Three Wishes For Cinderella (1973) – Review

I expected a trainwreck. I was forewarned of Norway’s terrible dubbing and how old the story and film feel but when I finally had the chance to experience this film for myself I was delighted with how high above my expectations Three Wishes For Cinderella turned out to be. Cute, in a sincere, honest and timeless way; charming, with it’s simple story, wintery village and deer like performance of Cinderalla, who wouldn’t fall in love with this film; and humble, with the cheap one man dubbing for every character (and they don’t remove the original dub, so you can hear the dialogue twice if you listen closely) and the trying efforts to make something of real artistic value are greatly appreciated: at times I would argue that if Andrei Tarkovsky made a Christmas film, he would’ve made Three Wishes For Cinderella (I imagine he’d make something a little better perhaps).

Pleasantly surprised and delighted to enjoy a Norwegian Christmas tradition.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) – Review

Robert Hamer’s“Kind Hearts and Coronets” is a twisted comedy that’s coveted in darkness yet remains utterly delightful and intriguingly farcical. Set in old (but not ‘ye olde’) England. Our storyteller/main character is Louis, a hilariously morbid and charmingly sociopathic devil. Hamer keeps us laughing constantly, especially in moments we ought not laugh. Louis’ macabre sense of humour and calmness allows us to laugh at the constant backstabbing, ridiculous murders and callous adultery. It wouldn’t take much for Kind Hearts’ premise to feel numbingly pantomime or cartoonish. But through a grounded sense of self awareness it manages to feel more like satire with a hint of clowning around (i.e. Alec Guinness playing eight roles, from sailor to suffragette.)

Best part is, Kind Hearts and Coronets has some really clever little moments in it. Nothing cinematically ground-breaking, but a few moments here and there are pleasingly intuitive on the storytelling level. There’s a moment where Loius tells us how he’s never seen the D’Ascoyne castle except through his mother’s painting. As he does this the castle is shown in a static shot. Which makes perfect sense, on a visual level. The story is his own, we are witness to his story. So when the first shot is a picturesque shot of the castle, it reaffirms the films subjectivity. We see what Louis shows us. Then it transitions into the same shot but with Louis walking towards the castle. He has now seen it, and therefore we can too. It doesn’t make a huge difference to the film, it’s just nice to see a film-maker consider how the dialogue and visuals collaborate.

I loved so many of these little moments. They’re fascinating. When we’re introduced to Louis I noticed a power play through a potential misstep. We’re introduced to the hangman, who I thought was the protagonist. We follow him to a guard outside a cell. Then the dialogue shifts to ‘the cell prisoner’. I didn’t connect the prisoner to the protagonist role. We see, through POV, into the keyhole. The prisoner inside. Had this been it, there would’ve been nothing connecting him as the main character until his story began. Hamer cuts in closer, we’re in the cell, watching him. This extra shot took the story from being about the hangman watching the prisoner to us, the audience, watching the prisoner. Shortly after, he begins to tell us his story.

Once in a while I find a film like this, one that isn’t intended to be received as a statement, nor does it want to be recognised as fine art. And it isn’t exactly pandering to any particular audience. It’s just a film that exists to be enjoyed by those that happen to enjoy it. I forget, or better yet I am to scarcely reminded that films are too much fun to keep bogged down in the pretentiousness of cinema. When I started watching films, a film I loved was The Italian Job. The 2003 Italian Job. And to be honest, reflecting on my personal opinion of it now, I am sure my taste has gotten better. But I want that fun again. Without the ulterior motives. To simply enjoy a film for what it is. I’d be happier if I didn’t have to dodge all the political agendas for me to get a little entertainment from my entertainment.

I love social commentary, and films that have big, deep meanings, but I also recognise that these things have their time and place; sometimes sometimes is often enough.

Thank you Robert Hamer.

The State of 2016

October is traditionally a fairly giddy month, film-wise that is, but a dismaying glance at the listings assures that 2016 is set to disappoint, Oscar season or not. Apparently it only takes a Marvel inception knock off to nudge the competition, 2 Jack 2 Reacherous, into #2 spot, but the ever cumbersome Batchman is now taking his swing at the superhero genre. Likely because the non reputable roles of The Dragon and The Smart Arse he’d play every 2 years just isn’t doing enough for his career. He needs that sweet, sweet validation recognition.

When writing this, the film is yet to screen near me, and despite some of the reviews being positive, I’ve already been disappointed by October as the month of uneventful cinema. Obviously Strange is set to dominate the box office, what else are we watching? The first on a conveyor belt of Trolls movies? Bridget Jones’ Midget Jones?, a film set to test the truly tedious art of forced sequels and stretched cash-grab excuses. It’s uncertain whether forcing a sequel this hard will force the public into clutching their wallets a little tighter, slapping Hollywood’s pickpocketing hand as it eagerly eyes the insides of your wallet. But, much to my anger, Bridget’s Midget is somehow getting a pass, and while there’s nothing saying they can’t make something great from old properties, it’s infuriating to see mediocrity getting the pass this easily.

At current, cinema has to up its game, a lot. It needs to make a worthwhile film, not just something excusable. Before December ends – please. We’re in a state of passing flicks off as good if they’re ‘the best of a bad bunch’, but that holds no weight with me. And it’s doubtful that even Oscar season will tip the scale in the right direction. Maybe Silence, but it’s fighting an uphill battle, 2016 has been a fucking slog to sit through.

Psycho (1960) – Review

Considering that the source material was just another murder mystery with your average sweat-ball psychopath murdering glam-victims in the nude, director Alfred Hitchcock has transformed a stereotypical trashy horror novel in a complex, disturbing character study (intentionally or not). The murder is almost irrelevant, it’s our personal investment that makes Psycho so moving. For something so humble, it’s surprisingly conflicting and unsettling.

For film scholars, Psycho is a haven of psychoanalytic research – a study of Norman alone is enough to stuff a book – but ultimately Psycho is, in one way or another, addressing something far more tragic, the fear of stagnation and loneliness. This terrifyingly accessible theme is what ignites the plot and becomes every character’s fear, it re-imagines the murder mystery horror film and turns it into a tragedy dealing with regret. The idea of a wasted life is something compellingly interesting to all audience members, regardless of era.

We can relate to Marion when she steals, even more when she regrets it, the tragedy is that when she decides to right her wrongs, she’s murdered by someone motivated by a completely irrelevant cause to her own.

Psycho starts with Sam and Marion in a post coitus discussion about their futures together. It’s painted black and white but keeps fairly light in contrast, tone and brightness; this is a drama, the horror-mystery movie comes later. As Marion rushes to get back to the office, she and Sam discuss the prospect of them living together; with Sam’s alimony and crappy job, it seems unlikely they’ll ever be happy together. He even proposes that she find someone who’s actually available. Perhaps Marion could’ve avoided her death, had they remained happy with nothing. Alas, she is miserable, and seizes her opportunity at a better life by stealing her boss’ partner’s money. Remember this is the 60s, so when $40,000 is taken, it might not seem like much, but it’s worth approximately $320,000. After this we meet Norman, a shy and delicate soul. Neither Marion nor Norman are particularly audacious characters, this was Hitchcock working with his most celebrated yet understated characters yet (probably ever).

Anthony Perkins’ performance as Norman is the real captivator. I wouldn’t assume he could do anything, yet there’s a plausibility that, come the ending, makes perfect sense that he did it all along. I appreciate an actor that skilfully plays a role from both sides, leaving the audience to scan his performance for anything that clue us in on this character’s end-game. Kinda like Sam L Jackson in Unbreakable (2000). And no matter how many times cinema tries to pull the wool over our eyes, even with the likes of The Usual Suspects (1995), no one will ever be a better wolf in sheep’s clothing than Mother Bates.

The big Norman/Norma reveal stirred a semi trend in cinema, most visible in the horror movie trope ‘split personality killer reveal’. I always remember Donald Kaufman’s script in Adaptation when thinking of this trope. As lazy writing goes, this twist is the biggest identifier of the bunch. I’m never one for praising something because it was the original, I praise films being and remaining original, and that’s what sets Psycho apart. It’s not a ploy for cheap gasps, it’s a moment of understanding what everything meant to these characters, the reveal explains Norman’s true tragedy. How can he run away from his trap when he harbours it so knowingly and powerlessly within himself? I love how the attention to detail in the dialogue and the handling of his portrayal totally sells the twist. A trope is never a bad thing, it’s a tool, a commonality in movies. It’s comparable to using flour for a cake, they all have it, but it’s the recipe and baker that changes determines its quality.

Hitchcock’s big budget Hollywood films showed he knows how to get to the heart of pupil widening tension while weaving a remarkably elaborate yet followable story, and the nearly independent sized budget faces him with the challenge to do it with less. A challenge he set himself I might add. And even with the cinematic challenges/accomplishments of Vertigo, Rope and Rear Window under his belt, I will always recognise Psycho as Hitchcock’s definitive magnum opus.

The Exorcist (1973) – Review/Analysis

I’ve seen The Excorist perhaps three times in my life. But only once at the cinema, last night. I have now only truly experienced The Exorcist once in my life.

Two years ago, I had the same realisation after watching The Shining in a cinema. Once again I now idolise the words of a director I loathe, Eli Roth; “If you don’t want to be scared in a horror film, don’t close your eyes. Close your ears”. I may despise his movies, but I respect his awareness of the horror genre. However, what makes The Exorcist brilliant is how you’re inescapably screwed either way. If you can’t handle horror, I suggest putting The Exorcist on mute, and the TV on standby. This review is an observation on two aspects I love in William Friedkin’s 1973 classic, The Exorcist.

For William Friedkin sound is a connective tissue. He ends scenes in a crescendo, creating a rollercoaster-like flow, a tool to reset the inertia of fear within each segment of the narrative. Friedkin recognises that every sequence is an opportunity for suspenseful/ominous music to agitate the spectator, providing them a portfolio of information, highlighting the importance of each scene and (by proxy) resetting the immediate suspense, starting each scene afresh, attempting new ways to terrify you. Fact is, when films pair frightening sound with the monster they’re neglecting the potential that visual/audio storytelling can do. Any monster is terrifying enough if you build up enough suspense for it. Audibly create suspense, visually create shock; but this isn’t a rule per se, it’s just another form of intuitive film-making. But Friedkin doesn’t stop there, the monster isn’t developed to be revealed; the face/demon is never even referred to by name. Pazuzu slips into the film, like Tyler Durden in Fight Club (but for different effect). For a long time critics have been bashing flicks for using lazy scare tactics i.e. showing a demon jumping towards the audience for no other purpose than to shock. But for a handful of movies (e.g. The Exorcist) this tactic works perfectly since it’s used so so intelligently. First, you’re completely right to eye roll when tedious jumpscares are mindlessly thrown in to crappy flicks, i.e. loud noise, demon flies towards the camera and screams at the audience etc. But when Pazuzu suddenly flashes on screen it doesn’t scream “horror”, rather it develops fear. Your reaction isn’t “omg, so scary”, it’s subtler, you’re forced to question yourself; “Did I see that?”, “Wait. What was that?”. When you plant a question in the audience, get them questioning their experience, you’ve got them interacting with the text, so on some level, the story is now personal. But, Pazuzu doesn’t exist solely to instil fear to the audience, he creates fear for the characters. The dramatic irony is that he taunts his victims and only we know it. In fact, no one actually addresses him until Father Karras exorcises the girl. Pazuzu isn’t a trope or tool, he’s an extension of fear, uncontrollable and omniscient.

The director’s cut of the movie has a lot more content than the original version. More Pazuzu, quite a few music changes here and there, the spiderwalk scene was added and a couple shots were integrated throughout. One shot in particular struck me as interestingly important; the introductory shot of Regan’s window. If you show too much of a location the audience is going to get really sick of it (I’m looking at you Buried and Locke) but if you introduce your main location and then shift focus elsewhere you create intrigue and prominent foreshadowing, almost a premonition of sorts. Sure, you could let the story just naturally go there, and that’s fine, but I consider it to make more sense that you to make your audience aware of where the story is heading (without revealing the mystery, only building it) , because otherwise your establishing a place like Iraq to then drop it from the story. Iraq is a major part of the story, it’s probably 40 minutes of run time that establishes one character, his knowledge, the demon and Pazuzu’s origins. And if you’ve only seen Iraq for 40+ minutes, you’d be right in assuming that the movie is primarily set there. Using a quick 2 second shot immediately suggests that there’s a forward progression, an evolution and destination for the story. The common criticism for The Exorcist is how the story takes a fair while to get going, for the wheels to start turning, this opening shot excuses that by turning waiting into anticipation/curiosity.

This is one of the scariest cinematic experiences ever made. I’m not a horror fan. I’m not even scared by The Exorcist. But I stand by it because it’s one of the most technically amazing films of all time. I’d love to fully dissect it. I haven’t even even talked about the characters, the aesthetics, the music, the editing, I’ve only scratched the surface of how amazing this masterpiece is. I’d have to watch it a hundred times over, each time focusing on one element. There’s enough skill present in every cinematic element that The Exorcist cannot be fully appreciated on just one viewing. Every sequence has to be individually deconstructed, before investigating its cinematic mechanics and storytelling devices. This is a harsh and gruelling film, an exercise in audience punishment, yet the film isn’t without its reward. To experience this as cinema, and not just a film, is a gift.

Star Trek Beyond (2016) – Review

I can’t believe I forgot to write a review for this. Where did the time go?! Nevertheless… Star Trek: Beyond!

Simon Pegg is a massive sci-fi nerd, he’s the nerd king living in the valhalla of geekdom, so it makes sense that after his gawing over the genre, she should finally write one (that isn’t… swallows venom… Paul). And given the simplistic yet pleasingly entertaining filmography of Justin Lin, this was sure to be the ultimate amalgamation of action and sci-fi intelligence that Trekkies and casual audiences were waiting for. Since Star Wars versed Star Trek, we might finally have something to appease the sci-fi enthusiasts on both sides of the mythical division.

But to be honest, it’s not that amazing. It’s certainly something for your Furious 7 lovers, but it’s probably not for your hardcore Search For Spock lovers either. Lin’s action feels a tad clunky at times, and though I argue its benefits for adding to the Trekky charm, it doesn’t have the fast, swift rhythm and flow that Fast 6 nailed. Yet as special as the character moments are, and the situation at hand is very Trekky in its roots, there’s nothing mindblowing either. This time Kirk isn’t a complete A-Hole, so that’s nice. They actually get into some of the more peace serving missions, y’know – the entire purpose of the Enterprise. There’s a dashing of comedy, a blend of classic Trek humour and general comedy. I could keep listing things, but I’ll get to the point. Star Trek: Beyond is a well-balanced recipe but isn’t exactly ground-breaking, nor is it firmly committed to appealing wholesale to one particular demographic. Yet I will argue that it doesn’t spread itself too thin.

The writer, Pegg, delivers on the sci-fi rich story moments without being too stale or bland, remaining traditional instead. There’s a real sense of exploration, sold by how each character reacts differently from the other depending on what scenario they’re thrown into. The sense of group and community is ever present and more convincing now that the internal bickerings of Spock and Kirk, and Spock and Uhura (I mean Spock’s just a dickhead really, isn’t he?), are scrapped. Everyone gets on with what needs doing. The communisteque theme works really well, instead of the Enterprise members dealing with their “conflicts” (in the archetypal Hollywood sense), we instead see the team dealing with conflict resolution, a massively under-used and overlooked theme that blockbusters have sadly forgotten. But then again, Hollywood has hardly been communist friendly throughout it’s reign.

Star Trek Beyond’s climax is its biggest downfall. It is kinda goofy, a feature that Lin has captured, intentionally or otherwise, throughout the action romp. Given the massive budget and Lin’s career, I would assume intentionally. But the climax is hindered mostly by Krall, the antagonist. After discovering certain spoiler filled revelations, we finally understand his motives, and they’re quite interesting. Spoilers: I would like to see films investigate the turning point of a good man turning vengeful. He’s an interesting who’s waaay under utilised. What could’ve been a battle of the intellects was instead a battle of the “don’t let the bomb explode” and it kinda sucked and dragged for an eternity. Gotta deliver on that simplistic conflict and obligatory race to save the day tension… yaw-fucking-awwwwwn.

Beyond is a lot better than Into Darkness, but both are far from great films, but at least Beyond is a decent attempt at a good one. Pegg is dragging Star Trek into the right direction; kick and scream all it wants, but Trek might just be savable after all. (Even though Beyond’s predecessors are mindless as fuck, they’re watchable action entertainment, and had Abrams not had Star Wars on his plate, his contribution to Beyond might’ve been exactly what it needed)

Misery (1990) – Review

Obviously non-biographical, you can see a combination of King’s imagination and fear playing out on a simplistic, and easy, cinematic telling of Misery. One ‘King trait’ I love is the abundance of macabre humour, no matter how dark his twisted tales go, there’s always a sardonic punchline hidden somewhere. This time it’s done mostly through the performance of James Caan. Reiner left most of the terror in Bates’ hands. Caan is just the agonised protagonist, and he plays it fantastically. But he’s easily outshone by Bates, but that’s nothing new. Neither Reiner’s direction or Caan’s performance makes this film memorable, it’s 100% Bates, through and through, this is Kathy’s shining moment.

She’s insane, bloody insane I tell you! She’s a maniac. Hugs and cuddles, pigs and blankets then knives and fire only moments later. Annie Wilkes’ soft/kind-hearted performance sells the defeat in Caan’s eyes when his attempts to murder her go wrong. She acts like something just went wrong, but everyone in the audience is begging for her to “drink the wine!”. Her sweet and innocent performance makes your fear for Sheldon (Caan) more. And then she does the unthinkable. She murders the sweetest character in the film. And what’s worse is how the film neglects to show the consequences and repercussions of his death. It’s sad what happened to Sheldon and all, but what about the poor wife?! She’s completely overlooked and it’s agonising.

The whole film is selling this naturalistic tone to make everything more believable, but then it does a few things like this which ruin the illusion and immersion, these loose threads left me noticing how hollow certain aspects of the film are. Like what happened with the pig?! And how does she make any money? How come nothing else happens with the agent? She vanishes from the story and just appears at the end. All these little niggles leave the film feeling rushed, with glossed over moments and unresolved ideas.

It’s a well done film, but it’s far from fully developed. But it’s still awesome though. I just hate the incomplete feeling it gives me.