Regeneration/Behind the Lines (1997)… A 100 years since WWI

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Regeneration

My rating: 7.1

IMDB rating: 8

IMDB link: Regeneration/Behind the Lines

Dearest reader,

At the University where I work we have at least two successful cinema clubs. The first of which is based in the art history department and the second which is based in the French department. The very fortunate thing about being a humanities scholar is that interdisciplinary research is encouraged. This year, our French cinema club actively commemorated the First World War that took place a hundred years ago. This film concluded the events- and what a film it was!

It seems to me that the First World War is often overshadowed by the Second World War. WWII certainly had more genocide and mass killings, but in terms of WWI, it was also a more technological war. WWI, on the other hand, had much more physical man to man violence without the “benefit” of technology. In that sense it was more cruel and calculated, but it also left the soldiers with a lot more scars.

This film is about those scars. The scars left on the psyche of a young man (some as young as 16) as a result of traumatic events such as these. Trauma is therefore dealt with very directly in this film. There is no way around the effects and the aftermath of the war and as is the case with trauma, the trauma cannot be processed without the creation of a logical narrative.

As one sees with the character of Lt. Prior, trauma is not necessarily one specific life altering event. Trauma is in most cases the accumulation of several traumatically tainted events which leads to one intense experience of trauma. In the film, the doctor explains these events in terms of erosion- the events erode and erode the mind until the subject experiences a break.

Beside the fact that the film also charts the history of two famous poets, one who would survive the war and another who won’t, it shows WWI as indeed a ‘class war’. What is meant by this is that this war still makes a distinction between those who are foot soldiers and the generals.

In a very disturbing scene electroshock therapy is applied to one of the foot soldiers. Upon returning, the doctor describes this method as merely the repairing of a machine, where foot soldiers with bomb shock is given this therapy until they are “cured” only to be able to return to the field.

This film serves as a interesting adaptation of Pat Baker’s novel of the same name. Most definitely worth the watch!

Want to read more on Regeneration/Behind the Lines? Try these…

NYTimes: Regeneration

A.V. Club: Regeneration

ReelViews: Regeneration

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)… Or we have shepherd’s pie peppered with actual shepherd on top. And I’ve just begun. Here’s the politician, so oily it’s served on a doily, have one.

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Sweeney Todd

IMDB rating: 7.5

My rating: 8

IMDB link: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Dearest Reader,

Much has been said over the years about the Burton-Depp-Bonham Carter trio that it feels almost redundant making any mention of it again… But the magic that they create together cannot be understated and, to me, it reaches a climax with this dark musical.

The character Sweeney Todd first appeared in a penny dreadful circa 1846. The equally intriguing character of Mrs Lovett also originates from the same penny dreadful. According to Wikipedia “[T]he tale became a staple of Victorian melodrama”. This Burton adaption is, of course, a musical.

Not only does one get to see Johnny Depp play another of his caricatures (and this time round the grotesquely bloodthirsty Sweeney Todd does not disappoint), he is supported (and in some ways overshadowed) by the talented Helena Bonham Carter. Watching this film in 2014, one realizes that Sacha Baron Cohen plays his role just as brilliantly, and that this film is most likely the reason he and Helena was cast as Monsieur and Madame Thénardier in Les Misérables.

Although the setting and the feel of the film is distinctly Burtonesque, to me, the Gothic Victorian world that Burton creates for these characters is truly seminal in his oeuvre; as far as his non-animated films go. Somewhat reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow this film adds a decadence to the highlighted dark Victorian that adds another dimension to the film altogether.

I always get a lot of criticism when I mention this at dinner parties, but although Johnny Depp is extremely talented in playing caricatures, I prefer him playing more ‘realistic’ characters (I believe that his best role is Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow) as I believe that requires more talent. But this is most definitely the only way in which I criticize the film, and it is not even true criticism, only a personal opinion.

Want to read more on Sweeney Todd? Try these…

rogerebert.com: Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).

REVIEW: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)… My mental impressions are cloudy. Are they cumulus clouds or cirrus?

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MagicintheMoonlight

My rating: 8

IMDB rating: 6.9

IMDB link: Magic in the Moonlight

Dearest reader,

I have never made any secret of the fact that I adore Woody Allen. I believe him to be one of the only true geniuses of our time. But what is it about him that I find so great? Is it his narcissistic wit? His ability to write the perfect female roles? His love for spaces and cityscapes? His fascination with the magical? His eye for breathtaking cinematography? Or just merely the fact that he can write, direct and star in his own film and it would still be great?

Yes, all of the above! And all these things are once again evident in Magic in the Moonlight. Colin Firth as Stanley is Allen reincarnate with his cynic attitude, his clever wit and borderline Oedipal-complex. Every shot he takes of Emma Stone as Sophie, underlines her youthful, natural beauty. She is also a strong character and in one or two ways even stronger than Stanley.

Beside the beautiful shots of Provence and the two of them driving through the majestic countryside, there is an amazingly beautiful scene in the observatory. Stanley opens the roof and the two of them just bask in the moonlight.

This is not the first time that Allen had opted to delve into the magical. For example in Scoop he himself plays a magician and again the theme of trickery is prominent. Illusions are another form of trickery that Allen investigates and which is also seen in this film.

The film definitely contains some of the traditional RomCom characteristics, which does add a certain charm to the film, but in true Allen fashion, he never succumbs to sentimentality or over-acted happy endings with no artistic support.

Is it Allen’s best film? No. Is it worth a watch? Yes, even if you are an Allen newbie, you will love this gentle comedy about the trickery of life and love.

Want to read more on Magic in the Moonlight? Try these…

Magic in the Moonlight – A Fairly Incoherent Review.

WOODY ALLEN REVELS IN THE MAGIC OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA.

Why watching Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” made me ask: “Do I sound like that?”.

Manhattan (1979)… “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics”

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Manhattan

My rating: 8

IMDB rating: 8

IMDB link: Manhattan

Dearest reader,

Make no mistake- I love Woody Allen! I believe him to be one of the greatest directors of our time. Furthermore, looking at the way that he revolutionised not only comedy, but the cinematographical representation of the city, his impact on film will still be felt for a while to come.

As the poster shows, the movie contains one of the most iconic images in cinema. Manhattan is shown through Allen’s dorky, in this case black and white, lenses. His love for the Big Apple is more apparent than ever!

Allen explores not only the romance of the lead characters, but also the romance of the city. This romanticising of New York City is emphasised by Allen’s decision to film the movie entirely in black and white. The use of lighting, together with the black and white leaves the film with a romantic glow, which causes the viewer to see New York exactly as Allen does.

Besides the cinematography, the movie contains Allen’s usual blend of romance and comedy. Pairing, again, with the enigmatic Diane Keaton and young Meryl Streep, Allen plays the divorced and out-of-work television writer Isaac. Woody Allen has been criticised time and again for his narcissistic, cynic male leads. Although Isaac reminds one a lot of Alvy from Annie Hall, there is still a certain kind of romanticism to Manhattan that Annie Hall lacks.

Allen’s later films Midnight in ParisTo Rome with Love and even Vicky, Cristina Barcelona are as much odes to cities that Allen has fallen in love with as Manhattan or New York City was his first big love.

What really makes Allen’s earlier films unique is the evolution of Allen’s own personal style of comedy that can so clearly be mapped and that has become so iconic. It is not only his very dry sense of humour, or his almost existentialistic view on life that separates him from the rest, it is the combination of all these elements together with the detailed feminine roles that he writes and his separation from really obvious humour (that has become so popular nowadays).

This is most definitely my favourite Woody Allen film. Although I have not seen all of them, I believe that this film is such a visual and comedic treat that everyone will be able to take something beautiful from this movie.

Want to read more on Manhattan? Try these…

Manhattan (1979) Woody Allen.

Review: Manhattan (1979).

Movie Review: Manhattan (1979).

Greatest Directors: Woody Allen; Part 7: Manhattan (1979).

Annie Hall (1977)… “Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat… college.”

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Annie Hall

My rating: 10

IMDB rating: 8.2

IMDB link: Annie Hall

Dearest reader,

Alvy Singer: [addressing the camera] There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly. The… the other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,” and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.

 I am starting and ending this post with quotes from the film, because I wish that I could memorise every single thing that is said in this film seeing that it is so honest and endearing that it speaks to both the neurotic and romantic inside of you.

You know how you read about a film again and again, and you just convince yourself that it simply cannot be as good as they make it out to be? Well, this film is nothing like that! I have been a Woody Allen fan from the first time that I saw Midnight in Paris. I fell in love with the way he not only sees the world, but with the intellectuality he uses to approach subjects such as love.

Then with his films To Rome With Love and Fading Gigolo I saw more of the original Woody Allen wit and I was mesmerised! Gathering up all my courage, I set out to watch Woody Allen’s most famous film and it made my year!

Relationships are hard, this Allen underlines again and again, and when you find that special somebody you have to hold on, right? What if you can’t? My favourite modern English writer, Elizabet Gilbert, says (describing soulmates): “A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.” 

That, for me, is the case with Alvy and Annie. They are a perfect fit; Alvy opens Annie up intellectually, while Annie works on Alvy’s narcissism. The un-chronological timeline supports this idea that although you can see these two people are a good match, you know that on some level they are disconnected- the one always expecting more than the other one is willing to give.

I think that it is often true, and the film also speaks about this, that on a subconscious level we believe that our significant other should either make our faults disappear or overshadow them with their own good attributes. In reality, a relationship highlights our bad qualities, just as Alvy gets more neurotic and Annie gets more ditsy.

While giving the account of this (failed?) relationship, the camera often turns to Woody Allen where he addresses the audience directly. He pleads with them to understand, to get them on his ‘side’. Still, and that is how brilliantly the movie is made, you know the pleading is useless. You know he only has himself to blame and although the story is told from his perspective, he gives a very objective overview of the relationship.

I can understand why some people do not like this film. It speaks to a lot of the really personal things one experiences in a relationship and how you usually want a film like that to end is with a massive declaration of love, but that is not life. Most probably one will agree to stay friends and not see one another for years thereafter, but their impact will remain bigger than any of those that comes before or after them.

Alvy Singer: I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.

Want to read more on Annie Hall? Try these…

Roger Ebert: Annie Hall

Review: Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s Best Movie Ever.

Annie Hall.

Annie Hall ★★★★.

Annie Hall (1977).

Revolutionary Road (2008)… “I saw a whole other future. I can’t stop seeing it.”

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Revolutionary Road

My rating: 8

IMDB rating: 7.4

IMDB link: Revolutionary Road

Dearest reader,

Someone once said that it is expectations that kills love. We expect certain things from one another and when those expectations are not fulfilled, it is the disappointment that drives us apart. The crazy thing is that we do not always tell those we love, the things we expect from them, we expect it and in turn feel disappointed without ever disclosing to our loved ones the reasons. To me, this is exactly what this movie is about.

It seems that starting out April and Frank expected a certain kind of life from one another. While April wanted to live by the truth, Frank was not really bothered by the fact that his life was continuing in a very monotonous manner. Because of their children they moved to the suburbs, and there they continued being the normal, everyday suburban family.

For April this was simply unbearable. Most of us are brought up believing that we are special, unique and falling into that ‘normality’ can literally be a death sentence. But (luckily) not all people are the same, for some monotonous provides safety, stability and peace of mind, as it seem to do with Frank.

By this, I am not implying that he was not excited by the Paris-plan, what I am trying to say is that deep down, he was satisfied with the ‘normality’ of his suburban life (working in the city, having a form of outlet in the shape of his extramarital affairs). The excitement he felt over Paris, to me, is rather an excitement over his wife’s changed state of mind at her prospects of moving to Paris.

But there is also a certain amount of entrapment in the relationship itself. Although April feels trapped in her ‘normal’ life and Frank is trapped by his wife’s deteriorating state of mind, they are both trapped by the relationship. Now, having realised their differences and their disappointments because of their expectations which were not met, they are trapped in the ruins of their marriage by a love that is no more.

The other very interesting ting to me about this film, is the actors. There is a kind of intertextual brilliance to using Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, the darling couple from Titanic. It begs the question, what if they (Jack and Rose) had been placed in 1950 America, against a melodramatic background, would their love have survived? Would they have been happy? At one point April says… You’re just some boy I met at a party, another reference to this perhaps?

But what would be the point of such an intertextual reference? I think that the director is making a comment on the state of love, or the condition of love or maybe even the modern conception of love as portrayed by the visual media. We often think that if only Jack had survived they would have lived happily ever after, but we never think about the larger implication of marriage, the influence of external circumstances and the predicaments that comes with child rearing. Therefore I think that using these two actors as a way of commenting on the perception of ‘love conquers all’ is quite a strike of brilliance.

An amazing movie that questions love, marriage and expectations within a relationship, starring two brilliant actors.

Want to read more on Revolutionary Road? Try these…

Roger Ebert: Revolutionary Road 

The Guardian: Revolutionary Road

Rolling Stone: Revolutionary Road

 

Venus in Fur (2013)… “The Almighty Lord smote him, and put him in the hands of a woman”

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Venus in Fur

My rating: 9

IMDB rating: 7.2

IMDB link: Venus in Fur

Dearest reader,

If anyone ever tries to tell you that Roman Polanski is not a genius, you should leave the conversation immediately- out of principle!

With this film Polanski once again proves that he is the master of space. Earlier this year, I wrote about his film Carnage which is also an adaptation of a play, as Venus in Fur is. And in both these films, Polanski makes use of a single space. In Carnage he crams four people into an apartment and watch as the sparks fly, but with this film he plays the only two actors on a stage (both a physical and psychological stage) and watch as they blur the lines between fiction and reality as they perform.

For whom do they perform you may ask? Well, that is exactly what makes it so interesting. At first it seems that Vanda is acting for Thomas, later as Thomas becomes infatuated with her it seems as if he is performing for her, but all the while they are performing for us, the viewers.

But this is not merely just the act of assuming a role and being placed opposite another character. Under the cover of Victorian propriety, the play that Thomas has written (adapted) comments on gender roles, although he tries to deny it.

Subtly his own sexuality is questioned, throughout, as he subjects himself to Vanda- becoming her slave. Although Thomas constantly thinks he has the upper hand, Vanda proves him wrong by rewriting his play, by having him question his sexuality and by ultimately transforming him into a woman and by offering him at the phallic.

Vanda also undergoes a transformation. She transcends from actor to script writer to woman to ‘madame’ to ‘mistress’ to ‘goddess’. In the end she assumes an almost daemonic-like state, emphasising the fact that we are actually dealing with different parts of Thomas’ psyche or his consciousness. Vanda, and her transcendent identifications or personalities, are nothing more than Thomas’ anima.

Vanda, who in the end appear to him, almost dream-like or as in a vision, to me, emphasise the fact that most of this is probably only happening inside of Thomas’ head. She is a manifestation of his own collective unconscious. And as he comes to terms with his own sexuality, he is transformed into a woman and Vanda gives him the collar- showing his subjection to the feminine, to his anima.

An amazing film, that is easy to enjoy without the deeper nuances. The actors are brilliant and the director, legendary.

Want to read more on Venus in Fur? Try these…

Venus in Fur: When Conversation Itself Was Erotic.

Venus in Fur: The Film.

Venus in Fur, Film. Review. The Limits of Masochism..