Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Ciné File Vol. 21

As awards season reaches fever pitch today (rather excitingly it's the Oscars tonight!) I've taken a different route with film this week, choosing classics or recent winners over brand new films. Although only a couple of those I've seen have won Oscars in the past, I've spent the time organised my film-watching habits this week and have downloaded quite a few onto the Sky Box. Now I need to find the time to actually watch them...

There are no new releases reviewed this week: I've been avoiding the cinema because it's half term (too many annoying children) and Fifty Shades of Grey mania has hit (too many enormous groups of drunk women). Normal service will hopefully resume next week, but until then I've been getting my film fix wrapped up inside with Sky Movies and piles of DVDs.

For someone who loves film that fact that I've seen so few classics is appalling. There are so many films I wish I'd seen and knowing where to begin was proving to be a little overwhelming, but luckily this week I discovered The Hollywood Reporter's 100 Greatest Films of All Time list. Embarrassingly, I've only seen 24 of them, so over the next few weeks if I'm stuck for something to watch I'm going to do my best to work through this list before caving and picking yet another post-2000 movie. If I've watched a film off this list I'll be making a note of its position and only writing my brief thoughts instead of a mini-review: it seems pointless writing extensively on films that are so well-known!

3:10 TO YUMA
* * *
Sky Movies // 2007 // DVD

"A small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who's awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher."


A review of a film like this requires a mild disclaimer - more often than not, I don't like Westerns. I think I've been subjected to too many offensively bad Spaghetti Westerns over the years because of my dad's obsession with picking them over quite literally anything and everything else on offer, and as a result my tolerance level for them is pretty low indeed. I'm also not the biggest fan of remakes. Often I think films are remade unnecessarily and the original film should have been left well alone. However, I'm always keen to find an exception to my rule and surprise myself, hence why I made the bizarre decision to watch 3:10 to Yuma.

I'm not overly impressed. Unfortunately I haven't seen the original so can't comment on it in comparison, but I'd hope it's better than this 2007 offering. I found it to be disappointedly dull, which was unexpected given the calibre of the cast. Christian Bale gives an emotional complexity to cattle rancher Dan Evans, and his relationship with son William (Logan Lerman) is handled well on screen, but Russell Crowe does nothing out of the ordinary as famed outlaw Ben Wade. He's good but not exactly memorable, and the same can be said for the rest of the film. There are impressive scenes - the final shootout sequence is explosive, captivating and exciting, even if the outcome is a forgone conclusion from the beginning - but overall it's obvious there is supposed to be tension, particularly between Bale and Crowe on the journey, but it never quite achieves it. The whole film falls a little flat.

Fans of Westerns may be impressed by this: it's less cheesy and offensive than those of the 1960s and 70s, and instead darker and more character focussed while maintaining the spirit of the classics that came before it. For sceptics like me, however, it's not a glowing endorsement of the genre and definitely not the sort of film that could convince me to keep trying with Westerns...

* * * * *
Sky Movies Oscars // 1998 // DVD
The Hollywood Reporter - No. 46

"Following the Normandy Landings, a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action."

Saving Private Ryan is the sort of film that I've only seen a handful of times, but every screening always leaves me just as speechless and awestruck as the first time I saw it. Steven Spielberg's epic drama is colossal both in terms of scale and emotional depth, and is probably the greatest war film I've ever seen. The sequence on Omaha Beach in particular is utterly astonishing and almost uncomfortably well made: the sheer level of loss and the intensity of the experience makes for overwhelming and unforgettable viewing. It's iconic for a reason, and I'm always shocked at how much it affects me even when I know what's coming.

It's raw, staggering and an absolute masterpiece. How it missed out on the Oscar for Best Picture (to the decidedly less impressive Shakespeare in Love…) I'll never understand.

* * * *
Sky Movies // 1998 // DVD

"Two 1990s teenagers find themselves in a 1950s sitcom where their influence begins to profoundly change that complacent world."

Pleasantville has long been a favourite movie of mine, as not only is it endlessly charming and often rather touching, but it's also very inventive and has originality in spades. Teenage siblings Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are transported into 1950s black and white sitcom 'Pleasantville' - a bland, exceedingly safe programme showcasing a stereotypical American town - as characters Bud and Mary-Sue Parker. Here, the high school basketball team always wins, the firemen are only called to retrieve cats from trees - dangerous fires just don't occur - and the books are oddly blank. While Maguire utilises his extensive knowledge of the show in order to blend effortlessly into the community, Witherspoon rebels and questions the banality of Pleasantville life. As her influence and inquisitive nature spreads so does techni-colour in a black and white world, opening up all kinds of problems from a town largely refusing to embrace the change sweeping the inhabitants.

It seems simple enough, but it's very witty and visually lovely to watch. The 1950s costumes are beautiful, and even more so when contrasted with the 1990s scenes at the beginning of the film before the siblings are sent to the sitcom. From the first striking red rose, to the red hearts on the cards in a bridge hand, to entire people changing colour, each pop of colour is a delight to see and expertly handled. There's also something rather special about watching the characters grow and discover colour as they turn from 2D stereotypes into thoughtful, daring characters full of life.

The main appeal of the film for me, though, is the fact that it is littered with subtle clever touches. As their world begins to change, the teenagers begin to question the blank pages in their books, asking Maguire to narrate a couple: 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and 'Catcher in the Rye' - both of which are the most widely banned books in the U.S.. The court-room scenes emulate To Kill A Mockingbird, with the black and white characters downstairs and the "coloured" characters upstairs. Then there's the not so subtle as the Pleasantville world is jolted upside down: 'dangerous' books are burned and 'coloured' characters are targeted for abuse. It's a very clever film, with important social issues interwoven with a seemingly innocent story, and is well worth a watch.

* * * *
Sky Movies Oscars // 1988 // DVD

"Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country."

Rain Man is the sort of film that I've always been too embarrassed to admit I've never seen. I've always pretended to follow conversations about how good it is, but it reached the stage where enough was enough. Thank goodness for the Sky Movies Oscars channel: I've now finally seen it and can actually have a proper opinion on the iconic film. No more mindless nodding and rubbish acting from me.

I agree with the general consensus - it's brilliant. The plot isn't particularly remarkable, and as far as I'm concerned neither is the rest of the film, but Dustin Hoffman is utterly astounding. His performance as Raymond is transformative: he disappears into the role and the disability perfectly, delivering an unflinchingly raw and honest character piece that deserves all of the praise in the world. Although I won't be rushing to watch it again it's genuinely moving and I'm glad I've finally seen it.

* * * *
Sky Movies // 2014 // DVD

"After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face."

There's no getting around this: All Is Lost is basically 100 minutes of Robert Redford clinging to a sinking boat and subsequently drifting 1700 miles off the Sumatra coast in a yellow dingy. It's not exactly an enticing premise - and not one that sounds particularly thrilling - but that being said, it's utterly brilliant. I was genuinely surprised, and despite being sceptical at the beginning I can now appreciate how it fully deserved its 9-minute standing ovation at Cannes.

Robert Redford is fantastic. He's the only actor on screen, and save for a few sentences at the beginning and a couple of expletives throughout he doesn't say anything else at all. The power of his performance comes through his desperate actions after his boat hits a shipping container and tears a hole in the side, kick-starting the beginning of the end for him. It's a slow burn, and while there are moments of high octane tension - such as terrifying storms that topple the boat upside down and leave Redford completely at the mercy of the sea - it's the smaller, less grand, 'special-effectsy' scenes that have a greater effect. Watching sharks circle under his life-raft; container ships sail by without stopping; and a fruitless, desperate call for help via a scribbled message in a jar, all highlight the growing realisation that there really is nothing Redford can do. All is lost, and Redford gives the performance of a lifetime coming to that conclusion.

It's extraordinarily tense, and even without a backstory, flashbacks or any personal details about Redford's character (he isn't even named) it's impossible not to feel for him and route for his survival against insurmountable odds. It's a testament to writer/director J. C. Chandor that he's crafted such a film with - on paper - so little to go on. All Is Lost reminded me an awful lot of Gravity, and the notion of being wholly alone and without help in a seemingly impossible situation that calls for strength, determination and an unshakeable desire to survive. It reaches right to the depths of human spirit, and shows that even when success appears heartbreakingly out of reach, there is always hope.

* * * *
Channel 4 // 2012 // DVD

"After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own."

Silver Linings Playbook may be a bizarre film, but I love it. It doesn't snugly fit into a particular genre: instead it's a wickedly funny comedy with heartbreakingly touching moments, underscored by a bonkers romance and an exploration into serious mental health problems. David O'Russell's wonderful script ticks every box, and he's created an exhilarating and heartfelt film that operates and thrives outside of the box. Never has family tension, football-induced madness, mental illness, and romantic endeavours sat so comfortably together, and the resulting film is a warm and thoroughly enjoyable concoction.

The movie boasts an excellent ensemble cast. I was sceptical at first, but 2 years down the line I'm finally in agreement that Jennifer Lawrence was fully deserving of her Best Actress Oscar. She excels as the recently widowed Tiffany, bringing equal parts sincerity, tenderness and vulnerability to a strong and complex character. For me, Bradley Cooper has never been better here as bipolar former teacher Pat: his other Oscar-nominated turns in American Hustle and American Sniper quite frankly just don't compare. His performance in Playbook is much more nuanced and sophisticated than his other celebrated roles, and by not portraying Pat's mental illness as either terrifying or cute he grounds his character in reality. There may be the odd cliché dotted throughout the film, but the two leads navigate them perfectly, capitalising on their brilliant chemistry and delivering an edgy yet sincere relationship that works wonderfully on screen.

Before watching I didn't expect to like the film as much as I did, but its oddness forms the main aspect of its charm, and any film that remains as unpredictable and sharp as this is one to revisit time and time again.

So what did you watch this week? Have you been to the cinema or instead taken advantage of the television? Do let me know in the comments below!

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