Henry V

Director: Laurence Olivier

1945

screen shot 2015-12-19 at 1.24.35 amHenry V was regarded by the British government as ideal patriotic wartime propaganda, and Laurence Olivier, serving in the Fleet Air Arm, was released to star in it and – after William Wyler had turned it down – to direct it as well.” (195, Phillip Kemp, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) There’s something just too clean about the whole production, especially the battle scenes. This could be due to the fact that it was intended as a morale booster during World War II and showing any sort of realistic battle scenes would have hit a little too close to home. Censorship is also at play here as well as you don’t actually get to see the kiss between Henry and Princess Katherine of France. I also find the King of France, played by Harcourt Williams, a very wishy-washy character with no substance to him whatsoever. Again I guess this could be a subtle comment on the French given the time in which the film was made.

“The rhythm of Shakespeare’s text, discreetly trimmed to fit the war effort – the three English traitors are dropped, for a start – is buoyed up by the visor of Olivier’s barnstorming performance and William Walton’s sweeping score.” (195) I’m actually not a fan of Walton’s sweeping score – the sound quality is somewhat lacking but that could be due to the age of the film itself rather than the actual score. And in actual fact it is really quite a distraction during the battle scenes. They don’t seem to spend any time developing the lesser characters like Pistol (Robert Newton) and Fluellen (Esmond Knight) which is a bit of a shame as they can be such brilliant and hilarious characters. Fluellen especially seems to be a caricature  of a Welsh man and strangely seems to be the only person with an accent in the entire film!

henryv3The portrayal of the Globe is surprisingly close to what they recreated on Southbank which is astounding in 1945 as it is long before Sam Wanamaker dreamed up rebuilding the great theatre. It is almost but not quite right given that there are no pillars on the stage – and yet it still brought a smile to my face. Shakespeare belongs to that place and always feels right when set in that wonderful Wooden O. The opening scenes of the play are played for laughs which is unusual. Clever transition between the stage and the actual locations but the sets are now quite laughable when looked at through today’s standards. Some scenes still have that enclosed feeling of having been shot in a studio. And the landscapes are quite noticeably models thanks to the lack of any natural movement and some strange perspectives. There are moments when the extras really do just look like men in tights.

Now I’m going to confess something … Laurence Olivier is not my favourite portrayal of Henry. I know, I know he is lauded as the greatest performance of the well-known king but he’s not even close to my favourite. That title goes to Jamie Parker for his performance as Henry V in the 2012 Globe production, directed by Dominic Dromgoole, but then Jamie holds a special place in my heart as I saw that production as often as I could over that summer. Olivier is a little bit too feminine and too pronounced for my liking. There is something about having the St Crispin’s Day speech given to you live that stays with you. Indeed I think that speech is one that needs to be done in front of a live audience to have the proper impact. I am massive Tom Hiddleston fan but even his performance in The Hollow Crown falls a bit flat yet was blown away by the video of him performing on the Mark Hoppus talk show. There is that energy that I was talking about that makes it my favourite Shakespearean monologue of all time!

Henry V is the first Shakespeare film that succeeds in being at once truly Shakespearean and wholly cinematic.” (195) While it may be the first film that managed to be both Shakespeare and cinematic it is definitely not the last as there have been some spectacular Shakespearean films – usually directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh like Much Ado About Nothing (1993), although my favourite is without a shadow of a doubt Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996). Now if you excuse me I will be off to watch the best version of Henry V – that is the Globe production from 2012.

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His Girl Friday

Director: Howard Hawks

1940

his girl friday“[But] austere and witty director Howard Hawks delights in the simple twist that was a stroke of genius – turning ace reporter Hildy Johnson into a woman. Voila, His Girl Friday became the fastest-talking battle of the sexes in the history of romantic screwball comedy.” (158, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Although comedic tastes have changed throughout the years since His Girl Friday graced the screen you can see elements of the modern-day rom-com in this film. There is an old-school charm to it that makes for a pleasant viewing experience and a great way to while away a wintry post-Christmas evening.

“Grant and Russell engage in dizzying verbal play of machine-gun speed in a plot that reaches farcical heights, with a great character ensemble of gum-chewing, smoke-wreathed, poker-playing hack’s acting as their cynical chorus.” (158) The speed in which the dialogue is delivered is astounding … even now and I think I was fairly well prepared for it having watched the entirety of Gilmore Girls (2000-2007, 2016, Amy Sherman-Palladino) where they talk at a mile-a-minute! Tarantino has claimed His Girl Friday is one of his favourite movies and you can see why given his propensity for incredibly fast and layered dialogue. I love that the actors are always talking over each other and stepping on each other’s lines as it gives the dialogue a really natural and realistic feel to it. The other reporters are great and it just shows how unreliable stories int he press can be, especially towards the end where you see at least three different papers given completely different accounts of the same event that is transpiring right before their very eyes in order to be the most sensational and therefore sell the most papers. This is particularly poignant given the propensity for ‘fake news’ in the current climate. Everyone is just a  little bit bumbling and slower than the two protagonists in Grant and Russell with the various supporting characters being somewhat slow on the uptake.

Rosalind Russell is brilliant as Hildy Johnson – for 95% of the film – and then becomes a bit of a let down in the final 10 minutes or so. For the majority of the film Hildy is this no-nonsense, straight-talking, wise-cracking, bad-ass female reporter more than capable of holding her own within the very much male dominated world of the newspaper industry. This makes her a positive role model for women given how difficult that industry was (and continues to be) to work in as a journalist in the 1940s. But then she goes and undermines herself right at the very end when Grant’s Walter tries to do the “noble thing” in letting her go with her plain but lovely fiancé. I use the term “noble thing” loosely as he knows Hildy so well that he’s very clever at manipulating her and knows this will weaken her resolve to quit. Which it ultimately does and Hildy becomes an emotional woman worried that the man will leave her. It’s not a great note for such a strong female character to end on sadly and did put a little bit of a taint on the film for me.

And speaking of Cary Grant – I know he is meant to be one of the greats of the Golden Age of Hollywood and considered handsome but there is something about him that I couldn’t really gel with. I think he has quite a weak chin which made his whole character weaker in my opinion. He’s definitely an actor that looks better in promotional images than in actual films but then this could be a one-off as I haven’t watched many Cary Grant films.

“Theatrical and stylish, His Girl Friday is unrivalled for comic timing and snappy repartee.” (158) I wouldn’t necessarily agree with Errigo here as I think there have been some fabulous comedies in recent years … particularly in the 1990s such as Notting Hill (1999, Roger Mitchell), Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994, Mike Newell) and You’ve Got Mail (1998, Nora Ephron) … but it does certainly provided some comedic relief while at the same time being extremely empowering for women in an era where it wasn’t all that easy to be a successful working woman. It’s worth watching even if just to marvel at the speed of dialogue but it’s not a film I can see myself watching multiple times over.

 

 

Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

Director: F. W. Murnau

(Nosferatu, a Symphony  of Terror)

1922

220px-nosferatuposter“Bram Stoker’s Dracula inspired one of the most impressive of all silent features. The source material and the medium seem almost eerily made for each other.” (39, Joshua Klein, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) There is an undeniable appeal to vampires – as evidenced by multiple interpretations of the story from the Hammer Horror series starring Christopher Lee to Dracula 2001 (Patrick Lussier, 2000); Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldman as the famous bloodsucker to Dracula Untold (Gary Shore, 2014). I mean there are two different Nosferatu films and two different versions of Dracula included in 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die alone … and that’s not to mention the other films that feature vampires. It’s a story that has spawned many others in the same genre that have then gone on to be adapted to both the small and silver screen alike including Interview with The Vampire (Neil Jordan, 1994), the Twilight Saga (2008-2012) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon, 1996-2003). Now that’s not to say that all these interpretations of the same character or idea are equal in their execution because they’re really not *cough*Twilight*cough*.

It’s a very successful part of both film and television history that is constantly evolving and changing so it’s interesting to watch the origin story if you will. I have seen Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Gravens before – the benefit of having done my degree in Film and Television means I have actually seen a large number of very early films – but that was a while ago so it was great to go back and watch it again. I will say that the copy we watched at uni was of much better quality than the one I watched recently and that did have an impact on my viewing of the film. “It is fitting that a story of the eternal conflict between light and darkness should be matched to a format consisting almost entirely of the interplay of light and darkness.” (39) The film is absolutely a contrast between dark and light … something that is highlighted by the black and white nature of the film. There is an element of melodrama that comes, I think, from the fact that Nosferatu is a silent film – the emotion is at times over the top, particularly in reactionary scenes. It’s also absolutely a film that you have to pay attention to as the bulk of the narrative comes through the dialogue and cue cards. I can imagine this being the height of drama on its original release and causing some extreme reactions as it is a dramatisation that wouldn’t have been seen before.

Nosferatu“Yet Nosferatu, even so many years later, stands apart from most Dracula films. One key difference is the striking presence of star Max Schreck, whose surname translates to “fear”. Schreck plays the eponymous vampire with an almost savage simplicity. His rodent-like, sinister creature of the night is little different from the rats at his command, lurching instinctively toward any sight of blood with barely disguised lust.” (39) Schreck’s portrayal as Nosferatu remains instantly iconic and has been spoofed and referenced numerous times throughout history and yet his Count Orlok remains one of the creepiest manifestations of the now infamous character. Indeed it is only really Count Orlok that made any lasting impression on me. Hutter is a fairly useless character but then I wonder if that is due to the way he is written because god knows Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of the same character, some seventy years later, is equally as drippy and useless. I do kind of love Alexander Granach’s Knock – the earliest incarnation of the maxresdefaultbewitched manservant, Renfield – which I do believe has some early use of a bald cap … and more importantly a believable use of the bald cap … that adds to his crazed appearance reflecting the increasingly crazed internal nature of the character as Orlok approaches.

” With Nosferatu, Murnau created some of cinema’s most lasting and haunting imagery: Count Orlok creeping through his castle, striking chilling shadows while he’s stalking Hutter; Orlok rising stiffly from his coffin; the Count, caught in a beam of sunlight, cringing in terror before fading from view. He also introduced several vampire myths that fill not just other Dracula films but permeate popular culture as well.” (39) I think one of the most interesting things I rediscovered when watching Nosferatu was that there were so many familiar tropes. Yes the genre (and I think you can feasibly argue that it is at the very least a sub-genre of horror) is constantly changing and introducing new pieces of lore but there are so many elements that came straight out of this. The biggest difference is the somewhere along the way vampires have gone from being the creepy, rodent like creatures portrayed by Max Schreck and become much more romantic, charmingly and devilishly handsome figures that evoke eternal romance rather than revulsion. But that isn’t to say that all these changes work – sparkling eternal beings who can go out in daylight just kind of lack the same appeal as some of the other interpretations. Give me the Salvatore brothers from The Vampire Diaries (Kevin Williamson, 2009-2017) over the Cullens any day. Nosferatu: Eine Symphonie des Gravens remains – just like the novel that was its source material – eternal and still relevant enough to hold even a modern-day viewer’s attention. And any self discerning fan of the vampire genre should absolutely watch this and see where it all began on the silver screen!

When Harry Met Sally

Director: Rob Reiner

1989

“Against the backdrop of the most cinematic of cities, New York, scene upon scene is either a classic or features memorable dialogue and is played expertly by the two leads: Sally’s fake orgasm in the deli, after which a woman at a neighbouring table (played by Reiner’s own mother) says, “I’ll have what she’s having,” and the store karaoke session when Harry bumps into his ex-wife are just two examples.” (765, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

when harry met sallyHow did it take me so long to get round to watching When Harry Met Sally?!?! It’s such a great film with some awesome actors in it and a truly delightful script that actually sounds like the sort of things real people would say. The city is an additional character which I absolutely love – New York is such a rich city and this film shows it off perfectly.

For anyone who has been friends, especially very close friends with a boy there are so many elements of this film that are relatable. My best friend is a boy, and although we have never been romantic, there are definitely moments that I absolutely recognise and connect with. The easy back and forth between Meg Ryan’s Sally and Billy Crystal’s Harry makes the film extremely enjoyable to watch. Billy Crystal for me, is one of those actors that you either love or hate. There are very few films that I actually enjoy his style of acting in, mainly his voice work as Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc. (2001, Pete Docter) and Monsters University (2013, Dan Scanlon), and thankfully When Harry Met Sally proved to be probably the best I have ever seen him. He is genuinely funny and also oddly attractive which is something I never thought I would say. I love that their journey takes place over a number of years as it once again makes the film feel more realistic.

When Harry Met Sally provides indisputable proof, if it were needed, that all the right ingredients – a skilled comic director (Rob Reiner), great script (Nora Ephron), and brilliant casting (Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan) – do add up to a damn-near perfect piece of film entertainment.” (765) I found When Harry Met Sally a really easy and enjoyable watch. However the most important thing about When Harry Met Sally is the lasting impact it has had on the genre that we have come to know and love (and sometimes loathe or think of as a guilty pleasure) as the romantic-comedy. It’s little things like using an everyday but spectacular in its own right location such as New York as the setting or the wonderful, easy dialogue that epitomises Nora Ephron’s writing.

Jaws

Director: Steven Spielberg

1975

jaws“Playing on our fear of the unknown, he builds up the tension by slowly revealing the shark to the strains of John Williams’s unforgettable score, partly to keep us on the edge of our seats and partly because he knew the rubber shark (named Bruce) used in the film looked more like the real thing the less we saw of it.” (600, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You DieJaws is another one of those films that I had never seen and yet was well aware of thanks to its now iconic nature. As such I didn’t think I would be affected that much by the well-known Bruce, especially given that he was kind of shaky special effects already even when the film was brand new in the 70s. However Spielberg managed to create one of the most tense viewing experiences I have had in a while – certainly for a film that could not be considered to belong to the horror genre.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the ocean – a by-product of not being a very strong swimmer – but Jaws has cemented my disinclination to enter the ocean of my own free will. I was genuinely on the edge of my seat for a lot of the Act 3 climax and even some of the bits leading up to it – especially when Bruce makes his way into the supposedly child-safe zone. For all that Jaws is considered a thriller very little actually takes place, certainly narratively. We see very little of the surrounding area of Amity Beach and understandably spend most of our time at the beach which situates the action in a very narrow landscape that is at the same time also vast due to the nature of the ocean.

Roy Scheider, as Chief Martin Brody, has an extraordinarily difficult time trying to convince the “powers-that-be” of Amity Beach that there are certain measures that need to be taken to avoid disaster and as such you can’t help but empathise with him. We’ve all struggled against the kind of stubborn stupidity that is driven by money at one time or another. He’s a kind of quiet, nervous man who takes his time to observe everything around him before forming an opinion and taking action. Of course this doesn’t help him in trying to exert his authority over the boisterous residents of the holiday town that is Amity Beach. Neither does the fact that he is an outsider. Perhaps that is why I find his performance quite so powerful. His fear of the ocean is something that I kind of took on as my own which made the film all the more nail-biting.

“His Hitchcockian slights of hand clearly worked, as this cleverly scripted (by Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, while Shaw’s infamous “Indianapolis” speech has been attributed to John Milius), tautly directed tale remains the scariest ocean-set movie ever made.” (600) The iconic line of “we’re going to need a bigger boat” actually does nothing to indicate the rich script that flows throughout the film. Sure there are a number of characters who are men of few words but still the script is employed brilliantly. It doesn’t flood the pivotal scenes with unnecessary dialogue and instead allows the action to take centre stage. I think what I found the most inspiring about Jaws was the fact that you don’t need incredible special-effects and lots of blood and gore to create something that leaves your audience genuinely terrified. I guess it’s because it plays on our natural fear and the fact that a shark attack could actually happen. And to think that this is one of Spielberg’s earliest feature-length films. He has certainly cemented himself as one of my favourite directors partly because he has the ability to master so many wide and varied genres. If like me you have somehow made it through quite a large portion of your life without having seen Jaws then I really recommend it. You also have no excuse as it’s now on Netflix so go watch … and then let me know how long it is before you venture into the ocean without that niggling little doubt that Bruce might be waiting for you!

 

The Greatest Showman

Director: Michael Gracey

Nominated for: Best Original Song

Firstly – let me once again apologise for my seeming consistent inability to post on a regular basis. I was on such a role with the Oscars nominations and had left my standout favourite film til last to review and then got carried away with real life and the show I was doing took over which resulted in me dropping this blog (again!!) Anyhow the show has now finished and I can return to some semblance of a relaxed life and am now aiming to pick this up slightly more regularly. On that note – here is my review for The Greatest Showman … finally.

The_Greatest_Showman_posterThe Greatest Showman came out just before Christmas here in the UK and got pretty lacklustre reviews amongst the industry but the public don’t really listen to those critics and this seems to have become an instant cult classic – it is still showing in cinemas now (almost 6 months after its initial release) and yet comes out on DVD next week! And that’s without all the special sing-along screenings that have been taking place for the last couple of months. I should know – I’ve been to a few of those myself. Not only has the film done incredibly well in terms of sales but the soundtrack … oh the soundtrack! The soundtrack is outstanding and has had an exceptional run on the Top 100 US Billboard which is almost unheard of for a film musical soundtrack. The songs are uplifting and instant classics – they remain in your head for weeks after.

In fact at the first sing-along event we did at The Prince Charles Cinema (which happened to be the first one in the country) we had Michael Gracey, the director, in attendance and he said that they wrote songs for months and months in the pre-production period and if they weren’t humming the song the next day then it got scrapped and they started again. You can definitely tell that this process worked well for the film. I think it was an absolute travesty that “This Is Me” didn’t win Best Original Song at the Oscars … especially as it was the only live performance on the night that was actually in turn and understandable!! Not only is “This Is Me” a spectacular song it is also one of the standout moments in film that I have seen for a long time. The slow-mo jump gives me instantaneous goosebumps every time I see it. It’s such a clever piece of filming that is in complete sync with the soundtrack. 

I also can’t understand how the only nomination it garnered was for Best Original Song when the Costume and Hair and Makeup for The Greatest Showman is brilliant. The costumes are gorgeous and rich, full of colour and style. And then the makeup – they made a bearded lady, a wolf boy, a guy who is tattooed over 90% of his body and gave a guy an extra leg but you know, none of that is worthy of recognition from the Academy.

I was pleasantly surprised with Michelle Williams and her performance, not so much the acting as I knew she was a brilliant actress already, but I didn’t know she could dance or sing as well as she does. Rebecca Ferguson is not a hugely sympathetic character in her role as Jenny Lind. But it does highlight that Gracey and Jackman did not shy away from the fact that P. T. Barnum isn’t always a nice guy. In fact sometimes he’s a bit of a schmuck and gets completely swept up in his new project and drops his family and the people most important to him.

This is the sort of musical that really suits Hugh Jackman – gotta say I wasn’t too impressed with him as Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables (Tom Hooper, 2012) – and this really restored my opinion that he is a consummate showman. However I think my favourite performance was actually Zac Efron as Phillip. Efron truly is in his element here – this is what he does best. He is a magnificent singer and an exquisite dancer. While I acknowledge there are some factions who find Efron a bit of a joke, and it is true that he has played off his looks in the last couple of years, but I have always been a fan of Efron (ever since his appearance in Firefly, Joss Whedon, 2002) and have staunchly been waving his flag throughout the dubious ‘comedies’ he’s done recently. So to see him at his best in this was something of a validation. He didn’t even take his top off once so you can’t say I was blinded by his amazing body. I love his character development as Phillip as well. He goes from being this society playboy just coasting through life on his father’s name and money to someone who actually has opinions of his own and is not afraid to stand up for them. The duet between Efron and Zendaya is also a marvel of filmmaking, or rather stunts, as they did all that aerial work themselves – while singing! 

I think the overwhelming feeling I took away from The Greatest Showman is that the entire film is very life-affirming. It’s message is very much one that says love yourself as you are with all your flaws and imperfections as you’re beautiful just the way you are. That’s a fantastic message to be putting out in the world especially considering what a shallow, looks-orientated community we currently live in. And I think this may have a lot to do with its continuing success – it’s really touched anyone who has felt different, stance, unwelcome, or a little bit left out at some time in their life … and let’s face it everyone has had one of those moments. It’s a film that celebrates otherness and the outcasts and that’s a great thing. I honestly love this film. It’s completely taken me over and I recommend it to anyone. Every single person can find something to relate to in this film which I think is a rare thing in Hollywood. Even if you’re not usually a musical person I urge you to go and see this film … it’s worth it I promise!!IMG_4613

 

Mudbound

Director: Dee Rees

Nominated for: Best Supporting Actress; Best Original Song; Best Adapted Screenplay; Best Cinematography

The way we watch films is changing with cinemas no longer being the only place to see a movie – in fact we’re inundated not only with new ways to watch but also new companies entering the movie-making field what with Amazon and Netflix not only streaming but creating their own content. And nowhere is that more evident than the fact that Mudbound is a Netflix original film that has been nominated for the Oscars. Not only is it the first feature film I can think of that has been nominated for an Oscar made that has been made by someone other than a big Hollywood movie studio but it’s also responsible for garnering the first nomination for a female in the cinematography category.

lead_960Mudbound was an interesting viewing experience as the material is quite difficult. It raises some stark questions especially given the somewhat turbulent times we’re currently living in. I did find the friendship that develops between Jamie McAllen (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) an intriguing one that completely overlooks the differences between the two men. They’re brought together by shared experiences that no-one else in their little Southern town could possibly imagine, having fought in World War II. It’s kind of refreshing to see. They’re both slightly damaged by those experiences and yet realise that the world is so much bigger than their old hometown and their stupid prejudices.

Not only was Mary J Blige making history by being the first person nominated in both the Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song categories in the same year but this was also the film that garnered the first nomination for a female cinematographer, Rachel rachel-morrison-e1516715520872Morrison. It think it’s great that the women in the more technical aspects of filmmaking are finally being recognised for the work they do. However for me there were some moments in Mudbound that were pretty dark in terms of the way they were lit and because I was watching it during the day (with no curtains) this meant that there were some key moments of the film that I missed as I just couldn’t see them.

Mary J Blige was almost unrecognisable as Florance Jackson – for me she looks like similar to a young Whoopi Goldberg. There’s a quite power and strength to her character which comes from her situation. Carey Mulligan is as usual exceptional as Laura McAllen – torn between two very different brothers and the lifestyle that she was promised and the one she ended up with. Jason Clarke does well as the rather ineffectual Henry McAllen – few opinions of his own, aspirations that remain unmet resulting in a frustration with his life and remains forever in the shadow of his overbearing father, Papa, played by Jonathan Banks. Papa is despicable! He’s the worst sort of person in this time period and makes for rather uncomfortable watching.

The whole film is kind of difficult to watch due to the themes touched on, such as the rampant racism that was still rife during the 1940s, but nothing is as harrowing as the scenes involving the vile Ku Klux Klan. There is something so despicable about that cult that you cannot help but be revolted by the very sight of them. The treatment of Ronsel is horrendous and I confess I did watch through my fingers while simultaneously crying my eyes out. And Papa is the driving force behind those scenes which just adds to the intense dislike I felt for his character.

e5d2fca2b1dd5e06fa40bd341116af9c11bf26aeSurprisingly there was a happy ending of sorts to Mudbound which I wasn’t really expecting. It’s kind of a strange film to sum up because I can’t really say I enjoyed it … it’s not that sort of film. But I did come away from it thinking about just how far we have come as a species and then equally how far we still have to go in order to live in a world where everyone is treated equally regardless of things like race, sexuality, gender and so on. Mudbound was definitely a film that make me think and was shot beautifully so for that reason I would recommend it. Just be prepared to be disgusted with some aspects of humanity.