31 January 2011

Review | Bright Star

It is my sincere belief that when future film historians look back over this current period of cinema, they will surely consider it unfathomable that Bright Star was nominated for only one Academy Award. In contrast, that year a computer generated turd known as Avatar took over the world and award shows. Sheer madness.

Bright Star tells the famous story of the love affair between poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and seamstress Fanny Brawne, who is here portrayed as quick witted and flirtatious by Abbie Cornish. They meet and fall in love over the course of a summer, oblivious to the inevitability of that 19th Century common cold, tuberculosis.

Jane Campion has crafted one of the most beautiful films ever made. From the soft colour pallette to the heartbreaking score by composer Mark Bradshaw, every scene is tinged with beauty and lit like a classic painting. England has never looked more beautiful than in
Bright Star; golden sunsets are plentiful, Hampstead Heath is adorned with bluebells, and even the rain and storms have a grace and powerful potency. As it does in the novels of many 19th Century authors, the weather here is a character all in itself, with it being the cause for the illness that eventually steals the life of Keats.

If you harbour any worries that this is a stuffy costume drama, I implore you to let them go. The setting is almost 200 years ago, but the emotions and relationships feel very relevant to a 21st Century audience. This is not two hours of bloomers and afternoon tea, but rather Campion allows us to witness the ups and downs of the relationship; the teasing, the arguments, the jealousy. There are no wet shirts here.

The acting is sublime. Cornish and Whishaw, relative unknowns, give wonderful performances that never threaten to veer off into melodrama. Whishaw's eloquent voice is perfectly suited to the task of reading Keats' verses as if they were his own, and he manages to convey so much emotion with a brief glance or simple movement of the hand. Cornish gives Fanny spirit without making her annoying, and shows an ability to handle both serious dramatic scenes as well as moments of comedy. The supporting cast are all wonderful, with the standout performance being Paul Schneider as Keats' poet friend, Charles Armitage Brown. With this role following his supporting turn in
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he has quickly cemented his status as one to watch. He too demonstrates serious range, acting the clown around Fanny as well as conveying the strong, loving admiration he has for his friend.

It is outrageous that this film was not given the recognition it deserved. For some inexplicable reason, it has not been released on Blu-ray within the UK, requiring a purchase from Amazon.fr
in order to enjoy the high-definition experience of such a beautifully shot film. (Do it.)

So, to the film historian in 2050, seek out Bright Star and ensure it is celebrated. In the words of John Keats himself, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever". Let's keep it alive.

26 January 2011

24 January 2011

Memo | In the beginning, there was cinema.

I was motivated to start this blog after coming out of a screening of Black Swan. Films have a habit of getting me a little riled up - call it being inspired, passionate or just opinionated. Poor filmmaking doesn't just irk me, it genuinely upsets me. There is no reason for a badly written script, which is the bare bones of a movie. Don't get me wrong - cheesy action flicks have their place, but there is no excuse for laziness...Avatar. Ahem.

Ever since I was a young 'un, I have had a fascination with the world of cinema. As a child of the '80s, I had the natural appreciation for Back to the Future and The Goonies, but it was Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Steve McQueen that really got my pulse racing. There weren't many of my friends who showed much interest in watching silent Charlie Chaplin films back to back, and I soon found myself taking much more interest in the lives of the little people that lived in my television than those of my age group.

Since then, cinema has become a bit of an obsession. When the pleas to my parents to send me to stage school got nowhere, I turned my attentions to a different arena. If I wasn't going to make my living being in films, then I was going to be paid for watching them. When I had just turned thirteen, I wrote a letter to the film critic of a national newspaper to tell him how much I enjoyed his reviews and that one day, I wanted his job. What followed was a correspondence that would last several years, resulting in a meet-up in New York where he introduced me to the wonderful films that are Manhattan and Shadow of a Doubt.

I did everything I could to be surrounded by movies, including taking a job at my local Cineworld where I could indulge on all the free films I wanted. My collections of cinema stubs may have dwindled at this time, but I was cramming in every new release and loving every minute. It helped me to discern the good from the bad (much more of the latter). As well as spending time working in the projection booth, I loved to be on the box office helping to advise customers of what were the best films to see. After persuading one couple to forgo the experience of Cuba Gooding Jnr.'s dreadful Boat Trip in favour of a wild ride into the Moulin Rouge, I soon realised my tastes were not the same as the cinema's patrons. They even made a special journey to the box office after the movie to tell me how much they hated it. Not what you'd call a satisfied customer, but at least I'd helped bomb Boat Trip.

In the intervening years, I found my career to be in a different creative field; one which I love and wouldn't change for anything. However, I still can't stop writing about cinema.

This blog will be an arena for discussing the new releases, classic films, movie news, and interview people involved in the film industry amongst other features. I want to inspire debate and give readers a platform to express their own views. If you don't agree, I want you to put forward your own constructive argument. I might not agree, but I want to hear your reasons. As for the title, why Vintage Film? Like a fine wine, a good film should improve with age. Great cinema lasts forever.

21 January 2011

Review | Black Swan

Walking out of my first viewing of Black Swan, I find myself almost gasping for air. First impressions: visceral, intense, breathtaking. In one scene, Natalie Portman smashes her alter ego into a mirror. Watching this stunning and tumultuous film, you feel like her victim. It's a complete assault on the senses, one which wraps its seductive fingers around your throat and refuses to let go until it's had its way with you.

Portman portrays Nina, a young and talented ballet dancer intent on achieving perfection. Chosen as the lead in a new interpretation of
Swan Lake, she must portray the White Swan as well as its darker twin, the Black Swan, who is hellbent on taking control and ultimately leads to the other's demise. Ably portraying the former by being what her doting yet controlling mother calls a naturally "sweet girl", she struggles to find the darkness within that is required for its nemesis. Her director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), encourages her to take note of fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), who appears to live an uninhibited and free existence, and who Nina begins to suspect is trying to take over her part - and life. As she attempts to find her dark side, Nina finds herself plagued by visions and hallucinations that threaten to overtake her, and continually questions whether they are imagination or reality.

Although naturally featuring a lot of dancing, Black Swan is less about ballet and more about obsession. Nina is determined to achieve perfection in her dancing and in her life, whilst her director Leroy wants her to aim for the complete opposite - forget perfection and find yourself. Only then will she find the Black Swan. Is Nina cracking up? Are her suspicions about Lily trying to overtake her true or is it purely a figment of her imagination? The answer is irrelevant. If you come out of this film with that as your first thought, you have somehow missed the point and forgotten to open yourself up to the experience.

The acting is superb. Mila Kunis and Vincent Cassel give good supporting efforts, and Barbara Hershey turns in a devilishly wonderful performance as Nina's overbearing and failed dancer mother. We feel the suffocation Nina experiences when at her home, and like her, we cannot escape her mother's constant supervision and scrutiny. With no locks on any doors, Nina cannot find privacy in both a physical or a mental sense, and must wrestle with her demons with all eyes upon her.

In a clever piece of casting, Winona Ryder plays the role of Beth, the ageing and fading star of the stage who finds herself passed over for the much younger Nina. As a big Hollywood star of the nineties, Ryder has spent the last decade battling her personal demons to find her career - at the ripe young age of 39 - virtually washed up. This film makes as much a statement about Hollywood's distaste for ageing females as it does about its sad belief that appearances are everything. Nina's scars and self-harm scratches are fine and dandy, as long as they remain hidden from view.

Natalie Portman gives a tremendous performance as Nina. Any doubts that the ingénue who gave a tough and mature performance in
Leon would be swallowed up by her woodenness in Star Wars are totally extinguished. Portman will no doubt claim the golden statuette come February and fully deserves it.

The real star of the show, however, is Darren Aronofsky. As the director who brought us
Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler, he has shown his remarkable ability to conjure up scenes of visual gorgeousness. He interprets the story with a breathtaking style that is all his own, and unlike some popular directors, always remains aware of the fact that an audience is watching. The frequent use of reflections and shooting into mirrors means that like Nina, we too question what it is we are seeing and find ourselves trying to discern fiction from reality.

Screw ballet; in terms of scale,
Black Swan is pure opera. The swelling music (used to excellent diegetic effect) fills the ears and the screen, and the camera dances along with Nina and swoops in for intense close-ups. Unable to be separated from the eye of the camera, we as the audience have the ultimate front seats to this performance, and are witnesses to the gradual meltdown of this beautiful swan. Yes, it is often melodramatic and goes straight for the jugular, and yes, you may well be nursing a sore head by the time the credits roll. But open yourself up. Pay your hard-earned dough to experience sheer cinema. As the heroine of Swan Lake eventually chooses death, all we can do is hold our breath whilst she takes us down with her.