Tag Archives: film

Under the Skin – film review

24 Apr

Last month I went down to the Curzon in Soho – who wouldn’t want to eat a cheeky Konditor & Cook brownie before a film? – to watch the indie flick, ‘Under the Skin.’  I’d briefly looked at reviews, most of which seemed to be positive, and I thought the premise sounded interesting:

A voluptuous woman of unknown origin combs the highway in search of isolated or forsaken men, luring a succession of lost souls into an otherworldly lair. They are seduced, stripped of their humanity, and never heard from again. Based on the novel by Michael Faber, this film examines human experience from the perspective of an unforgettable heroine who grows too comfortable in her borrowed skin, until she is abducted into humanity with devastating results.
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The thought of Scarlett Johannson as this ‘voluptuous’ woman (for some reason, it tickles me that this word is included in the description) roaming the grim landscape of Glasgow intrigued me.  I’m not a huge fan of her acting; I thought she was great in ‘Ghost World’ and ‘Lost in Translation’ is one of my favourite films, but since then, her sex-bomb Marilyn Monroe-esque image hasn’t really captivated me in any way (perhaps this is due to the fact that I am not a young, hot -blooded male).  Anyway, I’d heard that some of the scenes where she goes round to pick up men are real, filmed with hidden cameras, and that was definitely one of the better aspects of the film.  It was something of a novelty to watch Scarlett Johannson, an A list movie star, driving around in a van, trying to pick people up – it was interesting, awkward and comical at the same time.

What I had an issue with was the slow pace of the film.  I am usually a fan of slow films, lingering moments, and unspoken words that add something to the scene (for how to do this well, see the aforementioned ‘Lost in Translation’).  However, with ‘Under the Skin’ I felt that this was all there was – shots of Scarlett looking dazed into the distance, putting on lipstick, the beautiful but grim Glaswegian landscape etc – to the point that it started to dull any poignancy or impact it initially had.

The scenes where the men found their humanity stolen consisted of a naked man walking in slow motion into a black pool which ends up enveloping and trapping him.  I understand the significance of the image but found that the repetition of these scenes, accompanied with the dramatic music, unintentionally comical.

That aside, I did enjoy the second half where Scarlett the alien-type creature, has a touching moment with a severely disfigured young man, and starts to become more human, and there was a genuinely tense moment at the end when she is chased by a man in the woods and you see her emotional advancement.  However, I felt these parts were overshadowed by the fact that the film was too long and overly repetitive making what sounded like an amazing plot into something that was often dull and tedious to watch.

 

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Ghost World

4 Dec

Every time I watch Ghost World, I am transported straight back to being 17 years old again.  That was around the time I was studying for my A-Levels and to escape from my world of Pure Maths and memorising facts, I’d wander round the local HMV store to browse for something that could take me away from the tedium of my daily life.  During one of these browsing sessions, I came across Ghost World and I’m bloody glad I did as it spoke VOLUMES to me as a cynical, melancholic and precocious adolescent.  And let’s face it, who hasn’t been one of those?!

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The film is actually based on a comic book by Daniel Clowes and this is carried through the film with vivid, almost cartoonish imagery.  The main character, Enid (played by the underrated Thora Birch), is a cynical, pseudo-intellectual teenager and the story follows her and her best friend, Rebecca (played by a baby Scarlett Johannson before she became a Hollywood clone) the summer after they graduate from high school.  Their boredom leads to them playing a cruel trick on the unsuspecting and adorable Seymour, who is played by the amazing Steve Buscemi.  Both eccentric misfits with Seymour openly acknowledging that he ‘can’t relate to 99% of humanity’, their relationship develops into one of genuine affection and Birch and Buscemi play their parts superbly.   Enid’s witticisms and sense of superiority over the rest of society is something familiar to most teenagers, and her increasing confusion as she wrestles with the elusive  question of ‘What’s this all about?’  results in a moving, poignant conclusion.

The sense of apathy and restlessness that pervades the film is key to its beauty, along with its gorgeous cinematography and the soundtrack (which made me start listening to 60’s Bollywood music).  The script is incredibly clever and speaks volumes about how utterly alone and fearful you can feel after school, in a world that values the superficial (demonstrated hilariously by Enid’s caricature of an Art Teacher, who humiliated Enid’s drawings by dismissing them as ‘cartoons’ and praises a tampon in a cup because it contains so many “issues”).

Currently reading… or more accurately, finished reading…

11 Jun

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

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The main image that pops into my head when I think of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ is that beautiful opening scene in the 1961 film with Holly Golightly, as played by the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn, peering in at the window display of Tiffany’s, dressed in a chic black dress and an elegant up-do.

So it was interesting to compare the film with the original novella by Truman Capote and having watched the film first, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to properly immerse myself in the book as I would have the film at the back of my mind.

I needn’t have worried.

Capote is a true master of language and his writing entices you into a world of such vivid and colourful character that all recollection of the actors in the Hollywood movie fall by the wayside.  Reading the novella, I can see why Capote was against the casting of Hepburn and more in favour of Marilyn Monroe to play the role.  She is described in the book as twenty years old with dyed blonde hair, blue-green eyes and an upturned nose.  Her character in the book flits between acting far more mature than her years, a given considering her primary occupation, and appearing far younger than her years, at one point looking like a ‘twelve year old’.   The novella, as one would imagine, is far darker than the movie and the reader, like the narrator, almost falls in love with the enthralling Golightly who is both strong and vulnerable at the same time.  The narrator’s name is Burt but this is only mentioned towards the end of the novel highlighting that the story is ultimately about Holly.  He is one of many nameless admirers and observers of Holly but his increasing significance in her life warrants him being named.

I love the way Capote uses metaphor to underline Golightly’s inner turmoil and there is one particularly touching scene when, recovering in hospital, Burt gives her a letter with some bad news and she stops to apply her makeup before reading it.  This simple yet rather surprising act highlights her vulnerability: her makeup acts as a mask, an armour to face the world and it is easy to forget that for all the bravado, underneath she is a young vulnerable girl looking for somewhere she feels at home.  The reader is provided with snippets of her darker past: we learn that she and her brother had to fend for themselves, both being starving orphans with only each other to depend on, which explains her supposed nonchalance at capitalising on her good looks as a means of survival.

Perhaps my melancholic nature means I tend to favour the sadder endings as they feel far more real to me.  Coming to the end of novella, I felt wistful but also hopeful.  The themes that Capote touched upon could have been sentimental but never ended up so – they were explored with an amazing subtlety that was all the more moving, and has inspired me to explore more of Capote’s work.

One of my favourite films…

8 May

…is ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’.  Written by Charlie Kaufman, it stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in what I think are their best performances so far.  Before watching this, most people associated Carrey with his exaggerated slapstick comedy and perhaps were slightly reticent about his broader acting skills (although ‘The Truman Show’ demonstrated his innate potential); however, I was blown away by his subtle and utterly convincing performance as Joel Barish, a sensitive and introverted character who is heartbroken after his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski breaks up with him and has memories of their relationship erased.  I should probably state here that the film falls into the genre of ‘romantic dramedy science fiction’.  Admittedly this is an incredibly niche area but please do not be put people off if you are not usually keen on sci-fi as the film seamlessly and convincingly transports you into this alternative universe where erasing memories is possible.

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It is directed by the amazing Michel Gondry, who has worked on music videos for ‘The Chemical Brothers’ and ‘Cibo Matto’, so already I had high expectations.  The film explores the nature of memories – their transience and randomness which is highlighted by the non-chronological sequence in which the viewer observes Joel’s recollections.  The title is from the poem, ‘Eloisa to Aberlard’, by Alexander Pope:

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

And who hasn’t, at one point or another, felt that ‘forgetting’ would improve things?

Upon finding out that Clementine has erased all memories of Joel, he immediately plans to do the same; however, in the middle of this process, he finds himself trying to cling desperately onto the memories of their relationship.  Whether good or painful, they are dear to him and he finds out too late that he does not want to lose memories of what time they spent together.  I am sure this is something that we can all relate to; the wish to blot out the past and move on afresh.  However, what this film so beautifully demonstrates, sadness and happiness are part of being real and human.  To erase this is to erase your experiences which make you the person you are.

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Another reason I love the film is because of the character of Clementine.  She’s not your typical female character; she can be inconsiderate, selfish but more importantly, she’s a lot more real than the average Hollywood starlet.  One of my biggest gripes in films is the stereotypical portrayal of the ‘quirky’ female lead (thanks, Zooey Deschanel).  No, you are not quirky or a little bit ‘wacky’ simply because you have a fringe, wear babydoll dresses with coloured tights and retro glasses.  Nor are you quirky because you spout ‘random’ inane statements that people find odd but also quite cute.  Give me an outright mental female character any day, complete with mental patient gown and straggly hair – there’s just something so formulaic about this twee shite that seems so ubiquitous at the moment.  Clementine is probably one of the best portrayals of real, insecure and flawed female lead in film history. On the outset, she appears extroverted with her colourful hair and her eccentric taste in clothes.  She is fickle, cheery and noisy but there is nothing pretentious about her.  I think it is something to do with her acknowledgement and acceptance of her flaws and imperfections (‘I’m just a f**ked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own piece of mind’) that is particularly appealing.  Her fiery personality is in stark contrast with Joel’s and that is what makes him (and most of the viewers, I’d imagine) love her.

Review of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’

24 Jan

OK.  I know I’m probably rather behind here I finally made my way down to a packed London cinema yesterday and watched Tarantino’s latest masterpiece ‘Django Unchained’.  I’d heard amazing things about it and I thought perhaps they were inflated or subject to Tarantino-bias (because, let’s face it, many Tarantino films have achieved cult-like status and rightly so) but I loved it. 

I loved the retro Spaghetti Western genre in which it was filmed and of course the soundtrack was no less than one would expect from a Tarantino film.  What I really liked, though, was the sensitive way with which such a loaded theme as slavery was dealt.  I don’t think it was treated flippantly as very few people have argued – in fact, it was incredibly thought-provoking and has inspired me to learn more about such a fascinating and vicious era of history.  The film really demonstrated the sheer brutality of many white Americans who genuinely saw African- Americans as a subspecies and, in usual Tarantino style, there were disturbing scenes of violence scattered throughout. 

Stellar performances from Christoph Waltz and Leonardo diCaprio.  Waltz is so engaging and charismatic, he definitely overshadowed Jamie Foxx for me and I was mesmerised by his character of Django’s mentor, Dr Schulz.  I liked the way his character evolved throughout the film and some of the most tense scenes were when he and Mr Candy (Leo’s character) were at the dinner table.  And Samuel L Jackson’s character of the crazy old butler was enthralling and added a different dimension to the simplistic white vs black concept.  Here was a man whose love for Mr Candy was unparalleled – to the point that he had become seemingly comfortable with seeing his fellow African-Americans maimed and tortured.

What I found most haunting about the film was the depths of hatred that the black Americans were subjected to.  If you think about it, equality was granted relatively recently which makes the whole thing even more abhorrent.