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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

One Day

Anyone who’s gotten on a train, tube or bus during the last 18 months will be familiar with the distinctive orange jacket which covers David Nicholl’s One Day. After seeming to penetrate the book market the inevitable has happened and it’s been turned into a film.

Whilst it’s tempting for anyone who’s read the book to pick out omitted passages and chapters which were integral to the plot, the fact that the screenplay was written by Nicholls himself reassures you that he can’t have heartlessly shredded pages without any sentimentality or thought, surely? And if he hadn’t played a role in journey from text to screen it’s exactly what I’d be doing.

One Day follows the lives of geeky, grounded, northern-lass Emma Morley (Anne Hathaway) and priviledged, underachieving and cocky Dex (Jim Sturgess). The pair is followed over a span of 20 years and revisited every July 15th starting from 1988, where their nearly-but-not-quite romance starts on their graduation from Edinburgh University, until the present day in a story which everyone will surely be able to relate to in some way. We all have our own Dex or Em’s, the people with whom a relationship is never really off the cards, but it’s never really on them either.

Director Lone Scherfig (An Education) does a near perfect job of capturing the essence of each year and the soundtrack similarly has the ability to transport you back in time, however compared to the book the film seems to rather heavy handed-ly rack through the years at breakneck speed. Without the character’s internal dialogues to carry the plot, to someone who is unfamiliar with the original narrative the speed may be a little hard to keep up with. I could imagine the motivations of Em struggling to find her way post graduation, spending years working in a tex-mex restaurant and even her attraction to Dex difficult to truly understand without the detail we get in the book.

Nevertheless the on screen chemistry between Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway keeps you interested. Sturgess plays Dex throughout his egotistical years as a late night TV presenter overindulging in booze and drugs, through to his break down without fault and whilst the casting of an American lead in Hathaway to play Emma has been criticised, by the time the transformation from gawky and lost to successful and self assured does eventually arrive she is able to do her justice and to me it seems that late 30s Emma is the only place where Hathaway was really able to deliver the goods. Until this point it’s hard to buy into a beautiful Hollywood actress playing a lost-her-way Yorkshire lass, no matter how thick rimmed her glasses are or how frizzy her hair.

When the final plot twist does arrive in such a quick, unexpected and dry way, only a colder hearted person than me will be able to stop themselves from shedding a tear. By skipping the “happily ever after” Hollywood ending you’re left with a touching and emotional film that’s hard to shake off.

 

 

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Pixar’s Brave

Pixar’s latest release is set to be Brave, a 3D animated spectacular set in the Scottish highlands. The synposis from Disney reads as follows:

Since ancient times, stories of epic battles and mystical legends have been passed through the generations across the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland. In Brave, a new tale joins the lore when the courageous Merida (Kelly Macdonald) confronts tradition, destiny and the fiercest of beasts. Merida is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane). Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Witch (Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late.

The first thing that strikes me about this film is that it’s a completely new direction for Disney. Firstly, Merida is visually distinctive from other females Disney have presented us with. She has firey red hair, no hour glass figure, I wouldn’t expect her to break into song or her movements to be light and graceful and she certainly doesn’t seem as if she needs rescusing by a Prince.

Secondly, the aesthetics just of the trailer and the poster alone set a very dark tone for the film. Comparing just the colour palette and the pace of the trailer with that of previous Pixar releases, Up or Toy Story 3 even, we can gather than we’re not in for a comedy caper or a light hearted adventure.

To me this seems like a breath of fresh air in terms of female representation. My dissertation was written about the representation of females by Disney so I like to think I know a fair but about the subject. From the looks of Merida so far I can anticipate a female who’s able to stand on her own feet, far removed from the passive females we taught children about in the 1930s and 1950s where Snow White waited for her Prince to rescue her and Cinderella’s only worth came through marriage.

Children do learn about the world they live in and the role they’re expected to take in adult life from the films they watch as children, so it comes as a great relief that we’re finally starting to see Disney re writing some of the outdated ideas they taught us years ago.

If you’re interested in reading my dissertation you can download it here. All I ask is that you please don’t re write my ideas and claim them as your own (duh!) and if you do use it at all reference me. Enjoy. 🙂

In terms of Brave, I can’t wait to see the full length feature and see where it fits in with the rest of the Disney view point.

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Following the box office success of Bridesmaids, there has been a lot of talk surrounding the changing roles of women in comedy.

By all accounts Bridesmaids didn’t stick to the formula which makes for a box office smash, the central cast are all female, and this fact alone is something which makes the film somewhat of a boundary breaker. But even more than this, it’s actually laugh out loud funny, and it’s the women who are getting these laughs!

Past Trends

If we look back at the comedy genre during the last 10 years the highest grossing have been as follows: Meet the Fockers ($279m), The Hangover ($277m), Bruce Almighty ($242m), My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($241m), Wedding Crashers ($209m), What Women Want ($183), Hitch ($180m), Elf ($173m), Meet the Parents ($166), The Proposal ($164).

One out of ten of these films has a female lead, the other nine only represent women as being defined by her man or quite frankly, off her rocker and playing a very attractive, but ultimately subsidiary, character. Very few of these women generate the laughs independently or are seen as being funny in their own right. Instead, they are quite often the straight character for whom the comedy happens around.

Evolution

Germaine Greer seems to think that this phenomenon is because women don’t need laughs. Funniness is seen as a trait which males adopt in order to get the girl whereas girls rely on the gifts Mother Nature bestowed on them to attract a man and so inherently women are put on the sidelines to be nothing more than a pretty face. However, is it evolution which is to blame for the lack of female comedy in these films or is it the fact that the overwhelming majority of writers of these films have been male?

This is where Bridesmaids has also bucked the trend with a team of two female writers, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. And low and behold, females can infact be funny! Who knew?!

My prediction is that Bridesmaids will lead the way for more female lead comedies in the future, getting women away from the undeveloped, “stand there and look pretty” roles they’ve been forced to occupy up to now, and instead really driving the comedy themselves without the assistance of a man.

Flawed Women

If we take a closer look at the films driving this change of direction we can already see a significant shift in the messages these films deliver about the role a female ought to adopt in her life. We see Kristen Wiig continually messing up, having a tantrum at her best friend’s bridal shower, not quite being able to find her way in any area of her life in Bridesmaids , Cameron Diaz as the cigarette smoking, not giving a shit Bad Teacher and Jennifer Anniston giving what is cited to be one of her strongest performances as a bad girl with the execution to do whatever the hell she wants in order to satisfy her somewhat deviant sexual needs in Horrible Bosses.

These women are allowed to mess up, make mistakes and act, if we’re honest, exactly like men have been acting in comedy for the past decade. And in my opinion it’s a breath of fresh air for women everywhere to see females on screen demonstrating that they have flaws, they’re just like you and I and sometimes their ever perfect lives and appearances aren’t quite so perfect.


In September we also have the release of What’s Your Number starring Anna Faris as the ever single Ally who has got through a string of men and is still no closer to finding the infamous, and rather notorious, “one”. Already it looks as it this film will be another film in the sub genre to propel the idea that a woman is perfectly able to generate laughs (and box office success) without relying upon a male.

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Friends with Benefits

Friends with Benefits is the second title within six months to centre around the hypothetical “can friends have casual sex” question following the rather unremarkable No Strings Attached staring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.

Unlike No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits plays on its self awareness of the rom-com genre to invite the audience into a playful inside joke. Passing references are made to Nicholas Sparks novels, Katherine Heigl’s lies about love and a faux rom-com staring Segel drives much of the narrative. The effect is to nearly, but not quite, convince you that Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are just like you. They have relationship problems, family problems, they make fools of themselves and even make references to TV programmes and series you’re familiar with! (Passing references are made to tropes any audience member will be familiar with, Harry Potter, the Hudson river crash, Will and Grace)

And it’s the chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis which prevents this film from becoming just another rom-com. Timberlake gives a shrewd performance as Dylan, a web site editor from LA who is head hunted by Jamie (Kunis) to become the editor of GQ. Following a weekend of selling the sites and sounds of New York, Dylan predictably caves and accepts the job, leading to a friendship forming between him and the bolshie but privately vulnerable Jamie, whom Kunis is able to credibly pull off.

Following a late night viewing of the pseudo rom-com which is both the inspiration and the differentiating factor of Friends With Benefits, the pair decide to give no strings sex a go, leading to the sort of sex scenes which have always been excluded from the genre. There’s certainly no pans across the room resulting in the action slowly slipping from the mise en scene here. Yes it’s beautiful people having sex, and your eyes can’t help but wonder to the strategically placed sheets which hide two of the hottest properties in Hollywoods’ frames, but let’s be honest, this is half the reason why we’re here and the film certainly delivers on that front.

Rather unsurprisingly feelings between the two aren’t dropped at the foot of the bed, and the pair end up falling for each other in the sort of scene the film has satirised throughout. Whilst the script did somewhat let down the potential chemistry between these two, the performances were for me spot on and injected new life into what is an over worked genre and what the film lacked in plot, it certainly made up for in it’s zeitgeist references and comedy one liners.

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I was lucky enough to go to a press screening of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never last night. (Friends in high places ;)) How much you like this film is dependent on how much you already like Bieber. I suspect that if you served up any sort of Bieber related content, put it on a cinema screen and let his fans at it they’d love it. But what’s more surprising about this film is that it’s watchable by anyone.

3D

The 3D element is a clever way to make a documentary work on a big screen and increases the amount of visual interest there is in the film. As Bieber reaches out and grabs the air ahead of him, or as the rows of girls frantically wave their hands in the audience, there’s at least something to keep those accompanying younger guest’s attention.

The documentary follows Bieber on an 86 date tour, as his voice threatens to give up and the excitement builds for a show in Madison Square Garden, which is presented as being the holy grail of having ‘made it.’ Interspersed with tributes from the team surrounding him, his friends and family the clichéd messages most commonly attached to children’s films of hope, faith, and belief in yourself are plied on thick and fast. But coming from Bieber, and set alongside his story from talented musician at a tender eight years old, to badgering Usher for the chance to sing to him, to his meteoric fame of now, the message seems to have a lot more credibility.

A light hearted, self mocking tone is present throughout. We see Bieber promising his voice coach that he hasn’t been shouting, immediately followed by footage of his shouting and screaming with his friends. Even a montage of his fans declaring their undying love for him is edited in such a way that you laugh instead of feeling awkward at the exact lengths these girls will go to to get close to him. You almost expect one to say “One time Justin Bieber punched me in the face. It was awesome.” a la Mean Girls to go along with the theme of self parody.

Real?

The one problem I have is the exact extent to which we’re seeing the real 16 year old boy. He does indeed come across as normal. His “team” are clearly doing a good job of keeping him grounded, it’s unquestionable that he is extremely grateful for each of his fans and for the privileged position he is in. He’s cheeky, likes the attention of girls and is as vulgar as any other boy his age as he eats a donut found left in the bin. But what there is little of is Bieber in his own words. At no point does he talk genuinely to the camera or speak completely naturally, and how many of the words coming from his mouth have been put there by publicists? As he gives some money to a violinist playing in his home town where he used to bust and tells her to always follow her dreams, it’s hard not to wonder who might have instructed him to do that.

Whilst the film does have elements which makes it read more like a promotional film than a documentary, that’s not to say it isn’t at heart very watchable and even, dare I say it, enjoyable. It goes without saying Bieber fans will leave even more in love with the Bieber brand than when they entered, and those who despise him undoubtedly will find many a reason to continue doing so during the 90 minutes. But the real test is those who are indifferent to his work, and I suspect they’ll find it difficult not to come out a Bieber convert and having seen a fascinating insight into the way in which a star is born in the 21st century.

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Black Swan is centered on the life of virginal dancer Nina, a member of the New York ballet school. Portman plays her near perfectly as she is given the biggest role of her career, to play the lead in Swan Lake. The life she leads is claustrophobic, stuffy, and completely consumed by dancing. Her mother has projected her own hopes and dreams onto her after her own ballet career was cut short after she fell pregnant, resulting in a tendency towards bulimia, scratching at her skin until it bleeds and what starts off a mild psychological disorder.

The narrative of Swan Lake and that of the film soon begin to become more and more entwined. Nina’s innocent persona doesn’t fit with the dual role of the Swan Queen, as she is required to play both the white swan, whom, being graceful, poised and precise, she is naturally more attuned to, and the black swan, the antithesis of the white, ruthless, dark and twisted.

Artistic director Thomas encourages Nina to lose her frigidness, he tells her to look to new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), who is imprecise, tattooed, smokes, drinks and is free, for inspiration. He also advises her to use masturbation to explore sides of herself she is out of touch with.

Soon Nina’s psychological disorder becomes more exaggerated, the audience is unsure if what we are seeing is real or part of her consciousness as Nina’s transformation into the black swan becomes more consuming. This is perhaps where the brilliance of the cinematography is best represented. A grainy filter, muted colours and shaky point of view shot lets us see through Nina’s eyes, reminiscent of a documentary style of film making, resulting in an, at best tense and at worst terrifying atmosphere. Flashes of Nina’s face are almost seamlessly placed onto the screen, leaving us just as confused as to what is real and what is not as Nina must be.

Overall this film is one of those which stays with you long after your first viewing. You never quite know what is real and what is fake. Hallucinations and mirages crop up so frequently you can never quite relax and the effect is a psychological thriller which will have you engrossed from start to finish. If Portman does indeed win the Oscar for best actress, which I suspect she will, it is definitely deserved. If you watch it expecting a light, delicate film about ballet, you’ll feel short changed. If what you’re after is an uncomfortable, chilling psychological thriller, you won’t be disappointed.

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Toy Story 3

Lotso Huggin' Bear shows Buzz around

One of the movie releases of the year I’ve been most anticipating is Toy Story 3. Anyone around the age of 20 will have grown up watching, and most likely, loving the Toy Story franchise.

We first met Woody and the gang in 1995, then again in 1999. But by 2010 those initial fans are likely to be a lot older and college or University students like me. This was something Pixar certainly did not ignore. In the US free screenings of 60 minutes of the film where shown to college students which they signed up for via the dedicated Facebook page. They were left with a cliff hanger ending in the hope that they’d return and pay for a ticket to see the remainder.

In addition, this age of viewer is also likely to blog or talk about their viewing on social networking sites, which would then create an online buzz about the film and get people talking, creating yet more anticipation for the release.

Alongside this, they also released three teaser trailers as well as gradually releasing character profiles of the latest additions online. My favourite trailer was an IM chat between Woody and Buzz but all are pretty funny and clever, and again likely to get people talking and excited about the film.

Having pre-booked my tickets for the first day of release (yeah a bit sad I know), 3D glasses in hand I sat down to watch the third instalment, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

This time around Andy is leaving for college and the toys are facing their inevitable expiration, much like the franchise itself. They end up in Sunnyside play school where they encounter a host of new toys, Barbie meets her Ken, and a strawberry scented fuzzy bear called Lotso Huggin’ sets a cruel agenda for them to live by.

Unusually for an animated sequel, or even a third instalment, this one actually bucks the trend and is really good! The new characters as well as the old are as good as ever (I particularly like a new dinosaur called Trixie) but there is a sense of sadness and finality which runs throughout.

A lot of high hopes were placed on Toy Story 3 but ultimately I think it not only lived up to them, up also surpassed them. Entertaining from start to finish, without a dull “nothing’s happened for a while, I’m bored” moment in sight and just enough twists and turns to keep you interested without losing you, Toy Story 3 is definitely one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year- although admittedly I never got round to seeing either Avatar or Slumdog Millionaire)

A stand out sequence has to be the gang’s ultimate escape from Sunnyside, as well as the inspired character of Mr. Pricklepants (a thespian hedgehog) and the adorably cute Bonnie.

The ultimate message is that although you may be attached to something, sometimes you have to accept that it’s come to the end and it’s time to move on. However, as we learn in the open ending of the film as one door closes, another opens. It’s a tear jerker but ultimately delivers all we expected and more.

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