Monday, 20 December 2010

Charlotte Rampling: The Look

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The other day, I came across one of those rare book-finds that is actually rare. I find books that interest me but have no other value on a semi-regular basis, but only strike it lucky with truly valuable books a few times a year. Although I didn't realize it when I picked it up, Charlotte Rampling: With Compliments, is one of those lucky strikes.

The book was published in 1987 by Quartet Books, and as far as I'm aware has never been reprinted. When you look at the contents, it's not difficult to appreciate why. Aside from a brief, intriguingly personal introduction to the book by Rampling's Night Porter co-star Dick Bogarde, the book consists of nothing but photos of Rampling taken between 1963 (when she was an aspiring model in London) and 1986. Even when the limited potential audience of such a book is considered, the book cost £20.00 when it was initially released. Which is more than what most people (aka. me) will pay for a hardback over twenty years later. Therefore, it's not difficult to understand why the book is difficult to obtain now, with people asking upwards of £150.00 for it on Amazon.

Wow, I've just read that over and have realized that that doesn't just sound like boasting, it is boasting.

To move on, it really is a beautiful book. I've done some scans, which are sadly difficult to appreciate when I'm limited to featuring images that are 400 pixels wide on blogger. Ah well, you get the idea. Enjoy these images of Charlotte, an actress who I know only from Angel Heart and whose curiously harsh looking beauty somehow reminds me of Isabella Rossellini.


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Friday, 30 July 2010

The blog is dead. Long live the blog!

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Barbie and Ken gettin' groovy in Toy Story 3

This blog has been dead since May 20th for several reasons, all related to my pursuit of higher education. I am now a graduate, and in between sifting through papers for jobs I intend to do what I enjoy most of all: watch and write about films.

To re-start this whole shebang, I will do a quick run-down of all the new films I have watched this year.

Shutter Island (2010)

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Dir, Martin Scorcese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams and Ben Kingsley

Top points for direction, cinematography and editing, for the most part this is a highly absorbing film that effectively draws you into the claustrophobic, fog-obscured world of the eponymous Shutter Island. I felt it was let down slightly by its ending, which wrapped every plot end up to the point where there are no mysteries left to consider.

Inception (2010)

Dir, Christopher Nolan
Cast, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard

While this film boasts incredible effects and an interesting, well thought out plot, but it failed to involve me emotionally. I admire Inception for its technical achievements and its engagement with a series of interesting philosophical concepts, but to be entirely honest must admit I didn’t particular enjoy it.

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Dir, Lee Unkrich
Cast, Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack

In a sense this film is the antithesis of Inception, in that it is built almost entirely on emotions (those of the audience as much as the characters in the film). I still find it strange that CGI renderings of plastic toys manage to pull more vigorously on the audience’s heartstrings than many a human actor can. This was the perfect ending to the Toy Story films, depicting the decisions that face every young adult with great humour and honesty.

The Ghost (2010)

Dir, Roman Polanski
Cast, Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams

Ewan McGregor makes a great protagonist here, and is wholly engaging and sympathetic as the titular ghost-writer who becomes embroiled in the shadowy life of Britain’s ex prime minister. This is a taut thriller, and every single one of its twists took me by surprise. Recommended.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)

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Dir, J. Blakeson
Cast, Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan

Alice Creed can be summed up by a single word: brutal. The first half hour is unrelenting, depicting the preparing and execution of a kidnap with cold, clinical precision. Every detail, from the stapling of foam insulation to walls to the systematic removal of the victim’s clothes is carefully documented. This thriller, much like The Ghost, is packed with twists. While some of these turns in the narrative strain the film’s credibility to breaking point, it remains gripping throughout. A stylish, grotesquely compelling debut from J. Blakeson.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief (2010)

Dir, Chris Columbus
Cast, Logan Lerman, Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan and Steve Coogan

This is a competent popcorn movie that kids and fans of the best-selling series of books by Rick Riordan will enjoy. Unfortunately I don’t fit into either category, and found Percy Jackson a somewhat tedious, formulaic fantasy film that is predictable in every sense.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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Dir, Tim Burton
Cast, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anne Hathaway and Mia Wasikowska

This is a highly disappointing adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s book, which managed to jettison most of the attributes that made Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland so unique. Carroll’s anarchic, nonsensical world has been disposed of, suppressed to allow for a plot reliant on prophecies and polarities of good and evil. The end result here bears so little similarity to Carroll’s Alice, I was left with the unpleasant impression that Burton’s film was merely leeching of the success of the original books. The curious, adventurous heroine of the original story is all grown up here, and is blandly written and acted. Most of the other performances here are similarly stale, and the characters were for the most part overwhelmed by the spectacular, imaginatively designed scenery. The only bright spot is Helena Bonham Carter, who turns in a hysterical performance as the volatile Red Queen. If you’re looking for films that capture the mood of Carroll’s work, seek out Dreamchild (1985) or Jonathan Miller’s Alice in Wonderland (1966).

As you can tell from the length of the above, Alice in Wonderland really gets me going.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Dir, Mike Newell
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina.

This is a really fun popcorn flick, which happens to be invested with the liveliness and energy Percy Jackson sorely lacked. Although the plot is predictable and the characters storybook clich├ęs, the writing here ensures that the film never loses pace. It is recommended that you don’t watch this soon after watching Alice Creed, because your impressions of Gemma Arterton in that film will be hard to shake while you watch her performance here.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Black Narcissus: The Edge of Darkness

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Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus, 1947

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (the men responsible for The Red Shoes and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) are known for the visual beauty, and Black Narcissus is no exception.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) pioneered the use of expressionistic scenery that mirrored the fractured mental state of its central character, and Black Narcissus uses similarly stylized scenery in order to convey a sense of disorder and alienation. However, while Caligari’s scenery is bizarre from the offset, Black Narcissus accumulates strangeness as it progresses. While the Nun’s faces are lit clearly at the start of the film, they are soon transformed into canvases for sharp, criss-crossed shadows that emphasis their entrapment.

The story is simple. A group of Nuns are sent to India to create a new mission in an abandoned palace, only to find themselves altered by their immersion in a strange, unfamiliar culture.

It is clear these women are thoroughly human from the offset. At the start of the film, a group of Nuns are seen giggling like a group of gossiping schoolgirls. The torrid wilderness they enter does not transform them into strangers, it is merely the trigger that sends their insecurities bubbling to the surface.

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Light and shadow are not the only filmic techniques used to create the impression that the nuns are trapped. Their vast, white habits quickly become absurd when seen beside the fluid, form-fitting saris of the local women. Kanchi (Jean Simmons), a young girl who is admitted to the convent in an attempt to correct her behaviour, embodies this contrast. While the Nuns express themselves through spiky looks and stiff, functional conversations, Kanchi expresses herself through dance. Her body is uncontained, and she revels in her fluidity as she dances alone before a mirror.

The life led by the nuns in Black Narcissus is meant to be one of complete self-denial. Rather than living within the safe walls of a convent, these nuns are supposed to improve the ‘uncivilised’ communities they enter by introducing health-care and education. Rather than benefiting the communities they enter, the nuns alienate the people who come to them for help by viewing the Indians as irredeemably ‘other’ to the norms of white, European Christianity they uphold. “They all look the same to me,” sneers one of the Sisters after entering the community.

It would be naive to consider Black Narcissus as a defiant condemnation of colonial attitudes. Being a product of the post-war era, it is as much a justification of colonial views as a condemnation of them. The Indians are, for the most part, depicted as a homogenous unit, characterized by childishness and simplicity. While the Nuns are afflicted by intense personal turmoil, the Indian characters follow more conventional narrative paths. The troubled Kanchi is paired with an unnamed Young General (Sabu), the latter of whom compares their relationship to that between the storybook figures of the “Prince and the Beggarmaid.” These characters are contradictory: alien on account of their dark skin and foreign customs, yet paragons of reason when compared to the strained Sisters of the convent.

Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is the central character, the unusually young Mother Superior of the remote convent. Kerr gives a remarkable performance, the minute twitches of her strained face conveying intense internal activity. A series of flashbacks occur during the scenes where Sister Clodagh is praying in Chapel. They hark back to a bright, happy youth typified by the freedom and excess that are absent from her life as a Nun. A dissolve from a shot of her smiling as a young, carefree girl to one of her smiling as a praying Nun indicates the power of these memories to soothe, emphasizing the foolishness of denying the pleasures they contain.

Her fellow Nun, Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), is eminently unsuitable for life in a convent. When not spying jealously on Sister Clodagh’s developing relationship with the eminently unholy Mr. Dean (David Farrar), she is terrorizing bemused schoolchildren.

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This instability reaches fever point at the climax of the film, and in a truly marvellous scene Sisters Ruth and Clodagh face-off against one another. They sit on opposite ends of a table, Ruth dressed in a tight, fashionable dress and Clodagh in her starched, overwhelming Nun’s habit. While Ruth sensually applies lipstick to her face, Clodagh peers down nervously at her copy of the Bible. Despite the seeming oppositions between them, Ruth is what Sister Clodagh has the potential to become. Both are drawn to the same objects of desire – memories of their material lives and the licentious Mr. Dean – and the only difference between them is the fact that Sister Ruth gives herself over to them fully.

Neither woman chose life in a convent for the right reasons, treating it as a place where they could merely block out past traumas rather than work through them. Clodagh merely has the better facade, for the flashbacks to her past life illustrate that her old lifestyle continues to hold allure.

Black Narcissus is very much a film of spaces, and the last scenes of the Sisters slowly winding their way through the jungle on the backs of miniature ponies is highly telling. It begins to pour with rain moments before the film ends, generating the impression that the heat of the sensual Indian landscape is finally being extinguished.

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Jack Cardiff’s cinematography is stunning, and Black Narcissus is worth viewing for the images it offers if for nothing else. Its psychological complexity is mirrored in the careful gradations of its scenery, and his Oscar for the film was richly deserved.

The friend I watched this with was distracted by the clipped voices of the Nuns and the blatant artificiality of the scenery. To view it in this way somewhat misses the point. It is not true to reality in the way that a photograph of a mountain or a river is, instead it is a sutiably unstable, heightened embodiment of the emotional states of the film's characters.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Kick Ass: Super-Heroes With Bruises

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Matthew Vaughn's Kick Ass, 2010

Superhero movies have ruled the box-office for the last decade. The X-Men, Spider Man, the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man have all become integral parts of popular culture, migrating to Hollywood from the relatively enclosed world of the comic-book. Kick Ass then, with its focus on the potential for 'real' super-heroes in a world governed by silence and complicity, is best described as timely.

Pop culture references abound. ‘Youtube’ and ‘MySpace’ (now I’ve thought about it, who uses MySpace anymore? Maybe the script was written before the Facebook explosion) play integral roles in the narrative, and in a great self-referential moment the hero of the film, unapologetic geek Dave Lizewski (played with a pitch-perfect accent by Aaron Johnson), learns that his crime-fighting exploits are to be adapted into a comic book (the film itself is adapted from Mark Millar’s comic book series of the same name).

The story of Kick Ass is simple, which is probably why it’s so appealing. Dave Lizewski is a nerdy, comic-book fixated teen, struggling to deal with his burgeoning interest in the opposite sex as well as the thugs who regularly snatch his lunch money. One day, he asks himself a question; why has no one has ever tried to be a superhero? He decides to take things to in his own hands, ordering a cut-price diving suit and heading out to fight crime as the eponymous Kick Ass. By the end of his first mission, he has been knifed in the stomach - not a great way to start a career.

Dave’s next mission is more successful, and footage of him literally ‘kicking ass’ goes viral, attracting millions of viewers worldwide. It soon emerges that Dave isn’t the only super-hero in town. Ex-cop Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage, doing a great Adam West impression) and his eleven year old daughter Mindy (alias Hit Girl) have an armoury that looks like it belongs in a government bunker, and more fighting prowess than characters you see in 18-rated video games. To watch an eleven year old girl sprinting along walls and performing back-flips is extraordinary, especially when you consider that the said eleven year old is also slicing peoples’ legs off. 'Big Daddy' is taking his revenge on crime-lord Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) for setting him up for drug possession before his daughter was born, systematically wiping out swathes of his thugs.

Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) - the rich-kid son of Frank D’Amico - also suits up as Red Mist, and as he and Dave join forces the threat of Chris’s increasingly frustrated father becomes steadily more immediate.

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Some of the best moments in the film are the most taboo. Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) is clearly the stand out character here, a cyclone of killing prowess who takes out six knife-wielding junkies without breaking a sweat. The sheer wrongness of this situation isn’t ignored, and in some senses Mindy is a normal kid. When her father takes her to a stretch of concrete wasteland to introduce her to the sensation of being struck down by a bullet, she whines for a trip to the bowling alley and a bowl of ice-cream. She is simultaneously a ruthless killer and a whiny little girl. Now I look back on it, it’s quite unsettling to think how delighted I was to watch her cut down a ware-house full of criminals.

Kick Ass is a marvellous film, consistently funny and heart-felt in the right places. Although its opening sequence would seem to indicate it’s a ‘realistic’ attempt to portray a super-hero, it’s just as absurd as most other comic-book films. At points it came across as pure wish-fulfilment (case in point, an overweight, smug geek pal of Dave’s getting a spontaneous kiss from one of the hot girls at school), but that doesn’t matter. If anyone goes into Kick Ass expecting a documentary or a lesson on ethics, they will be sorely disappointed. However, if you want a film that will have you smiling from beginning to end, book your ticket now.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Valerie and her Week of Wonders: The Call of the Weird


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Jaromil Jires' Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Valerie a tuden divu), 1970

This review contains spoilers, beware!

Before Valerie and her Week of Wonders, I thought I was pretty much desensitized to weirdness. I had watched works of cinematic surrealism from The Cabinet of Dr Calagari to Mulholland Drive. I also had a liking for all breeds of anime, ranging from the relatively coherent (Spirited Away, Millennium Actress) to the mystifying (The End of Evangelion). But now I’ve watched Valerie, all of the afore-mentioned seem like models of sanity.

Valerie is a mad, beautiful film. One of its most disconcerting features is lack of coherency. Although the heroine (the titular Valerie) is assaulted or endangered continuously, she remains absolutely calm throughout. She does not react or display clear emotions; instead she wafts through a variety of beautiful set pieces, gazing levelly at the world around her as if she’s wandering through an art gallery.

The story of Valerie is deliberately obscure, and aspects of it that seen fixed are repeatedly undermined. The film starts simply with the theft of Valerie’s pearl earrings by a young man called Orlik (which translates as ‘Eagle’), but quickly descends into chaos. Immediately after her first menstruation, Valerie enters a world of Gothic-inspired horror where sexually licentious priests lecture virgins on morality and chalk faced vampires openly search the streets for prey.

Valerie was directed by Jaromil Jires, and was released in Czechoslovakia in 1970, when the country was still under Communist control. The film displays a deep distrust of authority figures, condemning the hypocrisy of the priesthood and emphasising the rampant sexuality barely hidden by the staid, corpse-like appearance of Valerie’s grandmother.

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Jires’ film is steeped in symbolism, and for the most part Valerie is more memorable when considered as a series of striking images rather than a narrative. The cinematography is stunning, featuring bold, vibrant colours and hazy photography that generates a dream-like ambience.

This impression of unreality is also reinforced by the film’s strange use of characterization. The actress who plays Valerie’s grandmother plays two other roles; her younger, vampiric self and Valerie’s long-lost mother. Orlik - her protector and potential lover - is indicated to be her secret half brother, although this suggestion has no bearing on the rest of the film. A deep sense of uncertainty undercuts Valerie, and the film effectively embodies the disorder of the young girl’s mind.

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The film ends by banishing the horror and morbidity that undercut most of the film, gathering together its characters for a final orgy of celebration. This sequence shows the repressed, hypocritical characters of the film (such as priests and nuns), interacting harmoniously with the ‘good’ characters such as Valerie and Orlik. David Melville refers to this as a “sophisticated blending” of light and darkness, and it is indeed interesting that Jires chose to end Valerie on such an optimistic note after its relentless displays of cruelty and hypocrisy.

Although Valerie is a beautiful and thoughtfully constructed film, the absence of narrative stability unsettled me. It is certainly a memorable piece of filmmaking, but I have yet to decide if it was memorable in a good way.

I probably need more exposure to the ‘weird’ before I try and tackle it again. Maybe a dose of Svankmajer is called for?

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1. Melville, David. The Eccentric Carnival: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Senses of Cinema.31 March 2010.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Kubrick: Through a Glass, Darkly

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This is an edited version of an essay written early this year. It's very long, so I will post the second part at a later date along with a bibliography.

In his famous essay ‘Art as Technique’, Victor Shklovsky proposes that ‘art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things’ (16). This concept of art’s purpose is considered crucial, as Shklovsky has already described the increasingly ‘automatic’ nature of both language and perception (15). Formalists such as Shklovsky considered defamiliarizing techniques – the ability to make the familiar strange - in writing as a crucial means of combating this decline, and their ideas continue to be applicable to art across many mediums. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey uses space as a backdrop against which aspects of our earthly existence are isolated and open to re-evaluation. One of its main pre-occupations is the question of how ‘human nature’ will alter in the future, expressing both scepticism and hope about man’s ability to retain his humanity in a world increasingly dominated by technology.

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Kubrick’s film - while perhaps most remembered for its immaculate, clinical sets - begins with a completely different aesthetic. The ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence that begins the film simulates the natural landscape with a sense of awe and wonder, depicting the beauty of many disparate aspects of nature (an orange sky at sunset, a leopard with glowing eyes reclining next to its kill) with equal reverence. The match-cut from bone to space-ship that compresses a few million years of history into a fraction of a second marks a shift in the films’ focus from the natural world to the unnatural one. From this point on, nearly all of the interior sets are flawlessly white and clean. While this clinical perfection suggests a future that is unnatural and estranged from man’s origins, the photography of the sets nonetheless showcases them as examples of man’s capabilities. In a similar vein, the juxtaposition of footage of the space-ships drifting through the vacuum of space with classical music generates an air of pomp and grandeur, an atmosphere that contrasts sharply with what Piers Bizony refers to as ‘redundant’ dialogue scenes (16). The white sets act as plain backdrops against which traces of colour - the air stewardess’s pink uniforms, the red chairs in the lobby of the space hotel, the artificial food – seem shocking and garish.

Another contrast that arises from the film’s use of colour can be seen in the scenes that depict contact between the people in space and their families back on earth. When Floyd wishes his daughter happy birthday over a monitor, she is shown in a frilled, boldly patterned dress that clashes harshly with the sleek, monochromatic costumes worn by the space travellers. Similarly, the bright smiles and traditional clothing of Poole’s parents (who, in an interesting parallel to Floyd's scene with his daughter, are wishing him happy birthday from earth) make them seem like out-dated objects of ridicule, an impression reinforced by their son’s cold disinterest in their message.

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The film places significant emphasis on the most mundane elements of everyday life, speculating about how they will have altered in the future. Footage of apes consuming raw, bloodied meat at the beginning of the film are paralleled by scenes that show people drinking their artificially coloured dinner through straws, and long periods of meditative silence are set against ones of empty, automatic chatter. In many ways, the film functions as a satire, with Philip Mather describing the irony of Floyd’s acting like a ‘bored businessman’ when surrounded by, what are for the audience, views of incredible, awe inspiring beauty (199). The resonance of such satire is reinforced by the film’s commitment to accuracy. Kubrick’s use of contrast and satire contrast are central to its thematic development, as Marcia Landy describes:

If ‘The Dawn of Man’ episode highlighted the solidity of the terrestrial terrain ... what is evident in [the untitled, middle segment of the film] is a loss of contact with the landscape and with the body expressed in the unsteady movement of humans and the restraints of communicability (92)

This estrangement of man from his origins is perhaps indicated most strongly by the aesthetics of the stargate sequence that comes towards the end of the film. Astronaut Dave Bowman’s horrified, pain-contorted face flashes on the screen in the midst of a bombardment of vividly coloured lights. In contrast to the more sedate pace of what has come previously, the lights displayed in the stargate sequence move with disorientating rapidity. There has been a change from a slow, careful pace to one of urgency. This frenzy of movement and colour is contrasted with the use of still reaction shots of Bowman’s face; ironically, at the time when he shows the most emotion he is denied expression through movement. The astronaut becomes a subliminal figure, a brief snapshot whose appearances are too sudden to be substantial. This reduction of Bowman’s role leaves the viewer to experience the sequence directly; they are denied the presence of a referential figure to direct their response. Mather describes the stargate sequence as an attempt to go ‘beyond the anthropomorphic limits of our imagination ... [and] represent the truly alien’, a fitting description that takes into account the almost complete lack of human presence in the scene (187).

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The defamiliarizing effect of the stargate sequence is intensified by the shots of artificially coloured landscapes that follow it. The choice of footage parallels that which appears at the beginning of the film in that both show natural landscapes: mountains, seas and deserts. Yet the carefully considered framing and slow pace of the images featured in the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence at the start of the film is exchanged for sweeping, high angle shots of the landscape that move at a relentless pace. The footage was subject to intense treatment in post-production – the shots appear in a variety of divergent, heavily saturated colours – which recreates the natural world as a bewildering, nightmarish presence that Bowman cannot look away from. The landscape footage is interspersed with extreme-close ups of Bowman’s eye as his pupil dilates and contracts, a choice of image that Mather suggests ‘emphasize[s] his status not only as the “looking subject” but also as victim’ (192). The claustrophobia and totality of experience implied by the intimate proximity of the shot can also extend to the viewer; the eye is isolated to such an extent that it becomes a symbol of the general viewing experience as much as it does of Bowman’s specifically. The astronaut’s eye functions as a stand-in for the viewer’s, representing the defamiliarizing effect of the film’s climatic scenes through its own radically altered state.

Essentially, defamiliarizing imagery is used in 2001 to jerk the viewer from a state of complacency, with garish colours and recurring imagery being used to make the viewer engage critically with the material being displayed. While the film places significant emphasis on the beauty and wonder of man’s technical capabilities, it also reminds the viewer of the necessity of remembering our origins.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Top Ten of 2010

Here are the up-and-coming films I’m excited about. This is obviously several months too late, by they do say better late than never, right?

What are you looking forward to?

10. What’s Wrong With Virginia?

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Jennifer Connelly and Dustin Lance Black discussing a scene during production.

Director: Dustin Lance Black

Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Harrison Gilbertson, Emma Roberts, Amy Madigan.

Due: Autumn 2010? Possible Cannes contender.

Synopsis: Virginia is a charming, vibrant, and completely psychologically disturbed mother of Emmett, the sweetest illegitimate 16-year-old boy a mom could ask for. She has been entangled in a secret 20-year love affair with Richard Tipton, a highly visible, local Mormon Sheriff running for a seat on the state senate. Both Virginia and Tipton have their own pasts to protect, a situation that quickly escalates when Emmett becomes focused on a romantic relationship with Tipton's daughter, Jessie.

What’s going to make it good? This is Dustin Lance Black’s (writer of Milk) first foray into feature film directing, which features Jennifer Connelly as the mentally unbalanced Virginia of the title and Ed Harris as the mormon police-chief-turned-politician with whom she’s been having a twenty year long affair.

If nothing else, it will be fun to see Connelly play a blonde. After all, they have more fun, right?

9. Black Swan

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Natalie Portman filming in New York.

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel.

Due: Autumn 2010

Synopsis: Black Swan tells the story of a veteran ballerina (Portman) who finds herself locked in a competitive situation with a rival dancer, with the stakes and twists increasing as the dancers approach a big performance. But it’s unclear whether the rival is a supernatural apparition or if the protagonist is simply having delusions.

What’s going to make it good? Darren Aronofsky + Natalie Portman + Feuding Ballerinas = what more could you want?

I’m excited for this by default, namely due to my blind love of The Fountain and The Red Shoes (the best ballet flick of them all).

8. The Tree of Life

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Brad Pitt in a production still.

Director: Terence Malick

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Joanna Going, Fiona Shaw.

Due: November 2010, possible premiere at Cannes.

Synopsis: Tree of Life is a period piece centered around three boys in the 1950s. The eldest son of two characters (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) witnesses the loss of innocence.

We trace the evolution of an eleven-year-old boy in the Midwest, Jack, one of three brothers. At first all seems marvelous to the child. He sees as his mother does, with the eyes of his soul. She represents the way of love and mercy, where the father tries to teach his son the world's way, of putting oneself first. Each parent contends for his allegiance, and Jack must reconcile their claims. The picture darkens as he has his first glimpses of sickness, suffering and death. The world, once a thing of glory, becomes a labyrinth.

What’s going to make it good? Although Days of Heaven (1978) failed to engage my interest, I did appreciate its beauty. This is Malick’s first new release in five years, and tells the story of three boys growing up the fifties. Should be a treat for anyone who likes their films slow, contemplative and beautiful.

7. Shutter Island

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Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island.

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams, Ben Kingsley.

Due: On release!

Synopsis: From Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island is the story of two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), who are summoned to a remote and barren island off the coast of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a murderess from the island's fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane.

What’s going to make it good? If my work-load ever allows me to go to the cinema again, this is the first film I’ll see. All the reports I’ve heard on this have been extremely positive, and I feel it’s high time I saw a Scorsese film considering his track record (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas) and his excellent taste in films (one of his most admired filmmakers is Michael Powell, director of the afore-mentioned The Red Shoes).

6. I Love You, Philip Morris

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Jim Carrey in a production still.

Directors: Glenn Ficara and John Requa.

Cast: Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann.

Due: On release!

Synopsis: Based on a book by Houston Chronicle crime reporter Steve McVicker, the fact-based film casts Carrey as Steven Russell, a married father whose exploits landed him in the Texas criminal justice system. He fell madly in love with his cellmate, who eventually was set free, which led Russell to escape from Texas prisons four times.

What’s going to make it good? I love you, Jim Carrey. I recently re-watched The Truman Show and saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and both reinforced my conviction that he is the most skilled ‘comic’ actor in Hollywood today (you are sorely missed, Mr. Chaplin). And, besides that, the trailer had me in stitches. What’s not to like?

5. Kick Ass

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Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Aaron Johnson, Nicholas Cage, Chloe Moretz

Due: On release!

Synopsis: 'Kick-Ass' tells the story of average teenager Dave Lizewski, a comic-book fanboy who decides to take his obsession as inspiration to become a real-life superhero. As any good superhero would, he chooses a new name -- Kick-Ass -- assembles a suit and mask to wear, and gets to work fighting crime. There's only one problem standing in his way: Kick-Ass has absolutely no superpowers.

His life is forever changed as he inspires a subculture of copy cats, meets up with a pair of crazed vigilantes - including an 11-year-old sword-wielding dynamo, Hit Girl and her father, Big Daddy - and forges a friendship with another fledgling superhero, Red Mist. But thanks to the scheming of a local mob boss Frank D'Amico, that new alliance will be put to the test.

What’s going to make it good? Well you see, today films that prompt vitriolic outbursts from the Daily Mail are practically guaranteed to be masterpieces that show-case Tarintino-esque ultra-violence and kids that curse like pimps. Of course, it helps that the screenplay was penned by Jane Goldman, the wife of that Prince of Depravity, Jonathan Ross.

I will see this, even if I have to kick a few asses to get to the cinema.

4. Tron Legacy

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Cast: Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen

Due: 26 December 2010

Synopsis: ‘Tron Legacy’ is a 3D high-tech adventure set in a digital world that’s unlike anything ever captured on the big screen. Sam Flynn, the tech-savvy 27-year-old son of Kevin Flynn, looks into his father’s disappearance and finds himself pulled into the same world of fierce programs and gladiatorial games where his father has been living for 25 years. Along with Kevin’s loyal confidant, father and son embark on a life-and-death journey across a visually-stunning cyber universe that has become far more advanced and exceedingly dangerous

What’s going to make it good? Easy answer: the special effects. I’m not easily impressed by technical wizardry but the trailers for this have an element of beauty to them. There’s a streamlined simplicity to the design here that looks incredibly refreshing after the arguably cluttered aesthetics seen in Avatar and Alice in Wonderland; essentially, it will be great to see the technology applied in a fresh way.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

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Daniel Radcliffe filming a scene.

Director: David Yates

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman

Due: 19 November 2010

Synopsis: It's Harry Potter, okay? Wikipedia!

What’s going to make it good? I grew up with Potter. I was one of those kids who would fast simply to read the final five chapters of The Order of the Phoenix without stopping. I will be there out of franchise loyalty, and a need to be reminded exactly what happened in The Deathly Hallows, anyway.

2. Ondine

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Colin Farrel with Alicja Bachleda in a publicity still.

Director: Neil Jordan

Cast: Colin Farrel, Tony Curran, Alicja Bachleda

Due: hopefully some time in this decade.

Synopsis: Ondine is a lyrical, modern fairy tale that tells the story of Syracuse, an Irish fisherman whose life is transformed when he catches a beautiful and mysterious woman in his nets. His daughter Annie comes to believe that the woman is a magical creature, while Syracuse falls helplessly in love. However, like all fairy tales, enchantment and darkness go hand in hand.

What’s going to make it good? Neil Jordan. I've recently studied The Company of Wolves, and studying a film can either increase my admiration for it or make me despite it to the point where I would happily burn every copy in existence. Thankfully, Company falls into the former catergory. I've always loved fairy-tales and myths, and this looks like a great take on a classic tale.

Why oh why won't it come to my city NOW?

1. Toy Story 3

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Director: Lee Unkrich

Cast: Tom Hanks, Time Allen, Michael Keaton, Joan Cusack

Due: 23 July 2010

Synopsis: Woody and Buzz had accepted that their owner Andy would grow up someday, but what happens when that day arrives? In the third installment, Andy is preparing to depart for college, leaving his loyal toys troubled about their uncertain future.

What’s going to make it good? It's Pixar. It's a sequel to Toy Story 2. It has a brilliant trailer that shows the origins of the immortal Ken and Barbie love story.

You'd have to be insane NOT to be excited for this.