All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) Film Review

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I vaguely recall reading All Quiet on the Western Front as a set text in high school. Year 8, or perhaps Year 9. I don’t remember a lot of it, but that it was a classic that showed the horrors of trench warfare. That and the horses dying. This interpretation is from 1930 – what an interesting. Pre-WW2, during the Great Depression. The story is that of German soldiers during the trench warfare of the Great War. It follows Paul Baumer, whose entire class is encouraged to sign up and be heroes by their teacher, but as the film goes on, he becomes cynical and broken.

As with most films of this era, the acting is very over-the-top compared to what we are used to, with more melodrama than realism. If you watch the film with the eyes of a modern audience, the emotional scenes (such as those in the hospital, or with Paul Baumer in the trench overnight with a slowly dying enemy soldier) are cheesy and unrealistic. It is extremely important to view it as it would have been presented at the time.

One part of the film that is still as powerful now as it must have been then is the unrelenting fighting scenes. They are loud, fast but very, very long. It’s been a while since I saw Saving Private Ryan, but I recall the beach landing scene at the start being a long, unrelenting scene of a similar style (although with far superior technology). Interesting to think that such powerful moments could be created seventy years over eighty years ago. This film was part of the third Academy Awards. That’s pretty amazing.

All Quiet on the Western Front won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Lewis Milestone) and was nominated for Oscars for Best Writing, Achievement (George Abbott, Maxwell Anderson, Del Andrews) and Best Cinematography.

Marty (1955) Film Review

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Marty (Ernest Borgnine) is a 34-year-old butcher plagued by his singledom. His mother, his customers, his friends all ask whether he is ashamed to be single, with his younger brothers married and happy. One night, despite his reluctance, he goes to the dance hall where he meets Clara (Clara), a teacher who has been abandoned by her blind date because she is such a ‘dog’ (as he keeps reminding her).

The basic story is quite nice; unhappy single man hassled by all around him ends up finding love by lowering his standards. Oops, did I mean that? The fact is that Clara was very pretty, but a little quiet and shy. But Marty is so annoying. At the start, I felt sorry for him, searching desperately for love but never finding the right one. Then he started talking to Clara, and he drove me nuts.

I wonder about other films of the time – Marty was very much about Italian-American families in contemporary, urban life.

Marty won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Ernest Borgnine), Best Director (Delbert Mann) and Best Writing, Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky) and nominated for Oscars for Best Actor is a Supporting Role (Joe Mantell), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Betsy Blair), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Black-and-White.

All About Eve (1950) Film Review

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Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is the star of the New York stage. When seemingly sweet and innocent Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) appears, she is taken under the wing of Margo and all those around her; her director and boyfriend Bill (Gary Merrill), playwright Lloyd ( Hugh Marlowe), Lloyd’s wife and Margo’s best friend, Karen (Celeste Holm), producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff) and theatre columnist Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). But as her star begins to shine, it becomes apparent that the seemingly sweet and innocent Eve may have had a hidden agenda from the start.

I kind of understand why some people don’t like watching black and white films. Acting and film have changed a lot over the years. It was still early times. Acting was less naturalistic, and the style of film was more obvious to ensure that everyone followed the story. By the very nature of being immersed in motion pictures and television from a young age, we are more mature viewers. But it is wrong to dismiss old films altogether. All About Eve is marvellous regardless of how different it is to today’s films. Just seeing the hard-living Bette Davis strutting her stuff is worth it.

Hugo (2011) Film Review

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Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives about the Paris train station, hiding from the evil Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), watching and stealing small parts from toy booth owner Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) and rebuilding the automaton his father (Jude Law) was fixing before he died. Before long, Hugo befriends the god-daughter of Georges Melies, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and they embark on the adventure of finding what the world hold, and what place they have within it.

It’s a sweet little story, tying in with some of the real history of cinema, but it just didn’t win me over. Why, I wonder? The story and characters were strong, and it was certainly beautiful. Perhaps it was the acting.  I felt that the young lead was doing far too much eyebrow and mouth acting, like Daniel Radcliffe throughout the Harry Potter films. I think when you see films with amazing child actors, you know that there is better than this. I really had very little interest in what happened to Hugo, and I guess that is pretty important to the film. I think there was also the element of brushing over the ugly side of life; yes, the orphans were captured by the evil Station Inspector, but I didn’t feel the fear that they were trying to portray here.

Hugo won Oscars for Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Achievement in Sound Editing, Best Achievement in Visual Effects and Best Achievement in Art Direction. It was nominated for Oscars for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing (Martin Scorsese) Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay (John Logan), Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in Costume Design and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score.

Amadeus (1984) Film Review

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An elderly Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) sits in an asylum after attempting to take his own life. He has lived for years with the knowledge that he was behind the demise of one of the world’s greatest talents. Offloading to a priest, Salieri reveals that he,  thanks to divine intervention, became a composer, offering his music to God. When Mozart (Tom Hulce) arrives in Vienna, Salieri is excited to meet the great man who has been performing and composing across the continent since he was a small child. To his disgust, Mozart is a  repulsive man who adores drink, partying and will not kowtow to his superiors (perhaps because he does not believe he has any superiors).  Salieri attempts to ignore Mozart’s behavious, but finally takes action to rid the world and his own life of this repulsive genius.

I can never get sick of this film. Truly, it is a marvellous work of art. I hope to see it performed as a play one day, but in the meantime, I could watch this again and again. The story itself is spectacular –  ambition, betrayal, religion, sex, alcohol. As  a work of art created in the eighties, this holds up beautifully. The only thing which dates it slightly are the Billy Idol style wigs that the young composer wears, but that is total and utterly nit-picking.

Amadeus won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Lead Role (F. Murray Abraham), Best Director (Milos Forman) Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Peter Shaffer), Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound and Best Make-up. It was nominated for Oscars for Best Actor in  a Lead Role (Tom Hulce), Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing.

The Artist (2011) Film Review

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Presented as a silent film with musical accompaniment appropriate to the late 1920s early 1930s, The Artist tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), silent movie star who is not prepared to accept ‘talkies’. It is the story of a downfall, with Valentin losing everything; his fortune, his wife, his mansion and his self-respect. Luckily for him, before talkies came about, he embraced the career of up-and-coming actress Peppy Miller(Berenice Bejo). Seeing his downfall, she comes to his rescue – and rescues his career.

It is a very, very good film. There is a strong set-up and the plot takes a natural and logical path. Perhaps this is why I didn’t connect strongly with it – there was nothing unexpected or really all that interesting. The performances were fabulous – in particular Dujardun and Bejo as the two main silent movie actors. Hamming it up, even in real life. But for me, it was very much style over substance.

The Artist won Oscars for Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Directing (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Jean Dujardin). It was also nominated for Oscars for Best Achievement in Art Direction, best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Berenice Bejo) and Best Writing Original Screenplay.

The King’s Speech (2010) Film Review

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Prior to this film, I knew little to nothing about King George VI of England. I knew he was the current queen’s father and that he took the throne after his younger brother abdicated to marry his love, a twice-divorced American woman. Also, he was very well-loved. That was it. I didn’t know that he grew up with a terrible stutter, and struggled to make it through public speeches. This film tells the story of the time leading up to the abdication, when ‘Bertie’ (Albert, later to become King George, played by Colin Firth) received treatment from an Australian practitioner based in Harley St, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

I have my usual issue with film representations of historical events, that being that I am left wondering how much of it is real, but I really should get over this. I am not intending to write a dissertation on the events of the monarchy in the lead-up to the Second World War. If I did, I’d use more reliable resources than a fictional film, regardless of how much it is based on fact. While this film is not a peer-reviewed document, it’s a darned good film.

The story is compelling and the characters totally engaging; that a grumpy man who sees himself as far above everyone else (after a lifetime of being told so) could possibly make for a compelling protagonist says a lot about the quality of the film. I have no doubt that I will watch this film again, and probably more than once. Not for a while, though.

The King’s Speech won Oscars for Best Achievement in Directing, Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Colin Firth) and Best Writing, Original screenplay. It was nominated for Oscars for Best Achievement in Art Direction, Best Achievement in Cinematography, Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Film Editing, Best Achievement in music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Geoffrey Rush) and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Helena Bonham Carter).

Ray (2004) Film Review

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Ray Charles was a huge success over many, many years in the music industry. He overcame poverty, blindness, racism and many years of drug addiction to gain and maintain his success. The film Ray covers his early years through to his time in rehab.

The film is structured with a variety of flashbacks and dreams where Ray is given advice from his mother on how to life a good and true life. At times, I found the flashbacks to be clunky and quite intrusive on the story. There is so much in the story, it could have easily just run chronologically  and been equally as engaging. Some filmmakers seem to think that they need to have twists or disjointed time to get the story across. Sometimes, they do, but sometimes it is really not needed. The life of Charles is quite interesting and inspirational, although I felt that the film ended just as we saw him overcoming his drug problems and I would have liked to see more of this. Than again, it was a very long film and so it probably just needed to end.

Ray won Oscars for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Jamie Foxx) and was nominated for Best Achievement in Costume Design, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Motion Picture of the Year.

Lincoln (2012) Film Review

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The American Civil War was a war to end slavery. That was the key issue, as was my understanding. The thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution made slavery in the United States illegal. These things happened around the same time; they were related to each other, but not actually connected. Who knew? Not me.

To be fair, I have very little knowledge of US history. There are some things I know, but a lot I don’t

The film Lincoln follows US President Abraham Lincoln in his second term as President as he and his colleagues work to get the amendment passed. It’s not a rip-roaring action flick – if you want to see a film relating to slavery that is, see Django Unchained. This is a political drama, and for that reason, it’s pretty slow-paced and borders on boring. What stops it from being boring? I think for me it was the fact this was such an important moment in the world, deciding on the level of humanity to be shown to a group of people. Yet, it was all decided in such a political way, with votes being bought with jobs and political promises. Politics – such a dirty business.

Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor notorious for his research into his roles, so I believe that he did a lot of work to bring Lincoln to life as much as possible. Still, I find it hard to believe that he walked with such an unusual gait – it made him look like some kind of a puppet, and really distracted me from the importance of the story at hand.

I felt as though the story structure was a bit misguided at times; for me, the story was the politics. There were other parts that were connected in some way, but not totally crucial that the story would not have suffered if they had been left out of the film. For me, the whole storyline involving Lincoln’s son, Robert, was not all that relevant. Of course, that would mean losing Joseph Gordon-Levitt from the cast, but it wasn’t the most exciting role anyhow. He’s done lots better.

Overall, I enjoyed the film, but I don’t think it was necessarily worthy of the many nominations it has received. I sometimes wonder if you get a cast like this with a story of such great importance to the US directed by Steven Spielberg and it would be considered wrong for it to not be nominated. Is this how awards work?

Daniel Day-Lewis has been nominated for a Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, won the a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and won the BAFTA for Leading Actor

Tommy Lee Jones has been nominated for a Best Actor Supporting in a Supporting Role Oscar, a Golden Globe for Best Performance of an Actor in a Supporting Role, and was nominated for a BAFTA for Supporting Actress

Sally Field has been nominated for a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar, a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture and was nominated for a BAFTA for Supporting Actress

Janusz Kaminski has been nominated for an Oscar for Cinematography, was nominated for a BAFTA for Cinematography

Joanna Johnston has been nominated for an Oscar for Costume Design and was nominated for a BAFTA for Costume Design

Steven Spielberg has been nominated for an Oscar for Directing, a Golden Globe for Best Director – Motion Picture

Michael Kahn has been nominated for an Oscar for Editing

John Williams has been nominated for an Oscar for Music (Original Score), a Golden Globe for Best Original Score – Motion Picture and was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Orginal Music

Lincoln has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Film, an Oscar for Best Production Design, a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, was nominated for a BAFTA for Production Design

Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins have been nominated for an Oscar for Sound Mixing, was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Film

Tony Kushner has been nominated for an Oscar for Writing (Adapted Screenplay), a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay – Motion Picture and was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Adapted Screenplay

The Help (2011) Film Review

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It’s the 1960s and Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) has returned to her home in Jackson, Mississippi after completing college. She takes a job at the paper writing a cleaning column, however having had a maid throughout her life, she needs help. Enlisting the assistance of one of her childhood friend’s maids, Aibileen, she becomes aware of the attitude of the rich, white families to their staff. Surreptitiously, she collects the stories of the maids which is published in a book that becomes a best seller, but which promises to shock all of Jackson.

It’s a good film. (I’ve heard that the book is marvellous, and someday, I will get to that). It has heart and struggle. Look, I’ve seen a lot of films that tell stories of the deep south prior to the civil rights movement, and this isn’t one of the most hardhitting. It’s entertaining and it tells a good story. Does it need to be more than that?