I missed the V/H/S, but I have been intending on catching up on it as I heard some really interesting (if varied) things about it. I better get cracking, because the sequel V/H/S/2 is coming our way soon. They seem to have some pretty impressive directors responsible for the short films that make up this anthology. Even though I am not generally a fan of found footage films (I mean who is really) I am pretty intrigued to see this I have to say. What about you guys? And what did you all think of the first one?
Even though I have seen Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) a bunch of times before, it is always exciting to be popping the film back in the DVD player. One of my favourite Hitchcock films, it is also without a doubt one of the greatest and most influential films ever made.
The first half or so of the film is probably cinema’s most famous macguffin. In an attempt to “buy off unhappiness” Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, steals a large sum of money from her employer so that she can start a new life with her lover Sam. It’s the sort of snap decision we all make, but Hitch takes it to a really extreme example. After a couple of days on the run, Marion spends a rainy night at the Bates Motel. Anyone familiar with the film will know what starts to take place here, as the socially awkward Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, begins to interact with his lone guest. I will veer into spoiler territory and say that this is in many ways where the narrative of the film really begins, as Sam and Marion’s sister Lila begin a frantic search for her. As much as the character arc of Marion is often dismissed or looked over when discussing Psycho, it is actually a really fully formed and interesting one. Her decision to return to Phoenix just before she is killed is a really good example.
Psycho is a rare film that I think actually improves with each viewing. Part of that is that a first viewing is dominated by some of the iconic high points – the ‘shower scene’ and the final reveal. But after you have seen it once, everything takes on a different weight and many elements of it are actually all the more chilling. In a funny sort of way, despite near universal acclaim, I feel like the film is a little underrated. People tend to focus on the aforementioned iconic moments, but there is also so much more. Both acts of the stark two act narrative work really well. The second half turns into a wonderful detective story, full of sharp P.I. chatter and patter. The extended scene of Norman’s interrogation at the hands of the P.I. engaged by Marion’s boss is one of the film’s best moments. As for the end sequence, it could so easily have come across as laughable and on paper it really should. But somehow, Hitchcock manages to ram it home awesomely, with the closing stages being both chilling and totally satisfying.
There is barely a thriller made since 1960 that has not taken a whole lot of inspiration from Psycho and the most influential aspect of the film is the soundtrack. Obviously the sound in the shower scene is unforgettable, but literally from the opening credits, the music is playing a massive role. The perfect way in which the soundtrack is used to create tension is the main aspect that has clearly been taken onboard by numerous filmmakers. The whip smart script is brought to life by the great actors involved. Janet Leigh nails it as Marion Crane’s woman on the edge. Her desperation to be with her lover and her guilt at the theft she has done, totally inform every move she makes onscreen and every line she utters. Whilst the performances are all really good, it is Anthony Perkins who truly startles. On first viewing, it is clear that there is something a little amiss with this momma’s boy. But re-watching the film, knowing where the story ends up, and you see just how masterful Perkins’ portrayal really is. Even when his character is acting totally over the top with mental illness, the final scene for example, Perkins is reserved, knowing he does not need to go similarly over the top in his presentation to achieve maximum effect.
There is possibly no film in history which manages to combine bombastic mainstream enjoyment with artistic merit quite like Psycho. A vast majority of you have probably seen Psycho, but if you haven’t, then I highly recommend it. The best thriller in history and also a perfect introduction to the world of classic cinema, even (actually especially) if you are someone who is not really into that realm of cinema.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Shitfest has been going on the whole of May over at the always awesome Isaacs Picture Conclusions. I used all of my incredible poetry skills in this review of Swamp Women, so go check it out.
I caught The Hangover 3 last night and one of the previews beforehand was for This is the End. This is probably my most aniticipated comedy for the rest of the year now. Who knows, but it looks like it could nail that mythical balance of being both clever and utterly hilarious.
Earlier today, I completed my first live tweet film review, of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). I think it went well, but I am sure I will continue to refine my approach with these things. For example I decided to start hashtagging the tweets a reasonable amount into the film.
I thought I would share the tweet review here as well. Simply because a lot of you may not have twitter or have been online when I was reviewing the film. Plus I have been posting my reviews of all of the Universal Horror films on here, so didn’t want this one to miss out.
So I have a couple of pleasant days off work at the moment. Full of chilling out, watching movies and the occasional more ardous pursuit.
I thought I would use some of my spare time to do my first live tweet review that I have been talking about recently. I will kick off the live tweeting at 10:00 am tomorrow morning (that’s Canberra, Australia time), so hopefully you can follow along and engage with it. Or just check it out later on if you are all in bed/at the day job etc.
As I haven’t heard from Rorschach with his pick for the first film for me to review (I will try and contact him, I think he has been too busy schmoozing Joss Whedon and other famous folk), I thought I would let you folks choose. So you have a little over 24 hours to choose between the following three options (just let me know how your choice in the comments, I couldn’t work out how to insert a poll into this post):
Ace Attorney (2012) dir by Takashi Miike
Jaws 3 (1983) dir by Joe Alves
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) dir by Jack Arnold
Get voting folks, and be sure to check out tomorrow’s review on Twitter. Peace.
Some films are more difficult than others to describe in writing and Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) is certainly one of those. Perhaps it is because in a medium dominated by the visual language, this film communicates using the language of sound so to speak.
Toby Jones plays Gilderoy a documentary sound designer who travels to Italy to work on a film. What he does not realise is that the film is an Italian giallo horror flick which will have a great impact on him and more particularly his mental wellbeing. One of the truly original masterstrokes of the film is that whilst the characters continually see and are impacted by the film that is being made, we are never privy to the content of said film, as it always appears off-screen. It is a bold conceit that definitely pays off. It is tempting to say that this is a film about film. But really it is more a film about sound on film. The constant close-ups of sound recording and foley equipment are extremely reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) as are a number of other aspects of the film. To this end, the sound design of the film immediately draws you in and makes you listen closely to it. Some sounds are emphasised, some muted and the effect is to make the viewer pay close attention to the goings on of the soundtrack, as one would generally do for the visuals of a film. If you don’t have a really good sound system at home, then I would recommend that you watch the film with headphones, so you can more easily pick up all the nuance of the soundtrack.
As far as constructing a period piece, Berberian Sound Studio ticks all the right boxes. The trimmings, clothes and interactions, appear truly spot on which makes this world of 70s giallo horror filmmaking really come alive. The contrast in clothes and mannerisms between the very British Gilderoy, who still lives with his mother and his Italian colleagues, is also starkly done. As an exercise in the creation of atmosphere, the film is a rousing success. All the filmmaking elements go to the service of creating a certain atmosphere on film, one that gradually becomes more and more loose and unhinged as perhaps our protagonist’s mindset does the same. Aside from the sound which I have mentioned in detail, the editing is the other technical aspect of the film that really impresses, especially the continual use of match shots, often incorporating very stark and strong imagery, to give proceedings a decidedly creepy quality. Toby Jones is always good, but he generally does his work in supporting roles. Here he is in the lead role and his character is a rather placid, retiring man. It is hard to really ‘own’ that kind of role, but he does it well, bringing some conflict and complexity to Gilderoy.
Not an easy film to categorise, this highly creative psychological thriller is an easy one to recommend. You definitely do not have to be overly familiar with giallo film (I’m certainly not) to get a real buzz out of the tension that this film builds. Any film fan will be intrigued at just how the inner workings of the art are incorporated into this thriller.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
Thor was one of the less well received of the first cycle of Marvel films. Whilst it had issues, I thought it was a pretty interesting flick. The sequel will be hitting screens this year, and this trailer suggests plenty of intrigue coming our way. It is one of the few trailers where the voiceover works and the whole thing has me pretty keen to see the end product.
When I was in high school, I was forced to read Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, which was at that time the most boring book I had ever read. I’m the kind of guy who will persevere with a book, refusing to stop reading before the end, even if it takes me months and months of grind to get there. But I had to give up on Oscar and Lucinda. More recently I read Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang which is one of my favourite two Australian novels of all time, so who knows if my earlier Carey experience was based on my teenage mind not being ready for it, or the actual quality of the book.
Director Gillian Armstrong brought Oscar and Lucinda (1997) to the big screen, harnessing the talents of Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett along the way. It is an altogether eccentric film, predominately due to the tale it is telling, but thankfully I found it far more enjoyable than its source novel. However somewhat strangely, I felt the film did not inspire that many thoughts or ideas in me about what I thought of it and how to examine it. Which is not to say I do not like the film, it is just that usually I have far too many things to say about a film which I don’t think is the case here. More than that, I felt at a distance from the story the entire time, as though I was not able to access the real core of the narrative or get a foothold into what was going on. The rather absurd story focuses on the two titular characters and what happens when the paths of their lives eventually intertwine. The entire film is a character study of Fiennes’ Oscar and Blanchett’s Lucinda. The narrative takes a freewheeling approach to this study. It begins in the childhood and youth of the two. Sees Oscar’s eventual emigration to Australia and his meeting with Lucinda, brought together by a shared lust for gambling. When it veers into love story territory it just seems to work really quite well. Which is also true of the part that follows which sees Oscar go on quite the physical and metaphysical journey.
Probably the real joy of this film is its cast. Both the leads give terrific performances. Blanchett, in a quite early screen role, is fantastic as the young woman trying to find her way – a fish out of water who eventually grows to be extremely confident in her surroundings. Fiennes is very good at bringing the awkward, almost bumbling at times, Oscar to life. He utilises various tics and eccentricities into the performance but they never distract from it. The film looks incredible, taking advantage of the excellent cinematography to bring fantastic scenery from both Australia and Oscar’s native England to the screen. Thematically, the film sort of touches on a bunch of things without really engaging with any too deeply. Faith and the different kinds of Christianity are explored, as is greed, gambling, sex and the notion of responsibility in sexual relationships, but none of these dominate the film. Part of this may be because in some ways the narrative is a little unbalanced. Some plot points, Oscar’s excommunication from the Church a prime example, are basically overlooked when you feel they could be examined in much more detail.
Oscar and Lucinda is a bit of strange film. Definitely worth checking out for the lead performances, the quirky narrative may well endear itself to you. Though by the same token you may also find yourself rather frustrated by it.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2013) unashamedly plays into its trashiness. Naked breasts, close-ups of bronzed bodies, drinking, partying and bong hits – and that’s just the first minute. All the while, the viewer is meant to feel like there is something more going on here. Is there? Well I think for me it’s a bit of a yes and a lot of a no.
The film follows four college friends who yearn to get away from it all on Spring Break. When they discover that the money they have been diligently saving all year is nowhere near enough to finance their party times, three of the girls have no qualms in robbing a diner. This sequence of events illustrates one of the major issues with the film. It just does not ring true. Even if you can believe that three uni students would rob a fast food joint just to fund some boozing, the violent relish they take in this task takes it too far. The young women are vicious, delighting in scaring the shit out of the patrons with a fake gun and a hammer. There is no way that people would really act in that manner, even if taking the extreme route of committing a robbery.
Indeed one of the few parts of the film that actually feels genuine is the character of Faith, played by Selena Gomez. Faith is a committed Christian (yep, daft character name) who goes along with her rather wilder hedonistic friends. Gomez is excellent in the role and the character feels so real. She experiences real highs, the drinking, partying of spring break puts her in touch with who she really is. There is a sense that the character of Faith is exploring her Christian faith and its boundaries through her adventures on Spring Break. She is the only one of these young people who it seems is actually analysing the situations she finds herself in. And eventually, she is able to stand up to her friends when things are clearly going awry and tell them that she is not comfortable with the way things are headed. So she packs her packs and goes home. This is a great relief, because unlike not a single other character in the film, the audience comes to relate to and actually care for Faith.
The exit of the character of Faith from the film is a major misstep in proceedings, because it leaves you with no one to care about. More than that, it leaves you with no one that actually feels like an actual person. The three remaining college friends – played by Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine – fall in with the rapper and “gangster with a heart of gold” Alien, played to annoying caricature effect by James Franco. I am usually a big fan of Franco, but like so much else in this film he does not at all feel real. After Faith’s exit, the film descends into illogical meaninglessness. The women cling to Alien, presumably because of his money. Engage in violent and illegal activity, presumably… actually I have no idea why they go along with all of this. At least the initial robbery during the film had a logical motivation underpinning it, but nothing in this latter ‘gangster film’ period did. It all culminates in probably the most illogically and incompetently shot and thought out shootout that I can recall. In the beginning of it, a character literally just walks straight into a bullet, even though he sees the armed man coming a mile off. And it does not make any more sense after that.
As I have mentioned, the film does embrace the hedonism of Spring Break. One of Korine’s go-to pieces of imagery throughout the film is a group of topless young women partying, often filmed with a number of close-ups of the women’s crotches. I guess for a lot of the film I was trying to work out exactly what he was trying to say with this. But with this, and the film overall, I don’t think any of the grand points that the director was hoping to achieve are really achieved. I think somewhere here, especially through Franco’s character, is meant to be a biting satire of the American dream. But it is not achieved. Similarly, I think there are many themes suggested – female empowerment, female disempowerment, vacuousness of the rite of Spring Break, questions of faith, the role of the almighty dollar in contemporary life, the wonders of substance abuse, the horrors of substance abuse – that the director throws out there but he doesn’t ram any of them home.
There are more interesting aspects to Spring Breakers than most films you will see this year. But Korine seems to have forgotten that believable characters and believable motivations go a hell of a long way. The failure to construct these, made the issues of the film insurmountable for me. So despite being a frontrunner for the prestigious ‘only decent use of a Britney Spears song in a film’ Academy Award, there is little else to recommend here. At least after Gomez exits proceedings.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught