Tuesday, 28 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Save the Last Dance (2001)

Save the Last Dance (2001)

Director: Thomas Carter

This was yet another re-watch with my sister. I love dancing in general, and really enjoy seeing it on screen. I also like Juila Stiles as an actor, and so this film was always going to hold some value for me.

I have read the screenplay, which was slightly different. The racial themes, which are certainly present in the film, were at the story's heart in the script. It dealt with these themes and ideas in greater depth, which in the finished film were often nutted out in one scene: ie. Sara and Derek talking about there relationship. Sara's father was also more combative, while here he was simply held at arm's length by Sara. This is not a criticism, more of an observation; scripts always have to be cut-down. The film balances the story of a girl dealing with her mother's death, and being thrust into this new world really well.

The dance scenes are shot pretty well: we get to see a lot of movement and choreography. I did find my muscles twitching along as Derek teaches ballerina Sara how to dance Hip-Hop. As someone who dances both ballet and much looser styles (along with Jazz and Tap), I can appreciate how hard it would be to change the way you use your muscles.

I've Just Seen: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Director: Robert Stevenson

The influence of Mary Poppins is strong with this film. A magical lady meets a bunch of isolated  children (here physically and emotionally so), teams with a slightly down-on-his-luck man and goes on several adventures, some involving animated creatures. This may be derivative, but Angela Lansbury is always fun to watch and listen to sing, that I am able to enjoy this film without thinking about it too much.

Its biggest failing is that the story is it not stream-lined enough: there is too much going on. They go off looking for David Thomlinson's character, then go looking for a medallion, then come back to save England from the Germans. Had it chosen one overarching story, with one anatagonist, it would have been better. The songs are also not as memorable as Mary Poppins, which is always a shame in a musical film. Best suited to young children, and those with nostalgia complexes.

I've Just Seen: Xanadu (1980)

Xanadu (1980)


Director: Robert Greenwald

I can see why this film has become a cult classic: it is so very bad, yet there is some charm to it. It is harmless rubbish, whose only fault is that it dragged Gene Kelly into its bonkers world. There is really not much to say about this film, other then say that the special effects are hilarious, the plot non-existent, the acting superficial, the costumes very eighties, and the animated sequence head-scratchingly random.

Should you see this? Well, you don't have to: but I did, so you should too. It will make you appreciate well-crafted narrative films. It is not an insult to filmmaking, just quite bamboozling.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Les Diaboliques (1955)

Les Diaboliques (1955)


Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

What to say about this film? Well, if you haven't seen it, you should: right now. This is a film that should not be spoiled, especially since Clouzot himself asked his audiences not to tell people the film's ending. And what an ending!

This is a suspense story in the same vein as Hitchcock and Chabrol: a woman is spooked after participating in the murder of her husband. Guilt plays a huge part in the story, and it is no accident that Vera Clouzot's Christina is religious; Catholic guilt weighs her down, causing her physical distress. This is cleverly paired with the importance of water to the story: the body was drowned then immersed in water, then seems to have been resurrected from this deathly baptism. I had made a few guesses as to how it ends, and wasn't too far off, but I had decided to let the film take me to the end, and not try to get one step ahead of it.

Vera Clouzot's acting is at times melodramatic, but she comes into her own in the last half hour. Paul Meurisse plays the pig of a husband well: he is truly awful. Simone Signoret is the standout for me, playing the cynical mistress really well; she is almost the opposite to Christina, and reveals very little about herself to anyone.

The move from suspense to horror is well-handled, and there are a few images that I winced at. This is definitely a must-see film.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

I've Just Seen: The Planet of the Apes (1968)

The Planet of the Apes (1968)


Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

This is another watch-it-with-my-sister film that I had already seen. She had seen the ending (one of the worst kept secrets in film history), but wanted to see the beginning. This is a good film to re-watch: the first time I saw it I focused on the more overt, and at times clumsy, analogy of this world with 1960s America. On second viewing I picked smaller parts of the story and the characters.

Heston's Taylor's relationship with Doctor Zaius is rather complicated, and the most interesting part of the film (for me). Dr Zaius knows the truth about the whole situation, more than any other character in the film. While Taylor believes himself to be on another planet that is hospitable, Zaius warns Taylor at the film's end that Taylor may be in for a rude shock. And, call me stupid, but the first time I watched the film, I didn't quite piece together that the 'You blew it up' quote was a reference to the Cold War. Derrr!

Though this is by no means a perfect film, it is a must-see. As I said, this has the worst kept 'surprise' ending; I wish that I had been able to see it without knowing the ending (though it is quite obvious: they speak English for goodness sake!).

I've Just Seen: The Black Balloon (2008)

The Black Balloon (2008)


Director: Elissa Down

I have some personal connections to this film: a few family friends were extras in this film, one even has a speaking role. It was fun spotting them throughout the film. The other connection is the director Elissa Down: she ran a two-day directing course that I attended earlier this year. This was her debut feature film, and has semi-autobiographical elements. I had seen the film a few years ago, but couldn't remember much of the story. I was glad I re-watched it: this is a great directorial debut, and a great Australian film.

Thomas is trying to be a normal teenage boy, and spends the film trying to pretend that his brother is fixable. Charlie, his older brother, has autism and ADD, and causes Thomas much embarrassment. Down gets the balance between humour and pathos just right: the family fights are both funny and sad. Down and Baker use camera angles really well, using Dutch angles when the tension mounts.

This did get a small release overseas, and I would definitely recommend it. The acting is great from everyone: Toni Collette is the film's heart, and Luke Ford is DiCaprio-like in his portrayal of Charlie. I hope Down gets to make another film soon: she is a very talented filmmaker.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Battle of the Sexes (2013)

Battle of the Sexes (2013)

Directors: James Erskine, Zara Hayes

My two favourite sports are cricket and tennis, which to me define summer in Australia (along with insects and bushfires). I've loved tennis since I was wee thing, though cannot play to save my own life. My favourite player in the 90s was Martina Hingis, and I know I enjoyed watching women's matches more than the mens; the gender biases of childhood. As I have grown I have watched more men's tennis, and now appreciate the differences each group has. But I don't appreciate the coverage space given to each: watching the most recent Wimbledon, I saw far more mens' matches than womens' games. Thanks TV people, the most representative sport for women, and you still short-change them!

Rant aside, this leads wonderfully into this documentary about the match between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King. The match itself provides much of the tension in the film, and is itself very entertaining, but I found the information about the formation of the Women's Tour (the WTA) the most interesting part. King was instrumental in establishing legitimate tournaments for women to play, and worked hard to make the sport fairer. I did not know this before watching this documentary, and now have a great appreciation not only for her sporting achievements, but also her commitment to the sport as a whole.

The tennis-lover in me also enjoyed watching how tennis used to be played before everything got a whole lot faster: I would like to have seen Serena Williams take on Bobby Riggs! This is a very good documentary, full of an array of characters, and explains how tennis got to be how it is today.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

I've Just Seen: The Seventh Seal (1957)

The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) (1957)

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Writer: Ingmar Bergman, from his play Tramalning

The Middle Ages has always fascinated me: I studied its history and literature at university, and even did a year of Latin, thinking I might become a historian. That clearly did not happen. However, my interest still exists, and I always look out for films that depict the era. Unfortunately (for me, at least), most films about the era are unsatisfying; one day I shall go into why I think that. But having seen other Bergman films, and knowing The Seventh Seal's reputation, I felt that I could expect an interesting portrayal of the era. I was not disappointed.

This film is famous for the scene of Death and the knight playing chess; the scene looks grim and depressing. The existential crisis at the film's centre also creates expectations of dark reflections from Bergman. So imagine my surprise when there were moments of humour and levity, even joy in the film. The whole story blended theology, humour, death and sex, and used metaphor, in a way reminiscent of Chaucer, one of my favourite writers.

Gunnar Fischer's black-and-white cinematography is wonderful, complementing Bengt Ekerot's Death. Max Von Sydow is good as the knight desperately wanting to know if God really exists. For me this ranks up high with Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, another thoughtful depiction of the Medieval period. This is going on my Favourite Films list.

I've Just Seen: Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: David Nicholls, from Thomas Hardy's novel

I have not read any of Hardy's novels, despite majoring in English at uni; I was always more of a Jane Austen/ eighteenth century/ medieval literature girl. However, I am not one to sniff at watching a historical drama, particularly one directed by Vinterberg and starring Carey Mulligan, one of my favourite actors. I vaguely knew the story going in: a young, independent woman is proposed to by three different men. The independent nature of the heroine was another attraction.

I really liked this film: the acting was top-notch, particularly from Mulligan, and the costumes and scenery luscious. My only gripe was with the story, a problem that by rights I should have with Hardy rather than the script. I am not one who generally enjoys random twists, or melodrama, and Madding has a bit of each. However, I found it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. Vinterberg managed both well, directing his actors to not overdo their performances; he also didn't dwell on the twists, but moved on with the story.

If you like 'period dramas' as a genre, you would definitely like this; it is one of the best in the last few years.

I've Just Seen: Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard (1988)

Director: John Moore
Writers: Steven E. de Souza, Jeb Stuart, from Roderick Thorp's novel Nothing Lasts Forever

I love a good action movie, and had had Die Hard on my 'To See' list for some time. It was finally shown on TV in Oz a few weeks ago (despite it not being Christmas). I watched with my occasional viewing companion (my sister). We both thoroughly enjoyed this film, my sister saying she liked it better than Jaws (I can't spilt them, they are both fantastic).

There are so many elements that make this such a great movie. The music is wonderfully discordant with the action; the villian is one of the best in cinema history, played to perfection by Alan Rickman; Bruce Willis' character is there and roaming around purely because of chance, bold move to have in story; he is also a reluctant hero, a man who really just wants to go home and not save the world. Another aspect that may not get talked about as much is the production design; the unfinished office tower, with its exposed wires and vast amounts of glass is a stroke of genius.

All in all, this is one of the best action films ever made: there I said it. While watching it I was reminded of The Towering Infero, another movie set high in the sky. Though both are very good, this is better: it is purer in its storytelling, and much funnier, and humour counts for a lot with me. Go, watch, you have no excuse.

Monday, 20 July 2015

I've Just Seen: The Woman in Black (2012)

The Woman in Black (2012)

Director: James Watkins
Writer: Jane Goldman, from Susan Hill's novel

When I was a wee teenager the subject of my youthful infatuations was Daniel Radcliffe; it went as far as going to see him at a film premiere in Australia. My 'love' was only increased when I realised that he was not much taller than me (he's apparently 5'5, I am 4'11). A few years later I decided that such feelings belonged in my youth and stopped believing I would marry (it would never work, he supports the English Cricket Team!). But I did not stop watching his post-Potter career, and found his choices interesting. I had wanted to see The Woman in Black since it came out, but was wary, not being a fan of horror. Now, with my greater understanding of the genre, I was eager to watch it.

Radcliffe is very good in the film, carrying the lead well. His large, soulful eyes are particularly handy in the scenes where he is alone in the scary house. The supporting cast are also good; Ciaran Hinds is a voice of sanity and hospitality in a suspicious, hostile town. As with many of these types of films the production design is important, and they did a good job here, with lots of wonderful objects scattered around the haunted house. Grief plays a significant role in the film, fuelling much of Radcliffe's character Arthur, who pursues the mystery of the ghost with a morbid desire for knowledge about death.

I was not scared during the film, but the subject matter is quite disturbing, particularly if you are unsettled by seeing children in danger. I had read Hill's book several years ago, and remember a rather different ending. I shall have to go back and re-read it.

I've Just Seen: The Kid (1921)

The Kid (1921)

Director: Charlie Chaplin
Writer: Charlie Chaplin

I know that many film lovers usually prefer one silent film comedian over another: Chaplin or Keaton (or even Lloyd). I have to admit that I like both equally, (and also admit to not having seen any Lloyd yet!). They both approach their stories and comedy differently, and both manage to elicit laughs from me. I cannot choose one over the other: in fact I am glad that we have both of them to enjoy, considering what happened to many silent films.

Having seen most of Chaplin's feature length films and a handful of shorts, The Kid was the main blindspot in my Chaplin filmography. The presence of Jackie Coogan's little kid makes this one of Chaplin's most sentimental films. While I usually bristle at sentiment, Chaplin's has never bothered me, and so I happily felt sad as well as amused by the film. There were less gags than usual, though the window scene was quite funny.

I watched this curtesy of one of Australia's TV channel's 'On-Demand' services; a wonderful resource, but because of internet speeds the picture quality often varied. I still enjoyed watching The Kid and it made me want to re-watch Chaplin's other films. 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, from Benchley's novel.

I had seen this a few months previously; I re-watched it with my sister who had not seen it. She was not as impressed by it as I was when I saw it. Why, I don't know. Perhaps it is because she doesn't really know its significance in film history, or because she didn't watch it the way I did (which was without ad breaks).

I didn't follow it as closely as I did the first time I saw it, but I still think it is one of the best blockbusters ever made. At my recent course we looked at the beach sequence, where the child and the dog are the victims. We were asked to watch the scene several times, write down all the shots and then figure how many camera set-ups there were. There are a huge number of shots in that scene (over fifty), and, as it turns out, only two camera set-ups: Spielberg and his cinematographer Bill Butler put the camera on a track, allowing them to move the camera with ease. Impressive, huh? And all from a young, relatively inexperienced director!

If you haven't seen this, you have to watch it. No excuses. And if you have seen it, watch it again, keeping in mind how young Spielberg was.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

'That's a quarter of a century. Makes a girl think!'

There is only one way for a cine-lover to spend her birthday, and that is watching her favourite films. What better company is there than Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda? Add to that two childhood favourites in Disney's Aladdin and Fern Gully and you have yourself a pretty good day in from the cold.


Some Like It Hot was especially relevant for this birthday as it includes the above quote: and turning twenty-five really does make a girl think! Mostly about how quickly time is going, and how uncertain my future still is. But hey, no film makes me feel better than Wilder's masterpiece (or one of them, at least). If I ever get to make a film half, or even a quarter as funny and clever as this, I shall feel accomplished.


I loved this film as a child, watching it obsessively for weeks. It is still a favourite now. I sang along to 'Prince Ali' and giggled with my sister at Abu and the Genie; we both agreed that the Genie would be the best role to play of all the characters. The last time I watched it was when Robbin Williams died, and there was that bittersweetness to the ending that the film will now forever have.


I don't know how many of you have seen this film, but it was another favourite from childhood. Having watched it so recently after Pocahontas, a film with a similar plot, I can honestly say that I prefer this film. It has as lovely images (like the above image), and a much better plot (a bit more character development). Fern Gully also has a connection with Aladdin: Robbin Williams and the Sultan's voice make appearances.


I have already written about how clever this film is. Stanwyck's Jean is one of my favourite ladies. Of course I was going to watch this on my birthday. I wish rom-coms were still this funny and sexy, with lasses who sparkled the same way as Stanwyck did. Each time I see this film I notice new little things, like the two telephones Mr Pike has in home, sitting right next to each other. A small moment, but funny nonetheless.


I did not watch this today, but I was given this as a present from my lovely sister. She didn't know I had already seen it, but all that means is I understand how great the present is. Now I can listen to Mark Cousins (with his gorgeous accent) teach me the history of cinema any time I want. Couldn't think of a better present. 

I've Just Seen: Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas (1995)


Directors: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg

I had not seen this film for a long time. I remembered several of the songs, and vaguely knew the story. What I had not remembered was how short the film was. Or how quickly the film moves through the story. It takes Pocahontas and John Smith ONE song to fall in love, and Pocahontas is particularly good at picking up English.

The film's visuals are quite beautiful, but as this is Disney, that shouldn't be a surprise. 'The Colours of the Wind' is the highlight of the film, a good song with wonderful drawings. Apart from this, the film feels incredibly flimsy; there is no depth to the plot, unlike The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. They could have taken 10 more minutes, extended the first act, and the film would have been better. As it is, I feel I barely got to know the characters, and therefore didn't care about their plight as much as I wanted to.

When I was a child this clearly didn't bother me, as I paid little attention to plot, and instead focused on segments (like songs). This film is suitable for young children.

I've Just Seen: South Solitary (2010)

South Solitary (2010)

Director: Shirley Barrett
Writer: Shirley Barrett
Notable Actors: Miranda Otto, Marton Csokas, Essie Davis, Barry Otto

This Australian film follows Otto's Meredith Appleton, who moves to the island of South Solitary with her lighthouse-keeping uncle. She experiences isolation and alienation from almost everyone on the island.

The visuals of this film are its great strengths, as well as the performances. The island is a beautiful place, but certainly far from society. The sound of the waves never gives up, and the colour is often washed-out. Miranda Otto gives Meredith a girlish confidence that slowly dissolves throughout the film. Csokas' Jack Fleet is a strong, silent type, and plays it well. The young girl Meredith be-friends is wonderful, really funny and well-acted by Annie Martin. There is also an assortment of animals, including a very cute sheep and some fickle carrier-pigeons.

The film is effective but a touch insubstantial, with a subtextual romance going on at its centre.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Young Frankenstein (1974)

Young Frankenstein (1974)


Director: Mel Brooks

It was whilst watching Herzog's Nosferatu that I developed a sudden desire to watch this film. Not sure why. Young Frankenstein was on hard rotation in our house about ten years ago, and several friends had also seen it, meaning we could quote away to our heart's content. However, I hadn't watched this for at least five years, and decided to indulge myself and re-watch it.

Watching beloved films from one's youth often reveals how one's approach to film-watching has changed. I realised I had never really followed the plot that closely when a teen, and had forgotten how the film ended (apart from the very last scene). I also hadn't appreciated the genius of using similar cinematography to the films Young Frankenstein is parodying.

The film is still one of the funniest ever made. Gene Wilder plays the straight role well, complementing Marty Feldman's utterly brilliant Igor. The rest of the cast are great, all naturally funny. Always make sure that at least one other friend/ family member knows this film so you can share in the joy of the film's many quotable gags.

Monday, 13 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog, from Bram Stoker's novel Dracula
Notable Actors: Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani

There are many riffs on the Dracula story: Murnau and Herzog's Nosferatus are probably the most arty of all. I had seen Murnau's silent classic sometime last year, and was looking forward to Herzog's interpretation. The 1979 is in dialogue with the 1920's version, creating an extra layer of eeriness and shadow.

I saw the English language version of Herzog's film, and I wish I had seen the German one. The English dialogue was delivered rather stiltedly, hampering the acting at times. This really is my only gripe with the film. The acting is deliberately stagey, mirroring the acting styles of the silent film era. Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani were the standouts, providing depth to their characters. Kinski's Nosferatu was far more melancholic than Max Schreck's portrayal. Kinski's Nosferatu seemed to be on a suicide mission in going to see Lucy Harker.

The cinematography is wonderful, particularly the night scenes: the shadows and candlelight are well handled. The images of all the rats infesting the town were also striking, especially the Meal of Death scene.

The film has grown on me since I saw it, as all the elements have been sorted out in my head. Herzog is a clever filmmaker, and I am excited to see more of his work.

I've Just Seen: In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)

In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)

Directors: David Sington, Christopher Riley

I find space fascinating, a sentiment I know several readers share. This week, in Australia, we were treated to the sight of the International Space Station visibly moving through the evening sky, and passing near (well, that's how it looked to us) Venus and Jupiter. Both planets are very bright in the night sky at the moment. This tangentially leads me to the documentary In the Shadow of the Moon, which looks at the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon. The film features interviews with all the living Americans astronauts involved with the Apollo missions, except Neil Armstrong (who was still alive at the time). It also has previously unreleased footage from NASA.

These two aspects make this a really good documentary about the Moon landing. The astronauts share their physical and emotional reactions to the journeys they made, including details like whose heart rate rose (and whose stayed calm). They also reflect philosophically on what landing on the Moon and space travel means for humanity as well as for them personally. The most poignant insight was one astronaut talking about looking back at Earth; it looked so small, he could block it out of his vision by putting his thumb over it!

The film footage of the Moon is wonderful to watch, though I wasn't sure which parts were previously unseen. It doesn't matter anyway; it is all amazing to look at. This documentary is a must-see for space enthusiasts; try to see it on as big a screen as possible.

I've Just Seen: Minions (2015)

Minions (2015)


Directors: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Writers: Brian Lynch

I have been going to the cinema quite often lately, seeing five films in the last seven weeks. I saw this a week after seeing Inside Out, another film whose main characters are blue and yellow. Because my sister and I didn't book tickets beforehand, we ended up sitting front-row, centre, which did strain the eyes and neck somewhat.

Despite this the film is quite enjoyable. The Minions are the best part, their comprehensible gibberish providing lots of the humour: my sister and I did chortle at a huge group of Minions "singing" 'Make 'Em Laugh' from Singin' in the Rain. I also enjoyed John Hamm's decidedly different 60s character, the cool-cat husband to Sandra Bullock's villain, Scarlett Overkill (great name).

The film's soundtrack is full of 60s hits, including Donovan's 'Mellow Yellow' (quite rightly). Hopefully this gets kids interested in 60s music. Minions would play well to young children, and does have some jokes that older viewers would appreciate.

I've Just Seen: The Leopard (1963)

The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) (1963)

Director: Luchino Visconti

I have a difficult relationship with 'epic' films. Its not really their length; there are plenty of three-hour-plus films I enjoy. Rather, I think it is because epics stuff so much into their running time, with multiple plots and sub-plots, characters, and usually cover periods of history in a way that assumes some knowledge of events. It is very easy to feel at sea. The last point in particular hampered my enjoyment of The Leopard.

I know little about 19th century Italian history, and even less about the history of Sicily in general. While I vaguely understood how Tancredi changed political sides halfway throught the film, I didn't really know the political situation of the film's setting, making many decisions and speeches made by characters slightly baffling.

That is not to say that the film is unenjoyable. It is utterly beautiful to look at: the Italian/ Sicilian landscape, the costumes and the people. Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon are two of the most attractive people ever committed to celluloid, and I couldn't help thinking how gorgeous their children would be (so shallow, I know!). Burt Lancaster does a good job, considering his lack of knowledge of Italian. Indeed it is a tribute to Visconti's direction that the cast are all good together considering their internationality. The film's final sequence, the ballroom, is wonderful.

There are several different cuts of this film; I watched the 185mins cut with Italian dubbing for all dialogue. I discovered (from Wikipedia) that there are shorter and longer versions, a few being Visconti's own director's cut. I am glad I watched this and am able to cross it off the 1001 Films list, but I am not sure it is one I will revisit.

Friday, 10 July 2015

I've Just Seen: The Fly (1986)

The Fly (1986)

Director: David Cronenberg

I used to think horror, as a genre, wasn't for me: the thought of watching something simply to scare myself was highly unappealing. Then I watched a few classics of the genre: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rosemary's Baby, Carrie and The Exorcist. I found that these films were often clever, with many more emotions in them than just horror or fear. And they were also wonderfully bonkers; and I do enjoy bonkers films. The Fly is of the same calibre of those films: an interesting concept, with love, joy and pain as well as fear and disgust, and a good dose of madness.

Goldblum and Davis are wonderful together. Their relationship adds a level of poignancy to Cronenberg's story: we share Davis' disgust and sadness at what is happening to Goldblum's Seth Brundle. Goldblum manages Seth's emotional arc well, particularly when he is in his manic stage.

The real star of the film, though, is the make-up. The transformation is as sticky and gross as you would imagine. The use of in-camera effects makes everything even more tactile and fleshy. Clearly Neill Blomkamp was referencing The Fly in District 9, particularly with the fingernail pulling.

I watched this film with my sister in the room: she is not a fan of horror (or Goldblum apparently (she called him ugly)), and asked during the film whether I was enjoying this. I certainly was. Can't wait to see more of Cronenberg's films, and I seem to like body horror films. That is something I would never have thought I would discover about myself from watching films.

I've Just Seen: The Age of Innocence (1993)

The Age of Innocence (1993)


Director: Martin Scorsese

Ah, another 'period drama.' I may not like gender stereotypes, but sometimes I do fulfill them: I am a woman who enjoys a good bonnet/ corset drama. The acting in period dramas, as it is in this film, is usually top-notch, and the production design is a joy in and of itself. Scorsese is not the obvious choice to direct a film such as this, but he handles Wharton's finely wrought story very well.

Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic, balancing his passion for Pfeiffer's Olenska with his sense of duty to Ryder's May Welland. Pfeiffer is very good as Ellen Olenska, portraying a woman aware of the binds she has found herself in. Ryder arguably has the harder job, making May look innocent and sweet but with deep recesses of cunning. She does this well.

As mentioned, the production design is glorious, with many close-ups of the ornate paintings hanging on the walls, and the fancy dinners at candle-lit tables. Many shots look like the paintings on the wall, highlighting the historical distance between our society and theirs. This reflects Wharton's own approach to this period, as she wrote from an early 20th century perspective about the 1870s.

I really liked the novel when I read it several years ago, and think this is an excellent adaptation. 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out (2015)

Director: Pete Docter

Pixar is back, baby! An original concept that is beautifully animated, with great voice casting, and a fantastic story that appeals to both adults and children alike. I loved it.

The central question of Inside Out is what role does sadness play in our lives. Is it always a bad thing, a feeling to avoid? Or is it necessary and even good to feel sad? As you would expect with Pixar, the answer is suitably grown-up, but presented in a wonderfully accessible way.

As I watched this, I realised that this film basically sums up Pixar's own approach to storytelling: that in order to appreciate joy and fun, one must also engage with sadness (particularly loss). Think about it: the Toy Story trilogy, Up, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo all deal with issues around separation and loss. They manage to make adults openly cry, yet also provoke great big belly-laughs. Inside Out belongs on the best of Pixar list: it is certainly up there with Monsters Inc., and proves that Pete Docter should do more films.

The film also gives a great reason for why I can't remember how to play the piano, but know the jingles to ads from my childhood. A must-watch for everyone.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Amores Perros (2000)

Amores Perros (2000)

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

From the opening shots of this film I knew this was going to be a difficult watch. I love dogs, and have two of my own; watching people treat them despicably and seeing them injured is hard. Dogs and their owners are vital to understanding Inarritu's film. How people treat their dogs reveals more about their characters than their relationships with each other.

Hand-held camera doesn't always work for me, but in this film it did; it heighten the visceral aspects of the film, particularly at the beginning with the car chase. In the second section the camera became still and more distant from its subjects; the third had elements of candid-camera to it.

The film is decidedly non-linear, and at times I was slightly lost as to where we were in the story's chronology. The three different stories within the film are connected by a horrific event which affects many people's lives. The complexity of the inter-woven plots means that I will need to re-watch this at a later date. Did I like it? Mmm, I admired Inarritu's filmmaking but was rather confronted by the animal's experiences in the film. As a result, the characters are hard to like.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

I've Just Seen: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Director: Alex Gibney

This is the first documentary I have seen at the cinema. Considering the connection Scientology has to many Hollywood stars, this is rather appropriate. Going Clear is a comprehensive insight into the history of Scientology, from its founder L. Ron Hubbard up to the present day. Gibney interviews several people who were deeply involved in the 'church' for many years, including one of David Miscavige's former right-hand men, Mark Rathbun.

The film is very, very good, and its greatest strength is these interviews. The subjects all come across as normal, intelligent people, who share the audience's amazement at their own previous belief in Scientology. It is a great illustration of who is populating Scientology; they are not all strange celebrities wanting fame, but people looking for something to believe in. What was one of the more 'what the?' moments was one of the interviewees remarking that while Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc can outline their beliefs in about a minute, Scientologists would struggle to explain their beliefs to other people, and don't find out their own creation myth until they are deep into the 'church.' I've seen the documentary, and I still am not entirely sure what Scientologists believe.

This is a very good documentary from one of the best documentary-makers working in film today. I am looking forward to watching Gibney's other films.

I've Just Seen: Inception (2010)

Inception (2010)

Director: Christopher Nolan

I had seen three-quarters of this film several years ago, and thought it was high time I watched the whole thing. I've enjoyed Nolan's films over the years but would not call myself a 'fan-girl.' I really liked Memento and The Dark Knight and Insomnia, I was not 'grabbed' by them. I had the same reaction to Inception, though it was coupled with a desire to watch the film again in the near future. I know there is stuff I missed!

One part of Nolan's filmmaking that doesn't seem to be talked about as much as his visual style is how good he is with his actors. Of course, when your cast has such people as DiCaprio, Cotillard, Watanabe, Page, Caine (or Pearce, Bale, Ledger and Pacino) you are unlikely to get bad performances. But Nolan gets great performances from them, which helps draw the audience into the world he creates. With Inception, this is vital, as at the heart of the film is DiCaprio's Cobb's grief and how it is holding him hostage.

As to be expected with Nolan the film looks fantastic; I heartily applaud his love of in-camera effects. The corridor scene and the Parisian explosion are highlights, seamless in their presentation. I felt that there was a lot of exposition, all of it necessary in order to construct the world, but for one viewing it was slightly overwhelming. Yet another reason to go back and watch it.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I've Just Seen: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il Buono, il Brutto, il cattivo) (1966)


Director: Sergio Leone

I had seen this film many years ago (about twelve I would say). All I could remember were Leone's signature close-ups, and the wonderful score from Ennio Morricone (wah, wah, waaaaah). My sudden desire to revisit this classic was sparked by my film course, as the short film we made nodded to the Western genre, and we all had this song in our head for the last week.

I am so glad I revisited this: it truly is wonderful. Watching it now with a critical eye, I can see just how good Leone's direction is, and how beautiful Tonino Delli Colli's cinematography is. The plot is simple, only working to provide a spot on the horizon that all our characters are heading towads. The changes in the dynamic of the central trio is where the fun is to be had. The three share several similarities: they are all determined, self-serving and resourceful. Eastwood, Van Cleef and Wallach give them distinctive characteristics, particularly Wallach, who is a great big ball of ugly energy. We don't really have a main character, though Blondie and Tuco feature more throughout the film.

The Western is a genre I have only sampled. I really enjoy the streak of wry humour that runs throughout this film; the more earnest Westerns from the 50s, though still very good, don't engage me as much. But hey, I've only dipped my toe into the genre, I may change my mind yet.