The Tree Of Life

Director: Terrence Malick

2011

“[The Tree of Life] has divided audiences more radically than almost any other ilm so far this century. For its supporters, The Tree of Life is a masterpiece – a sublime spiritual mediation on life, destiny, childhood, memory, and our place in the universe. For its detractors, who booed it heartily at its premiere at the 2011 Cannes Festival (where it went on to win the Palme D’Or), it’s a windy, pretentious self-indulgence that makes naive gestures toward cosmic significance.” (932, Philip Kemp, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) I am quite firmly placed in the detractors camp and have been since I watched The Tree of Life for the first time. I’m not sure I would have booed it had I been at Cannes but I definitely came away feeling confused and disappointed, a feeling that if anything has only increased with watching the film again.

Tree of LifeThe Tree of Life has virtually no plot” (932) which meant I often lost focus. I said in my previous review that it wouldn’t be out-of-place in an art gallery and I stand by it. It would be perfect as an installation somewhere but I don’t think it works as a feature film.

As Kemp says “what both camps agree upon, though, is that it’s breathtakingly lovely to look at.’ (932) and that is undeniably true. While I don’t like the film as a whole I can certainly appreciate the incandescent visuals created under the talented eye of Emmanuel Lubezki, whose nomination for Cinematography was richly deserved. I liked that many of the shots are from unusual perspectives or focus on different aspects within the frames as well as the recurring images of hands, sky and trees, usually shot from a low upward angle.

“Controversy over the film homes in on a seventeen-minute chapter that erupts unheralded into the narrative: a wordless history of the universe from galactic eruptions through protozoic life-forms to computer generated dinosaurs.”(932) I am right there with the controversy. I was extremely confused by the appearance of the dinosaurs. They are rendered beautifully but they seem so out-of-place which is saying something in a film with no plot or narrative. It’s almost as if someone has spliced a section of the wrong film into it during the editing process but for the fact it was edited digitally.

Sadly I don’t think the arresting visuals are enough to truly hold my attention and I doubt I will watch it again.

The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

2011

So some of you may remember that I was not a fan of The Artist. Well now I’m back to tell you that after repeated viewings my opinion of it has not changed much. And if it has than I don’t think it’s for the better. Much of Simon Ward’s review in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die I disagree with, most especially “as a loving tribute to the days when actions spoke louder than words, The Artist is charming and irresistible.” (943) I do not think it is charming and irresistible. In fact I find it immensely annoying and overblown. I do however agree with his statement that “[…] it features the best performance by a dog since Toto.” (943) because Uggi is brilliant. He’s such a talented animal and adorable in his doggy behavior. He’s pretty much the only thing I actually enjoy about the film.Uggi The Artist

Ludovic Bource‘s score is incredible and as I said before it is the driving force behind the narrative. “Dialogue is expressed using intertitles, and Ludovic Bource’s jazzy score guides you through the narrative.” (943) Yes the dialogue is told through inter-titles but not all the dialogue and I’m not a good enough lip reader to follow it all. This just left me feeling frustrated that I was missing out on much of the story.

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are incredibly versatile and expressive. The entire cast is. There is a much more physical element o every performance within this ilm. “The actors tap back into the forgotten art of silent movie acting, expressing themselves through their facial expressions and mannerisms.” (943)The Artist Jean Dujardin Berenice Bejo

I do still feel that both Peppy and George’s stories are cautionary tales about fame. Peppy’s shows that fame cannot buy you happiness while George’s shows that fame and wealth are fleeting and you shouldn’t take anything for granted. And yet for me that still isn’t enough to keep me interested in the film. Berenice Bejo is beautiful and charismatic in her performance as Peppy. She does indeed light up the screen whenever she is on camera. She is probably the most interesting person to watch but sadly not interesting enough to change my mind about the film.

Jean Dujardin as George gives a solid performance and charts the downward slide of a star unwilling to embrace the advent of new technology well enough although I am now sure that the performance was not the best performance by an actor nominated in the 2012 Oscars, especially after having just recently re-watched George Clooney in The Descendants.

The costumes and sets are divine with the effortless glamor that seems so intrinsic to the 1920s era. And yet so much of the detail is lost through the decision to film it in black and white. Yes I know that all films during the silent film era were shot in black and white so it was really the only choice Hazanavicius had but I personally feel it flattens and deadens the image.

I still feel that The Artist doesn’t really have any conviction in itself as a silent film and not just due to the fact that Hazanavicius breaks from the actual format of a silent film and as dialogue in the closing minutes. I also think having the heightened sounds in George’s nightmare is a break from the format of a silent film. I think this is what my problem with The Artist is. if you are going to take a chance and return to making films the way they were being made at the inception of the cinematic medium then at least have enough faith in your vision to keep it true to the art form you are trying to emulate.

I can understand how some people would argue that The Artist is a return to a purer form of filmmaking but I disagree and I stand by my previous statement that there was obviously a reason why silent films have not endured the same way as ‘talkies’ have. And I am now decided that it will take a huge amount to get me to watch this film again. Twice is enough for me.

 

 

Forrest Gump

Director: Robert Zemeckis

1994

“A brisk trot through events in American history from the 1950s until the 1980s as seen through the eyes of one man. Forrest Gump succeeds as both epic and character study.” (829, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I don’t think I have ever seen a film with Tom Hanks in that I have disliked. He has to be one of the most likable actors in Hollywood – and he is one of the most talented to boot! Forrest Gump is another shining example of what a splendid actor Hanks is. Once again, as with his role in , Big (1988, Penny Marshall) he takes his cue from the actor playing his younger counterpart which adds a sense of continuity to the character. So much of the narrative of the film rests squarely on Hanks’ shoulders and he pulls it off effortlessly. Forrest is a remarkable character and it’s hard to think of anyone who could have played the part to the same caliber Hanks did – he really was the perfect casting.

Much of the film is told through flashbacks as Forrest relates his remarkable life story to a number of strangers waiting for the bus. An aspect that I really liked was the fact that Hanks does not age past his late teens. I think that by keeping the makeup simple, and not aging him through layers of prosthetics, keeps a more natural feel to the narrative. Now I know that in reality a more natural feel would be to have him visibly aging but I think the choice works. It remains in keeping with the simple feel of the film and allows the audience to focus on the emotions and Hanks’ stellar performance rather than on any technical wizardry.  “Over the next three decades, this simple man meets John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon; becomes a Vietnam war hero (saving “Lieutenant Dan”, his grumpy superior brilliantly portrayed by Gary Sinise); and later a shrimp tycoon.” (829)Lieutenant Dan Gary Sinise

Hanks is ably supported by an excellent cast including the wonderful Sally Fields, is determined mother, and of course Gary Sinise as the crotchety Lieutenant Dan. The one weak link for me is Robin Wright as Jenny. As Joanna Berry says “[t]he love story between Jenny and Forrest is somewhat unconvincing – she seems to turn up only when she needs help, which makes her character less sympathetic.” (829) And I think this is very true.Forrest Jenny

“[…] works best as the moving story of an honest, innocent man (superbly played by Hanks, who modeled his distinctive accent on that of Michael Corner, who plays Forrest as a boy), and as a mediation on the latter half of the last century, made possible by computer trickery that places Hanks – to often hilarious effect – in old footage of notable events.” (829) I love the way they have slotted Forrest into various moments of history – even I as a Brit know all the key moments. Not only is it technically a clever achievement, especially considering it was the early ’90s, but they add to the comedy of the narrative and highlight the remarkable life Forrest has led.Forrest Meets J.F.K

I think my favorite moment of Forrest being inserted into old footage is the chat show with John Lennon where the lyrics of Imagine are bandied about in conversation. Equally amusing however is when he is the unwitting cause of the Watergate scandal, and Nixon’s subsequent departure, being discovered. Forrest’s matter of fact recitations of all the assassinations during that period strengthen the continued disbelief that such events could happen.

Forrest Gump Jr and SrForrest is an endearing character which comes across strongly when he recounts his life history. All these incredible opportunities fall into his lap and he has no idea how amazing they are. Hanks is the constant – his appearance and costume rarely change much, with the exception of his variety of military uniforms during his service. He is very much the centre of the film both emotionally and narratively. His love for his son is delightful to behold especially when he knows just how smart his boy is. Although Forrest seems oblivious to his differences his worry that his son may have a low I.Q. shows the audience that in fact this is not the case.Forrest Gump Tom Hanks

Forrest Gump is a beautiful film and one that further solidifies my opinion that Tom Hanks is one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. You can’t help but fall in love with Forrest Gump!

The Descendants

Director: Alexander Payne

2011

The Descendants is Payne delivering what he does best: a grown-up, melancholy story about life, filled with humor and heartbreak.” (941, Simon Ward, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) The Descendants is set in an idyllic location – the beautiful verdant islands of Hawaii. But like Clooney’s Matt says at the start – “My friends on the mainland think because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We’re all just out here sipping mai tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we’re immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our cancers less fatal, our heartaches less painful?” That opening statement sums up and sets the tone for the film.

“The legacy bestowed upon Matt, his relationship with his own descendants, and inescapable familial bonds press in on him from all sides, and he is forced to decide what is important in his life and how his choices affect others.” (941) The young actors playing Matt’s troubled girls, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) are both excellent. Yes Alex is the typical screwed up teenager who has problems with everything from drink and drugs to authority figures. And yet she is pretty mature at handling the act of switching her mother off life support albeit while maintaining a major potty mouth throughout the whole ordeal. her friend Sid (Nick Krause) who she insists on staying with her, initially comes across as a stoned surfer guy. However as appears to be a theme within the story, there is more to him than what you first see. Having also recently lost a parent he is a key person in Alex’s life – someone her own age who understands exactly what she is going through. And he’s pretty good at looking after Scottie when needed. Scottie is just at the age where she can really understand what is happening and it’s evident in her behavior. She is most definitely testing Matt and is much underused parenting skills.The Descendants Sid

Clooney is exceptional in the lead role. He gives such a powerful and emotionally charged performance. What I particularly like is the quiet way he chose to play Matt, a husband faced with not only having to let his wife die but also discovering her infidelity at the same time. And on top of that he is trying to placate his entire family of numerous cousins during the decision to sell their land. He keeps his emotions strongly in check and only lets his sadness show when on his own. His farewell to his wife, Elizabeth, is moving and somehow beautiful to watch. Despite being angry with her (and justifiably so considering she was cheating on him) he is still having to say goodbye to the love of his life. I still think he deserved to win the Oscar for Best Actor – his performance, for me anyway, far outshone that of Jean Dujardin!

The Descendants HawaiiThe locations are stunning, so lush and vibrant; it literally is a paradise. In some ways the decision to set the film in Hawaii makes the tragedy of the story more tangible. The music is very heavily Hawaiian which gives the soundtrack a tribal feel to it – again it fits with the “[…] core ideas […] of family, heritage, and responsibility.” (941)

The Descendants is a beautiful and touching film and I think Payne ends it wonderfully. The simple image of the reduced family coming together in silent acceptance. There is a sense of hope, despite everything they have been through they have emerged stronger and closer than they were before the unfortunate accident that is the catalyst for the entire narrative. The Descendants Clooney

Warhorse

Director: Steven Spielberg

2011

“Some viewers have criticized its sentimentality. However, if some of the early scenes, as well as the final sequence, are overly romanticized, they only serve to reinforce the horror of the trenches.” (938)

I’m still adamant that the play is far superior to the film but then as I’ve said before I saw the play first and was, and remain, absolutely enchanted by it. Since writing my review for the film when it was nominated for the Oscars I have spoken to a couple of my friends about it. Interestingly they saw the film first and preferred it to the play. I still feel that the characterizations suffer from moving onto the big screen and can’t quite understand why certain characters were both omitted and added when there was such a wealth of them both in the novel and the play.

John Williams really is an extraordinarily talented composer which is just highlighted with another beautiful score to add to his outstanding repertoire of work. Like I said previously there are enough similarities to the music used in the play while at the same time he creates something new and suited to the film.

War Horse Cumberbatch HiddlesTom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch are still the standout human performances for me despite only being in the film for about 30 minutes. Hiddleston’s Captain Nicholls has a tangible sense of compassion – he understands the bond forged between Joey and Albert. And the dawning realization on his face during that fatal charge that this style of warfare was no match for guns. In a single look Hiddleston manages to convey the truly senseless loss of so many animals. And in a much subtler way than the shot of a field strewn with the bodies of dead horses.War Horse Hiddleston Joey

While I still feel that the film loses a lot of the magic that makes the plays so special I do like all the little nods Spielberg includes, particularly the inclusion of the goose – a much-loved puppet in the play. I am beginning to see the beauty of the film the more I watch it. The cinematography is gorgeous. It has very definite styles as well. The beginning of the film is lush and bright. Gradually as the war continues the color begins to fade until we reach the desolate landscape of No Man’s Land. Towards the end of the film the color begins to return to the world, an infusion of healing, warm light that washes over everything.  “Their brief exchange, finding common ground in their concern for Joey, reminds us of the absurdity of this war and explains why Joey and Albert’s return home at the end of the film is bathed in such warm, welcoming light.” (938, Ian Hayden Smith, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Some of the most breath-taking scenes come out of No Man’s Land and this is one of the few areas where the film excels over the play. There just isn’t the scope on stage to recreate that infamous dead space of land yet there most definitely is the scope to do it justice in the media of film. Joey’s run through No Man’s Land takes your breath away. It’s an outstanding piece of cgi – one that you almost cannot tell is computer generated but for the fact they would never allow a real horse to go through that.War Horse Joey No Man's Land

Joey and Topthorn’s relationship translates pretty well to the big screen – in some ways it’s more believable than the core relationship of Joey and Albert. It’s surprisingly moving and emotional when Topthorn meets his end. And as much as I complain that the film can’t quite match the standard of the play I am still reduced to tears at Joey and Albert’s reunion and eventual return home.

It will be a long time, if ever, that the film will ever match the play in my eyes but the more I watch the film the more I can appreciate the masterful aesthetics that Spielberg created and the continued life he gave to Morpurgo’s beautifully touching story. It means that should the play ever stop running (which doesn’t look likely to happen any time soon) there will always be the film to ensure the story of an incredible horse endures, reminding us all about the sacrifice of so many animals oft forgotten.War Horse Joey

Bridesmaids

Director: Paul Feig

2011

Bridesmaids“Far from a frothy chick flick, Bridesmaids has a free wheeling, punky attitude, aided by its Blondie-influenced soundtrack and the performers’ knack for improvisation.” (940, Simon Ward, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Now I said in my last review of Bridesmaids when it was nominated at the 2012 Oscars that while I enjoyed it immensely I didn’t find it as laugh out loud funny as I was expecting it to be. I stand by part of that statement – it wasn’t as funny as I expected it to be … or as it was advertised to be. After all it was marketed as the female equivalent of The Hangover (2009, Todd Philips) However having now watched it again I have realized that I don’t enjoy it all that much. The comedy is just a bit too base and crude for me. Somehow, and I’m well aware of how sexist this is going to sound, it’s easier and more acceptable for men to be crude and vulgar in their humor. There are a number of occasions when I cringe and feel uncomfortable during this film and for me that does not make for a good comedy. It is possible to do lower humor well, American Pie (1999, Paul Weitz) is an excellent example, but I have found with a lot of recent comedies that they take the “humor” too far.

 “The movie is a foul-mouthed but surprisingly affecting recession-era romantic comedy about friends: a woman in the midst of an early mid-life crisis while her best friend is supposed to be having the happiest time of her life.” (940) The core relationship between Annie and Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is one every girl can relate to. And as an extension of that so is the intrusion of the perfect, shiny, new friend, played here so wonderfully by Rose Byrne. Her Helen is so sickeningly perfect and determined in her systematic undermining of Annie that you can’t help but relate to Annie.  Rose Byrne Bridesmaids

Chris O’Dowd once again brings his quiet understated comedy with him providing a sense of normality to an increasingly crazy set of events. He’s not necessarily your typical leading man, normally that would be John Hamm, and yet he is exactly what the film, and Annie (Kristen Wiig), needs. He has a stabilizing influence on the film. Hamm on the other hand is just as crazy as any of the others and a particularly unpleasant character. It’s certainly a departure from his suave character that made him a household name in Mad Men (2007 -, Matthew Weiner)Chris O'Dowd Bridesmaids

I also stand by my statement in my previous review that by far the funniest character was Melissa McCarthy‘s Megan, and her Oscar nomination was well deserved. Megan, while being crass and at times just downright revolting, is also the sweetest and most caring character in the film. She is the only one that sees what a hard time Annie is having, of all her friends, and goes out of her way to pull her out of the funk she is currently wallowing in.

Annie and Lillian come across as real friends. Some of the stuff they say to each other is outrageous but very true to the way girls are not only friends but also the way they fight with each other. While the film is billed as a rom-com what it really boils down to is a buddy movie between Annie and Lillian. Everyone else is just added scenery. Bridesmaids

Brief Encounter

Director: David Lean

1945

I didn’t find Brief Encounter a particularly sad film, as opposed to how Klein describes the film. “She and Howard are superlative in this saddest of stories, their every movement steeped in meaning and the sterling dialogue laced with deep emotion.” (209, Joshua Klein, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) It’s quite a subtle film – everything is quite sedate and understated. Although Laura (Celia Johnson) embarks on an affair with the handsome doctor, Alec (Trevor Howard) it’s a very controlled story. There is none of the sordidness you get with modern films when an affair is featured.

Brief Encounter Refreshment Room“[…] he exploited all the cinematic tools at his disposal; the lighting, for example, approaches the severe look of Lean’s subsequent Dickens adaptations, making the symbolic most of the dark, smoky station.” (209) The film is very atmospheric, especially when situated in the train station and I love the big station clock. I enjoyed the way almost the entirety of the narrative is delivered through Laura’s flashback. She’s very frank about the whole thing even though in reality she isn’t actually telling Fred anything. I found the lack of social commentary surprising. Although ultimately Laura ends the affair there isn’t any sense f their actions being condemned. They even walk along arm in arm discussing their other halves and nobody bats an eye. I guess I had just assumed that because the film was made in the mid 1940s it would take a more conservative approach towards the matter.

“[…] most importantly, Lean includes frequent close-ups of Johnson’s eyes, which tell a better story than most scripts.” (209) Celia Johnson has extremely expressive eyes and the emotional weight of the film comes across from her so strongly. She really is the very center of the entire film both narratively and emotionally. She drives the film and indeed much of the dialogue is Laura on her own, as so much is her telling the story through her internal confession to her unwitting husband.

Brief Encounter Celia Johnson Trevor HowardWithout a doubt my favorite scene is the final one but that’s more to do with already knowing the dialogue thanks to it being in my all time favorite film, The History Boys (2006, Nicholas Hytner) which everyone should watch by the way!

Brief Encounter as befits the name covers a fairly short amount of time – a few weeks of stolen moments; theirs was most definitely a short-lived affair and one that was more emotional than physical with only a few furtive kisses exchanged between the unlucky pair. It was more interesting than I thought it would be but by no means do I think it’s “[…] one of the most effective tearjerkers in cinema history” as Klein states. I’ve seen much sadder romance films, like The Notebook (2004, Nick Cassavetes) but then I wonder if it’s a generational thing that I find more modern films affect me more emotionally.