Tuesday, October 31, 2006

01. Tim Robbins as Andy in The Shawshank Redemption.

Come on, guys. Don't tell me you didn't expect this. The signs were all there that I was going to choose this dude, the most recent hint being me comparing him to Peter Crouch. It was coming.

My deep, unnatural love for this performance is one of the Jake-over-Heath cases. Everyone prefers the one performance (in this case, Freeman), and, whilst I do realise the power and beauty in that work (Freeman comes third for me, so he must have done something right), my heart still belongs to the other performance. For Jake, many had the nerve to blame it on my hormones, saying I choose Jake as better because he's better looking. But here, they can't do it. Unless they want to accuse me of having a thing for Timmy Robbins (which I actually did after watching this movie). But no. I just... totally connected with this performance. You know how you can watch a movie and connect with it in every possible way? Well, few films strike that chord with me, but The 400 Blows, Not One Less, and this film, my favourite of all time, did. And it is mainly due to Robbins and the character of Andy.

His character, the innocent Andy, is just so interesting and hapless that you’re taken in by him immediately, especially how, like I mentioned with Crouch, he is absolutely gorgeous in how different they are. I always have a soft spot for characters who stand out. And in every scene he does, whether he's reading a book, or playing the Mozart LP, or that masterful, searing, majestic prison break, one of the most powerful movies scenes of all time.

Anyway, Robbins didn’t pick up any major nominations for his work here except an SAG nomination, which in my eyes is one of the biggest crimes known to man. He is perfect. Nuance, subtlety, smarts. In short, he is perfection in a perfect character, in a perfect film, and is really, really, something. Amazing.

So, the series has finished. Hope it was as fun for me as it was for you. If you're interested, browse through my blog for my picks for the other 99 great performances of the 90s. But for now, why not tell me yours?

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Angelina Jolie is a vampire.

“When other little girls wanted to be ballet dancers I kind of wanted to be a vampire.”
Angelina Jolie

I had the worst type of writer’s block for Nathaniel's blog-thon on vampires. I dallied with the idea of writing a review of John Carpenter’s Vampires (totally lame film by the way), or reviewing Interview with a Vampire. But these ideas all seemed a little dull, and I was totally out of ideas until I watched Channel 4’s silly but highly entertaining Star Stories , where the topic of their jokes that week was Jennifer, Brad, and the vampire, Mrs. Angelina Jolie. The little twist at the end of their story was that she was actually a vampire. So it kind of got me thinking. This woman is a vampire. She really is.

From wikipedia'spage on vampires:

Vampirism is the practice of drinking blood from a person/animal. In folklore and popular culture, the term generally refers to a belief that one can gain supernatural powers by drinking human blood.

Woah, woah, there. “Drinking blood,” eh? Remember that vial of blood Jolie used to wear of Billy Bob Thorton’s, around her neck? And what about when she was out with Johnny Lee Miller? At her wedding to Miller she had displayed her husband's name on the back of her shirt painted in her own blood. So I think it’s obvious that this woman has a taste for the red stuff.

Now, this thing about how drinking gives you supernatural powers. Well, obviously, those are the powers she used to lure Brad away from Jen (or maybe that was just being sexier, and willing to have children, unlike Jen.) Here is a woman who reads vampire books, likes every kind of kinky, with an obvious penchant for blood. Oh, and in the Star Stories TV show I saw, kept Billy Bob by a leash and drew Brad in by biting his neck. Teh.

Then we get onto her appearance. The picture right here is one where I consider her highly vampirific. The pallid skin. The white, fanglike teeth. The deep lips. The enticing glare she gives you. VAMPIRE!!!

Basically, my message to all the men out there: If approached by this woman, be careful. I know most of you will be all to eager to get up close to her, but a health warning – bring a stake. This woman wants to suck your blood.

P.S. if there are any other reasons you feel she is a vampire that I have left out, do let me know. k, thanks.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

02. Emily Watson as Bess McNeill in Breaking the Waves.

I can’t say I liked this film. Ok, to be honest, I absolutely, 100% loathed it. I wanted, so often, to shut this pretentious, self-important, demoralizing piece of turd off. Except I didn’t, and for one thing: Watson’s performance. As the unbalanced Bess, a woman deeply devoted to her husband and her religion, she makes one of the most memorable debuts in film history, and breaks my heart completely. Veterans, you should be ashamed that someone so new on the scene could do so, so much, with her eyes, playing the naivety… Her performance is what kept me watching this film, through all the unsettling scenes and sour plot developments. She has all kinds of scenes, including some that are even funny, but throughout, she is the model of sweetness, showing that her pureness is at the core of all her doings (remember the rabbit scene?). Emily’s sincere, gut-wrenching, and utterly transcendent performance will go down in my books as one of the greatest of all times.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

03. Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding in The Shawshank Redemption

Fact: Morgan Freeman is a marvellous actor, capable of turning mediocre roles into good work and making a good role brilliant. So his role as Red in, you’ve got it, my favourite movie of all time, and his powerhouse performance, from the narration to the subtle expressions, is a match made in Heaven. There’s just not enough I can say about his performance, yet I feel that words would be pointless, as we are all familiar with this man’s brilliance. So just revel in the pleasure of his company in this wonderful stills from a masterful, masterful movie.

Pokémon cards!

Went shopping with my 8-year-old brother today. This week, we found a rusty bunch of Pokémon cards in the attic, and it's so cool how they bring back memories of trading the cards in year 6 when I was younger. Come on, guys. You remember, don't you? No-one ever used the Pokémon cards for what they were - playing, and just ended up trading all of them. 10 Diglets for a Sandslash. And so on.
Anyway, we found an entire collection of the cards in this cool little thrift shop. Take a look at a random sample of the sweeties. (Pictures blurry due to having taken them in hurry; click on pictures for enlargements.)

So pretty!

So, my question is to you: what was your favourite Pokémon? My choice: Raichu. Pyroli and Dratini are beautiful too.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

05. Georges du Fresne as Ludovic Fabre in Ma Vie En Rose

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I’ve seen this movie three times now, and each time I see it again, the more I see depth and power in de Fresne’s performance. Now, as you all may know, Haley Joel Osment is my favourite child actor of all time, and for du Fresne to earn a position above him, well, that truly is something. He plays Ludovic, a boy with a penchant for dressing up in girl’s clothing. So far, so far-out. Two of the times I’ve seen this is with a crowd – first, in Year 9 French, and second, as part of this BFI film school, and in those viewings, the audience has just cracked up with laughter at this weird kid they see, dressing up in his mother’s pearls and donning rouge lipstick. But Fresne shows there is so, so much more than just a “weird kid” in the character of Ludovic, and proves him to be far more than just an object of ridicule. He’s extremely pure and innocent, and du Fresne captures this innocence wonderfully in his eyes, the tone of his voice, his naive smile. Ludovic comes out with pretty silly things sometimes because he’s so simple to the facts of the birds and the bees, and in these moments, the audience laughs at him, yet also pities him. But it’s essential that du Fresne doesn’t make his character a farce, and he certainly doesn’t. He takes one of the hardest roles ever and transforms it into something pure, sweet, touching, yet at the same time, difficult to understand and occasionally difficult to like. There are quite a few scenes in which du Fresne shines, not least the scene in the refrigerator, as well as the confrontation with his parents, where he is the very embodiment of someone who wants to make those around him happy, yet wants to stay true to themselves too. Incredible.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Scene 3 is a pivotal dramatic scene.

Comment on the dramatic qualities of the scene and explore how it reveals the increasing tensions of the Kowalski household

Scene 3 is a very dramatic scene where the events highlight the violent, animalistic side to Stanley that will shock the audience and cause them to sympathise with Blanche. Over the course of the poker game, the blue piano’s sound changes from previous scenes, marking the turbulent emotional shifts of action onstage.

The scene opens with a poker game, where Stanley is evidently the dominant figure that gives all the orders, “Ante up!” His actions in the game – playing even when he is losing – highlights his taking of risks and his quality of not being afraid to cross any borders. The alcohol in this scene shows that any inhibition he does have, will be released and the extent of his “power” will be shown later in the scene when he hits his wife. His sense of “territory” is felt even more pertinently here as he is possessive and controlling of his friends. However, when accompanied by Blanche, Stella is not controlled by him, and even tries to order him to “call it quits after one hand,” which he naturally resents. His slap on her thigh angers her and pushes her closer to Blanche and away from her, which creates further frustration for Stanley, who feels he must show Stella who is “boss”, and does this through violence.

In previous scenes, the difference between Blanche and Stanley was just a clash of opposites in culture. However, from this scene, Blanche is shown as more of a threat to Stanley – in all aspects. This begins with her turning music on despite his demanding for “hush.” When Blanche turns the music on again, she is purposely going against Stanley’s orders, which has catastrophic results and foreshadow what will happen to her later on. When he throws out the white radio, this is symbolic of what he would like to do Blanche, and shows the extent of the tension between Stanley and Blanche.

Another way in which she challenges his him is when she attempts to intrudes on the game, “Could I kibitz?” at which he rudely replies “You could not”, making it clear that she is unwanted. However, Blanche ignores his desire for quiet for the game, and chooses to flirt freely with Mitch, provoking Stanley further. The bond she forms with Mitch, where she uses her guile to win his attention, “Is there an inscription? I can’t make it out”, distracts him from the game – Stanley’s game, and this further establishes her as a figure competing against Stanley, which increases his annoyance at her. Her superficial behaviour, “Two is my limit” and unashamed flirtation with him establishes a connection between them, which is torn apart by Stanley’s animal behaviour, and Mitch’s comment that “Poker shouldn’t be played in a house with women” shows that he is perhaps sympathising with Blanche and moving further away from Stanley.

However, the main thing that Blanche challenges Stanley for his Stella. In the presence of her sister, Stella behaves differently, and the two women are comfortable and sisterly around each other, “One time – the – plaster cracked!”, much to the chagrin of Stanley. Stella’s anger and attack on Stanley after his destroying the radio “Drunk, drunk, animal thing, you!” shows that she, too, is taking on authority. Stanley feels he must dominate her through violence.

Stanley’s behaviour in this scene gives him an even closer resemblance to an “animal” than before. His “impatience” with the game echoes that of a hungry animal, and the way in which his friends “speak lovingly and quietly” to him after his attack shows their level of respect, distinguishing him clearly as “leader of the pack.” In the climactic moment where he hits Stella, it is as if the tensions of the scene are released in an act of “animalistic” violence, and the bellow “STELL-AH!” is like a beast calling for the return for his mate. Blanche is the only thing standing between his mate, and she is in his way throughout this scene. A “wolf” like Stanley will want to right this, and the increasing anger, frustration and dislike of Blanche felt by him throughout the scene is shown in his action, where the audience will anticipate a terrible action.

The conflicts and contrasts are highlighted by the use of colour imagery. The “lurid nocturnal brilliance” of the poker game accentuates the gaudiness of Stanley’s friends and the ways they act and speak. There is also a stark contrast in the “solid blues” of Stanley’s friends showing that they are manly, primal and direct people and a different blue of the “light blue satin kimono” of Blanche’s, showing her delicacy and elegance. Here are a group of very different people, where Stella is the only undecided character. Even the white of the “white radio” is symbolic of Blanche’s purity, and the destruction of it is like the emotional breakdown of Blanche later. Also, while conversing with Mitch, Blanche describes the naked light as “rude” and “vulgar”, because they reveal her true age. This sly piece of deception by Blanche creates mystery surrounding her character amidst a scene that is dominated by Stanley.

In the same way, the music contributes greatly to the drama of this scene. Discordant sounds play as the violence heightens, and the “dissonant” brass and piano reflect the harsh, abrasive actions of Stanley in the scene. Similarly, when the clarinet “moans”, this is reflective of the emotional cry of Stanley for Stella.

The violence escalates throughout the scene and each act of violence carried out by Stanley symbolises his growing dislike of Blanche and the tension between them. It starts with the slap on Stella’s thigh, which is indecent and crude, but his way of showing that she “belongs” to him. Next is the turning off the radio, where he catches Blanche’s eye and she “returns it without flinching,” which emphasises the friction between the two characters. Then he “tosses” the radio out of the window, destroying it in the way the audience feels he would like to destroy Blanche. And finally, is his attack on Stella, where he “charges” after her, showing his similarity to an animal again. The attack on his wife shows a release of all his anger, and the anger is targeted at Blanche for her behaviour in the scene.

From Stanley’s abusive actions in this scene, the audience, like Blanche, are left confused when Stella returns to him, as the audience are likely to feel that Blanche’s gentle nature is more suited to Stella than Stanley’s roughness is. Their reunion, which is itself quite animal in the “animal moans”, is sexual as well, showing the level of passion in the Kowalski’s relationship. The “tender” actions described in this reunion also show the depth of love felt between the couple, and the quietness of the scene is a huge contrast from the previous volume of the poker game. The main thing that Blanche challenges Stanley for – Stella, has chosen him at even after his violence, showing that, maybe, at the end of this scene he has “won” the game.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Look Back at Extras

This September, Extras returned to our BBC 2 screens. It  fitted in great on Thursday evenings at 9 pm, so that every Thursday, I had something to look forward to. In Season 1 we had Patrick Stewart as a dim nudity-obsessed fool, Kate Winslet playing herself very naughtily, and Les Dennis as an insecure, desperate fool. Basically, a lot of foolery, and an excellent, wittily observed first season, where people who did play themselves very much got into the public’s good books.

With all the good plaudits won for Extras season 1, there were more stars queuing up to send themselves up here, and what better way to start than with Orlando Bloom? My choice for one of the Worst Actors of All Time was surprisingly good here, which leads me to believe that he was definitely just playing himself - an insecure pretty boy who constantly disses Johnny Depp, attempting to hide his own feelings of insecurity about the man. Inconsistency aside (Maggie shows no interest in Bloom, but in season 1, she had had a poster of him in her room), this episode was absolutely hilarious, the highlight being when Bloom “accidentally” stumbles across the Top 10 Sexiest Film Star list in Heat, and lo and behold, he happens to be at one. The desperate loserness in which Bloom represents in that scene is just hilarious.

The running story of the season follows Andy as he climbs from bit-part extra to star of his own BBC sitcom, When the Whistle Blows. Trouble is, the show is completely, and utterly awful, with silly wigs and a stupid catchphrase "Are you havin' a laugh?" to try and get laughter and only the lowest of tastes actually find it amusing. This is highlighted in the second episode, where, in an attempt to feel special, Andy, Maggie, his agent, and that bloke who played Barry off Eastenders, attend an up-market club, and Andy tries to network his way into David Bowie, only to have Bowie sing a song about how fat and useless he is, whilst everyone else joins in. This surprising act of cruelty is drenched further in malaise when the episode ends with Andy returning to the pub where he found his idiotic, low-class fans, because, he realises, that they are at least fans.

The show then reaches a sort of dip, as Andy finds the good, bad and ugly of being famous, all this cumulating in a BAFTA nomination, where Stephen Fry (now retired BAFTA host) gamely appears. However, one of the funniest appearances is by the tosser who attempted to bring us, Harry Potter, Mr. Daniel Radcliffe, as a horny, sex-obsessed teenager, yet, can’t handle a condom. His attempt to chat up everyone he meets (including Maggie) is brilliant, made even more so when he can’t handle “being a man,” and runs to his mummy to avoid getting in trouble. Haha.

Now. Ricky Gervais had made clear that after this, there would be no more Extras, as he “didn’t want to outstay his welcome.” So I was a little worried about how they were going to end it. After episode 5 (BAFTA episode), things were looking pretty bleak for the character of Andy. But things took a better turn in the final episode, where Jonathon Ross, that’s right, my idol, Jonathon Ross, guested, as well, himself, and his character took quite an interest in Andy’s. This was when Andy actually gets “famous”, gets invited to hang out with the likes of Vernon Kay and Tess Daily and shrugged Maggie’s plans aside. You were left wondering if their friendship would last. And then Andy does a ridiculous thing, and snubs Robert de Niro, to go and hang out with Maggie. And you know things are OK.

Overall, I think I liked Season 2 as much as Season 1, if a little bit more. Long-time Gervais collaborator and writer and director Stephen Merchant (who played Peter Crouch pre-England Vs. Portugal for Match of the Day to lessen the fear a little, hum), takes a more active role as Andy’s awful agent, who would rather perv over a pen with a naked lady than actually do some work, and that man who played Barry from Eastenders sends himself up wonderfully, exuding hopelessness and pure lardiness. The guest stars all shine, highlighting the low aspects of fame and fortune as well as delivering hilarious one-liners which will go down in history books forever.

But I still prefer The Office. So there.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Weekly Picture Pick.

Basically, just say which picture out of the following 7 is your favourite. Just 7 random pictures. Well, knowing me, not so random. But 7 pictures. And you say which one you like the most (duh.)

So, which is your favourite?

And I shall end on another still from the film of the moment, The Departed.


Iconic Still of the Week.

Does anyone have the Casablanca poster on their wall? If so, do upload a picture so we can all compare!
Anyway, this beautiful scene, showing you can't always have what you want. Quite pertinently, this was the last film I watched with someone.
Bogie and Bergie.

Film review: DIAL M FOR MURDER (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, frequents top lists more than any other. But his other 1954 outing with Grace Kelly, Dial M For Murder, sadly gets shunted into the sidelines. Today, as part of
Squish’s Hitchcock blogathon, I will be looking and one of my favourite films from the master of suspense, with a puzzle at the end for those who've seen the film. :)

Tony Wendice (Ray Milland), an ex-tennis player, unhappily married to Margot (Grace Kelly), correctly guesses that she has been cheating, with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Mark writes crime stories. Unbeknown to Margot and Mark, Tony knows about the affair, and wants to teach Margot a little lesson, by taking away the thing that is her life. But, being too crafty to do it himself, Wendice blackmails one of his old school friends into murdering her, and the essential thing to doing it is his latchkey.

Dial M for Murder succeeds on many levels, and it is largely thanks to some superb dialogue, written from a tricksy-yet-capable script that never gets too deep. The cast are a treat. Ray Milland is an absolute gem, extremely sly and dispassionate, yet a character so full of self-assurance that one almost sides with him. 

Grace Kelly completes her great year (she gave an Oscar-winning performance in The Country Girl and also starred in Rear Window) by emanating the poised, beautiful being, that is vulnerable, yet oddly unassailable. And it's weird in that even though she's cheating on her husband, you care for her a lot more than him (although that could do with the fact that he's trying to kill her...) And John Williams, as the police detective, is quite wonderful.

Alfred Hitchcock manipulates and enthrals his audience here like the master that he is. Each scene has a sense of direction, great pacing, and is staged realistically. Stunning full colour photography and a haunting, atmospheric score from Dimitri Tiomkin complete this great package. The ending, when it comes, feels a little too nice to be truly realistic, but that is my only major quibble with an otherwise highly entertaining, thrilling movie.

Some stills from the movie, your job to arrange in chronological order.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Walk the Line review.

Before watching this film, I had my doubts. Johnny Cash is one of my favourite country singers, nay, singers of all time, and I was unsure as whether, as with other mediocre biopics, namely the flashy Ray, could do him enough justice. As it turned out, Johnny gets the film he deserves, and, what’s more, Walk the Line got me extremely interested in the work of his wife, June Carter Cash.

Covering 20 years of his life, including Cash’s rise into fame and delve into near-self-destruction, James Mangold concentrates on the key things in his life – his music, the drugs, and his all-consuming, untameable love for the very special June Carter Cash. It is as a romance that Walk the Line truly shines. In real life, Johnny and June didn’t get together until 20 years since their first meeting, and that they could wait that long for each other, is quite poignant.

Holding the film together are the Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning figures of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, and their chemistry pretty much carries the film. When they’re together, they both dazzle, gelling perfectly, whether it’s a bout of verbal jesting, they’re doing a duet, or just chatting. Phoenix captures the tortured soul of Cash eloquently in one of his finest performances, and one that exudes that dangerous yet enthralling edge of danger present in Cash. His singing voice resembles that of Cash’s, yet he never resorts to downright imitation, which only adds to the viewing pleasure.

But the shining star of the film is Reese Witherspoon, as June Carter Cash. She plays the singer-songwriter-country music star that grabbed the attentions of Johnny Cash, but proved a hard win, forcing him to quit his narcotic dependence and violent self-destruction before she’d consider him. Although many have disliked Witherspoon’s work her, I simply adore it. She makes June a truly memorable, Crouchesque, person. For the audience, she can be goofy and loveable, but alone, with Johnny, she displays a vulnerable side. Witherspoon here radiates a strong, feminist, yet effortlessly loveable vibe, and every scene she appears in, she steals.

The look and feel of Johnny’s time are captured well in the set design and T-Bone Burnett guitar-led score, and the costumes are nothing short of sublime. The dressing of Cash is inspired, but it is June’s clothes – floral print, pink, domestic, or snazzy, that, again, steal the show. Each of Reese’s costumes captures the mood of her characters.
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There’s also great fun to be had in the musical numbers. Ring of Fire and Jukebox Blues allow the audience to get their toes tapping, but my favourite number is the performance of Jackson, where their unmatched chemistry is showcased in one of my favourite songs of all-time. Like the film, this song is entertaining, sweet, and more intelligent than frequently given credit for.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Iconic Still of the Week.

Heartbreak Mountain

It's all about Jake in this scene. I could have picked just about any frame from Ang Lee's
masterpiece, but for this week, I've settled for this one. I truly adore me some Jake. Just thinking about this film makes me cry. My 6th of all time.

And the tune to accompany it? I think The Wings would make me cry too much, so I'm putting up The Opening instead. Santaolalla so deserved that Oscar. Beauty epitomized.