cinematic innovation

In film class, our current topic is music biopics of which ‘I’m Not There’ (2007) is one of our focus films. I had initially watched this film a few months ago when I bought it in a dvd deal at HMV and came out no more informed or enlightened as to who or what was Bob Dylan. I regarded it under the rather broad term of strange, but beautiful. Now, however, I realise when I watched it for the first time I had gone in blind; without the slightest hint of knowledge as to Dylan’s background or music. The extent to which I called myself an admirer was songs such as ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ on my i-pod. After having watched Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary ‘Don’t Look Back’ and Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary ‘No Direction Home’ on Dylan it has not only given me a whole new appreciation of the film, but also of Dylan. I could now consider myself an actual fan.
In contrast to the conventional music biopic, Todd Haynes does not presume to know the ‘star’ of the film. The ultimate point here is something that Martin Scorsese may have discovered inadvertently in his thoroughly researched and absorbing, 208 minute account on Bob Dylan’s rise to fame; that the “real” Dylan is essentially unknowable. Most biopics go to great lengths to recreate the character as they were popularly perceived, as though this is the definitive legend that the person left behind and how they will be remembered. Perhaps, Haynes’ advantage lies in the fact that Dylan is still with us. By offering a criticism of this and a refreshingly different deconstruction of the complexities of character and identity, Haynes has set a new kind of precedent.
Bob Dylan in ‘I’m Not There’ takes on six different fictional personas as representations of his character as seen through the public eye; some correspond to a recognisable period and look in Dylan’s life, whereas others are more metaphorical, blending influences, passions, and imagery that extend over his entire career. It is this diversion from convention and sentimality that make this film a far more reverent and admirable tribute than the likes of ‘The Doors’. Haynes skillfully redefines the boundaries of this genre because he doesn’t assume to know or understand Dylan. This film is a creative, visual and rich portrayal of life. Both visceral and enlightenting, comedic and pensive, wild and tender. It challenges both the audience and convention, creating a film that has to be watched over and over to fully grasp all its layers, references and connections. And if this isn’t a more truthful representation of personality and identity then I don’t know what is. If you’re looking for simplicity and a linear narrative, then this isn’t you’re film, but wouldn’t life be boring if you took one look at a person and knew everything about them?
Haynes refrains (rhyme unintended) from patronising his audience. From the delightfully twisted, pained and pitch-perfect performances of a star-studded cast, to the black and white Fellini/Godard textures, the mellow tapestry of colour and the brilliant soundtrack, Haynes succeeds in integrating a multitude of styles. In emulating Dylan, the film itself is structured much like a poem. Haynes strings together fact and fiction, the real and surreal and the self and society into a magnificent fabric that illustrates the identity of one of the greatest American icons. This is a work of art.

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Operation Kino

I have been to the cinema three times of late and my verdicts on each are as follows in ranking order…
Whip It. I got into such an excited state over seeing this film that I worried I might have built up my expectations to such a degree the film would never be able to live up to them. Well, I needn’t have worried because not only did they match them, they far exceeded them. This film is brilliant. Its targeted at quite a niche market I suppose what with the feisty female characters and all power to the women message, as well as it indie/quirky undertones, therefore I predict a lot of people are going to disagree when I say I LOVE this film. But here are my justifications; I’d rather not use this term for the sake of my credibility, but it sums up this film perfectly and that’s funky fresh. There have been a couple of rollerderby films before, the one I remember being Raquel Welch’s Kansas City…(i want to say shuffle but i know that’s not it)…something. Other than that though, this is a pretty unique film. I certainly didn’t know anything about rollerderby before it and if its achieved anything its raising the profile of this insanely fun looking sport. I even found myself cheering wildly for The Hurl Scouts (the name of the team) whilst in the cinema.
The film takes on similar conventions to the sports movies in that an unlikely rookie joins and turns out to be a big star, but Ellen Page is so frickin’ awesome she can make any role kooky, likeable and distinctive. There’s also the conventional best friend, love interest, disapproving mother, amiable father and wise role model characters, but each of the actors who fill these roles are equally immense. Big fan of Alia Shawkat and Kristen Wiig. However there are also a few surprises that keep you guessing. The soundtrack is also one of the best things about this film, with tracks from The Ramones, .38 Special, Tilly and the Wall, Landon Pigg (who also stars) & The Turbo Fruits and Dolly Parton being my personal favourites. And also a really cool remix of the lollipop song, trust me you will tapping, humming or jiggling along. There are so many good things in this film, its hard to name them all, but here are a few of my most memorable snippets to look out for; the swimming pool scene, Drew Barrymore as Smashley Simpson especially when riding her boyfriend (not as filthy as it sounds), the Marco/Polo searching for the keys part, the rollerderby coach and pretty much all of the skating scenes. It looks addictive. This film is upbeat, heartwarming and hilarious, who could want anything more.

Remember Me. This is the film where Robert Pattinson is supposed to prove he can act. I got sent the script for this a while back and when I first read it I found it funny, poignant and devastating. I really couldn’t wait for it to hit the big screen. However the transition from paper to product has left me rather disappointed. Most of the humorous parts I found that the delivery was slightly off and so the jokes were missed. Robert Pattinson rather annoyed me, he’s a moody actor, so he does suit this dark character, but I didn’t find myself sympathising with Tyler as much as in the script. The editing and cinematography are most impressive, expressing the bleak and emotional sentiments of the film. The ending is also just as shocking and affecting as when I read it. Its a complex and thought-provoking film, just not executed with the excellence I had hoped for. It will however leave you speechless/moved by the end.

Dear John. Sadly this was the sort of film that leaves you feeling you’ve wasted the £8 you spent on your cinema ticket. I wasn’t expecting an amazing film; this is after all based on a Nicholas Sparks book, however after being suitably impressed by the romance of The Notebook I thought I’d give it a go. I think where The Notebook succeeds and Dear John fails is in the acting department; for all of The Notebook’s plot contrivances or gag moments the rich talent on the screen pulled it through. Unfortunately Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried can’t quite do the same. Though Richard Jenkins as the father is the exception, he’s quite easily the best thing in this film. The ending is poor, Seyfried as Savannah is unlikeable, I just don’t buy her excuse I’m sorry and the script is so kitsch and overly quixotic. What sort of ordinary people come out with this poetic crap; “the saddest people I’ve ever met in life are the ones who don’t care deeply about anything at all”. This is melodramatic fluff.

As you can probably tell by the amount I wrote for it Whip It was by far my favourite of all three and I’d even go so far as to say my favourite film of 2010.

I have been shamefully absent from my blog-writing duties this past week or so and as a result have ended up with a plethora of films to write about and a lot to say; so I’ll try and break it down into digestable chunks.
The first two are ‘Jersey Girl’ and ‘The Ugly Truth’. What can I say I had a moment of weakness and conceded to a chick flick night. It happens to the best of us. Neither were particularly amazing, Jersey Girl was a sweet, mildy entertaining romantic comedy. Ben Affleck’s performance is just fine as both a slick record executive, and a sentimental single father. Liv Tyler is ok, but nothing really memorable, although I did enjoy her on stage performance at the end and her line “I’m kinda crushin’ on you right now, Trinke”. Jennifer Lopez is good for the short time she plays Affleck’s wife, but its hardly a deep or challenging role; her death is still emotional even though we all knew it was coming. Although I found Affleck’s angry reaction a little too formulaic. Raquel Castro is remarkably unannoying as the daughter; there are times when she plays it a little too cute and the reactions are clearly forced but mainly she was a refreshing departure from overly cutesy stage school kids. Again though there was a part where I felt the film slipped back into dangerously average when Ollie Trinke and Gertie have an argument and she shouts ‘I hate you’, I get that this happens, believe me I’ve even said it when I was younger, but nearly every scene like this involves a kid telling their parent that they hate them. Although I did rather enjoy Ollie’s “I hate you right back you little shit” retort.
Kevin Smith appeared to be creating something quirky and diverse, but had a few cliche moments. You get the idea Kevin had all the right intentions, but stepped slightly over the line, it was sweet but also sentimental and saccharine in some instances;
“Gertie: Thank you, daddy. Ollie: Anything for you, Gert. You know why? Gertie: Why? Ollie: ‘Cause you’re the only thing I was ever really good at.” But having said this there are some genuinely funny lines and original moments. I particularly enjoyed the “cameo” from Will Smith. The Fresh Prince sets Affleck straight and basically sets up the resolution of the movie and its practically impossible not to like a bit of the smooth-talking Smith; “Will Smith: What’s your daughter’s name? Ollie: Gertrude. Will Smith: Damn why’d you do that man?”
There are overly contrived plot points, like how the interview and the talent show just so happen to fall on the same day but take it with a pinch of salt and it makes for a charming-ish chick flick, which sometimes is all we need. Date movie? Yes. Great movie. No.

The same can be said about The Ugly Truth, although this was a far worse offender. I did laugh out loud for several prolonged amounts of time during the film, specifically during the orgasmic pants restaurant scene and we can all enjoy a little crude, sexist humour once in awhile. HOWEVER, the characters are so 2D in this film I’m surprised they could stand up. Katherine Heigl’s Abby is so ridiculously uptight and controlling its rather unbelievable. You could see the ending from a mile off and I really dislike Gerard Butler, but again its watchable. Although I might have lay off these mediocre rom-coms for a while or else my salt intake is going to be way above the daily recommended amount.
I apologise for the above attempt of humour, I guess these films have rubbed off on me more than I would have liked.

Inglourious Basterds

A reviewer on imdb called Inglourious Basterds the ‘worst movie I’ve seen in a long time – avoid it at all costs’. Other responses have been equally disapproving, calling it “a transcendentally disappointing dud, in which Brad Pitt delivers his most charmless performance to date” and only appealing to long-time fans of QT, well to that I say b***s***. Because I have only ever seen three Tarantino films, this included, and can therefore hardly call myself a devoted admirer of his work, however I enjoyed Inglourious Basterds just as much as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Obviously all films are down to personal taste, what one person loves another may hate and that’s a universal truth of life, explaining the varied reactions to Quentin’s latest film but in my opinion this was a cinematic treat. I don’t really mind if QT is being self-indulgent if it produces entertainment like this. Violent and brutal? Yes. Dark and comical? Yes. Long? Yes. But without all these components I wouldn’t feel this was a Tarantino film.

Clearly this film is historically inaccurate; Hitler gets assassinated, but by spinning his own war drama fantasy there’s a tension not easily found in historical films. The digressional and conversational scenes are my favourite; sure they could be cut to half the size, but what would be the fun in that? Its outrageous and audacious, certainly unconventional and perhaps this combination with the whole Nazi/Jew context is what offends some critics.
The acting on show is truly top class Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger outshine the likes of Brad Pitt with their performances, making their characters believable, whether it be idiosyncratic, vengeful or glamorous.
This is tense and thrilling, employing Tarantino’s trademark quirks such as the spaghetti western references at the beginning with the cuts from wide shot to close-up and the music score inspired by Morricone.
For me, nowadays, film is about defying conventions and creating something original, surprising and colourful. It may not be the masterpiece that Tarantino alluded to in the closing line, but its masterful and I certainly laughed out loud more times than I have in any comedy recently. Looks like I could become a QT fan after all.

Lazy Days

Oh how I love Easter! Its off to the perfect start with a gloriously indulgent day of films on Good Friday. I watched 3 I’ve seen before – my all time favourite Titanic, taut thriller Red Eye and Mean Girls. Then something very different in the form of HBO’s tv film Grey Gardens, based on the documentary about Edie and Edie; Jackie O’s aunt and cousin. This was only on my radar because of Drew Barrymore and her win at the Golden Globe’s and with hindsight to have really appreciated this film I probably should have watched the actual documentary prior or at least informed myself slightly more about the storyline.
At first glance this is a slightly eccentric portrayal of too perhaps mentally ill women who only ever found a spot in the limelight because they were related to Jackie Onassis, a.k.a Mrs JFK, however after having done a bit of research and watched snippets of the documentary there is a lot more than can be said about the stylish and rather sad film.
This is a riveting and heartbreaking insight into how two charming and colourful women fell from high society into the reclusive squalor of Grey Gardens in East Hamtpon. Having seen the documentary you can then and only then really admire the acting on show here, Drew Barrymore 100% deserved her golden globe. She had everything about little Edie down to a fine art, her voice and mannerisms; the dancing, it really was astonishing, Jessica Lange as Big Edie is equally astonishing. The film conveys their elegance, their quirks and fragility beautifully, intercutting with fluidity the past and present, emphasising their tragic downfall. Especially Litte Edie, as she had such beauty and charisma, to see her so alone and trapped is particularly moving. The only thing I felt the film didn’t cover is why they were actually like this, are we meant to assume they did indeed have psychological issues? Big Edie was obviously heartbroken after her piano man left her, she was a dependent and stubborn women who put her daughter in the same position she was in. Their glamorous lives and seemingly idyllic parties, beach trips and dancing antics contrasts to great effect with the emptiness of their denouement. However you get the feeling this film isn’t meant to be a pity party, the ending alludes to the idea Little Edie finally did get her break with the cabaret act and moved around like she wanted to. They also seemed to enjoy their odd little existence; the ice-cream and cats e.t.c how they lived in such filthy conditions though I’ll never know.
Their are a few questions that remain unanswered, especially for those very familiar with their story, but for until recently ignorant viewers like myself it provides a delightful introduction. Drew Barrymore is also exquisite in this film, a lot of people don’t take her seriously as an actress, and with justification considering Charlie’s Angels and various rom-coms she starred in, however I have a feeling this is going to be her year, combined with newly released Whip It; her directorial debut. Anyway I’m digressing; the costumes from the 30’s are amazing with Drew looking every bit the head-turning, sophisticated and sassy Edie. I now really want a swimsuit like the ones she was wearing. Oh and that pencil skirt and blouse combo and the dress from the beginning…
Both actresses depict their characters deterioration into delusion with dignity and class, their interaction and behaviours were endearing, making for thoughtful and memorable film. Maintaining the film’s tagline; ‘true glamour never fades’, this is a film which deserved its recognition and should continue to do so.