Another film about Mental Illness – this time not played for laughs.

January 27, 2011

Darren Aronofsky did a very good job when he made the film The Wrestler. As someone who has watched wrestling since I were a lad back in the year of our lord Nineteen Hundred and Ninety One, I was able to watch that film and say ‘Yes, that is a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a fading former wrestling star trying to retain a living on the small time, indepedent circuit’.

So when I heard about The Black Swan, I was intrigued. Yes, Aronofsky appeared to be taking a relatively easy step to his next film – i.e. ‘This time I’m going to expose the sleazy side of another form or performance art’ ( in this case Ballet) – but since he’d done a realistic and entertaining job of wrestling, then there might well be enjoyable to see him ‘expose’ high-brow art instead of low-brow.

As it happens, much like The Wrestler, the film is very entertaining, but unlike The Wrestler – and even though I know almost nothing about ballet – I wouldn’t have thought it was particularly realistic.

Thoughts

As the film is just out, I’ll try and avoid any major spoilers about the plot.

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) plays a ballet dancer who is part of prestigious dance troupe (Any ballet fan reading this will probably be raging at me referring to them as a dance troupe. The probably have some sort of proper name like ‘A Bucephalus of Ballet Dancers’). She is very dedicated to her craft and practices seemingly all day and night; ballet is her life. It seems to be her mother’s life as well. For you see at first glance, Nina’s mother appears to be one of these terrible parents who tries to live vicariously through her children, because didn’t achieve what they wanted to before they had the children they secretly resent – a bit like my aunt.

So Nina has an unhealthy obsession with ballet. She clearly starves herself (and you have to give credit to her and to Mila Kunis for going down to an uncomfortably low weight to play the part with a bit of realism), she practices the point of personal injury and she gets so nervous about her obsession that she has a problem of scratching herself to the point of breaking the skin.

Anyway, to set the scene at the start of the film, we find out that the lead ballerina is being forced into retirement by the stereotypical Stromboli-like Head Choreographer (played by a guy with an uncanny resemblance to Tricky Dicky off Eastenders) because she’s ‘too old’. So who is going to replace her when the new season starts with a version of Swan Lake? You can probably guess.

And here is where my issue with the film comes in. The trailer of the film suggested it would show the cut-throat world of ballet, with two dancers – Nina and her rival Lily (Kunis) – vying for the lead role in Swan Lake. But that’s not what it’s about at all.

In fact, Mila Kunis’s character isn’t really featured that prominently at all.

For the first 45 minutes or so, the film is about Nina and how she’s a technically brilliant dancer but – in the opinion of Tricky Dicky – doesn’t show enough personal expression when dancing. Everything is very mechanical with her, and she doesn’t ‘lose herself to the music’ enough. He tries to extract that level of personal expression from her by attempting to have his wicked way with her on a couple of occasions. Steady on sir!

But I don’t think Aronofsky had enough plot to keep that going, so he chooses to explore a different path – that Nina is mentally ill. Now, this isn’t the cuddly sort of mental illness that we saw in Harvey, or that I suspect my window cleaner suffers from, but rather the ‘She’s fucked up and a danger to herself and others’ variety.

And so the film really stops being about ballet and instead becomes a film about mental illness. In my opinion that’s taking the easy way out, because mental illness means you can pretty much forget the plot and instead see out the film relying heavily on one of my most hated scripting techniques – the Bait & Switch scene. There are far too many scenes that leave you thinking ‘Did she do that or was it in her head’. Taking this route with the film, Aronofsky pads the film out with set-pieces such as self harm, gruesome injuries and of course Lesbianism.

Yes, for all you FilmLADS out there, there is a scene where Portman and Kunis ‘get it on’. In the old days they’d call that ‘One for the Dads’. But wait, it was all in her head.

Because for every 4 things that appears to happen in the film, 3 of them didn’t and the reset switch gets pressed. That’s just such lazy scripting in my opinion.

Things reach a confusing climax, which I won’t spoil for you, when you aren’t sure who did what to who, or how they did it. What is real and what is fake anymore? And if what is implied happened actually happened, how did nobody notice the blood (that’s probably got those of you who haven’t seen it intrigued)?

The ending to the film is a bit unnecessary in my opini0n and appears to just be about Aronofsky wanting to re-do the ending to the Wrestler, but this time with no ambiguity.

So Should You Go and See Black Swan?

Yes. For all my criticisms of the film, I did actually enjoy it a lot. It certainly didn’t drag at any point, it’s well acted and I found it quite engrossing. But it wasn’t what was sold to me. This isn’t a film about the life of a ballet dancer at all. That is explored pretty briefly at the start, but it really is more about a young woman’s struggle with obsession and mental illness.


127 Hours of my Life I’m Not Getting Back (Or so it seemed)

January 22, 2011

127 Hours is shit.

That’s my succinct review of it.

The Plot

Wacky Adventurous Man goes Mountain Climbing in Utah, forgets his phone, falls down a hole and traps his arm. He stands there for 127 hours before cutting his arm off and walking home. That’s it.

Thoughts

Ok, maybe I’m not being fair. There’s an interesting first 15-or-so minutes at the start where he helps out a couple of young women who are also exploring the region. Well, I say interesting, and maybe that’s giving it too much credit, but it did have dialogue, and that was an improvement on what was to come.

An hour-and-a-bit of a man standing still is about as interesting as it sounds. In that time he gives a couple of diary entries where he sees the error of his ways (i.e. take your mobile phone with you, because that is what mobile phones are for) but that’s about all that actually happens to the guy.

So how do they fill the time? Well they do a couple of obvious bait-and-switch attempts where he gets free, but *shucks* he was only dreaming. Then there are a couple of quite frankly half-hearted flashback scenes where we  see him sitting in a car with a girl saying I love you and then an0ther one where the same girl leaves him for unexplained reasons. Oh, and he also fantastises about going to a party. Not being at a party; going to a party – i.e. the drive to the party.

Then at the end when he gets free, we get to see what he’s doing now – “Oh look, Wacky Adventurous Man is now Wacky Adventurous Man with a Stump. And he’s also married to that girl we saw in two brief flashbacks. Good for him”.

Actually, one thing I forgot to say was the scene where he cuts his arm off was a bit gruesome, but he sells the pain about as well as Road Warrior Hawk (Hurrah! A reference not everyone will get)

Being serious, there’s enough plot in this film for about 25 minutes. I know it’s a true story but if you want to make a 97 minute film about it, it has to have 97 minutes worth of a plot. Otherwise we may as well make a film about me writing this review. It *could* have been better if they’d taken more time to explore the flashbacks. His relationship with this woman was obviously important to him, so donate more than a  minute-and-a-half to it. Or maybe cut out some of the standing around and replace it with more of the scene-setting at the start. Or even some extra stuff added to the end where we see him apologise to his family for not taking his mobile phone with him. Or hell, even have an Arrested Development style scene at the end where Man With a Stump says “And That’s Why You Always Leave a Note”.

Something! Anything!

Should You See 127 Hours

You may have guessed the answer is a resounding NO. In my review of The King’s Speech, I talked about the ‘Is It Nearly Finished Yet’ test. Well this one failed that test magnificently. I looked at my watch after what seemed like 75 minutes of the film, but was alarmed to see there was almost 75 minutes left. It went so slowly to the point where it almost felt like torture.

And yet it gets 8.2 on the usually reliable imdb. Meaning other people like it. But I’m fairly sure that it’s Emperors New Clothes syndrome. If the Director of exactly the same film was Timmy Mallet instead of Danny Boyle, then people would shit upon it from a great height. Instead people fawn over it. “Danny Boyle makes the otherwise unwatchable, watchable”.

No he doesn’t.


The King’s Speech

January 22, 2011

So for films that are just on the cinema now, I’ll refrain from posting spoilers in terms of plot development.

But in terms of the King’s Speech, there isn’t really a plot per-se, although that’s not a bad thing.

For you see, The King’s Speech is all about the performances of the actors in my opinion. Yes, it has to be about something, but I’m sure most of you know without having seen it that it’s about King George VI and his speech impediment. I know he starts off as a prince in the film but posting that a prince becomes a king isn’t a spoiler in my book – it’s a bit like ‘spoiling’ a World War 2 movie with the crushing revelation that the Nazis didn’t win.

So to the film itself…

Thoughts

It has a very strong cast full of good actors – and it also has Mike from Neighbours in it too. Speaking of good acting, I have to admit, such was the strength of GeoffreyRush’s performance in the film about the man, my initial thought was “My God, Peter Sellers is in this!” (side note: If you haven’t seen The Life & Death of Peter Sellers, watch it, because it’s brilliant).

But anyway, it’s all about the cast and the way they interact. I’m not one of these sad bastards who will refuse to give credit to Colin Firth because he made his fame starring in ‘Chick Flicks’. He’s bloody good as ‘Bertie’ in this film. He sells the concept of having a stutter – and the frustration and anger than stems from that – very well. He’s not like someone ‘ACTING!!!!!’ having a stutter in my view. You could genuinely believe he has one. Actually, it’s a bit like Jacobi (as I’m sure the luvvies call him) in I Claudius, which is rather ironic since Derek Jacobi is in this film as well, playing the Archbishop. It’s always a sign of a good film when he’s around!

Firth and Jacobi aren’t alone in bringing the quality performances to this film. Geoffrey Rush is likeable as Lionel Logue – the Speech Therapist. His interaction with the King, who can’t really believe a ‘commoner’ would speak to him like he does, makes for some gripping – and at times humourous – viewing.

Helena Bonham Carter is also good as the woman we all know now as ‘The Queen Mother’, and while I may have made a bit of a joke about him earlier on, Guy Pearce does a decent – if slightly over the top – go at playing Firth’s brother King Edward VIII.

Special mention as well much go to the always brilliant Ramona Marquez (Karen from Outnumbered), who almost steals every scene she is in playing the young Princess Margaret. You almost expect her to start going off script and questioning why Firth is ‘talking funny’. And if you haven’t seen Outnumbered, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. WATCH OUTNUMBERED!!

Oh and Timothy bloody Spall plays Churchill. And acts like everyone else who’s ever played Churchill.

Should You Go and See The King’s Speech?

Absolutely. It’s a superb film and is rightly nominated for awards. Going beyond all the analysis about how people act and how good the script is, the true litmus test for a good film in my estimation is how often I check the time while sitting in the cinema, otherwise known as The Stuart Milne ‘Is It Nearly Finished Yet’ Test. And in this film, I didn’t check the time once. I was glued to the screen from start to finish.

Highly Recommended


Mental Illness…As Plague

January 21, 2011

I’m a big fan of James Stewart films. Whether it’s his early work like Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Westerns like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or his Hitchcock films, I generally find his films entertaining to watch.

But one film I didn’t like too much was Harvey. I watched it a few years ago and wasn’t all that impressed. Whenever I speak to my mates about James Stewart films, a lot of them would say ‘Well you must love Harvey’ and it made me feel like I was missing out on something.

So I went back and watched it again, and I still wasn’t that impressed by it. In fact the only thing that really impressed me was the performance of Stewart himself.

I’m afraid my thoughts/reviews will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know what happens, scroll down to the bottom and read whether or not I think it’s worth you watching. But really, Harvey isn’t a film with massive swerves and plot-twists so I don’t think it matters that much.

Harvey Review

Plot

Elwood P. Dowd has a best friend who just so happens to be an invisible 6″3 rabbit called Harvey. Well, Harvey isn’t actually a rabbit, but rather, he’s a ‘Pooka’ which is a mythical fairy from Celtic folklore. Harvey isn’t invisible to Dowd of course. He sees him as if he is there and acts under the assumption that everyone else can see him too.

Elwood is a mild mannered guy who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. He happily gets on with his life with Harvey in tow, and is good and kind to everyone he meets. On its own that isn’t much of a plot – there has to be an antagonist of course – and this comes in the form of his sister Veta (an older woman who could probably have passed for Dowd’s mother) and her daughter Myrtle-May (a woman with a very unsettling face, who certainly wouldn’t get a similar part in 2011). Why are there no kids called Myrtle-May these days?!

Anyway, Veta and Myrtle-May are embarrassed by Dowd. They are trying to be good honest 1950s socialites but Dowd keeps scaring their friends off when he ‘introduces Harvey’.

Having ruined one-too-many social gatherings for them, Veta and Myrtle-May take Dowd to the local asylum to be commited. There only seem to be four members of staff at the asylum – the head doctor, a junior doctor, a nurse and the porter. The junior doctor at the asylum thinks Veta is the mentally ill one (and in fairness, it’s understandable because she tells him that she too sometimes sees Harvey which worries her) and commits her instead, letting Dowd go in the process. While it’s played as a comedy, the thought of a woman being commited, stripped naked against her will and immersed in water as a form of therapy by the porter – who looks like incredibly like Dave Cuthbert (there I go with the ‘in references’ again) – is actually pretty unsettling.

To cut a long story a bit shorter they realise that she’s ok and instead have to find Dowd, who is busy handing out business cards with his phone number to anyone he comes across and inviting them to a party at his house the next day.

The head Doctor goes off to find him first but goes missing, so the porter, junior doctor and nurse start searching, and find Dowd at his local bar where he seems to spend most of his days drinking with Harvey. They take him back to the asylum where they find the head Doctor, who is now acting in a very happy and tranquil way. The reason? Having spoken to Dowd, he now sees Harvey too. As it says in the title, it’s like mental illness in plague form.

The film ends with everyone back at the asylum, and Veta insisting that Dowd is given an injection of a ‘serum’ which the junior Doctor believes will cure him. Bear in mind that throughout all this Dowd is always happy to go along with anything anyone says because he only sees the good in people, so he happily obliges and goes into the Doctor’s office to be treated.

And here comes the moral of the story…

The taxi driver who brought Veta to the asylum comes in to ask to be paid. Neither she nor anyone else can find any money (Harvey is supposed to have hidden their purses/wallets) so she gets Dowd out the office to pay the taxi driver. Dowd chats away to the taxi driver and invites him to the party as well. When he goes back in for his injection, the taxi driver tells Veta about how Dowd is such a nice guy and that is usually the way when he gives people lifts to the asylum. They go in happy and come out miserable – ‘Like everyone else’ – and that he thinks if they are happy and kind, why not leave them that way. Veta then realises the error of her ways and stops them giving the injection.

The end.

Thoughts

As I say above, the moral of the story seems to be that if people are happy and kind and aren’t doing anyone any harm – even if they appear to be mad – then that is probably better than being a miserable sod. True enough I suppose.

The film itself tries to be a comedy, but there aren’t really any laughs in it. It’s an old style comedy really, full of mistaken identity, people just missing each other and gags you can see coming a mile away. Not exactly Arrested Development, but not ‘unfunny’ like Family Guy is these days.

The good in this film comes mainly from Stewart’s performance. He is brilliant as Dowd, managing to pull off the part of something who is genuinely at peace with the world.  In particular, his scene at the bar where he explains to them how he came to met Harvey is so well done that it roped me back in at a point where I was beginning to get pretty bored.

Better yet, his acting with ‘Harvey’ is perfectly believable. While we don’t see Harvey, you could believe that he does, with his physical actions portraying where Harvey is supposed to be at all times.

As for ‘Harvey’ himself, you never see him (although as you can see above, there’s a painting of Harvey and Dowd in his house) . With other people being able to see him and a few reasonably subtle examples of him being there – such as doors opening without anyone visible, Veta’s purse going missing, a rocking chair rocking on its own – I think we’re supposed to believe he does exist. Unfortunately the subtlety of these hints are trampled all over when someone finds a hat with ear holes for rabbits cut out the top. No need for it, and I think it cheapens it.

We can count our blessing the film isn’t made nowadays though because if it was, there would definitely be a CGI rabbit involved. And Judge Reinholdt too probably. *shudder*.

Should You Watch Harvey?

It’s possibly worth watching for James Stewart’s performance alone, but it’s not one of his better films, and while I like to champion the quality of older films to people (Mr Smith Goes to Washington is 72 years old but has a plot which has survived the test of time and could be happily watched by anyone today), I think Harvey has dated badly.

So on that basis, probably not.


“So What’s It All About?”

January 20, 2011

It’s about Money!

Probably only one person I know is going to get that obscure reference but it’ll make them chuckle and as far as I’m concerned, that’s me off to a good start.

Anyway, the point of the blog for anyone reading this is that I plan on reviewing stuff. It’s going to do exactly what it says on the tin! Stuart will review ‘stuff’.

But the reason for it is that at the end of every year, when I discuss with my friends what films and tv shows I enjoyed throughout that year, my memory gets pretty patchy. So I want to keep a note of my thoughts on the films and TV shows I watch, the console games I play, and even the football matches I attend. It’ll help me remember and act as a reminder of what I need to watch again, and indeed, what I should never waste my time with for the rest of my life (and I’m looking at you ‘Assassain in the Limelight’).

So while it helps me, it might also help anyone else reading this. You might learn for example that Crackdown 2 is a terrific game but can be completed in the space of about 3 days, making it a ‘rental only’ game, or that despite it possibly being considered ‘old hat’, I Claudius is something everyone should take the time to watch.

Plus I’m bound to stray off topic and go on the occasional rant about what pisses me off in life.

And if I’m only speaking to myself, then it’s everyone else’s loss!

 


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January 20, 2011

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