The Wiener Dog Episode

The BFG Episode

The Ghostbusters Episode

Knight of Cups

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Terrence Malick is certainly a unique filmmaker who has developed a distinctive cinematic vernacular. ‘Knight of Cups’ is no exception and fits comfortably into the artistic style he has honed throughout his career. His camera wanders through interesting visual elements in a frame; whereas more conventionally it would be focusing on expositional dialogue and moving the story forwards, that is to say – human faces and action. Malick pulls down to feet when people are talking, he pauses to film water in various states, perhaps symbolizing a new period beginning with the old washed away. He notices animals, flowers, plants and beautiful landscapes. A brilliant moment such as this in ‘Knight of Cups’ was when we look up at a German Shepherd from underwater struggling to catch a tennis ball in his mouth – ‘The Guardian’ suggests this is a metaphor for modern Hollywood. I feel like I came out of his film with a well-rounded life-experience and perhaps was given the space and visual stimulation to let my mind and imagination wander to places it would not have otherwise ventured.

The narrative is presented in fragments as if recalling a memory (can you tell I studied film at university?). Time is not consecutively or neatly packaged. What we get instead is a flavor of romantic liaisons. We are drawn to one woman after another, but not necessarily as a linear progression in Rick’s (the main protagonist’s) life.

Even now I feel the film is close to a vague memory, an impression or feeling.

‘The Tree of Life’, although employing the same visual style, differed fundamentally in its subject matter as well as having a continuity-based narrative strand. I think it is the subject matter that set ‘The Tree of Life’ apart from ‘Knight of Cups’, and the reason it was generally better reviewed.  ‘Knight of Cups’ is less touching, it focuses on a successful Hollywood screenwriter rather than a struggling family. He flits from one beautiful woman to another (each female character having little depth) and still manages to remain melancholic!

One line delivered by Brad Pitt’s character to his children in ‘The Tree of Life’ has stuck with me for years ‘without you guys I would have nothing to show for my life. zip.’ A large part of the film was focused on the father struggling valiantly to secure his kids future and failing to achieve his personal dreams. One of the only lines I can recall from ‘Knight of Cups’ is ‘If Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter she would have changed the future of the world’. I think perhaps these examples succinctly demonstrate the main difference between the two films, ‘Knight of Cups’ – first world problems. Boo Hooo!

 

 

 

The Jungle Book

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Having recently re-watched a portion of the original Disney classic and dwelling on the memory of one of those rare and important childhood film experiences, I was keen to see the new live-action version but also decided to quell my expectations.

The first thing that struck me was the intensity of the action sequences; this was a film with pace, tension and what seemed like real danger. It no longer looks like merely a fun, childhood romp in the jungle but a full-blown action film for adults and children alike. The jungle is real and, by extension, the action is palpable too.

Having the canvas of a real jungle to play with in an endless depth of field worked well for the film. As I mentioned before, it ramped up the excitement compared with the original 1967 Disney version. There was also a lot more focus on the wolf-pack that adopts Mogli. This was not a cursory glance, the laws of the wolf-pack and the individual characters therein were given depth and featured throughout.

Having said that, this new film does draw heavily upon the 1967 classic, with 2 of the most popular songs as well as the same basic plot. None of the comic effect is lost when converted to live action either, with Bill Murray doing an excellent job as Baloo the bear. In fact, most of the acting was superb especially Nell Sethi as Mogli. His performance was engaging and confident.

My only criticism is the ending. Part of the reason why the original Disney Jungle Book was so compelling for me was the overarching exploration of man’s relationship to nature which initially is covered with some realism. However, it seems to me that coexistence on this scale is impossible and the brutal reality is that man destroys nature as well as creating  harsh conflict in a bid for control of resources and habitats.  The meaningful friendship between Mogli and the jungle, including Bagheera or Baloo, has to end. Justin Marks (the writer) was unwilling to finish in the same way as the Disney original, perhaps to preserve the opportunity for a sequel. The tragic impact of these close friends parting forever (as they do in 1967) is therefore lost, along with the gravity of certain messages: 1) On a psychological level you should be comfortable with, and true to your identity and not seek to imitate someone or something you are not, and 2) Man should maintain a respectful distance from nature.

 

 

 

Spotlight

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The Catholic Church has a winning system as an institution which demands total acquiescence from its employees, not just in actions but thoughts; deep thoughts on the meaning and purpose of life. This is an absolutely fundamental requirement and of course leads to an acceptance of not only its values but its hierarchy. It is consequently immune from many of the free thoughts that employees, for example, of commercial corporations are entitled to explore at will. Religious organisations such as this, in my opinion, are unique in the often very specific and arbitrary rituals their employees are required to fulfil.

So where does abuse on such a massive scale start? From this point: that Catholic priests are repressed sexually for arbitrary reasons.

I can’t help being glad Spotlight was made, in that it brings this issue into the foreground again. Also it is a sharp, fast-paced and well acted work. It never depicts actual abuse taking place, instead it focuses the narrative on the point of view of the reporters (without implying that they are more important), and reveals the Catholic Church as an all-permeating force which looms over the city.  We often see Church and Cathedral spires towering over the poor houses of their congregations. Indeed these imposing buildings were constructed as another way to control the public mind, by inspiring awe and fear in their beholders.

As The Guardian points out, what is interesting about this film is that it obliterates the ‘Bad Apple’ theory which was widely accepted until recently. What we are talking about is a mass psychological dysfunction which I think stems from the thought-controlling nature of the Catholic Church. Priests are asked to accept a prescribed doctrine which limits their ability to think INDEPENDENTLY about important questions. This ritualistic lack of freedom leads to a frustration which, I think, often finds an outlet in horrific ways.

This thought-control extends throughout the community. The police are unwilling to arrest a Catholic Priest, in the same way a victim becomes brutally conflicted when abuse happens by figures whom they thought were untouchable moral beacons and even god-like. The Church is very, very powerful.

” A word here, a drink there, a frown and a look on the golf course or at the charity ball, this was all that was needed to enforce a silence surrounding a transgression that most of the community could hardly believe existed anyway”

– The Guardian

Lastly I’d like to point out that in my hometown of Chichester, the Church owns a vast amount of property including much of the high-street. Not only this but an infant, primary and secondary school within the grounds of the Cathedral (from which abuse has been reported – Look up Prebendal School). Combined with the land-owning aristocracy this makes for a very sad picture. I would love this stranglehold to end.

 

Rear Window

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In Hitchcock’s masterpiece there is a lot to be analysed. I am hesitant to explore the well-trodden subject of Voyeurism partly through boredom, and partly through my fervent belief that any original thoughts / ideas on the subject have become nigh-on impossible to attain.

Humanity has strived for objectivity since the invention of religion to explain the cosmos and nature, and science later on. But the act of looking or perceiving is fundamentally subjective. That’s why any attempt to explain empirical data is filtered through the eyes of the beholder and, thinking further, there is never any universal agreement on any film being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Jeffeires in ‘Rear Window’  is one such beholder of ‘screens’ (windows) if you like, looking into the drama of other lives. Perhaps the film itself is asking if we are objective as viewers into these worlds, or has our sympathy for Jeffries as the hero distorted our perception of events as we perhaps unasamadly want to believe his theory is correct.

Whatever the case, it is largely agreed that the camera as a machine has no such human limitations in that it takes in light and simply reproduces and records it, so we can perhaps garner a shred of objectivity this way (even if it is just a shred).

In the modern world I can image Jeffeires as some kind of Facebook addict, visiting the profiles of his friends and studying their social media habits out of boredom. Perhaps he makes connections between friends and eventually discovers an anomoly which leads him to believe a murder has occured.

Jimmy Stewart was charismatic and of his time, and Grace Kelly classically beautiful. I can image Jake Gyllenhaal in a similar role today, giving off a slightly creepy air, until we meet his girlfriend Jennifer Lawrence.

 

The Force Awakens

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For the last few weeks, although not being an ardent Star Wars fan myself, I couldn’t help getting swept up in the enthusiasm engendered by its many devotees – so much so that I participated in a back-to-back Marathon of the old films in order to prepare myself for ‘The Force Awakens’.

I discussed the aesthetic and artistic merits of episodes 4,5 and 6 with a colleague at length, who assured me that this is actually irrelevant. The key point he made was that the world has embraced these films in a remarkably unique way, and the culture surrounding them has become part of the reason its so enjoyable to watch the familiar characters and settings over and over again. Starting each film with this kind of prior expectation and knowledge is rarely possible elsewhere. Thinking further, there is more to these films than simply good verses evil, and ‘The Force’ plays a key role in simplifying the broad spectrum of of right v wrong/good v bad we are required to navigate in our daily lives.

‘The Force’ has condensed and neatly packaged the ethical quagmire that world religions have been struggling with for centuries. It has a clear light and dark side, the proponents of which are limited to to either committing evil or virtuous acts whilst defining themselves within either category. BUT the interesting thing is that whilst defined as either ‘light’ or ‘dark’, characters always seem to struggle with their temptation to move onto the opposite side. Consequently a moral (non black and white) gamut exists within the film, and the characters instantly have depth. This is why the family aspect becomes so intriguing, because the films explore the relatable idea that ‘blood is thicker than water’. Throughout the saga it has often been the strength of family bonds that have pushed people either to the light or dark side.  I would argue that the family drama (when played right) is actually the most compelling part and is perhaps a throwback to Ancient Greek tragedies (although this might be wishful thinking).

Lastly I would like to briefly explore philosophically the scientific universe in relation to the force. These are entirely my own thoughts, but I have read in The Guardian that the Force would in theory be possible given the amount of dark matter in the universe (but I’m not talking about this). I would like to imagine a future for us in which there is in existence a galactic empire. What ‘The Force’ does is marry science and religion. Stay with me. There are obviously questions at the moment that science can’t answer about the creation of the universe. What exsited before the big bang? What is the true nature of dark matter? etc. I am assuming these big questions would still exist in a Star Wars like universe that is only set in one galaxy. ‘The Force’ is actually very scientific and fundamentally useful; it would not be possible to police an empire or republic that size (which the Jedi / Sith do) without being able to manipulate matter and energy. Because it is impossible to comprehend how to do that, the Jedi / Sith have found a way of simplifying it in terms they can understand. It’s a way to explain the unexplainable. Also I am assuming that ‘The Force’ was discovered through exploring the universe in technologically advanced spaceships, science has perhaps answered some fundamentally religious questions here.

2001: A Space Odyssey takes this idea further.

Anyway, ‘The Force’, probably helps to answer some of the big questions about the universe whilst still being scientific. An appealing thought.

The best part however, is the family drama.

My Top 10 Films of the Year

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1) Tangerine
2) Lobster
3) Son of Saul
4) Anomaliza
5) Inherent Vice
6) Inside Out
7) Steve Jobs
8) Timbuktu
9) Red Army
10) Whiplash

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

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After traveling to the shire-like Welsh village of Burry Port for Christmas, I felt it appropriate to watch Bilbo Baggins in action at the Odeon in the nearby town of Llanelli.

The Battle of Five Armies starts directly at the end of the previous film: ‘practically in mid-sentence’ as The Guardian states. It is an abrupt beginning which hurtles us directly into the center of an intense conflict between Dragon and town.

I am not surprised to hear the production costs were the most expensive in the history of film. There is non-stop spectacular CGI from beginning to end mostly revolving around – you guessed it – a battle between five armies involving five races (count them properly) for control of ‘The Misty Mountain’.

The film is quite long considering Tolkien’s usual page-to-film ratio. Lord of The Rings was at least an eight hours long theatrical running time for an 800 page book. The Hobbit is 300 pages long with roughly the same running time. A lot more value for money if you care to look at it that way.

However, for me the book has been diluted and stretched out with grandiose action sequences and epic battles. From what I recall the battle scene was the final climax following the adventures and exploits of Bilbo, which were the driving focus of the narrative. Little attention is paid, in the film, to details such as dialogue or character. I like seeing Goblins, Orcs, Dwarfs and Elves fight as much as the next man, but the film lacked something extra, which the book (and to a lesser extent, the Lord of The Rings trilogy) provided.

Jackson (the director) seems to be weary of middle earth and lacks the passion he once had for Lord of The Rings.