really be laughing.

And it’s rather upsetting to think about how small the film could have been. It was originally only released in about six theatres in America before being treated to a wider release, so really we are lucky. We are lucky that people pushed this film and supported it because it could very well have ended up as a film that never happened. Sony Classics have my upmost respect for supporting the film and distributing it so that wider audiences can see it, one of the most intelligent decisions to have been made in recent years regarding cinema. And I have masses of respect for Cate Blanchett who really pushed the film forwards and shows everyone that films with a female lead are wanted and are successful. For a better summary I advise watching her Oscar speech which, although I can’t stand the awards, was exceptional.

In my usual style I have decided to not only comment on the film but to analyse it because it was a special film for me, a comedy that was worth thinking about, much like with Spike Jonze’s Her recently which equally I liked rather a lot. So I suppose you could say I’ve dissected the film because there is a lot to pick up on and it was such an exciting experience being able to write about it. It is without further ado I present to you my thoughts and analysis of Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen.

The character of Jasmine initially feels like a character from Sex & The City – the first part of the film sees Jasmine as something of a consumerist arsehole; she is constantly talking of clothing she has or how much it is worth and it is rather annoying to listen to her bathing in her own wealth. One of the examples that stands out is when Jasmine is talking to her adopted sister about how little money she has, but then proceeds to moan about the poor standards of her first class flight that day and how her customised designer luggage looks used, and by implication, outdated. It is cringe worthy to observe such a pompous and rude person interact with others who have a greater grasp on reality. The obsession with money and success and what her partner does made her seem like one of the consumerist caricatures from Sex & The City but with at least a little bit of human hidden somewhere.

Continuing the previous point, did Allen deliberately write such a detestable character? – I know it has been a Woody Allen trait in the past to have a main character that is a little bit irritating and who makes you cringe, but this is a whole new level. With Blue Jasmine you have a main character who is utterly repugnant and who actually makes the first part of the film quite uncomfortable because you can appreciate that her situation is difficult but you don’t necessarily feel sympathy towards her. Now I don’t know if this is because Allen wanted to make a contrast to how Jasmine is towards the end of the film of whether he is using the class system as a way of mocking certain types of people but either way Allen did it on purpose. He wrote Jasmine to be a complex character who is by no means one dimensional and so we feel more than one emotion towards them throughout the film.

Jasmine’s sister seems to be happy in her relationships because she doesn’t have a checklist when looking for a partner – I admit this sounds weird but what I mean is that Jasmine has a set idea of what her ideal partner is like, such as their income, success, attractiveness, but then her sister is unsure as to who she is looking for. This leads her to have more success because she falls for whoever it is that she connects with. It’s a rather interesting contrast because Allen makes it clear that Jasmine’s sister is looking for a man because of who he is whereas Jasmine is after a man because of what he is; she is fixated upon the idea of a man. For the sister her man is a partner, someone she can fool around with and fuck without worrying about his social standing, but for Jasmine he is part of her image. The man she is with is part of her identity and so she is very selective over who she is with. Granted Jasmine does not completely use the men in the film because she is clearly devastated when things goes wrong but there is still something ugly about how she approaches men and has a checklist, to the point of shouting at her sister that she will never have a better life because he chooses and deserves “losers”.

The scene with the dentist may have been a step too far – I’m aware this is vague for someone who has not seen the film but for those who have it’s quite obvious what I’m referring to. I know the scene is written for comical effect and it is a continuation of the downward spiral of events for Jasmine, but I would be lying if I said the scene didn’t leave me feeling uncomfortable. It’s difficult for me to find it funny because I’m aware that it’s an issue real people face in the workplace, but then part of me doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be funny. Part of me wants to believe that Allen was approaching quite a serious topic with at least the basic level of sincerity it deserves.

Class is often used as a topic for comedy but is mental health a suitable subject to derive comedy from? – Allen’s writing has always been at the dark end of the spectrum. I wouldn’t say it’s quite up there with the likes of In Bruges but he is clearly a definitive black comedy writer of our time. So when he is using Jasmine’s class as a subject for comedy it’s not really a problem because it is very observant writing. Some of the funniest moments of the film coincidentally are the times in which class is the subject of comedy, such as when Jasmine is forced to spend time with people she sees as beneath her and clearly they are enjoying life more than her. It is however when Jasmine’s mental health is called upon to produce jokes I start to get a little bit edgy. It’s a topic that has been used before for comedy, such as in Silver Linings Playbook in which we see Pat’s bipolar used seldom as a topic for comedy, but using a mental breakdown as a source of comedy seems a little bit too risky. I wouldn’t say Allen is necessarily being as juvenile as that, it’s not as if he’s a child who just killed a fly and then proceeds to poke it with a stick and laugh at it, but it’s not to say he doesn’t make some scenes featuring Jasmine’s mental health as a main topic comedic. And again this would link back to my previous point about whether we are meant to like Jasmine or not, and so that really dictates how funny you find it.

The use of language, particularly adjectives to describe men, is very intriguing – there are a lot of words thrown around in Blue Jasmine that are used to describe men. Obviously love and partners are a big element in the film and so there’s a high usage of the word “useless” by Jasmine when referring to the partner of her sister. It’s interesting that this is even considered by Jasmine because not only is she just comparing him to her ex husband but also it seems like she is over compensating. Jasmine is constantly trying to look for ways to be above others and shared this sense of entitlement above everyone else. So even now when she is at the bottom of the scrap heap and taking on a job she considers beneath her she still had the audacity to call those with a steady career “useless” in one last attempt to cling on to the identity she once had and held in high esteem. It’s also a slight attempt to maintain this position she feels she has over her sister when clearly she is jealous that her sister is happier than she is.

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The ending is not necessarily happy but that makes it more realistic – even going back to films like Annie Hall it’s clear Allen’s brutality is in his endings. The harsh abruptness just reflects the cold reality we live in where not all relationships are successful but also where people have to face the fate they have constructed for themselves through their own actions. It’s not because I’m a cynic; I actually admire Allen for being a writer who has a grasp on reality. I find that too many American writers use the happy ending when it’s not justified. If you look at British comedy as opposed to American comedy you’ll see that British people accept failure more. Our favourite characters are the ones who don’t succeed, that aren’t happy, that life consistently craps on. In contrast, American comedies like Friends are written so that the idiotic characters get in to all sorts of mishaps but then always land on their feet, they always reach their happy ending regardless of how much of an arsehole they have been in the process. That is exactly what Allen is avoiding here, he shows how the lead character gets in to all sorts of trouble but then gets served a hard dose of reality, and that is why it feels somewhat British. It’s like Richard Ayoade’s Submarine in which we see Oliver Tate’s persistent romantic struggles that show what a disturbed individual he can be and it does inevitably lead to his own unhappiness. He isn’t happy by the end of it, he doesn’t feel content with his home life, he doesn’t necessarily get the girl but we accept that because it is the road he has paved for himself. That’s what Blue Jasmine feels like, it’s harsh but realistic, and I still believe it’s admirable of Allen to move away from the glossy Hollywood ending that frequently plagues our screens.

–> following from previous points, the ending makes the film feel like it’s a more realistic conclusion to Sex & The City – I talked briefly earlier about how the film mirrors the annoying nature of Sex & The City, so now while I’m on the topic of Blue Jasmine’s conclusion I feel I should mention that I think the ending of Blue Jasmine is the ending Sex & The City would have if it was set in the real world. If the characters in it were real women who genuinely behaved the way they do then they would find an almighty amount of shit raining down upon their heads, much like Jasmine experiences to an extent. It’s an ending that shows what can happen to people if they are selfish and constantly try to assert their position above everybody else. There is no way the characters in S&C would be as happy as they are because things wouldn’t always work in their favour. Blue Jasmine delivers the clear message that actions have consequences, something the characters in S&C never experience and never will. If the writers and the actors managed to grow up and act as old as we all know they are (sorry SJP but we know how old you are, quit the facial work) then they would present a realistic story with less juvenile characters, in a world that is not childish.

The idea of one song being be able to trigger an all manner of emotions is explored quite nicely – I can’t explain it in comprehensible English or even a coherent manner but I really like it when a song is part of a character. I think it really develops a character and adds depth to see how one song is so deeply rooted and sparks off an emotional cocktail that ultimately brings them to their knees. This is what you find with Blue Jasmine when Jasmine hears Blue Moon by Conal Fowkes. This was played at her wedding and so used to be a happy song for her. However after everything that happens with said man the song becomes one that makes her saddened but also creates another reaction: a smile. Now it’s an interesting smile to see, and Blanchett acts superbly to create this, because it’s one that has different reasons behind it. Part of the smile feels like Jasmine is thinking back to how things used to be and the tears that accompany the smile are formed because she realises how her happy relationship crumbled beneath her. But then another side to the smile could be to create the illusion that Jasmine is fine. It’s like when a parent receives bad news but doesn’t want to be seen crying by their children, so they adopt a hollow smile. In this case it is as if Jasmine doesn’t want to let the song get the better of her and so she smiles it off until the smile doesn’t work anymore.

It’s commendable that a screenplay writer uses the ‘f’ word in a film with a 12 certificate – this is a topic I feel quite strongly about because I am heavily interested in screenplay writing and I am fascinated with different writing styles. I think it’s a brave choice when a writer puts the word “fuck” in to a film that is rated 12, but it has to be done appropriately. It’s a word that obviously carries a lot of meanings behind it and is usually used in cases of extreme emotional turmoil and so it is not a word that can be used lightly. It’s all well and good having Tarantino and Terence Winter rattle off as many fucks as they can in an 18 certificate, in those instances it’s boring because it’s what you expect. Obviously with a 12 certificate you’re restricted so you really have to make it count. You could be a monumental cretin like James Cameron and just blow it like he did with Titanic or you could do what Steve Coogan did with Philomena recently where it is utilised to create comic effect and convey various feelings. I believe Allen has done the right thing here because the use of the word added shock value and tension to a rather heated argument and wasn’t just wasted liked a adolescent loud mouth in the playground at school. It was a brave choice, much like with other films before it, and it shows other writers how to do it properly. James Cameron please step out of your swimming pool of money and get some tips on effective screenplay writing, you child.

So there you have it, a fantastically written film that is truly though provoking and a gentle return for Woody Allen. In recent years he has had a bit of a rough time with this resume. Films like Midnight in Paris were good but then others like Match Point completely missed the mark in my opinion so it is nice to see him back on top form. I know he is a controversial figure due to allegations and rumours recently but I’m chosing to ignore those. I don’t condone any behaviour he has been accused of but I do care about his films so I shall focus on those for the time being. I heavily recommend watching this film to anybody of any age because I think it will give different things to different audiences depending on their age.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I am grateful for any views this blog gets so thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read it. If you have any comments or thoughts on the film then please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Until the next time I shall leave you with a quote from Blue Jasmine that I rather liked:

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“There’s only so many traumas that a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming”

 

Thoughts and Analysis of ‘Shame’ by Steve McQueen

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It’s always a refreshing experience for a film fanatic to watch a film that they know very little about and find that it is a diamond in the rough. It is my pleasure to say that I experienced this just last week when I sat down to watch Steve McQueen’s 2011 masterpiece, Shame, starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. For those who don’t know the film is basically about a man who lives alone and enjoys a successful life at work, but then in his spare time he partakes in substance abuse and is sex addict. His world is changed when his sister comes to stay with him for the foreseeable future, causing his life to be altered to suit the new context. My mind was completely open and I didn’t know what to expect of the film, which allowed this hidden gem just enough time to creep in and take me completely by surprise. It is fantastic.

It’s odd because the film is one I could only describe as problematic. It deals with subject matter that is dark and it reveals a soul behind the film that is black, but it approaches different problems with the utmost sincerity, without ever idealising them. It reminded me to an extent of the period of film in the seventies and eighties in which cinema became problematic, with films like I Spit on Your Grave, Straw Dogs and even A Nightmare on Elm Street at the helm of this time period. They all dealt with complex issues based on the human mind and the human body. They focused heavily upon character and the way the human body is treated, and in some cases destroyed or defiled. That is what Shame feels like. It is a problematic piece of complex cinema that feels as though you are crawling through sewage, but you don’t necessarily mind.

The best thing about the film is that, like many other good films, it is extremely thought-provoking. The sign of a good film is that it makes you think; you become so engaged in this fictitious world that you are intrigued and filled with questions and thoughts. One of the original purposes of cinema, like literature before it, was to tell a story, so it is refreshing to still see films that can capture an audience like that without being real. In this case also the film is one that focuses heavily on the idea of language and how as humans we can use language for an all manner of different purposes. I really like films that focus on humans and language because it takes skill in writing and presents just how much delicate screenplay writing pays off.

The film was actually so thought-provoking I found myself doing something I hadn’t done in a very long time; I actually had a pad and pen in front of me so I could be making notes. It sounds like something a professional film critic would either hate or encourage, but it was honestly the only way for me to capture the various thoughts and feelings that spontaneously burst in to my head. It was a rather interesting experience for me, so what I have decided to do is to transfer all of my hand written notes I made whilst watching the film in to a blog post, just to see what people make of them. I have spoken spoilerese to the best of my ability to ensure the film isn’t ruined for those who haven’t seen it.

So it is without further ado I present to you the original purpose of this post: my thoughts and analysis of Shame by Steve McQueen.

The screenplay takes time to become present – for the first eight minutes of the film we are only presented with a couple of words. Some people lose interest when a film does not have instant talking but if you think about it some of the best films take time to develop their screenplay. Wall-e famously had one character for the opening section of the film, and even There Will Be Blood took near enough nineteen minutes before introducing screenplay to the audience. Taking time is not a bad thing.

Fassbender’s character is made to be successful with women by not talking, whereas his friend talks too much and that is evidently his flaw – it’s almost a mockery of men who approach women in bars and try to smooth talk them, McQueen and Morgan clearly cared about the screenplay for this film and how is presents men and women. It suggests a connection between two people has to come naturally, it cannot possibly be forced to exist.

Fassbender is very happy with freedom and no one in particular, whereas his sister has someone she loves and yet she is unhappy – the film shows how the free spirit who is not tied down is happy with their life, but n the opposite side of the coin we see his sister who is fixated upon one person, which hurts her all too easily.

The cinematography is complex through fragmentation – it shows the mundane aspects of everyday life like train journeys, and then the physical nature of sexual activity without shying away from being too explicit. It only makes it more realistic by focusing on the details to make it more relatable for members of the audience.

Nudity – it is almost as if McQueen wants to show every single aspect of the characters. Not just the nurture side that has been socialised by external factors; the natural side is integral to his characters. The film is about the shaming of the body, so we have to see all of it in order for McQueen to put his ideas across. He is not afraid to show the human body in its entirety.

McQueen was previously an artist, which is shown through his films – it is as if McQueen cares about every single shot that is shown on screen, each one has to be a different piece of art. Even with 12 Years A Slave recently some shots of the natural environment were beautiful with an artistic feel to them. With Shame it’s shots of the city which shows how McQueen believes manmade environments can be equally beautiful. This in turn reflects how Fassbender’s character believes his manmade life is the ideal.

It’s a British film but it could be a critique of American lifestyles? – it’s a little farfetched but it almost feels as though McQueen is judging the lifestyle that the main character has by showing the inevitable destruction through his own actions and addictions, That’s what the film is about, he is slowly destroying himself because ultimately he is unhappy.

The themes presented are very different – it challenges the overused value of family by showing the opposite side that is unhappy. It’s not just childish sibling rivalry or just annoying each other, it is about recognising characteristics that are almost repellent to the other person. In the case of this film instead of showing how siblings have grown up together and are firm friends we are presented with siblings that have grown apart and never attempted to rebuild the bridge between them. Also there is a lack of poetic justice through showing just how dysfunctional the family is – it is fully dysfunctional, but does that make it more realistic? do other films idealise the happy family at the cost of neglecting how harsh life really is?

Isolation is a theme that’s presented, but the two sides of it are shown – Fassbender idealises isolation and is happy with it, whereas Mulligan’s character fears it. One of them is running away from isolation but the other one is running towards it. With Fassbender we are shown someone who is happy through isolation and not needing anybody else to be a constant presence, whereas Mulligan’s character could see destruction through isolation because she needs company.

The use of white in the colour scheme – this not only contrasts Fassbender’s darker personality (much like with Christian Bale in American Psycho) but it contrasts with the colour of blood just to show the true impact the sister has on his life.

Clinging to youth leads to the destruction of the mind and body, but also the soul – The film shows how Fassbender is clinging to his youth and engaging in all of the activities you would expect somebody young and off the rails to partake in, like the drugs and the sex addiction. This only increases and increases until inevitably it begins to destroy him. Because he is failing to move on from this young style of living and to move on to maturity it begins to break down his character in an all manner of different ways. We not only see his mind wither but also his body, he is broken down towards the end of the film, which adds real weight to it.

So there you have it, my notes that were made during the film. I have added to them and glossed them up a little bit just to make them more reader friendly for everyone, but if you make it to the end of this entry then you’ll see I’ve added pictures of the original notes for those interested.

In summary I would recommend the film, I really would, it was a challenging and moving experience for me but it is really well written and terrifically shot so it is both a visual feast and an emotional journey. It isn’t for the faint hearted, and there is in fact a sequence towards the end that did cause some controversy in terms of political correctness and the message it sends out, so I would say be cautious of it. I personally really liked the film and I think it is well worth a watch, but you will need to watch it with an open mind and a strong heart. McQueen, in my mind, is proving himself to be a legend among modern film makers, setting up a legacy that will echo on.

As always if anyone has any thoughts they would like to share then please do not hesitate to leave a comment. I am open minded and I welcome any criticism, but I am certainly curious to see what other people made of this film. I promise to respond to any comments posted in due course.

Until the next time I shall leave you with my favourite quote from the film, taken from an argument between Fassbender and Mulligan:

“You’re always sorry…try doing something. Actions count, not words”

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Further thoughts on ‘Her’ by Spike Jonze

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about the new Spike Jonze film, Her. The basis of the post was the different thoughts that occurred to me whilst watching the film, spanning from thoughts about technology to relationships and communication. Upon reflection I have thought about the film more and have realised one element that I liked about it the most: talking.

It’s an unconventional love story, taking place between a man and an operating system on a computer, but if you remove the idea of Samantha being a computer then the way she and Theodore fell in love seems more normal; they just started talking. That’s all they did, they had time to kill together and so just made conversation, talking about the smallest things. I think for a modern film to focus on this is very admirable.

Too many romantic films focus heavily upon physical appearance being the basis of characters falling in love. I’m red up of seeing boring and unimaginative films that are filled with comments like “oh my god he’s gorgeous!” or “hey dude she’s hot”. I found Her rather refreshing because it removes this element entirely, it wasn’t about physical appearance at all. In fact when Samantha sets up a scenario in which physical appearance comes in to the equation it doesn’t work, Theodore isn’t able to go through with it. There’s a real focus on the talking and it’s quite beautiful.

The film makes sense to me because of what happened between me and my girlfriend, Micaela, before we got together. We both attended a Halloween party last year, and this was the point in which I clearly liked her and people know about it. I had my friends constantly saying “kiss her! kiss her!”. I didn’t want to rush in to it in case she didn’t want to, so I decided to take my time. Now by this point I already thought she was beautiful, she had these I just kept drifting off in to, all I had to do was not embarrass myself  by being an idiot in conversation. We had spoken before many times but this was the stage in which I was thinking of making a move and so I had to choose my words carefully. And basically what ended up happening was that for the next three hours we were stood in the kitchen talking. It was really nice just to talk to someone without any distractions, and I fell in love. I fell absolutely head over heels. Granted it took another two weeks for me to pluck up the courage and kiss her, but I’m glad we shared the night of Halloween together, talking. It was one of those nights I look back on with great fondness, and I know I always will.

So, the point of raising that anecdote was to show that talking helped me not only find a girlfriend, but a best friend too, and that’s exactly what happens to Theodore in Her. I really liked how Jonze’s script was very dialogue heavy because it makes the relationship more believable, thus allowing you to build a connection with the characters. They’re three dimensional, so a sense of pathos is built at the right moments and then a lack of sympathy is even better placed.

Again like I said in the original post I like how the film doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, because it’s more realistic. I like the cyclical nature of the narrative; it was talking that started the relationship and then it’s talking that inevitably breaks it back down. It’s strong willed because it doesn’t try to explain the relationship in terms of fate; it clearly places the success and the failure of the film on human behaviour (and computer behaviour if you’re going to be picky and go down that route). It’s a rather Roman styled ending. It reminded me somewhat of Virgil’s Aeneid which is famous for having an abrupt ending because it displays the brutal reality of human behaviour. That’s what Her presents, it’s not an ending where scores are settled and people are happy, it’s more realistic than that. It’s aimed at a more mature audience who can handle what the real world is like without needing to dress it up and make you believe people are always happy.

Thinking about it the film reminds me very much of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise in which Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke spend the entire film talking and building this relationship that’s somewhere between love and friendship. The two films have common ground because they’re based upon two people falling in love because they took and they talked. It’s like I said in my last blog post about film series in which I talked about Before Sunrise: sometimes the best weapon in a film maker’s arsenal is well written screenplay, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in Her as well.

The film also reminds me of Calvin from the film Ruby Sparks because much like he writes Ruby to be his ideal partner, Theodore has Samantha who is programmed to fulfil his every need. And in both cases the relationship doesn’t last, but I like that about the films. It shows how love isn’t about a checklist or criteria or even about controlling your partner; love is more uncertain than that. The two films deliver the same message about how falling in love is exciting because it’s unexpected. It’s like going to an airport and booking the first flight you see without knowing what you’ll do when you land. It’s about going out there without expectations, and finding something genuinely special. The problems faced by Theodore and Calvin arose because they expected too much of their partners and tried to mould them in to whatever they wanted them to be. If you look at films like the previously mentioned Before Sunrise it’s clear that the relationship worked because it was about loving someone for who they are, rather than for something they could be. And that’s a message I think we can all take away from the film.

I still maintain that I really like Her, it’s delicate and thought provoking and so proved to be a rather unique film experience. I’ve completed two blog posts on the film now and I still have more things to discuss so expect a third installment to follow in due course. The original blog post can be found on the link below:

https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/thoughts-and-analysis-of-her-by-spike-jonze/

But enough about me, I want to know what you think. I’m curious to know what other people have made of the film, so please feel free to leave a comment. If you leave a comment I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, either with a straight forward reply or with a blog post dedicated to you.

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Thoughts and analysis of “Her” by Spike Jonze

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This post was originally going to be a review of the film, sticking to my usual structure of going through cast, directing, writing and so on. But then I decided against that, because this film was different. It was a film that had me thinking constantly whilst watching it. The issues that were raised were very profound, and thought provoking, making difficult for me to actually give it a rating because I liked and disliked it on different levels.

It’s hard to describe the film to someone in basic terms without using the sentence “a man falls in love with his operating system”, because that it’s too basic, there is so much more to the film than just that. It’s not just about a lonely man who falls in love with a piece of technology, it’s about the human condition and what it actually means to be a human. I’ve never really been a fan of Spike Jonze so I did approach the film with caution, but I’m overjoyed to say that it completely raised my opinion of him as a writer. It is fantastically written, with a strong premiss and an even stronger screenplay the film is held together very nicely. I did have some concern because I have disagreed with the Academy’s choice for Best Screenplay in the past, but as someone who takes a great interest in script writing I would argue that this year’s choice was very well deserving and it’s the option I would have picked.

Firstly I would say to anyone who is thinking of watching the film it is very delicate. It’s set in the future with a glimpse in to the scenery you would expect to see in a science fiction film so visually it is very pleasing, particularly the use of colour and the prominent red throughout. However the film relies very heavily on the screenplay. There’s a lot of sequences where people just talk, but for me that is never a problem if it’s done well. In the case of “Her” I would argue that it is done very well. The characters are three dimensional and you develop a genuine connection with them, so when the character of Theodore, played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix, gets hurt then you feel sympathy for him. Jonze has added depth to the script so you develop this sense of pathos for both Theodore and his operating system, Samantha.

As I said before the film did raise some interesting points, and I actually started to keep a note of them as they occurred, for the purpose of going through them in detail. They’re linked to them film so if you have seen it you may understand a little bit more about it, if not then I promise there are no spoilers to follow.

Do we actually feel genuine emotion? – as Samantha points out her emotions are just pieces of programming that she has been designed with, so that could mean that humans are the same. If you think about it we are taught about different emotions as we grow and what their meanings are as a way of explaining how we’re feeling. So without being taught what they mean would we even experience feelings like love or hatred? And that’s what worries Samantha, the idea that she’s not actually feeling anything and it is all just down to design, it just made me think that maybe as humans we’re like this too.

Will technology actually get to be like this? Will machines talk to us in such an in depth manner like Samantha did to Theodore? – it was actually quite surprising just how fluently the operating system could talk, as if it were in a conversation. In turn this had me thinking, we’ve already got technology that speaks to us; Siri talks to us on our iPhones, escalators tell us to stand still and hold the edge, self service machines tell us to scan the next item, so will this go further in the future? I actually imagined being in a grocery shop and hearing a self service machine talking to a customer about the items they were buying, and it did give me a bit of a chuckle but again made me worried that this could happen. Some technology is designed to remove human contact, but we could take a step back again maybe.

People look worried when they see a man in love with his operating system, but we already have relationships like that today so it’s not all that bizarre – I was talking to people about the film before watching it and they all said the same thing “he falls in love with his computer? That’s a bit weird isn’t it?” If I’m being totally honest I don’t think it is weird. We live in a world where men and women have actual platonic relationships with a life sized dummy or doll and they can’t actually speak, so why can’t a man fall in love with something that can speak? In the film Theodore falls in love because his computer can speak. Surely that’s more normal than people who get married to their cars? But on the other hand, who’s to say what normal actually is?

Why do people get jealous when their partners talk to other people? – as the film develops we see it turn in a rather “Ruby Sparks” styled manner to the focus of the people in the relationship wanting to talk to others. As with most films that explore this topic it ends with either person being jealous, and it just had me thinking about why people get jealous in that scenario. We live on a planet with over seven billion other people who inhabit the surface, it’s an almost certainty that the person you love will have to interact with them at some point. For Samantha in the film it is different because she can listen to what her partner is saying and who he’s saying it to so paranoia can manifest somewhat, but with every day couples I can’t understand people who want their partners to talk to them and them alone.

“How can he be in love if he can’t see her?” – this is a question several people have asked me since watching the film and the answer is simple; it’s because they talk. I really liked how the film draws upon the point that physical appearance isn’t the most important factor in a relationship. I admire the character of Theodore because he is able to fall completely in love and maintain a relationship just by talking, which I think shows the true reality of what love is. I’m not understating the influence of physical attractiveness but Theodore clearly shows how language is key to falling in love. It’s not just about fancying someone, it’s about someone making you feel safe, making you smile, making you laugh, making you feel like you can be yourself around them and be accepted for who you are. I admit the scenes of phone sex are a misuse of the English Language, but aside from that he is a very clever man, with an impressive vocabulary and even more impressive ability to articulate.

The ending to a love film doesn’t always have to be happy – now for those who know me well enough you’ll know that if a romance film is done well then I will love it, I will absolutely love it, and one of the key factors that made me like “Her” so much was the ending. Now it’s not a spoiler to say that it has an unhappy ending because that’s just my own interpretation, but I rather liked the lack of poetic justice. I think it’s more realistic to show an ending that’s unhappy because too many romance films have happy endings that don’t represent life realistically. For me, I felt that “Her” presented the harsh reality and cold truth about love and relationships, but that only made the film more special.

What does it mean to be human? – I know it’s a bit heavy for a Tuesday morning, but the film does address the issue of the human condition and what it actually means to be human. It is an interesting topic and one that is explored in great depth within the film, to the point of Theodore and Samantha discussing the functions of a sigh. During conversation Samantha sighs quite heavily, which Theodore questions because he discusses how humans breath because they need oxygen, Samantha is a computer so why would she need to breath? It just makes you realise how tiny little things, like a sigh, can show just how human we all are. It reminded me very much of “Prometheus” in which the robot character of David fails to comprehend fear, excitement and most importantly the concept of faith. He even wears an oxygen unit when on the surface of the planet because he feels that it would make him appear more human, which again makes me wonder what it means to actually be human. All of the factors on the outside like smiling, laughing, crying they’re all just packaging. It’s more about how you feel.

What is our purpose? – it’s difficult to think about for us humans, whereas Samantha has a full understanding of who made her, why they made her and where she comes from. It makes me feel quite lost as a human because we don’t know why we’re here or how we even got here. It’s a chilling thought, but as Amy Adam’s character says in the film “I’ve come to realise we’re only here briefly, and while I’m here I want to allow myself joy, so f*** it”.

As I mentioned previously I did like the film and I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked it because I would say that it is a good film. It’s the first film in a very long time that made me think so much about different issues so it was quite a special experience for me, It’s delicate and well thought out with a terrific script, but I wouldn’t say it’s perfect. I know a lot of people didn’t like it and I can admit that it has got problems, which is why I want to view it for a second time to see if I feel the same way.

For the time being my opinion of Spike Jonze has improved and my opinion of the film is standing very tall indeed. I would recommend it to anybody who is looking for a good film. Regardless of whether you are interested in love films or not I would suggest watching it either way, you won’t be disappointed.

It was just refreshing to see a film that had a really good script as the most important element, and there are lines within the film that redeem it in my opinion. In fact I will leave you with the line from the film that I liked the most:

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt” her poster