Thursday, 12 March 2015

Horse Feathers

Some movies were just made to be funny, and “Horse Feathers” is one of them, in fact you can say that about every movie The Marx Brothers ever made, but “Horse Feathers was made at their zenith, they were at the height of their powers at Paramount studios, where they made five films, probably their five finest films until they were ultimately transferred over to MGM where they gained more popularity but were put on a leash as their films became more glossed over with romantic subplots and big production numbers given a bigger role, and the jokes while still there were less frequent.

But let me back up a bit and talk about just why The Marx Brothers themselves are so important to the history of movies since they may not actually be house hold names any more. The Marx Brothers brand of humour was something new to the world of film when they made their debut in 1929. They were zany, off the wall, you couldn’t control them, they displayed anarchy for the first time in movies, it was something edgy, something dangerous, it was unpredictable, wild, and even a little bit naughty with Groucho spewing double entendres that usually got past the censors. The Marx Brothesdidn’t so much make movies as they invaded them leaving comedic debris in their wake.

With “Horse Feathers”, the Marx Brothers try their hand at a college comedy, where Groucho’s Quincy Adams Wagstaff becomes the new dean of students at the imaginary Huxly university. The main plot involves Wagstaff trying to recruit professional football players to help their team win the big game against rival university Darwin, but he inadvertently mistakes two icemen as the ringers he was supposed to get at a local speakeasy. One iceman is Baravelli played by Chico Marx, and the other is also a part time dog catcher Pinky played by Harpo Marx. The two then enroll into Huxly University and of course chaos ensues usually involving blond bombshell Thelma Todd who the brothers all seem to have a thing for. The film concludes with a highly comical football game that throws sense out the window in favor of sight gags, and Groucho’s occasional one-liners. ESPN called it one of the greatest football related scenes in movie history.

I could talk about the plot which doesn’t really matter, or I could talk about the gags and the scenes that are funny throughout such as Groucho and Chico going through a vaudevilleesque routine about saying a certain password to enter a speakeasy, or Harpo, cutting a deck of cards with a hatchet, or Groucho singing to the faculty of the college the song “I’m against it”, in where he declares “I don’t care what they say, it makes no difference anyway whatever it is I’m against it.” The film is full of different types of humour either physical, gag filled, pun filled, or musical, it hits all the marks. It even gives moments for Chico to playfully play his piano, and Harpo to play his harp which were trademarks in most of their movies. Horse Feathers and The Marx Brothers themselves represented something new to the world of comedy and the world of film, they may have been the first to say “Hey this is a movie, and we know you’re watching us, so we’re going to give you a good time. I like to think there was a certain philosophy with how they viewed the world, it didn’t hurt to ruffle a few feathers whether with education as in “Horse Feathers”, or with politics in their later film “Duck Soup”, or with the artsy crowd in their last great film “A Night at the Opera”. To them anyone on their high horse had the right to be taken down a peg or two and they were always there to make sure it was done, they were comedy heroes through and through, what can I say I love them, I love this movie 4 stars.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Oscar's be damned, These are Jeremy's Top Ten films of 2014 Plus a few other special awards

Well the Oscars are upon us again, and I'm not going to blab on about who I think should or will win. I'm not too good at predicting. But what I am going to do is show you if this were my Academy awards. Now granted I didn't see everything this year gave us, but I did see my fair share of great movies. I regret not seeing "Whiplash" since everyone I came across told me I should see it and J.K. Simmons is awesome in anything. For the record the other nominated movies I didn't see were "The Theory of Everything", and "The Imitation Game", I'm sure they have their merits but their trailers didn't appeal to me. Call that judging the book by its cover or whatever, but that's just how I felt. Other films I guess I should've seen but didn't were "Nightcrawler", I guess Jake Gyllanhall was supposed to be good in that. I also didn't see "Locke" and I guess Tom Hardy was supposed to be good in that too. Also missed "Mr. Turner" which is by England's national treasure Mike Leigh, and "Force Majeure" which is a foreign dark comedy, and of course I love me some foreign dark comedy. Despite these omissions and others, I think I have a pretty good top ten list of movies I've seen this year, so without further adieu, here it is.

Top Ten of 2014

1. Under the Skin
2. Calvary
3. Only Lovers Left Alive
4. A Most Wanted Man
5. Snowpiercer
6. Ida
7. Grand Budapest Hotel
8. Gone Girl
9. Lucy
10. American Sniper

Best Director

Jonathan Glazer: Under the Skin
Jim Jarmusch: Only Lovers Left Alive
Anton Corbijn: A Most Wanted Man
Bong Joon-Ho: Snowpiercer
Wes Anderson: Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Actor

Brendan Gleeson: Calvary
Phillip Seymour Hoffman: A Most Wanted Man
Ralph Feinnes: Grand Budapest Hotel
David Oyelowo: Selma
Michael Keaton: Birdman

Best Actress

Tilda Swinton: Only Lovers Left Alive
Scarlett Johannson: Under the Skin
Rosamind Pike: Gone Girl
Agata Trzebuchowska: Ida
Jennifer Lawrence: Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Best Screenplay
Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
A Most Wanted Man

Movies I have to see a 2nd time because I haven't made my mind up about them

Boyhood: So many parts are compelling, but after awhile I felt the years melded into eachother and it became repetitive.

Inherent Vice: Grabbed me at the very beginning, but then meanders where I couldn't keep track of who was who. Maybe I'll appreciate it more the 2nd time since I kinda know who everyone is.

Interstellar Space has rarely looked this great, but it ends abruptly and tries to explore way too many themes.

And because I never announced it last year, and I know you people were just DYING to know, here were my favorite films from 2013

1.Inside Llewyn Davis
4.Before Midnight
5.The Wolf of Wall Street
6.Stories We Tell
7.The Great Gatsby
8.Something In the Air
10.The Wind Rises

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Jeremy and the movies : The Worst Film of 2014: The Hobbit Battle for the Five Armies

I would say "The Hobbit" trilogy is somewhat of a fall from grace from Peter Jackson, considering his "Lord of The Rings" trilogy are still seminal films in the fantasy genre and also still works on an emotional and epic scale. "Lord of the Rings" came along when computer technology grew more sophisticated, and doing three movies based on three separate books was still a gamble. "Lord of the Rings" was a complex tale involving the lust for power, and Hobbits stood in as the every man who don't quite know what they are capable of. I feel Peter Jackson always never gave Hobbits the full attention they deserved even in "The Lord of the Rings" which focused a lot on Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn and Ian McKellan's Gandalf. The Hobbits had some time to shine, but were over always overshadowed in spectacle. So we come to "The Hobbit" a film which has the titular character in the title of the story but seems to always be taking a back seat, again to an Aragorn-like hero who is a dwarf. I actually enjoyed the first "Hobbit" film which a few people criticized for not being dark enough, however I thought it's the one film that felt the most true to the original story. By the time the second film rolled around, I sensed something was amiss. There was too much build up and very little pay off, and Bilbo, despite a great performance by Martin Freeman was put to the sidelines. The audience I was with seemed disgruntled by the abrupt ending that seemed anti-climactic.

But now we get to the final Hobbit Film "The Battle of the Five Armies" which is a travesty of over blown special effects, and meaningless subplots, it's a wonder how Peter Jackson ever became so misguided. "The Battle of the Five Armies" feels so cynical, adding no real emotion throughout. There is a subplot involving an Elf and a dwarf that comes out of left field, and their love seems so surface level, there never seems to ever be anything at stake. Once again Martin Freeman is left on the sidelines (This movie was called "The Hobbit" right?)while Aragorn err...I mean Thorin the Dwarf takes center stage.

The last forty five minutes are kept for a battle sequence which plays more like a video game. I can't imagine any of it was real. Jackson is a very talented filmmaker and I'm sure now that he is done with middle Earth he might want to explore some smaller stories which apparently he is planning on doing, but "The Battle of the Five Armies" feels like he left his heart at the door.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

"The Desolation of Smaug" is over two and a half hours in length, yet it doesn't feel like a complete movie. I will start with the ending which is infuriating, probably the most infuriating ending or non-ending I have ever seen. I saw this film in a large crowded theatre and at the end I heard endless groans from everyone including the kids sitting behind me who couldn't have been more than ten or eleven years old. This might've been due to the frustration of paying to see a big 3-D movie but not seeing a film that feels finished. I'm sure everyone knew going into this film that this was the second in a planned trilogy of the famed J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel, but they probably didn't have an idea that it was going to end with such a teasing pre-climax; in retrospect the whole film didn't amount to much and it's sort of ironic that in a movie about traveling and moving forward, we don't get very far.

"The Desolation of Smaug" or "Hobbit 2" whichever you like to call it starts off promising as it picks up where the last one left off. Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and their gang of Dwarves led by leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) escape a band of Orcs as they make their way to the mountain guarded by the infamous Dragon Smaug so Thorin can reclaim his kingdom. The vast world of Middle Earth is again brought to life vividly by Peter Jackson and his creative team, this is Jackson's fifth crack at this fantasy world afterall, so it's hard to see him muck it up too much. Along the way the group encounter a bunch of fantastical characters including a giant who can be reasoned with unless he unexpectedly changes into a bloodthirsty bear. They then cut through a murky forest that is full of creepy crawly spiders prepared to make them their dinner, afterwards they are saved but held captive by a group of elves that includes familiar face Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and a new face Tauriel (Evangaline Lily). Once Bilbo helps the group escape, they outrun the Orcs in the film's best sequence a barrel chase down wild rapids, and are again helped by a boatman (Luke Evans) to get safe passage to their destination.

There is much to admire in this film, Jackson is a visionary director along the lines of James Cameron who takes pleasure in creating whole new worlds with the best technology at his disposal. Since his first outing to Middle Earth in 2001, Jackson has helped revolutionize special effects for a new generation and part of this film's appeal is seeing all of work that paid off with the detail. The most impressive creation of all is Smaug the Dragon brought to life with the same technology it took to create that other memorable villain Gollum. Here Smaug is voiced in the menacing tone by Benedict Cumberbatch , and the reveal of him is one of the film's awe inspiring moments. But it is also here where the film has shown its hand too pre maturely and the momentum soon diminishes.

This all comes down to the question that has been asked of this new franchise since the decision to turn it into three separate films was announced; was three films necessary? Judging from what I have seen of these first two installments, I would say no, but then I suppose you have to remember that this is pretty much how movies are made these days. I'm curious as to how much of a decision Peter Jackson had in splitting "The Hobbit" into three films, or was it more the studios decision in order to have a more viable franchise on the hands? Either way, the cynic in me senses a more profit motivation rather than a creative one. I'm sure fans of the book will agree such a simple straight forward story doesn't warrant three films, but for better or worse that's what we get.

However it's because of this decision, we don't really get "The Hobbit" as it was written because this must also work as a prequel to the much larger story of "The Lord of the Rings". Hence, we are given a subplot of Gandalf going off on his own adventure to discover a deeper seeded evil behind an even bigger threat, one guess as to who that turns out to be. This little side trip along with some other added scenes that aren't in the book are part of the whole "Hobbit/Lord of the Rings" movie experience package that is now expected in a fanboy culture. It's a way to expand the universe these stories come from and has become a norm in movie franchise entertainment.

This also creates a much darker tone to the film that I'm not sure fits with the original Tolkien vision, which was about a small insignificant Hobbit who leaves his world of comfort and becomes somewhat of a reluctant hero in his pursuit of adventure. The original story included wit, which the film undercuts with some modern violence; it's been awhile since I first read "The Hobbit" but I don't remember as many Orc decapitations that are in this film. The film has been praised for its darker tone as opposed to the last one, but I much prefer that one as it had the classic scene between Bilbo and Gollum in a game of riddles that was both playful and sinister. Jackson isn't much of a man of wit and whimsy, he's a man of action and set pieces, which I suppose best suits the movie going public of today.

There is a hint of humour in the film and that mostly comes from the perfectly cast Freeman as Bilbo. Freeman isn't given much time to shine which is a cardinal sin in a film that is named after his character, but he is the movie's secret weapon. The moments Bilbo is able to show off his bravery but also his unease in frightening situations are great comic highlights, and its these brief moments of character I enjoyed the most, he proves to be an ideal counterpoint to the more sombre performance of Elijah Wood's Frodo in the earlier films. For some reason the focus of "Desolation" has to do with Armitage's King Dwarf Thorin, who reminded me too much of a smaller version of Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn. This shift of focus from the book suggests Jackson's preference of the born heroes rather than the reluctant ones personified by The Hobbit characters; suffice it to say, I much more identified with Bilbo's struggle to find his courage rather than Thorin's somewhat selfish struggle to regain his kingdom, but Jackson thinks differently.

"The Desolation of Smaug" is by no means a bad film, it's well crafted with some very visionary splendor, I want to see how the story turns out, mostly to see if Bilbo is able get more of the focus in the finale. I wish it was more cheerful and fun as it was envisioned by Tolkien, but this is Jackson's interpretation and judging by the box office it's not hurting anyone financially. Films of these kind seem more and more bereft of joy and humour, they have the habit of having a sombre almost Apocalyptic tone to them, who would of thought that a story involving Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, Dragons, Wizards, and shape shifting giants could find a way to take itself too seriously?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Professor Larry Gopnik's Post-Hanukah, Pre-Christmas, Post-Schrodinger, Pre-Apocalypse SLIFL Holiday Movie Quiz

1) Favorite unsung holiday film "In Bruges"

2) Name a movie you were surprised to have liked/loved
The remake of "Carrie", I only liked it, but still.

3) Ned Sparks or Edward Everett Horton?
No contest, Horton by a mile.

4) Sam Peckinpah's Convoy-- yes or no? Regret to say I have not seen it.

5) What contemporary actor would best fit into a popular, established genre of the past
I would almost put the entire cast of "The World's End" in an Ealing comedy.

6) Favorite non-disaster movie in which bad weather is a memorable element of the film’s atmosphere I love the look of snow falling in anything from "It's a Wonderful Life", to "Fargo", to "The Shining", so I will pick those three.

7) Second favorite Luchino Visconti movie Once again I regret I have only seen one Visconti film "Senso" which is brilliant, but another director I must "get to".
8) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD/Blu-ray? Theatrically: "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", DVD: "Spring Breakers"

9) Explain your reaction when someone eloquently or not-so-eloquently attacks one of your favorite movies (Question courtesy of Patrick Robbins)
I feel that there are two answers to this, one reaction would be when I am sober and one where I may have had a few. When sober I like hearing another person's opinion about movies, good or bad it's nice just to talk movies, which I don't get to do as often as I'd like. Drunk I would defend my favorite movie even after the subject would change, I would not only convince the person they are wrong, but anyone else who is within ear shot even if they agreed with me. This happened once from what I recall, apparently I was very entertaining.

10) Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell?
Joan Blondell for being Barbara Stanwyck's pal in "Night Nurse", and Bette Davies' pal in "Three on a Match", and for singing "The Forgotten Man" in "Golddiggers of 1933".

11) Movie star of any era you’d most like to take camping Jimmy Stewart, he's just so darned likable.

12) Second favorite George Cukor movie "A Star is Born" which would probably be my number one if it weren't for that little wonderful bit of perfection that is "Holiday". "The Philadelphia Story" would be a close third.

13) Your top 10 of 2013 (feel free to elaborate!) I can't reveal my true top ten until I'm caught up with films that are currently in limited release or not available yet, but for now I will go with my top ten movie going experiences which are films I've seen in the movie theatre this year that were worth the money I paid for. THIS IS NOT MY TOP TEN
1. "Gravity"
2. "Jurassic Park" 3-D re-release
3. "Iron Man 3"
4. "The Great Gatsby"
5. "Mud"
6. "The World's End"
7. "The Grandmaster"
8. "Blue Jasmine"
9. "Before Midnight"
10."Enough Said"

I will also add the remake of "The Evil Dead", "The Lone Ranger", and "You're Next" somewhere there.

14) Name a movie you loved (or hated) upon first viewing, to which you eventually returned and had more or less the opposite reaction
A lot of Stanely Kubrick but more specifically "Dr. Strangelove" which as a young man of maybe 10 or 11 didn't understand the dark comedy aspect of the film and mainly viewed it to see the man who played Inspector Clouseau entertain me with his bumbling physical comedy, and also "2001: A Space Odyssey" which again didn't entertain me with its deliberate slow pace. I'm now older and love both films. I could almost say the same thing about "Barry Lyndon" if I didn't turn it off so early in my first viewing, but now watching it years later, I could see it becoming my favorite Kubrick. "A Clockwork Orange" is something I still debate over in my head. Also Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line".

15) Movie most in need of a deluxe Blu-ray makeover
Can somebody please save "It's a Wonderful Life" from it's oh so sweetened DVD Blu-ray extras? This is a seminal film that at its heart has some very dark ideas, and the only special feature available is a Tom Bosley hosted "making of" featurette that looks like bottom of the barrel 1980s nostalgia. It's a beloved film that deserves the same box set treatment bestowed upon "Casablanca" and "The Wizard of Oz".

16) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?
Mastroianni for his work with Fellini and Sophia Loren

17) Your favorite opening sequence, credits or no credits (provide link to clip if possible)
For sheer excitement and anticipation the opening of "Superman" which sweeps me into its comic book world in a way no other movie has, I swear I become ten years old the moment that movie begins. Woody Allen's opening credits have that familiarity to it that take me into his jazz fueled world, and I appreciate that consistent feel. "Midnight in Paris" has that opening sequence of famous Parisian hotspots with that romantic glow which may not be Allen't most famous bit of pictorials but damned if it doesn't take me to that city. I don't many to count. I love the opening sequence of "The Shop Around the Corner" with just a bunch of co-workers hanging outside their department store talking, waiting for the boss to open up the store.

18) Director with the strongest run of great movies Yasujiro Ozu I can't name a bad movie made by him, and his run in the 50s until his last film "An Autumn Afternoon" is pretty much as perfect as one can get.

19) Is elitism a good/bad/necessary/inevitable aspect of being a cineaste?
I'm not sure if I consider myself an elitist, to me that word feels like I'm alienating myself in a way. What I love about movies is how they are such a popular artform and they are open to everyone to enjoy. I suppose it all comes down to taste, I like to think my tastes vary in a wide range, but just because I watch filmmakers like Ozu, Renoir, or Lubitsch shouldn't make me an elitist. If anything I would hope it would open up ways for people to enjoy new types of film they wouldn't think of normally. No I would say elitism is a bad thing, and I wouldn't want to be thought of that way.

20) Second favorite Tony Scott film "Top Gun", "Crimson Tide" would be number 1

21) Favorite movie made before you were born that you only discovered this year. Where and how did you discover it?
"The Life of Oharu" I had heard of it for years and talked about by many film critics, most recently when Roger Ebert wrote a Great Movies review about it which I believe was one of his last entries. Then criterion came out with it, and I snatched it up. It's the kind of film that destroys you, it's utterly heartbreaking, but as a film it overtook me, it held me on and did not let me go. Simply one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.

22) Actor/actress you would most want to see in a Santa suit, traditional or skimpy
Amy Adams please and thank you.

23) Video store or streaming?
I've had headaches with streaming, and I'm always paranoid that I'm not watching the right aspect ratio all the time, so I will go with the tried and true video store.

24) Best/favorite final film by a noted director or screenwriter Ozu of course had a great one, and Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion" is fitting in so many ways, but I will go with John Ford's "7 Women" which I think was his angriest film, but the ending of it says so much about going out on your own terms and being able to make a stand when everything seems to be lost. The last shot should be remembered as well as the last shot in "The Searchers" and it's Anne Bancroft's unsung masterpiece as an actress.

25) Monica Vitti or Anna Karina?
Anna, lovely Anna.

26) Name a worthy movie indulgence you’ve had to most strenuously talk friends into experiencing with you. What was the result?
Most of my friends steer clear of classic films, so I try not to stress the issue with them. I once convinced a girl I was dating once to watch "The Shop Around the Corner" with me, which she asked me to turn off ten minutes in because she couldn't stand the sound of their voices, that was something new to me. I convinced another girl to watch "Casablanca" which she politely told me she enjoyed even though she laughed through some of the melodramatic dialogue. Needless to see both of these relationships did not last.

27) The movie made by your favorite filmmaker (writer, director, et al) that you either have yet to see or are least familiar with among all the rest
There is a great gap of unreleased films by Ozu, Renoir, and Mizoguchi that I have yet to see. From Orson Welles it would be "The Trial" "Chimes at Midnight", and "Othello" which I have seen when it was released in the 90s but haven't seen it since. I have yet to see much of Howard Hawks' early period most specifically "Twentieth Century" which was also written by Ben Hecht who is a favorite writer. Woody Allen's "Another Woman", Truffaut's "Two English Girls", from Hitchcock anything post-"Marnie", John Ford's "Two Rode Together", Buster Keaton's "The Cameraman", Bunuel's "That Obscure Object of Desire", Kurosawa's "Ran". Much of Robert Altman from the 80s. Plus any early Keislowski pre-"Decalogue" stuff, that's all I can think of right now. Oh Billy Wilder's "Five Graves of Cairo".

28) Favorite horror movie that is either Christmas-oriented or has some element relating to the winter holiday season in it If "Gremlins" can be considered horror then by all means. Also "The Invisible Man" had the element of snow in it, and that was a rollicking good time.

29) Name a prop or other piece of movie memorabilia you’d most like to find with your name on it under the Christmas tree
A cigar by Groucho, or one of Fred Astaire's top hats, I know I would cherish them forever.

30) Best holiday gift the movies could give to you to carry into 2014 New releases from all the films I mentioned in question #27, and an arthouse cinema near by where I live, thank you Santa.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

I'm not sure if "12 Years a Slave" is the first of its kind, by that I mean a sombre meditative look at slavery in the south. Of course just last year we had both "Django Unchained" and "Lincoln" address the issue in their own way, the former being a violent revenge fantasy, and the latter an insight into the political dealings of abolishing slavery. But "12 Years a Slave" is a whole different monster all together, it's a first person account of a man who lived through it and was one of the lucky ones to escape it and tell his story.

The film is based on a book by Solomon Northup (Played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the film), a free black man who was living in upstate New York when he gets tricked and kidnapped by a couple of con men and sold into slavery. We see him wake up in chains and then persecuted, flogged, and ripped from his clothes. He's smuggled onto a boat headed to New Orleans and then is sold off. This happens very near the beginning of the film, there's a certain immediacy to it that gives the whole experience a dreaded nightmare quality to it.

Solomon is then given a new slave name Platt and is put on display by slave trader Freeman (Paul Giamatti). He is bought by a sympathetic plantation owner by the name of William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is conflicted with his relationship with Solomon, yet still puts him in the hands of a maniacal plantation boss Tibeats (Paul Dano hammy as ever). After Solomon protests and fights back at Tibeats, his life is put in jeopardy, and Ford cannot guarantee his protection; he is then sold off to a much less forgiving Plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps is the kind of man who whips a slave for bringing in the lowest amount of cotton per day, yet he carries on an affair with a young black slave named Patsy (Lupita Nyong'O). For Solomon all of his experiences seem like an unending nightmare, getting worse and worse, and for us it's hard for to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

"12 Years a Slave" is the third film directed by Steve McQueen, a man who is making a name for himself as a self-assured director. I haven't seen his first two films "Hunger" and "Shame" both of which starred Fassbender, yet there is confidence and a poetic streak in the way he tells this story. McQueen relies on long tracking shots to make scenes look seamless and more of a whole, and sometimes he knows to let the camera hold on a continuous shot for a long time, knowing the images are powerful enough not to cut away.

One such image that is as powerful as anything I've seen this year is showing Solomon hanging by his neck barely able to touch the ground with his toes. McQueen keeps this a long shot as we see other slaves enter the frame each one noticing Solomon's predicament but going about their daily duties too afraid to intervene. It's a brilliant well choreographed shot that one cannot look away from.

There are quite a few moments like the one above that makes you stand and pay attention to the shocking brutality, and that's what this film does, yet it's not perfect. Surprisingly, the moments I did not find as powerful are the ones that seem to be giving the film a lot of praise. This is mostly the latter half of the movie concerning Fassbender and his relationship with Nyong'O. For her part, Nyong'O gives a great performance with two scenes that are Earth shattering one where she begs Solomon to kill her because she isn't strong enough to do it herself, and one where she is whipped for running off to get soap to wash herself with. Yet there seems to be this missing scene concerning her and Solomon, a certain kinship or trust is built among them that is done off stage. Why does Patsey ask Solomon of all people to help kill herself, why when Epps can't whip her does she prefer Solomon to do it? These were questions that were in my head that I wish we had seen.

The other is Fassbender who usually gives great performances, but here he has about as much nuance as Dano earlier in the film, that of a malicious master, and no doubt Epps was this kind of monster, Yet to me I didn't think Fassbender did anything particularly interesting with the role. I was reminded of a much more intriguing monster on film, that of Ralph Feinnes in "Schindler's List", who also carried on an affair with a woman who's race he hated, yet that performance carried more nuance for me as Feinnes was able to hide his monstrous tendencies in plain sight.

There were other moments, I was more interested in, such as the woman Solomon shares his boat ride with to New Orleans who loses her children when they are sold to a different slave owner. She wails over the loss of her children and is then punished for it, when Solomon confronts her about her uncontrollable crying, it turns into a thoughtful discussion over why she has the right to cry over her children.

But the real strength of this film lies in the performance of Ejiofor as Solomon, we sense his fear, and his frustrations, but also his willingness to not give up, which as many say is the only way to survive such an ordeal as this. When his nightmare is over, I was overcome with a kind of catharsis one should have when you follow someone into the depths of their own personal hell.

Credit should be given to McQueen for never letting the audience off the hook, he fills the film with so much dread and hopelessness, it's easy to see things ending unhappily. Early on when Solomon and other slaves are on a boat headed to be sold, there is talk between them all to over take it and get their freedom back. When one slave tries to, he is swiftly stabbed to death and thrown over shore; we know then this film isn't going to be pretty, but when was slavery every pretty?

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Movie Review: Year after Year

Going over it in my mind I've concluded that "Year after Year" is somewhat of a strange little beast of a movie. It's a musical, but it's actually unlike most musicals. There's a certain philosophical edge to it you don't normally associate with many musicals, at least I don't. It's an ambitious movie caught within the trappings of an independent budget; it contains polished Broadway sounding songs yet often shifts to scenes with raw emotion and realism. It's a film full of ideas about life; how it can be frustrating, monotonous, or just down right disappointing. It doesn't reach that point of being profound but has a genuine curiosity and need to ask such important questions. In the end the film is satisfied enough just to find a silver lining that doesn't leave you in utter despair.

"Year after Year" follows the lives of seven friends, all of whom gather every year to celebrate the birthday of their resident anti-socialite Bill (Joel Chricton). The film opens with Bill's 28th year; his friends include Todd and Rachel (Chris Cook and Elena Porter), a married couple on the verge of divorce; Peter and Laura (Andrew McKenzie and Zina Lee) a couple on the verge of getting married; Hunter (Matthew Thiel) a successful photographer, and Kate (Sarah Hemphill) who is Bill's closest friend which leads to an inevitable "will they or won't they" scenario.

Bill himself is stuck in a rut, he sees his life going nowhere, he can't commit to anything, and finds his writing talents being squandered at his job which consists of posting obituaries in the newspaper. He's even morbid enough to write his own mock obituary and have Kate read it out to him, which made me think, "what kind of guy does that?" Bill is obviously unhappy, it becomes so apparent that the question his friends ask him in a game of "Truth or Dare" is "Are you Happy?" A part of me thought that Bill is the sort of guy who kinda likes being unhappy, perhaps it's his way of getting attention, how else do you describe someone who would leave his own birthday party right in the middle of it, which is something that he does and his friends don't seem too surprised when it happens.

While Bill is trying to figure out how to live his life, his other friends aren't totally satisfied either. Todd and Rachel are becoming painfully aware that they are falling out of love with eachother, which fills the film with the most poignant moments. Peter meanwhile is hesitant to get married, while Laura can't wait for the day she gets to walk down the aisle. Hunter is the most successful of the bunch, but even he seems to be drifting. Kate shares some of the same feelings as Bill, yet unlike him, seems more willing to move on. It looks as if everyone in the film is at some sort of stale mate wondering what the next move will be, while Bill is the anomaly, he's forever stagnant.

The music in "Year after Year" is a bright spot in the film which uses it as interior monologues for the characters and a very clever way to visualize their own frustrations, worries, and observations. There are a couple of very amusing musical numbers my favorite being "Wedding Nights" which is an ode to "Grease's" own "Summer Nights". The song which actually lifts scenes from "Grease" almost verbatim is a cheeky and satirical look at getting married sung primarily by soon to be divorced Todd and Rachel. After the fun and energy that song brings, it's abruptly undercut with a shot of Rachel basically confessing part of the reason she married was a fear of being alone. It's moments like these the film does very well, completely changing tone without sacrificing the overall theme.

The film does a lot of balancing acts with its songs, from a bitter sweet duet between Todd and Rachel about their break-up, to a clever spoken word manifesto by Peter about the trials and tribulations of getting married. There is a reason for every song in the film and the lyrics by Spencer Pasman and Stephanie Ridge should be commended, they really help hold the film together in my mind. However the one character that didn't hold water for me was Hunter, I saw him as a bit shallow and underdeveloped. It didn't help that the songs he sang came off as the least memorable and his solos reminded me of cliche music videos that have rock stars throwing a hissy fit.

The performances by the unknown cast really impressed me by being able to balance the heightened emotion of the songs, but also pulling off very natural performances. Joel Chricton brings a certain gravity and pathos to Bill and fleshes out a real performance adding humour and charm, making us care about this ultimately very sad guy. As Todd and Rachel, Chris Cook and Elena Porter work well together finding moments of bitterness and sadness, I personally found their story the most touching and actually wanted to see more of them. As Kate, Sarah Hemphill gives the most grounded performance out of anyone, playing someone who doesn't have it all figured out yet but not letting that stop her; we can see her love for Bill but also the need to move on with her life. She's able to project what she's feeling through her expressions and the camera captures it beautifully.

"Year after Year" was directed with a virtuosic energy by Dustin Clark, a man who knows how to frame a shot and get the best out his actors. I mentioned how this film is like a balancing act of tone and Clark seems to be walking a tightrope keeping all these elements together. There's a confidence I found in what he does with "Year after Year" changing the tone like a jazz musician. Clark is not afraid to take chances and go all out, he's ambitious and it's here I think he would've benefited with a bigger budget and more time. There are times where "Year after Year" looks like it wants to be a big splashy Hollywood musical and it tries to hide its limitations. I applaud Clark on going that direction, and there are times he pulls it off such as the hypothetical date night sequence Bill recites to his friends, it's probably the most original sequence in the film and totally takes it in a direction you don't see coming. I was more impressed with the sense of reality Clark brings to the film, there's a grainy element in some scenes that give off a more stripped down quality to it. I was more enamored with these less flashy musical numbers particularly involving Bill and Kate on the roof than anything else. It's here I think the film finds its footing and its this approach I wish were utilized in more recent musicals I see because they are mostly worried about big production numbers rather than intimate stories.

The biggest risk the film takes is probably with its finale that I'm afraid I didn't quite buy into. Bill sort of has a "It's a Wonderful Life" epiphany that "No man is a failure who has friends" thanks to some touching quotes in his journal he got as a gift, and a montage of him and his friends throughout the years. It kind of simplifies things a little too much in my mind but I suppose the film is content with that; it would rather be an enjoyable movie showing a silver lining rather than ending on what might've been far more grim yet maybe a bit more interesting. But then again perhaps Bill should get his happy ending, like all of us, we should be aloud to move on.

In the end though "Year after Year" is one of those films full of ideas that might make you think and contemplate your own life. Not many films ask such questions these days, as a matter of fact, I was thinking of recent movies I've seen and I couldn't think of one that asked such questions. It's not perfect, but not a lot of first films are. What I see most in "Year after Year" is a whole lot of potential, and a lot of risks, it's a film that has a lot to say and it's trying to find its footing, sometimes it doesn't land on its feet but I'd rather see something that's brave enough to put itself out there then something that plays it safe.