21/07/2014

Unpopular Opinions

This came to me when I was watching a TV episode that the majority rates as being top-notch (an episode I will come back to later) and it got me thinking about other overrated TV episodes - not the whole series itself but those single episodes that are considered gems by everyone else when in fact they are just lumps of coal.


1960s Head-On View of TV Set with Crowds in Bleachers on Screen
1960s Head-On...
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I'm going to look at three episodes from three different television shows and describe, in my opinion, why I think each one was so overrated and what it is that winds me up so much about it. So sit back and start channel surfing.

01/05/2014

Say What?

I started to think about the way that accents are portrayed in films after seeing the film Locke (2014) at the cinema quite recently. Locke features Tom Hardy as the main character Ivan Locke who sets on a journey when the mother of his baby goes into labour. It's an interesting concept, original- the entire film taking place on a car journey. What got me thinking was Tom Hardy's choice of accent, Welsh. The accent started off as quite distracting, as I, as an audience member, couldn't quite associate the accent with the actor. Which then got me thinking about actors who have got an ear for accents and those that should just stop even contemplating doing an accent different to their own.

Frequency and Hearing
Frequency and...
Pop Ink - CSA...
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So, I will look at a couple of actors and the films in which require them to adopt an accent and analyse why I think each one is particularly good or particularly bad:

02/02/2014

One Of The Greats....

Oscar Nominated Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, February 17, 2006
Oscar Nominated...
Cliff Watts
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  I don't normally post anything relating to actors' deaths. Yes, it is always a sad occurrence when an actor dies before their time, as it is to anyone dying but I normally feel people jump on the bandwagon when an actor/celebrity dies - 'Oh, I saw him/her in concert/live in theatre, this makes me an expert on them and my comment must be heard above everyone else's' This time, I feel differently about commenting. A great actor today was taken from the world today in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of my favourites, he always seems to capture the audience's attention in every role that he took, whether that was in Doubt or Along Came Polly. I first noticed Hoffman in Scent Of A Woman, where he stood out even amongst Al Pacino who won an Oscar for his role. He was so charming in every role that you sympathised with him even when he was playing a villain or questionable characters such as Father Flynn in Doubt. I remember watching Mission Impossible 3 and his character being the only one I sided with (which is saying something of the other characters really, considering that Hoffman was the main villain). Even in Happiness, a film that was uneasy to watch due to its themes, he managed to shine through the ensemble of actors featured. And there are still many great films of his out there that I have not yet seen such as The Master, Synedoche New York and Capote in which he won an Oscar for Best Actor.
 
Shortly before reading the news today of his passing, I had read that he was going to direct a film by the name Ezekiel Moss with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams confirmed to star. I was excited about the prospect of this film even before I heard the premise, just on the basis of the actors and Hoffman directing. It saddens me that I will no longer be able to enjoy future productions of his.

Rest In Peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's an absolute loss to the acting world with your departure, you will be missed.

03/12/2013

Sing-Along With Me

New York-Theatre
New York-Theatre
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Music makes everything better. It can bring instant joy or can reduce you to tears in a heartbeat. This post was influenced by my sister, who is crazily passionate about music. I, myself prefer films so I thought I'd take a look at both - the way Hollywood merges the two past-times, how music influences a film so much that people are able to conjure up the scene whilst hearing that specific track.


Grease
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I love Grease. There, I've said it. Yes, it's a musical and yes musicals are known to be cheesy at times, Grease being no exception but I don't care. I grew up watching this film and by now can sing along to every song, knowing all of the words. It's a feel-good film, helped in part because of the songs featured. Whether it's background music to help along the scene, for example Love Is A Many Splendored Thing before the opening credits, or of course when anybody randomly bursts into song (i.e. Summer Lovin', You're The One That I Want, etc), the pace remains constant and quick, never slowing down. The music matches the energy of the cast (ignore the fact that most of the cast were in their mid-late 20s playing teenagers). The soundtrack still remains strong today with a song to fit every mood: light-hearted (We Go Together); heartbreak (Hopelessly Devoted To You); insecurity (Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee - Reprise) and romance (You're The One That I Want) to name but a few. There's probably only one song that dampers the mood and slows down the pace but only by a little and that's 'Sandy' as sung by John Travolta's Danny. You've just acted like an idiot to the girl you're dating, don't then sing a song that basically puts the blame on her.
The music is a constant rollercoaster from start to finish, right up to the end credits. Grease is a film that never bores and even though some parts are a bit silly (flying car, anyone?), it's easy to watch over and over.


Dirty DancingDirty Dancing
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How can anyone not love Dirty Dancing? Especially teamed with the soundtrack that fits so well into scenes. I don't care if you're a guy, or a girl; old, or young, there's no excuse to not like this film. Slightly different to the previous film mentioned in that it's not a musical, I've included it as it has such a memorable soundtrack that, when it comes to thinking of famous music used in films, Dirty Dancing immediately springs to mind. More adult, in terms of subject compared to Grease, Dirty Dancing was still a film I grew up on (until I was 'banned' from watching it by my parents when they found out it was a 15 certificate and I was 7). The first song that springs to mind when thinking of the film is one featured in the final scene: Time Of My Life which sums up the film perfectly. It's a track that is fused in with the image of the film. Another memorable song featured is Love Is Strange, a song that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray playfully mime to, something that wasn't scripted and was just the two actors messing about between scenes. The director liked it so much, he kept it in the film. It's easy to see why as this scene shows not only the characters' undeniable chemistry but also the actors', all enhanced by a song. One song that will always conjure up emotion is Patrick Swayze's She's Like The Wind, which can be heard in the scene prior to the big finale. The audience can almost feel Baby's heart break as they listen to the lyrics that blend so well with the images on the screen.
 Dirty Dancing is a journey of first love and discovering oneself, amplified by the music in every given scene. The emotions conjured by the film and music are what makes Dirty Dancing so memorable.


Pulp Fiction – Cover with Uma Thurman Movie Poster
Pulp Fiction –...
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 It's hard to think of soundtracks without thinking of films by Quentin Tarantino. It's clear from watching most of his movies that he's as heavily influenced by music as he is by films. One film that comes to mind that relates to this subject is Pulp Fiction, a complete departure from the two films mentioned above. The film is driven by the music choices, giving it an almost laid-back feel in scenes. Most of the music used is to convey the coolness of John Travolta's character whilst ending abruptly when the succeeding scene becomes manic and faster-paced. An example being the track: Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon used in the scene where Travolta tries to talk himself out of doing anything with Uma Thurman's Mia whilst the camera cuts back to Mia calmly taking drugs. The music fades just as Mia overdoses. This can be symbolic of her growing up, she's experiencing death in a way that changes her, linking to the subject matter of the song. The track fading can symbolise her life slowly draining away, the pace still remaining quite calm until the next scene where it's more frantic. By then, the song has stopped altogether.
 A famous scene in Pulp Fiction is, of course, the Twist dance contest. Here Tarantino uses a song that is not a cliche when it comes to thinking of music associated with the Twist dance, Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell. This makes it unique, allowing people to conjure up the scene when later hearing that particular song. The scene in question is a favourite with fans as it was Travolta's big comeback, showing that he still has the moves as he demonstrated in Saturday Night Fever (1977).
  A film enhanced by the song choices, it is evident from Pulp Fiction that the director is passionate about music as he carefully chooses tracks so well, putting time and effort into the process.

Without music, films are stark and empty. Music helps to tell the audience what mood the director/producer is going for. It drives the pace of a film and allows the audience to relate to particular scenes. When done well, music in films stays with us for a long time after the credits have ended.

31/10/2013

Halloween Horrors

Halloween Pumpkin Sitting on Staircase
Halloween Pumpkin...
David Woods
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Since it's that time of year again, I thought I'd take a look at scary movies (in general and not the lame spoof series). I'll go through what I think makes a good gory horror slasher and which thriller is the most...enthralling (I couldn't bring myself to say what makes a thrilling thriller). Of course, with every good movie, there are a lot more bad ones out there (especially in this genre).

The Best:

The Shining - French Style

The Shining -...
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The Shining. It's a classic movie, a classic story. One that can still hold up over time and still chill audiences even now. Originally based (albeit loosely) on Stephen King's book of the same name, the film follows a family of three as they move into a hotel for the winter when the father, Jack (as sinisterly played by Jack Nicholson) gets the job as the winter caretaker. Of course, chaos ensues when it turns out that the hotel is haunted, in a way where ghosts can harm and kill, especially in their aim to get to Jack's son, Danny, a boy who has a psychic gift called 'The Shining' (hence the title - clever, no?) As the hotel and its ghostly inhabitants start to realise that there is a great force staying in the hotel in the form of Danny, they do everything in their power to take him for themselves, leading to some spooky moments in the film. One of these moments that sticks in people's minds is the character of Grady, the hotel's previous caretaker. His demeanor is so calm that it comes across as jarring, especially when you realise that he's actually instructing Jack to kill his family (as he so lovingly puts it: 'But I "corrected" them sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I "corrected" her.') Even more unsettling is when you realise that this character has actually died and has come back to recruit more people for his mission. Not once does this character raise his voice, being evil so calmly that nobody would ever suspect this British gentleman to be a crazed killer. And yet, this is the spookiest of everything that happens in The Shining, a mild-mannered man being affected by the hotel so much, he ends up a psychopath (this is the contrast Stephen King wanted for the main character, for him to be played by an actor nobody would believe would turn out to be a cold-hearted murderer, the change in character being so quick, the audience would be left reeling. Unfortunately, Stanley Kubrick decided to go with Jack Nicholson, someone who doesn't require much to convince people that he's a psychotic killer). Onto the acting then: as mentioned before, Nicholson gives a very convincing portrayal of someone who is possessed. Though saying that, there's a wariness from the audience all throughout his performance, waiting for the character to snap any moment - from the start of the film, when Nicholson first appears, to the moment when he is affected by the Overlook Hotel. Some could argue that the build up of character change could be more gradual but Nicholson still manages to have a charisma that intrigues audiences to his character. The one gripe I have with this film is the Wendy character, as portrayed by Shelley Duvall. I get it, your husband has just turned into a raving maniac, but that's hardly the time to have a complete breakdown. She's such a weak character that it is hard to conjure any sympathy for her. Fortunately Nicholson's Jack Torrence, Scatman Crothers' Hallorann and even Danny Lloyd's Danny Torrence all make up for it.
Even though it's a departure from the book, The Shining is still strong enough to stand on its own. So many of the film's trademark spooky scenes: the two twins asking Danny to play with them whilst quick cuts show them dead on the floor; Jack axing down the door whilst shouting: 'Here's Johnny!' and the lift/elevator opening up with a river of blood pouring out in slow motion are all conjured up from the mind of Kubrick. Scenes so powerful visually that they stick in an audience's mind for quite a while after the film has ended.


31/07/2013

Symbolism In Films

Symbolism. It's used in the majority of films, when looking close enough. Sometimes it is done with the director's/writer's intent, other times it is the audience's own interpretation, but done correctly, can always lead to insightful discussions and debates. I'll look at a film that 1) will look at hidden and double meanings as a whole and 2) focus on key moments that represent something deeper than is what is first seen on the surface.


Mulholland Drive
Mulholland Drive
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The film I have chosen to focus on is David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001), a film so full of twists and turns, it's hard to wrap your head around on first viewing. It is so full of layers, it is quite difficult to describe the plot without giving anyone a headache. On first viewing, Mulholland Drive comes across as a fairly normal film, albeit with strange twists and turns, film devices to be expected from David Lynch. When I first watched it, I was left scratching my head, frustrated that I didn't understand the whole concept. I was urged to re-watch it, paying close attention to the details. Mulholland Drive can be described with two concepts. The first concept is what the audience is first introduced to at the start of the film - a story about a woman called Betty moving to Hollywood to try and break into acting. She stumbles across Rita, a woman who is suffering from amnesia after surviving a car crash. From there, the two women form a partnership to try and figure out how Rita came to be in the accident and find any clues to help jolt her memory. Which sounds straightforward enough, until the film introduces other characters and subplots. And so, the two characters carry on with trying to find answers to the question they have until it leads them to a theatre. And that's where events in the film take an even stranger twist leading onto the second concept of the film. Just after halfway through Mulholland Drive, the whole plot shifts focus - with same characters having different personas, same scenes having different meanings. Betty becomes Diane, a messed-up wannabe actress, far from the eager, perky Betty Naomi Watts portrayed in the first half of the film. Rita becomes Camilla, a woman who has everything - success, beauty, a partner. The audience soon discovers that Diane and Camilla were involved in a romantic relationship - with Diane being the obsessed, meek partner of the two and Camilla being the dominant, unsympathetic one, complete opposite to the first half of the film. If we describe the film in two halves, it may be easier to grasp the concept of the plot and any meanings. It may be safe to say, in my opinion, that Diane and Camilla are the real-life characters here, with 'Betty' and 'Rita''s part of the story, either a dream or a fantasy world that Diane has conjured up to cope with the agony of what she has done (ordering the hit on her former lover). This could be seen throughout the first half:
  •  The opening scene of a 50s dance competition - which may symbolise a more innocent, glamourous age. This is corroborated by the poster seen in Betty's bathroom, that of Rita Hayworth in the 1940s film Gilda (again, a glamourous time in Hollywood). Betty's desperation to be an actress in these scenes seems to be more innocent and sweet rather than obsessive. She is innocent and naive, as demonstrated by how she speaks and dresses. 
  • Another way this first half can represent Diane's yearning for a happy ending is the use of colours throughout each scene - a lot of warm colours are used in the mise-en-scene: reds, oranges, pinks (this is directly contrasted with the colours  that show up in Diane's life - blues, whites which represent the starkness and emptiness that Diane seems to be feeling).
  • Throughout the Betty story, we see little clues pop up, instances that probably wouldn't make sense if viewed only once without any concentration but make more sense once thought about - an example being of Justin Theroux's director character, Adam. His purpose in the first half seems to be for comic relief almost, every little bad thing that can happen to someone happens to this guy - he loses creative control over his film, his wife not only cheats on him, but when confronting her, he ends up getting beaten by the wife's lover (a cliched, over-the-top, cartoon-like character). All the bad things that occur to Adam could be a representation of Diane's anger and hatred towards him, the reason to why is brought up in the latter half of the film.

16/06/2013

Movie Crazes

Photo by annaberthold

Hollywood has a reputation of going through cycles of repeating genres, for lack of a better term. If a film is an instant success, then that surely means that for the next 5 years or so, audiences are going to want to watch the same type of film over and over. If it isn't 'torture porn' (Saw, Hostel, A Serbian Film, etc), teen High School comedies (10 Things I Hate About You, Never Been Kissed, She's All That, etc) then it's magical fantasies (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Golden Compass) and vampires (Interview with the Vampire, Twilight, Byzantium, Fright Night, etc) I will look at two sub-genres and choose a film to represent the best and the worst of each.

Vampires

The current craze seems to have sparked after the success of the teen franchise Twilight based on the books by Stephanie Meyer. Of course, vampires existed a lot longer than this on screen.


The Best:

Interview With the VampireInterview With...
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  I'm slightly cheating with this choice as this technically came much before the craze was triggered. However, it is still one of the best films of the vampire canon. Originally based on the popular Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire showed us that Tom Cruise may actually be able to act and introduced us to Kirsten Dunst who was outstanding as the child vampire Claudia (though has not really matched the same intensity since). The film starts with the vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) telling his story to an interviewer, letting the audience see his version through flashbacks. It is a story filled with more heartbreak than joy, as Louis gets used to becoming a vampire, however reluctantly. The issue of turning a child into a vampire (Claudia) is represented well with Kirsten Dunst coming across very believable as Claudia struggles with the identity of being a much older woman trapped forever in an 11-year old girl. It also deals with the complicated relationship that Claudia develops with Louis without coming across as perverted and unnecessary. There are no bright moments in the film, each scene shot as dark as the subject's matter. The pace and mood comes across as sombre and yet intriguing as the audience awaits to see what is in store for each character. There are scenes in the film that almost come across as a dance, with each character choreographed to mirror the movements of how a vampire should appear, according to director's choice. This becomes apparent in the fight scenes which have a faster pace to represent the vampires' invincibility. Every character in this film comes across as believable, making the audience sustain belief that this may be a possibility, at least for the remainder of the film. It is a film that focuses on the story and plot rather than purely the fact that this is a film about mythical creatures.

The Worst:
Twilight
Twilight
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 It may be a popular film with the rabid fans, but let's stick to credibility here shall we? For this piece, I will only include the first film out of the franchise considering that is the only one I managed to sit through. I get quite annoyed with films that not only have teenybopper audiences going crazy in ridiculous manners, but also for films that aren't actually any good in the first place. I went to see this film at the cinema and was totally underwhelmed. I heard such rave reviews and everybody was talking about it so had to check it out to see what the fuss was. The result was me sitting in the cinema wondering if it was me refusing to like the film purely because everyone loved it or if everyone else was blinded by certain actors' 'charms'. The acting was stiff and wooden and the plot did not hold my attention. The so-called vampires were not believable, if we were suspending belief that this can actually happen (sparkling, glittery vampires - what is that all about?) The plot was something done time and time again, vampire falling in love with a human girl which was done with a lot more credibility in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series). The action sequences seemed forced and more farcical than a dance, the voice-over was done in a bored, monotonic voice that had me to bored to tears. And yet, the franchise spawned five more films all because of its devoted fanbase. This is the film I blame for generating a lot of copycat films, where the media is now obsessed with using vampires in every chance they get, whether that be in films, TV shows or books, making the audience with any sense avoid any film with a vampire plot attached to it.