Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan

Director: Larry Charles

2006

So I had previously never watched this film before deciding to work my way through 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and I had no desire to. I wish I still hadn’t seen it as I think it is just vile.

While Baron Cohen’s accent never drops Borat is a character in a similar vein to his other characters (Ali G; Bruno) – taken to the extreme, no social awareness and pretty crude. I have to admit that Ali G In Da House (2002) was sort of funny when it first came out but I was 15 at the time and I like to think that my sense of humour has matured since then. I prefer films which have slightly more subtle jokes in than the blatant jokes about a number of taboos, including sexuality, disability, race, that litter Borat. Anti-Semitism is never funny whatever the situation … even in a so-called satirical comedy! The outdated view on women gets on my nerves and may go a way to explaining why I don’t like the film.

The film is targeted at teenage boys with base humour, going entirely for outrage. I found that the few times I did laugh it was more the nervous laughter of incredulity of just what Baron Cohen was doing on-screen rather than genuine amusement. It spawned a number of catchphrases and the unfortunate item of clothing that is the mankini … it just doesn’t look good on anyone!!

“Characterized as a Kazakh elite, Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) is equal parts depthless innocence and stark bigotry. Tall, thin, mustachioed and eager to please, his half-digested slang, anti-Semitism, and pre-modern ideas about socially appropriate behavior allow him to play the buffoon. But these same traits telescope circumstances, forcing people to mis-recognize Baron Cohen’s performance as fact, sometimes demonstrating their worst traits in remarkably bald fashion.”  (Garrett Chaffin-Quiray, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 916) While Borat can be seen as a negative portrayal of foreigners and their customs it is an equally negative portrayal of Americans and their unwillingness to embrace anyone who is slightly different.

“Watching our bumpkin wander into the wide world and discover he’s a rube and philosopher, the brunt of his adventures actually falls on his interview subjects who presume their superiority, thereby exposing themselves as hate-mongers and fools.” (Garrett Chaffin-Quiray, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 916) I have to admit that he has been very clever in the way he manages to expose the ignorance and prejudices of the people he encounters on his travels, but that isn’t enough to redeem it in my eyes.

How did it do so well? Am I just not getting it at all? I really do not see the charm of this film at all and its 2 hours of my life that I would quite happily have back!!

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The Postman Always Rings Twice

Director: Tay Garnett

1946

There is something magical about old black and white movies. I think it has to do with the way they are shot and lit that creates a soft glow around certain images – usually the female character.

R. Barton Palmer says “with white costuming and glamorizing lighting Turner becomes the visual center of the story” which is certainly true. She draws the eye in every scene she is in, not just because she is beautiful but because she is often the lightest part of a fairly dark screen. The decision to put Lana Turner’s Cora in white clothes gives her a sense of innocence – not something usually associated with the femme fatale in a film noir. Once Turner puts on a black costume towards the end of the film the difference is palpable – no longer is she the innocent victim she spent the majority of the film portraying. She also doesn’t draw attention in the same way, merging into the drab interiors of the diner.

In some ways Turner isn’t your typical femme fatale, with her feelings for Frank (John Garfield) seemingly genuine. Cora feels trapped in a somewhat boring marriage with an inattentive husband, which is heightened through the use of tight framing throughout. She is immediately drawn to Frank but tries to ignore the attraction while being pushed towards him unintentionally by her husband Nick (Cecil Kellaway). Cora only begins to assert herself when Nick announces his plan to sell their diner – setting off her journey to becoming a femme fatale in the proper sense of the word. At the beginning of the film there is a lack of any sort of manipulation which is a typical convention of the film noir genre.

Cora and Frank grow to resent one another due to their actions but ultimately resolve their issues. However like all other noir films there is a moral to the story – neither Cora or Frank live ‘happily ever after’ as there are consequences to ones’ actions. It’s fitting that Cora comes to the same end as the one utilized to cover up Nick’s murder.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is a slow burning film noir – indeed for the first 25 minutes plays more like a romance than a noir. Then comes the spark of idea about removing Nick from the picture and the film transforms into a more recognizably noir film. Even then the plot moves slowly. I have to say that I’m not a fan of The Postman Always Rings Twice as I find it plodding and pedestrian especially when you put it alongside other film noir movies.

The Great Train Robbery

Director: Edwin S. Porter

1903

“Most histories regard The Great Train Robbery as the first Western, initiating a genre that was in a few short years to come the most popular in American cinema.” (Edward Buscombe, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 22) Despite this being disputed over the years, Buscombe states that “train robberies had since the days of Jesse James been part of Western lore, and other iconic elements such as six-shooters, cowboy hats, and horses all serve to give the film a genuine Western feel.”

Overall the film feels quite wooden and stilted. Having said that it is more to do with the acting then the narrative. And there is definitely a narrative – a rather complex one when you consider that cinema was still very much in its infancy in 1903! Not only is there a narrative but it is a multi-stringed one that initially follows the robbers but returns to their first victim who raises the alarm resulting in the downfall of the villains. Even just a year after Le Voyage dans la Lune the editing is already so much smoother. It has a surprisingly large cast of extras with a seemingly unending line of passengers being removed from the train.

I find the use of music in silent films (as an accompaniment of course!) interesting, especially when you consider how many rave reviews The Artist is attracting at the moment. I think sometimes we underestimate the storytelling power music can have and take it for granted in cinema today. Maybe the success of The Artist is a forerunner to seeing a return to stellar musical scores accompanying films in a more prominent storytelling role rather than being relegated to background noise.

The scene with the gunman shooting directly at the screen (placed at the end in the version I watched) is the most striking image of the whole film. Partly because it is the one scene where you can see any sort of detail but also because it is directed at the audience. There is no escaping it. Having said that it could be seen as breaking the illusion of film by drawing attention to the fact that we are watching something created within a camera but that may just be a modern take on it.

Surprisingly I didn’t hate it which is unusual for me as Westerns tend to bore me – it probably as something to do with the fact that the film is only 12 minutes long! I can see in it where a lot of the conventions of the Western genre originate and grow from … more so than the science-fiction conventions within Le Voyage dans la Lune I have to say. This may be due to the Western genre staying essentially the same where as the science-fiction genre has expanded more to include an enormous variety of narratives, conventions and themes.

Le Voyage dans la Lune

Director: George Melies

1902

“Generally considered the first example of science-fiction cinema. It offers many elements characteristic of the genre – a spaceship, the discovery of a new frontier – and establishes most of its conventions.” (Chiara Ferrari, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 20)

Imagine what it must have been like to watch this for the first time in 1902! Watching it now in 2012 it is understandably quite clunky but you have to remember that at the time Le Voyage dans la Lune was groundbreaking and just beginning to utilize techniques that have now become commonplace such as the dissolves. In some ways it is not only the first science-fiction movie but also the first special effects movie.

Watching it again my initial thought to the opening scene is that Professor Lupin’s office/classroom in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) bears a rather striking resemblance to the room the astronomers meet in which shows just how much it is still influencing work over 100 years later.

It is by no means the smoothest piece of filmmaking ever but that just makes it all the more delightful to watch. And the cuts are clearly noticeable unlike films today when the editing is so smooth the audience hardly realize it is there at all. The framing is out of sorts, with people’s heads cut off as well as some of the action, but people were still learning – or rather creating – the rules of this new media at the time.

Melies clearly drew on his theatrical background – capturing many of the techniques employed on stage in a camera instead. However he also uses superimposition to show off just what was capable in the new ‘moving pictures’.

“Melies was able to offer a fantasy constructed for pure entertainment. He opened the doors to feature film artists by visually expressing his creativity in a way utterly uncommon to movies at the time.” (Chiara Ferrari, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 20) Without Melies we wouldn’t now have directors like James Cameron, who pushes new digital techniques past their limits (Avatar, 2009) or Christopher Nolan, who creates as many ‘special effects’ in camera as possible (Inception, 2010).

La Voyage dans la Lune is a remarkable piece of cinematic history and kind of charming to watch even now. The face of cinema as we know it today owes a great debt to George Melies!!

Beverly Hills Cop

Director: Martin Brest

1984

Joanna Berry says “what a different movie Beverly Hills Cop would have been had Sylvester Stallone, who was originally attached to the project, been the lead actor” (1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 707) She couldn’t have been more right! It certainly wouldn’t have been a comedy. However with funny man Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley Beverly Hills Cop has become one of the most well-known comedies to come out of the 1980s. And he is definitely at his fast-talking, wise cracking best … still in is prime after the misses of films like Pluto Nash (2002), Norbit (2007) and Meet Dave (2008).

Beverly Hills Cop just screams 80s but then I’m watching it in 2012 and therefore the nostalgic element is automatically added.

Many 1980s films employed urban settings and Beverly Hills Cop is no different with street-wise and savvy characters. Brest keeps the two cities very different – Detroit is grimy, dirty and a bit behind the times with schlubby old cops while Beverly Hills is clean, shiny and massively high-tech with cops that could moonlight as models – with Foley as a fish-out-of-water linking the two. He never seems to quite fit in either town.

The ‘Axel F’ theme is iconic and well matched with the action. It is always associated with Axel Foley. Having said that however it has fallen foul of the mind numbingly annoying Crazy Frog that tortured us all a few years ago (I always want to add a ding ding to the end of the song!)

Beverly Hills Cop showcases not only Eddie Murphy’s comedic talent but also just his ability to act – switching from a concerned camp guy to the straight talking cop at the drop of a hat, not forgetting his angry tirade in the hotel lobby!

John Aston’s stereotypical doughnut eating old detective, John Taggart and Judge Reinhold’s fresh-faced, naive rookie, Billy Rosewood, move past those stereotypes through their interaction with Axel. It has some interesting minor characters as well like Serge who demonstrate brilliantly some of the “sharp digs at the all-style-no-substance LA lifestyle” (Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 707) Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff) is typically a European baddie , extremely cold and calculating. Women seem to play a secondary role in this film, only there to fill in the background as secretaries or hotel staff, or in the case of Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher) to move the story on.

The 1980s spewed out a number of buddy cop films and television programmes but Beverly Hills Cop tends to stand out due to the fact that Axel works without a partner … while Taggart and Rosewood support him they ever become his partners (the only other cop similar to Axel at the time is Bruce Willis’ John McClane from the Die Hard series). I think that I actually prefer some of the other cop films from the 80s to Beverly Hills Cop but I can see why it is as popular as it is.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Director: John Ford

1962

I have to say that I am not a fan of Westerns and therefore have not seen many (I can only think of Calamity Jane, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and Brokeback Mountain … which is a Western in the loosest sense of the word!) The lead is John Wayne under the direction of John Ford – both names synonymous with the Western genre – so I was kind of expecting greatness. 

The opening 10 minutes have a sense of melancholia and loss about them. It doesn’t have the same sweeping vistas and epic scale that are associated with the Western genre and consequentially has an almost claustrophobic feel to it. Kim Newman says it was “shot in black and white on a soundstage to avoid the lyricism of Ford’s Monument Valley epics” (1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 404)- this results in the film having a tangible sense of enclosure.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is basically a love triangle which results in a betrayal. Hallie, played by Vera Miles, is another strong female character – you seem to get them more often in the Western genre. However despite being more than capable of running a ranch the women still always seem to need rescuing or protecting by the men.

Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang are blatant bully boys and destined to come to a sticky end – even if it wasn’t already obvious from the title! James Stewart and John Wayne, as Ransom Stoddard and Tom Doniphon respectively, are at loggerheads from the very start with different views on how to resolve issues but always linked by their shared love of Hallie. I don’t know if it is just because I don’t enjoy Westerns or when the film was made but it seems to me almost a caricature of cowboys and prairie women.

As I haven’t seen any of Ford’s earlier films I cannot really compare the change in his directorial style that Newman alludes to when he says “as if explaining away the evasions and downright lies of his earlier Westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance finds John Ford concluding that if the legend is better than the truth, then you should ‘print the legend'”(1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, 404).

I have to say that this hasn’t gone very far at all in convincing me to watch any other Westerns (though undoubtedly I will as there are a number in 1001 Movies You Must Watch Before You Die) and I still wouldn’t choose to watch a Western.

Oscars Nominations 2012

Today was Oscar Nominations day in Hollywood … a day when anyone even half serious about films eagerly awaits the announcement  to then pass judgement on the Academy’s decisions. And of course to begin making predictions as to who will be taking home a shiny new Oscar by the end of February!

So what did I think of the nominations? Well I shall tell you below … though I will try to keep it short.

Best Picture – My initial reaction to the films vying for the coveted Best Picture Oscar is that The Artist seems the most likely to win at this moment in time … the buzz surrounding this film is immense. I can’t see Hugo winning as it is a fantasy film aimed at children and fantasy does not have a stellar history of winning at the Oscars (which makes The Lord of the Rings sweep in 2004 even more remarkable!) but then sometimes the Academy surprises you. So far I have only seen one of the films nominated … Warhorse and while it is a beautiful film it just doesn’t have the magic that the play has.

Best Actor – I would love Gary Oldman to win … partly because I am British but more importantly because he is an incredible actor and deserves to get some recognition from the Academy. Having said that I have a feeling that it may be George Clooney’s year this year … after all he has been in a number of well received films this year.

Best Actress – Meryl Streep would be the obvious one for me here but she is nominated for playing a British prime minister and as much as it pains me to say sometimes the Academy can be a tad snobbish when it comes to the British film industry. I would love Michelle Williams to scoop this one … again another incredibly talented but overlooked actor.

Best Supporting Actor – Initial thought is I want Kenneth Branagh to win.  However not having seen any of the films nominated I can’t really comment all that much.

Best Supporting Actress – Again haven’t seen any of the films nominated so can’t comment in any detail. The Help seems to be pulling a lot of weight in this category so may emerge triumphant. Although I’m not sure how I feel about one film receiving 2 nominations in one category as I don’t think it is entirely fair (I felt the same last year when The Fighter got 2 nominations in one category … potentially the same one)

Best Director – Think it’s pretty much gonna be between The Artist and Martin Scorsese for Hugo. Of course Woody Allen is a big name director and could scoop it.

I’m gonna leave it from there having covered the main categories. Though before I go I will say this …

It does not surprise me that while Harry Potter has done well in the technical categories it has bypassed all the major ones as it is an extremely British film franchise with only one American actor that I can think of off the top of my head. On top of that it is essentially a fantasy film aimed at children. I just can’t understand how the biggest film franchise in the world has been overlooked for the major categories at the most prestigious awards ceremony in the film community.

I intend to watch as many of the nominated films as I can before the awards at the end of February so that I can actually make a fairly informed decision so keep an eye out people for more updates and opinions on the subject of the 84th Academy Awards.