Wednesday, 29 October 2014

October Watch List

I actually started my watch list a few weeks ago so my apologies for the delay. This month seemed to be adaptation packed with 5 out of 7 of the films being novels first.

1. The Maze Runner 4/5

There seems to be a button that people press when talking/writing about a film that was based on a popular or successful novel or series of books, they assume that all the stories are same. Before The Hunger Games, everything was being called 'the new Twilight', now everything is just 'the new Hunger Games'. Well, Divergent is just a plain, far less interesting version of those two franchises combined. The trend that the lead in a YA (Young Adult) adaptation is a female teen, usually set in a dystopian world and has to fight for survival, but The Maze Runner isn't. The lead or at least main character is male and he isn't so much fighting for his life, but simply trying to remember how he ended up in the maze. Simple set up, Thomas, arrives in the Maze, where there at least 40 others, just like him, trapped, living day to day on supplies that mysteriously arrive each month. A society over 2 years (3 years in the film, no reason for this slight change) has formed, everyone is in a group. Thomas immediately feels drawn to the Runners, they map the maze looking for a way out. Everything seems to change since he arrived, along with the arrival, hold it, of a girl. Its an excellent vision of the book. It took a while for me to get into the book but I'm so glad I did, its brilliant. Although most characters in the book didn't quite get a good glance on screen, the film was close. Also, you didn't need to read the book (no matter how good) to understand what was happening. A science fiction, mystery conspiracy, action drama that just happens to be adapted from a YA series. Ok, the film does tick some of those stereotypical boxes but only by the end when the next film is set up. But its a really good film, so by then, it doesn't matter. Unlike Divergent. 

2. This Is Where I Leave You 3/5

This film, based on a novel of the same by Jonathan Tropper, hasn't been receiving very good reviews which is strange for the cast and content. Four siblings return home after their father's death and are forced to sit shiver by their crazy mother (Jane Fonda) as it was their father's dying wish. Of course there are dramas, heartbreak, hilarious scenes involving a hospital visit where everyone gets involved but I have to agree with some of what has been said. I really enjoyed it (Tina Fey is present, automatically loved her character) but the family, felt like they needed more explaining, more back story than a few comments here and there. It actually felt like the beginning of a TV I would definitely watch. 

3. Gone Girl 4/5

I had been waiting for ages to see this film. Yes, it was one of those. And I was not disappointed. From the best selling novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, is the story about a marriage. Nick and Amy's marriage begins like a fairytale only to end up like reality horror show. When Amy disappears, Nick is left to deal with the devastating consequences, resulting in him being accused of her murder. Questions are posed, if there is no body, how can this be a murder? Also, did he actually commit the crime? This film, story, plot is beyond brilliant. I am a big fan of David Fincher and he creates such a brilliant view of this marriage. Hi specialty seems to be crime related films, not always traditional, like his adaptation of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'. The approach in that film was by a victim and a journalists. In this film, its the husband and too an extent, his sister as well. The leads, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were perfectly cast. Affleck impressed even more. I'm worried now, with all this goodwill he's slowly created over the years will be destroyed by his Batman outing but you never know, Christian Bale is still respected. Back to Gone Girl. The film is a mix of a crime thriller and domestic tale and has a few horrific shots that are shocking at first glance but actually express the characters inner psycho. Those who have seen the film can probably guess the scene I mean. A brilliant film and it lives up to the hype.

4. In Secret 3/5

I thought this would have had a bigger impact on the box office than it did. It barely made a sound over here in UK. It definitely felt like his film was released 'in secret'. A passionate of betrayal all wrapped up in period costumes and set in France with American and English actors. Described as an erotic thriller, based on the novel Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola, Thérèse (Elizabeth Olsen) is sent live with her aunt (Jessica Lange) and sick cousin (Tom Felton) where she treated like an object and pet. They aren't cruel but they are demanding to the point you want to slap them both. After being forced to marry her sick cousin, they move to Paris where they meet Laurent (Oscar Issac). She begins an affair with him and from there things turn sour, for everyone. Slightly predictable, up until the last quarter. But I won't give anything away.

5. Stretch 3/5

Smokin' Aces was brilliant. An obscure yet simple storyline filled with guns, blood and violence, what's not to like? I saw the trailer for Stretch and thought the same thing, except with just one main character who, even though, isn't that great a guy, you still want him to get that $6,000 to pay off his gambling debts by midnight, among other challenges he faces. Patrick Wilson is the limo driver/wannabe actor who used to be a gambler, drinker and drug taker, then he met his dream girl who left him for a rich famous guy. He's threatened by his bookie that he needs to pay his large debt by midnight and as fate would have it, he ends up driving around a filthy rich eccentric billionaire who gives large tips. Things don't always go smoothly though. A great action film with dark humour and crazy characters you're glad you've never met.

6. How I Live Now 2/5

I had planned on reading the book first when I read about the storyline. I read the first few pages and deemed it 'too young adult' for me to read. No swear words, no vivid descriptions, just words like 'monster in law' to describe a step mother. That book went back from whence it came, the charity shop. When the film came out I was going to see it at the cinema, so glad I didn't. It is serious subject, a third world war, bombs hitting London, people arrested and raped by the enemy. But nothing is clearly defined. The story is told through the eyes of an American teen who at falls in love with the idilic English countryside but when war arrives, everything is destroyed. Her mission is get back home but again, details are thin. What is going on? Who is attacking who? Why did the army split up a family? When did the war end? The film ends on a happy note but the 2 dimensional characters were never people you strongly cared about anyway.

7. 22 Jump Street 3/5
I loved the first film, as did many others. I was so happy at the thought of a sequel but this film felt like it was laking something very important from the start. The joke that this was going to be exactly the same as the previous film became tiresome and the added 'brand new' office made it feel the film was given an unnecessary upgrade. This, always happens. The first is brilliant and slightly low on money or 'set dressing' then the money from the success is used to made everything 'bigger' and less appealing. Channing Tatum was on top comedic form but Jonah Hill acted like the fat girl who lost weight and gained a mean nasty personality. After those 'girl' issues are put aside and Tatum's annoying 'bro-ship' is stopped, things get a whole lot better. Its a shame this was all too near the ending. 

Psycho vs Psycho

As Halloween draws near, lets all remember the film that really did scare audiences out of their seats. All it took was a shower scene (I bet you've guess it), mother issues and a brilliant score.

Please be aware this post contains SPOILERS.

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. And Gus Van Sant's pointless remake of the same name.

In recent years there have been a few things said about Hitchcock, his controversial ways of treating his actress', they way he worked and his subject choice in films. Both BBC's The Girl and Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins tried to explore these issues. Both set around the filming of different films and both expressed very different images of the great director. No matter what he was like as a person though, I will always admire him as a great director. Which why I feel sick to the stomach when I hear talk of his iconic films being 'remade'.

Why ruin a classic? I don't think the argument 'to bring it to a new audience' is good enough or actually a good enough reason at all. A new audience can appreciate older films. The 'old' audience will just hate the 'new' version. If people don't like 'black and white' films, then that's just what they are like. I find it hard to change people's minds who say that. Those who love and appreciate film will make the effort but there is no use in forcing people.

Psycho (1960) was adapted from the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch who was inspired by the real life crimes of serial killer Ed Gein. The tale of the making of Psycho is sordid but that's what Hitchcock went for. Anyone out there seen 'Marnie'? You'll know what I mean.

Psycho begins with Marion Crane, a secretary who steals money from her employer and hits the road. She plans to meet her boyfriend, who is in on the scam, later. She hides out, or plans to hide out at The Bates Motel. She meets the owner, Norman (Anthony Perkins). He seems friendly and normal. He lives with his mother at the house that overlooks the motel. Of course things do not go to Marion's plan.

Killing off the lead actress, even before the film is half way through was big deal back then. Janet Leigh was nominated for her supporting role at the Oscars, as well as Hitchcock for Best Director. He lost out to Billy Wilder for The Apartment. Not only having a famous actress take a small but defining role made the film a success, but casting 'against type' for the (SPOILER) serial killer himself Norman made the ending all the more a surprise. Unfortunately, after the film was released, Perkins was inundated with villain roles, type casting him forever.

Everyone remembers the infamous shower scene where (SPOILER) Marion is knifed to death by Norman Bates' mother, supposedly. The music for this scene, makes it a chilling memory that no one can forget. As well as other famous scenes in the film, the second most chilling is the last shot of Norman Bates (SPOILER) sitting in a jail cell, after being arrested for the murders, staring into the camera, being both his own voice and his mother's.

Having a classic like this, remade in 1998 by Gus Van Sant seemed pointless to me. Supposedly, the film is shot for shot. I saw the remake years ago when I was 15 or 16. It was at a low key Halloween party. Watch a 'scary' film and eat lots of popcorn. I can't remember the other choice of film but I did get excited when I saw 'Psycho'. That's because the film fanatic in me thought it was Hitchcock's. I was severely disappointed to find it wasn't.

My first thought was 'this looks so cheap' and 'what the hell is Vince Vaughn doing in this?'. My opinion didn't improve either as I knew what was going to happen. There were a few jumpy moments and I'm sure it isn't shot for shot exactly. There updates in technology used as the film is set in the then present day and there is more explicit content too. During the murder scenes, surreal dreams were intercut, another unnecessary aspect of the remake.

Where Hitchcock's film was highly successful, critically and commercially, Van Sant's failed utterly.

The cast was not impressive, even though I am a Julianne Moore and William H Macy fan. They played Marion's sister who looks for her and the P.I who's sent to recover the stolen money. Vince Vaughn was a 'casting against type' actor but he's not a strong actor. Although I am glad to hear he's taken on a serious role in season two of True Detective.

Hitchcock's Psycho has spawned two strange sequels, a failed TV movie and now a successful TV series, Bates Motel set in modern day and bares next to no connection to the original film or source material. I watched the first episode and didn't think it worth my time.

Classics like Psycho should be left alone. Preserved, not forgotten and destroyed, in that order.

In this round of original vs remake, I think it's painfully obvious, it Hitchcock's win.

Monday, 20 October 2014

BFI Film Festival - White Bird in a Blizzard

A late evening showing of Gregg Araki's White Bird in a Blizzard, adapted from the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke, may have seemed like an odd way to end a day but it was strangely peaceful.

After the delights of Kaboom, I was looking forward to this next venture, especially after the trailer. It felt to me, a little bit drama, a bit of suspense and then that touch that Araki seems to have where even the most traumatic experiences seem peaceful, for this film, its the disappearance of a parent.

With a great cast, a brilliant atmospheric soundtrack (yes, I said that) set in 1988 and 1991, to me this was period piece that felt understated, no overly obvious cultral references were screaming out and that gave room for the (I thought so) simple story. A teenage girl relates her memories from when her mother disappeared one day when she was 17. To me, this film was not about the actual disappearance, it was more about memories and lack of true emotions, especially from the main character. That's what made it such an intriguing film. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the screen.

Kat (Shailene Woodley) narrates the story, stating what is said on the poster, 'I was 17 when my mother disappeared'. Her mother (a brilliant character from Eva Green) is crazy, repressed bitter women. Kat relates memories of her parents, some she wasn't even present for and later, more recent ones that give a background and set up for the present. Then one day her mother is gone. Her father (Christopher Meloni) is quietly distraught or in shock, sometimes its hard to tell. But Kat carries on as normal, apart from her strange dreams where she sees her mother. It's a very visual film, especially in flashbacks and the dreams sequences. I don't want to give too much more away about the story, it's something that you should watch and interpret (unless you've read the book) for yourself.

As the film is set in late 80's and early 90's, I loved everything Woodley was wearing. Mixed with the amazing soundtrack, I was in throwback heaven.

After this film, I am very much looking forward to seeing Araki's next film, as the more I see, the more impressed and immersed I am in his style.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

BFI Film Festival - Spanish Affair

I admit, this breaks my 'rule of three' rule, sort off. The poster ruins it but, in a way, I can still argue that this is really about 3 people, plus so many lies.

I read that this film had broke records at the box office in Spain and thought the premise sounded amusing. Most of the people going into the screening were speaking Spanish and I started to worry because, to quote Ron Burgundy, 'I don't speak Spanish'. I thought for a horrible moment there was no subtitles. I calmed down once I had reached my seat when I heard a few English voices.

From the first few lines, people (mainly the Spanish viewers) were laughing their heads off. I thought I missed something but again, more laughter. I didn't get it. It seemed that most of the jokes were very, Spanish. A little bit into the film, I understood what the jokes were but throughout the film, there were a lot of references that, I think, only a Spanish audience would know. Despite this, I still really enjoyed it and I was laughing out loud at the universal jokes.

Spanish Affair is Directed by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro, the film starts with Amaia, who has been jilted by her fiancé, Anxton, but her friends still decide to take her on her hen night. They choose a bar far outside of their home town in the Basque country and Amaia gets very drunk and argues with the barman, Rafa. But of course, they end up back at his place. In the morning he decides to follow her to win her over. Rafa ends up having to pretend to be Anxton for Amaia's father, so that he doesn't know she was jilted. What follows is classic romantic comedy, lies, pretending to be other people and of course a wedding. 

The rule of three refers to Rafa, Amaia and her father. Plus lots of lies. 

I'm not actually a fan of romantic comedies but after Obvious Child, which was one but better, I wanted to see this film. It was typical but not for me as there were, as I said, quite a few references to very Spanish things. The actors were all hilarious and the setting was beautiful and it was a laugh. I can see why it was so successful in Spain and I'm hoping that means theres a release date for the UK.

Friday, 17 October 2014

BFI Film Festival - My Old Lady

Each year, the film I see there always seems to be a theme. Two years ago it was all about 'fathers', last year seemed to be about personal journeys usually centred around a young guy. This year seems to be the rule of three.

My second screening was at one of my favourite cinema sights, Mayfair Curzon, such comfy seating but very small foyer. The film, from the Journey section of the film, My Old Lady, adapted from the play of the same name. Tragic and in some places humorous, bitter sweet to taste and the cast, no one under 50. Brilliant. Sounds strange to say, but it was a film with damaged characters you do care about but I didn't tear up.

Kevin Kline, Dame Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott-Thomas (forgotten how good an actress she is) are the players. I say players because the film felt like a play, but I'm glad I saw the film version. Jim (Kline) arrives in Paris after his father's death and goes to the apartment he was left in the will hoping to sell it. Jim is nearly 60, divorced three times and has nothing in the world except the apartment. But it's is a "viager", which is an old French system for buying and selling apartments. A property bought cheaply but the catch is, a old person resides in it. The occupant is Mathilde (Smith). When Jim says he wants to sell the place, Chloe (Scott-Thomas), Mathilde's daughter, has another plan.

The set up seems simple, the characters you've seen before and a story that seems to have a simple or little solution. But, just like a play, after the surface is scratched, more information is given, the truth comes out and finally a satisfying conclusion. 

The rule of three that I refer to is that the story at first seemed to revolve around just Jim and Mathilde but the poison of history soon infects Chloe. The story is lighthearted at first, Jim is portrayed as selfish, Mathilde as naive and gentle, Chloe as bitter but the revelation about the apartments sale origins, Jim's childhood and heartless father, the tale quickly becomes tragic for everyone. Two adults' lives are ruined and a naive old lady thinks they did the best thing. The line 'it was different times back then' couldn't be more hurtful and careless.

Thankfully, after all the truth is out in the open, the characters can heal and the ending, though a bit too sped up for liking, makes sense and is lighthearted once more. At first I was puzzled why the film was in the 'Journey' section but this is a personal journey and a brilliant film.

It was great to see Kevin Kline again too in a much more sensible role than the ridiculous  roles in 'Last Vegas' and 'No Strings Attached'. Maggie Smith was also impressive as Mathilde, a woman with a vibrant past who had 'modern' views, even 'back then'.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

BFI Film Festival - The New Girlfriend

The festival has come and I'm a little sad. I'm not going to that many screenings this year and I am very tired all the time, the joy has been taken out of me - I blame working all hours of the night and day.

Anyhoo, on with the films!!!

My first screening was The New Girlfriend, being screened at Cine Lumiere, which I had never been too. Although I was stunned (in a good way) by the film, I was disappointed by the venue. 

A short walk away from South Kennsington, the cinema is the Institut Francais du Royaume-Uni and so the surrounding areas and places to go were French related. Great. No so great if you want to buy a simple coffee to enjoy with the film. Then, when I gave up running around in the rain and decided to buy an expensive tiny cup at the cinema, I was told no food or drink in the cinema. That's it I thought. I had been up since 4am, it was then 6pm, I needed caffeine. Luckily the film and its characters kept me awake.

Directed by François Ozon and starring Romain Duris, who seems to be in everything lately, and Anaïs Demoustier. After reading the description about the film in the catalogue, I decided not to read too much about the film. But the description about it being like a Douglas Sirk film made me curious, I watched the trailer. I booked a ticket.

(These are the only images I could find for the film)

Set up slightly like a bizarre thriller but really a melodrama filled with so many mixed emotions its a surprise that any of the characters knows how each other feels. It was brilliant. 

Like all the reviews, I don't want to and can't give too much away about the story because it would ruin the experience. Claire (Demoustier) is grieving for a best friend, who's shes known since childhood. She has promised to watch over her husband, David (Duris) and young daughter but after she discovers a secret, she herself has to start lying to her own husband (Raphael Personnaz).

Normal life and repressed emotions are played out side by side, sometimes in very awkward scenes between the two leads. Friendship and understanding of each others needs and desires are slowly discovered but not quite accepted, especially on Claire's side. She harbours deep down emotions that were never really allowed to surface. The melodramatic elements of the story and characters are easy to identify, as well as light humour but its the suspense that I thought made the story about from the same old plot, as well as the brilliant shock moments. A critic from The Hollywood Reporter described this as being similar to the suspense Hitchcock created. I thought the score played a large part in this effect.

A brilliant film and an interesting start to my festival experience this year.

Monday, 6 October 2014

September Watch List

This was an interesting film with an unusual mixture of actors, some playing unpredictable characters. For example, Jennifer Aniston plays a sort of trophy wife, who her cheating, rich and possibly doing something illegal husband Tim Robbins hates. He plans to divorce her and marry his mistress, Isla Fisher. She actually plays a predictable part. John Hawkes also plays out of character, one third of crime team who kidnaps Aniston and blackmail Robbins for money, they know he's done something illegal with his development schemes. But the catch is, he doesn't want his wife back. That's where the plot begins. Apart from the creepy Nazi loving third of the kidnappers, the film is really enjoyable and Aniston is really good as Micky. Unwanted wife and wanting to leave her husband as much he wants to leave her. It's quite amusing in some parts too, especially with Will Forte who is just an idiot. Not predictable in anyway, an enjoyable low key crime drama with minimum violence.

At first, the trailers annoyed me. It felt and sounded like a predictable story. Funny woman, loses man, has a one night stand becomes pregnant now her life is ruined. I don't understand why most stories about women 'going through something' have to involve them either getting pregnant or their wedding being put off. Those seem to be the two choices, but saying this, Obvious Child is not so obvious. Yes, Donna (Jenny Slate) is a stand up comic where her gigs are at one place and she loses her job in a bookshop after it closes down and yes, he boyfriend has been cheating on her but after she has a one night stand with an adorable guy, she finds out that she is pregnant. She decides on the spot that she wants an abortion and its not a big deal. This is why I think this film. It gets on with life. It is a romantic comedy but its a clever and bearable one and feels more realistic. Not once did I say out loud, 'as if'. When I went to see it, the woman who severed me said 'oh, you do know what its about right, it's been difficult to explain it to people.' The film doesn't centre on what would sometimes be the plot of the whole film and its really about Donna trying to come with a new routine and telling the adorable guy she's having the abortion without the awkwardness. 

Its a film I've been waiting for almost a decade and it turns out its a film that could have been better. Sin City, is my favourite film. I ave several reasons, one of them is that the source material was so new and gritty and the characters, while all grimy and glossed in noir-isms, all were distinctive and different. This film is good, but its not the same. There is just must going on, the different stories do not blend well together. In fact all but the title story wasn't needed which is a shame because if had just been 'A Dame to Kill For' they could have expanded the story. I loved the book but this felt too loosely made. I think Robert Rodriguez left it too long between films. Especially a few keys cast members had died since the first film, which is a shame. Too many recasts. Still looks good though, like watching the graphic novel.

Film Rant video - verbal review

I must be like my sister's old English teacher, I do love John Cusack. I know he's in Maps to the Stars playing a similar tempered character but in this he's a bitter washed up poet, admired by Emma Robert's aspiring poet. I love Cusack in Grosse Point Blank and other back in the day roles but lately, its been murder this, murder that, seeing him as a bitter poet is slightly better though. Simple story, Roberts wants to be a poet, set her mind to it so much that she still lives at home and has no job. Her parents kick her out to spur her on. She finds a job in a porn shop, the shop in the title where she made friends with a transvestite and the her real life boyfriend Evan Peters. She also manages to stalk Cusack, the poet she worships. Its great little tale of growing up and shit poetry.

Film Rant - verbal review