Another Year – Review

Another Year  (7/10)

Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Jim BroadbentLesley ManvilleRuth Sheen

If you are familiar with Mike Leigh’s body of works, you’ll be familiar with the themes and the setting of this film. In fact, for the first few minutes you might even be thinking “Oh dear… Another Year, another Mike’s Leigh’s movie”. Then slowly this becomes something that somehow stays with you, especially, I suppose, if you are a slightly older person than I am. This is not only a film about relationships, but it’s a film about growing old and what relationship mean to a person who’s growing old. You’ve got the old happy perfect couple on one side of the spectrum, the old man who starts his day and ends his day by drinking a can of beer (and obviously has many of them in between), the ageing 40 something woman, who suffers from depression and her to drinks herself to the point of embarrassing herself all the time, you’ve got the recently widowed man whose life seems to have stop making sense since the death of the wife. Anyway, in other words, this isn’t a happy depiction of life: it is after all a Mike’s Leigh’s film. It’s a film about real life, about little moments, silences, gestures, little things. There are so big resolutions, no big twists, not a lot of character development, because after all in life we don’t really change much and the biggest twist one may have in his life over the course of one year, is that his or her car might have broken down.

A lot has been made about how Mike Leigh like to shoot his films (rehearsing for 6 months with the actors, letting them improvise  and basically writing down the script as he goes along). In this one he ended up dividing his film into 4 season and he gave each of them a different look and feel. Well, to be honest, there’s absolutely nothing new or original in that: summer looks shining and warm, winter is obviously grey, foggy and with muted colours, perfectly in keeping with the last chapter which is mainly about death.

The film is pretty slow and yet quite mesmerizing. The wonderful performances have a lot to do with the success of this film and I wouldn’t be surprise if I ended up seeing some of those names getting some sort of nominations at the BAFTA… You know those Brits, are so patriotic…

However I did find some of the dialogue a bit fake and forced (especially the scenes at the dinner table with the new girlfriend). Everybody is always waiting for somebody else to finish their sentence before speaking again during the busiest dialogue scenes. On the other hand, during the slower and more quiet scenes silences and awkward moments are stretched a bit too far. It didn’t quite feel right to me.

At the end of the day I couldn’t really help feeling that the film is a bit too indulgent in a few places and some of those scenes could have been trimmed a lot more in the editing (I suppose, that’s the danger of filming sequences in one very long take: there’s probably not a lot of coverage to shorten things with).

Critics have loved it, of course, and I can see why. This is the kind of film that stays with you… But really,  in a few years time will we go back to “Another Year” and watch it again? I don’t think so.

7/10

The Walking Dead (s01.e01)- Review

The Walking Dead

(Episode 1)  (7.5/10)

Created by Frank Darabont. With Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. First the early rumors from the States, then the massive adverts all around our underground stations, then we started to get bombarded by adverts on TV. FX clearly believe that this is going to be the next big thing on TV. And they’re not completely wrong…

There’s a lot to like and appreciate from this first episode and I am definitely going to mention all the things I love about it, but first, let me just talk about what I didn’t like, so that I can get it off my chest. Was it just me or the whole idea about somebody walking up in a deserted hospital, after a sort of coma to find out the world has been taken over by zombies is just absolutely identical to “28 days Later” by Danny Boyle? I was really shocked to find out similar it all felt (even the fact that Andrew Lincoln wakes up very very thirsty, just like Cillian Murphy did). I suppose the problem with doing anything about Zombies today is that we’ve seen so many of them over the years that the genre seems to be pretty exhausted.

Zombies are not as sexy as vampires, they don’t talk, most of the times they move pretty slowly and all they’re interested about is flesh. In other words, let’s face it: zombies are dead boring! Furthermore, after Shaun of the Dead it’s even harder to take them seriously.

(SPOILER ALERT) However “The walking Dead” does manage to bring back, not just the scary part of Zombies, but also that more poignant and sad side of them. Let’s all not forget who zombies are. They are first and foremost dead people, and not just anybody. They could very well be your recently deceased grandfather, or grandmother… or, like in this first episode, the recently deceased wife and mother. The scene where Lennie James tries unsuccessfully to shoot down his wife, is one of the highlights of the episode and one of the most heat-breaking. All of a sudden you can see the potential of a series like this. It might even became a sort of cross between Six Feet Under and A Zombie movie.

Technically, we are really into feature film territory here. There’s nothing that says TV to me, unless we consider TV like the more refined brother of cinema (at least when it comes to series like the West Wing, Six Feet Under, The Wire, 24, Dexter and so on), in which case, this is really like the best TV can be.

The photography is excellent, the camerawork really impressive and so are the special effects, the make up and the stunts.

I really loved how the music was really spare in this episode (this is actually a trade-mark on AMC, I’ve noticed). We are so used to hear music pretty much back to back in these sort of films, that it’s a big relief to find something so brave, competent and sure of its own merits that it refuses to fall into that usual trap of music overload.

The silence in those hospital corridors, along those empty streets, during those darkest nights, it all works perfectly and it enhances the eerie mood and uneasy feel that permeated the whole hour or however long this first episode was.

We’ve seen very little of all the other actors in the series, a part from our hero Andrew Lincoln and the already mentioned Lennie James. They are both very good indeed and I am looking forward to seeing where it all leads to and how their characters will evolve

So, to wrap it all up, though not completely original the series seems to walk through a path which is somehow fairly familiar and yet it is all so handsomely done that I really want to be patient and give it the benefit of the doubt. I shall definitely be watching the second episode and unless that is a complete disaster I’ll carry on till the end.

AMC has really put a lot of money in this series and it shows. The production values are all there on the screen. After their incredibly good work on series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Rubicon, they have all my respect and my trust. The least I can do for them is to give them an hour of each week for the next five weeks.

Looking forward to seeing how it all pans out.

7.5/10

Click here to read the review of  EPISODE 2

Click here to read the review of EPISODE 3

Back to the Future – 25th Anniversary

It’s hard to write a review about a film that’s so much-loved and regarded by pretty much everyone as a modern classic, without sounding too obvious or even without upsetting somebody out there. So for the time being I might just start to talk about the first 5 minutes of this undisputed classic. More than a review, this is really just an excuse to talk about one of my favourite films. And what better excuse to do that if not its new release on Blu-Ray for its 25th anniversary?

So, inspire by the recent BBC “Film 2010” item, I am going to re-visit “Back to the Future” to try to understand what makes those films such undisputed classics.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Michael J. FoxChristopher LloydLea ThompsonCrispin GloverThomas F. Wilson

Right from the very beginning of this film, in fact from the very first shot, you can tell that we are in the hands of somebody who knows exactly what film-making is: somebody who knows that film-making is about telling a story with pictures. And that’s exactly what “Back to the Future” does. The very first shot of the film is a clear example of certain type of story-telling that we are going to find throughout the whole film: a single tracking shot, moving through all the various clocks and inventions in the room, will not only tell us everything we need to know about Doc Emmet Brown but also will set up lots of clues and issues which will later become pivotal moments in the story. But I’ll get into that a bit later.

We can tell straight away that this is going to be a film about “time” as the camera travels through all the various clocks in the room. We can tell that the person who works or lives here is must be a rather eccentric person, maybe an inventor or some sort of scientists. The pictures on the walls, the framed newspaper articles, the mad inventions. No need for dialogue: pictures tell a thousand words.

I love the subtlety of the details hinting at the various plot points that we’ll later find out in the film. This is so typical of Back to the future. it is something that permeates the whole film, right from the start. Watching this particular shot (well, in fact, the whole film) is even more enjoyable the second time around (…or third, or fourth… Or like me, the erm… not quite sure actually: I’ve lost the count a long time ago).

And so we hear the TV announcer talking about the missing plutonium, the clock with the little man hanging from one of the hands, the box of the plutonium itself at the end of this first very long track).

Even technically, the whole camera set-up is pretty impressive. Zemeckis is the master of these kind of one-take wonders and he’ll get them to perfection in later films such as “Contact” (with shots that go through windows or, like a particularly amazing one, through a mirror), but also “The Polar Express” and “Beowolf” where he was able to use the animation and create camera movements which would have been impossible on a real film.

As the film geek that I am, I’m always a bit annoyed by the cutaway of the dog’s food landing on Einstein’s bowl. Even though it works absolutely fine, it breaks the flow of that otherwise-perfect single take and it’s a shame. I’m sure they could have found another way to show us the bowl somewhere around the time when Marty comes in, keeping the one-take tracking shot unbroken.

Anyway, moving on, Michael J Fox, enters the scene. After the long first tracking shot, the pace gets a little bit faster in a succession of quick tight shots, as Marty plugs himself into the amplifier. Marty flies into the air, crashes into some shelves and finally reveals himself to the audience, as he takes off his ridiculously 80s glasses. What an entrance! I still remember watching this in a packed theatre and hearing the laughter from the audience at this point. The films really grabs you right from the start and it’s mainly because of Michael J Fox’s charm and his ability to be likeable (I can see why they decided to dump Eric Stoltz). And because of the deliberately slow first 20 minutes of the film, it is essential to have somebody like him as our main character. And we like him straight away. “Damn! I’m late for school!”. How can you not like him?

What this first shot manages to do is pretty much what the whole film does all the way through. It plants the seeds for things that will get resolved or explained later on, setting you up for a big payoff or simply just joke.

This is the strength  of “Back to the Future”: its perfectly constructed script. Nothing is there by mistake: if an uncle being in prison get quickly mentioned, it’s because later on we’ll see it as a baby inside a little cage. If  we see a poster of a black mayor on the side of a van, it’s because we will get to meet him as a young person later on. I could go on mentioning all the little details that pay off throughout the film and I’ll still be here tomorrow. There are just so many of them, just like those one liners which have become so much part of our popular culture:

“Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” “Dad… Dad… Daddy-o” “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.””I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it” “Great Scott!” “EIGHTY-EIGHT MILES PER HOUR” “1.21 GIGAWATTS!!”, “The Flux Capacitor”, “Hey McFly”, “Hello? Hello? Anybody home?…” “Lou, get me a milk, chocolate!”, “My density has popped me to you.”, “Calvin Klein”

I mean… I could probably go on forever! In a way, the whole damn script is quotable today (In the BBC Film 2010 video above, they do a nice little montage of some of the famous one liners”).

I hear that the script is used all over America in lectures on how to write the perfect script. Whether it’s true or not, it makes perfect sense.

I’ll finish off the little “review” of the first 5 minutes of the film by mentioning the song that kicks in once Marty jumps on his skate :”The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. Watching it then, at the time, back in 1985 when the Back to the Future was released, this song gave you just the right amount of energy that the film needed at this point, to lead you to the next few scenes. Watching it today, it’s like a blast from the 80s, in the best sense of the terms. Nowadays it’s impossible not to associate this song with the film, but also, it’s impossible not to think about the film thinking about or even humming this song. And just like the chicken and egg never-ending question, it’s impossible to think of one without the other.

There’s obviously a lot more to talk about in this film (and its sequels too): not just the fabulous Christopher Lloyd and the rest of the great cast from Crispin Glover, to Lea Thompson, to Thomas F Wilson, but also the amazing action scenes, the witty humor, the sharp editing, the make up and special effects, the twists, the skate boards… and of course “johnny B Good”.

But for now, let’s just leave it to that. If there’s enough interest I might carry on examining the rest of the 3 films.

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