Friday, 28 January 2011

New Jersey - Part Of Natalie Portman Week.

Ah, Natalie Portman week. It's been a good one. It's encouraged me to write my blog more. But most of all, it gave me an excuse to watch one of my favourite actresses in some brilliant movies. But alas, we come to the end of our three reviews. We finish the week with a cult film, directed by one of your favourite comedy TV stars. Yes, It's Garden State.

In Los Angeles, struggling actor, Andrew 'Large' Largeman, (Zach Braff) gets a call from his father and has to return to New Jersey for his mother's funeral. Amongst trying to avoid an awkward confrontation with his father, Large reunites with old friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) and meets Sam, (Portman) a compulsive liar, at a doctors surgery. Between parties, trips to the doctors and being shot at by friends with fire arrows, Large finds himself being taught about life by Sam and he begins to fall for her.

The Army were very impressed with Braff's camouflage design.

The movie is a wonderful representation of life. A particular life, but a real one. Not all of us have millionaire friends who invented silent Velcro or go to parties where a lot of drugs are involved but we can appreciate what it be like if we did; this film is that life. The emotions are really felt and that can be put down to both the writing (we'll talk about that in a bit) and the brilliant performances.When I first saw this movie, I had what I like to call a JD alarm on. Whenever Zach Braff acted like JD from Scrubs I would say, 'beepbeepbeep.' It happened once. This is a completely new direction (no pun intended) from the comedy TV star. Large is a completely different character from JD. He's awkward, shy and afraid of the world. Until he meets Sam. Like many movies, Portman's performance is the backbone of the movie. Her characterisation of the hyper, enthusiastic and outgoing Sam is mesmerising to watch and almost inspiring. Her unique attitude to life is a joy to watch. Peter Sarsgaard also throws in a great performance as Mark, Large's friend, who helps him to experience life more despite his friend, Tim (Jim Parsons) sleeping with his mother. Parsons, despite being on screen for less than ten minutes, helps to create one of the most amusing scenes in the movie as the Klingon speaking, fixed jousting champion and plain out right nerd 'mummy's boy' as it were. This also leads to one of my favourite lines in the movie: "Mark: The motherfucker.." Large: "Pun intended?"

The directorial debut from Braff and also written by the protagonist... Based on his own experiences.... He appears in every scene. It should feel a bit self involved but it doesn't. It feels humble. The writing is incredible. The dialogue changes from terribly awkward to exciting and uplifting without any difficulty or lack of confidence. One scene in particular stands out as an example of this. The first confrontation between Large and his father is so well written that, when combined with Braff's brilliant timing, the viewer feels awkward just watching it. Some wonderful touches make even the little things stand out in Braff's directorial style. Things like automatic taps turning on one at a time as Large walks past, a totally white bedroom or even screaming into an infinite abyss.

When the ladies said body art was sexy, Zach got the wrong idea.

The range of different genres and styles of music on the soundtrack is excellent and includes such artists as Colin Hay and Imogen Heap. Each song, hand picked by Braff, is perfect for the situation they are placed in. And the occasional camera shot glimmers with brilliance but unfortunately it doesn't carry on all the time.

While the majority of the plot is wonderfully written and, at times, brilliantly unique, the ending is littered with cliches. While touching, sweet and with occasionally original dialogue, the concepts of the last scene are overplayed and over worn. Never set a romantic scene in an airport! Not unless you're Up In The Air. I promise, we'll have seen it before. My only other criticism is the acting of Ian Holm who plays Large's father. His performance just seems a little hollow. Confrontations between Large and him are held up by Braff. It just seems like we should expect more from Bilbo Baggins, ya know? (But then again, Frodo was in Spy Kids 3-D so who am I to judge?)

The film is hilarious, sad, touching, inspirational and moving. With laugh out loud moments and times to make you cry, there's something for everyone. Some moments, in my mind, have become almost iconic. I really am struggling to place a star rating on it. Okay... I think I have it:

Best bit? Tricky, but for me there's two inspirational moments that stand out. The first is very simple. Sam shows Large what she does to make sure she's unique. Simple but ingrained in my memory. The second: Standing on some old machinery screaming into a giant hole in the ground. It is just wonderful.

African-American Swan (We're Politically Correct Here) - Part Of Natalie Portman Week.

Well here we go. A film that fits in both of my current themes: The Oscars and Natalie Portman. Yes, today we discuss Black Swan. With five Oscar nominations under its belt, is it all it's hyped up to be? Lets have a look.

Nina (Portman) is a ballet dancer. And a dedicated one at that. She just wants to be perfect. However, this gets in the way when director Thomas, (Vincent Cassel) wants her to let go a bit and dance freely. When Nina's company decide to perform Swan Lake, she dreams of dancing as the main part, the Swan Queen. But the pressure of performing begins to get to Nina, especially when relationships with her friend Lily (Mila Kunis) and with her mother (Barbara Hershey) begin to get complicated, and we begin to see a whole new side of our protagonist.

You'd think professional cameras would have red eye reduction.

A chilling tale showing the darkest side of ballet brought to life by a stunning performance by Natalie Portman. She's both innocent and dark. A hybrid of naivety and danger. Her character contrasts with itself so effectively and is developed beautifully and subtly from start to finish. A shoo in for Oscar if you ask me. Her portrayal of Nina is so impressive, you'll forget that you're watching a movie and become connected to the character. Other performances from the likes of Kunis, Cassel and Hershey are excellent and incredibly strong. Without them, the film would fall flat on it's back. Kunis brings an incredible air of confidence and sexiness with her (especially in one scene) that enlightens the film. She's portrayed so that we, the viewer, are left unsure as to how we feel about her. An effective performance if I ever saw one. Along with Portman, she brings the whole movie up into a better class. An Oscar class.

Oh and the direction. Is brilliant. Somehow, Darren Aronofsky has taken ballet and turned it into a sexy, scary, cold and disturbing piece of work. Black Swan contains all of these attributes and more. What really makes them blend together so well is Aronofsky's use of subtle hints throughout the movie. Everything from funny looking rashes to Nina's mum's paintings are presented in such a simple way but are all part of a huge overarching development. The movie is just as terrifying as much as it is dramatic. I wouldn't class it as a horror, but it crosses over genre boundaries without any difficulty: thriller, horror, drama, you name it it.

Worst Mirror Ever.

With a wonderful score consisting of classical music used in ballet, Black Swan juxtaposes what should be something beautiful with something visually disturbing. And yes, disturbing is the right word. With some slight camera tricks, some special effects and some sneaky editing, Aronofsky takes us into Nina's confused and often twisted mind and leaves nothing out. Her fantasies, her jealousy, her lust... It's all there. Perhaps not in the clearest of ways but hey, Nina doesn't know what is going on, why should we?

Perhaps not for the faint hearted. As previously mentioned, it is mildly terrifying and disturbing but also very squeamish. I don't get squeamish often but this film managed to get me cringing every so often. Stay away if you don't like blood, broken bones or psychological horror. Probably not the best movie for you. Otherwise, go see it. It is stunning, brought down by it's drops in pace. It seems that the movies pace is inconsistent while it is developing which can get frustrating. But once the stress and pressure really hit Nina after a night out with Lily, things get good. I certainly think Natalie Portman has bagged herself an Oscar and perhaps Aronofsky as well.

Best bit? For some of you it may be the intimate scene between two female dancers but for me it has to be when all those subtle hints start coming together... Particularly the paintings.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

V For Very Good - Part Of Natalie Portman Week

Hooray for Natalie Portman. With the release of Black Swan (Which I'm seeing and reviewing tomorrow) and in celebration of her Golden Globe win and her Oscar nomination, I've accidentally managed to watch two other films with her starring. Therefore, I'm dedicating my blog, this week, to her. Three movies: V For Vendetta, Garden State and Black Swan.

I very much enjoy reviewing one of my favourite films because it allows me to talk and talk about something I love. Our first of this week's movies, V For Vendetta, is one of those films. Every Monday, a friend comes over and we watch a movie. This week, V For Vendetta was selected for viewing in the Mega Massive Monday Movie Marathon.

So what it is it? Well, remember remember the fifth of November, gun powder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gun powder treason should ever be forgot. Imagine an almost Nazi London. No contact with the rest of the world, a curfew, a quarantined zone. That is the setting of the movie. V is a futuristic Guy Fawkes character, brought to life through the acting, but mostly voice, of Hugo Weaving. His plan? To crumble the government that ruined the country and himself. Oh yeah... And he'll do it on the fifth of November. Almost accidentally his paths cross with the beautiful Eve (Natalie Portman) and he lets her into his life. With other turns from such favourites as Stephen Fry and John Hurt, the film has some of the most powerful and brilliant performances around. (Particularly from our star of the week.)

Who is but the form following the function of what and what I am is a man in a mask.

With numerous plot twists and such a solid story, the film is simply brilliant. Hugo Weaving has one of the most incredible voices and his performance as the powerful yet sensitive V is mesmerising. Combine that with an incredible script crammed full with wonderful expressions and quotes, ("A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having,") and V becomes one of your favourite anarchic characters ever. Natalie Portman as Eve is simply stunning to watch. She is as incredible at acting as she is beautiful, even when she has a shaved head. It is currently my favourite performance by the Oscar nominated actress (But I'm seeing Black Swan in a bit) and there are so many reasons why. Not only is her performance stunning but also her character is simply excellently written. Even smaller roles such as Fry's Deitrich are wonderfully performed.

As for the direction, well what can I say. There's a wonderful thing about mirroring two images. Snatch does it brilliantly when the hare is running from the dogs at the same time Tyrone is running from the mob and V For Vendetta does it brilliantly every now and then. It mirrors everything from someone walking to Eve and V's characters. At parts, the film is very amusing and at others it's devastating. The balance is so ultimately perfect, you couldn't ask for more.

No, what you have is bullets and the hope that when your guns run out of bullets I'm no longer standing.

Other technical aspects, the cinematography is awesome. And the choreography for the fights is absolutely suburb. The classical music included in the score is beautiful, especially when juxtaposing any explosions.

It may not be in every one's taste. Some may argue that it's over the top, that the ending is too cheesy, that a character who just wishes to cause anarchy has no depth. To those people I say, each to their own. But I would strongly suggest this movie. In fact, I say you have to watch this movie before you die.

Best bit? The brilliant finale. The crescendo as V might say.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Who Needs Scientific Accuracy? It's 1902!

It's so difficult to discuss such an old movie. I mean, it's facinating but how do I rate it? Let's find out.

I'm casually working my way through 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Starting at the beginning. With 1902's contribution of A Trip To The Moon, or in it's original French, Le Voyage Dans La Lune. The story of French scientists who work out how to get to the moon. So off they go to the moon. Did I mention the moon is sort of alive with alien creatures living on it? Yeah... That too. It's only 11 minutes, go and watch it on Youtube.

What I loved about this 'movie' is the brilliant optimism. Since the movie is silent, the language is purely visual. I took it upon myself to provide the dialogue for the opening scene:

Scientist 1: "To get to the moon we need to shoot a ship into space"
Scientsit 2: "Yeah but to do that we'd need something like a really big cannon!"
Scientist 1: "A really big cannon? Perfect!"
Scientist 2: "Awesome! Let's change out of these wizard costumes and into our Sunday best for the trip!"
The Iconic Image. You know it don't you?

You'll see. It's wonderfully amusing. On release at the time it was praised for its incredible special effects. Its brilliant camera work. Its scientific basis. Nowdays it just seems like a satire about the French input to the space race. But it is fun. Who needs oxygen in space when we have top hats? I joke but it really is a fun 11 minutes. I'm sure it wasn't intended to be deadly serious in the first place. A hybrid of backdrops, superimposing and stop motion allows for magician/actor/director, George Melies, to create a piece of film that is still captivating today.

Iconic enough to be spoofed in everything from Futurama to The Mighty Boosh, it paved the way for modern film making. Remember, it's 109 years old. It's incredible.

With only 11 minutes of film it's very difficult to write much more but go watch it and then, like me, you can feel all artistic and cool. The film, of course, doesn't live up to today's standards but I'll judge it in context and due to the fact I prefered it to a lot of modern films I give it:
Best bit? Fighting the aliens. Stop motion filming at its very best.

Watch the movie here: