The Lovely Bones

On account of some feedback I have decided to make the font bigger; I hope this makes for easier reading Molly!! It was film night in the Davis household and tonight’s choice took the form of the film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel ‘The Lovely Bones’. Despite quite detrimental reviews I was still really looking forward to this one.
Unfortunately the film just doesn’t work on the same level as the book. The scenes that are cemented in reality are for the most part touching and well-acted, however the cuts between life without Susie and her experience in ‘heaven’ just didn’t feel coherent and started to grate as the film progressed. I didn’t respond the way I did in the book and part of this was that a lot of its original content had to be cut to facilitate tension within the film. A lot of the symbolism was visually stunning and no doubt the CGI is terrific, I thought the way they showed the larger ships crashing to shore as Jack smashed his glass model was very clever but other than that it annoyed me. A lot have said this was unfilmable book and while such comments have been made about the likes of ‘Atonement’, another Saoirse Ronan film, sadly it seemed to be the truth in this case. For me it was the actors that enabled this film to be somewhat enjoyable, although I’m not sure that’s exactly the right word. Stanley Tucci as George Harvey was incredibly creepy and both Rachel Weisz and Susan Sarandon add a touch of class.


Ultimately Peter Jackson drenched the film in nostalgia, the 70’s vibe worked well, but otherwise prevented the audience from forming any grounding connection with the characters. It jumped years at a time and often cut to the same footage of Susie riding on her bike taking pictures and alas whilst the running time felt too long, the time spent with the characters felt too short. Paradoxically this works on one level in that it was a snapshot of their life, mirroring both Susie’s ending sentiment and her photographic hobby. Nevertheless this was nothing more than a triumph in special effects. I might have another read of the book however to remind me of what a good concept it was in the first place.

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The Age of Innocence

I have just indulged in what could be considered the perfect afternoon. Often, (it mostly occurs at work) I wish that instead of being where I am I could be curled up at home watching a movie. This afternoon that wish became a reality. You would be forgiven for thinking it the dead of winter when taking into account my surroundings; fire cranked up, hot chocolate on hand and wrapped up in my blanket and what better to accompany this cosy condition than a period drama. Just my luck then that Martin Scorcese’s The Age of Innocence was on tv.

A sprawling, tragic romance, The Age of Innocence tells the story of New York in the 19th century and the conservative socialites whom inhabit it. Daniel Day Lewis is Newland Archer, engaged to the docile May Welland, but increasingly besotted with her cousin Countess Ellen Olenska. Scorcese explores this world with lavish detail, paying as much attention as to the locations as to the characters. Before entering the ballroom for example, escorted by omniscient narration we are guided through stately rooms filled with sumptuous art, furniture and guests. This serves to place the film firmly in its context; that of aristocratic New York, but also to signal the suffocation of such an era. Its a world of restraint, where one’s actions or indeed inactions are guided by the morals and values of the majority. It is interesting to note that many of Newland and Ellen’s passionately reserved encounters occur outside, where the boundaries of society still exist but perhaps less so. While never consummating their affair, the fervour of it is felt no less. Seemingly inconsequential movements are imbued with an erotic potency; the kissing of wrists and shoes for example, the camera lingers and perfectly captures that sense of longing and desire.

What is also interesting to note is how one’s response to each of the character’s develops over the course of the film. Our first glimpse of Countess Olenska is from afar in the opera house; a motif throughout the film and she appears to us glacial and distant. However gradually she becomes the most passionate and expressive character of the film. Moreover, initially we feel sympathy for Newland; a man trapped by his surroundings. He continually dotes on and compliments May and maintains a pleasantness throughout. But dishonesty eventually creeps into his life as he trys to find ways to see Ellen and though our sympathy is once again restored for Newland by the conclusion, there is also a passivity within him that perhaps portrays him as undeserving of either woman. Then there is May, who intially embodies the title more than anyone, but beneath her vapidity; commenting on people’s dress and mannerisms or cutting her husband off because he talks of business or his clever acquaintance is ‘common’, is depth, integrity and more importantly deviousness. It is this character development that is part of what makes The Age of Innocence such a magnificently compelling film, as well as contributing to the delicate and heart-rendering twist at the end.

The opulence of the era is beautifully conveyed through both the richness of colour and music and is an impeccable observation of high society and its moral codes. Martin Scorcese, though best known for his epic gangster films, shows a keen eye for detail; depicting the nuances of a rigid society, the glances, the smiles, the polite gestures e.t.c He also employs several cinematic techniques that highlight the subtext of the film, at times subtley and others not. I found the spotlighting to be a little amateurish, however his overlapping of images and slowing down of some sequences are very cleverly achieved, not a manipulation the eye but an encouragement for the spectator to focus on the detail. One particular scene that I felt exemplified this was when hoardes of men are seen to be walking in the wind, each holding their hats in such a similar fashion than none are distinguishable. They all look like the other.

The performances are also of an exquisite standard. Michelle Pfieffer has never looked more arrestingly beautiful and perfectly captures the emotion and romanticism that offers Newland an escape. Ellen never hides her feelings, freely admitting the dullness of certain company or crying in front of Newland. In contrast Winona Ryder as May is beguiling, putting her Bambi like features to perfect use as a shy, sweet facade for her manipulative streak. Then of course is the consistently outstanding Daniel Day Lewis; often he portrays slightly eccentric, raging characters in which he displays ever emotion under the sun and yet here he exercises complete restraint and propiety; as well as the sadness and regret of his lifestyle. The film is also strung together by a brilliantly cynical narration that exposes the true underbelly of society.

An accomplishment in cinematic storytelling, this is a beautifully tragic film, whose many layers unravel to reveal what is a stylistic and poignant masterpiece. 5 Stars and indeed a perfect afternoon.

TRUE GRIT

Ok so I didn’t want to scare of any potential readers by including my review of True Grit onto what already seemed a pretty long post, plus X-Men: First Class deserved its very own post.

Last Friday I went to see True Grit at the cinema after about a year of waiting. On imdb last January I came across the casting call for Mattie Ross and have been intrigued ever since; closely following the cast list as it developed from the new Coen brother’s project to a film with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. Now with the positive critical reception and Oscar buzz it had been gaining my desire to see this film on the big screen only increased.

Here is where it gets a little complicated, on my film list rating system (these last two posts appear to have revealed me the film geek I really am) I gave True Grit 4 stars which according to the key equates to ‘Great’. However upon being asked what I thought of it I would have to reply good because although I have a lot of praise for this film which you will soon discover, I also didn’t feel completely fulfilled by it, for me, there was something missing. Now whether this be down to my own raised expectations I can’t, with absolute certainty say, its still another accomplished film from the Coens and I would still recommend it whole-heartedly.

Let me start then with why I wanted to see this film so much, especially at the cinema. For starters Roger Deakens was the cinematographer, an expert at that Western look, he has worked with the Coens on No Country for Old Men, as well as In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James. Time and time again he captures both the austerity and beauty of the Western landscape; the warm glow of a campfire or a sunset contrasted with the danger posed by night. He completely deserves the Oscar, especially seeing as its his 9th nomination and he has yet to faulter in how expertly he composes each frame and illumates both the setting and the characters.

Listening to a video about True Grit its easy to see how masterfully constructed this film is; for example the first time we see Rooster Cogburn its from Mattie’s point of view in the courthouse and even then he is obscured and is only gradually revealed, the same way we only gradually get to know each of the characters. Furthermore we again see the genius of Deakins in the way he has the shafts of light streaming in from the windows contrasting with the darkness of the actual courthouse and the oil lamps. It’s quite simply beautiful.

Secondly is that from the get-go the Coen’s have ruled their film out as a remake, stating that their intention was to go back to the original in the form of Charles Portis’ novel. The first evidence of this is that the film is told entirely from Mattie’s point of view and she is restored to her young and somewhat innocent form rather than when 21 year old Kim Darby played her. Hailee Steinfield is very very good as Mattie, spouting her feisty comebacks with all the relish and scorn of an indignant teenager, but also depicting her fear and earnestness. For all her talk and bravado she is just a girl. At some points I felt a little like I could tell she was ‘acting’, as opposed to Bridges or Damon who seem to completely manifest their roles, but then they are acting veterans and Steinfield is a newcomer, who does very well to hold her own on the screen. Her finest moment for me was near the end when the horse is worn out and Cogburn has to shoot it; the combination of her exhaustion but utter sadness is incredibly moving and I too had become attached to Little Blackie.

The script is a gem. It retains the dry wit that the Coen’s have consistently displayed as well as plainness and unsentimentality of Portis’ novel. The Coen’s get to the point very quickly with each of their scenes and combined with the Southern drawl delivery what we have here is a both a classic Western with the unmistakeable Coen imprint. However, I felt the trailer was hautingly beautiful, a quality that never really came across in the film. Perhaps it was too dry or brutal, but either way the sadness of the ending left me feeling a little cold and dissatisfied. Characters that we’ve come to know and root for are sort of left dangling; of course this was how it was written in the novel and I never expected saccharine reunion between the three protagonists, but at the same time I wasn’t expecting to feel so short-changed. It is a much harsher and sombre experience than the original.

Of course one of the main draws for me was the chance to see Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, currently two of my favourite actors and both utterly suited to the Western genre. Jeff, I feel I know him well enough to be on first name terms, ups the ante that he so brilliantly displayed in Crazy Heart, building on the gruff, tortured soul and taking him to a completely a new level. He IS Rooster Cogburn, complete with eyepatch, cigarette, Whiskey-drenched and belligerent demeanour. I especially liked his toilet bit and courtroom scene. Matt Damon is also sterling as LaBoeuf, full of vanity and machismo, but sincerity when needed. As with both Jeff and Hailee he delivers his lines pithily, drolly and with heart. The trios chemistry is highly believable and their sparring irresistible.

The supporting cast are also excellent, especially Josh Brolin who is really quite frightening as outlaw Tom Chaney and whilst the film is a true Western, witty, moving, visually ravishing and doused with the sounds of firing guns and trotting hooves I cannot help but feel a little bit crestfallen. The chase and ultimate climax felt over a little too quickly, Mattie’s desire for revenge and how much she wanted Tom Chaney to know and pay for what he’d done didn’t match his end; yes she shot him, but not with the classicism of the ‘final exchange’ that we’ve grown used to. Perhaps the issue is not with the film but with me, after all my expectation and excitement I may have only let myself in for disappointment. Nevertheless, I shall not do what the Coen’s did and leave this post on a melancholic note, but instead reaffirm that this is a good film, in fact its very good. The Coens certainly succeeded in not remaking it, but re-creating it and they have done so masterfully. It is a severe and yet exhilarating viewing experience; several times I clutched the arm of my seat and sat with ridged back. As Empire concluded it is ‘darn close to perfection’, not quite there, but a stirring watch, both in performance and style, nonetheless.

Mish-Mash

So, here’s my predicament…I wrote a lovely blog post a few days ago when the X-Men trailer was released, except I couldn’t upload the video of the trailer, practically negating the entire purpose of the post. If anyone would care to help with this problem I would be very grateful…perhaps even dedicate an entire post to you!! Secondly I haven’t posted since last Tuesday and I happen to have watched a cluster of good quality films since then and now have the mountainous task of including them in one blog post. Plus I have entire post containing content I wish not to delete, but which seems somewhat irrelevant now, so, moan out of the way this is a mish-mash post of various film musings…its not very up to date but I’ll throw caution to the wind and continue anyway.

Oh and there are SPOILERS, so be cautious when reading.


Currently absent of accompanying trailer, I wish to re-express my utter excitement at the new X-Men film after watching the trailer. The start of any trailer/movie is for me always the most epic moment. It’s when your aniticipation is at its peak and anything that happens from this moment on could effect your opinion of the entire movie. So when the sound of a dramatic song combined with the shadowy 20th Century Fox symbol lit up my laptop you can imagine my zeal. (God help anyone who comes to the cinema with me to see it). I loved how it begins with the empty wheelchair; for comic book fans this is a painful reminder of Charles Xavier’s battle with the Shadow King that left him confined to a wheelchair after he broke his spine. There is both a poignancy and a sense of renewal in this opening image; we know Xavier’s tragic fate and yet we get to see his journey or at least the beginning of in a different light. Indeed; the next part of the trailer ‘Before he was Professor X’ sets up the notion that we are to embark a voyage that unravels Professor X’s formative years…enter the handsome face of James McAvoy. Some posters on imdb claim to be unconvinced by the casting of McAvoy; of course with Ian McKellen as the formindable predecessor its hard to imagine anyone filling his shoes. Except that he’s technically not. This is a new pair of shoes…although Charles was completely bald by the time he graduated high school as a side effect of his mutant nature, but I guess we’ll have to suspend disbelief about this one.

Then of course we are introduced to Magneto; as with the wheelchair, we are alluded to the man/mutant he became in the form of his iconic red headgear, but then taken back to when he was just known as Erik, in the fine form of Michael Fassbender, who I think is genius casting. The trailer is then infused with its roots with a Marvel montage perhaps to remind us that despite new creative intentions this is the comic we know and love. The trailer unfolds alongside the edgy and mysterious music in a sort of drama-building way, slowly shots fade from one to the other, all the while establishing a crescendo that we know will evolve into something epic.

The shot of President Kennedy talking about the Cold War places this film firmly in the context of the 60’s and the battle in the film echoes that of the one between America and Russia. Then all hell breaks loose. A timely way to introduce the date at which this will be happening. June 3rd is already circled on my calendar.

Emma Frost in then introduced as played by the lovely January Jones, I’m really looking forward to seeing her in a role quite dissimilar from Betty Draper. In quick succession we then meet the rest of Xavier’s recruits; Angel, Beast, Havok, Darwin and Mystique. The first dialogue we hear is Xavier saying to Magneto ‘Ready for this’ and him replying ‘Let’s find out’, an obvious allusion to the movie itself. What follows is an action packed montage of all we have to look forward to; although I don’t remember there being anything between Mystique and Beast, which is hinted at in the trailer, but could definately be an interesting sub-plot. Also looking forward to Kevin Bacon’s appearance.

The trailer then continues to reveal what is at the very heart of X-Men; the philosophical debate between Xavier and Magneto: the tension brimming between McAvoy and Fassbender as they appear to confront one another whilst sat in armchairs looks thrilling, as does every bit of the mind-boggling action sequences. Closing is that infamous X sign, a darkened screen and a flurry of exhilaration. I’ll be counting down the days…

In the Name of Art

One of the joys or indeed adversities, depending on your outlook, of being a film student is that you’re introduced to a wide range of cinema. Recent ventures have been the very first film in the history of cinema, Lumiere’s Sortie d’Usine, Russian silent documentary The Man with a Movie Camera and Almodovar’s Talk to Her. I’m still struggling what to make of them all.

Sortie d’Usine is helpful in that it lasts only 50 seconds long, has no narrative, no dialogue and technically no characters; it merely consists of factory workers leaving a factory. What could be interesting about that? Well first of all is the fact that people filing/cycling/running out of two doors can be so deeply analysed. At face value it seems that Lumiere has just plonked his camera in front of the factory and start rolling, but gradually you see the construction of this piece. The way women come out one side and men the other, or how they go in different directions. The way the camera has been placed to include the right amount of action and limited empty space; it literally initiates what is to become direction and the manipulation of the spectator. Its also a very cheery, energetic piece with some bouncy French music that accompanies the masses as they roam on home. A simple affair that opened the gates to a very important art form and industry.

I’m still reeling from Talk to Her and I can’t say I particularly liked it. I would consider myself pretty open minded when it comes to art-house cinema and unusual films, goodness knows my Dad would agree as he evens funds my own lovefilm account so he doesn’t have to sit through some of the more bizarre choices I’ve made.(Dogville anyone?)But this just wasn’t for me. It involves a man crawling inside what is quite clearly an unrealistic looking vagina; call me prude, but I find this more disturbing than erotic. But perhaps that’s the point. The film explores the relationshop between two men, both of whom are caring for women in comas and with one; Benigno, there is a very fine line between diligence or benevolence and obsession. Indeed it is a line he crosses. Perhaps upon further review I’ll come to love it; it wouldn’t be the first time, but I say with absolute certainty it isn’t my favourite Almodovar and never will be, Volver has already claimed that spot. The filmmaking itself however cannot be faulted, Almodovar deals with risky material in a very artistic, almost poetic way; full of symbolism and surrealism. I have no doubt it will be interesting to critique in terms of gender theory, considering the plot involves sensitive men, female bullfighters and in some cases a reversal of gender roles; with the men caring for the women. However it also features men’s incapacity to listen to women and the desire and desperation that can ruin a relationship. No doubt it’s an intelligent and original film, just not for me. Also if you do happen to watch it, don’t let the first 5 minutes put you off… or maybe do, it does set the tone for the entire film. I’ll let you be the judge.

Finally, its The Man with the Movie Camera, a Vertov classic that I, against all odds, throughly enjoyed. Our film teacher set this one up as ‘a documentary about Russian peasants…watch all of it in your own time if you can be bothered’. Oh good, this is bound to prevent me from napping. Well, this just so happened to be a very good example of the well known phrase that is ‘never judge a book by its cover’ or perhaps in this context ‘never judge a film by its label’. Either way it was a pleasant surprise. Part of what makes it so captivating is the montage that makes up this film; the audience are confronted with a barrage of images depicting urban Russian life. There is a very uplifting atmosphere to the film, the subjects appear happy as they continue through the cycle of life; we see birth, death, marriage, divorce, work and play. Ultimately this is effective propganda. Vertov glamourises mundance occurences in order to evoke Communist ideologies, such as the harmonious relationship between the economy and the masses, between the industry and its people. Its easy to see how the film itself is an allegory for modernism, with its plethora of cinematic techniques. Vertov utilises everything from jump cuts, split screens and freeze frames, perhaps emphasising that film can go anywhere. Despite its perhaps controversial message, more so for a modern audience, this was a groundbreaking piece of cinema as it set the precedent for film becoming synonymous with political or ideological agendas. And even if you chose to ignore its political importance, it’s still an amusing film.

Rabbit Hole

Yesterday was my 18th birthday and as always I did something film-related in honour of this day; previous examples include a ‘chick-flick’ themed party or spending most of the day in the cinema, I am as you can see obsessed. This year I decided, after glowing praise and recommendation from friends to visit the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road: a filmy haven complete with soft leather armchairs, classic theatre style decor and a bar (which in being 18 I made full use of). I had initially wanted to see Black Swan there, however the programme changed just in time for my birthday and thus the only film showing was Rabbit Hole. Admittedly, I had my reservations. With the slightly off-putting label of ‘grief movie’ or ‘suburban tragedy’ I felt this might put a downer on what was meant to be a celebratory day, however I was persuaded by positive critical reviews.

I wasn’t disappointed. For me, this is as ‘real’ as cinema can get; when one feels like the voyeur in an uncomfortable situation. This is what Rabbit Hole accomplishes. There a sense throughout the film you may or may not be watching scenes of particular importance; seemingly mundane, everyday activities such as cooking or shopping, however that is the brilliance of this film. Its this simplicity makes you realise how fragile an existence we lead and how normalcy is so hard to maintain in the face of tradgedy. And it isn’t completely drenched in sorrow; there is a brilliant laugh out loud moment when Howie, played by Aaron Eckhart, experiments with recreational drug use with a fellow group member and which inevitably results in some untimely giggling. I found it easy to identify with the characters in this film; they weren’t spouting the usually cliche lines that are so often found in deep and meaningful movies, but rather endure awkward and clumsy social encounters or full-blown fights. They are allowed to laugh or break down in tears. They are sometimes unsympathetic, but you root for this couple to make it work. And yet at the same times as feeling entirely realistic, there is the sense that this is a beautifully constructed piece. Accompanied by music relfective of the emotions as well as visually dazzling cinematography and beautifully composed shots, this is nevertheless a delicate and subtle film.

Nicole Kidman doesn’t always hit the mark, in fact, in recent times she has failed to impress more often than not and Aaron Eckhart isn’t particularly associated with heavyweight performances (Love Happens?? No Reservations??) but they compliment each other wonderfully. Becca and Howie deal with grief differently, embarking on their own separate journeys and yet there is a glimmer of hope that they find their way back in the end. With a 90 minute running time as well this is a film that doesn’t wallow in self-indulgence or drawn out emotional scenes, instead it packs quite a punch. I left the cinema feeling as though I’d watch a snippet of real life, something hard to navigate, sometimes intangible, agonising, confusing, darkly humourous and yet not without hope. Great performances, great script, great movie. All in all a great birthday.

Comic Book Crazy

It appears Hollywood is cashing in on the desire to see revamps of the comic book classics; what with X Men: First Class, Spiderman, The Avengers and now a new Superman, as well as the new Batman film The Dark Knight Rises I think its time I wrote a post on our all new heroes and villains.

Warner Bros. have cast Henry Cavill as the new Superman who played one of Henry VIII’s advisors in The Tudors and Christopher Nolan is said to be a mentor on the project, with his brother helping to write the modern incarnation of a beloved superhero. Seeing as they are the masterminds behind Inception this is exciting stuff, especially considering that many of the keyplayers at the helm of this reboot, as well as at the forefront are British. I’ll come onto Andrew Garfield and Christian Bale later, but its a refreshing nod toward British cinema. On the contrary, the rumour mill is churning out some not so savoury ‘buzz’ in the form of Kristen Stewart who is supposedly at the top of the list to play Lois Lane, but watch this space, we heard a dozen names linked to Lisbeth Salander in Finch’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and none of whom I remember being Rooney Mara. The big question on most people’s lips concerning the industry’s sudden obsession with comic book remakes is do we really need another? Well considering that many considered Superman Returns disappointing this could be a way to revitalise the franchise and appeal to a modern audience; look what Nolan did for Batman. An interesting article with him regarding the new Superman claimed that they have a “fantastic story” and “know how to get it done right”. Let’s hope so.

Now for X-Men: First Class, Empire had a preview spread on this today and all I can say is I am mega-excited. The cast looks brilliant…

The movie is also going back to the formative years of Professor X and thus set in the early days of the 60’s, so should have a iconic, classic vibe to it, plus it means we get to see newbies like James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Rose Byrne putting their twist on the characters and hopefully Vaughn will inject some fresh creativity into the film. Furthermore Vaughn has reassured his fanboys that he has the best intentions for his X-Men film. I think what we’re seeing is a shift away from the glossy, action packed superhero movies of recent times and starting to portray a more realistic, character driven version; whilst remaining faithful to the mythology created in the X-Men comics and therefore not betraying its history. Its obviously a thin line between compromising continuity and respect for the other films without treading old territory in terms of the story and the telling of it and as Empire says “the recasting is the obvious focal point”. I’m giving this a thumbs up.

I don’t have much to say about Spiderman, I quite liked the Tobey Maguire version however the major draw for me is this…

Plus Emma Stone is playing Gwen Stacy. A lot of the success of the previous Spiderman franchise was accredited to the unconventional casting of Maguire, so I guess they’re trying to recreate some of that magic, but as with X-Men taking it in a new direction and harking back to the older days.

Saving the best for last, its The Dark Knight Rises. There has been much furore surrounding the casting of Anne Hathway as Selina Kyle, I’m not going to dismiss her right off the bat (no pun intended) because Nolan obviously chose her for a reason. I think she might be able to pull off the psychological darkness of Catwoman; after seeing Rachel Getting Married as well as the sexiness; Love and Other Drugs, we’ll just have to wait and see. Also super happy at the casting of Joseph Gordon Levitt in a mystery role and Tom Hardy as Bane; both were top notch in Inception, so their second collaboration with Nolan will be highly anticipated. Nolan is purposefully very guarded about his films, but as its his last Batman film I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls out all the stops. Let’s hope the saying things can only get better applies here. If so, 2012 could be an amazing year for movies.