Brief Examination: Good Will Hunting (1997)

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Good Will Hunting is a raw, powerful and moving piece of cinema that feels authentic in its blend of the intellectual characters and the regular locals of South Boston. However, its biggest success is that it speaks to how powerful cinema can be in portraying the mundane, the typical and the little flourishes of the extraordinary that we can find in life.

On a small level, the shot composition speaks to that idea; nearly every shot that is outdoors has a great radiant beauty to it, feeling as though nature itself is smiling on our protagonist. On a larger level, Will Hunting and his gift of mathematical genius speaks to the aforementioned idea.

Matt Demon, early in his career showed that he had an acute screen presence, and the film is indicative of that. From his cock-sure attitude to some of his tender scenes that are heartbreaking, Demon is the heart of the film. The soul of the picture is Robin Williams as Will`s mentor- Dr Sean Maguire.

The best aspect of William`s performance is the understated sadness that he brings out in his facial expressions and demeanour. It speaks to the overall success of the film in showcasing that in life, people can be complicated and multi-faceted. Cinema can be more than just a medium that illustrates heightened portraits of ourselves.

Review: Duel (1971)

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Duel, one of Stephen Speilberg`s earlier efforts, proves to be an exciting, tense and thrilling 90 minute experience that in turn is one of his best films. The story is as simple as you can get, lone, family man, David Mann is on his way to a business trip and a rusty truck is trying to kill him on his way there, and the aforementioned Mann is trying his best to survive.

On the surface, the picture just sounds like an amusing, exploitation, one trick pony premise that repeats itself throughout its running time. But, the picture is more than that, in part to the direction by Speilberg. His camera work is outstanding throughout, from the crisp point of view shots that are shown of both the car and truck, to the disorientating angles shown from Mann`s vantage point in the diner scene. They all combine together to create a quick paced, and engaging viewing experience.

Additionally, Richard Matheson`s screenplay is very good too, though it has a brisk pace, there is an underlying inclining of a story and theme. It being that the protagonist essentially is gaining back some semblance of his manhood, which is evidenced by an off the cuff remark he makes in casual conversation. While, at a gas station, a young man serving him says- “You`re the boss” to which Mann replies, “Not in my house, I`m not”

It is further reinforced by the dialogue on the radio that the protagonist listens to at the beginning of the film. On the show, a man bemoans that he is not the head of his household because he looks after the kids at home while his wife goes out to work. Mann does not turn it off, perhaps because he relates to it in some way, from actor, Dennies Weaver`s intently listening expressions, it seems that way. Finally, Matheson sets up simple things at the beginning that are paid off towards the end of the film, lending his screenplay with great coherence.

In an odd way, the film also possesses an Odyssey story structure. Although, instead of witnessing a Cyclops, Circe or Sirens, we are instead treated to subtle but important elements that would become staples of Speilberg`s extensive filmography. For example, Mann`s first stop is at the aforementioned gas station where he makes a call to his wife, whose point of view we see, with one shot of his children. It is a scene that cements Speilberg`s fascination of showing the mundane and fantastical, and the importance of the family`s point of view dealing with a crisis.

The next stop is a diner that seems to have a tight-knit small community, speaking to the director`s tendency to depict small scale suburbia. There`s is even a shot later on from a child`s point of view, repurposed here as a source of tension as opposed to awe and wonderment like in films such as ET and Jurassic Park.

The film is a quarry of shots, motifs and perspectives for where Speilberg would go with his later work. The picture works more than being a mere blueprint for these conceptions and instead proves to be an exciting prologue to the promise of Speilberg as a world class director. It is humble, quaint, bursting with energy, and a fine film indeed.

Review: The Inbetweeners 2

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By any reasonable measure of calculation, the fact that the Inbetweeners have a sequel would make you think that it would fail due to the law of diminishing returns, but you would be half right. The sequel that takes place nearly a year after the events of the first picture is a great reminder of the appeal of the show. At its best, it depicts scenes of absolute toe curling awkwardness that it is almost artful. This trend continues with the sequel that varied from members of the group feeling out of place during social interactions and a cringe-inducing musical number that had my audience laughing hysterically like hyenas.

The most-surprising aspect of the film is in its direction that was provided by the show creators- Iain Morris and Damon Beesley. The film is filled with ambitious sequences that feel immediately cinematic. For example, a sequence at the beginning of the film involves a long email from Jay, and he narrates it in a scene that feels like an amusing homage of earlier 2014 picture, The Wolf of Wall Street and tourist television adverts. It is a sequence that is steeped in character and gets the plot into motion in a funny and engaging way.

Additionally, there is a scene later on that involves a gross-out gag, and it plays out like tragic sequence that could have been in a Tim Burton film, complete with sad overtones in the score, reminiscent of Danny Elfman. Said scene also highlights the commendable silent work of Simon Bird who above and beyond steals the movie from his co-stars. He seemingly channels Woody Allen at times while also embodying the awkward spirit of the picture, in a performance that is equal parts serious, comic and heartfelt.

However, despite all the positives, the fundamental problem with the film is in its portrayal of women. It starts with what is done with the girls in the last picture. Will’s girlfriend- Alison is nowhere to be found, and her absence has no explanation other than chalking it down to bad sequel screenwriting 101. Additionally, Simon’s girlfriend- Lucy is a complete 180 antithesis of what she was in the first picture, resulting in a one note joke that becomes tiresome and the constant presense of a character for the audience to be amused by in rapid succession.

Even the girls that exist within the fabric of a group that is meant to be mocked for their pretentious of being deep feel like carbon cutout laughable figures. There is no humanity or personality to most of the girls in this film, with Jay’s ex- girlfriend being sucked into this whirlpool towards the end of the picture. By the end the film does fall apart, with its fan service providing the awkwardness and an inane montage of credit sequences that repeat jokes from the Hangover movies in a way that feels rather distasteful and out of place. It is a shame as the film prior to these five minutes was mining untapped levels of drama that the characters had not dealt with before.

 

Defending The Hobbit Trilogy

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The Hobbit trilogy so far in its brief existence has picked up a bad reputation for being a mere cash-cow trilogy that is neither meaningful nor worthy of being made. In particular, the argument of taking three films to adapt a slim novel is being used as the standard bearer of this sentiment. In this piece, I intend to take this central argument to task. Additionally I am going outline a few reasons as to why the Hobbit films so far are as worthy as the Lord of the Rings films, if not more so. Of course, I have not seen the third film- “The Battle of the Five Armies” yet, so if my reasons lack any punch or sharpness, I hope you will grant me that one concession.

Firstly, The Hobbit novel by all intents and purposes is not a slim novel, of course, your perception of “slim” may differ from mine, but here are a few objective facts about its length across many different forms. A standard paperwork version comes in at a good 400 pages; the hardback version is 270 pages, the newest Kindle version is 305 pages and finally, the unabridged audio book adds up to a total of 11 hours in listening time.

So far, the films in their theatrical cuts have been less than three hours in their running time, with the first being about 2 Hours and 40 minutes and the second being 2 Hours and 30 minutes. I imagine that the third film will have a similar length. Even taking the extended editions into account, with what has been established, I can say with conviction that they are going to be less than the time it takes for you to listen to the novel.

A slim novel I would count as something like The Great Gatsby, which is 180 pages, Of Mice and Men- 128 pages or even Animal Farm- 144 pages. I would define 300 pages and above as something that can be no longer thought of as “slim” novel. In fact, looking at it in context of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit is as long as “The Fellowship of the Ring,” longer than “The Two Towers”, and shorter than “The Return of the King.” So, The Hobbit is not a “slim” novel by the parameters I have set up, so does it still remain a potent argument?

I don`t think so because I think it shows a lack of engagement with what director Peter Jackson is trying to do with the material. I think that Peter Jackson is trying to make a cinematic prequel to his Lord of the Rings trilogy while additionally trying to reconcile and synthesise elements of both stories that Tolkien never got to do in his lifetime. Furthermore, he is bringing in other elements from his vast corpus. It is quite a bold and ambitious undertaking that should be applauded.

So far, I think he has justified the length, and it has helped the films tremendously. One great example is in the character of Bard, who in the novel becomes a major character after the killing of Smaug, to the point of arguing a major position with one of the main characters, Thorin later in the story. Because of no prior connection, other then his killing of Smaug, his arguments lack a little punch. With what has been established in the films. His father, Girion, Lord of Dale failing to kill Smug, Bard`s outcry and condemning of Thorin`s quest and ultimately being seen as a nuisance in the eyes of “The Master of Lake-Town.” Bard has much more depth, and when it comes to his scenes with Thorin in film three, they will have an extra source of depth, that is not only fulfilling dramatically but thematically too.

What`s more none of this would have come to pass if the Hobbit just stayed as two films, originally Mr Jackson was going to end the first film at the point where Bard aims an arrow and Thorin and company. None of this extra material for him would have been able to be in the film due time constraints. Finally, I think the Hobbit is as worthy as Lord of the Rings because of its two central characters, Bilbo and Thorin respectively.

The former is far more interesting then Frodo because of his internal conflict of him being adventurous versus being the usual conception of what a Hobbit is. It is summed up nicely by the two lines of family he belongs too, the Baggins side encapsulating the less adventurous side and the Took side representing the adventurous spirit. Cinematically, it is also interesting to see how a small person, who has minded his own business his whole life and suppressed his keen eye for adventure to go on a huge one that will fundamentally change him and the world he belongs to forever.

In regards to Thorin, I think he is a fascinating character; He suffers from a family disease that is known as “Dragon Sickness” and it is a tension point for him tragically falling. Also, he is a tough character who has seen a lot of hardship, he is stubborn, passionate and a commendable leader. Plus, his point of view is sympathetic, we can understand why he feels the way he does, even if we can see what it costs him in the short term. A great example of this comes from the scene in “The Desolation of Smaug” where he confronts the Elf King- Thranduil.

He refuses to cooperate with the king because he had witnessed when the Elvis turned their back on the Dwarfs when Erebor was being attacked by Smaug. Despite understanding his motives at this moment, the audience is equally frustrated because his choice here is undermining his quest that has a set time to it. Thorin works in the great tradition of tragic characters, who start out with noble intentions, but have one intrinsic flaw that makes them fall from grace. In Thorin`s case it is his family line that is in conflict with his need to liberate and restore his race. 

A Personal Tribute: Robin Williams

 

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To hear the passing of Robin Williams is to me to hear the death of a titan and legend. In my short movie watching life, particularly as a child, Williams was an omnipresent figure, appearing in countless films that I had remembered more for his appearance, then the story or filmmaking. In this regard, he was like a kind and warm old uncle that one was always pleased to see. It seems a bit odd to say this given some of the films that he did do in the 1990s, with Bicentennial Man and Flubber being the most-extreme examples of him suppressing his comedic instinct.

The films I remember him most for are Hook and Aladdin respectively. In the former, he played Peter Banning, a middle-aged businessman who turns out to be Peter Pan, all grown up. He returns to Neverland to save his children from Captain Hook, who still holds a grudge against him.

The picture is emblematic in showcasing the true appeal of Mr Williams. He was able to capture a true child-like glee, enthusiasm and demeanour that feels authentic and emotionally resonate. Scenes like the imaginary feast and his final fight with Hook showcased this in spades.

The latter scene in particular impresses because of Williams`s delicate balance between that aforementioned child-like attitude and serious side as an adult, shown through how protective he is about his children and the stern warnings he gives to Hook, towards the end of the fight. To me, his performance in Hook is his quintessential because it encapsulates his appeal.

With all that said, his vocal performance in Aladdin as “The Genie” impresses and showcases another facet of his tremendous talent. That being his incredible comedic ability. At worst you can say his vocal performance is nothing more than the producers recording one of his stand-ups, where one of themes happened to be about Aladdin. But that reading is truly taking away Williams`s energy and seamless ability to change from one accent to another, seemingly crossing into branches of Brechtian acting and embodying the silly class clown that you remember years later.

It is a performance that I think has had a huge effect on how animated films are cast, directors going for huge name stars with tremendous energy to sell their film. Even recently with Bradly Cooper as Rocket, I was felt there were echos of Robin Williams`s Genie, in both the aspect mentioned above.

Robin Williams was a great reminder that the child in all of us could still live on, no matter how old, bitter or serious we become.

RIP Robin Williams

Brief Examination: The Lego Movie (2014)

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The Lego Movie represents a towering achievement in animation and family entertainment. To list its various virtues would take countless pages and go into utter depths of gushing, that would be hard of me to escape from and prove to be an utter bore for you to read. Instead, pinpointing, exactly what makes it a success would prove to be a more useful endeavor.

One of its clear inspirations is the Pixar Toy Story films, which worked in showcasing a universal aspect that nearly everyone could relate to, which is our constant and ever-changing relationship to our toys as we age.

The picture draws on our conception of Lego, by simply and quite cleverly putting forward two ways to play with Lego, that also encapsulate the opposing world views. The first being fronted by Lord Business (Will Ferrell) who believes that there should be a plan for everything, including for building Lego sets. On the opposing side, we have the other characters who believe in imagination that is emphasised through working without a net and instructions when it comes to playing with Lego.

This concept and conflict are unique and will appeal to both children and adults. It can engage the former by advocating imagination and freedom in playing and thinking and intrigue the latter, with an interesting story that has themes about how society should be run, through the two approaches.

Additionally, like Toy Story, it takes the excitement of playing with toys, or in this case building and constructing and shows it on screen in a very fun and viserial way. It was most evident in the finale which wonderfully blended live action and animation, in a way that reinforced the action and themes.

But to say that the Lego Movie just feels like it has been inspired by Toy Story is not looking at the full picture. The film feels like it has its pop culture sensibility from Dreamworks and its animation from Rango, which was the last animated featured that made me applaud the genre. Looming like a dark spectre, over the inspirational honey pot is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which the Lego Movie feels like it has been influenced by in terms of its speed, soundtrack and energy.

Finally, the Lego Movie works because it showcases the true power of the animated film, how far it has come, where it is now and a potential future in it which showcases what the imagination and cinema can do when working in perfect harmony, I applaud and admire it in equal measures.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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There is a curious point from Plato`s Republic that I was clinging to while sitting through The Guardians of the Galaxy. It comes from Book X and in it Plato is condemning the artists and their place in society. His main criticism stems from that fact that he feels that artists are useless because they are merely presenting an inferior representation of whatever object they are painting, compared with the perfect form of an object in question. While, this may seem tangential and oddly self-serving; this wholly sums up my thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy.

Throughout its near two-hour run time, what I was viewing was inferior representations of films, ideas and characters that have been presented better elsewhere. The most-crystallized example of this came from the main protagonist, Peter Quill, whose main defining feature seems to be his music that is used as a device to enable the playing of the soundtrack throughout the picture.

Conceptually, it is interesting but it proves to be the bludgeoning centerpiece of a character, who feels in equal parts, Han Solo, Jack Burton, James T. Kirk and rouge with a heart of gold. A film usually makes you forget the puppet string being pulled. But throughout I was aware of this attempt to make me love Peter Quill, like those previous characters mentioned. It was further backed up by odd advertising prior to the film which had pictures of all the characters flickering on the screen, in movie, comic and poster form, and Quill was at the centre of all of it, including photos depicting oddly created selfies with Rocket.

Elsewhere, the film’s screenplay is laced with funny lines, lots of expositional dialogue and murky motivations that quickly come after some of the characters have been introduced. Visually the film impressive with some great world building, being even more stunningly apparent in the IMAX format, and the 3D, now and again, providing occasional depth and pointy, pokey goodness.

Additionally, I admired the finale, which was a great exercise in crowd pleasing and an interesting subversion on some movie troupes, such as villains speaking too long and the cliff-hanging death confrontation. Furthermore, it is commendable of Marvel embracing a property that is on the edge of being niche, with a massive cosmic imagination, it bodes well for the future of the genre.

Finally, Zoe Saldana is the only actor who escapes the broad criticism of inferior representation. She injects her character, with humanity, fragility and emotional pathos, most evident in a long extended scene that she shares with Quill, where she is introduced to music from the 80s.

However, despite all this, I found myself exhausted by Guardians of the Galaxy. It is trying too hard to be a cult film with interesting flourishes, made even more apparent with the post-credit sequence. But in the end, much of its conflict and characters, feel either sketchy developed or vessels for humour and nostalgic harking. The two Captain America pictures, had nostalgic tendencies, but they served the time and moral views of its central character, and interesting things were done with it. For Guardians of the Galaxy, it feels like mere window dressing, trying to evoke a sense of “Cool”

Brief Examination: Citizen Kane (1941)

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How can one speak on that which has been remarked upon before? Discussing Citizen Kane, the touted greatest film of all time, directed by Orson Welles, seems like a foolish endeavor. Particularly true when many great men have spoken about its enduring quality and power. Roger Ebert said of it in 1991, “Any agree it is the greatest film of all time.” My current favorite Film critic, Richard Brody commented on it by saying that- “Citizen Kane made the entire industry shudder.”

On this viewing, it especially resonated for me because I realised that aside from showcasing some of the best aspects of the cinematic form. It also served as a tonic, and a reminder of the power of cinema. It particularly struck me this time, because I have been in a slight apathetic malaise about cinema recently and was trying to find a film to shake me from this temporary state. Kane did this. The mystery became absorbing again. Welles`s camera moves, fascinated me even more. And the story, a reporter`s attempt to find the meaning of Kane`s last word- “Rosebud” gripped me in a state of perpetual curiosity, as though I was viewing the picture for the very first time.

The picture`s central question, can you sum up a man`s life with one word, is quite interesting and haunting. It seems quite timely given the influx of celebrity culture and people supposing they know a celebrity based on a media portrait. Welles`s answer seems to be no, given the reporter`s final words in the last scene. But, if this is true, what was the point of the journey, if we hardly, got to know about Kane, by the film`s admission.

I think Welles is trying to advocate the view that the sum of a man`s life is made up of wholly different and varying degrees of perception. For example, Kane`s second wife- Susan Alexender perceives her husband as someone who does not truly love her and ultimately a lonely person. Whereas, Jedediah Leland, Kane`s best friend- saw Kane as a self-absorbed person who did not love anyone or anything aside from himself.

But, what counteracts this thesis, is Welles`s telling last shot, which depicts a sled called “Rosebud” being cast into the flames by Kane`s butler. Is Welles telling us the true meaning of Kane`s character in this last shot, or is it mere dramatic irony that is thrown at the audience at the last second? It is one of the many reasons why Citizen Kane still continues to enthrall fans of the cinema around the world, and I suspect this is not my last word on the picture.