Friday, 26 July 2013

The Thing (1982)

Tom:
The Thing, 1982, USA
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley & Keith David


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''Why don't we just wait here for a while... see what happens''

I have this theory about John Carpenter's 'The Thing', I am damn near convinced that this is the least disliked film ever made. I'm not saying there aren't detractors if you look hard enough, unfortunately its the case with even the greatest of things (pun slightly intended) but I have never encountered a human being on earth who claims to even remotely dislikes 'The Thing' and who can blame them? The film is a bonafide masterpiece.

A group of scientist working from a secluded research center are thrust into paranoia after learning that one of them may be inhabited by a shape shifting alien.

I first saw 'The Thing' around about four years ago and I have been in love with it ever since. Coming into this film as a young and ignorant teen who really knew nothing about it only to sit through 109 minutes of pure atmospheric terror is really a one of kind experience. I can't really grasp the idea of audiences in 1982 not realizing the films greatness at the time, I know that it was basically the anti- E.T but this film should have been as critically lauded then as it is today, well at least we're making up for it now.

'The Thing' is undeniably one of the most terrifying film experiences ever created. Very few films have ever been able to replicate the tension and atmosphere that John Carpenter does here. Even with nothing but the sound of the snow outside the base camp, this film will keep you on edge. One of the films most incredible traits is its portrayal of paranoia. The way in which the characters trusts are lost and friendships disintegrate are simply enthralling to spectate. As the characters mindsets are being challenges so are the audiences allegiances to characters are to. Just like MacReady and the crew, we are as unaware of who The Thing as they are.

Then there are the visual effects. I have no qualms about saying that 'The Thing's effects are my favorite ever put on screen. I can not emphasize enough how well they hold up. These visuals are as horrifying today as I imagine they were at the time of the films release. There is just some kind of visceral thrill to these practical effects that the CGI today simply can not replicate. From the horrific sight of the mutated dog to the explosive climax, 'The Thing' is a visual effects masterclass, I can not truly do these visuals justice, they must be seen to be believed.

I am a big John Carpenter fan and it really is heartbreaking to admit that he had severe career downfall but what makes it even more heartbreaking is how great he truly was. The mans knack for creating nail biting suspense and an eerie atmosphere was just remarkable and the stars really aligned when he made this film, all great directors have at least that one great film that is the centerpiece of their legacy and although it has some steady competition with the likes of 'Halloween' & 'They Live', 'The Thing' really is Carpenter's magnum opus. It's almost like he could no wrong, artistically wise,  with this film and it results in the phenomenal experience we receive.

Yet another aspect of the films greatness is sound. On one hand we have the phenomenal theme by the legendary Ennio Morricone that does it's job perfectly in setting the tone of the film, the thuds that the theme provides sounds almost like heartbeats and establish the anxiety we are about to be in. The fact that Morricone's score was nominated for a Worst Musical Razzie is probably the most irritating tidbit of information I have ever heard, it's almost like if Stanley Kubrick got nominated for Worst Director for 'The Shining'...oh wait. In addition to the film's great score is the use of no music. The fact that Carpenter elects not to pipe in the score at unnecessary is a great move and it's even better when simply the sound of the snow storm on the outside of the base. 'The Thing' is a film that uses sound to its full advantage.

Sporting what is undoubtedly THE GREATEST BEARD IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND, Kurt Russell is the definition of badass as the awesome R.J MacReady. Seriously, Russell has to be one of the most likeable action heroes of all time and did I mention his beard in this? its perfect. Everybody in the cast does a really terrific job and completely sells the paranoia of the frightening situation they are put in, Wilford Brimley is excellent as Blair and Keith David is great as Childs.

To me, 'The Thing' is just a perfect film. Few films have ever reached the terror and suspense that Carpenter is able to here. 'The Thing' has always been in top 10 films of all time but after this viewing it has to have cracked my top 5.

P.S: That beard...

*****

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Mud (2013)

Tom:
Mud, 2013, USA
Director: Jeff Nichols
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan and Sam Shepard

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''You go to know what's worth keepin' and what's worth lettin' go''


Jeff Nichols' third feature film 'Mud' is many things, a crime film, a drama, a thriller, a comedy, a coming of age film but above all, 'Mud' is brilliant. The film poses one of the most intriguing and enthralling premises I've seen for a tale of youth naivety and growing up that I've seen a long while and Nichols manages to get the very best out of all aspects of the film and creates an experience to remember.

The tale of two young boys who discover a fugitive living in a boat in the trees of a Mississippi island and are determined to help him escape those who are hunting him and to return him to the woman he loves.

The genre of coming of age films has been done many, many times over the years and in countless of different ways, but for some reason 'Mud' seems so fresh and original. Now, I know that this film isn't exclusively a coming of age film but it still does a better job a telling a realistic tale of growing up. The characters of Ellis and Neckbone really embody to naivety of youth, even when the two are aware of Mud's past they continue to help him out so that he can return to his girlfriend, Juniper, simply because they love each other. Things like this may sound a little too sentimental for some but the way in which Nichols handles it makes his film exude charm and likability.

'Mud's folk tale like approach to its narrative that mixes with its realism gives audiences the sense of the line between reality and fantasy being blurred. Its admirable when a film even attempts to dip into both worlds but when it is able to reach success like this then it becomes all the more admirable. Fashioned as a story you may hear around a camp fire, utilizing it's southern setting to its full advantage as its factual location is the perfect backdrop for fantastical events.

It's incredible to hear the story of how 'Mud' came to be. Nichols envisioned the film as a student, even the casting of McConaughey, and was inspired by the novels of Mark Twain. You really get a sense of the passion with which Nichols is assembling the film with, I always love hearing stories of filmmakers who get the chance to creates projects they dreamed of when they were younger and this gives me an even deeper appreciation for this film.

As I have alluded to many times above, the film is incredibly well Directed by Nichols he's execution of the realistic folk tale is really incredible. Another highly impressive aspect of film making here is Nichols screenplay, there were a couple scenes I really could have done without but overall I thought the script was just excellent. Also, Adam Stone's Cinematography is absolutely awe inspiring capturing the inner beauty of South.

If a few years ago you were to say that Matthew McConaughey was going to become a great and important actor, you probably would have been laughed at in the same way if you said that Ben Affleck was going to become one of America's finest filmmakers. If his phenomenal turn in 'Killer Joe' last year, solidified his remarkable career turn around then his performance in 'Mud' could label him a future Oscar winner. McConaughey is phenomenal here as the loveable and enigmatic Mud, from the moment his character appeared on screen I became invested in the film and his performance, truly great stuff from the man and I really hope he can keep this hot streak up. The two young actors Tye Sheridan and Sam Shepard are incredible as well and really help make this film as good as it is, the interaction between McConaughey and the kids is one of the films greatest traits. Reese Witherspoon does a decent job too in a role which doesn't allow her to do a hell of a lot and I damn near jumped out of my chair when I found out that Michael Shannon was in this, that guy's so awesome.

I came into 'Mud' with really high expectations and I am thrilled to say the film really lived up to them. A truly beautiful, emotive and charming coming of age film that is terrifically crafted and well performed. Destined to be one of 2013's best films.

****1/2

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Only God Forgives (2013)

Tom:
Only God Forgives, 2013, France/Thailand/USA
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Kristen Scott Thomas & Vithaya Pansringarm
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''Time to meet the Devil''


'Only God Forgives' arrival to the screen has been almost as enigmatic as the film itself. After Nicolas Winding Refn’s instant cult hit ‘Drive’ was released to an overwhelmingly positive reaction and was renowned for being able to strike the perfect balance of a mainstream hit and an arthouse one. Audience goers would not be out of place in expecting ‘Only God Forgives’ to deliver in the same way that ‘Drive’ did, but this film is a very different beast.

Julian, a drug dealer who uses a Thai boxing club as a cover, has his controlled life thrown upside down when his Brother is murdered and his demanding mother compels him to find his killer.

While ‘Drive’ was a film that had an undeniable entertainment factor, it is very hard to say the same about ‘Only God Forgives’, this is a film that may mesmerize and enthrall but it is better to not going in expecting a fun time or just to see the film because it features one of the biggest stars in the business, because disappointment will be eminent. ‘Only God Forgives’ pretty much embodies what it means to be a modern art house film, there is an infinite amount of long tracking shots, brooding performances and no relatable characters. The question is though, is Refn’s film able to deliver one of the best films the sub-genre has seen in the last decade? Meh, not really.

It’s not that ‘Only God Forgives’ is a bad film because it really isn’t. It’s a film that is a mix between a pleasant surprise and major disappointment. ‘Forgives’ is slightly more coherent than I was expecting but because of this it becomes almost a little too self-reserved and self-indulgent. If it were too have gone all out and become this incredibly visceral experience, I believe it would have been all the better for it.

Refn is a very talented guy who has been on a real hot streak, so even though this is a good enough film, it still feels slightly disappointing. Refn’s 2008 film ‘Bronson’, it is able to convey and extract so many different emotions and is a joy to watch, ‘Only God Forgives’ isn’t. I know it isn’t fair to compare the two but the contrast in quality is undeniable.

For all its short comings, there are still things to appreciate here. It really is a beautiful looking film, using an extensive amount of neon lights to mend with the grunginess of the Thai underbelly. ‘Forgives’ also features a substantial amount pretty interesting and bloody violence, the scenes in which Chang is torturing other characters are easily the best of the film.

The stand out performance of the film comes from Vithaya Pansringarm as the cold, calculating and vicious Chang. Whenever Pansringarm is on screen the film is better for it. Chang is really the only redeeming character on screen. I love the contrast his character has in the scenes where he has where he is a complete badass and partaking in incredibly violent acts and then the ones where he is singing karaoke in a bar in front of an audience of cops, the guy is so awesome. Ryan Gosling is probably the films main selling point and while I am a really big fan of the guy, I have to say that he really doesn’t add a lot to the film. He isn’t bad but this role could have been played by anyone. Gosling is very quickly becoming typecast as the brooding tough guy, which is kind of disappointing. Coming into this I was really expecting Kristen Scott Thomas to overact like crazy, but while there was instances of it, she really wasn’t as bad as I though she may be. She actually gives the second best performance of the film and I actually thought she was underutilized in the end.

‘Only God Forgives’ is not a bad film but neither is it a memorable nor necessary one like I’m sure many were anticipating it to be. The film is a beautiful yet morally empty film. ‘Only God Forgives’ is a fine film but it is more disappointment than it is a home run. Hopefully the highly talented Refn and Gosling can collaborate on another project that is as great as ‘Drive’ in the future. Damn, I really wanted to like this...

**1/2


Saturday, 20 July 2013

This is the End (2013)

Tom:
This is the End, 2013, USA
Directors: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Stars: James Franco, Seth Rogen & Jay Baruchel

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''Hermione just stole all of our shit. And Jay suggested that we rape her. I think the only reason he did that is because he knows he's about two minutes away from becoming the house bitch himself.''

In what was my second cinematic venture of the day, my friend and I saw 'This is the End'. Truth be told, I probably didn't have  much interest in seeing this film at first but it's overwhelming reception overseas virtually made this a must see for me. I'm very thankful I did as 'This is the End' is not only the best comedy of 2013 but one of the years best films.

After Jay Baruchel comes to Los Angleses to visit Seth Rogen, the two attend a party at James Franco's house, unfortunately this coincides with apocalypse and Rogen, Baruchel & Franco along with Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill & Danny McBride must all find a way to survive.

I dont think I have ever laughed as much in a cinema as I did with 'This is the End'. This film is just flat out hysterical from the very get go. Being a film that is co-directed by Seth Rogen and staring a majority of his buddies, this has all the ingredients of being a giant pretentious mess, unfortunately it doesn't come too that due to all the actors being great sports and allowing themselves to be the butt of the joke on multiple occasions. It was also a masterstroke to have all these stars portray themselves, it gives a great sense of familiarity and makes all the gags even funnier.

'This is the End' features a screenplay written by its co - directors and its just satirical genius, the joke of  actors not being worthy enough to be accepted into heaven is very funny and differs from the popular view that actors are simply more important than the average person. Speaking of genius, the best scene of the film has to be when the guys make the amateur 'Pineapple Express' sequel 'Pineapple Express 2: Blood Red'. The plot being that Danny McBride's charcater from the first film has turned evil and is forcing Rogen and Franco's characters to assassinate Woody Harrelson (played hilariously by Jonah Hill) because he is making a speech that will legalize marijuana, I dont think I have ever laughed at something so hard in the history of my existence.

In addition to being uproariously hilarious, 'This is the End' actually gets surprisingly intense in its final half (albeit hilariously intense). The demon monster actually feels quite threatening to the characters. The proverbial ''shit hitting the fan'' scene at the beginning is really well done as is the scene with the giant chasm engulfing Los Angleses.

Sans James Franco, there really isn't anyone in the cast that I am that big a fan of, but after seeing the film I have grown more respect for damn near everyone on screen. The real life chemistry of the cast  really shines through here and you can tell the actors are having as good a time making the film as the audience is having while watching it. Seth Rogen is great playing too his strengths of the loveable guy, James Franco is as awesome as usual, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and Jay Baruchel are all very good and Jonah Hill just may be the show stealer as he plays himself as seemingly condescending and smugly kind. All the lead actors do a great job of poking fun at themselves and the film benefits from it greatly. There are also some really good cameos, Michael Cera is probably the most memorable as a drunk asshole, Channing Tatum is also pretty awesome here too. There are also a few cameos that I wasn't a big fan of, like Emma Watson's, I like the scene which revolves around her but whenever she was on screen I thought it fell flat. There were some cameos that should have been played out more i.e Paul Rudd, and some cameos that really didn't add a thing i.e Rhianna. Overall though mostly everyone does a great comedic job, especially the main six.

'This is the End' is a brilliant comedy that features plenty of laughs and a nice satirical touch. The lead characters all do a great job and have no problem in poking fun at themselves. At this point, I definitely believe 'This is the End' is one of the years best films and the comedy to beat.

****

The Conjuring (2013)

Tom:
The Conjuring, 2013, USA
Director: James Wan
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Vera Famiga & Lili Taylor

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''You have a lot of spirits in here but there's one that I'm most worried about, because it is so hateful.''

Today was the first time, to my knowledge, that I have ever been on two cinema ventures on the same day. My friend whom I went with, mentioned some interest in seeing 'The Conjuring' a few weeks back but he had never really seen much Horror (preferring films along the lines of 'Speed') so it was always going to be a fun experience to see a Horror film with a horror newbie so to speak, especially one that has as much positive buzz as James Wan's latest offering.

Based on the true story of a family whom moved into a rural farm house and begin experiencing some horrifying apparitions, they enlist the help of renowned paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren, but even the Warren's had never experienced a haunting as disturbing as this.

I was actually a fan of Wan's previous film 'Insidious', I thought it had a really great first that built suspense brilliantly and had some genuinely scary moments, but unfortunately the last half was too cartoonish and lost all credibility when the entity was revealed to be the illegitimate offspring of Freddy Kruger and Darth Maul. Fortunately Mr Wan has learned from this and with 'The Conjuring' has made Horror film that is able to maintain a constant level of quality throughout.

Some may say that this is a film that takes a little too long to get going but I think its refreshing when a Horror film takes its time and strategically places its scares and doesn't try to throw everything at the audience from the get go. It's honestly suprising that 'The Conjuring' has such a high level of quality, I dont mean that as a knock to Wan as I do like the guy but it just surprised me that he helmed a film that exudes such quality. From his well his well timed direction to Chad and Carey Hayes excellent script. 'The Conjuring' is a film that will constantly surprise you and not just because of the scares.

I had never heard of the Warren's or this case before I saw this film but if even a majority of the events that took place in this film actually occurred in real life, then it makes it all the more frightening. The film is able to build some really impressive tension and will most likely keep audience members on edge until the big jolt. 'The Conjuring' features some really terrific scares throughout, culminating in a very nerve wracking climax that really delivered on all the good work that had been done prior.

The film really benefits from its terrific cast. The brilliant duo of Patrick Wilson and Vera Famiga portray the Warrens and do a fantastic job with it. Regardless of the quality of whatever shes working in, she is always great and her performance here is absolutely no exception, Definitely one of the best actresses working today. Wilson also continues his constantly consistent form with another good showing. The whole Perron family is also tremendous, all the of the kids give completely believable performances and really sell the fear of their situation. Ron Livingston is also good as the father but it is Lili Taylor who damn near steals the show. Taylor is a very familiar face but the only thing that I kept recognizing her from while watching the film was the god awful first segment of 'Four Rooms', she was really fantastic here and was completely believable as the frightful mother of the family, her work in the last half of the film was really great. The biggest flaw in the cast was John Brotherton, whose bumbling cop character made absolutely no sense to me.

For me, 'The Conjuring' has been one of 2013's nicest surprises. A really good Horror film that delivers on the scares and tension. James Wan seems to be really understanding the genre and here's too hoping 'Insidious Chapter 2' is even half as good as this.

***1/2

Monday, 15 July 2013

Before Midnight (2013)

Tom:
Before Midnight, 2013, USA
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ethan Hawke & Julie Deply


''I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing.''

I only saw Richard Linklater’s first two ‘Before’ films for the first time in the latter half of 2012 and instantly realized why these films are so beloved. I thought ‘Sunrise’ & ‘Sunset’ were brilliant and I enjoyed damn near every second of Jesse & Celine’s conversations. When I discovered that there was a third instalment into the ‘Before’ being released in 2013, it instantly became my most anticipated film of the year. The question though was could Linklater, Hawke & Deply capture the same magic for a third time? Short answer: Yes, Slightly longer answer:  Hell Yes! Even longer answer: Hells freakin’ yes, ‘Before Midnight’ may be the best installment of the trilogy!

9 years after the events of ‘Before Sunset’, Jesse & Celine are together and have twin daughters and are vacationing in Greece. When Jesse’s son leaves to return home to his Mother in the States, Jesse & Celine reassess their lives and where they go from here.

The success of these ‘Before’ films really comes down to two factors, 1) Linklater’s uncanny ability to write realistic and immersive dialogue 2) Ethan Hawke & Julie Deply’s incredible on screen chemistry. Without these two factors I’m afraid these be nothing more than pretentious emotionally hollow films, but the contribution of these three talented people make these films national treasures that ooze reality and genuine emotion.
Making films that are so dialogue heavy is always going to be a hard sell but Linklater has made a career out of it. With the ‘Before’ films it is so successful because of the fact that subtly encourages audience involvement, in the way that the conversations these characters are having may not be too dissimilar to ones that anyone could have. These characters are talking about universal and down to earth issues that resonate with society and it never feels too glamorized, sure they are in these extravagant locations but they take their problems with them. It really brings the human element to these films and makes them even easier to appreciate.

‘Before Midnight’ is a film that can, so simply and subtly evoke so many different emotions from their audience. Whether it is happiness, sadness or humor and anger It’s all done in such a way that it never feels to orchestrated and emotionally manipulative. There were moments in the film that had me laughing out loud, Jesse eating one of the kids apples at the beginning; ‘’Ella, this is a family apple and I’m teaching you value of sharing, I love you honey’’, and moments that had me on the verge of sadness, Natalia’s speech about ‘’Passing through’’. It’s really beautiful when a film doesn't have to be contrived when taking you on an emotional journey. Ultimately, ‘Before Midnight’ is a portrait of unconditional love and the issues that arise from lifetime commitment.

Another great aspect of the ‘Before’ series is the social contrast between installments. Jesse & Celine’s three days in focus all take place in different decades so we get the illustration of society’s values in the 90’s, 2000’ and 2010’s.  It’s so intriguing to watch the characters grow with the times yet keep that piece of them that made us love them in the first place. It’s also kind of funny to hear these characters mentions things like Skype and using IPhones.

I honestly was never really a fan of Ethan Hawke before I saw ‘Before Sunrise’, to me he was a simply a guy who was just there, not a bad actor but not one I really looked forward to seeing. The ‘Before’ films changed all that and I now absolutely love the guy. Hawke and Julie Deply’s on screen is almost unparalleled, the way these two actors form this incredibly believable relationship never ceases to amaze. There back and forth converses always feel realistic and, even after 18 years, I can’t think of a single moment in ‘Midnight’ that feels like these two are actually acting. Both Hawke & Deply are just amazing.

Ultimately, the only negative thing I can say about ‘Before Midnight’ is that makes me so anxious and overly excited for the next film which could properly be 8 or so years away. ‘Midnight’ was the only film on the horizon that I could see dethroning ‘Spring Breakers’ as my favorite film of 2013 and alas that has occurred. This whole review may just seem like hapless rambling about the film but I insist that it is simply that good. I can’t wait to see Jesse & Celine again…

*****

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Tom:
Eyes Wide Shut, 1999, UK/USA
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman & Sydney Pollack

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''If I told you their names... no, I'm not going to tell you their names... but if I did, I don't think you'd sleep so well at night.''

Has there ever been a film that has been as cruelly misunderstood as ‘Eyes Wide Shut’? Stanley Kubrick’s final film was released posthumously and to, understandably, monumental expectations. Due to these circumstances, the film failed to impress a majority of the masses. In recent years ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ has gained a more favorable look and was even ranked as 4th on Martin Scorsese’s best films of the 1990’s. But to me, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is still no aware as heralded as it should be.

After the revelation of his wife’s intentions of an affair in the past, Dr Bill Harford takes a stroll through New York City in an attempt to vent his frustration, but in doing so, Harford has begun a mysterious odyssey that sees him stumble onto something sinister.

I have no misconceptions when I label ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ as a masterpiece. I don’t put this view down to my Kubrick fandom but instead due to the films quality. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is an endlessly intricate tour de force that is being assembled by a master of cinema. At its heart, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is a dream, as Mr Scorsese said ‘’it's not to be taken literally. Its Manhattan as you’d experience it in a dream, where everything feels familiar but very strange’’ this quote from Scorsese got me thinking about the films location. Due to Stanley’s fear of flying the entire film was shot in England as a stand in for Manhattan. To me, the film never feels like it is actually taking place in New York, now I have never been to either the NYC or England but I know how these places come off on film and its seems very evident this is taking place in England. Maybe this feel is simply down to Kubrick’s fear of flying but the fact that the Manhattan portrayed in the film doesn’t feel like Manhattan, this perfectly complements Scorsese’s statement and drives home the theory that the events being portrayed on screen are merely a dream, but then again ‘’no dream is ever a dream’’.

I’m a huge admirer of films that take a central character and send him on an odyssey, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ ranks along ‘After Hours’ when it comes to this category.  ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is definitely a fantastical but Kubrick is able to keep the events frightening and always engaging. Like he did with ‘The Shining’, Kubrick asks more questions than he answers, while that can infuriate some viewers for being so vague, Kubrick makes it all seem so mythical and is subject to decades of debate.

One scene that must be talked is the orgy scene where Bill Harford arrives at the party in the mansion. This is perhaps one of the most, eerie, intense and spellbinding scenes I have ever witnessed. The visual of a crowd of wearing cloaks and masks watching what appears to be a spiritual ceremony taking place. As unsettling as the scene would come off in the script, Kubrick makes it even more unforgettable due to his use of camera angles that make see through Bill’s perspective, giving us the sense that we are an onlooker at this bizarre goings on. We then follow Bill through the house where there are many sexual activities taking place and even more masked people are looking on. There is also the use of that incredible piano theme which sends chills down my spine and elevates the scene even more.

As is the case with almost all of Kubrick’s work, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ is highly rewarding on a rewatch. There are so many little small details and clever camera shots that can escape the viewer on an initial viewing but can become omnipresent on a revisit. For example, the opening scene in which Bill and Alice are getting ready for Ziegler’s party and when the two exit there front door there is a transition from that shot to the next which is the front of Ziegler’s mansion, so that it seems as if Bill and Alice have walked right out of there front door and straight into the location of the next scene. Its small details like this that separate Kubrick from the average filmmaker, this attention give audiences the sense that the man orchestrating the film you’re seeing is truly passionate about what he’s making. Unlike others who simply point out where they want the next explosion to take place.

This is a film that is very much a one character film; everyone else on screen is simply a part of Harford’s dream. I know Tom Cruise can catch some flack in the acting department but every time I hear this argument I simply the likes of ‘Magnolia’ and of course ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. Cruise is great here, sure there is Cruise-esque like antics but they all seem to have a place here. Bill Harford is a character that, despite his choices, is still a sympathetic character and pretty easy to follow. Nicole Kidman is good here but despite her billing, is a big name bit role. There are plenty of great characters that round out the cast including Sydney Pollack who is really awesome here. Also this film marks one of only two (apparently) Stanley Kubrick cameos; he is a man sitting at a table in the restaurant where Nick Nightingale is playing.

I regard ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ as one of my all-time favorite films and I honestly believe it is the very best film of the 1990’s. A frightening yet beautiful swan song for cinemas greatest son.

*****

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Tom:
The Big Lebowski, 1998, USA
Director: Joel Coen
Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman & Julianne Moore

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''Smokey, this is not 'Nam. This is bowling. There are rules.''

If you are one of those folk who has grown increasingly weary of reading review after review about people proclaiming their endless love for the Coen brothers’ cult classic and how the character Jeffery ‘’The Dude’’ Lebowski borders on demigod status…then I recommend not reading the rest of this review, as I am no different to those people in that I have no problem professing my admiration of ‘The Big Lebowski’. As for The Dude…I don’t think of him as god like, He’s far cooler than that!

The Dude is a man at complete ease with his life of bowling and white Russians, but when he is mistaken for a millionaire and his rug is soiled, The Dude attempts to get reimbursement for his rug but stumbles into a world of crime, mystery and Nihilists.

‘The Big Lebowski’ is one of those films that I have a hard time imagining how someone could dislike. I just cannot fathom the concept of someone sitting through the film and coming out on the other side saying that they didn’t enjoy it. This is why it came as such a shock to me that my best buddy had this feeling after seeing the film for the first time, to which my reply was probably something along the lines of ‘’but…but. The Dude, man!...and the rug and the hillariousness’’. If I had to say what would be something that may make ‘Lebowski’ a little more inaccessible to some audiences, is probably it’s simplistic and seemingly laid back approach. I believe the whole film can be summed up by a quote from Walter in the handoff scene ‘’the beauty of this is its simplicity, once a plan gets to complex everything can go wrong’’ with this line of seemingly throw away dialogue, I believe the Coen brothers are basically outlining their entire film. If you think about it, the entire situation at the start of the film isn’t really all the complicated but through the (hilarious) actions of The Dude and Walter, the situation becomes complex, and therein lies the beauty of the Coens’ film, it is such a perfectly executed, character driven film that the events the audience is witnessing feels like they are solely the responsibility of the character’s choices and actions and not just words on paper. That’s part of the Coens’ genius, they create a world of their own and make the audience oblivious to the fact that they are even there.

‘Lebowski’ is a film that exceeds in so many different genres, apart from being one of the greatest comedies of all time, it also a terrific crime film and even a compelling Mystery. It was actually loosely based on the Howard Hawks – Humphrey Bogart classic ‘The Big Sleep’, while that is definitely a good film, I would be lying if I said I enjoyed it nearly as much as I do ‘Lebowski’. The Coens are such versatile filmmakers that they are able execute the combination of all the different sub genres beautifully, thus resulting in the most watchable of films. As per usual, the film is packed with Coens-esque dialogue with such hilarious and witty characters exchanges throughout, which a testament to the actor’s performances and the incredible script they are working with.

‘Lebowski’ is one in a long line of many collaborations between the Coens and revered Cinematographer Roger Deakins, there are reasons why Deakins is arguably the most respected Cinematographer working today and this film is one of them. The man is able to compact so much into the frame and his work really embodies the fact that film is an art form. From the incredible sweeping, opening shot to those mesmerizing dream sequences, Deakins is on top of his game here. The musical choices in this film are also amazing, classics from the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan and Kenny Rogers play throughout and accompany a riveting score by Carter Burwell.

Another element of brilliance in this film is the performances from its incredible cast. As I alluded to before, The Dude is one of cinemas greatest characters, the man is damn near impossible to dislike, his laid back attitude, Zen personality and love of bowling make him the most loveable of hero’s, throw in the fact that he has about as much idea of the proceedings as we do and you have an icon for the ages. The Dude is played to absolute perfection by Jeff Bridges, it is impossible to elaborate how cool the man is. Bridges is supported by a phenomenal cast that includes John Goodman, in his best performance in a career full of great ones, playing Walter a War vet who can’t let the memories of Vietnam go. One of the biggest problems my friend had with this film was that he really disliked Walter’s character, I can understand this as Walter can be pretty abusive and stubborn, especially to Donny, but I love the character and I feel like his heart is always in the right place…plus his outbursts are hysterically funny as is his commitment to Shabbos, The Jewish day of rest. Steve Buscemi is great as the always sympathetic Donny, who is always being told to ‘’Shut the fuck up’’ by Walter. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is hilarious as devoted servant to David Huddleston’s ‘’The Big Lebowski’’ and Julianne Moore gives another example of why she is one of the very best actresses of her generation playing the role of the enigmatic Maude Lebowski. There are also plenty of appearances from the likes of John Turturro, Tara Reid, Peter Stormare and Sam Elliott. Everyone is on top of their game here.

There are plenty of reasons why ‘The Big Lebowski’ is the beloved cult classic that it is, the main being that it is simply a comedic masterpiece. It’s an incredible piece of filmmaking from two incredibly talented filmmakers. Plus it features the iconic character of the Dude…man. In my view, ‘The Big Lebowski’ is one the greatest comedies ever made…but that’s just like, my opinion man.

*****