Sex, Sun and Sub-machine guns. Spring Breakers (2012).

SpringBreakersIf Girls Gone Wild ever mean’t gone rogue as part of a deluded white trash rapper’s crime syndicate, then I guess that’s what Spring Breakers (2012) is. Spring Breakers is a…oh. I’m not really sure? Uh. Drama…Crime? Softcore..? Uhh. Teen crime movie! Is that a thing? It’s a film brought to you by relatively unknown director Harmony Korine, starring his wife Rachel Korine, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, James Franco, and quite controversially Selena Gomez. Initially people thought the idea was it’d be a highly sexual and trashy teen movie with a twist. And while that’s kind of true, it’s much more subversive, and deeper in it’s message.

Faith, Candy, Brittany, and Cotty (Selena Gomez, Venessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) are four young girls who can’t wait to get away for Spring Break. However, the problem of the funds needed arises. Faith is a religious girl, and more reserved than the other 3, shown via earlier scenes in a church group. However, Candy, Brittany and Cotty rob a chicken joint for the cash, holding several people at gunpoint before smoothly escaping. They go to Spring Break and party it up like they planned, but are soon arrested following the events of a party. Estranged and demented rapper Alien (James Franco) pays the bail for the girls. Their relationship as friends is strained, as Alien drops them into a seedy underground of guns, coke, and blood feuds.

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The film is incredibly sexualised throughout, but with good purpose. I think in a way Harmony is making a statement that we’ve become so desensitized to images of a sexual nature that the use of it is essentially irrelevant in some ways. That’s not to say you don’t notice the sexuality in Spring Breakers, but you’re kind of smothered by it. Every shot contains the male gaze, and towards the end of the film it’s just kind of, there? It’s hard to express, and that’s why Spring Breakers impressed me, there’s a lot of thought provoking shots and themes, and as a film it’s incredibly intriguing.  Audiences were initially skeptical about the film’s content and topic. However, Candy and Brittany aren’t so much owned or abused by Alien, it’s very much the opposite. He’s seduced by them and under their influence. That’s empowerment if anything.

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Admittedly the film’s story is pretty basic, and not the most gripping of narratives. However, it is very aesthetically beautiful, and interesting in it’s use of shot effects particularly in scenes of drug use, and it’s use of voice overlay. The score is also suiting, but contrasting. It uses Dubstep and modern dance music in scenes of euphoria and happyness, juxtaposed with Rap in scenes of danger and tension. Performances were mostly mixed, with Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson easily stealing the show among the girls. James Franco was also pretty fantastic. He’s just so underrated, the man is a master of disguise and still gets little respect in regards to parts. I just don’t understand.

Anyhow, that’s Spring Breakers. Not the most brilliant film ever, but it’s certainly thought-provoking, thematic, and glossy. Selina Gomez should never act again however. Tune in next time, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views

The Master (2012)

TheMasterEver get that feeling when you know a film is good, and you can appreciate the base elements of it, but you can’t really enjoy it as a whole? That’s my relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012). The film is highly aesthetic, beautifully shot, and well-written but the whole idea of the topic matter and how it’s presented to us just left me longing for something a bit more gripping. It is by no means a bad film in my eyes, but considering the high critical praise it’s received, especially lauded by some as one of the best films of 2012, I just couldn’t connect. 

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Freddie Quell, a mentally disturbed and mildly damaged sailor who’s dismissed from the navy during the war. He acts like a child, vastly inappropriate at times, hiding from his past and refusing it he develops nervous twitches and tries to forget. He crosses paths with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who takes Freddie under his wing as he’s fascinated by his intricacies and quirks. Lancaster is a charismatic scholar who dabbles in that of the psychological, as he attempts to hypnotized and ‘process’ Freddie’s brain. He attempts to cure him, as they adventure together as they learn more about one another under the watchful and skeptical gaze of Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams).

Joaquin Phoenix was certainly convincing as Freddie, and clearly had put a lot into the role. However, I found it hard to emphasize with the juvenile protagonist, and as an issue I could barely understand a lot of Freddie’s lines which were fairly garbled. This was in order to make Freddie sound very underdeveloped in his language, with Joaquin only speaking from a side of his mouth as a nervous twitch. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the eloquent gentleman, with an aggressive side for assertion quite well. In addition Amy Adam’s muddled mix of maternal, and the aggressive in the form of the very passive wife is also perfect. All three actors received Oscar nominations for their corresponding roles of Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

It’s themes are highly based in the unexplained nature  nature of mental repression and damage. Not to mention The Master is roughly set in the 1940’s meaning that Lancaster must constantly assert and defend his theories which many regard as baseless nonsense, particularly when he implies in his book that his treatment could help cure some minor cases of leukemia. Ultimately the conclusion is muddled, Freddie isn’t exactly cured in the aggressive and inappropriate way he acts. But he does face his fear, and confront his old love Doris only to find she’s long gone with two kids, and a husband. He flees from Lancaster, as he rides into the sun on a motorcycle as part of an exercise, though he never returns until asked to later. They offer for him to come back, or they can no longer help him. He leaves as Lancaster says a sad goodbye. 

The ideas and motifs especially the whole father/son, subject/researcher relationship that Freddie and Lancaster have do mesh together well. In addition there is some good method acting, and certainly some very vivid and appealing cinematography and score. However the whole thing just felt very isolating and overall as a piece of cinema I can’t really say I enjoyed it. I’m not sure why, if I’m completely honest. However, it at least shows Anderson’s fantastic direction as the film is certainly built to his purpose. Anyway, that’s all for this time. Thanks for reading, and follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views.

Gangs of New York (2002) and the Importance of Catharsis.

4288a961d4ca0bd983f929918337dd8dGangs of New York (2002) is a fundamentally solid film, that truly teeters on the brink of excellence. It offers an incredibly immersive look into a very divulgent time in the history New York, that of the 1840’s. Based around the ‘Five Points’ district, the film loosely follows the anarchy that ensues, and the ever on-going struggle for power. Critical opinion often claimed Gangs of New York didn’t stand up to the hype it generated and sits as one of Scorcese’s more minor films in comparison to Goodfellas, or Raging Bull, or Taxi Driver. Join me as I ponder why Gangs of New York perhaps didn’t pack as mean a punch as Scorcese’s other films, and how it could have possibly been better.

Gangs of New York first shows us an epic battle occurring between the Irish Catholics and immigrants against the American Natives. At the heads of this armies are Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) a true defender of the faith, an inspiration to all. Facing him, Mr.William Cutting, or as he’s often referred ‘Bill The Butcher’. A crude, harsh, and racist man who only seeks supremacy. They go to far as Bill slays his foe, for all to see. His young child runs off as Bill declares his victory, but also the honour of the fight that Vallon put up. The son of priest returns 20 years later to Paradise Square as he is soon taken under the butcher’s wing as he takes quite a liking to him. Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo Dicaprio) always sought to kill Bill (no pun intended), however a friend rats him out turning Bill against his former protege as he learns of his connection to Priest. Things escalate, leading to a final war between the Dead Rabbits and the Native Conversation Society. However the draft riots begin to occur, and both armies are pretty much instantly dispatched by confederate forces as Bill is hit by shrapnel, Amsterdam finishes him off with a knife. Him, and his lover Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) run off to California in pursuit of a more prosperous land.

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A lot of the criticisms were about the story’s course and overall structure, so we’ll begin there. The whole focus of the main plot is on Amsterdam, with the growing tension between him and Bill which leads to the final confrontation. However, with the intervention of the 3rd party draft forces the set piece falls rather flat and feels rather lacking. It was about settling feuds, rivalries, and beliefs but regardless of who killed who it felt as no one really won. Amsterdam strikes Bill down after Bill is wounded by shrapnel as he utters the words ‘Thank God. I’ll die a true American’.  For me I felt that wasn’t really cathartic, it’s probably more accurate in it’s depiction of historical nature. After the battle we see Vallon’s and Bill’s graves as they overlook New York as we begin to see it evolve, as the skyline and skyscrapers develop and turn into the New York of today. Their graves gradually deteriorate as Scorcese suggest that the two didn’t really matter?

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I’m not quite sure what this means. I guess it meant it signified an end to the wars and the death of both of them is the only way the feud could finally climax between native and Irishman. As for the historical content, the sets design and costume Gangs of New York was very acclaimed for it’s historical preservation. As you’d expect things were misconstrued and bent into a narrative structure as you’d expect. An interesting fact is the Irish primarily feuded with those of black origin as opposed to anyone else, primarily because they would work at a lower rate than that of the Irish, thus stealing their jobs from beneath them. 

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The performances in Gangs of New York are fantastic. It offers an ensemble cast, headed by Leonardo Dicaprio and Daniel-Day Lewis, with cameos by Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson, Eddie Marsan, among others. For me the character of Bill truly supersedes the film. Bill is a foul, violent intolerant villain, but he’s very logically written. He feels he must die for his country purely because his father did, because he sees some misguided pride in that hence his end remark. His vocabulary and voice are oddly eloquent, but very ribald. He is a violent kingmaker who deals in flesh and blood, both figuratively and literally through his love of the butcher’s cleaver.  

‘I took the father. Now I’ll take the son. You tell young Vallon I’m gonna paint Paradise Square with his blood. Two coats. I’ll festoon my bedchamber with his guts.’ – Bill the Butcher

Daniel-Day Lewis is must-see as usual (when is he not?), while the Dicaprio we see in Gangs, isn’t the one we see now. He’s always been a great actor, but in recent years he’s really excelled, become an A-list talent from the likes of Inception, Django Unchained. I don’t suppose I have too much else to say about Gangs of New York. A solid piece of historical entertainment, with some excellent characters and superb performances. The ending for me wasn’t as climatic, it didn’t drive home the vengence of Amsterdam’s father which I felt in many ways was the entire point. Regardless it’s a great film for style, and design, and entertainment if not substance. That’s all for now I suppose. Join me next time! Or I’ll festoon my bedchamber with your guts. >.>

Follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views.

                                                                                       Sam. 

The Graduate (1967), and the significance of ‘Sound of Silence’.

graduateusaThe Graduate (1967) is a very realistic, however ultimately quite somber attempt at a situation comedy. It’s a comedy that’s very soul and substance first, with the laughs and comedic value around the intrinsic nature and situation of the characters and situation involved. As opposed to built for the purpose of comedy. Arguably it’s whole observations about life, the troubles of defining ‘what to do next’ or where to go in life do add several dimensions to an otherwise very basic principle structure in The Graduate.

It’s directed by Mike Nichols (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Carnal Knowledge, Working Girl) and stars Dustin Hoffman as protagonist Ben. The film is well-known for it’s casting issues, at various points they considered a whole array of actors for the principle parts of Ben, Mrs.Robinson, and Elaine. Many laughed at the ideal of the casting of Dustin Hoffman as the lead, particular as he had only one other role at that point, of which was minor (The Tiger Makes Out). However, Nichols penned him in as Ben for his sheer awkward, anxious, and unnerving qualities that portrayed the character to a tee. 

Ben (Dustin Hoffman) is a graduate fresh out of college. He at first feels unnerved coming home, with no real plan, or next step in life. It’s the major sub-topic and motif of the film, the idea of wanting, or knowing what to pursue. As his parents show him off to their friends, and gloat about his laurels he attracts the eye of the neglected lusty housewife known as Mrs.Robinson (Anne Bancroft). She demands Ben drive her home, trapping him in a bedroom as she strips for him, and demands they have sex. Her husband arrives, and they both act natural and he thinks nothing of it. In his bored state Ben begins to sleep with Mrs Robinson. However, her daughter Elaine comes back into town and Ben’s parents insist he ask her out, much to the marr of Mrs.Robinson who demands he not. He tries to scare Elaine away, but can’t help developing feelings for her as she does the same. Mrs Robinson demands he leave Elaine alone or she’ll tell her about the ordeal, as Ben does anyway. The whole thing unravels, and becomes a quest for Ben to persue Elaine and eventually marry her, the only thing he’s ever been certain of in life.

A rather sordid affair.

A rather sordid affair.

The film conveys the subtlest of emotion very well through a tightly written script, and a lot of personal close-up and framing shots which really capture the often awkward and anxious mood. In particular the scene in which Ben walks downstairs and is greeted from person to person as the camera follows him via tracking shot, captures his awkwardness to a tee, and also the pedantic nature of the party. The film’s score is very much a product of the time, featuring multiple appearances from recording artists Simon and Garfunkle, in particular the ominous and wistful track Sound of Silence:

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The song’s haunting melody and bleak subject matter suit the character of Ben and his generally lost mood towards things. Before Mrs.Robinson he is completely lost, devastated by the reality of the world now he’s released from the confines of education. An early rendition of Mrs Robinson also appears a few months before the remastering and release as a single, which is quite apt. 

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The film’s message or general motif is that of finding one’s purpose. Elaine and Ben are very similar characters and relate because of this shared boon. As an audience were are supposed to relate to Ben I feel. This seems clear with the incredibly naive, superficial, and shallow nature of his parents in contrast to reality. In addition, Mrs.Robinson also seems incredibly lost, most of the enjoyment she seems to get out of modern living is of a sexual nature, that even then she has to sneak around and commit ribald adultery for. The ending scene is poignant in it’s meaning, the two escape the church and get on the bus. At first they’re incredibly happy and ecstatic about the leap of faith they just committed, but a few seconds later reality kicks in as they realize the true overwhelming nature of the motion they just made which we might gather was solely in the heat of the moment.

It’s clearly a satire of the traditional Hollywood romance ending, but never the less very effective. The film won a Bafta for Best Film, several oscar nominations, and a best director award for director Mike Nichols. The film is certainly a milestone of the romance and drama genre and is not to be taken lightly. However in recent years many have looked back on the film with a kind of revised look at Ben’s character, not feeling sympathy but instead finding flaws in the fundamental stalking that he does. It’s a good point, along with the entire lack of sympathy the narrative has for Mrs.Robinson. But then again the ideological punishment was always worse for women in the classical and post-classic eras. Anyway, that’s all for this week, and I’d like to thank my good friend Rob for suggesting The Graduate. Follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views, and catch me next time. 

IMDB Addendum:

The Graduate (1966) is a coming of age (kind of?) drama from Mike Nichols. It features Ben, a fairly lost graduate who comes home from college and questions the path he should take next. He is seduced by Mrs.Robinson, whilst also taking a liking to her daughter Elaine. It questions why we live, and why we make the decisions we do. The story sounds relatively unspectacular, but the finished product is incredibly entertaining. It’s a much more unforgiving and remorseful look at life than most Hollywood pictures. It’s also the mainstream debut of Dustin Hoffman. A particular element I found notable in the Graduate, was it’s use of sound. Simon and Garfunkle’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ haunts the films meaning, and lingers around the film’s bittersweet tones. The Graduate is perhaps not the most original film, but it’s certainly finely honed.

Judgment – Deserved

Hitchcock and Dramatic Tension, Side Effects (2013)

Side-Effects-2013-Movie-Poster1Side Effects (2013) is a neatly woven, macabre and psychological masterpiece of a film. It truly redefines what a ‘twist’ is and when it’s appropriate to use one, offering a very harrowing and unpredictable narrative journey. It’s the penultimate film from the apparently retiring director Steven Soderberg starring Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I haven’t had a lot of experience with Soderberg’s films prior to this one, but judging from it he has a very honed directorial style. Side Effects is intensely directed with some incredibly morose emotion emitting from everyone of it’s main characters, except for the ever dull phoned in performance from one Channing Tatum. The score, the incredibly gentle elements of manipulation in addition to it’s marginal directorial style, and very tight script make Side Effects a Hitchcock-esque masterpiece of a film, one that is not to be taken lightly.

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The story entails Emily (Rooney Mara) a woman depressed as when her husband (Channing Tatum) is finally released from prison, she’s not as happy as she hoped. She drives her car straight into a wall, out of compulsion in a need to hurt herself. A doctor at the ward becomes concerned about her and starts to treat her. Dr.Banks (Jude Law) is a very warm doctor, who takes his career very seriously. He tries numerous medications in order to try and normalize her with little success. From a suggestion of her former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) he tries brand new anti-depressant Aflixa. The side effects are disastrous as she sleepwalks about her apartment. Her partner approaches her in a bizarre subconscious as catastrophe happens. Dr.Bank’s careers is on a line as he burrows to the bottom of a dark and unlikely conspiracy. 

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The story pacing in Side Effects is incredibly well paced, with each plot-point being masterfully placed upon the film’s narrative framework like notes on a fine orchestral score. The story unfolds at exactly the right tempo as we see Dr.Banks lose more and more of himself, almost mimicking the same symptoms he was trying to cure. The tension and suspense is almost tangible as we delve deeper into the plot’s inner crux.  A word often used to describe Side Effects is ‘Hitchcockian’, many saw it as an homage to the great master of suspense in it’s style and narrative structure. Soderberg is often known for his ‘almost documentary’ style. More specifically, as the audience we feel less engaged in the plot as if we know the characters, and take on the role of the spectator, to deduct and investigate in order to find our own probable solution to the film’s conundrum. 

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The lighting and contrast in the film is quite dull, grey and bland and at times quite yellow. It gives the image an off-putting almost clinical feel, and the deep sepia tones in my mind relates to ideas of illness, and off-colour skin like kidney failure. Even the minor details in Side Effects build to the overall affect and motif which creates this wonderful textured feel. 

vlcsnap-2013-06-03-12h10m55s28The characters and performances were mostly fantastic. Jude Law played a brilliant duality in his character, one of the warm doctor, the enthusiastic family man. But then there’s also the distressed doctor about to lose his career, with qualms about abusing his power and the situation to his advantage. Also the film does a good job of making us question him, particularly about this mysterious ex-patient who killed her self, that seemed to mostly be a red herring. Rooney Mara is outstanding in Side Effects. She further cements herself as this sadistic and neurotic leading woman, with sexually charged undertones. She plays the damaged but misleading damsel in distress so well, and is becoming one of Hollywood’s best leading women, in my eyes at least. Catherine Zeta-Jones also does a good job, playing the lusty and seemingly inconspicuous former doctor. Channing Tatum is completely forgettable, I don’t really understand why he’s an actor, or people cast him.

Even the duality of the Film’s title is one to be admired, the concept matter of pills and medication, but also the side effect of Dr.Banks career being mostly left to shambles. Side Effects has everything and can certainly appeal to a wide audience. It has a gripping and tense story for the casual film-goers, and very technical and nurtured cinematography and aesthetics for those more academically inclined. Though received well by critics the film made a fairly dull splash in terms of profit. Regardless if you haven’t seen Side Effects, do. You won’t be disappointed.  

Greatest Directors: Woody Allen; Part 7: Manhattan (1979)

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Manhattan is a silky yet mournful film noir inspired tale of romance and regret. Filmed entirely in black and white, and with elements of classical and jazz the film is quite reflexive in it’s moods, as we see recurring hints of Ingmar Bergman once again. It’s partly autobiographical in nature, recapturing Allen’s experience dating a 17 year old student as a real life experience on film. Other than that, we see the same motifs and ideals revisited mainly about life and love but in a slightly darker context. The black and white, and the noirish feel relates to the film being quite involved in the idea of being faithful with a sinful affair and numerous deceptions occurring within it’s frame. This all relates to classical cinema, with it’s drama frequently featuring cheating wives and lying husbands, with love and betrayal being a prominent feature in Federico Fellini’s work, often cited as a big inspiration for Allen.vlcsnap-2013-05-23-11h54m54s235

Isaac (Woody Allen) is a TV writer, and aspiring author suffering two failed marriages (Also the case with Allan himself) who feels self conscious about a relationship with a 17 year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Meanwhile his friend Yale (Michael Murphy) starts to cheat on his faithful wife of 12 years, with the alluringly neurotic Mary (Diane Keaton). Mary is kind of the polarizing character of the piece, upsetting the status quo of Yale’s marriage, as well as Isaac’s relationship with Tracy. She mirrors a kind of femme fatale character, not in the same kind of sense of mortal danger but a more subdued form, that of the homewrecker. Yale breaks up with Mary, only to find himself lusting after her even after setting up Isaac to be with Mary. They begin to see each other again, as Isaac realizes what a mistake he’s made as he goes to Tracy and tells her he did wrong. However the apology is ultimately too late as she leaves to London for an arts scholarship. 

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Manhattan is aptly named, full of looming shots of the landscape, Manhattan is a story about first world problems, a failed romance tale of the inner city. It’s billed as a comedy though the only real comedic value is found in Allen’s dialogue and nervous mannerisms as usual. Other than that Manhattan is a story firmly grounded in matters of the heart as opposed to elements of humor. Allan describes it as a combination of his previous two films Annie Hall (1977) and Interiors (1978) which is pretty accurate. It has the love and loss in a contemporary setting from Annie Hall, with the rather serious tones of stress, psychosis, and longing for purpose that Interiors encapsulates. Meryl Streep as scorned ex-wife Jill packs a punch, as she publishes a book detailing her failed marriage and how she ran off into the arms of a much superior female. 

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And with that, we approach one of the main underline themes of Manhattan. Freude is mentioned on quite a few occasions, and in that same vein of psychoanalysis Manhattan seems to contain a slight fear of emasculation. Women are seemingly well fulfilled within the frames of Manhattan, while the male characters are left confused and longing in fear they’ve made the wrong choice. Isaac has an overwhelming fear of the book Jill publishes, a fear of this power over him, particularly disheartened when she dishonorably mentions the lackluster sex and emotional connection within it’s pages. Mary is a sexual aggressor breaking up a marriage and a relationship, while forcing former friends to ultimately fight over her. In addition to this, before their break up it seems Yale’s wife often mentioned the notion of kids and how she wanted to have them. In this way the power in relationships is predominantly held by women, which particularly makes contextual sense in it’s homage to more classical cinema. 

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In it’s place in Allen’s overall filmography, Manhattan further cements Allen’s love of smooth and classical Jazz, the films of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, and the acting talents of Diane Keaton. However, foresight tells us it’d be the last major collaboration Woody Allen would do with Diane Keaton. Allen is smart in only casting women he has sexual chemistry with (He and Keaton dated for a year or so), and she would be soon replaced by Mia Farrow as Allen’s main female actor given their relationship which lasted from the early 80’s til the mid 90’s. At this point it can be said that Allen had moved away from the situational comedy genre, and cemented himself in more of an artistic more classical form of the romance film. Regardless of his spurning of the Academy with Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan would still be nominated for two awards, one for best original screenplay, and one for best supporting actress (Mariel Hemingway). In addition to winning the Baftas for best film, and best screenplay, and about 8 or so other nominations.

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Manhattan is a good film, and ultimately a clear display that romantic comedies don’t have to be shallow in content or emotion, or haplessly generic and dull. It feels absurdly textured with its artistic shots, and its highly nostalgic tones and is good storytelling at the crux of it. Next time we’ll take a look at A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). Thanks for tuning in, and please Follow/Comment/and Like if you feel inclined. Also follow me on @Sams_Reel_Views on Twitter. Cheers. 

Sling Blade (1996) or ‘Dem French Fried Potaters’.

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Sling Blade (1996) is an American drama film, starring, written, and directed by Billy Bob Thornton. It’s often known as Billy Bob Thornton’s most standout performance, the film also received an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. The film is based off a short film Thornton made in 94 of roughly the same caliber. At it’s crux, Sling Blade is a film about tolerance and diversity in society, but also about the endearing tale of a boy who doesn’t have a father figure.

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Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) is a mentally disabled man who’s spent most of his life in a mental hospital as he slaughtered his mother and her lover at the tender age of 12. Sling Blade at first is a story of Karl integrating himself into society, as he maintains a job fixing motors in a repair shop. However it quickly becomes about a relationship he cultivates with a young boy named Frank. Karl lives in their garage, being taken in by the boy’s mother, however the situation soon becomes uncomfortable as vicious and abusive boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakem) begins to harass Karl for it’s mental disability along with the boy. Karl soon becomes a father figure to Frank, who misses his own father ever since his suicide. Doyle commands Karl to leave their house, as he arranges for Frank and his mother to stay with her friend Vaughn (John Ritter). Karl goes into the house, sitting down with a sharpened lawnmower blade as Dole begins to insult him again. Karl calms asks how one would go about calling the police, before standing abruptly and carving Dole’s head in two with the blade. He calls the police and an ambulance, as the film ends the same way it begun, with Karl starring out the window of the mental hospital. 

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So, performances. I wouldn’t have thought Billy Bob Thornton was exactly the method acting type, but his performance as the mentally disabled Karl is quite fantastic. The physicality of the role, his hunch, how he wears his clothes with his jeans far past his stomach, not to mention the deep southern accent and vocal ramblings are superb. An excerpt from the emotional meeting between Karl, and his father Frank:

Frank Childers: I told you I ain’t got no boy, now why don’t you get on outta here and let me be. You ain’t no kin to me.

Karl: [after a pause] I learned to read some. I read the Bible quite a bit. I can’t understand all of it, but I reckon I understand a good deal of it. Them stories you and Mama told me ain’t in there. You ought not done that to your boy. I studied on killing you. Studied on it quite a bit. But I reckon there ain’t no need for it if all you’re gonna do is sit there in that chair. You’ll be dead soon enough and the world ‘ll be shut of ya. You ought not killed my little brother, he should’ve had a chance to grow up. He woulda had fun some time.

The authenticity of the performance really carries the film. John Ritter as Vaughn is also very effective. Vaughn plays a homosexual man just trying to advance with his life, but he feels deep sympathy for Linda and her son, and refuses to let Doyle hurt her. In one scene Vaughn talks about intolerance in the southern states, and likens being homosexual to being mentally disabled in that they’re both ‘different’ and the subject of intense ridicule. Dwight Yoakem is also great as this arrogant, intolerable, southern racist. As a viewer I felt deeply saddened when Linda reconciled with him showing how effective he was in his loathing qualities. J.T Walsh as the sexual pervert at the beginning, and finish was also a nice touch, necessary to round out the fact that Karl had changed.

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While the performances are superb, the opening scene in which Karl recalls his acts he committed linger throughout the film, along with the films obviously violent title. This makes the narrative events incredibly predictable as soon as we meet Doyle. As good as the script is it clearly forecasts this event, which I guess in some ways can’t be helped. The big question, or more accurately dilemma in Sling Blade, is murder ever justified? I’m not trying to imply that Doyle wasn’t an asshole, but was his impromptu death morally ethical? I think Sling Blade might have had more of a punch if we saw some reactions to what Karl did to Doyle, what his mother said about the whole scenario, or how they progress. There’s a good chance Linda could have met a another mean cruel man, just like Doyle. 

Summary = Sling Blade is an impeccable film. Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoaken, and J.T Walsh’s performances in particular pack a lot of punch. Sling Blade is an unethical story, for an unethical world. The story is endearing at parts, but manages to maintain tension as the story winds down to it’s obvious, yet inevitable conclusion. That’s it for now, I highly recommend the emotionally stirring story that is Sling Blade, until next time please Like, Follow and Comment if you feel obliged, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. Thanks for your time. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Sam. 

Greatest Directors: Woody Allen; Part 8: Stardust Memories (1980)

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I seem to have completely forgotten about Manhattan somehow, so i’ll do Part 8 now then go back for it next time. For now we’ll look at black and white comedic drama Stardust Memories (1980), of course directed by Woody Allen. Something we immediately notice is Diane Keaton not being cast on this one given their great chemistry, and Allen’s understanding of her strengths and weaknesses as an actor. However, it makes sense considering she doesn’t have the sheer visceral, tragic, or psycho-sexual qualities like Charlotte Rampling, not that many actresses do. Stardust Memories is infamous for splitting Allen’s audience, some thinking it’s his best picture, others his worst. It very much feels like a turning point, an evolution in his style, the potent rejection of his earlier films and audience. On that note, let’s dive right in.

Bates surrounded by his adoring audience.

Bates surrounded by his adoring audience.

The narrative involves filmmaker Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) as he attends a film festival, days of viewing purely devoted to his work. Shortly after departing the narrative dissolves in terms of time and space, and inter-cuts heavily between many of his relationships, his time at the festival, and his negotiations with producers in order to keep the ending of his newest film and not have it altered. Ultimately Stardust Memories is a film about it’s themes, linked together by some thin story line structure as opposed to traditional storytelling. A lot of the cinema-based segments revolve around his audience, being tormented as the line recurs ‘I always preferred your earlier, funnier movies’ spurning his more artistic efforts. Meanwhile he is lost in thought regarding his relationships, unable to decide between the intellectual and mousy musician Daisy (Jessica Harper) or maternal French mother of two Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault). Meanwhile he is constantly haunted by images of the extremely sexual, and psychotic Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling). Meanwhile the real audience is left to wade through, and decide what is part of his metadiagetic films, or part of the character’s life as everything gradually begins to dissolve.

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Stardust Memories is a very artistic, very self-indulgent, post-modern piece of cinema. On it’s critical reaction many saw the immediate likeliness to Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1962) as Fellini is often cited as a big inspiration to Allen. However it’s thought by many to be incredibly biographical. Both of the characters are filmmakers, and obviously there’s the link to Allen’s earlier ‘earlier, funnier’ films given the huge following Bananas (1971) and such had in comparison to his artistic fare like Interiors (1978). I think Stardust is a celebration of Allen’s cinematic talent, the talent he’s afraid to really bare in indulgence, afraid to pay homage and tribute to the directors that molded his own true style behind the slapstick and wit (such as Fellini and Bergman).  Following his films this far it could be said he’s afraid to stop being a comedian especially when his attempt with Interiors was fairly misunderstood. Meanwhile in the background we see this pondering of relationships, and different women. People liken this to Allen’s very vivid romantic life as well, given his multiple marriages, and focus on love and relationships in his films.

The oddly menacing last still of the film.

The oddly menacing last still of the film.

So regardless of Stardust Memories’s ambigious artistic style, it’s quite an entertaining film. It treats its self as a comedy film, but ultimately it’s not that funny, however I don’t really feel it’s meant to be. And in that, is part of the joke, with the pandering to audiences wanting Allen’s ‘funnier’ films with this subversion of what Allen finds funny in dire contrast. However that being said, I’d say Stardust Memories is mainly for film purists as it’s exploring the tropes and questioning Allen’s real directorial style both figuratively and literally and I can’t see many mainstream audiences interacting with that idea, or humoring it. Also out of context I think you’d miss a lot, I found a lot of intrigue in Stardust Memories due to it’s self-referential style with deep parody and reference to Allen’s career. As a side-note Charlotte Rampling as the lingering ex-girlfriend Dorrie was fantastic, close to stealing the spotlight with her sexuality and alluring nature, contrasted to her mysterious psychotic nature which seemingly interchange at will.

In summary: I think Stardust Memories marks the evolution of Allen’s style, or at least a change in moods in regards to the mainstream and it’s audience. It’s a comedy film that’s bogged down by serious thought, and pondering which is a much more relevant cause ultimately. While I don’t think it necessarily matters, I think the film bears a far too striking resemblance to Allen’s life and career for it to not be about him, or at least loosely based on his exploits. Stardust Memories is am ambitious film, but it achieves what it aims, and it’s certainly an in-depth look into Allen’s psyche. It’s probably my favourite film of his so far, edging just ahead of Annie Hall. Anyway, that’s it for this time. Follow/Like/Comment if you feel inclined, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views on Twitter. 

Cheers! 

Greatest Directors: Woody Allen; Part 6, Interiors (1978)


Interiors

Interiors (1978) is an American drama film, directed by Woody Allen. The sixth film of his I’ve covered in this series. From immediate impressions, it’s a huge departure from anything we’ve seen before. You could say Annie Hall, and his boycott of the Oscars that year showed he was moving towards a much more serious direction, instead of the satire, the slapstick. The humor is surprisingly nowhere to be found in Interiors, and more surprisingly, Woody Allen isn’t in this one. My initial first look at Interiors before I sat down and watched it weeks later, was that it was somewhat of a domestic drama, headed in a much more artistic direction than Bananas (1971) and the like, however, as deep and poetic as Interiors maybe, I felt it had something missing. 

Often stressed, and successful Writer Renata (Diane Keaton)

Often stressed, and successful Writer Renata (Diane Keaton)

Interiors is about a family as two parents go through a trial separation  until finally the husband demands a full divorce and introduces his new wife to his three daughters, the narrative focuses highly on the three daughters and their reaction to this, and how they cope. The mother (Geraldine Page) is incredibly overbearing, and tries to force her ways on her husband and her children, as we discover she’s fairly neurotic through the course of the story, and is ultimately unable to live without her husband (E.G Marshall). Renata (Diane Keaton) is the oldest of the three sisters, and harbors some responsibility, a lot of the tension from the film comes between her, and her husband Frederick (Richard Jordan). Renata is a successful writer, but Frederick feels he is unable to live up to her standards and grows to resent her. Meanwhile Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) is floundering in life, and is unable to find her purpose, or a job that suits her, she is strongly attached to her mother even though ultimately her mother rejects her, and prefers Renata for her artistic merits. Third sister Flyn (Kristin Griffith) is a relatively successful actor and model, yet relatively dim as is the subject of jealousy from Renata and Joey as she flutters and blushes for their spouses amusement. 

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Interiors is definitely an expressionist film, highly focused around families, dynamics, and how we interact with one another. Woody Allen identifies the film himself as an homage to Ingmar Bergman, and it shows. The film it’s self has many elements of realism, and naturalism, with virtually no score throughout the film, which preserves emotion and makes you focus on performance. Akin to Annie Hall (1977) Allen uses cuts to juxtapose scenes of varying emotions showing characters in their varying moods which makes them feel remarkably human, seeing Renata and and Frederick perfectly happy in one scene for example, and soon a cut shows them arguing and very malcontent. The film is very dark, I assume not much lighting has been used as to try and capture that kind of danish naturalism Allens paying homage to in this film. I’d be lying if I said a lot of the film wasn’t very samey, and we basically live out the same arguments with several different characters, but there are some very potent scenes. One of which occurs at the end, in which eve the neurotic mother decides she finally can’t cope being alone, as she walks into the sea. Her daughter Joey attempts to save her, only to be dragged back by her husband to stop her from drowning, during this we see intercut shots of the other daughters and the ex-husband sleeping. Quite a potent metaphor showing they’re done caring for her, and they’ve basically accepted this, signified by their passive sleeping. 

The floundering and purposeless, Joey.

The floundering and purposeless, Joey.

The performances are pretty potent, however no one’s really given a great chance to shine given that the naturalistic style doesn’t bode well for high drama, as it tries to preserve human emotion, as opposed to theatrical emotion. Overall, there are elements of Allen’s style still evident here, in particular it definitely shows his understanding of the cinematic elements more than his other films. Interiors definitely isn’t as interesting, witty, or satirical it does show directorial talent. For those interested in personal human drama, it’s worth a watch, if not it’s probably a bit bland, and leaves a bitter taste on the tongue.

A death in the family.

A death in the family.

Summary: Interesting, but not entertaining. Woody Allen’s 6th film, Interiors is based on family dynamics, and human interaction. Particularly those who are artistically inclined, however while it does show directorial talent and performance, the film is very naturalistic which at times can be quite dull or otherwise quite uncharacteristic, especially for an aesthetic film lover like myself. Regardless, Interiors is at least interesting if nothing else, and I’ll continue with Stardust Memories, next time, on Greatest Directors. Follow me on Twittor @Sams_Reel_Views. 

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013) or ‘Sins of the Father’

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Hello there friends, today I take an in-depth look at Director Derek Cianfrance’s second film The Place Beyond The Pines (2013) starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, and Ray Liotta. It’s an American drama film, or more accurately one of those ‘life’ films, portraying a kind of narrative strand within life it’s self, just portraying a story of the human existence kind of like Tree of Life (2011) directed by Terence Malick, without the experimental parts. I saw the trailers and a lot of the hype for this, and was quite excited. Watching it today, it is not what I expected but then again, I think it’s quite hard to portray what this film is within the confines of a short trailer. However the promotional material definitely seems to make the film a lot more palpable for mainstream audiences, when it’s definitely more of an alternative film, I feel.

The angel-haired, nihilistic Luke Glanson

The angel-haired, nihilistic Luke Glanson

Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a touring motorcyclist stuntman for a travelling fair, as he returns to a small town to find a girl named Romina (Eva Mendes) he slept with years ago now has his child . He attempts to support her and the child, being befriended by a mechanic called Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) He begins to rob banks, with the aid of robin, until Robin wants out, and Luke is confronted by young ambition copy Avery which leads to a shootout and Luke is killed. The story then switches to Avery’s point of view, as he and his police friends go to Romina’s house, and search it, taking the stolen bank money Luke left and giving it to Avery claiming it’s ‘hazard pay’. Following this, Avery is dragged into dirty dealings, and sells his fellow cops out to get the promotion he thinks he deserves, as he becomes District Attorney. 15 Years later, Luke and Avery’s sons meet as they unravel the truth of their father’s history.

A happy family, for at least a split second.

A happy family, for at least a split second.

I may be going off on a wild tangent here, but I’d like to talk about narrative structure before I dive into the crux of The Place Beyond The Pines. In practicality, if you want to segment your story into different parts, told by different people you need to make sure that one of your story segments isn’t vastly more entertaining than the others, especially not at the beginning of the film. This is what Place Beyond The Pine does, first exploring the deep, confused character of Luke (Ryan Gosling), switching to the not so goody two-shoes Avery (Bradley Cooper), before then descending into this squabble between their children. It just took the plunge from high interesting drama, to teenage angst and for me the film lost steam, I couldn’t maintain interest particularly in it’s catharsis which seemed kind of empty. There was no real penultimate action, it just lead to Luke’s son discovering his identity, and going on the run to be like him.

The ultimate cathartic moment that happened about 50 minute into the film, felt left wanting afterwards.

The ultimate cathartic moment that happened about 50 minutes into the film, felt left wanting afterwards.

So the performances were hit and miss really, Eva Mendes was okay, but she didn’t have a lot of screentime. Gosling was the best performance in the film by a country mile, however as a supporting actor Ben Mendelsohn added a lot of personality into the story. The score was particularly effective, a blend of harsh and mellow sharp tones, accompanied by 80’s nostalgic music when appropriate. The cinematography was pretty much superb, the tracking shots on the motorcycle were expertly done, and I particularly like the long tracking shots following the two characters as we see how people react to them (Luke in the Circus fairground/Avery in the Police Station).

The corrupt cops Avery sells for a promotion.

The corrupt cops Avery sells for a promotion.

While you don’t typically wanna read into a text like the Place Beyond The Pines too deeply, I would define it as one of morality. The cop shot the robber dead, the robber wasn’t even concerned with attacking the cop seemingly, and his son grows up to be a confused, maligned man just wanting a father figure to guide him, while the son of the cop grows up to be the world’s most smarmiest prick anyone’s ever seen.

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A son, longing to be like his father.

Judgement = Good (6-7/10). Elaboration: The Place Beyond The Pines certainly had me hooked at first, but in my opinion went in the wrong direction, and could have been a lot more gripping if it had mirrored the two characters and had them face each other in the end, however the whole dead-pan flop I felt the ending was marred and otherwise a soulful and aesthetic experience. Well that’s it for this time folks, please Follow/Comment/Like, and Follow me @Sam’s_Reel_Views. Cheers!