Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Willy Wonka: You can't beat the original...

After watching and thoroughly enjoying Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory recently, I was amazed at how well it had stood the test of time. Even with some of it's dodgy effects, the film still remains magical. Tim Burton remade the Roald Dahl classic a few years back, and even though he had the latest computer technology to create the chocolate factory, and all the other weird and wonderful things that appear in the story- it was empty. The magic wasn't there, and I for one do not wish to see it again.

How is it then, that even though we are better advanced to create amazing effects as we've seen in Avatar and The Lord of the Rings, that we can't do better than the original Wonka of 1971?

I believe the main answer, is that computer effects can only go so far. To see a room, filled with truly edible flowers, and trees- all of which are sweets or chocolate- seeing the actors eat them for real, knowing that not one part of that room is fake- that's the secret. When we watch a room knowing that none of the chocolate in it is real, no one cares. 
The songs in the latest adaptation all appear in the book written by Dahl himself, however, they don't seem to work with the arrangement in the Burton film. Is this why the makers of the 1971 version didn't use the original songs? Did they know they wouldn't work in the film? Did they know that they worked whilst you read the book and thought of a tune in your head? If that is the reason they did not use Dahl's songs, then they didn't undercut us. They gave us some beautifully memorable classics like all the Oompa Loompa songs, Pure Imagination, I've Got a Golden Ticket, The Candyman Can, and all the rest! Nor wonder the songs and score were Academy Award nominated, all credit to both Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. 

But of course, the real gem in this beloved musical is Gene Wilder who gives a legendary performance. Not even Johnny Depp, with his great talent and huge fan base, won over many people with his portrayal. Wilder plays Wonka as a comedian, but with a dark edge, not only joking at the children but to their much-to-blame parents. Every line he delivers will have you laughing hysterically, and at times you can't quite believe his reaction and answers to the parents of the children. He was Golden-Globe nominated, and will forever be remembered and adored for his performance here.
Charlie is played by Peter Ostrum is a remarkably beautiful performance by someone so young. You really feel for him, as all his school friends are buying hundreds of Wonka bars and yet he can barely buy one, yet he wants the golden ticket the most! The poverty of his family is pretty moving, and handled well so that we recognise and understand Charlie's situation, but so that it doesn't dampen the uplifting mood of the film.

If you have only seen the Burton remake and been put off, I implore you to not give up! Watch the original, you'll love all the songs and all the performances, not just from Wilder, but from all the child actors too (all are brilliant)- a superb cast. A hilarious adaptation of the Dahl novel that is full of magic. You'll feel like a child all over again with this fantastic film that is definitely a timeless classic. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: One to watch

Even though my passion is mainly centred around classic Hollywood, I love everything about films from every decade, and every individual year, including the stars. I cannot fathom how every now and then we get these new, wonderful acting talents that shine on screen, and look like they were made for the movies. But very few in the history of film, make what they do look so easy and natural.

It is this quality of total ease whilst performing that attracts me so much Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Aside from his good looks, he is a fine actor, whose so at home in acting, that it is hard to remember that he is actually acting. Like Cary Grant, or any other actor whose perfectly cool when the camera is rolling, you cannot take your eyes off him (ps not comparing Levitt to Grant - totally different actors!)

I have only seen him in three of his films: one was Ten Things I hate About You where he was very young  but already more memorable than the leading character Julia Stiles played, and in my honest opinion, equally as noticeable as Heath Ledger. I love it when you see an actor at an early age already showing huge potential.

In 500 Days of Summer, an older Levitt really steals the show with again, his total ease and natural acting ability. He also has a face that expresses enough without the need of dialogue. But I do believe, aside from the quirkyness of this movie, it's different take on the romantic comedy which made it stand out, Levitt's performance made the film more than just another chick flick. I don't see how other romcom regulars like Gerard Butler could have pulled off such a realistic performance that Levitt delivered so fantastically. We could relate to his character fully, without thinking this is another romcom. He was just like everyone of us who has been hurt in love, or been the loser in a relationship.

His most recent film was 50/50, where he plays a terminally ill cancer patient, and it really is this performance that got me excited. It shoed Levitt in a different light. Someone who could take on the difficulties of the role, playing it with enough seriousness and sadness, but able to make a lot of the films comedy not seem out of place. He bridged the gap between fatal illness and sometimes-crude-comedy. Not for one minute did I feel that Levitt did not have cancer. It was so real, and so well-played. If his performance here does not get him an Oscar-nomination I will be disappointed, because his performance alone transforms the film from average-feel-good-comedy-drama, to a film so much deeper.

We are at the time now where our heartthrobs like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio- leaders of their generation of acting- are now playing more mature roles, leaving the younger parts for a new generation of great talent. I truly believe that Levitt has the ability to lead his generation in film acting- I just hope he gets the chance to prove himself in greater roles. Like when James Dean's death made way for a new legendary star like Paul Newman, I believe the same is happening here for Heath Ledger's passing a few years back, and the huge potential that lies in Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bette Davis: Both Sides Now

YouTube will not let me upload this video to my channel MonroeSmile, so for those of you who wish to see it, here it is...

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the material used in this video. All material belongs to their respective owners. Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use", including non-profit, educational or personal. This is purely a fan video. No copyright infringement intended. 

I've loved this song every since I heard it in the film Love Actually, and have always intended to use in a tribute. But it was only the other day that I thought it would be perfect for Bette Davis. In her films, Davis usually falls in love but due to her position, health or any other circumstances, she is prevented from having her happy ending. The theme of this video is looking back at life with experience and hindsight, yet still not understanding any of it. 

In my opinion, Bette is the greatest actress in history. A double Oscar winner, no other actress in the history of film, for me, has had more presence, more power, nor more spellbinding talent onscreen. And in an era where glamour and flawlessness was paramount for an actress, Bette took some of the ugliest and most unflattering roles, whether it was a horrid face or horrid personality- she didn't care that it repulsed audiences and gave it her all.

I hope you like it. The song is 'Both Sides Now' by Joni Mitchell.

Films included:
Mr. Skeffington, The Letter, All About Eve, Dark Victory, Now, Voyager and Jezebel. Thank you Doug for the Jezebel clips

Monday, 31 October 2011

Marnie: Dull or genius?

Nobody has ever doubted Hitchcock's brilliance or mastery, usually regarding every film of his as innovative and a masterpiece. However there have been a few movies made by Hitchcock where critics and filmgoers have not been so impressed. One of those films is Marnie (1964) starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery.

I was incredibly sceptical when I saw those two leading actors. I never could understand why Tippi Hedren was a star, I think she is plain in looks and rather boring as an actress. Sean Connery was great as James Bond (not as good as Roger Moore in my opinion), but in his other roles I have found him extremely irritating. But Marnie changed my opinion on both, and I see that they are both very good actors who gave solid performances in this thriller.

The film all in all, is very different to Hitchcock's usual style, in that there is a lot more talking rather than action, and there is very little suspense. However, the Hitchcock stamp is definitely there, igniting not as brightly as it has in his other work, but still aflame.

One of the most fascinating things I find with a Hitchcock film, is the representation of the mother figure. Whether it be in North By Northwest where the mother simply laughs at her son and gives him no support whatsoever, or here in Marnie, the mother characters in Hitchcock's films are always mocking, damaging or somewhat jeopardizing their childs chance of survival or happiness. It's interesting how this character is as consistently portrayed in the Hitchcock filmography as the cool, mysterious blonde, and if anyone knows more information on this please let me know.

One of the most shocking scenes in the film is the "rape" scene. This was brilliantly filmed because it was so horrible. Nothing is shown of the act, but leading up to it we have Connery ripping Hedren's clothes off, where she is laid bare. We only see her from the shoulder up, but she looks cold, empty, literally stripped of her dignity, and she stands there motionless- not even blinking- as he kisses her. All we then see is her blank eyes staring into the camera, followed by a cut to a close-up of Connery moving into the camera. This shot is overbearing and extremely intimidating- we feel her fear, and her helplessness of this tall, strong, dark, imposing man.

The power of the male over the female is very prominent in this movie- from the moment Marnie robs Connery's workplace, he plays games with her- asking questions that he knows the answers to, but knows she will answer with lie. He knows everything about her, and therefore has her in his power, forcing her to marry him. However, Connery, although forcing Hedren into marriage and into performing the duties of a wife, does actually want to help her clear her psychological hatred of men and fear of the colour red.

This is one of the flaws of the movie. The effects to show Marnie's panic at the colour red, is shown merely by a red filter filling the screen, nothing more. I found this incredibly disappointing, and regarding the effects Hitchcock has pulled off in his other works regardless of the effects available at the time, Marnie's effects were a let down.
Aside from it's flaws and it's less adventurous plotline, this film is engaging, shocking, and even compelling, because it is a real mystery as to why Marnie is so traumatised, and Hitchcock truly takes us on that psychological journey with Hedren and Connery.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Lion King 3D: Was it worth it?

Many people have criticized studios for re-releasing their films in 3D, usually because the 3D is never properly done therefore making it unnecessary, and it just seems like another moneymaking scam. Unless I know a film has been specifically made for 3D like Avatar, or in future months Tintin (I think it's made for 3D anyway), I will not be paying to watch it in 3D because when I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the 3D was nothing special; a waste of money (it's double the price) and the effect is barely noticeable.

But Disney's re-release of The Lion King is not a gimic. It doesn't have the best 3D effects but that is to be expected because it is an animation that is over a decade old and if I am thinking correctly, I don't think as much could have been done to enhance it with 3D effects. However what they have done is really beautiful and marvelously done, because you actually felt like you were in the savannah, you felt like you were in Africa. Whether it was the animals assembling at Pride Rock coming out of the screen, or the eerie storms with rain so enhanced you could almost touch it, or more impressively, feeling like we were Simba running for our lives from the stampeding wildebeest- were just a few of the treasures to behold in this remastering of the film.

It looks as glorious as ever and the first scene with that man singing along to that bright yellow sunset against a firey red sky, or the scenes where the African plains are under a curtain of terrential rain, create a most fantastic and exotic atmosphere.

As far as characters go, watching the film as an adult made me laugh even more, because I think as we all find with children's films, we only really get the jokes when we're older, and they are always hilarious in Disney's case. Zazu voiced by Rowan Atkinson is just this stuffy British lovable feathery thing, whilst Rafiki the wise baboon provides much humour when he teases Simba and hits him with his stick. Jeremy Irons is the perfect villain with his matured-wine voice, and devilish wit, along with the hyenas who are just as funny. Just when you think there are enough laughs in the film, along come Timon and Pumbaa charging onto the screen with more jokes and great lines than any other character duo in Disney.

Probably the greatest element of The Lion King is it's soundtrack. Elton John did such an incredible job on the songs like Circle of Life, Hakuna Mattata and Can You Feel The Love Tonight, that even some of the audience couldn't stop themselves from singing along (charming for a couples of seconds, but annoying when they sing for the rest of the song). But the songs are timeless classics and still today have that big, celebratory, joyous, and romantic mix that makes it one of the most popular soundtracks to date. Hans Zimmer's score is as haunting as ever, particularly the scene of the rain on the plains with the track 'This Land'. The score sounds like the land is singing- like Africa herself is singing her heart and soul out to the highest heavens. The score definitely gives the film it's emotional edge, no one can forget the music accompaniments, particularly in the Mufasa death scene, which I think will make everyone cry til their dying day. Watching this infamous scene as an adult was quite extraordinary. It hit me just how traumatic the scene was, for anyone, and for a child to watch this scene would be, for them, watching their worst nightmare. But Disney handled the scene with great tenderness and beauty, much like their predecessors did with Bambi.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film is where Simba sees his father in his reflection and is then visited by his father's ghost from on high in a mass on clouds and beaming light. Even though kids might be too young to understand the message in this scene, I think as an adult it is hugely meaningful in saying how you cannot run away from your past, and that in doing so you are actually betraying yourself. You have to face it and not run away. What also made me cry was how Simba could his father in himself, 'He lives in you' as Rafiki says. Another point I recognised whilst watching this was that Mufasa's character is such a rich one, he is the epitome of the father figure and a great moral figure too. The wise advice he gives his son is something that children will listen to, because we can all relate to Simba when he disappoints his father and learns a lesson, giving the film an important educational message that youngsters will understand.

I don't think that anyone of my generation, and indeed any other generation, that has watched and loved this animation throughout their childhood; who can recite it word for word, act it out action for action- can not have tears in their eyes or have some heartwarming childhood memory called to mind when watching this. I can honestly say that watching it, I still felt like the twenty year old girl I am, but I also felt like I was watching it with my toddler self. It was just as magical as it ever was.

The Lion King is one of the most entertaining, eye-catching, tearjerking films to have ever been made, and with the addition of 3D effects, to watch this beloved classic again with a new technology was a wonderful, and moving experience that I won't forget. Thank you Disney for giving me a chance to see it on the big screen in magnificent 3D.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Departed: Scorsese finally does it

After watching Martin Scorsese's films of the early noughties like The Aviator, I did wonder that he may have lost his magical ability with directing. Although his films remained to look exquisitely sumptuous and always had glimpses of genius, they never quite captured the magic of his classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and his best film (in my opinion), Goodfellas.

Then a few months back I watched one of his most recent triumphs, Shutter Island. Although I was disturbed by some parts of the movie, I could not fault that it was another outstanding contribution to the remarkable Scorsese filmography. Shutter Island contained all the richness of a Scorsese picture, but with a new, more modern edge that made even the newest directors of the industry couldn't quite cut.

This week I watched The Departed for the first time, which was made before Shutter Island, and I realised three things.
1.) Scorsese deserved his Oscar, and thank god he finally won it.
2.) I can see why he chose to use DiCaprio again- they make a great team.
3.) This is the film where he found his flare and mastery of the camera and storytelling again.

The Departed is a fast-paced, edgy gangster picture, with many heart-racing and shocking moments. It felt different to a Scorsese picture, in the way the colours and the cinematography wasn't so rich and warm- for me this picture felt colder, but I think that is reflected in the outcome of the movie. DiCaprio, for me, gives his finest performance in film, just when I thought he would never top his role in Catch Me If You Can. Matt Damon, as always, produced a solid performance. My only two problems with this movie were Ray Winstone's accent which was about as consistent the weather, and Jack Nicholson.

Now I love Jack Nicholson, for me he can do no wrong, but in this film it did feel like he was playing a caricature of a crime lord. I never felt scared of him, which I usually do, I never felt the sternness in his voice like he had in A Few Good Men, or the mad and calculating tone of him as the Joker or in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Another great performance was from Mark Wahlberg, who was- quite frankly- exceptional.

Regardless, The Departed had me gripped throughout, and kept shocking me whenever I least expected it. As far as I am concerned, Scorsese should have won three of four Oscars by the time this film was released, but I can also see, why the Academy had to give it to him. Very few films I have seen, have had the sharpness and class that I saw in The Departed. This is a must-see, the only thing people may not like is the language- but what can you expect from Scorsese picture?

For me, The Departed proved once again, that Martin Scorsese, is the undisputed master of the gangster picture.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Slumdog Millionaire: Best Picture? Not at all.

Aside from the Harry Potter franchise, Slumdog Millionaire is probably the most talked about film of the decade 2000-2010. Cleaning up at the Oscars and it's global acclaim, I was expecting a lot from the film, and unfortunately I was disappointed. The directing and cinematography, I put my hands up, were highly deserving of their awards. Truly gorgeous lighting, use of colour and the shots used throughout the film were delicious and sumptuous.

One shot that really stood out to me was the first time Latika sees Jamal at the train station- the shot is from Jamal's perspective, therefore we are Jamal, and as the camera zooms in on this beautiful girl looking around for Jamal, the moment she sees him we can see her eyes light up, he smile widen, and the sheer happiness in her face. The fact she is wearing yellow clothing and is surrounded with yellow lighting, for me, was a symbol of how she was the brightness in Jamal's life, she was his light, therefore they dress her in the colour of the sun. That shot is a very intimate and heartwarming shot, and is just one of many gorgeously shot sequences in the film. It is literally a feast for the eyes.

The child performances in the film were outstanding and put the adult actors to shame in actual fact, however I must commend Dev Patel highly on his performance which was very good.
The film however, as far as the plot goes, loses itself when Jamal is an adult. Aside from Jamal, the other adult performances are weak and unconvincing, just like the storyline near the end.

The fact that Jamal's brother, who has been an evil and cunniving brute all his life, eventually redeems himself and saves Latika. However, there was no build-up to this extreme change in character. Throughout the film, even as a child it has been obvious that he does not care for anyone bar himself, and even as an adult, proves he has not grown out of this flaw. When Latika is kidnapped, we don't see Jamal's brother in torment and conflicting with ideas on what to do. We do not see him feeling all the shame from a lifetime of being a nasty person, build up inside his head and become so strong that he goes against everything he has ever done- and helps another, putting his own life in danger.

Another problem, is the leading actress. Don't get me wrong, Freida Pinto is one of the most beautiful women in the world today, but her acting is bland and dull and awkward. Not once did I feel that she loved Jamal, or had lived a long, suffering life. Nor when she is finally reunited with Jamal at the end does it feel like she is finally free and with the man she has always loved. We feel that from Jamal, enormously, but not her.

My final problem with this film was the ending. Not only did it completely let the rest of the film down with some of the worst soppy lines in any film, but the cast break out into a "Bollywood" dance. Considering there is nothing remotely Indian or Bollywood about this movie, it just seems random and doesn't fit in with anything else in the film. This movie is a British take on a story that is set in India. Nothing Bollywood about it. The dance at the end is annoying, not even well choreographed- and a total insult to the seriousness of the entire film that ran before it. I found some of the scenes in this movie very disturbing, so to make a joke of the terrible journey Jamal has been on to get where he is at the end of the movie, doesn't make any sense.
I did enjoy Slumdog Millionaire- I thought the editing was sharp and it was all beautifully photographed, but the script was poor, and many of the adult actors were incredibly weak. What saves this picture is the child cast and Dev Patel, who bring life to the script.

Outstanding performances from the children.
Did it deserve Best Picture at the Academy Awards? No, it didn't. The technical awards it did deserve, but not Best Picture. It is a good film, but not a great film: it isn't better than most films. But when it's running for Best Picture the same year as such magnificent triumphs as WALL.E. and Changeling, both of which are masterpieces in cinema which didn't even get nominated in that category, the Academy should be appalled. Those two films should have at least been nominated, and are one billion times better acted, better edited, better everything more than Slumdog Millionaire. Everyone kept ranting that it was the 'feel-good film of the decade', well I was not uplifted when it finished, I was relieved for Jamal, but I was not uplifted like I was after watching It's a Wonderful Life or The Shawshank Redemption. This film is worth watching, but not one of the all time greats- not by a long shot.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Gene Kelly: Genius of the Musical

Watching a documentary last night on the life of Gene Kelly, I was shocked at just how much this legend of the screen achieved. He was not just one of the greatest dancers in the world, but he had his own innovative dance style that transformed the Hollywood musical. We were used to static shots of Fred & Ginger dancing the American Smooth, but Kelly saw that this needed to be changed: the camera had to dance with the dancers.

From his choreography on Anchors Aweigh, Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris to name a few, he set the screen alight with his new, athletic style of dance that was far from the elegant, top hat 'n' tails Hollywood was used to. YouTube has many of his famous scenes uploaded, including his dances with Jerry Mouse, dances with himself, his epic ballet sequence, and of course, his iconic performance of the song 'Singin' in the Rain'.

Not only was he spellbinding dancing alone, but he had a host of sensational dance partners, from the leggy Cyd Charisse, the multi-talented Judy Garland, and the goddess of love Rita Hayworth. All were worthy partners, and complimented Gene's dancing beautifully, creating some show-stopping sequences.

Gene Kelly won a Special Honorary Oscar in 1952 for his achievements in film, and importantly his success and contribution to choreography in film. Not only that, but Kelly went on to be asked by the Paris Opera House to create his own ballet for the famous theatre- an enormous achievement for any Hollywood star.

In today's films and even in modern music videos, you can see Kelly's influence - he was truly lightyears ahead of his time. What I admire most of all with Kelly, is that he always tried to push the boundaries, not just with dance and directing, but with special effects - think of his double scene in Cover Girl or his number with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh.

Kelly was an exceptionally talented dancer, choreographer and director. It is such a shame that he died at the time he was working on an autobiography- what a fascinating read that would have been. Please check out his famous dance sequences on YouTube, and most importantly, his films.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

My Top 10 Film Soundtracks

One of the main reasons why I love film is because of the soundtracks. I cannot get over how a composer can write the most perfect piece of music for film; a piece so perfect, that it sounds like the film was made for the music instead. Here are my top ten choices, which was unbelievably difficult to choose. These are in no particular order:

1.) Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights: A very unknown film, which is a huge shame because for me this is a brilliant adaptation of the novel. Ralph Fiennes gives one of his best performances as Heathcliff, and Juliette Binoche, although her French accent seeps through now and again, is the perfect Cathy. The score is composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and is hauntingly stunning. The soundtrack is very hard to get hold of, luckily for me my sister found one. But if ever get the chance, watch the film and check out the soundtrack.

2.) William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet: This adaptation was disgracefully overlooked at the Oscars, not only because of it's incredible performance from DiCaprio or it's innovative direction, but it's soundtrack is the most divine and beautiful piece in film. It really captures the youth of our young lovers, the magic of their being in love and the beauty of the moments they share. It really is quite overwhelming to hear, and is Craig Armstrong's greatest piece.

3.) Once Upon A Time In The West: My first score by Ennio Morricone, and his greatest. I think this film score really holds it's own as a masterpiece in music for it's sheer depth. Just listening to the violins soaring you can see the scale and breadth of the west, breathtaking deserts, the feeling of wealth and prosperity on the horizon, of a new life starting for Jill. The fact that Morricone wrote the score before the film was made kind of says it all really, Serigo Leone was able to direct the film perfectly with the music. This soundtrack has so many different sounds too that words can't do it any justice. I ask you all to watch this film before you die, and I promise you will want to go out and buy the soundtrack immediately.

4.) Up!: The soundtrack for this movie is quite weird because it almost acts as the soundtrack to all our memories. For me, the main theme in this movie 'Married Life' is the sound of nostalgia. It's the perfect sound to accompany any of our photo albums, and any memories of times we wish we could go back to. The perfect soundtrack to look back, reflect, cherish and even mourn. Composer Michael Giacchino definitely deserved his Oscar for his music in this film. I could not believe it when Avatar didn't win the Oscar for it's music, but after watching Up!, I could see why.

5.) Avatar: Talking of Avatar, this is also one of my favourite soundtracks. I love James Horner, I think his soundtracks are gorgeous. What I love about his work on Avatar is that the music has a mysterious quality which suits the different surroundings Jake Sully finds himself in, but also there is an element of transcendence for Jake realises that there is something more to life on this planet that us humans forgot on Earth. I particularly his use of, I'm not sure what you call it, but tribal instruments, especially in the song 'Jake's First Flight', it really feels like we are on flying with him and on this incredible journey with him. As his heart races, ours races, and that is the beauty of this soundtrack, it totally involves you and makes you as amazed as Jake as he discovers more of this strange world he is in.

6.) American Beauty: Thomas Newman really proved himself with this soundtrack, although he had composed great pieces on his previous films, his work on American Beauty really stands tall. This is real ambient, dreamlike sound throughout the score that draws us in to 'behind closed doors' setting of the film. Everything seems surreal and it's like we are viewing everything in hindsight- which we are. We know Lester dies, and as we watch the film we can see why maybe things could lead to his death so Newman's music really helps create this kind of dreamy perspective on things. My favourite parts of the score are the piano pieces like 'Angela Undress' in the scene where Lester tries to have a heart to heart with Jane. The zoom in on the photo of the Burnham family years ago is matched with a subtle piano piece that sounds so fragile, mirroring the fragility of the family's situation, the slight touch of the notes in  the piece adds to the fact that they are all missing the point. None of them even notice the happy photo infront of them, when Lester does notice near the end of the film, all his worries and problems cease and he realises the true meaning of his life, and that there is nothing for him to be unhappy about.

7.) The Hunchback of Notre Dame: There are so many great Disney soundtracks, most of which are my favourites, but this one is outstanding. Just when we thought Alan Menken couldn't beat his work on The Little Mermaid and Beauty & the Beast, he composed his most powerful score. Combining the toll of real bells, with massive choirs and Latin phrases from the Catholic mass, this soundtrack is literally soul-shaking, and as magnificent as the drawings of the great Notre Dame herself. I feel that the score mirrors the cathedral massively, with it's soaring choir voices matching the dominating towers of the building. One great scene which is rather dark for Disney, is where Frollo admits privately his feelings, or rather, his lust for Esmeralda, and he sings 'Hellfire' which encapsulates his fear at thinking unholy thoughts, but also his raging passion for her. There are also truly touching and less bold parts, including 'God Help the Outcasts' and 'Heaven's Light' that capture the beauty, instead of the achievement, of the the cathedral.  A truly outstanding achievement by Menken, and another jewel in Disney's crown.

8.) Cinema Paradiso: Morricone's second appearance in this list is an overwhelming tribute to film. The film of course looks at the magic of movies: how they bewitch us from childhood and continue to until our last days. In particular, this films looks at the love moments, which were so harshly censored in the old days, that some of the most precious moments in film were not seen for decades. But of course, in that final scene, where Salvatore watches the reel of 'cut' kisses from films he saw as a child, has such a tremendous music accompaniment. Strings flowing in almost a frenzy, what we have is music equivalent to our emotions as we watch to beautiful people onscreen kiss. A swell of emotions with a swell of music, and it's so frenzied because it also mirrors Salvatore's emotions, seeing all the scenes he missed, and feeling overwhelmingly grateful that his dear friend had saved them for him. The score for this movie really sounds like Morricone's love letter to cinema.

9.) The Deer Hunter: Everyone knows Stanley Myer's famous guitar piece in this film. I never before felt like I could hear a guitar weeping, although there have been many mournful acoustic pieces. But the theme for The Deer Hunter is so full of woe, memory and grief. Even though there are no lyrics, it feels like the guitar is saying 'they're gone' (that's how I feel anyway). This soundtrack is one of those rare times where it music goes perfectly with how you feel. Everytime I have been down or upset, the music from the picture almost expresses my grief for me. there are other beautiful pieces on the soundtrack, and the Russian hymns included, particularly 'Memory Eternal', and the hymns they play during the hunting scenes in the misty mountains, are chilling to the core.

10.) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Never was there a more phenomenal soundtrack as far as sheer scale and variety is concerned. From it's military and frightening music for the Mordor scenes, to it's merry country music for the Shire that literally sound like open fields with fresh green grass. My favourites have to be 'The Great River', where the fellowship are sailing past too enormous statues of great kings, we really feel from the music that this is a special place, of impeccable grandeur. Another is the music at the end of 'The Bridge of Khazad-dum', where Frodo looks back at Aragorn with tears in his eyes, he is sad because Gandalf is dead and he doesn't want this task. The music for this moment really eerie and angelic, and help you to totally focus on the sadness in Frodo's eyes. The music from each of the three films is unbelievable, and the fact that Howard Shore did it all shows what a true talent he is. The music is the perfect soundtrack for the most epic journey in film, and glorifies the unparalleled effects that we see in the film. Peter Jackson provided the sights, Shore the soundtrack: and what a glorious partnership that turned out to be.

Here are others of my favourites which I could not include: The Untouchables, Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, Malena, Braveheart, Titanic, Once Upon a Time in Ameirca, Sense and Sensibility, Il Gattopardo, Love Actually, The Lion King, Gladiator, The English Patient, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, The Godfather.

The greatest theme of all time, I believe to be the score for Gone With The Wind by Max Steiner. I don't think there will ever be a soundtrack more cinematic or more symbolic of just how great film can be. I always get teary-eyed when I hear the main theme from this picture. I don't know if it's because it reminds of a time that has passed, or Clark Gable in his prime, but it just works. I love how John Williams finished off with it in his ensemble of Oscar-winning scores performance at the Academy Awards a few years back.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Film Buffs: Documentary Alert

The channel More4 started showing a 15-part documentary at the weekend, called The Story of Film: An Odyssey, and what a documentary it is. If you are like me and know roughly how film began, who the main pioneers were: the Lumiere Brothers, Edison, Melies to name only a handful, then this is one to watch. This series shows every tiny fact we knew, and delves deeply into it by going through each innovative film: the first magic tricks, the first cuts, the first close-up, and many more.

I had learnt about the so-called "primitive" years of filmmaking in my university course, but my knowledge was vague and general. This documentary however, paints a wonderful picture on an enormous canvas, showing the great changes and developments that took shape in the art form chronologically. What I really love about this documentary is how it shows the global picture of how so many filmmakers in so many different countries contributed to the development of cinema: how it became a universal language and art.

I was fascinated throughout the first episode with all these different clips showing just how the art progressed into multi-layered narratives, how stars were made and how they gave images a heavenly glow. It is really a wondrous series (from what I have seen so far) and I cannot wait to see the other fourteen episodes which also includes input from some of film's most famous faces, including one of my favourites, Claudia Cardinale.

For those of you who live in the UK, it is on More4 every Saturday I believe, unless they change the schedule. If you miss it or live outside the UK, I think you might be able to view it here on youtube: 

If I haven't convinced you to watch it, then please watch the trailer for the series in the video below, it may just wet your appetite. I would like to thank my friend Doug for sending me this video and alerting me that this documentary was being aired soon. 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Studio Ghibli: A Pleasant Surprise

For those of you who, like me, hated the look of Japanese animation- with it's harsh lines and non-Disneyesque look- prepare to have the spell of Studio Ghibli's magic cast upon you. Never in my life have I been more pleasantly surprised, overwhelmed or happy discovering a new group of films.

With some of strangest worlds, characters and plots that have been shown in a film, especially an animation, Studio Ghibli has a host of wonderful films that any person of any age will enjoy.

Do not be put off on your first outing at watching one of these films, for they are really weird to newbees. But like many great weird things, they are also compelling, and totally bewitch throughout the movie. After the rollercoaster ride of whichever film you choose to watch first, you are sat there bewildered for a few moments, thinking to your self how weird that film was. After that initial shock, you want to watch the film again.

The studios best and most acclaimed film is Spirited Away, winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar in 2003. Created by Hayao Miyazaki, all the films possess a charming quality, and so much warmth, that any viewer is left utterly spellbound.

Please, give these films a try, whether you are already an Japanese anime fan or not, at least one of these films will be firm favourites of yours when given the chance. I have only seen My Neighbour Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo and the outstanding Howl's Moving Castle, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all. A word of warning, once you watch one of the films, you will feel compelled to watch every single one of them.

Give them a try, and I assure you that you will fall in love with the characters, the films and the studio just like everyone else before you.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A is for Ava...

Seeing as it is the last day of August, I shall use this post to talk about one of the true goddesses of the silver screen- Ava Gardner. Like Liz Taylor, Ava has become more reknowned for the gossip and stories surrounding her personal life and tempestuous relationships, namely with Frank Sinatra.

Ava is a very well-known actress, but nobody gives her the credit she deserved for her performances, including herself. She was no Bette Davis, but Ava brought a realism and earthiness to the screen that hadn't been seen in female actresses before. She has performed some rather one-dimensional characters like Kitty Collins in The Killers- looks out of this world beautiful, but her lines and character are one of the most bland femmes fatale in film noir.

However, watching her in Mogambo, The Barefoot Contessa and The Night of the Iguana, she is fantastic.  In fact I would say that Ava Gardner was one of the first actresses in film where it felt like she wasn't performing, the line between acting and becoming the character had faded and she became her characters fully. This worldly quality she possessed is truly spellbinding, for when she was given roles that were multi-dimensional, she could be a strong woman but could also express a fragility that was subtle. In fact, I would go as far as saying that Ava was the most complex actress of her time, even when she played big and brash characters she always showed how there was more to them than the side they showed and she made it 100% believable. And yet, Ava got none of the credit she deserved compared to others at the time like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, who were praised more for their acting which in my opinion, was not as good as Ava when she was at her best and given the chance.

I suppose the only accolade she ever received was an Oscar nomination for her role in Mogambo. She is absolutely marvellous in that film, and far from the MGM acting class pupil she was at the beginning of her career.

Ava Gardner aged 16.
Ava was beautiful in all her movies, but if you want to see her at her most beautiful, look at her photos taken before she went to Hollywood. Untouched, unaltered- natural Ava is truly what artists would probably call the perfect woman. When we read about Southern Belle's bewitching everyman in their town- Ava is the perfect match, being a Southern gal herself, she is the true Belle of every county.

Offscreen, Ava was inspirational beyond belief. I implore you all to read her autobiography My Story, for you will find not only a compelling read but a compelling life about a strong woman who stood by her values, and lived life to the full. I wish I had her strength and passion for everything.

Please remember Ava, not only for being one of the most beautiful women to have walked this planet, but for being a solid actress and remarkable woman, who brought more to film than many care to acknowledge.