The Purple Rose of Cairo

Director: Woody Allen

1985

“This sublime nostalgic comedy avoids the usual Allen formula of “goofy New Yorkers having trouble with relationships. Both Woody Allen and his famous neurotic monologue are absent this time […]” (716, Dana Duma, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) This would explain why I actually liked The Purple Rose of Cairo! I was a little reluctant to watch this when I realised it was by Woody Allen as in my opinion he is one of the most overblown, egotistical writer/directors in Hollywood. So you can imagine my surprise when it turned out that I actually quite enjoyed The Purple Rose of Cairo. And I think it’s precisely due to the lack of Allen’s signature moves that this film was somewhat of a delight rather than a chore.

purple-rose-of-cairoIt’s a strange little film set in Depression era America so everything is a little bit muted and washed out, a little broken, and yet there is a charm to it all. Mia Farrow’s Cecilia starts out as this quiet, almost dejected young woman, continually put down by her louse of a husband and through her love of cinema blossoms into something entirely different. You can’t help but respond to Cecilia. And she really is the focus of the film – she’s the character that develops the most.

It’s quite a kooky thing which breaks a number of the norms of cinema such as breaking the fourth wall. And then there’s the combination of colour (the ‘real world’) and black and white film (the film Cecilia falls in love with) which adds some interesting dynamics to the  aesthetics of the film. Jeff Daniels is wonderful in portraying two very different characters, both leading men (one imaginary and one the actor responsible for creating him) each with flaws that somewhat diminish through their interaction with Cecilia.

While it is a somewhat ludicrous storyline – a character walks off the screen in the middle of a film because he falls in love with a member of the audience – there is something magical about it. As a cinema lover myself you can tell that this film was created by someone who does indeed love cinema. There is a reverence to the film although Allen is not afraid to make fun of the cinematic universe with some brilliantly tongue in cheek performances but some splendid actors such as the enormously talented Edward Herrmann.

“Above all, The Purple Rose of Cairo is about love, perhaps Allen’s greatest love of all: for cinema.” (716) I would definitely suggest this to people – especially if, like me, you have found Woody Allen’s work pretentious and overwrought in the past – as this turned out to be a wonderful little film.

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Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Director: Stanley Kubrick

1964

Dr Strangelove is a brilliant black comedy that works as political satire, suspense farce, and cautionary tale of technology running away with us.” (422, Angela Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

I’ve always found Stanley Kubrick to be a bit hit and miss for me – A Clockwork Orange (1971) is very much a hit for me but it turns out that Dr Strangelove is the opposite. It’s not really my sense of humour so it took me quite some time to bring myself to watching the entire film the whole way through. That could however have had something to do with the political climate we’re currently living in.

I watched Dr Strangelove during the politically tumultuous year of 2016 when the UK decided to create Brexit by leaving the EU (something I’m still not entirely happy with thank you very much!) and then descended even further into madness when America decided to vote in Donald Trump as the President Elect!! This made the events within Dr Strangelove very much a cautionary tale and suddenly the stupidity of the government didn’t seem quite so funny as it could be argued that the possibility of an outcome like this is remarkably higher than it has been in the past. And after all as Errigo says, “[T]he information about a doomsday device is factual, as are the Strategic Air Command operations and the B-52 crew’s procedures. The computers that take the situation beyond human intervention have only become more capable. Be afraid. Be very afraid.” (422)

drstrangelovespokeartposterbig01“Seller’s sidesplitting three performances are legend but the entire ensemble gives a masterclass in exaggerated, perfectly timed posturing. Two images are unforgettable – Kong astride the H-bomb, yee-hawing all the way down, and demented Dr. Strangelove, unable to stop his mechanical arm from flying into the Nazi salute and throttling himself.” (422) Peter Sellers portrays three very distinct characters within this film, all of who are a bit ineffectual. There is no denying which one has become most iconic and that is the demented Dr Strangelove himself. However I found myself a little underwhelmed by the whole thing. The President is a simpering idiot who doesn’t seem capable of making any decisions himself – and for some reason comes across as very British. I’m not really a fan of anything that is over exaggerated (melodramas are a tortuous waste of time) so there really wasn’t very much hope of me finding this film funny. The film certainly seemed to have a resurgence last year what with Secret Cinema using it for their spring movie event, again thanks to the political climate, but for me it is one that fell short in almost every way. By all means do not let my views stop you from seeing this film as who knows you may come away from the experience with your sides aching from laughter and everyone should have the chance to discover that themselves.

District 9

Director: Neill Blomkamp

2009

District 9District 9 is a smart political allegory that puts emotion, humour, and incredible visuals to fluid and accomplished use.” (913, Steven Jay Schneider, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You DieDistrict 9 was an interesting movie for me to watch, not just because the visual effects are really quite brilliant, but because it was a film that made me somewhat ashamed to be part of the human race. And now since finding out that “[t]his acclaimed science-fiction invasion thriller was inspired by events that took place in District Six, Cape Town, during apartheid.” (913) I feel even more disgusted with what people are capable of. It’s kind of a palpable feeling for me when I watched District 9 – humans do not come out well in this film. I have way more empathy for the ‘Prawns’, as the aliens are known.

“Documentary-style filmmaking gives the movie an air of authenticity that helps the audience connect on a human level with the plight of the alien population. As our hero Wikus is infected with a disease and slowly starts to turn alien himself, our empathy grows.” (913) I hope that Wikus, and his plight, resonates with some viewers. Wikus starts out as an officious government official in a relatively low level job who is given the unpleasant task of relocating, forcibly, the population of Prawns residing in District 9, and rather than see the inherent issues with this he is proud of his role and the responsibility that has been afforded him. And then it all goes wrong and Wikus begins to understand, first hand, how his close-mindedness has a direct impact on an entire race of sentient beings.

District 9 is a wonderfully subtle commentary of the fallible nature of us as humans and the seemingly ingrained distrust of anyone or thing that looks different to us. I definitely came away from watching District 9 with a renewed sense of how important it is to look past any surface differences and try and see things from every side before coming to any sort of conclusion. The only criticism I have of District 9 is that it is much too long for the story it is telling. However I would definitely suggest watching it.

À bout de soufflé

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

1960

Breathless

“Whether through accident or design, Godard’s low-budget, on-the-fly shooting style produced remarkable innovations.” (370, Adrian Martin, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

sjff_01_img0006I first watched À bout de soufflé  for my film degree as part of the history of film module. And it turns out that while I cannot speak any French I can actually understand an awful lot of it, meaning that I didn’t have to rely wholly on the subtitles in order to follow the narrative. I still watch À bout de soufflé  in my spare time even all these years after being a little Fresher at university and enjoy it every time.

It’s true that not very much happens in the narrative but really that is kind of beside the points. It’s not so much what is actually happening in the narrative that makes the film so memorable but rather how that action was captured and conveyed. It was indeed groundbreaking in the visual cues especially with the choices of cuts in editing.

The jump cuts were kind of ahead of their time and created an instantly recognizable aesthetic and rhythm to the film, even if they are somewhat jarring the first time you watch the film. I love that the film is in black and white – I think it enhances that feeling of Parisian chic that is very much an identifying tone of the film.  

There s a definite James Dean air to Michel – the tragic anti-hero – and he plays the part perfectly. He completely sees himself as a hero of the silver screen despite in reality being a petty criminal. On the other hand the female lead irritates me as she lacks any depth or identity away from the protagonist. Despite being the focal point for Michel she brings very little to the film. You cannot deny that she manages to look ‘tres chic‘ effortlessly though and not just the typical Parisian chic but coupled with the super stylish simplicity of the 1960s.

“Eschewing direct sound recording and using total postsynchronization not only led to an Orson Welles-style speed and inventiveness in the dialogue delivery, it also paved the way for a radical sound mix in which one can no longer spot the difference between ‘real’ sound happening within the story and sound imposed by the filmmaker.” (370)

While the  aesthetic of the film is, a sI have said before, instantly recognizable I think the reason I keep returning to À bout de soufflé over the years is the language. I love just listening to it. The dialogue is wonderfully fast paced as expected with French and there is a beauty to the language when spoken naturally that lures me back every year or so (generally after our annual holiday in France when suffering from withdrawal systems!)

À bout de soufflé is probably my favourite foreign language film – it’s certainly the one, of a very few foreign language films in my dvd collection, that gets watched multiple times. 

I suck I know …

I seem to spend my life apologizing for being rubbish at updating my blog and yet here comes another one. Real life kind of took over with a new job rearing its head along with rehearsals for a new show and more recently the 2015 Rugby World Cup (the only world cup that matters in my view!) which has come to dominate my free time despite England’s somewhat disastrous performance (the less said about that the better!)

Although I had a couple of months downtime between ending one contract and starting the new job and good intentions of making a dent in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die this sadly never came to fruition and instead I ended up trying to get my room back into something resembling a living space (following an epic leaky roof this time last year – and I’m still not completely unpacked though the end is in sight thank goodness!)

Magic Mike XXLWhile I have watched a couple of films for the blog I must confess I have been rather lazy when it comes to actually writing up my thoughts on them. I have still been watching films, though not with nearly the same frequency, and have seen some truly awful ones (50 Shades of Gray, 2015, Sam Taylor-Wood), some that are so bad they’re good and guilty pleasures (Magic Mike XXL, 2015, Gregory Jacobs) and then some beautiful films like Macbeth (2015, Justin Kurzel). 50 Shades of Gray50 Shades was always going to be a difficult film as the leading man, Christian Gray, is going to be so different in everyone’s head (mine’s Michael Fassbender by the way) so I wasn’t surprised when I found the film to be somewhat lack lustre. I think Jamie Dornan is a wonderful actor, just not in this – he is in no way the Christian Gray I had envisioned and I found that bizarrely he lacked any sex appeal. The ages are all wrong too – Anna looks much older than she is in the books and way older than Christian where as Christian looked much younger than his description in the books … and yes I’m aware this is me confessing to having read the books, well the first one at least. All in all it just didn’t work for me and I still can’t believe it was as popular as it turned out to be. The creative talent behind it did not rate warrant its box office success!

MacbethAnd then on the flip side I recently saw Macbeth which is breathtakingly beautiful – and not just because Michael Fassbender is the doomed Scottish King though is did certainly help. Macbeth seems to have been received extremely well on the festival circuit and by the critics and I can understand why. I’m not sure though that it will do as well in its general public release. Now I’m a fan of Shakespeare and will quite happily sit through any of his plays but there are many who would be put off by Shakespeare which is a shame especially in this instance. I particularly enjoyed Fassbender’s portrayal of Macbeth as a man suffering from PTSD – it’s a refreshing new take on the character and yet one that makes a lot of sense. He is entirely commanding as Macbeth and as usual I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He dominated every scene he was in. On the other hand I was somewhat underwhelmed by Lady Macbeth but then I’ve never really enjoyed any of Marion Cotillard’s performances and I also don’t like the character of Lady M either. But the true beauty of the film is its stunning cinematography – beautiful shards of light filtering across the scene and glorious moments of slow motion all serve to make the film visually arresting. And yet it is these elements that I fell in love with that I think will result in Macbeth struggling in the general release. It has a much more defined artistic feel to the film that I’m not sure regular cinema goers will necessarily appreciate … I am well aware that I may be doing a great injustice to the intelligence of cinema goers here. I thoroughly recommend seeing Macbeth is you can as it is most definitely a feast for the eyes.

High-RiseI also had a brilliant experience recently during the London Film Festival where thanks to some random man in the crowd in Leicester Square I unexpectedly ended up getting to see High-Rise (2015, Ben Wheatley) It’s a fantastic film though I was so frazzled by actually getting to go in and see a film at its premiere (completely underdressed of course as I had come straight from work on dress down Friday!!) that I think I didn’t quite appreciate it as much as I could have. There were times when I was hit with a sense of vertigo that was somewhat disquieting but completely fit with the tone of the film. The cast is full of heavy hitters with Tom Hiddleston leading the charge – I was amazed at the number of people at the premiere that had absolutely no idea who he is but I digress – and ably supported by Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss and James Purefoy. It was wonderfully dystopic with a depiction of the lowest level humanity can descend to, all shot in a seemingly timeless aesthetic though I do think it was meant to be set in maybe the 1970s or 1980s. I definitely intend to watch the film again in order to fully appreciate the nuances in it.

Hopefully you’ll forgive my laziness and continue reading – I’m certainly aiming to update in the near future with the reviews of the films I actually managed to watch during the intervening months.

Veronica Mars (and yet more apologies)

It seems like I’m forever writing blogs apologizing for my long absences because here I go again.

Real life (i.e. work!) kind of took over the first 2 and a half months of the year … which also happened to be the busiest two months in the cinematic year with awards season well underway. I did plan on watching those films nominated for the Oscars as I have done over the past two years but working all week and then trying to watch 3 hour long films at the same time proved too much for me, and I only really managed to watch those nominated for the Best Picture. And yes I know I have been seriously slack in posting but I will endeavor to post on a much more regular basis from now on. And on the plus side because I’m old school and hand write all my blogs before posting them up it means I have a dearth of them to come. Once those are up I can delve back into the mammoth task of going through 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

I started off my birthday weekend in the best way possible … by making a return trip to Neptune! Now my fellow Marshmallows will understand that comment but for those of you who have yet to discover the joy that is the world of Veronica Mars let me explain. In 2005 a truly excellent television show, Veronica Mars, was cancelled and I was devastated. Describing Veronica Mars doesn’t really sell the show, a teenage private detective set in California, but it really was brilliant with an excellent cast headed up by Kristen Bell, and I fell in love with it. Not only that but so did my mum – it became one of the very few shows, of the multitude that I watch, that we shared. Like all shows that are cancelled before their time there was a sense of the story being incomplete, there was no closure for us fans, the forever loyal Marshmallows. And then last year I got wind of something remarkable happening – there was a Kickstarter campaign being set up in order to raise money for a Veronica Mars movie!! To say the campaign was a success is a bit of an understatement. The goal of $2 million was reached within the first 10 hours and it broke all sorts of records, culminating in a total amount of $5,702,153 raised by the end of the donation period.

Veronica Mars MovieRob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars, really utilized the power of the fan and social media creating a year long hype, by releasing photos from set, bits of script and various other tit-bits to keep all our appetites whetted. Everyone important (which is basically everyone involved in the original series) signed on to return to Neptune, ensuring that we would get one more chance at least to reconnect with all those character that we loved so much. The film was released on the 14th March 2014 – one year after the launch of the Kickstarter campaign that brought it back to life. Now my only issue with this event is that the UK is getting a very limited release – the nearest cinema showing Veronica Mars to me was in the centre of London. Now usually I avoid seeing films in the centre of London because of the sheer cost of actually seeing something there but for this I didn’t care. There was no way I was missing the chance to see a film I had (in all intents and purposes) waited 9 years to see, so off I journeyed. My mum sadly had to work and was unable to come and enjoy the experience with me.

I was so hoping the film was going to be good because we had waited for so very long to revisit this world and these characters and I desperately did not want to be disappointed by it. Thankfully any worries I had were dispersed immediately by the masterful Rob Thomas and excellent cast once again led by Kristen Bell as the sassy Veronica. Little things were included for the fans … well everything was for the fans but there were some other subtle nods as well. My favorite was having a busker playing “We Used To Be Friends” (The Dandy Warhols) as Veronica leaves New York for her home town, as it was the very distinctive theme song of the show. Everything about the film was splendid, it fulfilled every wish I could have had, but I can’t say much more without revealing any spoilers … you’ll just have to go and see it for yourselves!!

 

Apologies …

Hey guys,

Huge apologies for the severe downturn in the regularity of my posts. Real life kind of got in the way with the focus having to shift onto finding a real job (still no luck sadly). I do have the next 8 of so blog entries ready and raring to go which I will hopefully get round to posting in the next few days. At the moment I’m having some serious writer’s block concerning Brazil – I’ve watched that film a number of times now and just cannot get my thoughts down on paper properly (because yes I do still write everything down on paper first!) which is seriously irritating me and putting a bit of a halt on the films I can watch.

Despite real life butting in I have not been completely out of the film world thankfully (my sanity would suffer if I was!) I have of course seen Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence) as I am kind of obsessed with each of those franchises … I mean who isn’t head over heels in love with both Jennifer Lawrence and Tom Hiddleston?! I’ve been playing with Future Cinema again recently – Ghostbusters this time. And let me tell you they have taken a great movie and upped the enjoyment level by recreating the world the movie is set in and allowing everyone to play in it – complete with a 40 ft Stay Puft Marshmallow Man! Seriously all you film lovers out there (well UK-based definitely) if you get the chance to go to any of their events it is so very much worth it. I’ve done a number of the events now, with both Future Cinema and Secret Cinema and have loved every single minute of them. Sign up to their mailing lists (http://www.futurecinema.co.uk/ http://www.secretcinema.org/) for a truly immersive cinematic experience … one of the best ways to watch films going!!

Ok enough plugging done. What else have I been up to? Well I was lucky enough to win tickets to the Worldwide Fan Event for the Hobbit held on the 4th November 2013! I entered a competition on a whim the morning of the event never expecting to win because let’s face it I have the worst luck and never win anything. But lo and behold within like 3 hours I was getting a call from a very nice lady from Air New Zealand telling me I had won two tickets to the event. Colour me speechless. I took my mum as it’s thanks to her that I even know about Middle Earth let alone love it. She has been reading the books for 41 years!! To say I am a fan of Peter Jackson and his adventures in Middle Earth is somewhat of an understatement so I was kind of beside myself. Thankfully my mum was equally as excited – actually spazzing out which I don’t think I have ever seen her do before! We arrived in Leicester Square at 9pm  (the event wasn’t starting until 10!) and got to bypass the enormous queue of people waiting in the cold to be let into the cinema. The Hobbit Worldwide Fan EventMummy Doull and I, along with the other 2 winners from Air New Zealand were the first people allowed in which was very exciting as there was a red carpet and everything. Once inside the cinema there were a couple of the costumes on display, Bilbo’s, Gandalf’s and a dwarfs costume (I want to say it’s Dwalin’s). And then eventually we were allowed into the screen where we discovered a goody bag on every seat. Mum and I managed to get a pretty good seat on the aisle 3 rows in. What’s in the goody bag I hear you ask? Well we got the usual cinema fare of popcorn, a bag of sweets and a drink along with a massive cup and bucket, both with the Hobbit plastered all over them, as well as a copy of the latest issue of Empire magazine – with its Hobbit cover obviously! But the best things were a beautiful poster for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and a t-shirt marking the event.

What was the actual event about and what happened at it? Well the event was promotional, both for the new film coming out in less than a week now, and the extended version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey being released on DVD. So the event consisted of a live Q&A session being linked in four cities around the world, each of which had at least one cast member present in the host cinema, which was also being streamed live on the Internet worldwide. The four cities were Los Angeles, with Evangeline Lilly (Tauriel); New York hosting Orlando Bloom (Legolas) and Richard Armitage (Thorin); London with Luke Evans (Bard), Lee Pace (Thranduil) and Andy Serkis (Gollum); and of course Wellington which had Jed Brophy (Nori) and the main man himself Peter Jackson. We had the Q&A which was interesting due to the delays between the link ups and gave some really good moments. We were also treated to a clip from the new extended cut of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and the latest production blog which as usual was hilarious!

And then it got really exciting … but only in the 4 cinemas as it was at this point we said goodbye to the live stream and everyone watching. Everyone was instructed to turn off all phones and anything with recording capabilities – anyone seen using one would result in the next part being stopped immediately. We were then treated to the music video for the end credit song, written and performed beautifully by the very talented Ed Sheeran. It’s called I See Fire and is attached to this blog as it’s now been released. I absolutely love the song and think it fits perfectly with the tone of Jackson’s Middle Earth.

After the video which was exciting enough we got a bit of a talk from Peter Jackson telling us how Warner Bros asked him to prepare some material to show at this event, about 6 minutes long or so. The shots were fully dependent on which ones were actually already completed but Jackson couldn’t decide so we ended up with something that was 20 minutes long! Now I’m not going to spoil any of the film for you by telling you what I saw in those 20 minutes but let me tell you the film is going to blow you all away and Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug – WOW just wow!! It is going to be epic! I was so impressed and geeking out big time then remembered we still had just over a month to wait before we could see the whole thing. Seriously the whole evening was one of the best nights of my life and I’m so glad I got to share it with the one person who loves Middle Earth as much as I do, my mummy.

Wow this post has gone on for a lot longer than I intended it to – I kind of ran away with my thoughts. So for now I will leave you, not for so long this time I promise, until my next film post. Oh and I am now working from the new revised 2013 copy of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

Peace and love guys xxx