Spotlight on Editing & Directing: Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987)

With its “body-horror” preoccupation, excessive violence, and tongue-in-cheek dialogues, RoboCop (1987) is a quintessential 1980s film, inspired by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and made on the back of the success of The Terminator (1984). There are many things that made it good, including its cinematography provided by Jost Vacano (Das Boot (1981)), its unusual director choice – Paul Verhoeven (who had to be persuaded for a long time to do this film), and the choice to cast lesser-known actors, but on some reconsideration, it is also clear that its editing (choice of shots and their sequence)/directing (position of shots) simply awe – these are the things of beauty in his film. In fact, RoboCop was nominated for film editing at the Academy Awards 1988, but, sadly, lost to Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor. This piece will contain spoilers.

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Film Scene Spotlight: Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata

This will be the first in my series of posts where I discuss individual scenes in films. Ingmar Bergman’s film Autumn Sonata [1978] centres on the relationship between a mother, a self-centred concert pianist Charlotte Andergast (Ingrid Bergman), and her already grown-up and married daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann). One of the greatest film scenes in history takes place at Eva’s home when Charlotte asks her daughter to play Chopin’s Prelude op. 28 no. 2 in A minor.

Ingmar Bergman was a master of showing repressed thoughts and desires on screen and, here, Ingrid Bergman’s silent performance conveys brilliantly all the hidden emotions and thoughts brewing inside the character. In those few minutes as her daughter plays the Prelude, Charlotte is “living through things”… What memories cross her mind at this moment? What turbulent feelings arise in her? As she patiently listens to this “imperfect” performance of her daughter, what “judgement” is she passing on it? Are there simply criticism, pity and disappointment or also guilt, and touches of love, kindness and pride? Probably all of the above. This scene displays the level of subtlety and psychological depth which is simply rare in cinematography, and Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman truly worked something magical here.

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Soviet Winter Animation: The Mitten (1967)

This sweet stop-motion animation from the Soviet Union titled The Mitten (“Варежка“) was directed by Roman Kachanov (director of The Mystery of the Third Planet (1981), but who also worked on such animations as The Snow Maiden (1952) and The Scarlet Flower (1952)). The 10-minute silent animation is about a girl who longs to have a puppy or a dog but whose family is against the idea. Although sad, she does not despair and in her childish make-believe world starts to pretend that her mitten is a little puppy, feeding it and participating in a dog competition. The girl’s touching devotion to her new pet is not lost on her mother.

Actor Spotlight: Montgomery Clift

Today, 17 October 2021, marks 101 years since the birth of American actor Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). This talented actor was a four-times Academy Award-nominee and is known for such films as The Search (1948), From Here to Eternity (1953) and Judgement at Nuremberg (1961). He often played smooth-talking, melancholy and mysterious men who rebelled against the establishment. Despite the immensity of Clift’s talent and charisma, however, Hollywood never seemed to know what to think of him and he was often portrayed “a black sheep” of the cinema business, a perpetually tortured soul who privately fought many mental and physical battles. Though never openly gay or bisexual, Clift always had his private life under wraps and struggled to fit into the image that Hollywood wanted him to fit into: the image of the Golden Boy who is after money, financial success and women. Though now often overshadowed by, and even compared unfavourably to, such cinematic icons as James Dean and Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift deserved and still deserves much more, especially since both of these actors looked up to Clift and was inspired by his image to forge theirs. Clift was one of the most talented American actors and, unfortunately, one of the most misunderstood ones, who valued the craft of acting above financial success or even critical/public opinion, who wanted desperately to retain his unassuming, independent and original inner core despite the environment that constantly wanted to mould him into something else, a Hollywood environment that favoured flashy displays of wealth, stereotypes and double-dealings. Clift’s story is as much a tale of one talented and intelligent actor following a tragic path as a story of Hollywood’s callousness and complacency.

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When Film Posters Mean Art: 10 Eye-Catching Alternative Designs

Designing film posters is an art in its own right and some films come up with rather ingenious ways to entice the public to watch their films. Cinematic fan art is also making some amazing contributions, and below I present ten film posters that have captured my attention recently; see also my posts Alternative Film Posters and “Minimalist” Film Posters, and for those who want to explore poster art in greater detail, I recommend this ten-minute lecture by James Verdesoto, film poster expert who designed that one famous poster for Pulp Fiction.

(i) I simply love how this clever poster to Michael Almereyda’s film Tesla (2020) both captures the character portrayed by Ethan Hawke and his distinguishable characteristics and says something about the main theme: electricity/electric power; (ii) I think the colour red suits this Amelie (2001) poster from Japan, hinting to us that the story will be all about eccentricities and passions, and we can’t wait to know more about adventures of this unusual character in the centre; (iii) I’m Thinking of Endings Things (2020) may have a story which suffers from lots of awkwardness and pretentiousness, but all of its posters is a thing of beauty. The poster to the very right designed by Akiko Stehrenberger is trying to bring out the psychological and otherworldly aspects of the film.

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Salvador Dalí-Disney’s Short Animation “Destino”

Destino is a Salvador Dali-Disney (John Hench)’s collaboration on an animation that first started in 1945 and only finished in 2003 when Walt Disney’s nephew Roy E. Disney found the unfinished project materials in 1999. The surrealist animation was eventually directed by Dominique Monféry, and the music was written by Armando Domínguez and performed by Dora Luz. The animation is one incredible beauty that mixes Dali’s artistic vision with Disney’s hand-drawn techniques, presenting such themes as the pains of lost love, dream-following and memories. Even if narratively difficult to grasp, the viewing experience is still more of a “deliciously enigmatic”, “soul-searching” one, rather than frustrating or unnecessarily confusing. Besides, Dora Luz’s soulful voice adds to it being rather touching and simply unforgettable.

Short Animation: My Love (2006)

Since my previous post was about Russian animations, I thought I would share this 2006 animation coming from Russia. My Love, based on a novella A Love Story (1927) by Ivan Shmelyov, tells of a sixteen year-old boy’s sexual awakening one summer in the nineteenth-century Russia. Longing for a “spiritual union” and “pure love”, the boy becomes torn between a young and pretty servant girl Pasha and an older and richer woman living next door. There are themes in this beautiful animation of the innocence of first love and the dangers of pursuing unreachable ideals. The animation comes from Aleksandr Petrov, previously known for The Old Man and the Sea (1999), and uses the same wondrous paint-on-glass-technique. Aleksandr Petrov’s work especially shines in the presentation of images that fuse reality and fantasy.

David Lynch: “Rabbits” (2002)

Rabbits is a series of short surreal films with the overall running time of forty minutes. It features three humanoid rabbits (two female and one male) in one single room. They sit on a sofa, enter and go out of the room, talk to each other and recite poetry. Through eerie music, rabbits’ nonsensical dialogue and strange visions, the viewers may discern that something truly unsettling has happened, is happening or is about to happen. Rabbits is a good example of a minimalist experimental short which uses the lightning, music and the theme of inexplicability to create feelings of uneasiness and barely perceivable fright. Here, inexplicability is key. Uneasiness lies in the inexplicability. Watching the film, the viewers may start pondering: “what is that?”, “what is happening?”, “what is the meaning of all this?” The meaning just about escapes us, even though we definitely sense that the three rabbits are being terrorised by something. The precise cause of what is going remains unclear and the underlying fear is transmitted to us through the specific “trigger words and phrases”, including “coincidence”, “a man in a green suit”, “I hear someone”, “It was red”, “We’re not going anywhere” and “I’m going to find out one day”. These words and phrases stand for some hidden distress. David Lynch proves once again that inexplicability and strangeness alone will sustain the interest.

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Alternative Film Posters

I would like to wish all my followers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (Let 2021 be a happier and less stressful year for all of us!); Below I am presenting some of my favourite alternative film posters, which also includes a poster to Home Alone, a quintessential Christmas film. Do you like “film art”? What are your favourite alternative film posters?

I. The “House Architecture” Posters

These are some of my favourite alternative film posters and they often get quite intricate. They work best when a story in a film revolves around one house, but also when there are “layers” to a film story, as in the case of Inception below.

Inception by Chris Skinner
Home Alone by Adam Simpson
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Maya Deren: Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Meshes of the Afternoon is a 1943 experimental film by Maya Deren. It is known for its sense of unease, eeriness and mystery – all accomplished using a minimum number of objects and a single location. In this 14-minute film, the most commonplace and everyday objects take sinister contours as the director plays impressively with dream and reality using repetition, silence, innovative camera angles and unexplained sequences. Meshes of the Afternoon undoubtedly influenced such directors as David Lynch (Mulholland Drive (2001) and Roman Polanski (Repulsion (1965)), and was a film ahead of its time.

Too Much “Let It Go” and Not Enough “I’m Sorry”? Disney’s Frozen (2013) Teaser Trailer Is The Definition of Plagiarism On Screen

Christmas is getting nearer, and I hope everyone is excited! People are probably also excited about Disney’s Frozen II, and, for those who do not know, I want to draw attention to the plagiarism case below, concerning the Frozen (2013) teaser trailer (the first video below) and the short animation titled The Snowman by independent animators Kelly Wilson and Neil Wrischnik (the second video below – access by following the link since it is imossible to watch it on WordPress)). This case was settled out of court in 2015. I previously talked in my review of Frozen about how the animation relied heavily on the conceptual story and character vision from Hans Christian Andersen’s tales (which is fine), as well as on the romance from Anastasia (1997) (which is also ok), but it seems that, from the very beginning, the Frozen franchise was off to a start that involved blatant stealing and zero acknowledgement. At the preliminary hearing, Judge Chhabria ruled that “the sequence of events in both works, from start to finish, is too parallel to conclude that no reasonable juror could find the works substantially similar“. With the world’s most creative brains at Disney/Pixar headquarters, they still could not come up with their own concept for a teaser trailer. The similarities are painfully evident, and if Disney did not think so, they would have battled it in court, rather than settling for an undisclosed sum to be paid to Wilson and Wrischnik. And, Wilson and Wrischnik were paid by Disney.

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Unpopular Opinion Tag (Films) II

Last year, in August, I posted a similar post – Unpopular Opinion Tag (Films), where I talked about three movies that people generally love, but I hated. Now, it is time to do a “reversal” post. Here, I will be talking about three films that people or critics do not like much, but I actually thought there was merit in them or things to love. I am choosing to write about Premonition (2007), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) and Joseph: King of Dreams (2000). Be warned, there may be some SPOILERS ahead.  

premonition-posterI. Premonition (2007)

IMDb score: 5.9; Rotten Tomatoes score: 8%. 

In 2007, Mennan Yapo shot this film starring Sandra Bullock, and, in my opinion, it does not deserve to be so unknown or all the negative reviews. The film is actually fascinating. It relies on a twisted Groundhog Day/Deja Vu (2006) concept to tell the story of Linda (Bullock), a wife and a mother, who finds her world turned upside down when she wakes up one day to learn that her husband is dead and another day – to find out that he is still alive. The truth is that her week-days do not follow the natural timeline, but are randomly emerging, and Linda has to find out how her new reality works exactly to possibly save her husband from a deadly car collision. The film is clever (in a way it is a brain-teaser), and it is very interesting to follow Linda on her journey. The film makes you want to pay attention to small details to find out how they may change the next day. The film may lack some fundamental logic and, definitely, plausibility, especially towards the end, but it is so atmospheric, many of its other faults could also be forgiven. It is atmospheric in a way every scene is filled with the feeling that something macabre or threatening is lurking in the background (some unseen force), meddling with the natural clock, and music and the involvement of children make the picture even eerier and more effective. Couple this with the exploration of the issues of sanity and grief, and a few nice “jumps”, and the result is strangely compelling. It may not be this great thriller, but it is good enough for repeated viewings and Bullock does a good enough job. 

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“The Handmaid’s Tale” Series Review

Handmaid's Tale Poster The Handmaid’s Tale [2017]

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” (Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985: 34) 

Humanity is so adaptable, my mother would say. Truly amazing what people can get used to as long as there are a few compensations.” (Atwood, 1985: 283) 

The 2017 dystopian web TV series is based on an award-winning novel of the same name written by Margaret Atwood in 1985. It is about a young woman, Offred, who recounts her time living under the totalitarian regime of Gilead, where women have few rights, and their main function is to reproduce in a controlled environment. Pronounced “a TV sensation” overnight, The Handmaid’s Tale had 10 episodes (although there is still Season II to come!), and starred such recognisable names as Elisabeth Moss (The Square (2017)) and Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love (1998)). This review will pay special attention to the film’s faithfulness to the original novel and to the philosophical ideas behind the story.       

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Plagiarism: Jean-Pierre Jeunet accused Guillermo del Toro of copying his scene from “Delicatessen” and his concept from “Amelie” for “The Shape of Water”

**SPOILER ALERT FOR THE FILM “THE SHAPE OF WATER”**

A number of newspapers and news sources reported that French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet accused Guillermo del Toro of copying one of his scenes from his movie Delicatessen (1991) for del Toro’s latest film The Shape of Water. Moreover, Jeunet accused del Toro of copying the character of Amelie from Amelie (2001) for The Shape of Water. In particular, there is a scene in Jeunet’s movie Delicatessen where Louison (Pinon) and Plusse (Viard) appear “dancing” to music while sitting on a bed. In The Shape of Water, the characters played by Hawkins and Jenkins also perform a step-dance while sitting on a sofa. As for Amelie, the French director claims that the concepts of a shy and naive girl, a painter and an apartment were lifted off straight from Amelie to make The Shape of WaterThe Mexican director defended himself by saying that it was Terry Gilliam who influenced both Jeunet and himself. 

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Darren Aronofsky is at it again…

Mother-Poster-Rosemarys_1200_1789_81_s-537x800   download

After making his Black Swan (2010) out of Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue (1997) (see my article on the topic here), Darren Aronofsky now seems to make his new film Mother! out of everyone’s much beloved horror classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The phrases “paying homage” and “drawing inspiration” really camouflage the lack of artistic ideas and originality, and it is a pity. More than a pity. If Aronofsky’s shameful Perfect Blue/Black Swan creation showed a deplorable disregard for another form of art, his now seemingly hybrid Rosemary’s Baby/Mother! monster confirms that there is really nothing sacred left when it comes to making new films in the 21st century.  And, even if Aronofsky’s new film Mother! will contain virtually nothing in common/ no similarities with Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the new poster to his film Mother! is really a step too far, and, surely, demonstrates the lack of basic artistic respect for the previous work of art. How hard is it really to make one’s own movie poster and restrain oneself from dragging the fans of Polanski’s masterpiece into your own money-making machine? 

Unpopular Opinion Tag (Films)

unpopular-opinionfilm-tagRichard at The Humpo Show has tagged me to get involved in this Unpopular Opinion Tag (Films edition), and I thought it would be great fun since I have to pick three films generally loved by most people, but which I find undeserving of all the hype and explain my choices. Thanks again, Richard!

In particular, the rules are as follows:

  1. Pick three movies which most people like, except you;
  2. Tag a minimum of five (or more) other people;
  3. Thank the person who has tagged you.

So, without further ado, I pick American Beauty (1999), Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Be warned, SPOILERS ahead

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“Minimalist” Film Posters

For awhile now I have been a fan of “minimalist” film posters. These are posters which show little details from films, but which often say a lot about a movie. They are frequently very simple, clever and creative. They are thought-provoking because most of them capture the very essence of a film and can distil a whole movie at a glance; a kind of “the fewer the words, the deeper the meaning” motto, but here, instead of the words, it is lines and presentation. Rich symbolism and double-meaning also sometimes form the essential part of them. Below are twelve of my favourite examples. Do you have a favourite “minimalist” movie poster? Warning, I do not own the images presented below, and some of them can reveal important PLOT TWISTS.  

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