cinema

Five Favourite Films

As someone who claims to like cinema (sometimes arguably too much), I always come up embarrassingly short whenever I am asked my favourite films. So here are five favourite films (and then some) for me to frantically refer to on my phone next time the question is asked.

Rebecca, dir. Alfred Hitchcock

If the unfortunate majority of the world didn’t hate horror, and the unfortunate majority of horror films weren’t awful, scary cinema would form 90% of my recommendations. I love to be scared. In lieu of properly horrifying recommendations  Hitchcock will have to do, an undisputed king of making you feel afraid. And although Rebecca unlike Psycho is more of a slow-burning thriller than an outright horror film, I actually think it does its job of terrifying a lot of better than his more famous screamers. Based on one of my favourite ever novels and part of Hitchock’s love affair with adaptations of Daphne Du Maurier, that creeping fear of people past and present translates perfectly from page to screen.

I love Hitchcock, and to be honest I rate Vertigo, Dial M For Murder and Rear Window just as highly. (Not The Birds though. The Birds is bad.)

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The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson

This isn’t necessarily my favourite Wes Anderson film, but all Wes Anderson is fabulous so it seems as good a place to start as any. Colours, actors, whimsy, humour – he’s got it all, and he also still shoots on film but in the least dogmatic way possible:

“In a year, in two years, I don’t know if it will be a reasonable option to shoot on film. Sometimes I see a movie now that is shot digitally and I don’t even know. I am interested in all different kinds of filmmaking. I don’t know if I see something slipping away. There are lots of very strong-minded, personal filmmakers and they will always do what they believe in.”

(Source)

Three Colours: White, dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski

French and Polish cinema are my all-time faves, and Kieślowski combines both in his Three Colours trilogy of fab cinema. Three Colours: White is the one I have been drawn back to again and again, a strangely sympathetic tale of loss and revenge set between Paris and Krakow. It is understated and beautifully shot, and has more in common than a language with one of my favourite pieces of cinematography of all time, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida. Like Fish Tank’s Andrea Arnold, Pawlikowski lifts non-actresses off the street to find the most magnetic faces out there, and by gosh it works well. (Seriously, every frame is gold.)

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Samsara, dir. Ron Fricke

Samsara is a non-narrative documentary film about nature, humanity, life, the universe and everything etc etc, and that may not sound tempting but it is life-changingly excellent. My hard-of-hearing aunt and I stumbled across it at the amazing Eye cinema in Amsterdam, as a conveniently dialogue-free viewing option. It has soaring images and a soaring soundtrack, and I recommend it and its prequel Bakara as feasts for the eyes and the mind. They examine the ways – good and AWFUL – that humans interact with the planet in a refreshingly un-didactic manner – this is no An Inconvenient Truth.

(For watching on as enormous a screen as possible.)

Mean Girls, dir. Mark Waters

I don’t care what you think, I don’t care, this is probably my no. 1 film of all time.

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Fear Itself

8397086166_552e46a6f8_o (1)“Time after time I never see fear coming till it swallows me whole”

I love horror films. I’ve loved horror films ever since I watched The Ring age 9 and had to sleep with the light on for a month. My next door neighbours and I used to descend on our local Blockbusters every weekend and stalk the aisles in search of the DVDs with the scariest covers – checked out by my father, obviously. Movie-rental stores were a defunct concept by the time we looked anything close to R-Rated age. We sat in their cellar under a pile of duvets, screen barely visible through gaps in our fingers, listening to our hearts beating their way into our mouths as the camera slowly pans around a darkened room; the heroine painfully rounds a corner; the hero twists a key in a lock. Because it’s that excruciating second right there – not the moment when the music crashes and the protagonist’s screams are drowned out by your own – but that preceding eternity in which every muscle in your body is coiled like a spring and your breath and heart are frozen in your chest. That is the true Nirvana of horror cinema.

“When you only have so much to go on, you tell yourself the worst story you can possibly imagine.”

Those neighbours have since moved away, the B and the K have fallen off the empty Blockbusters store, and I’ve yet to find anybody who will sit through a horror film with me. People just don’t seem to like being terrified half as much as I do. I’m asked by everyone from my housemates to my other half how I can possibly enjoy being scared witless time and time again – because it really is the fear that I enjoy, and not the more absurd trappings of horror films that suck me in. I don’t keep coming back for more because I find them funny; I don’t love to laugh at the special effects and the absurd overacting (as prevalent as these are in both the modern and the old-school). It’s because I love the feeling of fear. I sometimes try and explain my desire to live in fear as similar to people who love roller coasters or extreme sports: pushing yourself to the limits of physical and emotional feeling and seeing how you react. Isn’t it only in moments of extreme fear or panic, buzzing off adrenaline and shaking head to toe that you know who you really are? Unless you’re a soldier or a Ghostbuster (or possibly a parent), there are very few moments in which you can claim to have been gripped by an overwhelming, all-encompassing, absolute fear. In my own life I can think of but two instances, discounting the artificially manufactured fear of haunted houses and horror films. It’s a visceral, physical rush that I find endlessly tempting to attempt to recreate. Putting on a horror film in full knowledge that those images will come back and haunt you when you’re alone in bed at night is effectively just taking that power in hand. Some people do drugs, some people jump out of planes, some people watch The Descent and lie awake every night for a month. It’s empowering; it’s ridiculous.

“Maybe when we indulge the things that scare us we stop becoming the innocent victims of fear, and become co-conspirators.”

I don’t think scaring myself silly with horror films is something that I’ll tire of as I age – I think it’s about as likely as growing bored of love, ecstasy or grief. I’ll continue on my quest to convert people to the joy of the horror film, even if current horror seems to be 90% torture porn and Blaire Witch found footage rip-offs (go back to Hitchcock, Italian black and whites, The Babadook – BE PROPERLY TERRIFIED). Because we may all be scared by different things, but the feeling of fear is something that we share, across cultures and across species. It is universal, it is primal, and it makes us feel alive.

“Over time you’d think that some kind of immunity would start to build up; but the effect is still just as strong as it ever was.”

(This was prompted by Charlie Lyne’s haunting BBC documentary Fear Itself, charting the history of horror films and the history of being horrified. It’s where I’ve pulled all the quotes from, and if you’re into horror it’s really worth a watch.)

PALO_ALTO

What a load of wank. In James Franco’s masturbatory ode to youth, weed, and partying it up with attractive high school girls, he’s  managed to make life imitate art onscreen with a sleazy Lolita love story starring himself as Humbert-the-gym-teacher-Humbert. Equipped with the perfect director to peddle his pretentious autobiographical tales of growing up in suburban California (in the form of the latest Coppola to network her way into the industry), the whole thing is so up its own arse it probably can’t even hear the indie synth soundtrack. Eff off Franco, no one likes you.

2/5

Sometimes I aggressively review films in 100 words, and sometimes I tone it down for other publications. You can check out my more measured review of Palo Alto on the Oxford Film Journal.

Fame and fortune

I spent September 2013 working on a film produced by Ealing Studios, which I’ll write more extensively about when it gets released. What I got out of it was an interesting taster of the film industry, a bunch of great photos and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the likes of Will Poulter and Alma Jodorowsky – but MOST importantly I managed to snaffle an IMDB credit. A huge victory because, as I always say, if the internet doesn’t recognise that it happened it clearly did not happen. I refused to drop the ball on this one; a friend acted as pianist hand double for the lead actress of the recently released Belle and received no credit recognition at all, despite a filming process rather less rewarding than scoffing complimentary lunches and occasionally papping Cara Delevigne in-between takes. So whilst revelling in my newfound showbiz fame and perusing this site full of my equals, I happened to stumble across my dad’s very incomplete IMDB page. Although he passed away two and a half years ago, during his film editing days he worked on a whole spread of projects, ranging from Inspector Morse to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to being Stanley Kubrick’s assistant for some unspecified amount of time. (Apparently he wasn’t very nice. Shocker.) But the credit that caught my attention and stirred up a long-forgotten memory was the rather less glamorous ITV series Bramwell, a show about a female doctor in 19th century London played by Jemma Redgrave, and all the challenges she faced.

My dad stopped working to look after me when I was about 8 or 9 (and our trusted nanny moved back to Ireland), but the industry being the STRESSFUL PLACE that I now recognise it to be, in the years preceding his work would sometimes come home with him. I must have been about 5 when one day I wandered into the sitting room to find him playing a soundless clip of a little girl crying on a loop. He told me that they hadn’t managed to get audio for this particular scene and that actors and crew members alike had been fruitlessly trying to provide the sound of a little girl wailing for days, and would I like to have a go? No, of course I would not like to have a go; I am five (or six, or something – whatever) and that is far too old to be voicing crying little girls, don’t be ridiculous. “But plenty of women much older than you have been trying to get this soundbite, couldn’t you please have a go and just see how it turns out?” No, absolutely not. “Go on, it’s really not that hard just give it a try, don’t be a spoilsport”, and so on and so on until I got so frustrated and enraged, as would happen time and time again in conversations with my father over the next decade, that I burst into tears, lamented how he could possibly be so awful, and stormed up to my room to curse the bloody mute little girl in peace. When I deigned to descend, the little girl was no longer mute but wailing incoherently in between hiccups of “nooooooo” that sounded very strangely familiar.

I don’t know if my father deliberately worked me up into a hysterical rage in order record the results, or just happened to have his equipment on whilst having a conversation with his daughter. I don’t suppose I shall ever know. I’m not sure whether I even made it into the final version – but having now experienced the pressure of both the tight-schedule film set and the over-stressed editing suite I can confidently say that I would almost certainly make my only child cry in order to stick to a deadline. So I look forward to seeing both my photography and my blurred figure as an extra in the background of several scenes in Kids In Love, but will also be sure to remember that it is not my first taste of showbiz glamour.

And tempted as I am to add Bramwell to my IMDB page, I’m not so sure that I got a credit.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

 

The-Secret-Life-Of-Walter-Mitty3Loathe as I am to criticise anything showcasing the delights of travel photography and Kristen Wiig, this film reminds me of Britney Spears circa-2007: sweet, beautiful, but a bit of a mess. Stiller’s latest go at directing is filled with breath-taking images and earnest stabs at making a point about life the universe and everything, but boils down to a mish-mash of sequences of disjointed if beautiful cinematography disguising a very run-of-the-mill romance plot-line. Somehow Mitty transforms from dull office worker into “Indiana Jones playing for the Strokes” in the clumsiest hour-long character development possible, and it just doesn’t quite work.

3/5

(Originally published over here)

 

Samsara

BP_POS_samsara_A3_1206I watched Samsara on a big screen, and it’s the only way to do it. The film is phenomenal. Beautiful, intelligent and eye-opening, full of sequences and stills that will stick in your head for weeks and a soundtrack that crosses every continent and back again. Ron Fricke has made a film about globalisation and culture that isn’t didactic but only breath-taking, making you stop and think while your mouth hangs open. Samsara is the best film I’ve seen all year and probably longer – and all without any dialogue at all. Amazing.

5/5

I watched Samsara at The Eye in Amsterdam, and this review is taken from my blog http://100filmsin100words.tumblr.com/ – it does exactly what it says on the tin.