Review: 2001- A Space Odyssey (1968)

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Pretentious visual showcase or a powerful illustration of the cinematic medium? These are just some of the disparate and contrasting opinions, which have been expressed about Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film- 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, the most pertinent question, which will be the central focus of this piece is why does 2001: A Space Odyssey still appeal to people in 2016? This line of enquiry has been inspired by a 70mm screening of the picture, which I attended last night. Surprisingly, the film was sold out, which resulted in an unprecedented large queue around the cinema and surrounding area. Moreover, at the end of the film, most of the audience burst into sudden applause, which was encouraging, to say the least.

From the reaction of the audience, one could gauge that the picture still resonates and engages beyond the mere curiosity factor of seeing the film in 70mm. The primary reason for this is because Kubrick has crafted a film that transcends the cinematic medium. In fact, one can liken it to a symphony that is about humanity and its place in the universe at large.

Like a symphony, the film has four distinctive parts and movements, which achieve two things. Firstly, they show humanity at crucial points in their development. Secondly, the movements chart the course of the Monolith, which is a tall black rectangular object that appears throughout the film.

The Monolith and its connection to humanity is one of the picture’s most fascinating facets to consider as it calls into question how this potential extraterrestrial or possible celestial object perceives humanity. It sees us in our infancy and oversees our transformation into a new life form. But what does it gain by aligning itself with our species, this is one of the film’s tantalising ambiguities and horrifying notions to consider.

With this last idea in mind, my recent viewing surprised me because it made me realise that 2001 can be seen as a horror film in many ways. Kubrick presents some quite subtle moments of terror. The most memorable of which is laboured sequence which is powerful in its simplicity. The second act of the film depicts the American spacecraft, Discovery One and its voyage towards Jupiter. On board are two mission pilots and three other scientists who are in hibernation until they reach the planet. Moreover, a sentient computer called Hal 9000 is on board. His primary responsibility is controlling the systems of the previously mentioned spacecraft.

After a series of cover-ups and mistakes, Hal 9000 takes to murdering the hibernated scientists. Kubrick shows their death through a close-up of their vital signs on their life-support systems. The scene is harrowing as the progression of their death is depicted in real-time and is punctuated with eerie silence as the audience is left to wonder about their feelings of the ordeal.

Hal 9000 is 2001’s lingering aspect because he is a compelling character who represents Kubrick’s primary thematic exploration, which is that technology has dwarfed humanity. Kubrick not only conveys this in visual terms by making the audience marvel at spaceships with these balletic shots that see them in rotation and motion. But one gets the impression that Kubrick is being ironic with Hal 9000 by making him more human than any other character on screen.

Perhaps the answer as to why does 2001: A Space Odyssey still appeal to people in 2016 is simple. It conceptualises humanity on a grand and cosmic scale while also being a film that has to be experienced. In this regard, Kubrick has created a film with monumental ambition that is only matched by the cinema.

 

Concise Review: Tangerine (2015)

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Tangerine is a vibrant picture that in its every frame imbues creativity, and sheer humanism. Additionally, it is a striking example of new form giving rise to the one of the appeals of cinema, which is experiencing a unique time and place, which is fundamentally different from our own. The film was shot with the use of many IPhone 5s devices. Despite this fact, Tinsel Town comes to radiant and stunning life with breathtaking tracking shots, which makes one feel like that they are bystanders watching the characters. Finally, the film has a natural state of being about its trans-gendered individuals, which adds to the authenticity of the picture. It does not feel the need to rationalise nor moralise their gender preferences.

Review: Inglorious Bastards (2009)

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In my mind, Inglorious Bastards has always been Quentin Tarantino’s most polarising film. At best one can say it is a fascinating, controversial and wholly original portrait of a crucial period during the Second World War. At worst one can characterise it as an excessive, misleading, and ultimately pointless, adolescent effort. However, on this recent viewing of the picture, the film opened itself up to me and presented me with a much more interesting reading of its thematic explorations.

Primarily, the film is about a propaganda war with cinema being used as a tool to give countries and people a mythical grandeur. For example, the titular Bastards are seen by Hitler as spectral figures who have evaded capture. Additionally, he sees one of the soldiers in the infamous group who is called “The Bear Jew” as an actual Golem from Jewish folklore. The rumours and soldiers testimonies of their actions deeply disturb him and his cult of personality that he later decides that his attendance at a lavish German Film Night at a cinema in Paris is crucial.

The picture that is being shown at said event is entitled “Nation’s Pride.” It chronicles the three days survival of a lone German sniper called Fredrick Zoller and his subsequent killing of 250 enemy soldiers. One gets the distinctive impression that the film represents a morale boost for the German High Command. More crucially, the picture is used as a tool to mythologise and immortalise a recent victory, which is characteristic of the primary goals of the Third Reich. Daniel Bruhl, who plays Zoller, is the film’s most fascinating performance as Bruhl imbues the character with contrary traits of arrogance and bashfulness, which results in the most interesting aspect of the film. In fact, one of the picture’s smallest moments casts the most considerable impression.

In the aftermath of the death of Zoller at the hands of Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), the young Jewish woman and projectionist of “Nation’s Pride.” observes the young decorated war hero in the film. She sees his vulnerability and abject fear of the situation and then she looks back at his dead body and casts this sad expression. For the first time, she can look beyond the mythic façade as well as the Nazi uniform and be reminded that she killed a human being.

The moment is also indicative of a recurring theme in the film, in which the actual truth shatters perceived truth. This theme is magnificently surmised by Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) at the beginning of the film when he says, “I love rumours! Facts can be so misleading, where rumours, true or false, are often revealing.” Tarantino employs this on a personal level when characters confront one another on their reputations. For example, near the end of the picture, Landa defensively recoils at his title of “The Jew Hunter.” and remarks upon the nature of one of the captured Bastards’ nicknames, “The Little Man.”

Lt Aldo Raine smugly says at the end of the picture, “I think this might be my masterpiece.” Inglorious Basterds is not Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece but it is his most sophisticated film in expounding upon the power and virtue of the cinematic medium.

Review: The Hateful Eight (2016)

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Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film, The Hateful Eight is a fascinating revisitation of his central thematic fixation, which fundamentally grows into a budding new form of expression for the black-humoured and highly cineliterate auteurist.

Tarantino’s exploration and presentation of the self-appointed persona are very much ingrained in the fabric of the film. Many of the title characters are taking on personas when staying at “Minnie’s Haberdashery.” In fact, one could infer that each of their roles are Tarantino’s illustrations of different approaches to performance. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) feels like an exercise in over the top scenery chewing. He perhaps tries too hard in attempting to convince people of the illusion. Meanwhile, Joe Gage (Micheal Madsen) feels like a purposeful side character, as he keeps to himself and does not comment on the boiling political tension in the cabin. Finally, Bob (Demián Bichir) feels like someone who is attempting to play a part, but you can see through the act and persona straight away as he is extremely one-note and reactionary.

This idea of the self-appointed persona takes on richer thematic resonance with a twist near the end of the film. It is established that the audience has been witnessing a constructed representation of “Minnie’s Haberdashery” as the day before the current events of the film- Jody Domergue (Channing Tatum) and his gang kill everybody in the secluded place and lie in waiting to rescue Dasiy Domergue. (Jennifer Jason Leigh) In this stretch of ten-fifteen minutes, the audience witnesses the expensively bountied bandits attempt to construct a convincing scene. Jody even makes a case for letting General Sanford “Sandy” Smithers live due to how it will make the scene feel more authentic as opposed pity for the old man’s life. These moments represent an evolution for Tarantino.

While his pictures have always been novelistic in structure, which is most evident by the chapter headings and the use of time feeling like paragraphs. In The Hateful Eight, Tarantino has made a film that is inherently stagey, which fundamentally feels of a piece with the themes and structure of his films. For example, the previously mentioned scene seems like Tarantino creating a new theme of the self-constructed scene, which greatly synthesis with his typical narrative set up of the aftermath of a significant event, such as a robbery, massacre or death.

Despite the staginess of the film, Tarantino inherently adheres to some of the axioms of the cinematic medium. In his use of Ultra Panavision 70, Tarantino reminds the viewer that cinema can be incredibly potent and powerful because of its focus on faces and the effect they have on us. The use also punctuates his newly minted theme of the self-constructed scene as it adds detail and texture to the scene in question. It is also a firm reminder of the experiential and voyeuristic nature of cinema. Rather, then witness an abstract scenery change like one would get on stage, we observe the real-time making of a scene, which in some way makes us complicit as viewers.

Concise Review: The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

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The Deep Blue Sea is the cinematic equivalent of seeing an intense flame flicker and eventually extinguish in a mournful manner. The film charts the passionate affair that Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) has with a former Second World War RAF pilot- Freddie Page. (Tom Hiddleston) Rather than being a societal condemnation of the central plot point; Blue Sea is instead a powerful and potent exploration of Collyer’s conscience and mindset in the midst of this forlorn period of her life.

Some of the film’s early scenes effectively illustrate this central idea as the audience is shown impressionistic flashbacks of Collyer’s time with Page. In the first five minutes of the picture, director Terrance Davies effortlessly makes the film purposefully fleeting which gives the film this acute sense of unreality. Nearly every shot within this brief time span last a mere second, and it truly conveys the transient nature of love and time.

However, Davies is not a slave to this surreal structure as the social values of 1950s Britain are very much ingrained in the fabric of the picture and work as showcasing the thematic exploration of love in the film. For example, in perhaps the most crucial scene of the picture, Hester’s mother in law expounds upon the destructive nature of passion by simply stating that “It always leads to something ugly.”

The scene is important in setting up the conflict between passion and devotion. These are two essential elements of love that the film explores and ultimately it shows a balance between both is required if a relationship is to flourish. This conclusion called to mind the Aristotelian principle of the Golden Mean, which states that if one wants to live a virtuous life, then their actions must always be between two extremes. The Deep Blue Sea is also a vivid illustration of this Aristotelian doctrine.

Year in Review: The Top Ten Films of 2015

1) Mad Max Fury Road

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A veteran like Miller understands the power of the image and what it yields, which is on full display in this visionary post-apocalyptic film.

2) Whiplash

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An exhilarating and lingering depiction of ambition.

3) Bridge of Spies

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A perfectly crafted period picture that captures the Cold War in all its murky and paranoid detail.

4) It Follows

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A fascinating and loving embrace of the slasher genre that conceptualises death in a frightening new way.

5) Ex Machina

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The cinematic equivalent of seeing a Chess Game unfold.

6) Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

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The Force Awakens greatly articulates and expounds upon the appeal of the enduring Star Wars saga.

7) Slow West

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A fundamentally tragic Western that chronicles the changing perspectives of two men’s outlook on life.

8) Inherent Vice

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A superb piece of experiential cinema and admirable adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s dense and psychedelic novel.

9) Macbeth 

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Nature and War are at the heart of this commendably artful retelling of William Shakespeare’s powerful tragedy.

10) Crimson Peak

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A fantastic harmony between Gothic horror and the exuberant, surreal style of Italian horror cinema.