30 December 2011

Films of the Year | 2011

My concern that there will be a backlash with this film isn't enough for me not to make it my number 1. I came out of the cinema with a great big smile on my face and that's a rare thing in modern cinema. If you are satisfied with the simple things in life, I think you'll love it. A small film with a very big heart.

Biblical, spiritual, immense. Yes, the dinosaur scene might have worked a little better on storyboard than on screen, but The Tree of Life definitely had vision. I'm astonished that it hasn't been nominated for more of the big awards, but perhaps the world still isn't ready for Malick. 

3.  Drive

I saw Drive at an early preview not knowing what to expect. From the second the pink eighties credits rolled and the first synth beat pulsed from the speakers, I was hooked. Nicolas Winding Refn has made a brilliantly crafted film with killer set pieces that never fail to shock. Gosling doesn't have much to do other than brood and look pretty, but he does it awfully well.

Lars Von Trier doesn't do light and fluffy. Lars Von Trier does bleak, intense, and in this case, the end of the world. A film of two halves which leaves you thinking long after the credits have rolled. 

No classic Laurence Olivier adaptation here. Andrea Arnold has ripped up the (tired) costume drama rule book and brought us a film that blisters and brings to live that tragic romance on the moors. It is a film to stir the senses and make you grateful for the warm bed you go home to each night.

Released in the UK in January, although it feels last one of last year's babies. It's a love-it or hate-it experience, and I fall firmly in the former camp. You never quite know what's going on, and that's the fun of it.

It's a dog eat dog world out there. Brilliant.

Cold, clinical and beautifully shot. Tilda Swinton proved she's one of the best in the business with a pitch-perfect performance.

Devastating. I'm a sucker for films about lost love, and this one resonated strongly with its beautiful mise-en-scene and restrained direction from Terence Davies.

A four and a half hour costume drama set across two centuries. Rashomon meets Barry Lyndon meets Crash. I loved it.

Still to see:

A Separation
The Ides of March

It's been a great year for film. Roll on 2012. I have high hopes.

19 December 2011

Review | The Deep Blue Sea

I went into the screening of The Deep Blue Sea knowing I would love it. There you have it. I was already biased, based mainly on my memories of the Vivien Leigh version and also the depressing subject matter. See, I love a good cry at the cinema. I'm one of those crazy creatives who often finds more solace in sadness than in happiness and froth. So as soon as I saw the film trailer, I was sold.

The Deep Blue Sea tells the story of Hester (Rachel Weisz), a woman who finds herself bored in a marriage to a kind, elderly judge, and is drawn into a passionate affair with an ex-war pilot, Freddy (Tom Hiddleston), who she eventually gives up her respectable world to be with. The film begins with her attempted suicide - still illegal at that time - caused by a frustration of not being loved by Freddy with the same intensity of feeling that she has for him. 

For the film to succeed, the choice of actor for the role of Hester is paramount. Rachel Weisz proves that she is one of the finest actors working today, with a performance that is poignant without being pathetic. Hester would rather be in a destructive, unbalanced relationship that allows her to feel with every fibre of her being, rather than married to a man who adores her but does not satisfy her. It's an age-old dilemma that will always split opinion; is it better to have loved and lost, or never to have loved before?

In these modern times, it's tricky for films with stories of unhappy marriages to ring true. Nowadays we can quite easily follow "I do" with "Actually...I've changed my mind", and for the most part, nobody bats an eyelid. It's possible that films such as The Deep Blue Sea (and Brief Encounter or The End of the Affair) lose an edge for a modern-day audience, and their tales of restraint - or lack of - can seem irrelevant. Davies's direction is never damning of Hester, which is how it may have been presented by a director fifty years ago. The focus here, however, seems to be more on Hester's passion, and that's something with which we can all identify.

I never experienced it myself, but Terence Davies manages to make me feel like I knew the fifties. Not the candy-coloured optimism of America that we are so often presented with in the movies, but rather the bleak, poor austerity of post-war Britain. Instead of Happy Days diners and picket fences, we are presented with smokey pubs and blitzed buildings; instead of sunshine and cocktails, we have ration books and fog. The mise-en-scène is perfectly pitched. The fifties in England seems to have been like a continuation of the war but without the bombing. 

You get a feeling from The Deep Blue Sea that everyone just tried to soldier on. 

18 December 2011

3D. Please Die.

They look cool.
It is with little hyperbole that I deliver the following statement with as much eloquence of speech as I can muster: I hate 3D. Yes, James Cameron, you "King of the World" with your floppy hair and gold plated statuettes, I am one of those cynics who simply...does not get it.

We don't.
From the second I was asked to "Please put on your glasses" (on top of my glasses) way back in 2009, I knew it was not for me. Looking around at my fellow audience, I couldn't help but notice that we all looked like a load of numpties, sitting there with blacked-out specs and wide open mouths. Remember Marty Mcfly's gormless son in Back to the Future Part II? That was us. I won't go into my thoughts on the actual "film" itself, but suffice to say I've never been a big fan of computer gaming. 

Two years on, it seems we are still in love with this experience. Not only are the studios commissioning new films to be made with 3D in mind, but we are still prepared to cough up the additional £3 per ticket to experience it the Cameron way. It seemed I didn't learn my lesson with the blue movie. Since then, I've experienced it twice more with Toy Story 3 and today, with Hugo

Toy Story 3 was a brilliant film. It had a great script, brilliant characterisation, and true vision. Those should be the essential requirements of any movie. All these elements should be executed with such loving and diligent care that any extra fluff such as 3D or other gimmickry simply enhance the experience. And that is exactly what Pixar achieved. They escaped the curse of the second sequel by really nurturing their baby and then using the 3D to add, not dominate. (Cameron, take note. A lot of us see past the specs and Sam Worthington's dodgy accent.)

Hugo. Oh Hugo...Oh Scorsese. Not only was the film a slow, over-indulgent, turgid bore of a picture, but the 3D was - with the exception of the excellent swooping opening scene - blurry and inconsistent. More than once did I have to check and readjust my glasses. If you make a film about the experience of cinema, if you want the audience to be engrossed in a story about the richness of filmmaking, why would you have them constantly trouble-shoot the equipment required to actually watch the film? The irony would be laughable if the "experience" hadn't just cost me £25. 


What also escapes me is the reason for the 3D in the first place. Although they label it 2D when we watch a regular film, our eye actually interprets it as 3D. We don't imagine the actors as being flat cut-outs on a rectangular screen, even though that is what we are being presented with. Our peepers are actually very clever pieces of tech on their own. Yes, Mister Titanic, my eyes were seeing in three dimensions long before you spotted your latest cash-cow. When watching a 3D movie, all that ends up happening is the characters look like cut-outs, the sets looking like flat props, and we end up so focused on the technology that we forget to suspend our disbelief. They have tried to introduce depth by attempting to trick my eyes, and all they have succeeded is giving me a whopper of a headache.

Do you hate 3D as much as I do? If so, I implore you to stage your own personal boycott. Let's go back to the heady days of just watching a movie, and we'll save a fortune in ticket prices and Nurofen.

I'll leave you with a word from 3D's sponsor:

"I don't care about them [3D haters]. If you could wave a magic wand and give everyone in the world an orgasm simultaneously, there'd still be cynics looking for a way to criticise that." ~ James Cameron

Jim. If 3D is your idea of an orgasm, you're seriously missing out. 

 *And on the subject of Hugo, if I watch one more film about Paris that includes a corny shot of the Eiffel Tower and accordions on the soundtrack, heads are going to roll. Gene Kelly, you have a lot to answer for.

16 December 2011

Friday Night Watch

I've spoken about this film three separate times in the past week.

I think tonight's the night for a little reunion.

15 December 2011

The Future's Bright? The Future's Digital.

"Days of Heaven"
So far this week I have seen four films at the cinema and all four were digitally projected.  Subsequently mentioning this on Facebook, I was informed by a former cinema colleague that my local cinema is now 100% digital. This news, although inevitable, has floored me.
I will try to keep the nostalgic sensibilities to a minimum, although it will be tricky for an analogue junkie like me. Throughout the history of picture-making, quality has always been sacrificed for convenience, and this will always be the way of the world. “Hollywood” is an industry and that means business; pure and simple.  Still, it makes me sad that heat splices will soon go the way of the dodo.
I knew the end of film was in sight, but little did I realise how soon it would come. A recent issue of Sight and Sound included the following in the editor’s note:
January 2012 will apparently mark the point at which there will be more digital screens in the world industry than analogue…What’s more, mainstream usage of 35mm will have vanished from the USA by the end of 2013, with Western Europe set to be all digital in the mainstream one year later.
One of the most beautiful films ever made
The benefits of shooting digital are obviously numerous, both to the studios who are financing the production and to the cinematographers themselves. Roger Deakins, one of the best known Directors of Photography in the industry, talks about this in a recent interview:
It gives me a lot more options. It’s got more latitude, it’s got better colour rendition. It’s faster. I can immediately see what I’m recording. I can time that image on set with a color-calibrated monitor. That…goes through the whole post-production chain, so it’s not a case of being in a lab and having to sit and then time a shot on a shot-by-shot because this has already got a control on it that’s set the timing for the shot.
In terms of practicalities, digital trumps film. If it allows the artist to do a better job, then it could be argued that it is better for the production and the industry as a whole. I am all for this. I do not work in the movie industry and so to insist on a passionate opinion would be silly. 
But my feelings are based on just that; feelings. It’s the romance of cinema that I have always loved. The box of film stills sneakily cut for me by projectionist friends from the latest releases touches the same nerve as the scene from Cinema Paradiso when Salvatore sees the reel of all the censored kisses. The tangible feel of the touch of a print will always rule my heart, but sadly the clinical and convenient numbers of digital must always rule the head.
"Cinema Paradiso" (1988)
The one bright side I hope for is this means the smaller budgeted films will make it to screens outside of the main cities. Producing reels is an expensive and time-consuming business, and so a film like Wuthering Heights (2011) could never hope to be featured in a multiplex in the heart of suburbia where it would be unlikely to recoup that cost. If the future is digital and is therefore more cost effective, perhaps this will push those smaller films out to the masses (and stop people feeling that they have to download to get their Andrea Arnold fix). I hope, but without too much faith.
What I am most fearful of is the effect the changeover to digital will have on what we see on screen. Experts agree that it is Avatar (2009) that that pushed the industry into such a fast digital transformation. Yes, Avatar; that film about blue smurfs that stole storylines from several existing films and spliced them together with all the subtlety of a Hollywood hack. The film that heralded the start of the awful trend where you have to put another screen between you and the action, and essentially put the brakes on smaller, independent films that would not have translated well to 3D. 
No, this isn't a naff '90s poster. This is the future.
 Yes, the future is James Cameron. And it terrifies me.