Tuesday, January 31, 2012
It is very rare that a film gets added to my all-time favourite list after just one viewing, but this is exactly where Black Narcissus ended up. I purposely waited a few weeks before watching it again to see if my initial reaction still held up. Needless to say, the film was even more glorious on repeat viewing. There is not a wrong note in the entire film. Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, famously known as The Archers, Black Narcissus is a tour de force in both storytelling and acting.
Based on the novel by Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus is a drama that explores how an isolated land in the Himalayas has an unexpected effect on five nuns. Charged with establishing a convent that will serve as both a school and hospital, Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) struggles to adapt to her new role as Sister Superior while trying to navigate a foreign land. Perched upon a mountain top, the newly formed convent is situated within the walls of a palace formerly known for its sinful exploits. The presence of a local British agent, Dean (David Farrar), only complicates matter as both Sister Clodagh and the mentally unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) both seem drawn to Dean’s charisma. As the altitude beings to impact the unaware nuns, memories of their lives prior to joining the nunnery start to re-surface. Blinded by their ambitions to re-shape the world around them, the nuns do not realize that some things are best left alone.
Black Narcissus is a film that is ultimately a cautionary tale about how easily routine and status can cause a person to lose sight of their true nature. Sister Clodagh is a perfect example of this as she goes from being overly prideful to longing for a love from her past. Although she is trying to teach the locals the ways of the church, Sister Clodagh seems to have forgotten what true faith is all about. At times the rougish Dean better embodies the true spirit of Christianity. In one particular scene Sister Clodagh tells a young general (Sabu) that he should not speak about Jesus in such everyday language. Dean, who shows up drunk for Christmas mass, is quick to rebuke this by telling Sister Clodagh that people should speaking the Lord’s name in common language. Implying that those who only speak of Jesus in a higher from of speech lose sight of what Jesus’ message is actually about.
Sister Clodagh and Dean are both solitary figures who clearly have feelings for one another, but neither is in a position to act on it. Once you throw the unstable Sister Ruth into the mix you have the makings of a brilliant love triangle. Unlike the frequently misguided love triangle in The Archers’ film The Red Shoes, the one Black Narcissus is executed flawlessly. Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth represent everything the other secretly wishes they were. There is a wonderful scene where Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth are having a discussion that quickly turns from pleasant to tense the minute Dean’s name is mentioned. The camera slowly moves from Sister Clodagh’s hands across the table and moves up to Sister Ruth’s angered eyes. Though a brief scene, it perfectly establishes the conflict that will arise between the two women as the film progresses.
Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron are outstanding as Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth, Byron in particular really steals the show. She presents Sister Ruth as a woman who is tired of being viewed as both crazy and inferior compared to the other nuns. However, this is in fact what she turns out to be. Though it may deem sacrilege to say, it would be interesting to see Black Narcissus remade today. Not because the film needs a reboot per say, but it is very rare to see a predominantly female driven film with characters so well defined. Even David Farrar’s Dean, who is an important character in his own right, always manages to ensure that he does not overshadow the female performances.
The only thing more breathtaking than the performances is the cinematography. From the sweeping landscapes that played a major role in Sister Clodagh’s pre-nun life to the perilous mountain top where she now resides, there is no shortage of wonderful images in the film. The beauty of the film is not just relegated to landscapes, but also how the characters utilize the spaces they inhabit. In one memorable scene a 17 year-old temptress, Kanchi (Jean Simmons), strategically uses a mirror, handkerchief, and even hides under a table to draw the attention of the young unaware general. Breathtaking in regards to visual scope and storytelling, Black Narcissus knocked me over in a way I did not expect. It is a shame more modern day films are not this glorious.
Black Narcissus is also part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by Bob
Monday, January 30, 2012
After writing my piece on Stephen King film adaptations, I happened upon one of my favourites, Stand By Me, on TV. The coming-of-age story about four young boys who go in search of a dead body is a film that has stood the test of time. It’s about friendship, strained relationships between fathers and sons, and the confusing, emotional and sometimes turbulent period of adolescence. The four boys played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell, are superb in their roles as Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern, respectively; so honest and real as youngsters on an adventure who along the way rib each other, sing songs and debate issues of the day, face bullies, outrun a train and open up emotional wounds in questioning who they are.
What I’ve come to appreciate most about the film is how the experience of watching it now as an adult has changed from when I first saw Stand By Me as a young teenager. I think I was 13 or 14 years old when I first saw the film and I remember thinking of it as an adventure film with four aimless boys looking for a little fun and danger to break up the monotony of living in a small town. Watching it as an adult, I can’t help but focus on the characters’ troubled lives and how the film lays bare all the emotions and heartache they’re feeling. Each wrestles with his own demons and each boy confronts his own fears.
Gordie (Wil Wheaton) doesn’t feel good about himself and is acutely aware that his father doesn’t love him. Gordie’s older brother was killed in a car accident and he’s since become the invisible boy at home, haunted by the realization that his parents feel like the wrong son was taken. Chris (River Phoenix) is a tough, cool and fiercely protective friend who comes from a loveless home and fears getting trapped in the small town he’s growing up in for the rest of his life. In one powerful scene, Chris has a breakdown because he thinks he’s worthless and fears he’ll never get the fresh start he so desperately hopes for. In only Phoenix’s second feature film, he showcased impressive vulnerability and an engaging onscreen presence that, when watching it today, is a reminder of his untimely death and the promising career that was cut tragically short.
Vern (Jerry O’Connell) is the youngest of the bunch; a chubby, cowardly and often irritating tag-along that the other boys pick on. Teddy (Corey Feldman) is perhaps the most intriguing of all the boys. He’s a disturbed kid who is physically abused by his mentally unstable father, yet cares so deeply for his dad. Say what you will about Corey Feldman and the career (or lack thereof) that he’s had as an adult (The Surreal Life, Blown Away), no one could have played the tortured Teddy Duchamp with as much raw emotion as he did.
Stand By Me is as effective today as it was when it was released in 1986 because the film is a rich tapestry of common themes that resonate with every generation - human emotion, growing up and self-discovery, the ties that bind friends together, emerging stronger after facing harsh realities, the fondness of bygone years, lessons about life and death and facing one’s own mortality – that will undoubtedly ensure the film’s relevance is never lost.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
John Cusack delivers one of the best performances of his career as Lloyd Dobler – so believable, so appealing, and so earnest. He thinks and talks like a real person. He fidgets and paces nervously when he calls Diane up for a date. He’s level-headed and uniquely insightful and perceptive. He says things like, “I’m looking for a dare to be great situation.” He doesn’t spout clichés. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He knows himself and he doesn’t fake anything or ever pretend to be someone he’s not. The film’s movie poster reads: “To know Lloyd Dobler is to love him,” and it’s true. Lloyd is, quite frankly, one of the best boyfriends in film and no scene proves it more than the iconic boom box serenade.
It’s the scene in the movie that gets the most attention because it’s one of the most memorable declarations of love in film. When Diane breaks up with Lloyd out of a combined fear of commitment and her father’s disapproval, he’s absolutely heartbroken. Lloyd does everything to win Diane back, and in the grandest, most romantic of gestures, he stands outside her bedroom window holding a boom box over his head as “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel plays. It’s the song that played on the radio after their first time in Lloyd’s car. The look of resolute determination on Lloyd’s face as he hoists the boom box higher overhead, feet planted firmly on that spot outside Diane’s window, defiantly pleading with her to take him back, has become one of the most enduring and iconic images in 80s film.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
The works of Stephen King, the literary master of horror, have been made into some pretty great films. Of course, there are some adaptations that were better left unmade, but the adaptations that worked, worked really well. The page-to-screen successes were helmed by directors up to the material, like Kubrick, Carpenter and Cronenberg, featuring formidable actors like Jack Nicholson, Sissy Spacek, Christopher Walken and Kathy Bates, and adapted from brilliant original works. The gems aren’t gems simply because they’re faithful to the works they’re adapted from because that alone doesn’t a gem make. Rather, they’re films that succeed on the basis of their own merits.
The total number of adapted works is pretty astounding at well over fifty adaptations if you include TV movies and sequels. With such a vast number of film adaptations spanning Stephen King’s long career, it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of drivel in the bunch. Sometimes the source material isn’t that good to begin with. Love him or loathe him, it cannot be denied that he’s a master storyteller who’s dreamt up concepts touched by greatness, and that his fertile imagination has given Hollywood some fun, fascinating and superb films.
Without further ado, here are my favourite Stephen King film adaptations.
9. Pet Sematary
8. The Running Man
7. Dead Zone
4. The Green Mile
3. The Shining
2. Stand By Me
1. Shawshank Redemption
What are your favourite Stephen King film adaptations? Let us know in the comments section.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Wondering what bloggers have been chatting about this week?
Here is Your Reading and Listening Schedule for Today:
9 am: Episode 83 of the French Toast Sunday podcast list some movies you need to give a second chance.
10 am: Over at the CriticalMassCast podcast, the gang talk about the best and worst films to be released this past December.
11 am Andrew comments on five vaguely vexing issues about this year’s Oscar nominations.
12 pm: Sebastian is taking in the Sundance Film Festival, here are his thoughts on the film California Solo.
1 pm: Emil has a great piece explaining why, as a Swede, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is strange to him.
2 pm: Jessica give The Kid with a Bike a positive review.
3 pm: Joel reveals his best films of 2011 list and Fast Five makes the cut.
4 pm: Paolo plays the Movie Association Game with the Oscar nominated film Pina.
5 pm: Chip Lary celebrates his 300th post by sharing some observations on the Oscar nominations.
6 pm: Ruth examines how space is depicted on film.
bonus: John names the top 10 stuck-in-one-spot movies.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
The French Connection
The Godfather Part II
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Deer Hunter
Kramer vs. Kramer
No Country for Old Men
The Silence of the Lambs
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Hurt Locker
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I recently watched a trailer for The Expendables 2 and was happy to learn Chuck Norris had joined the all star cast, led by Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although Norris is better known these days for the satirical Chuck Norris Facts, he parlayed his tough guy image into a long and successful career in film and television. Which brings me back to the film; I am anticipating The Expendables 2 because it’s an old-school action film with old-school action stars. Plural. More than one. What I like about the first film is it harks back to a time when the “men on a mission” action/war film was on every teen boy’s movie list. There have been a few recently; Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Saving Private Ryan (1998) as well as The Expendables (2010) and this year’s sequel, but I think it’s fair to say the genre (or sub-genre) had its heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s with a dab or two in the ‘80s. And I’m talking about well-known big pictures, such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Great Escape (1963), Where Eagles Dare (1968), Kelly’s Heroes (1970), Force 10 from Navarone (1978), The Inglorious Bastards (1978), and The Big Red One (1980). All are good (Force 10 and Big Red are dubious, but have the “mission” factor) but my favourite of them all, the one that certainly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Basterds, is The Dirty Dozen (1967), directed by Robert Aldrich.
In the spring of 1944, Allied forces are preparing for the D-Day invasion. Major General Worden (Ernest Borgnine) assigns Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) an unusual and top-secret pre-invasion mission: train twelve soldiers convicted of felony offenses (either serving lengthy sentences or condemned to death) and as a unit infiltrate a château in north-western France to kill all senior German officers, who use the place as a retreat, the day before the invasion. Clearly this is a suicide mission and the men expendable, but if they survive the mission they will receive full pardons. After witnessing a hanging, Reisman meets the twelve: Franko (John Cassavetes), Jefferson (Jim Brown), Wladislaw, (Charles Bronson), Posey (Clint Walker), Maggott (Telly Savalas), Pinkley (Donald Sutherland), Jiminez (Trini Lopez). Bravos (Al Mancini), Vladek (Tom Busby), Gilpin (Ben Carruthers), Sawyer (Colin Maitland), and Lever (Stuart Cooper). Reisman, with Sergeant Bowren (Richard Jaeckel), takes the men to their secret training ground.
The bulk of the film’s running time is dedicated to the Dozen building their own compound and training, which highlights the interpersonal conflicts between the men. Some see this as an opportunity for redemption, while others see it as a chance for escape. Slowly but surely they being to work together, but the men and the mission are put in jeopardy when Reisman crosses paths with Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan), his former commander. There is no love lost between these two; the domineering and Regular Army Breed relishes at every opportunity to knock the rugged individualist Reisman a few rungs down the ladder. When Reisman breaks a series of military regulations, Breed becomes involved and proves these two can’t play nice in the sandbox together, and it forces General Worden, at Breed’s urging, to have the men prove their worth as a fighting unit in divisional war game maneuvers in the English countryside.
The third act is a great action sequence detailing the attack on the chateau. What, did you think the boys wouldn’t show what they’re made of? Gunfights and explosions make up the soundtrack for the finale, and it wouldn’t be a great action film if the mission were easy. There are several complications that threaten the mission that need to be overcome and the words spoken at the beginning ring true; not everyone is going to make it.
All in all, The Dirty Dozen is an excellent war/action film with a stellar cast; John Cassavetes steals the show as Franko and even earned himself an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Lee Marvin is perfect as Reisman; hard to believe John Wayne was originally offered the role. Fortunately he turned it down and went to make The Green Berets instead. Bronson is no stranger to men on a mission films; he was also in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape and here he doesn’t disappoint. Even Jim Brown (who retired from the Cleveland Browns in the middle of filming) gives a good performance in only his second film. Sutherland was an actor resident in the UK at the time and the film promoted him into Hollywood, especially after his turn in M*A*S*H, and would play proto-hippie Oddball in the more relaxed men on a mission film, Kelly’s Heroes with Telly Savalas who, in The Dirty Dozen, is exceptionally sinister as the woman hating, religious fanatic Maggott.
What I admire about The Dirty Dozen is that it is one of the first to depict American solider as less than clean-cut, which is natural of the times the film was made; Vietnam was a few years in and anti-war sentiment was gaining popularity. This was also a time in Hollywood where genre conventions were going through a revision; war films and westerns were especially turned over and presented as darker and grittier where the heroes are not so clearly defined. People can do heroic things and not necessarily be considered a hero; and the presentation of the Dozen as murders, psychopaths and misfits is a clear contrast to the All-American, battle-happy Joes from Company B. In fact, John Wayne turned down the role because of the depiction of American soldiers as military criminals and death-row prisoners. While there is violence and might present some anti-authoritarian, anti-military, anti-establishment, anti-everything, the film is not as bleak as it sounds; Aldrich tempers the nihilism with enough cynical humour to suggest the whole thing is a game, an inside joke only those in the situation can possibly get.
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The Academy Award nominees have been announced! Here are my initial thoughts:
1. Nine Best Picture nominees! I had predicted it would be seven films.
2. I was hoping Sailcloth would get nominated in the Short Film (Live Action) category but no such luck. Very curious to check out the films that made the cut this year.
3. Did not expect to see J.C. Chandor get nominated in the Original Screenplay category for Margin Call. Super excited about this nomination.
4. I really need to see The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and War Horse in the next few weeks.
5. Nice to see Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis receive nominations for their work in The Help. Although Jessica Chastain was excellent in both Tree of Life and The Help, I thought she would be nominated for Tree of Life
6. The supporting acting categories are once again the most exciting race to watch. Melissa McCarthy could be the dark horse winner for the Supporting Actress award.
7. Only two Original Songs nominated this year? Also, how does neither Hanna nor Drive get nominated in the Original Score category?
8. No nominations for Elizabeth Olsen, Michael Shannon or Michael Fassbender? Wow! I was sure they would be locks.
9. While a good movie, I still do not see Moneyball as a worthy Best Picture contender.
10. Since The Adventures of Tintin is out of the picture, I cannot see any of the other animated films knocking out Rango.
11. Always nice to see a Canadian film, in this case Monsieur Lazhar, nominated in the Foreign Language category. Two years in a row no less!
12. Transformers: Dark of the Moon…an Academy Award nominee! Is it this year's The Wolfman?
What are your thoughts on the 2012 Academy Award nominations?
Monday, January 23, 2012
It is rather peculiar that a film of Haywire’s quality would be released so early in the year. January has been notoriously known as the dumping ground for many studios. It is usually time of year when films that the studios have very little faith in are released in order to make a few quick bucks. In 2012 studios really seem to be going after fans of the action and horror genres with the release of films like The Devil Inside, Contraband, Underworld: Awakening, and the aforementioned Haywire. While I cannot speak on the other films, I can say if you are looking for an entertaining way to kill an hour and a half then Haywire is the film for you.
Haywire focuses on Malloy Kane (Gina Carano), a covert operative who is sent to Barcelona to facilitate a hostage rescue mission. Before she can relish in the success of a job well done, Mallory’s boss, Kenneth (Ewan McGregor), informs her that she is to immediately go to Dublin and connect with an MI6 agent (Michael Fassbender) for her next assignment. When things take a turn for the worst, Mallory finds herself on the run as a international manhunt for her commences. Determined to uncover who double crossed her, Mallory will stop at nothing to get answers. Even if this means literally fighting her way through fellow operatives, such as Aaron (Channing Tatum), local law enforcement, and whoever else dares to stand in her way.
In many ways Haywire finds director Steven Soderbergh back in the playful mode of his Ocean’s Eleven series. He sprinkles in elements of his previous films, most notably The Limey, throughout. Haywire is a film that does not offer much in the way of plot, as it plays more like a series of set ups more than anything else. However the action sequences and the overall style frequently ensure that the actual payoff always delivers at the level you expect.
One of great things about Soderbergh’s direction of Haywire is the little nuances he adds to a scene. In one scene, Mallory is unpacking boxes and placing items on a bookshelf while Kenneth is explaining the details of the mission. The camera is placed in a way that every time Kenneth explains a new, and more complicated, aspect of the mission, the camera follows Mallory as she places a new item on a lower level of the shelf. By time she reaches the third shelf all the components of her mission are revealed. Another subtle, and playful, moment from Soderbergh comes when Mallory takes a meeting with a high ranking government official, Coblenz (Michael Douglas), in airfield hangar. As Coblenz and Mallory size each other up in a verbal tête-à-tête, Soderbergh has a piece of tumbleweed roll by in the background to emphasize the old west style standoff Douglas and Carano are having.
In her first starring role, Gina Carano is electric as Mallory. The fact that she was a former mixed material arts fighter is a huge advantage over other films featuring a female lead. The fight scenes in this film feel authentic and plausible for each situation. Even when Carano adds a few “how did she do that moves?” to her repertoire, it still feels natural. When a character gets his head rammed into a bar stool or Mallory gets thrown into a wall, it feels as if the actors, and not stunt people, are taking every lump. One of the best things about Carano is that she knows how to play up her strengths and shortcomings. The film playful insinuates that looking at Mallory as a women is a grave mistake. Even Mallory herself comments on not being the girly girl. However, Carano manages to show that it is possible to be a strong individual while still being comfortable in her own skin. Caron feels like a natural successor to the Angelina Jolie throne as the next female action star.
While the plot could have been a little deeper, Haywire succeeds in delivering solid action at brisk pacing. There is enough of Steven Soderbergh’s stylistic touches to please his fans, while still managing to entertain hardcore action fans. Featuring stellar choreography and a star making turn by Carano, Haywire is every bit as entertaining as one could hope it would be.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Her rebuilding phase was marked with great variety. She suffered obscure and dismal showings with a straight-to-video release called Lady Beware, a thriller about a married man who stalks Lane’s character. She achieved critical success with the well-reviewed yet little seen film The Big Town, in which she played an embittered stripper wife who cooks up a revenge scheme. After that, Lane turned to TV and starred in a hugely popular Western series called Lonesome Dove. Her role as a “whore with a heart” earned her an Emmy nomination, and the success of the show generated interest by film producers who began offering Lane supporting parts in films like Chaplin and Indian Summer.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
When Doc Brown reveals the souped up time traveling Delorean with the licence plate "OUTATIME," the suspense and excitement is palpable. Still after dozens of screenings, Back to the Future excites, amuses and delights. It's a brilliant film where no scene is wasted or unnecessary. Every scene succeeds in advancing the story and every little detail matters because it's been thoroughly thought through.
The scene is exciting and very funny thanks to sight gags and clever one-liners. Marty creates a makeshift skateboard from a young boy's scooter to evade Biff and his gang who start by chasing him on foot. Biff et al wind up pursuing Marty in their car after Marty hangs off the back of a pickup truck. With sparks flying out from beneath the skateboard's wheels, Marty avoids crashing into open car doors, jumps over curbs and flies right smack into pedestrians on the sidewalk. Even though I know the scene by heart, it isn't any less thrilling, and the payoff remains as funny as ever.
Friday, January 20, 2012
I hate when real-life changes the film going experience. To clarify I do not mean that I dislike films that deal with real issues or real people. What I am talking about is when events in my own life alter the magical illusion that film creates. Normally it works the other way around. Even if the disturbance is only temporary, it ultimately keeps me away from watching particular films I usually enjoy. Such is currently the case with films that feature memorable car crashes.
Toward the end of December, a day before New Year’s Eve in fact, I was involved in a multi-car accident on the way to work. Though traffic was light due to the fact many were still on vacation, the roads were icy which made the trek to work take longer than usual. While traveling on the highway the car to left of me lost control and slammed into the front driver’s side of my vehicle. The impact of the collision, coupled with the icy roads, knocked my car into the next lane on my right where I was eventually hit by a second car. While the incident feels like it played out over a lengthy period of time in my mind, the truth is it all happened in the blink of an eye. Though my car received the most damage of all the cars involved, the fact that no one was injured is a blessing.
Besides still being a little shaken, which is to be expected, I have noticed that I do not enjoy the spectacular scenes of car destruction the way I use to. This is especially noticeable when watching action films, a genre I usually love to revel in. The best example of this came when trying to watch The Matrix Reloaded on television. While I have comfortably convinced myself that the sequels to The Matrix were all horrible figments of our collective imaginations, I will admit that the only thing I liked about Reloaded was the epic highway chase scene. Everything from the various fights to the numerous car collisions works wonderfully. However, viewing the sequence again the thrill was gone. I could not bring myself to take glee in the sensory overload.
I had the same reaction when I tried to watch Death Proof, a film I usually have no problems revisiting. The memorable collision at the end of the first half of the film, where Quentin Tarantino replays the event from each of the four women’s perspective, is one of the many highlights from the film. While still eye-popping from a technical standpoint, I actually had to stop the film at as I found myself not enjoying the experience. I know I will watch Death Proof again in a few months, hopefully sooner depending on how long it takes me to shake this, but for now the sight of cars colliding just takes me out of the film instead of drawing me in further. My mind cannot help but go back to that fateful icy morning.
If this is my reaction to the big budget action films, then I know there will be some “smaller” films that I will not be watching again for at least a few weeks. Crashes in independent films are often more visceral as they strive to be both realistic and unexpected. I always remember that shocking flashback scene in Adaptation where you learn more about Chris Cooper’s John Laroche character. One of my favourite images in Magnolia is that brief scene where an unconscious Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore) lies in an ambulance as it flips on his side during the films climax. Sadly these films, along with numerous others, will have to be shelved for the time being. While I am sure this phase will pass, I will admit that it has taken away my ability to truly immerse myself in a film the way I would like to.
Have you ever had a real-life experience that hindered the way you looked at particular films for a period of time? Feel free to add your experiences in the comment section.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
The English Patient
I’ve Loved You So Long
The Horse Whisperer
The Other Boleyn Girl
Dan in Real Life
Breaking and Entering
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Three Colours: Blue