Sunday, 26 May 2013

Keep It Classic Part 1: A Room Full Of Testosterone

Based on a book, adapted several times, paid tribute to by almost every popular and contemporary television show ever made. However, this film is the version of the story that is remembered and hailed as a masterpiece of film. But at what point does ninety minutes of men arguing in a small room sound entertaining. Let's check it out. This is 12 Angry Men.

12 male jurors have heard all the evidence from a case for first degree murder. They sit in the jury room with a knowledge that a guilty verdict will lead to a young boy's execution. Despite this, eleven of the twelve men have no problem to raise their hand for the guilty verdict. The final man, Juror #8 (Henry Fonda), holds the whole verdict in his hands as nothing can be done without a unanimous decision. The men begin to sit and discuss the evidence they have been presented with and, as tensions heighten, revelations are made, the feeling of claustrophobia sets in, and perspectives are argued. But can Juror #8 convince the men he is stuck with to follow his verdict, or will he be swayed the same way as all the others?

Karaoke was a hit in the courtroom

With only twelve real cast members, it would seem like there would not be a lot to talk about in acting. But it is not as it would seem. With more time, one could analyse every specific movement any actor makes. All twelve performers are flawless. Henry Fonda leads the pack, clad all in white, the moral man in modern times, even if the film is over 55 years old. Listed as the main character, which he is, but spends a lot of the film simply listening and observing but never stops acting. Lee J. Cobbs as the stubborn, arrogant, and angry Juror #3 is also fantastic. His powerful stage friendly voice ripples through the room and out of the television. Bringing most of the conflict to the table, he provides a vital, strong, and also touching performance. Finally - to go through all twelve will provide boring reading -also of a notable nature is Juror #9, played by the delightful Joseph Sweeney. Sweeney's portrayal shows the most strength out of all the characters, standing up for what he beliefs and resilient against challenges. Do not let his age and frail appearance fool you. This old dog has a nasty bite.

Meeting your partner's family for the first time.

But this film's genius comes not only from twelve outstanding performances; it comes from incredible writing and directing. Written, as a play, by Reginald Rose, the film boasts some of the most intelligent and exciting arguments which cause it to thrive in a dialogue heavy environment. An fascinatingly interesting plot with constant twists and turns that still leave the audience arguing as to what the final verdict should be. (See this thread on IMDb. Whatever your opinion is, you will be shocked by some of the arguments for either side.) All of this is brought brilliantly to life by Sidney Lumet's direction. Starting with higher, wider camera angles that, over the course of the film, slowly narrow and lower, creating the sense of claustrophobia. Being beautifully filmed is only one of the films perks. The timing and editing makes it a quick 90 minutes that, paradoxically, seems to drag on forever. The way in which the story unfolds and the aspects that are focused on more heavily create a dramatic atmosphere that could be cut with a knife. Fonda, who famously hates watching himself on film, told Lumet that it was magnificent.

Yes, a masterpiece of film is a fitting statement, perhaps not enough. Psychology students watch this film to analyse it. This film is so much more than moving images on a screen. This is a look at people and morality. It should be a demonstration of how drama should be done, in all its forms. It is simply brilliant.

Best Bit? When Fonda brings out his own knife. You suddenly realise the angle this film is coming from and you get comfy and enjoy.

An good idea of how well some of these characters fit archetypes. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Jay-Z And Gats-B

The Great American Novel, not just any novel, made into a film more times than you can shake a stick at. All the directors share the common goal of representing a piece literary brilliance that is in the international cannon on the big screen. A film that could well be called the holy book of novelists. It is The Great Gatsby.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a young man who once had dreams of being a writer but fell into the money filled land of Wall Street - hard life for some. He moves from Chicago to New York's fictional West Egg, next door to a mansion that is home to the elusive and mysterious Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). He also has a cousin living in East Egg, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), married to sports star Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), who introduce him to the land of New York through their friend Jordan (Elizabeth Debicki), parties, and trips to the valley of ashes, where Tom's mistress, Myrtle (Isla Fisher), and her husband, George (Jason Clarke), live. Eventually Nick meets Gatsby at one of his infamously huge parties after hearing many rumours about him. Soon Nick befriends his neighbour and discovers Gatsby's romantic past with his cousin. This begins to create a conflict in simple ol' Nick and the world around him transforms into a dream like reality; but whether it is a nightmare about to happen or not is yet to be seen.

The gardeners at the Buchanans' tend to be referred to as field agents.

Let us kick things of with the wonderful performance given, of course, by the actor constantly in the Academy's blind spot, Leonardo DiCaprio. As Gatsby, DiCaprio is always going to be pinned as the 'main' character due to the title, but in terms of performance, that is just what he is. His full range is shown in Gatsby from charming and full of life, to heartbroken, empty, or furious. Gatsby is soul that keeps everything disguised by huge parties and false lives and DiCaprio absorbs the character, showing his knowledge of the role. Unfortunately, he is the single bright light shining across the bay. A slightly smaller light is Edgerton, who portrays Tom well, understanding his rough but calm nature, and managing to juxtapose that with the more emotional moments in the latter half of the film. The rest of the cast are all 'almost there'. Admittedly, Jordan and Myrtle, two important characters, are hardly given the time of day by Luhrmann, leaving Debicki and Fisher little to work with. Maguire does seem to grasp some form of Nick's character, but only one aspect: confusion at everything. The world Nick is introduced to is indeed strange and new, but only at the very end does Nick seem anywhere near aware of what is going on around him. There are many close ups of his bemusement. Mulligan, a wonderful actress, simply does not command the space in the way it feels Daisy should do. At the start she is a flirty young woman, drawing any male in with a look of her eye, but as the film progresses, she just becomes an addition to Tom or Gatsby's arm. Given little chance to talk above a murmur and very static in many scenes. Of course, the finger of blame could be pointed mostly at Luhrmann, but he already has a lot to answer for.

Green Screen? What green screen?

Why would Baz Luhrmann, director of Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, possible have to answer for anything? There is no issue with the film almost physically dripping in his unique style, though the editing at times can be distracting. No, the problems are most other things, primarily, the need to highlight anything and everything. Through Nick's constant narrating, the audience are informed (sometimes several times) of the actions that are happening or have just happened on screen. 'I went to Gatsby's' says Nick whilst walking to Gatsby's. But not just narration. Those of you who are familiar with the novel will surely know how symbolic it is. For example, the large billboard depicting the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg, many literary analysts will tell you, symbolise the eyes of God watching the actions. They are always there. But now, imagine Baz Luhrmann sitting next to you, prodding you, shouting, 'SEE THAT BILLBOARD? THAT REPRESENTS GOD! DID YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE?' There are many other examples but what the biggest fault of the film is, is assuming that all the viewers are imbeciles incapable of deciphering the action or meaning of what is being presented on screen. Whilst visually engaging, the way in which everything is presented just feels off. Take the soundtrack. Sometimes, the gentle covers of hip hop songs fit nicely into the 1920's but then a car passes by, champagne flowing (product placement galore), and seemingly is blasting out Jay Z. The music often does not fit. Sometimes it does. Hit or miss.

Visually captivating and, at times, emotionally consuming. DiCaprio holds the whole film up, and his chemistry with the other characters on screen makes everything that little bit better. A fun filled two hours but also a bit like a party that ends a bit early. Things are a bit mad, but because of that you missed all the exciting stuff and when it is revealed, the party is over, and you no longer care. An unsatisfactory film that will disappoint fans of the book but will no doubt entertain the less pedantic members of the world.

Best Bit? The big conflict between Tom, Daisy, and Gatsby, when they are isolated and alone. The editing slows down, the tension rises, the climax is fully engaging and enjoyable. The Hotel Plaza is clearly the place to be.

 I saw this with my good buddy Jack. Naturally, we dressed for the occasion.