Monthly Archives: June 2013

Phone Booth – 2002

phone-booth-originalI received a copy of this film from a friend a few weeks ago. As with any DVD which now falls into my possession, I felt that this came with an implicit challenge: I dare you to write a review of this. Never one to ignore an imaginary challenge, here I am.

In this day and age, a thriller about cyberstalking, focused on the anonymity of a phone call seems quaint, almost prehistoric. We watch our backs every day hoping that someone with google glass isn’t recording our private jokes and intimate conversations. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually been in a phone booth. If I have, I have definitely not made a call from one. All this places the film squarely in it’s time. This slightly dated effect is not lessened by the almost excessive use of split screen, double screen, triple and quadruple screen as well as overlays and posterisation effects. This film is a relic of the early digital era when a simple mobile phone was scary and video effects were new enough to not be cliche.

Colin Farrell holds the film entirely on his shoulders. The action, which takes place in real time, never leaves his side for over an hour of film. His character is full revealed in five minutes at the start, before the main stage of the action is set up. From that point onwards the tension doesn’t let up for so much as a minute. We see Farrell’s character torn to pieces and made into a new human being by the power of an anonymous voice. This truly is an astonishing performance. After so little introduction to a character the audience still is able to understand and accept his transition due to Farrell’s performance.

From a directorial point of view, it is difficult to maintain interest in such a linear story with only one setting. This film, however, throws enough plot twists into the mix to make it continually dynamic. The action in this film is barely worth mentioning, it is more of a psychological thriller than anything else. As such maintaining suspense is key to making this an engaging film. This is most definitely achieved in great style.


Only God Forgives – 2013

only-god-forgives05Today I was lucky enough to attend a preview screening of Refn’s new film. I don’t know what I was expecting as I walked into the cinema but I was treated to a shocking orgy of colour, gore and sound. A revenge drama turned Freudian nightmare Only God Forgives is revelatory and unsettling.

I was surprised to find that Refn himself is in fact colourblind. This film, even more than Drive, is framed in darkness and shot through with neon blue and flame red. This makes it a bizarre experience to watch as often 80% of the screen or more is taken up with blackness. The characters seem to emerge softly from this blackness like thoughts from the subconscious mind.

The soundtrack is utterly immersive. Once more Cliff Martinez has understood and heightened Refn’s visuals through surreal and haunting sound effects, exaggerated ambient noise and almost tribal club beats. The result is a raw emotional reaction which is more reminiscent of an accomplished music video than a film. The sound is not just a backing track, it is a storytelling device in it’s own right and it is exciting to see Refn develop this tool from Drive to Only God Forgives where it is far superior.

I found myself reminded throughout the film of Last Year at Marienbad. Quite apart from the surrealist blurring of reality throughout the film, the camera lingers and tracks slowly through dark, lush corridors. The main cast is surrounded by still, lifeless dolls who do not, or cannot interact with the tumult they are so close to. The true characters loom like monoliths. They are not real people, these characters; they are representations of some higher human truth. Wrath, greed, lust, motherhood. However this is not to devalue the performances of the principal cast. In what is almost entirely a silent movie these actors convey a wide range of emotion through body language alone. This is particularly true of Yayaying Rhatha Phongam, who plays the role of a young woman working as Julian’s (Ryan Gosling) escort who utters one line before becoming a symbol of displaced eroticism.

Speaking of eroticism, it is difficult to find something within this film which is not fetishized. Even a violent, bloody murder is portrayed in terms of corporeal lust. Kristin Scott Thomas as the erotic Oedipal mother figure is aggressively sexual and further sexualised by the cinematography. Her bleached blonde ringlets and leopard-print outfits make her the ultimate in hypersexuality. What makes the character so disturbing is the relationship with her son. Removed from the context many of Scott-Thomas’s lines sound as if they are being said to a lover, certainly not a family member. However this taboo seems natural in the underworld this film inhabits.

Gosling, on the other hand shows us a man caught in a dance of revenge which he neither started nor can escape. His opponent, played by Vithaya Pansringarm, is an impassive man who kills with as little passion as he sings karaoke. Over the course of the film we see that a fight, even when you have an enemy can only truly be with yourself. By winning you lose your innocence, by losing you lose yourself.


Before Midnight – 2013

before-midnight-image03For the third and final time we join Celine and Jesse as their relationship evolves. Now they have been together for nine years and have two children to show for it. Of course, being with the person they love has not made their lives perfect. Far from it, an it is accepting that life can still be imperfect even when you are in love that drives the narrative of this film.

The film elapses in almost exactly real time so we ease back into the lives of the characters slowly and see the tensions that will take up the rest of the film in due time without it becoming tiresome exposition. Given that a fight between Jesse and Celine takes up the second half of the film, it is amazing how effectively the script communicates their enduring love. Even as they fight it is almost loving, and they are completely connected

The character development between the second two film is nowhere near as believable as that between the first two. While Ethan Hawke’s Jesse has grown to be more mature and a capable father, despite a penchant for childish humour, Julie Delpy’s Celine is more neurotic than ever. She seems to have become more immature and demanding as the character got older. About halfway through I realised that anyone seeing only this film would probably wonder how this sweet, caring and intelligent man ended up with this whiny, rude and abrasive woman in the first place.

Unfortunately this bizarre character development took away from the film as a whole which was generally much better than Julie Delpy’s performance. However I found that the film lacked the lightness of touch that was so charming in its predecessors. In many places the themes felt overwrought and obvious, bordering on predictable in some cases and the ending was rather hamfisted compared to the bold and enchanting ending of Before Sunset.

In the end I wanted to forgive the film it’s faults, it is a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy and shows that love is not an end point; it’s just a bonus you can find along the way. However, I don’t believe that it lives up to the quality of the previous two films.

Disney’s releasing a new film….

So, the teaser trailer for Frozen has finally been released. I would like everybody to bear in mind that Frozen was originally an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Snow Queen. Two years ago, when this project was pulled back out from the Disney gutter where it had lain since 2002, I was ecstatic. You see, I was born in the mid-90’s. When you say “The Snow Queen” to me I get a mental image that looks like this:

Snow Queen

The story of Kai and Gerda moved me so much as a child; and while I knew that it was never going to look exactly like the pictures in the book I grew up poring over, I was excited. The original concept art was promising.Snowqueen2


Over time, I lost faith in the machine of Walt Disney studios; but after Paperman earlier this year, I had hope for this project as Disney’s saving grace. After all, early in production, rumour was that it was going to be traditional animation. Even after that was debunked, it could still have been Paperman-style mixed media. But it was not to be….

Gone also is the tragic story of bravery, love and redemption and instead, this is our plot synopsis.

“a prophecy trapping a kingdom in eternal winter. Anna (Bell) must team up with Kristoff, a daring mountain man, on the grandest of journeys to find the Snow Queen (Menzel) and put an end to the icy spell. Encountering Everest-like extremes, mystical creatures and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction.”

I hate to say this, but that’s not really an adaptation. That’s taking the name of a character from a fairytale, putting them into the Narnia plotline and removing all the religious allegories to allow for a romance. Also, is it just me or does that sound like exactly the same character as Idina Menzel played in Wicked? She’s going to get type cast as estranged evil sorceress if she’s not careful.

The film has been described as a “cool comedy”. I simply don’t understand how they can still claim that this film is anything to do with the source material they worked from. Yes, Disney has always lightened the stories they adapt to make them more child friendly. However, The Little Mermaid still had a price to pay for her legs, Cinderella’s mother was still cruel to her and Esmeralda was still given the choice between rape and death.

Furthermore the trailer states proudly “From the creators of Tangled and Wreck it Ralph”

Rapunzel – Tangled


Vanellope – Wreck-It Ralph


But you can’t tell that from the art style or anything.

So now, without further ado I give you the Teaser Trailer.

This tells a short, quirky story of a CGI creature trying desperately to get to a loved artefact against fierce, but altogether unexplained opposition.

Where have I seen that before?

Of course, Ice Age 3, that well-known classic animated film which inspired generations and stunned critics alike. We all remember how great that sequel was….. It’s good to see that Disney is following the example of the true greats in the animation world.

Before Sunset – 2004

Nine years after Jesse and Celine met in Vienna comes Before Sunset. Richard Linklater’s second film in the very-soon-to-be-completed love trilogy.


If the first film was innocence this film is disillusionment. Jesse and Celine find each other in Paris mutually living unsatisfying lives and looking back at the one magical night in their lives when they last crossed paths.

The production of this film took place genuinely nine years after the previous film. This was a risky decision on Linklater’s part, placing the films half a generation apart from each other means that many people who have seen the first film will have forgotten it by the time the next appears. This decision is however, entirely worth it. Before Sunset continues the almost documentary style of it’s predecessor by removing the suspension of disbelief. These people are really older, those laughter lines aren’t make up and the sad twinge in their voices is the genuine regret of growing older.

However this is not to say that the romance has died. Quite the contrary, this film shows us how much more precious love is in a time when hope is lacking. The script fills in some of the blanks from the previous film and gives the characters more depth and personality. As such I feel as if Before Sunset gives meaning to Before Sunrise. The previous film, in isolation is sweet and uplifting but gives us no more to think on. Combined with Before Sunset it is the beginning of a far more powerful connection. A connection that can only be hoped for, not confirmed as the credits roll in Before Sunrise.

Roll on Before Midnight.

Before Sunrise – 1995

before-sunrise-1Two people meet on a train and end up exploring Vienna together. Perhaps not the most enticing plot synopsis that’s ever appeared on the back of a DVD yet Richard Linklater’s film is one of the most captivating films you can come across.

Very rarely in films is a relationship the whole story. In a superhero movie the best you can hope for is a damsel in distress. Most action flicks will have a love interest created purely for hostage situations. Even in a rom-com the key relationship can often play second fiddle to toilet humour (sometimes literally, we’re looking at you Bridesmaids). So Before Sunrise is a refreshing and interesting film. Essentially you spend two hours watching two people talking to each other. Yet because of this simplicity of subject matter the depth of connection between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the way in which they interact over time can be explored fully by the film.

This cannot be put down to only one element of the film. Evidently, the script has been crafted with immense lightness of touch else the film would fall apart in a clatter of trite and clumsy exchanges. After all, when there is nothing else to pay attention to it’s quite important that the lines are natural and make sense. I believe that this film rests on the shoulders of the two young actors it employs. Both are exceedingly naturalistic and bounce off one another with some of the most genuine on-screen chemistry I’ve ever seen. With these performances this film seems almost to be a documentary.

The film is ultimately uplifting in tone. Even if the circumstances of the narrative are not cookie-cutter perfect it is still a vibrant and youthful depiction of love and life. Perhaps it is also naïve and a little cloying but that seems to be only the fault of youth. Too often films shape characters who are wise beyond their years in order to serve the plot. Here however you are just given a non-sentimental view of two people falling in love. Neither character ever states that they are in love, but there’s a point where it becomes obvious. Who knows how or when, that’s not what the film is for; we are simply here to observe this odd miracle.

Aguirre Wrath of God – 1972

aguirre wrath of godContained within an hour and a half of 35mm film we are taken on a journey through the wide and sprawling Amazon jungle. The film’s premise allows the action to develop organically, the plot is never forced to move forwards, more coaxed by circumstances.

Werner Herzog’s filmmaking style greatly helps the action, with the whole film shot in the same period of time as the action itself. This lends the film a realism normally reserved only for documentaries, the actors’ tiredness is real, the state of their surroundings has naturally degraded and even their hair has grown a realistic amount. You feel that the rivalries and anger played out in these ‘Lord of the Flies’ style arguments come from genuine pools of hatred and despair.

It would be easy to praise Klaus Kinski for holding the film on his shoulders, but I feel that this is only true of the second and third acts. In this film, as in life, the protagonists are not revealed from the outset but rather grow into their important roles. In fact, Kinski’s presence throughout the film seems somewhat understated, like an invisible dictator he controls without the need for presence or violence. An astoundingly powerful performance which gains momentum even as the character loses control. By the end of the film you almost believe that this powerful and compelling man will find what he searches for and conquer a continent alone. This is the extent to which the world in the camera’s view has degenerated, as the very metal and wood has rusted and grown algae, as men have faded slowly from existence, even as a monk becomes a mutineer only the force of Aguirre, albeit twisted, has survived.

Cinematographically the film is a masterclass in subtle colours. In the heart of the Amazon rainforest the palette of the film rests mainly in shades of green and brown. Herzog’s use of contrasting colours in costumes, and even in the fake blood used, makes these elements more visually important. Anything that is lost leaves the screen in a final bright, pure colour before never being seen again. Once more the scenes with Kinski shine, his monologues being some of the most effective scenes in the film, including a single glance to camera, perhaps the most poignant moment in the whole film.

Two musical motifs appear in the film, both are haunting in their own way. The piece which accompanies the opening sequence, a stunning wide shot of the troupe carving through the Andes, has an unnatural quality which serves to heighten the oppressive unease throughout the film. Each time the piece recurs the situation has got to a point where you almost cannot imagine worse; but rest assured, the worst is yet to come. It is fitting therefore that the film ends as it began with this music, promising no hope for the lone survivor, despite his power.