Category Archives: Film Reviews

Limitless – a masterpiece of hypothetical realism

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), hideously behind on a book contract, is offered a drug that opens up the unused 80% of his brain. It turns him into a limitless genius, with all the wealth, fame, fortune and danger that such a transformation entails.

I rarely see movies whose trailers do so little justice to them. I watched this movie in spite of its trailer, on a recommendation and out of interest with its subject, though I didn’t like the plot summary the trailer implied. The implication was a moral and ethical tale about identity and being yourself, teaching us yet again that you should never rely on anything but yourself. I despise idealism of this kind, but idealism was not what I was given. This is not a case of cliché dramatic irony, cries to the heavens and deep realisation of a still deeper philosophical truth that neatly ties in with some outdated traditional value. This is a genuinely thought-provoking and interesting exploration of its hypothesis, and above all it is realistic: there is neither a predictable curve to an idealistic moral end, nor a glorious wave of impossible good fortune culminating in a sickly, happy-go-lucky conclusion. This film is all that it should be, enough said.

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Love Is All You Need? – a moving introduction to a new form

At the recommendation of a friend I recently sampled the YouTube LGBTQ short film scene. I watched several, but it was the one my friend introduced me to that really caught my attention. Love Is All You Need? is set in a hypothetical world, in which gay is the norm, and straight people, variously known as ‘heteros’, ‘queers’ and ‘breeders’, are outcasts of society, regarded as sinful and against nature. The film chronicles the growing up to adolescence of Ashley, a girl who dares to take an interest in the opposite sex.

It has been said of dystopian novels that they reflect not the society they describe, but the society they are written in, and this same theory applies forcefully to this hypothetical universe. The parallels are well enforced: comments by various characters, a religious sermon, graffiti and several shots of protestors carrying signs directly parodying those of the Westboro Baptist Church, to the effect of ‘GOD HATES BREEDERS’ etc., all help to create a horrifyingly familiar situation. The staggering baselessness and irrationality of real-life homophobia is beautifully captured by copying and pasting the same ideas into an antithetical situation. I shudder to think that it is perhaps only once they hear one of Ashley’s mothers comment on the ‘breeders’ moving in up the street (‘it’s a sin, it makes me sick just thinking about it’), and her instruction to Ashley to take a different route to school in the mornings to avoid their influence, that some viewers may realise the true nature of homophobia: here can be seen its total absence of logic or rational basis; it is an entirely emotional gut reaction, thought out to a minimal extent.

Continuing throughout the film is the idea that the whole situation is Ashley’s fault. Twice, when unspeakable acts of bullying are carried out on her, she is just scathingly told to clean herself up, and neither her parents nor her teacher give her any help or do much to comfort her. This is one of the most shocking details, besides the less subtle scenes of violence and condemnation, in the film, and gives a truly profound message about the way homosexuals are labelled, named and shamed in the real world.

The acting in this film is incredible, the writing powerful, the screenplay terrible and beautiful. Its message is an effective one on as important a social issue as exists in the Western world. As a concise, satirical fable, it is close to flawless. However, viewer discretion is advised: the film is extremely graphic in parts, and extremely upsetting.

See the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCoFoKvfc6Y

The Hunger Games – everything Brazil was trying so hard to be

In The Hunger Games I see not only an exciting plotline, but a genuine statement about humanity. Suzanne Collins’ basic idea may not have been new, but her books have yielded a film that connects to its audience and explains its point, unlike a certain film I think it necessary to mention.

To be honest, I don’t think Brazil is even worth an entire review. It’s a strong candidate for the worst movie I have ever seen. It had an idea, taking the authoritarianism of 1984 and putting it in a counterfactually mechanical dystopia resembling a bizarre duality of modern Las Vegas and 1920s Berlin. It could never make up its mind what kind of film it was trying to be, juxtaposing a couple of cheap gags with supposedly grim and gritty scenes, followed by fantastical dream sequences. The gags were dull, the grit unnecessarily discomforting, the most memorable dream sequence only slightly shorter than the extended edition of Return of the King, and completely failing to get across whatever message it was trying to convey. Yet somewhere in there was a message, and I think it was most forcefully and revoltingly brought out in the use of colour. Against the general grey background, the rich of society were draped in lurid colours that would have had Picasso spinning like a blender in his grave. This stuck with me, I remembered it, and I knew what it meant. It was a prediction of an apocalyptically heightened future fashion culture. However, I’m unlikely to pay much attention to a piece of visual so sickening I spend half my time trying to blank it out.

This is where The Hunger Games comes in. That same hedonistic, extreme fashion culture is there, present and unmissable, yet it isn’t so in my face as to make me shudder. It isn’t even all bad, some of it is almost aesthetically pleasing. But the message is still there, in a subtle way, that sticks in the mind without superglueing itself to the discomfort centre of the brain. Authoritarianism is also explored in a less lurid way, though not without its drama. The main character, Katniss, has to go through sufferings and dilemmas that move and shock, all on account of a thoroughly authoritarian system. But each tragedy is presented in the tragic style, rather than the revoltingly gritty style that focuses on the unpleasant details rather than the bigger picture (cross reference James McAvoy vomiting into a filthy toilet in the recent post-apocalyptic modernisation of Macbeth). I defy the viewer’s heart to remain intact.

There are things wrong with The Hunger Games, there’s no denying, and you could argue its moral is an old one: it’s not a progressive piece of political thought. But it’s not just another dystopian movie either, and it isn’t just for kids. And as for the practicalities, the actors are brilliant, the visuals strong, the plotline elegant. Spick and span, and awesome.

Sweeney Todd – the best movie musical I have ever seen

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was a film I expected to hate. While Gerard Butler’s acting makes the last twenty minutes of Phantom of the Opera an incredible emotional journey, it depresses me enormously that only the odd singer such as Samantha Barks or Catherine Zeta-Jones manages to get a good role in a movie musical. The priority is on fine-tuned acting ability, and directors tend to completely ignore slight complications like Hugh Jackman’s incredibly nasal vibrato and Russell Crowe’s complete inability to sing. Nevertheless, I gave Sweeney a try, and was pleasantly surprised.

Don’t get me wrong, Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Mrs Lovett is dreadful, lacking any emotion in her singing voice, and completely devoid of comic timing. Nevertheless, persevering through the bizarre CGI opening credit sequence is well worth the wait. Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Sweeney is bang on what it should be. He can switch instantaneously from light-hearted and comical to the dark and self-destructive soul that Sweeney is. This is a role that requires an actor to portray killing another human being with a whole spectrum of emotions, from casual carelessness through desperate swiftness to apocalyptic anger. Depp executes each with ease or gusto as required. In his portrayal Sweeney’s paradoxical and deeply tragic combination of defeatism and grim determination comes across beautifully and heart-wrenchingly: the consummate murderer, his soul so crushed by the events of his past that he lacks the willpower to save his daughter from his nemesis’ clutches, yet gripped by an insatiable bloodlust.

It is true that Michael Ball sang the part better, but Depp does a good job for a man who doesn’t normally sing, and had the camera focussed on him and his expressions throughout the entire film, it would hardly have been less engaging. A shame that the same cannot be said for Bonham Carter, but this film is worth her inadequacy to see Depp at his best.