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.