Wednesday, 21 June 2017

It Happened One Night (1934)

Fig 1 - It Happened One Night Poster
Directed by Frank Capra, It Happened One Night stars Claudette Colbert as Ellie, the heiress of a wealthy New York family, who abandons the boat on which her father is attempting to talk her out of marriage to a sleazy aviator named Westley (Jameson Thomas). News of Ellie's disappearance soon hits the headlines and a reward of ten-thousand dollars creates a nationwide buzz for any information on her whereabouts. On a bus en-route to her husband, Ellie meets Peter (Clark Gable), a confident reporter in dire need of a scoop to make ends meet. Peter is immediately taken with Ellie, though his predisposition regarding the upper classes brings him to jibe and poke-fun at her attempts to travel across the country alone. After Ellie's bag is stolen, Peter takes it upon himself to chaperone her the rest of the journey, slowly but surely gaining her trust with his quick wit and sense of adventure. The two eventually find ease in avoiding Ellie's captors by travelling as a 'married couple', however there is an undoubted tension between them that neither are able to ignore...

The film was the first of four in Oscar history to take home all major awards in which it was nominated, including Best Writing (Robert Riskin), Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), Best Actor (Clark Gable) and Best Picture of 1934.

I deliberately settled into the film with no prior knowledge of the plot and within the first twenty minutes found myself so taken-aback by just about everything it has to offer. The first notable element was it's gorgeous combination of editing and cinematography by Gene Havlick and Joseph Walker respectively. As the film is set primarily 'on the road', it's pacing is forced to keep the camera moving and fix our attention to the fact that Ellie is vulnerable to the public by putting the leads in very busy environments. There's a clear sense of claustrophobia to the packed buses taking Ellie and Peter here and there, though their unconventional sense of chemistry manages to alleviate any doubt to the fact that they are indeed a couple.

Fig 2 - It Happened One Night - Ellie and Peter
Speaking of which, I could scarcely fault the legitimacy of the main players. From the get-go, both Ellie and Peter establish themselves as strong-willed characters in very different ways. For Ellie, her independence is clearly a thing of pride as she has lived a sheltered life under the guise of her wealth, even stating that she'd met her husband whilst avoiding the body-guards appointed to her whilst out shopping. Peter however, demonstrates a sense of street-wise that clashes with Ellie's ability to merely buy herself out of situations. Using his words and gumption, Peter proves himself resourceful as the journey becomes evermore dire, managing to forage for food, find transportation and even convince a couple to let them stay in their motel. But ultimately, the two work best when they are playing off one another as faux-newlyweds, almost having fun in the dramatics of fending off investigators desperate for Ellie's return.

Of course, the entire basis of the film lies on a phenomenal script by Robert Riskin, who diverts genre conventions by allowing just enough romance to slip through their unlikely relationship so that the audience may genuinely wonder as to whether they 'will or won't'. All the while, the dialogue is a timeless display of hilarity throughout, certainly making for one of the funniest films I've yet to encounter on the list thus far.

Overall, It Happened One Night is one of the most relatable classics I've yet to come across and surpasses a plethora of rom-coms made decades later. The characters are real, the laughs are genuine and the production is stunning. Put it on one night and let it happen.


Fig. 1 It Happened One Night Poster (1934) From: It Happened One Night - Directed by: Frank Capra

Fig. 2 It Happened One Night Screenshot (1934) From: It Happened One Night - Directed by: Frank Capra

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Dial M for Murder (1954)

Fig 1 - Dial M for Murder Poster
Based on the stage-play by Frederick Knott, Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder follows the story of a jealous husband who orchestrates the murder of his cheating wife. The film opens with a tense conversation between Margot (Grace Kelly) and her lover Mark (Robert Cummings) as the two anticipate the return of her husband Tony (Ray Milland). Margot is certain that their affair is still a secret, however a letter that Mark wrote to her was previously stolen by a blackmailer in return of a sum of money. Upon arrival, Tony appears none-the-wiser to their infidelity. Although, when Tony is finally left to his own devices, he invites over an old college friend whom he convinces to murder Margot in exchange for fee. When the plan doesn't go as expected, Mark is forced to create an ever-more elaborate web of lies to keep himself from being exposed, leaving an innocent bystander to face the deadly consequences of the incident in his stead...

In typical Hitchcockian style, the film is largely based in one setting (being the apartment of Margot and Tony) which ordinarily might become somewhat claustrophobic to the viewer. However, the space is used to the fullest extent with an array of compositions that fit with the narrative at any given point, also taking advantage of a plethora of lighting techniques which allow the home to transform our perspective based on the tone of each scene. An interesting shot that I noted takes place as Tony explains the precise details of the plan to his college friend. We are almost directly above the two characters as Tony makes his way around the lounge, as if watching a general pushing pawns around the map of a war room. The shot caught my eye as it naturally demonstrated a sense of strategy to Tony's meticulous plan and subsequently gave the space a new dimension in the process.

Fig 2 - Margot meets her fate
I had no idea what the film was about initially, though I did find myself engaged in the characters from the get-go. The film was shot and released partly in 3D due to the initial craze in the 50's, however there was nothing that 'jumped out at me' as technically necessary about having objects in the foreground separate from the background. That said, I am curious to see how a 3D screening may change my interpretation of the film which, incidentally I would only allow since it's Hitchcock.

In terms of performances, I found Ray Millard to be utterly compelling as the sociopath husband. It is undoubtedly in no small part due to Knott's fantastic screenplay, but something about Millard's smooth delivery, which even by the final scene doesn't descend into panic, rather that Tony had been thwarted in a dastardly game of chess. Robert Cummings, as the crime fiction novelist Mark, also gives a great performance in his near-perfect deducing of Tony's plan in a monologue that, unbeknownst to him, almost unravels the entire truth of the mystery.

Overall, I found Dial M for Murder to be a very enjoyable watch despite ever so slightly declining at the three-quarter mark. Not only does the film keep you guessing throughout, it allows you to make assumptions from the gestures and physicality of it's leads, ultimately making you question exactly who you're rooting for.


Fig. 1 Dial M for Murder Poster (1954) From: Dial M for Murder - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Fig. 2 Dial M for Murder Screenshot (1954) From: Dial M for Murder - Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Third Man (1949)

Fig 1 - The Third Man Poster
Directed by Carol Reed, The Third Man tells the story of a low-level novelist named Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who travels to post-war Vienna when his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) informs him of a work placement. Upon arrival, Holly discovers that Lime has been hit by a truck and has subsequently died. At his funeral, Holly meets Major Calloway (Trevor Howard) who informs him of Lime's criminal activities in the business of distributing supplies of much-needed penicillin. Holly then begins to investigate the scene of the murder, taking eyewitness accounts to fully understand the mystery behind Lime's death, as evidence suggests that it may have been deliberate. However, only two figures were reported at the scene of the crime, leading Holly to question exactly who was 'the third man'?

With a film-noir pastiche at the core of Robert Krasker's cinematography, The Third Man offers an array of visual delights that manipulate shadow and contrast light and dark to communicate various atmospheric moods. In addition, an extensive use of Dutch angles from the outset give the film an uneasy tone that suggests the audience ought to suspect everything and everyone. It is sometimes used obscurely, though a scene in which (spoilers) Holly meets with Lime on a ferris-wheel proves particularly telling of the narrative direction to come, as the camera subtly rotates it's way through every shot. Furthermore, the rubble-coated cityscape made for an interesting backdrop to the investigation, which often found characters passing by beautiful sculptures carved into pillars and the next moment sliding down gargantuan mounds of brick.

Fig 2 - The Third Man - Holly Martins
As far as the story goes, I was reminded somewhat of The Maltese Falcon (1941) in it's pacing, though I found the character of Holly Martin appealing enough in his role as a faux-detective who seemed genuinely bereaved at his friend's passing. That said, I never settled into the mystery as much as I would have liked and found myself questioning exactly where to shift my focus in the story. Lime's criminal actions are only condemned by Holly once he is exposed to the suffering it has caused, which would have been more of a gut-punch had the film developed their backstory as friends to some degree. It is often an interesting reveal when a much-discussed character finally materialises on-screen, however I just didn't find myself overwhelmed by Lime's less-than-enigmatic return.

Overall, in spite of some great visuals and central performances by Welles and Cotten, the film felt a little predictable for my taste. It's never fun to downplay a 'classic', but I refuse to believe I have some kind of tin-ear for detective dramas as some of my all-time favourites spawn directly from the genre. Perhaps I have desensitised myself at this point. Ultimately I found The Third Man to be somewhat void of the 'thrills' the genre offers up at it's best and (even if it was one of the first to do so) never felt as captivating as it looked.

Fig. 1 The Third Man Poster (1949) From: The Third Man - Directed by: Carol Reed

Fig. 2 The Third Man Screenshot (1949) From: The Third Man - Directed by: Carol Reed

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Snatch (2000)

Fig 1 - Snatch Poster
Guy Ritchie's Snatch is a British crime/comedy that follows the escapades of a hapless criminal duo, a travelling boxer and the search for a much coveted stolen diamond. The opening sees a covert group of Hasidic Jews carry out a heist in Antwerp, at the helm of which is Franky "Four-Fingers" (Benicio Del Toro). An ex-KGB agent named Boris (Rade Serbedzija) then hires small-time delinquents Vinny (Robbie Gee) and Sol (Lennie James) to steal the diamonds from Franky, who soon prove themselves to be disorganised in their actions. Meanwhile a boxing promoter named Turkish (Jason Statham) sends his partner in crime Tommy (Stephen Graham) to purchase a caravan from a group of travellers (or "pikeys" as our heroes eloquently put it), along with their primary asset, boxer "Gorgeous George" (Adam Fogerty). Here they meet Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt), who finds himself badly injuring George in the ring and subsequently agrees to fight for Turkish in exchange for a new caravan for his mother. Mickey is then informed he must "throw the fight in the fourth round" or else incur the wrath of opposing promoter and all-round gangster "Brick Top" (Alan Ford).

I am unsure whether my feelings towards this film stem from a personal abhorrence towards anything overtly nationalistic or simply the fact that the film just isn't that great. Though there are elements that appeal to me, more often than not I found myself cringing at the quintessentially 'British' humour that often punctuates comebacks to statements of stupidity. It manages to glorify hooliganism, in the broadest sense, without straying into territory of films like The Firm (2009) which is undoubtedly inspired by Ritchie's directorial style. That said, I am a great fan of his Sherlock Holmes (2009) adaptation and even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) to some degree, however I just didn't click with the subject matter here. More than anything, Snatch feels like the kind of transatlantic incoherence Tarantino would produce trying to direct an episode of EastEnders. It's all either being a little too on-the-nose or just downright silly.

Fig 2 - Snatch - Turkish, Mickey and Tommy
The barrage of characters introduced all seem to be at differing levels of performance quality. On the one hand, there is Jason Statham doing the whole 'Jason Statham' shtick. Then there is the saving grace of Brad Pitt's performance which. for me, would be the only reason to ever return to the film. His ludicrous Irish accent and jaunty persona give Pitt a character to really chew the scenery with in the best possible way. A far-cry from Tyler Durden perhaps but it all amounts to similar ends in that he is a fighter (though this time he's allowed to talk about it) and thus doesn't break entirely new ground with his performance.

Overall, I wanted to like Snatch more than I did. I do think the plot gets a little lost in the excess of characters and proves to ultimately showcase a production of 'style over substance'. Though it is quite clearly 'one for the lads', there is an undeniable audience for it and I'll continue to follow Ritchie's career in the hopes of better things to come. Here's hoping he won't do the same thing to Aladdin that he did to King Arthur.


Fig. 1 Snatch Poster (2000) From: Snatch - Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Fig. 2 Snatch Screenshot (2000) From: Snatch - Directed by: Guy Ritchie

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Truman Show (1998)

Fig 1 - The Truman Show Poster
Directed by Peter Weir, The Truman Show follows the story of a man who, unbeknownst to him, stars as the central character in a reality television show. Born into the fictional town of Seahaven, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives a seemingly picturesque life as an insurance salesman whose world, and everyone in it, secretly revolve around his every movement. Since birth, the show's creator Christof (Ed Harris) has acted as the shadowy puppeteer behind every significant moment in Truman's life, molding his fears and ambitions to fit the narrative of the show and keep it's star in the dark. On the brink of his 30th birthday, Truman decides he wants to travel to Fiji since it is "the farthest away you can go before you start coming back", much to the concern of his wife Meryl (Laura Linney). Things begin to escalate when Truman starts noticing unusual patterns in the behaviour of Seahaven's residents and, in his many attempts to escape the town, becomes evermore suspicious that life may not be as it seems...

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards (receiving none) and six Golden Globes, of which Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and the composers Burkhard von Dallwitz and Philip Glass won in their respective roles. Since it's release, the film has been praised as one of Jim Carrey's finest dramatic performances, even indirectly convincing others that they too were trapped in a television show. An uncommon paranoia informally known as "Truman Syndrome" has been documented by psychologists as a result of the film's popularity, bringing one individual to travel to New York following the September 11th attacks to justify whether or not it was just "all part of the script" (Kershaw, 2008).

Fig 2 - The Truman Show - Meryl and Truman
The film certainly works on a number of levels. As a satire on the nature of exploitation in television; the reality of celebrity culture; even ideas regarding societal constructs which conspire to maintain the status quo. The film is set in 1995 but could easily be seen as a foreboding vision of the future of entertainment and the moral choices involved in creating such content. With parallels to shows like Big Brother (taken from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four), it is an all too real possibility that The Truman Show may one day influence a similar premise by which life imitates art. Even within the film there is a clear divide in the viewership for Truman's release, meaning there was always a controversy to it's initial execution. The idea of the Seahaven dome also parallels Robert Nozick's thought experiment "The Experience Machine" (Anarchy, State and Utopia, 1984) in which Nozick asks the reader to choose between an artificial life in a flotation tank (void of unhappiness but ultimately fake) or to live in reality with all the good and bad that it entails. In this instance, Christof chose to put Truman in the "Experience Machine" but in the end, Truman chose reality for himself.

Additionally, I think Jim Carrey gives a perfect blend of nuance in conjunction with his famously zany shtick. I am still of the opinion that his role as Joel Barish (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)) has gone unsurpassed in terms of his dramatic abilities. However, I find Truman to be an incredibly likeable character in his naivety and I always lose myself in his performance (despite some moments of eccentricity). Ed Harris is similarly masterful in his subtle role as a Steve Jobs-style egomaniac. Although his character appears sparingly, Harris steals almost every scene with Christof's brooding gait and sense of absolute control over the situation. The final scene, in which Christof and Truman converse like deity's between heaven and Earth, perfectly captures Christof's desperation and overall affection towards Truman. It's a beautiful moment, and through a touching monologue Harris manages to convey just how important Truman is not only as a subject, but as a human being untouched by the horrors of humanity.

Overall, The Truman Show's surface concept amounts to an idea that is endlessly deep and dares to open up discussions of exploitation and the nature of reality whilst remaining consistently light-hearted. I must finish up now as I'm due to cycle past your house in about ten minutes.


Fig. 1 The Truman Show Poster (1998) From: The Truman Show - Directed by: Peter Weir

Fig. 2 The Truman Show Screenshot (1998) From: The Truman Show - Directed by: Peter Weir

Look Closely, Doctor: See the Camera? - Kershaw, Sarah (08/27/08) - Accessed: 01/06/17

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Singin' in the Rain (1952)

Fig 1 - Singin' in the Rain Poster
Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain follows the story of a troubled film production and it's cast during the transitional era into the 'talkies'. Set in 1920's Hollywood, Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his longtime co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are the toast of the town. However, it soon becomes clear that their collective image is merely a front for the fans since behind the scenes, Don expresses his open contempt for her. In the beginning, Don addresses the roaring crowds with the tale of his rise to fame, alongside his best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) who ended up writing the music for his pictures. During an after-party, the guests are treated to a short example of film synchronised with speech, which is somewhat shrugged off as a fad. Nonetheless, with the recent popularity of The Jazz Singer (the first feature-length film with audible dialogue), the company head R.F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) demands that the film be made into a 'talky'. However, Lina's shrill voice and inability to follow direction exacerbates production further and ultimately leads to her lines being dubbed with those of Don's love interest and budding actress, Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds).

Despite nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Musical Score, the film had no wins at the 25th Academy Awards. However, Donald O'Connor did take away a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical the following year. Ever since, the film's reputation has been elevated to the greatest heights and often features among the top picks for 'greatest musical of all-time'.

Fig 2 - Singin' in the Rain - Don Lockwood
The first musical adaptation I remember really enjoying was Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) which managed to not only satisfy my burgeoning pre-pubescent nihilism, but also delivered a great story throughout with appropriate numbers weaving together the various narrative threads. It is possibly the least apt comparison to make, as my particular taste in musicals strays towards the less 'conventional', such as Book of Mormon and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). So with that I should say Sweeney Todd could not be further in tone or atmosphere from Singin' in the Rain. However, it does manage to deliver a similarly excellent balance of memorable songs and performances with a genuinely interesting plot at the heart of it all. It's a whole lot of fun and had me smiling from ear to ear nearly the whole way through.

The film's soundtrack features a plethora of classics by music director Lennie Hayton; responsible for hits such as Good Morning, Make 'em Laugh and of course Singin' in the Rain, for which the film is most widely known. Uncredited choreographers Carol Haney and Gwen Verdon assisted Gene Kelly in the accompanying dance numbers that make the film such a spectacle, deserving the highest of praises for their input into what was clearly a frustrating production for all involved. Donald O'Connor's performance in particular was a blend of impeccable comic timing and a Buster Keaton-style energy that exuded from every ingrained movement he made. Gene Kelly was notably charming and emanated a Bond-esque allure to his more reserved sequences, with a young Debbie Reynolds playing off his presence in an equally appealing naivety.

Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised by Singin' in the Rain and totally concur with the fascination behind the film. If I had any minor quibbles, it would be the slightly disjointed ratio between musical numbers and 'scenes' during the second half. However in spite of this, I found myself oddly enchanted by the film to the point where I could have easily watched a second time as soon as it was over. Singin' in the Rain serves as a gorgeous time-capsule of 'old Hollwood' and will leave just about anybody on a gleefully high note.


Fig. 1 Singin' in the Rain Poster (1952) From: Singin' in the Rain - Directed by: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Fig. 2 Singin' in the Rain Screenshot (1952) From: Singin' in the Rain - Directed by: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

IMDB Top 250 - Top 50 Ranked (so far)

Having now reviewed the first 50 films of the IMDB Top 250 list (from shortest to longest), I thought I would share a rundown of how I've been ranking them so far. Many of these films have been revisits and many more have been first-time viewings long overdue. I've been pleasantly surprised by some and utterly indifferent to others, so my reshuffling of the list will be purely out of personal preference as time goes on. But for now, this is the current order of things. Looking forward to the next 100.

1. Trainspotting (1996)
2. 12 Angry Men (1957)
3. Toy Story (1995)
4. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
5. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
6. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
7. Paths of Glory (1957)
8. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
9. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
10. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
11. Finding Nemo (2003)
12. Mary and Max (2009)
13. Strangers on a Train (1951)
14. Stand by Me (1951)
15. City Lights (1931)
16. The Lion King (1994)
17. Casablanca (1942)

18. Up (2009)
19. Annie Hall (1977)
20. Fargo (1996)
21. The General (1926)
22. Wall-E (2008)
23. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
24. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
25. Groundhog Day (1993)
26. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
27. Before Sunrise (1995)
28. Wild Strawberries (1957)
29. Sunrise (1927)
30. The Princess Bride (1987)
31. The Kid (1921)
32. Modern Times (1936)
33. Les Diaboliques (1955)
34. The Gold Rush (1925)
35. Touch of Evil (1958)
36. The 400 Blows (1959)
37. Life of Brian (1979)
38. Children of Heaven (1997)
39. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
40. Persona (1966)

41. Infernal Affairs (2002)
42. La Haine (1995)
43. Inside Out (2015)
44. Toy Story 3 (2010)
45. Song of the Sea (2014)
46. The Seventh Seal (1957)
47. Rashomon (1950)

48. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

49. Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2009)
50. The Maltese Falcon (1941)