Archive for November, 2008

Children of Men – Our Dark Future

Posted in close analysis with tags , , , on November 30, 2008 by babydylan

Children of Men is one of Eugene and Alex’s favourite films. Together they have watched it many times and conversation always seems to stem back to this film is one way or another. It even inspired the name of this blog. Eugene had a few thoughts which wouldn’t leave him alone and thus he had to get it out. Alex, while editing, managed to slip in a couple of her points as well. This piece will probably be only one of many but for now, here are some of the ideas Children of Men inspires…

Even now, after having scene this film for the umpteenth time I can still watch any scene of Children of Men over and over again. You could take any scene within the film and still find that each segment has its own almost hypnotic effect. Its so real its almost therapeutic, seeing a glimpse of a future that is free from flying cars, space ships and robot minions yet is instead occupied with people struggling for normality in view of their hopeless situation. It is apparent from the opening scene, of our protagonist Theo Faron forcing his way through a crowd of stunned café patrons over the death of the youngest boy in the world, that the world the characters inhabit is bleak and visibly crumbling. Theo’s blatant lack of compassion at Baby Diego’s death is at once jarring and expository as the other patrons are so overwrought with grief they cannot continue with their daily routine, yet Theo continues unperturbed getting his daily coffee, black and bitter.

Every scene within the film is orchestrated to portray the corrupt world that is common in Noir storylines yet this film, set in 2027, takes place in a damaged future that mirrors our own yet with subtle differences. Every time I describe the picture to someone – to those poor souls who have been unfortunate enough to not have seen it – I’ll tell them that it’s the most plausible vision of the future I have ever seen in a film. In fact, the verisimilitude of this film is so plausible that I more at home in Theo’s world than in those of other more recent portrayals of past events such as Australia or Brideshead Revisited, films that are based on documented and factual events unlike the wholey fictional world of Children of Men. It has no alien babies or anything else typically science fictiony. At best it’ll have full length moving adds adorning the side of a bus, yet these subtle science fiction elements anchor you to the world instead of being there purely for flashy money-shots. Heavily clad guards patrol every setting, filling the screen with their menacing battle gear, ready to deal out capital punishment in the most mundane settings. Like black clad funeral directors at the end of the world wake. They are an ever unsettling presence as are the numerous modes of transport that seem wildly out of place in the centre of London, including a cyclo that can be seen in the opening scene, police on horseback and cars from another time. Wild animals can be seen in open spaces, illegal immigrants are consistently presented as being a threat to Mother England, the only intact sanctuary left from hate. A hatred that is constantly trying to infest the apparently ‘safe’ Britian forcing, or perhaps excusing, excessive brutality.

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

Theo and Kee flee with a certain baby called Dylan

And of course there are no children, an element which we know about from the opening scene and is undoubtedly the crux of the film, yet it is curious that we accept this anomaly almost immediately buying into the constructed world and fully formed characters wholeheartedly.

“Strange isn’t it, what happens to a world without children’s voices”

Like any good film, the audience is quick to fall into the rabbit hole, such as is true with Children of Men. However the absence of children annoyingly takes its toll in an almost imperceptible way, making the world a grimmer and meaner place for it. Theo – the films broken moral compass – is accepting of this horror and it isn’t until he is forced to realise what can be gained from his engagement in life that he is jolted from his apathy. In turn the audience come to the realisation that Theo’s world, full of unflinching violence and death, yet a desperate love of life, is not so dissimilar to our own.

The films power lies partly in the fact that the future is given no back-story, in that the current bout of infertility and the third world state of every other country except Britain is not explained. Similarly, Theo’s back-story and motivations are never fleshed out. The only story of Theo’s past we receive is second hand through ex-wives or close friends, anecdotal evidence recalled in a moment of conversation or emotion. The audience, being curious to find out about Theo’s past at the commencement of the film, find the facts when they eventually come, to be insignificant being completely invested in the world of the film.

The film works on different levels because there are plot threads planted at every stage, threads which grab us on different viewings. On one level, we might be stunned by the films technical achievements, on another we might be interested in the films subtle critiquing of the current war in Iraq. Sometimes we can draw parallels between the treatment of the films fugees, and our own treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and at other times, we can be surprised by the films multilayered references to the infertility that is plaguing their world – is it because of pollution, is it God’s wrath, is it natural selection? Theories are raised but never answered allowing the audience to form their own opinions and hypothesis. And even another viewing, we might become interested solely in the character of Theo, his back-story, his embittered personality, and his fate. Such is the detail that has been given to every element of the picture.

Originally I wanted to describe the world as being amoral, yet that would imply that the people within it are corrupt because they want to be. In this world desperation is second nature, the suicide drug Quietus, which is manufactured and as easily available as any headache tablet is marketed as being a quick solution to everyone’s problems. In fact it is even doled out in weekly rations, a ‘suave’ way to meet the end of the world. The problem of course being an overwhelming unhappiness that permeates everything, to the extent that the people are no longer free thinking. Coupled with the distant protagonist, the world is similar to the settings of early film noir, a style of film I have only just come to really know. Jules Dassin’s Night and the City – one of the key film noirs – went to great lengths to portray a corrupt cityscape populated by greedy characters all wanting to gain their fix and the sense of having made it. Similarly Children of Men has the corrupt city, but characters all united by the one common foe, unhappiness and desperation.

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The Wackness

Posted in close analysis, Reviews with tags , , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

Recently Alex and Eugene saw The Wackness at Nova. Alex really liked it. Eugene didn’t so much. They both went away and tried to write their thoughts on the picture. Here is what they came up with.

The Wackness: A Review – by Eugene Ford.

Personally I find the early nineties to have been the best time for both music and film, with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols all being amongst my favourite bands, whilst pictures such as Heavy, Poison, Kids, Clerks, Welcome to the Dollhouse and of course, Pulp Fiction can all be praised for their original, hard and cutting edge vision. The Wackness, a feature from writer/director Jonathan Levine, won the audience award at this years Sundance Film Festival, which is due somewhat to its perfect capture of a New York in the early nineteen nineties, a period characterised by flannel, ‘lost youth’, Rudolph Giuliani and the ‘weird‘ music and films mentioned before.

Seventeen year old Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), is a hip-hop obsessed white kid, dealing weed out of his ‘ice-cream’ cart to an assortment of clients, including the hugely underrated Jane Adams, a surprisingly good Mary-Kate Olsen and Luke’s shrink Dr Squires (Ben Kingsley) who is payed for his sessions with pot. When Luke begins a relationship with Stephanie (Juno’s Olivia Thirlby) another client who happens to be Dr Squires step daughter, Dr Squires moves past his doctor/patient relationship to begin a friendship with Luke.

The film is hard to characterise because it uneasily blends the drama and the comedy. The relationship with Stephanie, who seems both genuine and insincere, is handled in a way that is honest and real. They begin a friendship that is natural and spontaneous, they go to her parents beach house for some fun in the sun, he tells her he loves her, and they arrive home and break up soon after, a chain of events that is significant for some young people. This dramatic part of the story is done well.

Yet it’s blended in with the relationship between Luke and Dr Squires, an element that is meant to be both funny and poignant. They get drunk together, they try and pick up, they graffiti a wall, they get arrested, they take drugs, and then one feigns suicide whilst the other tries to talk him out of it. In the midst of this are ‘jokes’ which are there to lighten the mood, although they work better at stopping the film being what it should and could have been, an honest, unflinching, and effective look at a depressed adult and teen.

Whenever I watch a film from the makers of ‘adult comedy’, i.e. Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and so on, I’m always struck by really good ideas and themes that are lurking just below the surface of the picture, because the ‘jokes‘ are dominating the film. Similarly I think this is what annoys me most about The Wackness, although it has taken me awhile to realise it. It tries to work as both a comedy and a drama, films which do this successfully would include Fargo and No Country for Old Men (in fact anything by the Coens). The really funny elements of the early 90’s are lost because the picture wasn’t a complete comedy, whilst the dramatic elements of the same era are lost because it wasn’t a complete drama.

That is not to say that the film isn’t good on other levels. It’s certainly original, if not purely for the story line alone, the performances are great, especially Ben Kingsley as Dr. Squires, and I love how the relationship between Luke and Stephanie is not ‘cut and dried’ and typically romantic. Yet the film is burdened with being set in a pre-nine eleven New York, an element that – in my mind – overshadowed the whole film, and guaranteed any of the jokes to be followed with my uneasy laughter.

I got mad love for you shorty. That’s on the real.

I got mad love for you shorty. That’s on the real.

The Wackness: a close analysis – by Alex Lagerwey.

New York is arguably the worlds most photographed and documented city, yet filmmaker Jonathan Levine chose not to flood the screen with typical aerial views of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, etc. in his 2008 film ‘The Wackness’. Instead we see it from the ground up; its inhabitants pound the streets speaking of it like a hard-boiled film noir anti-hero. “The city is a lonely place.” – a line that could sound clichéd if it wasn’t so obviously true for the three lead characters, especially the wise-beyond-her-years character Stephanie played by Olivia Thirlby whose popularity and sexual proficiency belie a deep-seeded loneliness and an inability to communicate. The city, we are told, is going through many changes, a fickle mistress who is looking to reform. Ben Kingsley’s pot smoking and jaded psychiatrist Dr. Squires laments this change, longing for the cities heady days of his youth. Yet these days appear to be a fictional nostalgia, his adolescence spent as a confirmed nerd. Thus he sees the films lead Luke Shapiro as his invitation to the missed and oft heard of party. However the roles have changed. Luke makes his living peddling dope out of an ice cream cart, a cover so laughably thin one wonders just how hard Mayor Giuliani – an icon where all hatred is directed – is trying to clean up the city. He wryly labels himself “the most popular of the unpopular” with weed being so common, the ability to deal it has no special status attached. He has been relegated to loser and forever thinks of himself as such. It takes the advice of his unhinged self-medicating psychiatrist and best client to force Luke into action.

“You don’t need medication, you just need to get laid.” Squires delivers with the tone of the world-weary bequeathing a hard-learned truth to an incredulous younger generation. It is a slogan perhaps many within the synthetic drug happy world of 1994 can live by.

The film also evokes a certain nostalgia. Although the world of 1994 seems minutes ago, it is apparent we have changed irreversibly. Luke’s slavish devotion to hip-hop is telling of a scene about to boom right out of its box, still on the cusp of popularity, the phenomenon of rap not saturating the airwaves and televisions until several years later.

The city, like its characters, are in a transitional phase, waiting for something unexpected yet inevitable. Luke waits for his last summer of adolescence until he pushes off to college, Stephanie looking for a distraction before she too decides what to become and perhaps the most potent change of all is Dr. Squires, discovering his marriage is a shambles and his career as a psychiatrist pointless and unfulfilling. As he sits pretending to crush his diplomas with his hands, it is his life personified, his training and hard earned certificates crumbling in on themselves to reveal a shell of a man who uses drug, legal and otherwise, as a crutch.

Being only six years old during the summer of 1994 and having never been to the city of New York, I feel somewhat unqualified to talk about the overall tone of the film and its accurate representation of a city in the midst of a change from old to new, nor is my love of nineties hip-hop profoundly insightful. Nevertheless my enjoyment of the film wasn’t diminished by this lack of understanding and I felt welcomed into this snapshot in time, being able to wholly relate to Luke’s outsider status, wry observations and a general hopelessness in defining what he wants to be. The subtle shift from comedy to tragedy suited my sensibilities with the climax of the film being an attempted suicide by Dr. Squires and an impassioned plea for life by one yet to live his. Luke’s half sobbed-monologue, struggling in the open sea to save his mentor as the picture is sapped of any colour and warmth, the waves a dull grey slapping against his chest, pulling him back to the sand, is genuinely touching. However, as the film looks like it might be heading in a more serious direction, Squires is sloppily reborn from the sea stating matter-of-factly to Luke, “That was really fucking corny what you said.” The fact that Dr. Squires attempts to kill himself three different ways and fails spectacularly each time is perhaps the message the film wishes to leave the audience with, sometimes it’s right to do the wrong thing.

Rosemary’s Baby – Body Language

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan
Polanski had specific control over the body language and gestures within the film. On first viewing the audience may be surprised at the films ending, yet on second viewing these almost imperceptible devices can give away the conclusion, if they chose to read it that way.

There are the simple scenes mentioned earlier, the first being when the landlord dusts the usher at the beginning of the film (this is one of my favourite scenes) and soon after when the handyman glares at Guy, possibly because he thinks he is being stared at. Later on however, after Rosemary and Guy have had dinner at The Castevets, they begin to eat their desert in a really ‘over the top’ fast way. It’s unnerving to watch, and it unknowingly puts you on edge.

Later on the same night, after Rosemary has finished helping Minnie Castevet wash up from dinner, she interrupts Guy and Roman having a conservation. Look closely at Guys face. He seems shocked, and he is staring at Roman with wide upon eyes as though he‘s just been told something unbelievable. After, when Rosemary mentions to Guy that the Castevets had taken their pictures down, he briefly pauses and his shoulders tense, as though he already knows the truth about them (it’s so brief that I could be imagining it, look for yourself and tell me what you think). When Rosemary’s friend Hutch meets Roman for the first time and Hutch begins to wonder about the ‘tannis root’ that Rosemary has been exposed to, Roman stares at Hutch with rapt attention, and he barely pauses to look at Rosemary. It’s actually a hard scene to watch when considering what happens to Hutch later on…..

Mother of the year

Mother of the year

Later in the scene, when Hutch asks Guy and Rosemary where his other glove has gone, Guy again tenses up and goes quiet, and every time something vital happens to them, such as when Guy finds out he has the acting role, when Rosemary finds out she is pregnant, and when she gets the lunch invitation from Hutch, Guy’s initial response is to always leave the house, to always ‘go for a walk’, and in reality, to always run to The Castevets.

One of three scenes that stand out is during the New Year’s party that Rosemary and Guy have attended, which is full of Roman and Minnie’s older, Satan worshiping friends. As they welcome in the New Year, one of the guests congratulates Dr. Saperstein, by telling him that 1966 will hopefully be a good and productive year. He lightly touches his nose and winks at Dr. Saperstein, subtly hinting his glee at their plan coming to fruition. Even after the seeing the picture so many times, I only just noticed this scene. This is an indicator of the multi-layered film Polanski has constructed.

Another is when Rosemary wakes up for the first time from her impregnation dream. The audience is looking at her scratched back, so they might not notice the way Guy tenses his hands and shuts his eyes, as though trying to get control after having done something he has trouble believing he did.

Another key scene is just after the party, and Rosemary begins to rejoice after feeling her pain stop, and finding out that her baby was still alive. She puts Guys hand and her stomach, to feel the baby moving, and he jerks away as though more scared than excited. I love that scene.

Rosemary’s Baby – Rosemary’s World

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

After seeing the film for the first time my initial reaction was to watch it all over again to better understand just how ‘absolute’ Rosemary’s naivety, and The Castavet’s immorality really was. I thought it was remarkable that two couples, who were just on polar opposites of the spectrum, could meet in the one place, and that the ‘good’ couple would eventually have their ‘goodness’ overridden by the ‘bad’ couple and their ‘badness’. Because of this, it would have to be understood how different their two different worlds were, hence Polanski must have stressed the rigidity of their two different worlds at various points in the film. The Bramford is after all, the scene of a showdown between good and evil, hence the good and evil sides must be understood.

Rosemary and Guy’s marriage is completely self-contained, meaning that they are oblivious in the beginning of the film to what is happening around them. In the opening scenes, Rosemary and Guy laugh at the African American usher who is ‘dusted’ by the caretaker, as though a piece of furniture, and a handyman glares at Guy when he thinks he is being ‘checked out’. These attitudes are a stark contrast to what eventually happens in the same building. If you wanted to read this much into it, you could say that The Bramford is Dante’s vision of Hell. One level contains small acts of racism. Another contains full blown devil worship. As I said though, it’s only if you wanted to read this much into it…..

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent just how subservient Rosemary is to Guy. She spends the day cleaning and outfitting their house, and when he arrives home from work, she automatically greats him with a sandwich and a drink (was this normal in the 60’s? I don’t know….I wasn’t alive then). It is her suggestion that they make love when in the new house, and the mechanical way in which he turns off the light and takes off his clothes suggests a lack of intimacy or affection between them, again a contrast to the previous scene. As the film progresses he begins to mistreat her, and is increasingly cruel – a contrast to the beginning scenes – and when he apologises to her later, she welcomes it, as though unable to be honest with him. Near the end of the film, when the camera cuts briefly to her bookshelf, we can see that her collection is comprised of ‘Self-help’ books about being a better wife, and how to better understand your husband, further emphasising her idealised view of married life. As she begins to learn the truth about her neighbours and friends, she becomes increasingly hysterical and frantic, as though only just comprehending what is happening. Guy’s behaviour, and the ease with which he makes the pact with The Castevets, suggests he has a history of being self-involved. Rosemary is naturally trusting and she instinctively puts Guy and others first, as highlighted by scenes of her welcoming her neighbours (even when she is wanting private time). She is completely shut off from reality, innocent and naïve and seemingly impervious to reality. Depressingly, this makes her an easy target. As Rosemary begins to slowly realise the truth, the ‘rigidity’ of the evil is gradually shown. This is accentuated by the final scene, when Rosemary’s maternal instincts begin to emerge. The camera draws back from the window, away from the Bramford, and across town, a juxtaposition to the opening credits (which had the camera pan across the city to rest on the apartment, as though ‘introducing‘ us to the Bramford, and the worlds within it). I love how the audience can be shown in one shot a horrible truth, and then Polanski can pull the camera away from the window, to have it pan across the city on such an idyllic day. This makes the evil so much scarier! It demonstrates to the audience that evil can exist in such a mundane setting lurking within potential domestic bliss. Bob Evans remarks that this is a horror film without horror, and he is right to an extent. It doesn’t have any of the token wam-bam editing that is the prerequisite for the latest batch of horror and torture porn films. Instead it has a much more nuanced approach using the subtly of the camera work and the acting choices to play on the audiences innate fears.

Rosemary’s Baby – The Perfect Horror.

Posted in close analysis with tags , , on November 17, 2008 by babydylan

A lecturer at uni once told me that – according to screenwriting ‘guru’ Robert McKee – the difference between a horror and a thriller was that a ‘horror’ film has to have an element of the supernatural, whilst a thriller always deals with a human threat. At risk of contradicting McKee and his apparent success it is obvious that this statement is not entirely true. Some of the iconic horror films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Psycho, and to a lesser extent, The Hills Have Eyes, Friday the 13th (this is debatable due to that scary-as-a-mother-bitch moment when Jason jumps out of the water) and Last House on the Left, include murderers that are human. However other iconic horrors, such as The Exorcist, The Woman in Black, Carrie, and A Nightmare on Elm Street deal only with the supernatural. The better horror films are ones that can successfully combine threats, the human and the supernatural. The Shining is amazing because Kubrick combines the evil at The Overlook Hotel (something we aren’t ever sure is real until the end of the film) with the fear of isolation and the threat of betrayal by a family member (something which would unnerve even the most hard of audience).

Similarly, Rosemary’s Baby takes betrayal and a corrupt view of relationships (an idea auteur filmmaker Polanski is fastidiously obsessed with) and crosses it with the threat of evil. Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve had a Christian upbringing, but the threat of evil is so much more real and scary than the threat of a knife wielding maniac (I’m looking at you Scream and Saw, you mean nothing to me!). Polanski stated that his approach to directing is to put multiple layers within a film, meaning that one person may find one element more sad, scary, or funny than another because of a preoccupation they already have. “We see far less than we think we see because of past impressions we already stored in our minds” (Polanski 270). Hence evil is scarier to those who believe in its power.

Eugenes wet dream

Eugene's wet dream

Producer Robert Evans lured Polanski to America under the false pretext of directing Downhill Racer (a romantic comedy skiing film!) yet almost straight away Evans presented Polanski with a copy of the novel Rosemary’s Baby, because Evans knew that Polanski’s sensibilities would gravitate to such a unique story, such as it had with everyone else. After agreeing to direct the picture however, Polanski was adamant that he write the screenplay, so he could change the threat of evil, something which had been real and all knowing in the original novel, into something that could be a manifestation of Rosemary’s imagination. As he puts it, he wanted “a thread of deliberate ambiguity to run through the film.”

This was a stroke of genius. To some, the most frightening part of Rosemary’s Baby is when the audience begins to suspect that Rosemary has been betrayed by her husband and her new ‘friends’. To others, it is when they first hear the séance in the next apartment, and when she is impregnated in the dream sequence. Personally, I find the latter to be the scariest thing ever to be committed to screen, in the history of cinema. Ever.

Gone Baby Gone: A Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on November 10, 2008 by babydylan

 

 

Having made the conscious decision to direct Gone Baby Gone because of his familiarity and affection for the Boston Setting, it should come as no surprise that Ben Affleck’s directorial debut should be seeped in sympathy for the people it shows on screen.

Patrick Kenzie (wonderfully portrayed by Casey Affleck) has just barely escaped his  fate in a setting that encourages discontent and complacency, and as Kenzie’s sympathetic opening monologue concludes, we understand that he is a “sheep among wolves” relishing in his role as a private detective, so as he can “find those who began on the cracks, and then fell through”. The opening montage, in which Kenzie walks through the Boston streets looking at the real people who live there, is one of the more poignant beginnings to a film I have seen in awhile.

When Kenzie and his partner/girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan, beautifully cast), are asked to investigate the abduction of local toddler Amanda, Kenzie’s familiarity with the public gives his detective work credibility. His association with Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) a hard-boiled detective also working the case gives the film a new direction, as does the apparent ’loyalty’ of the police involved, that gradually disintegrates as the film goes on.

Because of this, the comparisons to Film Noir are not unjustified, as each character is afflicted with indecision that gives them a degree of vulnerable interiority. They are alone in a corrupt world, and as the film moves towards the truth of Amanda’s kidnapping, and the films stirring conclusion, the audience is swept along with the humanity of the characters.

A beautifully told story on every level, Gone Baby Gone resonates with its similarities to the Madeline McCann kidnapping case that delayed its release. The acting of all involved is a standout; especially Oscar nominee Amy Ryan as Amanda’s mother, and the films concise co-writing and direction by Ben Affleck elevates it from its potential as a TV Movie of the Week. See this film now, if you can. It is a morally complex, intelligent, taught thriller that is seeped with a realism and humanity. Much like the characters in the Boston setting, you may find yourself lost in the world of the film, struggling to break out.