Thoughts On: Bronson

Mickey Peterson, Charles Ali Ahmed, Charles Salvador: these are all names by which Britain’s most notorious prisoner has been known. However, one name stands far higher than the rest: Bronson.

Narrative

Bronson is an examination of one man’s desire to be famous, and what he’ll do to achieve what he wants. The odds are stacked against him, though, as he ends up spending the majority of his adult life locked up. Fame, then, is off the cards. Infamy? That might be doable.

Bronson is essentially a character study of one of the most notorious British prisoners ever. So, when I find that one of the most common criticisms about the film is its lack of any discernible plot, I can’t help but get a little annoyed. Sure, saying the Bronson is devoid of a clear story would be fine if it was supposed to have one. But it’s not, and although the second act of the movie does have some semblance of a story, the narrative never gets more complex than that. And for those who know better, it doesn’t need to.

Anyway, rant over.

Direction

Bronson is part film, part play, and no scene makes this more apparent than that in which Hardy, playing Bronson on stage, reenacts a conversation between himself and female prison guard. There Hardy stands, one side of him in Bronson garb, the other painted like a 1920’s mime adorned with talon-like nails. It’s wonderfully comic, and is perhaps the perfect representation of just how batshit and brilliant the whole thing is.

Director Nicholas Winding Refn’s trademark use of bright colours combined with a synthwave soundtrack also consolidates the film’s offbeat personality – y’know, just in case Tom Hardy’s performance doesn’t get that across enough.

Characters

Characters? More like character, singular, because as the film makes clear from the start, Bronson is very much a one-man show. It goes without saying that Hardy’s performance is fantastic, managing to be captivating, terrifying and awe-inspiring all at once. It’s so good, in fact, it even won praise from the man himself, calling Hardy “Britain’s number one actor”… for what it’s worth.

In a few words…

A fantastically offbeat portrayal of one of the UK’s most notorious prisoners.

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Throwback Thursday: Rear Window

I guess for this week it’s Throwback Friday, but I don’t think that quite has the same ring to it…

The concept of a film that takes place entirely in one location is one that has been used time and time again. Some manage to take the idea and turn it into their own (Reservoir Dogs, Locke), whereas others just capitalise on its novelty and nothing else. One of the first films that truly mastered the concept, though, is Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

Like the majority of Hitchcock films, Rear Window is a slow burn. We’re gradually introduced to the characters, their wants, their needs; we’re drip-fed information and clues about what might happen as the story unfolds. And it completely works.

Part of the reason why this measured delivery is so effective is because of the mystery-thriller plot. You see, L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is a magazine photographer who is on convalescent leave after breaking his leg. With nothing else to do, he fends off impending boredom by peering into the lives of the nearby residents. It doesn’t take long, however, before Jefferies begins to suspect that one of his neighbours has committed a murder. He may be sure of what he’s seen, but he initially finds difficulty in convincing his girlfriend (Grace Kelly) and his detective friend (Wendell Corey). Of course, in a climax that sees Jefferies thrown out of a window by the very man he thought was the murderer, everyone sees that he was right all along – and crucially, wasn’t going mad.

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What could they possibly be looking at?

It’s quite a simple plot really, especially when you compare it to the likes of Vertigo. And from a narrative standpoint there isn’t much to criticise. If there’s one area that lets the film down, though, it’s the climax. Take for example, how the murderer is almost entirely thwarted by a few camera flashes, or the way the film speeds up  when the residents rush outside to see what’s going on. It all seems so odd and messy. It may have worked in the 1950s, but this scene is a rare Hitchcock moment that hasn’t aged too well.

Despite this one blemish, there are so many other aspects of the film that should be commended. Whether it’s the fantastic sounds design – which allows us to get a comprehensive sense of just how alive the neighbourhood is – or the final realisation that we never really know what goes on in the lives of the other people, there’s a lot more going on here that it might initially seem.

Rear Window is a wonderful film. It’s an exercise in how to do a lot with a little and how to turn the apparently mundane into something thrilling and exciting. Granted, there are a couple of aspects that haven’t held up too well over time, but these do very little to take away from the otherwise expertly-crafted experience.

Thoughts On: Arrival

Why are they here? asks pretty much every promotional poster for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. Happily, the answer may not be what you think.

Narrative

Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguistics professor who gets called in to help when 12 mysterious UFOs land at seemingly random points on the planet. Her job is to try and communicate with the mysterious beings inside in order to ascertain what it is they want. The stakes are upped, however, when Banks has to bring everyone together in order to avoid the unthinkable.

Narratively speaking, Arrival is far from perfect – i.e. how Banks seemingly has the processing power of a 1000 supercomputers, or how the aliens don’t seem to care that much when things go a little bit awry – but the overall sentiment, along with the subtle way in which it’s conveyed, brings a welcome breath of fresh air to a genre which continues to prove that it still has something to say.

Direction

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Sweeping vistas make the film look stunning at times

Arrival and Villeneuve’s preceding flick, Sicario, are very much two different films: one deals with the implausible, while the other is very much grounded in contemporary reality. However, Arrival shares more with its gritty older sibling that you might think.

Despite Arrival’s high sci-fi subject matter, it too feels very much grounded in reality. Of course, this is in part due to the script and the performances, but it’s also down to the way it looks: the film is largely bathed in dark and monotone colour pallets, which help to bring home its sobering message – it still manages to look pretty spectacular at times, too.

Characters

Amy Adams really seems to be killing it lately. First Nocturnal Animals and now this? She sure can pick ’em. Her character here is largely subdued, in part due to the heavy emotional weight that it seems will always be a part of her. Just like the direction and script, this type of delivery works wonders with the grounded nature of the film, and brings a solemn weight to a genre that is often devoid of such sentiment.

Hollywood not-quite-a-megastar Jeremy Renner also stars in the film, and plays cheeky supernerd Ian Donnelly.  To be honest, though, any other well-known actor could have done just as good a job. That’s not to say his performance is bad, exactly, but his role isn’t especially demanding.

In a few words…

A refreshing take on the sci-fi genre with a profoundly relevant message at its heart.

Throwback Thursday: Vertigo

Over his long and varied career, Alfred Hitchcock made many films that are now considered to be some of the best of all time. As the years have rolled by, however, one film seems to stand tall amongst the rest. That film is Vertigo.

This Hitchcock masterpiece (of which there are a few) was first shared with the public in 1958. It wasn’t incredibly well received upon release, winning favourable reviews at best. But like many films that have experience a welcome upsurge in public opinion, it has now gone on to become a staple in any “greatest films” list – even topping Sight & Sound’s list of the 50 greatest of all time.

But what makes Vertigo so great? Why has it become so lauded?

Hitchcock’s meticulous attention to detail is certainly one of the key reasons why Vertigo continues to be celebrated. Take his use of colours, for instance. At first glance they may not seem that important, but upon deeper inspection it’s clear that he uses them to convey an intricate array of emotion and feeling. In Vertigo, it’s green and reds that are the key focus, and Hitchcock uses them to convey love, danger, mystery and the uncanny.

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Hitchcock’s use of the colour green is perhaps the most prominent in the entire film

Vertigo also has a deep, carefully crafted story. Taken from Boileau-Narcejac’s novel “D’Entre les Morts”, it follows a retired San Francisco cop, Scottie (James Stewart), who suffers from a fear of heights. Although he’s no longer working, he takes up a job for an old friend, Elster (Tom Helmore), who wants his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), followed: he suspects she’s been taken over by a vengeful 19th century spirit. However, Scottie begins to fall in love with Madeleine, which leaves him all the more distraught when he’s unable to prevent her suicide. Around a year later, Scottie, still guilt-ridden and forlorn, begins to date Judy, a young woman who happens to look a lot like Madeleine. As their relationship progresses, Scottie transforms Judy, bit by bit, into the image of Madeleine that haunts his conscience. By the end, not only does Judy look just like Madeleine, but it is revealed that she is Madeleine, and Scottie has become the a tragic byproduct of Elster’s elaborate plan to do away with his wife.

It’s certainly not an easy plot to explain, which is in part due to the film’s slightly bloated length. But if it wasn’t for it’s carefully-woven threads and complex machinations, it wouldn’t be the stand-out flick that it has become. Take for instance the way that the film dupes us, just as if we’re Scottie: at first we think we’re watching a the story of something supernatural, but it eventually transpires that it is a tale of twisted desire that we are baring witness to. Or perhaps consider that it’s not heights that Stewart’s Scottie should fear, it’s the inexorable descent that can come with falling in love.

And that’s exactly why Vertigo is so great. It’s not because it’s a perfect film, but rather the opposite. It’s because so many people can interpret the film in so many different ways on so many different viewings, that it’s core nature is hard to pinpoint, hard to put a finger on. Really, that’s how every masterpiece should be.

 

Thoughts On: Doctor Strange

Will Marvel’s blistering box office success ever come to an end? If Doctor Strange is anything to go by, not anytime soon.

Narrative

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An unfortunate event leads Stephen Strange to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu

Doctor Strange is an origin story the likes of which we’ve seen many times before. But as the name implies, the film takes this formula and makes it weird – in a good way. It follows the same beats as your standard origin story, but adds its own personality and charm that ultimately results in a finished product that not only separates itself from the pack, but also succeeds in feeling like a competent, self-standing Marvel adventure.

If I’m to nitpick a little, there are a few facets of the film that don’t quite hit the mark. Whether it’s the hit-and-miss humour or the rushed middle section, Doctor Strange makes a point to remind you that it’s not a perfect superhero flick, and far from a perfect film.

Direction

Doctor Strange is one of the most visually striking films I’ve seen in years. Naturally, it does invite comparisons with Inception and The Matrix, but it never feels like it’s ripping off either. Does it ever feel overdone? Maybe a little towards the end. But apart from that, CGI has been expertly used here.

Director Scott Derrickson also does a great job at making the film feel like a Marvel flick, whilst at the same imbuing Doctor Strange with its own quirky flair.

Characters

Of course, Badminton Tennismatch is the main star here, and he really does prove he fits the leading man role. However, even though his performance is fine, it’s his American that can be a little off-putting – would it have hurt to just stick with the British?

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Tilda Swinton also gives a great performance as the ‘The Ancient One’, as does Chiwetel Ejiofor as Modor. Mads Mikkelsen as the big bad Kaecilius also gives a good performance, but he’s given too little screen time to truly flesh out his character. Given Mikkelsen’s ability, his part does feel a little wasted, and ultimately fails to ameliorate the perennial Marvel problem of producing an interesting and engaging antagonist.

In a few words…

While not one of Marvel’s best, Doctor Strange is sure to maintain the studio’s stranglehold on the superhero genre.

Thoughts On: Black Mirror – Season 3 (Ep. 3)

If you thought episode two of the new season of Black Mirror was heavy, just wait ’til you watch Shut Up and Dance

Narrative

Where do I begin…

The episode starts off light enough, as we’re introduced to Kenny (Alex Lawther), a 19-year-old who works in a fast-food restaurant. Things soon get progressively darker, however, when he falls victim to mysterious blackmailers. This leads him to form an uncomfortable alliance with Hector (Jerome Flynn), who has also succumb to the mercy of the unknown puppeteers.

That’s all I can really say, but just know that the ending is one of the most heavy Black Mirror has every produced. It’s also why Shut Up and Dance is one of this season’s best.

Minor spoiler talk:

So, the whole reason why Kenny gets blackmailed in the first place is because his sister uses his laptop. But surely, any normal person would have set a password – let alone someone with a big secret to hide. This gripe isn’t really that much of a big deal, though, as the rest of the script is pretty solid. 

Direction

James Watkins is at the directorial helm here, and his background in horror and thriller definitely shows towards the final act of the episode. He also does a great job of matching the script’s gradual increase of suspense – one of the most tense episodes yet.

The use of music should be given a nod here, too, especially the use of a Radiohead track at the end, which truly put across the utter dread and despair of the situation – y’know, just in case it wasn’t obvious.

Characters

Yay, Bronn is back! And by Bronn I mean Jerome Flynn. You can never have too much Jerome Flynn.

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Bronn: The Early Days

Seriously speaking, though, the main cast performances here are top notch. Unfortunately, to say why they’re top notch would be to spoil a major part of the plot. Just know that Both Lawther and Bronn- I mean Flynn take the carefully thought-out script and build on it in their own wonderful way.

In a few words…

Shut Up and Dance us easily one of Black Mirror’s darkest and best episodes.

Thoughts On: Black Mirror – Season 3 (Ep.2)

Playtest is the second episode of the new season on Black Mirror, and it’s safe to say it’s somewhat darker than opener Nosedive.

Narrative

Playtest follows an American traveller (Wyatt Russell) as he winds up in London. However, when his bank card is rejected when while trying to book a flight home, he signs up to test a new gaming system in the hope that it will give him enough money to get back to the US. Of course, he maybe the one that’ll end up paying…

Overall, the episode was well written and undeniably Black Mirror, but in the end, I was actually wondering what the point of the episode was. Sure, the plot is built around what virtual and augmented reality could actually achieve and where it could go wrong, but it doesn’t feel like writer Charlie Brooker has that much to say about it. Still, that doesn’t mean that the script wasn’t well-written and engaging.

Direction

Seeing as Playtest is the horror entry of the season, it comes as no surprise that many tropes of the genre are present here, including a gradual building of suspense and jump scares (eurgh!). The execution of said tropes is managed quite well, though, and the episode never feels like it’s speeding down clichéd canyon – in fact, it plays with these clichés now and again, often turning the expected into the truly unexpected. Director Dan Trachtenberg also does a great job of gradually darkening the tone as the episode progresses.

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Playtest takes the idea of a haunted house and turns it on its head

Characters

I was a little unsure about the characters at first, including our main man, Cooper. I’m not entirely sure whether it was the acting or the script – or maybe both – but something didn’t sit right for the first fifteen minutes. Thankfully, any worries I initially had were put aside as the story started to kick into gear. Performances from this point on were completely fine, and just like episode one they peak during the final act.

In a few words…

Not a perfect Black Mirror episode, but still a fantastically thrilling watch.