Could ‘Interstellar’ by Christopher Nolan Be the New ‘2001’?

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Regular readers of this blog will have no doubt seen one of my latest entries in which I listed the films that are yet to be released this year that I am most excited about. Among the list of many I managed to narrow down three that I am most excited for in the form of the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest piece Inherent Vice, and of course the latest motion picture of genius and personal favourite Christopher Nolan, Interstellar. I am nervous but intrigued by all three of those titles but none more so than the last one, Interstellar, because I think it means the most to me. To see the man that is essentially my favourite film maker of the modern age presenting the mainstream audience with a unashamedly bold science fiction film fills me with nothing less than excitement.

The most admirable characteristic of any Christopher Nolan film is that they are intelligent; they are films written by a man who assumes that cinema audiences are as clever as he is. Too many film makers today follow the rather ugly rule that the way to make a successful film is to treat the audience as if they are stupid, hence we see films such as Transformers charging through with awful sequels that all achieve box office success. Nolan battles against that. He makes films that are sharper than a Japanese blade and more tasking that making a key stage three pupil watch University Challenge for an afternoon, and that is nothing short of heroic. He takes what the mainstream audience expects from a film and turns it completely on its head, to present us with films like The Prestige that not only entertain viewers but also engage them in thought. His films are those that could best be described as equivocal, what you receive from the films is equal to what you put in to them. This is why a lot of people I know do not understand Inception because they went in to wanting to see an action film but what they got was an intelligent blockbuster that may have featured action sequences, but they were by no means the focus. So they went in with expectations that weren’t met and so they didn’t understand the film, which is a shame because they missed out on one of the most impressive pieces of film from our lifetime.

Even from the start of his career with the genius of Memento Nolan entered film history with a strong first blow and continued to deliver hits that were executed perfectly. Memento came out of nowhere and impressed film critics and movie fanatics worldwide and he has continued this success to make a legacy, which is why it is thrilling to see that he is making another film. With Inception Nolan showed us that he is more than capable of handling a film with a slight science fiction-esque spin on it, so to see him attempt a film that looks like an old fashioned science fiction epic is intriguing.

If you have not seen any of the trailers already then I would say do one of two things. One choice would be to watch all of them rigorously; watch the trailers over and over again so that you pick up on every little detail and become more and more engaged by them. Or two, don’t watch any of the trailers. I understand that sometimes watching trailers can ruin a film when it is eventually seen, I know for example it happened to a lot of people with Prometheus back in 2012, so I think it would be a wise move to suggest avoiding the trailers altogether and letting the film approach you as a complete surprise.

For those who have seen the trailers or do indeed plan to watch them you will know that the film is big. And what I mean by this is that it’s not the usual science fiction flick in which there are aliens or flashy pieces of futuristic technology, this film is about humans and our interaction with other worlds. It’s not just about men and women in outfits that are figure-hugging while they run around shooting green men, it’s about the future of our planet and what we as humans can do to help it. It once again is a convention changing film; science fiction films always assume the earth is something to be invaded by outsides as opposed to being something worth protecting by its inhabitants.

Now I realise that the title of this post is a bold statement and it probably made the older science fiction fans reading this gasp or choke on a drink or even laugh when they read it, but I stick by it. I think Interstellar has the potential to be a film that is close to the 1968 Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m not trying to say I think it will be better because in our lifetime I refuse to believe that is even possible, what I’m saying is that I think it will be on the same scale of film mastery. From initial footage that has been released it looks as though it is at least at the same end of the science fiction spectrum, moving away from the ‘bog standard’ side to being more of an epic scale piece of film.

The thing that made 2001 as incredible as it is was the idea of it, a science fiction film that focused on humans. It sounds silly, much like having an action film that focuses on a pacifist, but it not only made perfect sense; it made film history. The film essentially goes from the birth of mankind right up to our adventures in space and attempting to communicate with alien species, so the film is very much based around humans and the human spirit. It is a film about curiosity and the hunger for knowledge, from the humans venturing in to deep space to find more life, right the way back even to the apes at the beginning of the film who are confused by the monolith, they still wanted some form of answer. That’s what Interstellar is about, albeit in a rather tangential manner.

From the looks of it Interstellar is still going to be a film about answers, just different answers. Where 2001 was looking for where humans were from, Interstellar appears to be looking more at where humans are going. It’s addressing issues such as our over-consumption of the world’s resources and our ever growing population, using fossil fuels, our treatment of the earth and such but it’s not approaching it in a childish 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow sort of approach, nothing quite as juvenile, it instead appears to be looking at those issues in more of a Gandhi approach. What I mean by this is the idea of an eye for an eye; as humans we are the ones who have damaged the earth so we should be the ones to deal with the problems of such actions.

Also with 2001 there was a very big focus on humans and on character. The frightening element of the film for audiences at the time was the computer, HAL, because it was simple and human-like. For a film with a U certificate it’s odd to see a character that is so sinister as a talking computer, but this accompanied the humans very nicely because it showed how they still had fear, and they had layers to them to show how complex the human condition is. With Interstellar it clearly has the Christopher Nolan approach. Nolan has always been very good with family relationships, as we’ve seen in Inception, The Prestige and even with the Dark Knight trilogy the strong family bonds do seep through the screenplay, but that is where the strength is: in the screenplay. The trailer already shows us footage of the family talking, with conversations such as why the child is named Murphy and how this links to the theory of Murphy’s law etcetera so it is clear that humans are a huge focus for the film and the screenplay is going to be one of the best weapons in Nolan’s arsenal.

Just like with the majority of Nolan’s past work we are seeing him pair up with cinematographer Wally Pfister to make the film, and already we are seeing some shots in the trailers that are very impressive. The film is going to be a visual treat for any science fiction fan, much like 2001 still is today. There’s something very daunting about seeing a small space ship floating off in the vast and unknown territory of space, and that is why the film looks big to me. When I say it looks big I mean it is of epic proportions, it is about a journey, it is about discovery and will be a challenging watch. I remember sitting down to watch 2001 at the age of sixteen and people such as my father had said one thing to me before it started: good luck. They wished me luck because they knew it was a difficult film to get through and I might not have understood it all after one viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed it first time and have enjoyed it again since but from what we have seen of the film and our preexisting knowledge of Nolan as a film maker it is clear to see that Interstellar will be much the same, a film that has to have your undivided attention.

I guess what I was really trying to say with the title of this post was more that I hope Interstellar will be a film that can walk in the footsteps of 2001 because it will no doubt be another stroke from the paintbrush of a genius. Nolan is an extremely talented man who has a great eye for film as both a director and a screenplay writer, and I hope that this will be another chance for him to make his mark on cinema history but in a bigger way. Inception was the perfect way for him to show us his capability of making an intelligent mainstream blockbuster, but it will take something bigger than that to really put his footprint on the moon so to speak. I think Interstellar could be that film, and I hope it is.

I will of course be posting a review and analysis of the film once I have seen it, with just about two months to go it’s safe to say I am counting down the days. Until that time I intend to watch 2001 again with a completely open mind to see if I get anything new from it like the previous times watching it. If anyone is reading this not knowing what I’m talking about because they haven’t seen 2001 then I would thoroughly recommend watching it at least once. Much like when film critic Mark Kermode suggested going to see There Will Be Blood in cinemas after booking all of the seats around yours to ensure there are no distractions in the perimeter, I suggest watching 2001 in the dark with the sound turned up and nothing around you to distract you. I know it sounds like advice for listening to a Pink Floyd album for the first time but trust me it will work.

So the only thing left to say really is hope you have enjoyed this post, if you even managed to make it this far, thank you. And if you have any thoughts on the matter then please do not hesitate to leave a comment, I welcome whatever you have to say be it bad or good, and I promise to respond to any comments left in due course.

Until the next time I shall simply leave you with my favourite quote from Interstellar (so far) taken from one of the trailer released recently:

“do not go gentle in to that good night…old age should burn and rage at close of day”

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The Closing Months of Cinema for 2014

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It seems as though everyone’s eyes at the moment are turned to the big summer films that are to be released. We’ve just had Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as the latest installment to the Transformers franchise, and obviously just recently we’ve had Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel, so it’s clear we’ve got quite a full on summer ahead of us. Personally, I’m looking past all of these films and looking ahead to the second half of 2014 to see what’s heading our way.

I’m not saying all of the action films of the summer aren’t important, I’m still a bit of a geek at heart so I’m always excited by the prospect of whatever DC or Marvel Comics release. Just recently in fact I rather enjoyed the new X-Men flick; it wasn’t brilliant but my inner film nerd was pretty darn excited to see James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender on screen with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. So it’s not that I’m a film snob who turns their nose up at every blockbuster the summer has in store, it’s just from looking ahead to the end of the year it’s clear that Bradley Cooper voicing a Raccoon that jumps through space and shoots everything has nothing on what’s heading our way.

There’s an interesting collection heading towards our screens, with quite a few films that have caught my eye. I remember this time last year incidentally in which I was writing about films I was excited about. There was quite a range last year as well, from The Fifth Estate which managed to disappoint, right up to Saving Mr Banks which as my blog post from a couple of weeks ago showed, I absolutely loved. So if anything that just shows how there is everything still to play for at this point in the year.

As it stands my film of the year so far is still The Grand Budapest Hotel from back in march, with Richard Ayoade’s The Double still a close second. Nothing has beaten it so far, Wes Anderson has made an artistic masterpiece that is superbly written and directed in a way that maintains the complexity and keeps the film running like a clockwork mechanism. Much like other Wes Anderson films there’s a knock out cast, outstanding wit, beautiful cinematography, and of course the use of colour schemes, making it a really outstanding cinematic experience. At the moment for me it is the unchallenged champion of 2014’s cinema, but there is of course still time, and with some of the films that are yet to be released it could all change.

So what I’ve done is I’ve gone through various lists online of the films that are coming out in the next couple of months and I’ve selected the ones I’m looking forward to. I’ve tried to find as much information as I can on each of the films that are listed below. The dates that are attached to them are their release dates in the UK so it may vary depending on where you are reading this from. I am aware that I have broken this rule at times and spilled over the edges in to 2015, but with early releases at film festivals for some titles it is arguable that they can still be considered films of 2014. Regardless of the technicalities, my list is as follows:

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (August 22nd) – now this one I may live to regret because I’m not overly fond of sequels being made of good films, but I still found myself intrigued by the trailers. I like the first film a lot and I think it was really well made to suit an impressive visual style. So with the addition of new actors and storylines I can only hope this second installment proves me wrong about sequels being bad.

Gone Girl – directed by David Fincher (October 3rd) – much like many other film fanatics I am a very big fan of David Fincher for obvious reasons (Fight Club, Seven, The Social Network) so to see him return to film after three years brings nothing but excitement. The film focuses on the disappearance of a woman and the impacts this has on her husband, and so it sounds like quite a delicate turn for Fincher. But with an impressive cast and Fincher himself at the helm I can only hope this will be another fantastic piece of film from a director who has proven himself to be a genius on a number of occasions. After his last film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this new film may see Fincher staying in a dark place but being more delicate, much like he did with Seven. 

The Judge – directed by David Dobkin (October 17th) – this is another one I’m hoping I won’t regret because looking at Dobkin’s history of bad comedy films I can only hope that this venture in to more serious territory is a step in the right direction. Based around lawyers and family connections I have to admit the premise of the film intrigues me. When films centred around court cases are done well then I absolutely love them; you cannot beat the tension created by fantastic screenplay. As I said before I can only hope this is a step in the right direction that is executed well. I’m also excited to see Robert Downey Jr stepping back in to more serious roles; he is a talented actor who is capable of doing more than just Tony Stark so I’m hoping he gets the chance to prove it here.

Fury – directed by David Ayer (October 19th) – there’s been a lot of talk about this film recently for obvious reasons, it has Brad Pitt leading the cast and it is going to be quite a heavy film so people are right to be excited about it. But the reason I’m excited about it is because it is set towards the end of the war. It’s all well and good making an action film based during World War II but I think by this point we’ve seen too many that focus just on all out war. I’m excited to see how Ayer manages to capture the struggle in the soldiers as they are working towards their final stand. I hope the film has that emotional connection that other films before it have failed to create. I really want this to be more than just an action film.

Birdman – directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu – now I have broken my own rule here because the UK release for this film is in January, but it has release dates in other countries that date back to October, so in a sneaky manner I will count that as a film from 2014. The only reason I’m going to break that rule is because I am really excited about this film. A film that is based around someone attempting to recapture former glory is an idea that interests me as it is, but when it’s coming from a talented director who brought us films such as Babel and Biutiful I can only get even more excited. Almost a year ago in fact I wrote a script for a drama competition that was based around a screenplay writer trying to recapture his former glory whilst dealing with issues with his family, so seeing a film that is based around the same idea is an exciting experience. I feel bad for breaking my own rule with this film but I honestly think it is going to be good.

St. Vincent – directed by Theodore Melfi (presumed release date in October) – I couldn’t find a UK release date for this film but in other countries it is released in October so I’m guessing we’ll receive it around the same time. Now the director/ writer of this one is an unknown to me but I’m going to take a risk because they’re bringing Bill Murray back to making comedy films, with this one being based around a young boy being helped by his old neighbour who is a lazy war veteran. It looks funny and the trailer did manage to make me laugh but it also looks as though the film has a heart. I really like comedies that manage to be engaging and thought provoking at the same time so I’m anxious but excited to see how this film turns out.

Wild – directed by Jean-Marc Vallée – again I have broken my own rule here because this film is released in the UK early next year but in other countries it is this year, so I’m going to break that rule again but it is again with good intentions. This is another film I am excited about, from the director of Dallas Buyers Club and with the leading role filled by Reese Witherspoon I have very high hopes for this one. I really like Reese Witherspoon as an actress already and to see her take the lead role in a film based around someone embarking on a solo hike to recover from past events I get the feeling this could another films that exceeds expectations. I think Dallas Buyers Club was a fantastic piece of film so I can’t wait to see more work from the same director.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies – directed by Peter Jackson (December 12th) – I know up until this point I haven’t been the biggest fan of The Hobbit as a series of films but I have to see it through to the end. I love the book and so I am excited to see how Jackson approaches the conclusion of a literary treasure. He cares about the source material as much as the fans do so I can only hope he does the right thing and delivers a film that is satisfying.

Exodus: Gods and Kings – directed by Ridley Scott (December 26th) – I am a big fan of Ridley Scott and I have admired his work in the past, so I can only hope his venture back in to more of an epic styled film is one worth watching. He is obviously known as being a pioneer of science fiction with great works such as Alien and Blade Runner among his previous works, but when Scott makes historical films they can go one of two ways. In the case of Robin Hood we’re presented with a film we would rather forget, but then with Gladiator we’re given a film that is a fantastic piece of art that we hold close to us and recognise as a masterpiece. I am excited about this new film that has obvious biblical overtones and I can only hope that with a strong cast and a heavy premise that Scott has not made a mistake with this one.

So those are the films I am looking forward to that are yet to grace our screens. I’m hoping my choices will not leave me disappointed but of course only time will tell. All that is left to do is present the three films that I am most excited about this year. There are three that have not been mentioned yet that I believe will be the three to potentially challenge The Grand Budapest Hotel and the title it currently holds. So in no particular order, the three films I am most looking forward to at the end of this year:

1. The Imitation Game – directed by Morten Tyldum (November 14th) – now this is one that I really want to be good because it has such a powerful story behind it. It focuses on the life of Alan Turing who helped to break the enigma code during World War II. I don’t know if it will delve in to what happened to him afterwards but I am hoping that it does so with the utmost sincerity because as shocking as the aftermath to the war for Turing was it is a story that people need to hear. The story still makes me feel angry because of how badly he was treated, but it is a story that should be told because it shows how times have changed and how ugly our country can be at times. I think Benedict Cumberbatch will do a fantastic job playing Turing, and I can only hope the film approaches events from the right angle to deliver the story in an honest manner.

2. Inherent Vice – directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (January 2015) – again I am going to count this film as being part of 2014 because it is unveiled this year at various film festivals. Regular readers of this blog will know I admire PTA and the work he has done for cinema, so I cannot even express how excited I am to see him writing and directing a film based around a drug-fueled detective in the seventies investigating the disappearance of his ex-partner. PTA is very good at writing scripts that have incredible weight to them, for example There Will Be Blood and The Master so I intrigued to see if he has continued his legacy in a similar fashion or if the film will be completely different from previous works. Not much has been released in terms of first looks, all we have to go on is a picture recently of Joaquin Phoenix mid scene, but this only makes the film more intriguing. The cast looks incredible with Joaquin Phoenix once again leading the way so I know the film is going to be good, if not better. PTA’s previous work has impressed me a lot, and in fact four of his films currently hold a place in my favourite films of all time, so he has a lot to live up to but I know he is more than capable of exceeding my expectations, every time.

3. Interstellar – directed by Christopher Nolan (November 7th) – Christopher Nolan writing and directing a science fiction film based around a team exploring interstellar travel because the Earth is slowly dying. Nothing more needs to be said about the film because it sounds phenomenal as it is, and yet I could easily talk about it all day. To describe how excited I am for the film all I would need to say is that I have watched the trailer countless times since it was released, including an entire afternoon in which I kept revisiting it because I was so excited. The cast looks incredible, much like with all of Nolan’s work, but I think it’s the idea of it that excites me the most. Just to see Nolan directing a science fiction film based on exploring different universes and planets, it just makes me think that although it is a bold statement I think this could be a film that is on the same scale as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a bold statement, but based on what we have seen so far of the film and how talented we already know Nolan is as a film maker, this could easily be his greatest film yet, and indeed his masterpiece.

So there it is, the completed list of the films I am most looking forward to in 2014(ish). I can only hope that they do not disappoint and that in the months to come I will not regret choosing them, however after last year’s results I think it would be safer to say it will be another mixed bag. Risks have indeed been taken but that’s what this process is all about. I would rather speak up and be proven as an idiot than not speak up and let people assume.

I am aware there will be some I have missed and that haven’t been addressed so if there is a film you would like to me to comment on then please leave a comment and I will get back to you. Equally if you would like to leave a comment on any of the films mentioned along with your thoughts then I welcome anything you have to say. This is a topic I am very open about so I’m interested to see what other people think. Any comments left will be responded to as soon as possible, and thank you for taking the time to read this post and possibly comment if you did so. I’ll hopefully follow up these choices with reviews in the future as they are released.

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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Problems with The Purge

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As many of you will know there’s a new film out in cinemas now in the form of the sequel to The Purge. From the looks of it the film is going to be much what you would expect from a horror-thriller sequel; the trailer consists of violence, eerie music, quick editing, “deep” and emotional lines, references to relatives who are presumed deceased, and then an addition to the storyline at the end that wasn’t a surprise in any sense of the word. But then based on the nature of the first film, is there anything else we would expect?

I watched the first film recently in fact. I bought it for about five pounds on a sale section in a supermarket, but I didn’t buy it because I was looking for a good film, I bought it because I was curious. The idea behind it intrigued me. All crimes being legal for twelve hours. Just thinking about it is weird because I genuinely don’t know what I would do in that scenario. Furthermore I don’t even know if I would survive the night, I have annoyed many people in time on this planet so there could very well be a bullet or a blade with my name on it. Nonetheless I sat down with an open mind to watch The Purge, and found myself torn by the end of it. As a film it is a very mixed bag that inevitably does not hold together.

Before I go any further I will just say that I will try to speak spoilerese for anyone who hasn’t seen the film so it’s not ruined. It may just be a case of there being references that will be easier to understand if you have seen the film. So firstly I will say that I didn’t hate the film, but then again I didn’t particularly like it. The main element I like is the still the idea of it, the idea of crime being legal. As someone who studied sociology at A-Level, a proportion of which was on the subject of crime, I find the idea of all crimes being legal for twelve hours fascinating. It had so many questions going through my head, based on whether it would work, what I would do, what would happen in the town I live in and so on. So it’s thought provoking but in a rather unsettling manner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but interpret that as you will.

Secondly I think it has proved itself to be a half decent piece of social commentary, based on the themes and messages. From the start there’s clear class struggle, with the rich and powerful even using pronouns to suggest that the purge night is theirs and exists for the benefit of them, and it develops to show that there is inequality and there is exploitation, which almost mirrors our society. Also what I like is how it comments on the brutality of human nature. It shows how the civilised nature of humans can quickly be stripped down to a violent and animalistic core. It shows how humans need a release, because if stress builds up for an entire year it could very well lead to the violent behaviour we see in The Purge, who knows? All I can say is that the writers at least considered what humans have the potential of doing.

However, despite the interesting set up and half well developed subtext there are still huge holes in the film. As much as I wanted to like the film there are problems with it that I simple cannot looks past.

Clichés – It’s a shame because the trailers made it look as thought it could at least have the potential to put a different spin on the usual boring modern horror flick, but then it just ended up falling in to all the usual clichés. So instead of a slightly different experience that you would want to see, we’re instead presented with a film which has all of the usual annoying features that everyone seems to love but I hate, such as: poorly executed fight sequences, annoying main characters, minimal weight in the screenplay, annoying lighting techniques, jump scares produced by sudden loud noises and no genuine scares. The entertainment never starts.

Unengaging characters – by the end of the film it’s safe to say there was only one character left that I only just liked and that’s because he wasn’t a complete idiot. The rest of them are all annoying. You have the family the story is focused on which consists of rich morons who are way too dysfunctional to warrant a sense of pathos, the group of young people who are purging who are equally morons by giving the family demands and then making them harder to meet, the person the hunters are looking for who I kind of have to feel sorry for but in some cases he really doesn’t help himself. Finally you have the ludicrously rich neighbours of largely white middle class suburbans, who are a disgusting concoction of the wife from American Beauty meets Straw Dogs, and they’re pretty much the ones in the film you want to see distressed. The whole ensemble of characters are cretins who I neither liked nor cared about, so I found myself shouting at the screen frequently for the duration of the film. In a horror styled film there has to be a character you like in order to feel engaged and scared. That character does not exist in The Purge. 

Inadequate usage of short running time – the film is very short I have to say, it doesn’t even reach the ninety minutes mark which for a modern film is very short. Now shorter films are not a problem as long as the time is used appropriately. In the case of The Purge the timing is very distorted. The opening to the film is good enough but then there is a very long sequence in the middle in which the family search through their house in the dark, which takes up too much of the running time and as a result leads to the rest of the film feeling really rushed. What follows is a series of action scenes and additions to the storyline but they all happen so quickly that it just doesn’t hold together. It just meant that ten minutes before the end of the film I couldn’t see how it was going to end properly. They did manage to end it but I won’t say that they did it well.

Structurally the film loses its way – this is tangential to the last point, but it feels as though the first half of the film is from one film and the second half of the film is from a different one altogether. It’s like the writers set out to make a film with a clear message and one thread in the plotline, but then halfway they abandoned this to make a Home Alone or Straw Dogs styled film instead. But then again, I can’t say I was ever happy with the first half of the film because structurally it is shambolic. And what I mean by this is that there is a clear and central plotline, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly strong but I won’t challenge its existence, and then they’ve decided to add extra elements around the edges, just little details to the story. In other films this would serve as an enhancement, instead in the case of The Purge what you have is conflicts and other occurrences that make you think “oh come on, really? this is happening now? why?” It doesn’t add depth or anything interesting to the film, it just makes it more annoying because you’re having to witness and deal with things you don’t care about because they simply do not matter.

Confusing villains – I don’t understand the justification for some of their actions. In a film the antagonist usually has an agenda, to make someone’s life more difficult for a particular reason, but in this film the antagonist doesn’t have a reason, so he just does whatever he wants. I understand the character is meant to be scary and so he improvises to create a sense of rebellion through violence, but there are points in which the film is no longer capable of convincing me the characters could be real people.

The film is very one sided (part I) – as I said at the start I like the idea of The Purge because it’s interesting to think about. The problem I have with how it is delivered is that it is one sided; it only shows one type of crime. The concept is described as “all crime is legal” so why does it only show violence? And furthermore why is this specifically people wanting to hurt the homeless? There are more interesting elements to human nature that could have been explored in the film, like greed. There were no scenes of people sat behind a computer committing fraud or attempting stock manipulation to get money and I just just think it shows a lack of discipline by those who made the film. Although upon seeing Michael Bay’s name in the credits under the production team this is hardly surprising. They had an interesting concept that could have explored a range of crimes and behaviours but instead they focused primarily on violence, and I don’t believe for one minute that violence is the appropriate solution to any problem so the film is very boring in that respect. That’s not to say that the opening sequence of various crime occurring to the backing music of ‘Claire De Lune’ wasn’t strangely artistic, but it’s just disappointing to see such an interesting concept go to waste.

One sided (part II) – it’s not just one sided in the sense of the crimes committed, it’s also the fact that the film focuses on the middle to upper class members of society. This made it harder to connect with because I didn’t care about the wealthy people. I didn’t want them to be safe. I’m hoping it’s an issue resolved in The Purge: Anarchy and from the trailers it already looks as though there’s a focus on people in the streets which would be more interesting to see. It was just annoying to have to sit through a film where the main characters are extortionately rich and never stop talking about it, the point where we have to witness them discuss their plans for their house on many occasions which is irritating and vomit inducing enough as it is, but then the film has the nerve to attempt to make me connect with them. Not something I am willing to do I’m afraid.

I could go on further but I think I’ve addressed the main issues I have with the film. It is a very mixed bad because like with any new film I wanted to like it, so the elements I didn’t like only brought me to bitter disappointment. There were too many factors that were weak so it is without remorse or sympathy that I say I did not like The Purge as a film. It was one that caught my eye but I’m afraid it did no maintain it. To ammend the words of Tarantino’s Calvin Candy “gentlemen, you had my curiosity, but you do not have my attention”. 

Thank you for keeping cinema alive

mr banks

I know the title is a little dramatic, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a film that has impressed me thoroughly in the last couple of weeks. A film that made me think about cinema as a whole and the direction it’s heading in. See in the climate of modern films that are focused on awards or financial gain it’s refreshing to see a film slip in and do the opposite, a film that goes back to the roots of cinema: telling a story.

I’m sure we’ve all been through times when we’ve been worried about the state of cinema, seeing a succession of bad films released, making you think that something needs to save it all. That’s when a special film, or a number of films come along and restore your faith. It happened to me at the start of the year with the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a genuinely spectacular piece of cinema that still remains my film of the year so far, and it has indeed happened again to me.

Recently I sat down to watch a film having been excited to watch it for months, and for once my expectations were not disappointed, or even met for that fact, they were entirely exceeded. The film I am referring to is the proudly non-Oscar winning Saving Mr Banks. 

Telling the story of the writer of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, and her struggle with Walt Disney to make the film adaption of her book properly, the film focuses on the events taking place whilst the film was being made and also a separate narrative in the form of Traver’s flashbacks to her childhood and the real Mr Banks. The cast is superb, with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman as the Sherman brothers in charge of music and lyrics, but the star of the film undoubtedly is Emma Thompson as Travers herself. Thompson not only managers to capture the grumpy and strict side of Travers who wanted things her way, but also the emotional side of the writer who was afraid of letting her father down and the financial troubles she would face if the film wasn’t made. It was a fantastic performance that completely stole the show and quite rightly so.

Both sides of the narrative are very strong, with Thompson in her later years trying to help make the film in the way that she feels fit, counterbalanced very nicely by Colin Ferrell as Traver’s father in Australia when she was a child. And it’s that second narrative there with Firth has the father that adds depth to the film, because it shows the real Mr Banks and the motivation behind Travers trying to make the film good. We see the two sides to her father, the one who is imaginative and energetic as a fantastic father, and then the side that drinks and struggles to hold his life together. It is an emotional film but at the same time it is fascinating and it really engages you, evoking you to feel this sense of pathos for anyone and everyone that’s in the film.

Now, as many will know I have a fixation on screenplay and scripts, so I was particularly impressed by this film because of how the screenplay captures the balance between comedy and tragedy perfectly. There are times at which the film made me laugh out loud, and they were accompanied perfectly by the times that nearly made me cry, but overall the film had me smiling throughout the running time and indeed past that. It’s impressive as well because the screenplay is actually based upon very strong source material in the form of recordings that were taken of the meetings with Travers, the Sherman brothers and Don DaGradi the script writer. Travers wasn’t going to sign the paperwork for the rights of the book to be used unless she was happy with the film, and so she demanded the meeting were recorded in order to ensure the safety of her book.I have actually listened to the original recordings, and not only did it show how the cast were perfect as their characters, but also how spot on the screenplay is. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith who wrote the film managed to capture the characteristics of the individuals with such precision and it just made me feel even more engaged in the film.

But it’s not just about the fact I liked how the film was made, I also like what the film stands for. It wasn’t about financial gain at the box office, it wasn’t about picking up awards (only receiving an Oscar nomination for Thomas Newman’s excellent score) but it was about the core principal that cinema if founded on; story telling. It wasn’t a film about visuals or padding that a lot of other modern films are based on, but it’s main focus is purely on the characters and the story. For me it was one of the best films of last year despite being overlooked at the award ceremonies, but that makes it more special for me.

I like the idea of the film because the people who made it are clearly passionate about the source material and about the original film of Mary Poppins. It’s actually quite an interesting film in that sense because you learn things about the making of the film and the inspiration behind it, until you come to realise why the book was written in the first place. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that as the title states it shows how Mary Poppins was not about someone coming to babysit two naughty children, it was about helping a man when he needed it most, the man in question being Traver’s father of course.

That is one of the most important features of the film, it has a lot of heart. It manages to be sad but uplifting at the same time, and all in this charming manner that makes me want to watch it over and over again because I know it will never grow old. The way in which the film has a lot of heart is also shown through the fact that it’s three dimensional. It shows both sides of the argument very clearly with every aspect covered, so it doesn’t actually pick a side. What it instead does is allow you to make a judgment for yourself by showing all aspects of Disney, the Shermans and Travers to let you decide.

I honestly could talk about this film for hours on end, it just means to much to me because it’s keeping the spirit of cinema alive in an industry that is becoming more and more fixated upon financial gain. This film goes against that and instead focuses on story telling and the value of entertainment. That’s why for me it’s actually better than some of the films that did do well at the awards. Films such as Gravity that were very good on a technical level and as a cinematic experience, but served little purpose in terms of story telling are no match for films like Saving Mr Banks. This film was about telling a story in a way that the audience could connect with, instead of using visual effects and computer generated fluff to catch their attention. I’m still glad that Saving Mr Banks didn’t win any Oscars and that it was only nominated for one because it supports my argument from recent blog posts that the Oscars don’t matter. So many beautiful and brilliant films are made that go unnoticed by the awards, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good, and Saving Mr Banks proudly takes its place among those films.

If you liked the film Mary Poppins then you will love this film too. There are actually a lot of references to the original film that you realise after every time you watch it, and not just the brilliant placement of the songs you love. I personally think Mary Poppins is fantastic (I’m sorry Mrs Travers) and so the film had me smiling throughout, but I still think it would be enjoyable if you have at least seen Mary Poppins. That way you would at least have an understanding of the actors, characters and the events of the film. I’ve grown up with the film so this was a real treat for me.

It’s always going to be a special film for me, because both me and my beautiful girlfriend were excited to see this in the cinema but unfortunately missed it. So me being the little old romantic that I am decided to surprise her by buying it on the day it was released on dvd. We sat down to watch it the following evening, barely able to stay in our seats because of how excited we were, but that was no match for how happy we were afterwards; we absolutely loved it. And since then I’ve watched the film about four more times and it just gets better. Unlike films such as Gravity that can be viewed once to see what all the fuss is about and not feel eager to watch it again, Saving Mr Banks keeps pulling me back in like a hoover, and to be honest it doesn’t bother me. I love that film and everything it stands for.

If anyone hasn’t seen the film then I urge you to watch it as soon as you can. Don’t hesitate like I foolishly did when it was in cinemas, just watch it and you will not be disappointed. You may never see Mary Poppins in the same way again, but by the end you will love both films.

SAVING MR. BANKS

The best film series of all time, for me

When I first started writing this blog I touched briefly upon the idea of sequels and prequels and how they can sometimes ruin a film series. For a while in fact it looked as though I would never find a favourite film series, too many of them annoyed me. However, after much thought I have come to realise I might be able to answer the question that I previously couldn’t: what is the film series?

Before about two weeks ago the answer for me was uncertain. The problem I have is that usually I like the original film so much it just means other films added before or after are, in comparison, not so impressive. It’s very rare that a sequel is better than the original film, with the exception of course of films such as the third Harry Potter film, amongst others.

I actually touched briefly upon this idea towards the end of last year with my blog post https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/why-is-the-hunger-games-really-catching-fire/ based on the box office success of the second Hunger Games film. In the post I talked about sequels and how easily they can become terrible or brilliant. The best example I can give is the James Bond series. Over a fifty year period the franchise has trawlled through rock bottom and seen new heights, which just shows how adding films can lead to more being made, or to a franchise nearly being dropped.
 
But the reason I used to struggle with picking a film series that I think is the best is because I hadn’t come across one that was consistent. For a film series to be good it has to be consistent and strong throughout. Some film series go downhill straight after the first film, but then other have what I call the ‘fading out’ effect. This is where the first film is very good, the second one might be good but not as good, but then it slowly fades out as the films get worse. Be it straight away or gradually it is clear than many film series have weak links in the chain. Take a look at some of the biggest film series of all time, a lot of them have their weak spots:
 
Back To The Future – a very strong first film, followed by a near enough equally strong sequel, but all it took was a risky third installment for the franchise to lose its touch somewhat. I still really like the series but I can’t say it’s my favourite. Not after seeing Marty McFly in a pink cowboy outfit.
 
Indiana Jones – the original trilogy was very good and in fact Raiders of the Lost Ark remains a prominent part of my childhood, but the fourth film just wasn’t the same. The risky venture in to science fiction territory provided us with plot holes, stereotypical characters, boring action sequences, cringe worthy visuals and Shia Labeouf. None of which we can forgive. Especially Shia Labeouf.
 
Terminator – after a good first film and an even better second film, there’s not much to be said about the third and fourth installments. The first two were very well made for their time and still stand as two of the best science fiction films you’ll see, but the two that followed were loud, uninteresting and really quite flimsy.
 
Alien – regular readers will know that I absolutely love the first Alien film, it is a masterpiece of science fiction and film. The second film is still good, but it has too much of the James Cameron influence for my liking, but then it’s all downhill after that which is a real shame. As I said I love the first film, I think it is one of the best films ever made, but sadly as the third film graced our screen we all knew which way it was heading.
 
Lord of the Rings – now this one is a real shame because the series has a good starting point with the first film, and is has a very good third film to end it, I’m just not keen on the second film. It’s the film that allowed Peter Jackson to be ill-disciplined so I’m still not grasped by it. Seeing the work that he has done for The Hobbit recently I  now realise upon reflection that the battle of Helms Deep was the perfect opportunity for Peter Jackson to waffle. It is a brilliant piece of film, but it’s bloody long.
 
Jason Bourne Films – this is the perfect example of the fading out effect. It started with a very strong opening film, but then as the series progressed the films became less interesting and faded out. I’m not entirely sure where this whole Jeremy Renner thing is heading but I’m not interested. And don’t even get me started on the rumours of them making a film with Jeremy Renner and Matt Damon.
 
Predator – no.
 
The Hobbit – so far I’m not a fan of the films. I love the book with a passion, and at present I don’t feel the films are even near as good as they can be. There is so much waffle based on content that Jackson has added, and it takes away what made the source text so beautiful in the first place. I don’t have high hopes for the last installment based on the fact they have allowed Peter Jackson to make an entire film based on the battle of five armies. No thank you.
 
Star Wars – now the original trilogy is good, not very good but they are still classic films in the history of cinema, for whatever reason and so should be appreciated. Then the prequels came. The three films that wasted our time and money, whilst showing how awful George Lucas is as a screenplay writer. They are boring, over-indulgent and lacking in any form of substance. They are films based purely upon George Lucas’ uninteresting screenplay that carries the same weight and substance as the pieces of polystyrene a new electrical appliance is protected by.
 
Pirates of the Caribbean – the first film is passable, after that it just goes downhill rapidly, and I have to be honest when I say that I didn’t even bother with the fourth film. I saw the trailer and the running time and decided against it. I had enough with the third film. Any director who can’t tell a cast what to do isn’t doing their job properly. So we’re left with a third film that had Johnny Depp being as annoying as he was in the first two films, Orloondo Bland being boring, and then Ikea Knightley still playing the role of a secondary school head girl who get’s frustrated because people don’t listen to her. It’s just an absolute mess.
 
The Godfather – I know it’s cliched to say this trilogy isn’t perfect, but I don’t agree with a lot of people. Most people would say the third film is awful, but I’d argue otherwise. It is a good film, it just doesn’t live up to the artistic mastery of the first two, which is a shame more than an annoyance.
 
There you have it, there’s a weak link in many film series. I am aware I have missed many out so if there are any you would like me to address then leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
 
Back to business, I have thought about what the best film series is, and I have indeed made a decision. I must say it’s rather ironic because I’ve gone from having no favourites to suddenly having three. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that they are the best out there, they’re just the ones that are the best for me. So, in no particular order, my three favourite film series:
 
1. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy – intelligently written, well directed, with an all round good cast and an excellent cinematographer. They weren’t just films about a super hero; they’re about character. They are a continuation of Christopher Nolan showing us all how you can make a big and expensive blockbuster without being stupid. The consistency for me is shown through the character development of Bruce Wayne. In Batman Begins we see him become Batman, in The Dark Knight we see him break and in The Dark Knight Rises, they give it away in the title but it’s about him building himself back up. That’s what I love. The films take their time and allow development to happen. Nolan didn’t just focus on the silly outfits and the action sequences (*cough* Tim Burton *cough*), he focused on the human side of Batman, to present him less as an old fashioned style super hero, but a vigilante for modern audiences.
 
2. Toy Story – it’s difficult to find something wrong with the trilogy, it is water tight. It’s not just because of the strong plot line, superb sense of humour or the fact it’s just a generally entertaining experience, but it’s about the messages and the themes that develop. There’s a constant focus on the value of family and friendship, and that makes them so much more than just childrens films. They’re a rollercoaster of an adventure for the children and an emotional journey for the adults because at the end of the day, the relationship Andy has with his toys is a reflection of the relationship parents have with their children and how they eventually have to leave and be free.
 
And then as of two weeks ago, a late entry that kick started this post…
 
3. Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy – now this may be one that’s unknown to some so to make it clear, the trilogy I am referring to consists of the films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight starring Julia Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Three films, spanning eighteen years, with two main characters. There are so many words I could use to describe the films, but the two that jump out at me are charming and beautiful. It’s refreshing and rather uplifting to see films where two people just talk. It is rather magnificent to see this relationship develop on screen and see nine years actually pass you by between each film. It just shows that delicate and well-written screenplay can be the most effective weapon in a film maker’s arsenal. It’s just so realistic and hard hitting to see two people move through life, from the initial stage of free young romantics to settled down adults dealing with mundane life. I’m getting to the point now where I literally cannot describe the films because they just make me so happy and it ceases my articulation in order to let me smile. They are just exquisite films that I would recommend to anybody, and if a miserable cynic like me smiled throughout I think that’s a sign that near enough anybody can enjoy them. It’s not about having a set structure of themes and messages, it’s about what the individual gets from them.
 
So there you have it, the Grinch’s heart has grown a couple of sizes and all it took was some bloody good films. As I’ve said before I don’t think these films are the best, they’re just my favourites. If you’re reading this and haven’t the slightest clue what I’m talking about then I would thoroughly recommend watching the films mentioned. I promise you will not be disappointed.
 
If you have any comments or opinions then I welcome them, particularly if they are in regards to the films mentioned. Also as I’ve said before if you have any films or film series you’d be interested to hear my judgement on then please leave a comment and I promise to get back to you, either with a straight forward reply or a blog post dedicated to you.
 

Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t need an Oscar, no one does

leo

If there’s one thing that annoys me about the internet today, other than people, it’s memes. A few years ago when they first started appearing on my timeline I found them quite funny, they were a good laugh, but it seems as though this has grown in to people making memes out of literally anything. The one that’s still getting on my nerves today, despite the fact they started cropping up a while back, is the memes linked to Leonardo DiCaprio and his unlucky streak at the Academy Awards. Why is it such a big deal?

I remember scrolling through Twitter the day after the Oscars this year, and aside from seeing repeated retweets of the famous star-studded selfie, all I could see was memes of Leo posted by young teens who were disappointed that he didn’t win. It annoyed me for a number of reasons, firstly because all of the tweets were along the lines of “he deserved it this year!” when clearly the people tweeting weren’t old enough to have seen the film. Secondly if you look at the competition from this year there wasn’t a chance of him winning. In my opinion it was always going to be between Matthew McConaughey and Chiwitel Ejiofor, whose performances were absolutely phenomenal. Thirdly, and I cannot stress this enough, it doesn’t really matter.

People have become so fixated on this idea that winning an Oscar is so important for actors or films in general and it doesn’t really make sense. Personally I’m torn when it comes to awards such as the Oscars. On one hand I like them because it draws attention to an art form that I care about and is a way of recognising some true talent in this world. It’s nice seeing the attention shifted on to something I’m passionate about. On the other hand there is a heavy level of bias involved with the awards, and they usually focus on a select few films so some talents go unnoticed. With this in mind I don’t think it’s a bad thing that our beloved Leo hasn’t won an Oscar yet.

If you think about it, he really doesn’t need one. He has had a career doing the one thing he loves and he has brought joy to so many people of the years with his films, so winning an award is like an optional extra. He’s even said himself on numerous occasions that he doesn’t care about winning awards, he acts because he loves it. It was the same with Marlon Brando; he famously turned down his Oscars because he didn’t want them. He said he acted because it’s what he loved doing, he didn’t do it for the awards. That’s why DiCaprio doesn’t need the award, because we all know already how talented he is, the award would just be something extra.

If you have ever seen a film with DiCaprio in (that isn’t Titanic) then you know how talented he is. He proved to us from an early age that he was an astounding actor, from ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ right up to ‘Django Unchained’ his resume is near flawless. And as the years and the nominations have passed him by he’s got better and better at what he does without ever complaining about the awards, it’s everyone else that’s complaining on behalf of him. Admittedly you’d be pretty hacked off if you hadn’t won after a certain number of times, but he never seems bitter about it and I respect him for that.

Look at the rewards results from over the years and you’ll see that there are so many talented people that have been nominated numerous amounts of times and yet haven’t won awards:

– John Hurt: in my opinion one of the greatest actors of all time, nominated twice and yet hasn’t won yet.

– Amy Adams: I know she’s not everyone’s favourite but for me I think she’s proved on numerous occasions that she can adapt to any role put in front of her. Still, nominated five times without having won.

– Joaquin Phoenix: again, another fantastic actor who has proved his talents in so many different films, nominated three times.

– Julianne Moore: she’s a favourite of Paul Thomas Anderson and we can all see why, nominated four times.

– Peter O’Toole: arguably one of the best actors of all time who sadly passed away last year, managed to get eight nominations.

It’s clear that it doesn’t matter if you win an award or not, most people feel honoured to have even been nominated. That last one on the list, the legend that was Peter O’Toole, gave some of the best performances you will ever see and yet he didn’t win an Oscar, because he didn’t need to. He still proved to audiences all over the world that he was incredibly talented.

But it’s not just actors, of course not, over the years directors and writers have had their fair share of losing out:

– David Fincher: an exceptional director with a good eye for film, sadly nominated twice with no wins.

– Ridley Scott: a diverse and talented director who had made his mark on the film industry over the years, still sits with three nominations and no wins.

– Christopher Nolan: a genius walking among men, a living legend of cinema, nominated three times. 

– David O. Russell: both a talented screenplay writer and director of the modern age, nominated five times.

– Alfred Hitchcock: one of the greatest minds of film that ever lived and the king of the thriller genre, technically he was awarded an Oscar but it’s an honourary award so it’s debatable to whether that counts. Still, five nominations and no wins.

– Wes Anderson: in my opinion one of the best writers of the modern age and one of the greatest film makers living today, still without an Oscar after three nominations.

– Paul Thomas Anderson: another talented director and writer who only has six feature films, still managed to gain himself five nominations over the years without a win.

I used to feel annoyed when thinking about all of those people who hadn’t won Oscars but deserved them, but as I’ve matured a bit and become less of an angry teen and become just a grumpy one I have to realise that awards really don’t matter. It’s a nice idea winning one and the concept behind the awards is sound, but it’s not what making films is about.

All of the actors, writers and directors listed above have been involved in making true works of art without ever having one an award. And yet they all keep making films, why? Because they love doing it. It’s refreshing to see people still want to make films in today’s world, regardless of awards or financial gain, they do it because it’s what they love.  I have respect for every single one of the people listed above because they carry on doing what they do best without ever being bitter about losing, because really they’re not losers. It’s like Michael Caine said when he accepted his Oscar for supporting actor, he was happy the announcement changed from “and the winner is” to “the Oscar goes to” because it’s not about winners and losers, it’s about who represents a group of selected humans and celebrating their talents. So yes I do still uphold the view that Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t need an Oscar, because in my mind he’s already proved that he doesn’t need one.

As for Tim Burton being nominated but not winning, well the less said about that the better.quite frankly. Now there’s a loss that I won’t complain about.

Mr Grey Will Not See Me Now

By some bizarre coincidence, just over a week after I wrote about my disgust towards the upcoming ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ soon to be vomited on to cinema screens, CinemaCon kicks off and presents us with teasers concerning the much unwanted monstrosity. At the moment the public only have posters and more plot details, if plot isn’t too heavy a word to use, and we’re assured actual footage of the film is soon to be released into the public domain. This has already sent fans of the book into a frenzy of excitement, claiming it will be one of the best films of all time. After nearly choking on my tea, readjusting on my seat and re reading the comments I think I’m ready to pick up from where I left off; the film has the potential to be absolutely awful.

I know fans of the book are already defending it, saying it will be good and it will have some level of depth to it, but honestly I think those people are being far too optimistic. It’s the equivalent of people being stuck on the Titanic as it was sinking, but not actually panicking because they’re convinced the ship will sprout wings and fly off in to the sunset. In reality, they’re stuck clinging to the barriers on the main deck listening to Kate Winslet recite everything that’s happened between her and Leo so far.

Do people honestly think it’s going to be artistic? Based on the source material and how good that is, I think people need to lower their expectations. A word that I’d use to describe what I think the film will be like would be something more along the lines of “tedious” or “uncomfortable”, seems to have a certain ring to it. I think the reason I’m not a fan of the book is because I’m not middle aged and looking for a bit of thrill whilst sat on a sun bed on holiday.

Various words are already being thrown about to describe the film, all of which are a little unrealistic. I’ve actually taken the time to compile a list of words that people are using to describe the film, just so I can show how annoyed I am at people:

#1 “exciting” – the last time I checked the definition of the word was a little different from watching two characters who are based heavily on stereotypes, locked in a relationship that no one cares about.

#2 “romantic” – it’s not exactly going to be Casablanca is it?

#3 “dramatic” – based on how the plot of the book runs I’d say there’s more tension in the opening sequence of ‘The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ than there is going to be through the entirety of the film.

#4 “sexy” – now as I’ve explained before when I talked of ‘500 Days of Summer’ a couple of weeks ago, I hate the use of this word when describing a film. It suggests to me that there is nothing else to say about a film, there is no other merit to it other than the possibility of frontal nudity. If a film is described as “sexy” then I try to avoid it at all costs.

#5 “erotic” – see now this is the one that confuses me, because it makes it sound more complex than it actually is. I think a better term you could use to describe it is “sexually frustrated”. Some of the things described in the book sound like they’ve been taken directly from a teenage girl’s tumblr page. Equally it sounds as thought it was written by someone who writes fan fiction on a regular basis. Just replace the names of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele with character from ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Sherlock’ or ‘Supernatural’ and that’s essentially what you’ve got here.

So as you can probably tell I’m still quite bitter about the whole situation and I still maintain the opinion that the film shouldn’t be made. In today’s world, where we are striving for gender equality, why would we want to see a film based on such stereotypical characters that are actually quite demeaning to both genders? You’ve got the male character who sees himself as dominant in every scenario and likes to assert this dominance as often as he can, and then the female character who sees this dominance as acceptable and then acts accordingly based on the out dated idea that sexual favours are the only way to please a man.

It just makes me think back to the James Bond films from the sixties, with Sean Connery spanking women on screen and telling them not to talk, or taking their bra off and using it to strangle them. That sort of behaviour was looked down upon and quite rightly so, and yet a film that’s going to show a billionaire asserting his dominance in an openly sexual fashion appears to be fine. I cannot comprehend why people find the character or Christian Grey as interesting as they do. He sounds like you’ve taken Richard Branson, filled him with the arrogance of a footballer and then given him the sexual frustration of a teenage boy with an internet porn addiction. That person sounds as repellent as Christian Grey actually is. But apparently because the book became a best seller we can forgive all of the monstrosities presented in the book. I think not.

And as if I’m not annoyed enough already, I can already tell that the film is going to ask me to do at least one of the following things:

1. Forgive Mr Grey for all of his deviant acts – not going to happen I’m afraid. If I could throw bricks at him I would, alas he is but a name on a piece of paper.

2. Sympathise with Miss Steele – also not going to happen. Her character is but another one added to a long list of characters who learn what true romance is the hard way by falling for someone with a poisonous personality. As if we haven’t seen that before countless times.

Neither of these are going to happen I’m afraid. You’ve got a male character who reminds me of Jordan Belfort, treating women in a disgusting manner and then indulging in whatever sexual activities he sees fit because he has so much money. Then a female character who reminds me of Daisy Buchanan from ‘The Great Gatsby’, presenting women as frail and easily manipulated by men. I don’t know if the writer of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is aware of this but times have changed. Presenting such outdated caricatures whose character development relies on stereotypes is not only infuriating, but it’s bordering on offensive.

If people want to see a film that’s based on uncontrolled sexual behaviour, the challenging of social norms, an uncomfortable story line and a collection of characters you dislike then I would refer them straight away to Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’. I will admit that it is one of my favourite films but it’s because it was written and directed by someone who has a good sense of film and understands that visual style and careful writing are at the heart of a good film. The writing behind the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ film would have to be completely reworked and change almost every element of it, most importantly the characters, so it can start from scratch and attempt to make a half decent piece of film.

So in response to what the posters are saying (“Mr Grey will see you now”), I’m afraid he shan’t be seeing me any time soon, and nor will I be seeing him soon. Because while other people are going to be sucked in to it and fuel the film’s success at the box office, I’ll avoid it as best as I can to ensure myself that I have some form of dignity in this life.

Like I said last week, I want to be proved wrong on this. I want the film to actually be good to show me that I should stop being judgemental and that I should actually give things a fair chance. I want it to prove me wrong and give me a good cinema experience because it’s one of the best feelings for someone who is a fan of film. But at the moment it is looking very doubtful. If there is a constant media trail for a film then I start to lose faith quite early on, but it’s just because the book is so badly written, so uninteresting, so utterly without merit, that I fail to see how a good film can be made from it. But I still have hope that I will be proved wrong.

As it stands, the very idea of the film is making me think back to when I watched ‘Cloud Atlas’. It’s making me think that maybe there are worse books out there to make in to a film. Maybe ‘Cloud Atlas’ had something after all.

 

The Tim Burton Problem Continues

Thinking back to last year, one of the most popular posts I wrote was about Tim Burton and how I felt his Batman films weren’t as good as those created by Christopher Nolan. I made it clear that I liked Tim Burton’s films and I respect him as a director, but he is someone I can admit has somewhat deteriorated in his standard of film making.

The original post from last year was well received by the majority of people and still remains my most viewed piece of writing, but I was met with a small amount of negativity. I wasn’t bothered by it because people are entitled to their own opinion and I jump at any chance to discuss films and talk about different perspectives. In fact one of the best things about being interested in films is the number of opportunities available to talk about them in depth. Just recently however it did get me thinking about Tim Burton as a director and a writer and why I’m beginning to dislike him.

Don’t get me wrong I absolutely love some of Tim Burton’s work; I think he has proved on occasion that he has a really good eye for cinema and is capable of producing works of art. It’s clichéd but I do like ‘Edward Scissorhands’ but mainly because it’s a film I’ve grown up with. A lot of people will regard it as his best piece of film but I would argue that his genius lies in ‘Corpse Bride’, it took things back to a simple but artistic gothic style that really worked. The story worked well with the addition of musical numbers which made it entertaining, but what made it special was the deeper messages about what love actually is and how it effects people. This is what I admired and liked Tim Burton for, so where did it go?

I think most people hope that film directors get better with age, like Martin Scorsese. He went through the phase of making gritty films like ‘Taxi Driver’ and then of course ‘Goodfellas’ (which are both superb) and it seemed like he wasn’t going to settle down and was trying to keep the seventies alive, even if he was dragging it through to the nineties. But then he showed he was capable of making something like ‘Hugo’ in 2009 that was for a completely different cinema audience and showed how his directing abilities are broad. With Tim Burton he’s still stuck in the phase of trying to be different, and putting Johnny Depp in as many odd costumes as he can. I swear that man will wear anything as long as Burton pays him.

The thing with Burton is this, his approach to films was different in the nineties and it was entertaining, but the novelty has faded. He’s still trying to apply the same formula of visual technique and it’s not good enough. Take one of his latest pieces, ‘Dark Shadows’, the ill-advised venture into a gothic comedy. I saw the trailer and thought there could be something there, it made me laugh slightly to myself and looked like it could be sharply witty. So I sat down to watch it and found myself bitterly disappointed. I wanted it to be good, I really did, but it just lacked substance. If you take away the half decent visuals, silly wardrobe choice and hairstyles, the childish characters all you’re left with is a 113 minute period of dull dialogue, tedious set pieces, and gothic rubbish designed to make the film a little darker. It was an ill disciplined piece from someone who is capable of better.

The whole gothic approach to film is wearing thin, so people could argue that Burton is keeping this flare alive. But in actual fact he is clinging to this with every fibre of his being and trying not to let it slip away, and he is losing that battle. ‘Dark Shadows’ showed how far he had fallen from works such as ‘Beetlejuice’ because it showed a lack of imagination, and a ‘copy and paste’ approach to film, regurgitating Johnny Depp in a silly costume as a dark character, a family that have to accept a weird addition to the household, and a large gothic building that looks like it’s from an episode of Scooby Doo. Sound like ‘Edward Scissorhands’ much?

It’s not just ‘Dark Shadows’ that annoyed me though, I’ve had to sit through ‘Alice in Wonderland’ countless times and attempt to like it when I know that it’s bad. It took a classic novel and turned it up to eleven on the stupid scale, stuck Johnny Depp on screen in a silly costume and added visuals that would have looked impressive back in 2004. It’s disappointing because I expected a lot more from a director who can be good, and a novel that is beautifully constructed to be so intricate. That is why the film was unsatisfactory, because it didn’t feel like a Burton film. It felt like you’d taken bits of Burton and jumbled them together and I’m sorry, it just didn’t work. You can put a star studded cast on screen in silly outfits up against a green screen backdrop and it doesn’t make it a good film.

While on the topic of that film it’s worth mentioning that Tim Burton put film makers to shame during the making of that film. He showed exactly what is wrong with Hollywood and modern cinema. Now I don’t know if it was his decision because I am aware it was probably out of his hands, but accepting to have the film released in 3D showed how film makers are so fixed upon making money. It’s slowly slipping away from being an art form designed to entertain a mass audience and it’s moving more in to a business, where people in suits sit at the top of the pile and watch the money come tumbling in. As I said I don’t know if it was Burton’s decision personally because the matter may have been out of his hands, but it was annoying nonetheless because didn’t add anything to the film and is again showing how stupid cinema audiences can be by paying for such nonsense.

You could see the signs on Burton slipping slowly down the scale years ago though, having to sit through ‘Sweeney Todd’ you could see that his style is losing its touch. I don’t completely hate the film because there is some level of enjoyment, but as a whole it felt quite shambolic and disjointed because it didn’t run smoothly. It appeared that the gothic element and the musical element were constantly competing against each other so the film doesn’t settle in one camp or the other and that does bother me. Not because my OCD traits want my DVDs organised in to genres but because it means the tone of the film darts about and it never really finds itself. As soon as it feels like it’s going to settle, something ruins it and it begins to be very repetitive and makes me lose interest. It is a shame because again I wanted the film to be good, but I found myself disappointed.

I realise that this is the point in which Tim Burton fans will want to hit me, but as I have said before I do like him as a director, it’s just I prefer is old films to his new ones. He will always have classics such as ‘Beetlejuice’ that will remain classics and quite rightly so, but his new films are nowhere near as good as his old work. His old films were artistic and near perfect, his new films are annoying ill disciplined. I can only hope that he’s on his way to being as good as he once was. It may just be a case of him going through a bit a low point but then rising back up to former glory. I hope it’ll happen, but with the state of things how they are, it doesn’t look hopeful.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is still better.

The Perfect Guide On How To Turn A Book Into A Film – Oil! vs There Will Be Blood

Recently I’ve been getting quite caught up in a frenzy of ranting about books being made into films and why certain adaptions annoy me more than others. This means that I’ve only really been discussing the films that make me annoyed, and I’m angry at myself for this. I’ve once again gotten so caught up in a state of negativity that it’s lead to me coming across as a horrible person who finds no joy in life. I would still like to think that this isn’t the case, but the evidence continues to expand.

I find that much like with most things in life, if you focus too much on the negatives you soon fail to see the positives that are right in front of you. It is all well and good me spending time discussing how much a film annoys me, but I think it’s time much better spent if I talk about the films that had a positive impact on me.

As I said before, I’ve been writing a lot about novels being adapted for the big screen and how it’s difficult to get this right. As per usual I’ve talked the hind legs off a horse about ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘The Hobbit’, but if there’s one film I know I will always appreciate as well as the book, then it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece ‘There Will Be Blood’.

Based on the novel Oil! written by Upton Sinclair in the early 1920s, the film tells the story of a businessman navigating his way to the top of the oil market in early 20th century America. It shows how his greed and his lust for power control his personality and have lasting impacts for those around him, including family members. The film may not follow the book directly, but I admire that.

The book is very complex, switching from second person narrative to third person narrative and following a range of different characters as they encounter conflict, political changes and the questioning of religion.  The social issues are explored in great depth and it draws an intriguing comparison to how society is nowadays to how it once was. At its core the novel has characters that are consistent to the plot, but whereas the novel focuses more on Daniel Plainview’s son and the people he interacts with, the film strips away a lot of the padding and leaves us with just Mr Plainview himself and his actions.

The book moves on quite quickly from the events surrounding Daniel Plainview and soon become focused on his son moving away and becoming tangled in conflict and political struggles, but with the film Paul Thomas Anderson stuck to the events surrounding Daniel Plainview. It might annoy others who like the book because it does detract away from the topics the book covers, but I like it because it keeps the film simplistic. Stylistically PTA keeps his films simple so that they focus on the characters, which I think he achieved perfectly with ‘There Will Be Blood’, the character of Plainview was so complex. I went from thinking he was a good business, to hating him, to feeling some sympathy for him, before hating his guts again.

There was a bold changing of the character presented in the novel, taking someone who was essentially a family man who wanted to do the best for his family and turning him to a sinister, cold hearted shell of a man. It kept the flare for business and passion for making money, but it twisted it and made it show more about what happens when greed is left to manifest itself. The film is very simplistic and does centre on one man, but that is what made it so chilling. It left us following a man we in all likelihood hate as we see his greed completely change who he was.

There’s always a popular complaint from people when a big screen adaptation is released, because people will always compare it to the book and say that the film doesn’t follow the story of the book. In some cases, such as Harry Potter, I don’t care because I wasn’t engaged enough in the books to care about what happens with the films. In the case of The Hobbit I care because it’s one of my favourite books and I care about what happens to it. In the case of Oil! I admire the changes that PTA made. I like the fact he respected the source material, but then made it something different. I think it’s so admirable that a film maker who is the writer and director can take a fine piece of literature and be inspired. That was the key thing with this film, it inspired Paul Thomas Anderson.

It’s all well and good taking a book and directly transferring it to screen, much like a lot of film makers do nowadays anyway, but it shows something special when they can be inspired by a book and use that inspiration to make it in to something different. PTA took a source that he respected, took the elements that inspired him the most and made a film that was tangential to the novel, but worked not only as a piece of cinema but as a solid narrative. He took an idea, a character, a made an entire film out of it, questioning what it is that makes us human.

As a screenplay writer as well, PTA tested how far a character can be strengthened by speech. The film takes a full nineteen minutes before speech is heard, before that it’s footage of Plainview digging and discovering oil. It was chilling to see such vast desert landscapes with just one man walking across. It was the sort of shot that made me reflect on how small my existence is, it made realise that I am such a small part of this enormous planet we live on. That was chilling.

The correlation between the film being one of my favourites and the novel being one of my favourites is not clichéd, nor is it coincidental, I appreciate both for different reasons and I will always hold them close to me. The film was the first film I saw by Paul Thomas Anderson who has grown in to my favourite screenplay writer, and the novel kept me company over a series of lunch breaks at my part time job and two days ill in bed whilst on holiday in Tunisia. It will always means something special to me and be a book I can look back on a remember how it made me feel after reading it for the first time.

As the title suggests, I believe this was a perfect example of how to turn a book into a film, and it is. It showed how a film maker can appreciate a piece of literature, be inspired by it and make a piece of film from that spark of inspiration. It showed how you don’t just have to copy and paste a book to the big screen, you don’t have to follow a book just like a rule book, and you certainly do not have to add things to influence the pace of a film. That wasn’t a dig at The Hobbit. Not in the slightest.

If you haven’t read the book then I would heavily recommend it, it’s a classic novel exploring greed and jealously and how they affect us as humans. I may dislike the character of Daniel Plainview but in the end I know he represents all of us. He is a physical representation of the deeply pitted greed that hides in all humans, and is a display of what happens when this greed is set free.