You couldn’t ignore me if you tried

Thirty years ago today, The Breakfast Club met for detention.

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In honour of this gorgeous fact, I’m going to dedicate my afternoon to curling up with a cup of tea (or three) and basking in the gloriousness ’80s teen drama that is The Breakfast Club. And if you ask me, there’s no better way to spend a dreary Monday…

Blue Valentine, nobody baby but you and me

Like most females I know, if Ryan Gosling is credited to a film I’m drawn to it. Moth to a flame, red rag to a bull etc etc. But, unlike most of the other films he’s starred in over the past five years, I did have my reservations about Blue Valentine. Purely because it looked like an advert for the ‘all style and no substance’ movie movement. Even like something an art student has conjured up that’s designed to look pretty but not pack much punch besides that.

My initial reaction was, I don’t want anything to do with this. And stubbornly I  stuck with this stance for a good two years after it was first in cinemas.

Well trust me kids as important as it is to go with your gut instinct, but when it comes to movies it’s equally important to let your friends persuade you. After getting sick to death of my best mate harping on and on about Blue Valentine — and everyone reblogging stills and gifs from the movie on tumblr, I caved in. I caved in and loved every second of it.

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I felt such a fool — this wasn’t a pretentious attempt at creating a kooky movie about love, this was a no-frills story about emotion. Being the voyeur that I am, the opportunity to have an uncensored and unguarded glimpse into the lives of every day people is too good to pass up.

The film follows the evolution of Dean and Cindy’s relationship by cross-cutting from how they meet to them coping with the breakdown of their marriage. The cross-cutting is seamless and quite beautiful in how it weaves through their lives before and after they meet — especially when it effortlessly overlaps between the two time periods and they almost start to melt into one. This is something I appreciated even more the second (and third) time I watched it.

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My favourite thing about this movie is the direction — the way Cianfrance uses extreme close ups, often from awkward and unusual angles, at the most tense moments is what gives it its intense and claustrophobic feel. Which, of course, emphasises the stress in their fractured relationship. It makes for quite uncomfortable viewing, but in this context works well.

Their stay in the Future Room, with its sterile decor and blue hue, embodied the tension in their relationship  — and, it’s touches like this in a film that excite me. This part of the story was definitely hard to watch because you’ve got yourself front row tickets to the crumbling of what was once a beautiful and exciting relationship.

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The script is a dream — and trust me, it’s not your typical love story. It’s intelligent with warm moments, depressing scenes and genuine surprises. It will stay with you for a while, and give you plenty to gnaw over.

And as for my worry that it was going to be (a lot of) style over (little) substance, I was completely wrong. There is a lot of attention and focus over the overall image — and as a result it is a beautiful film, sometimes shot with soft focus and lighting that take away some of the hard edges of the story, that captivated me from the beginning.

And as for Ryan Gosling… Well, he was just an added bonus!

Breaking Bad all over again

Four episodes in and I’m thinking, why am I doing this to myself? I know what the final outcome is going to be, and I’m starting to feel like Devon Sawa in Final Destination if after he had the premonition of the plane bursting into flames and crashing he had decided to ignore it and stay on board instead of kicking and screaming his way off, only to watch it burst into flames from the comfort of the airport.

I finally joined the Breaking Bad fan club about two years ago after getting sick of my big brother nagging at me day and night to just please fucking watch it because you will love it. So, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and immediately, and somewhat appropriately considering the subject matter, became addicted. I flew through the first three series and then had to wait what felt like an agonising eternity for series four — and then ensure the excruciating wait for the final season, and of course THAT finale. Was it an incredible viewing experience? Absolutely. Was it a pleasurable viewing experience? Absolutely not!

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It was heartbreaking, stressful and overwhelming in equal measure. I felt sick and tortured for an hour each week, and longed to be put out of my misery — but most of all I was slung into a world of emotional trauma, and couldn’t believe how much my opinion on certain characters changed week by week. But, like all addicts, I kept coming back for more.

As much as it was a brutal assault on my nervous system, it was an experience I’ll never forget — and certainly became the drama I will measure everything else against forever more. From the acting to the writing to the cinematography, it was a delight. So, because of this I was dazzled into thinking I would want to watch it all over again — and so, naively, I bought the entire box set for my mom and dad for Xmas, because, like my brother, I was getting kinda sick of pleading with them to finally watch it.

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And, so here I am precariously teetering on the edge between the fourth and fifth seasons, wondering whether I can stomach it all over again. Mainly because the second time around I have been rooting for different characters from the start — and growing more deeply involved with their interests than before. I mean, I just want to reach through the screen and give Jesse a big hug and will him to get the fuck out of there before it’s, um, too late.

And mainly because, of course, I know what happens. I can pinpoint the moments it all went wrong and can only sit there watching through the gaps in my fingers, powerless to stop them spiralling towards their own demise. Nightmare.

It’s not all doom and gloom though — it actually seems funnier and this time round. Maybe because I’m not frantically stressing over ‘what ifs’ and can just grit my teeth and bear it (and try and remember it’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real), or maybe it’s because I’m not trying to follow the plot so I can just sit back and (sort of) relax. I appreciate Hank even more this time around — his own brand of offensive, tongue-in-cheek humour is slicing through some of the tension.

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Also, I’m not sure how because I’m usually pretty neurotic about it, but the first time around I must have missed the music. There were certainly moments — like the ‘clean up’ scene in the season four finale — where I honed in on a song and loved it, but for the most part it kinda passed me by. But this time, again probably down to the knowing the story part, I’ve been soaking it up way more. I even downloaded it all to listen to while running but it was just conjuring up too many harrowing images of torture, betrayal and addiction while I was pounding the pavements. Ha.

So aside from watching episodes from behind a pillow, and dreading certain upcoming moments I am a huge champion of the re-watch. In fact, I think every thing from TV dramas to movies should be watched at least twice. You discover something new the second time around — and you can appreciate the narrative arc and watch it develop much more clearly, because you aren’t focusing all your attention on wrapping your head round the plot.

That said, I guess I’m gonna have to walk the walk, suck it up and actually watch season five again  — I think I owe it to Bryan Cranston’s stunning acting, and Vince Gilligan’s beautifully troubled writing at the very least. Wish me luck.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Oh, Wes. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you — not just for your beautiful body of work, which in my opinion is faultless from beginning to end, BUT because your latest funfair of gorgeousness and gorgeousity has given me the chance to use my favourite word in the most appropriate context… E X Q U I S I T E.

Yep, that’s right. The Grand Budapest Hotel is just that, exquisite. The whole viewing experience is like bathing in a tropical waterfall of tinted pink water. I mean, it’s straight up luxury. But, also, like getting down and dirty in the shower it’s not prissy or pretentious.

The thing is, I’m such a compulsive, sloppy person — and terribly unorganised and messy, so on paper Wes Anderson is everything I stand against. I like gritty, gory and grimy. His films are precise, delicate and divine. Each frame is created with intricate detail and staging. And The Grand Budapest Hotel is the most incredible endorsement of his unique and beautiful style. But, for some reason I cannot get enough.

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His films are bulging at the seams with oddballs and bursting with visual delights. I lose count at the number of times I want to slam on the pause button and soak up a scene for a little while longer, and The Grand Budapest is no different. In fact, if it’s possible it’s ramped up the quirky factor by a few notches.

Anderson offsets his labyrinth of intricate cinematography with truly gritty, neurotic and unhinged characters. It’s such a beautiful juxtaposition and a masterclass in characterisation — and keeping the audiences attention. With an enormous ensemble cast to work with, you’d forgive him for slacking on some of them but everyone who walks onto screen is even more fantastic and bizarre than the one before. Genius!

This film is genuinely hilarious, too. I watched this movie in a packed-out cinema really late at night — which, by the way, is my favorite way to watch a film! — and all of us were cracking up and spluttering on our drinks the whole way through. But, with the laughs, there are a few jump-out-of-your-seat-and-spill-your-popcorn moments. But, I won’t spoil those for you by pointing them out here.

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And while The Grand Budapest’s cup runneth over with acting royalty, this film belongs to Ralph Fiennes, who plays the vivid, larger-than-life potty-mouthed concierge Monsieur Gustave. Goddamn, he was a force of nature. There were three or four times during the film when I wanted to stand on my seat and applaud his performance.

He gave a balls-out batty character depth and charm as well as giving us belly laughs. Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe also give seriously kick-ass performances — and not forgetting my main man Bill Murray who steps in, steals the show and leaves again. I must also mention Tony Revolori who, like his name (sort of) suggests, is a total freaking revelation. He’s sweet and funny but also his character’s story is quite hard-hitting at times and amongst the frivolity and fun certainly brings you back down to earth with a bump a couple of times.

So, if you like Wes Anderson you will love The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s like a beautifully decorated assault course for the eyes and the emotions. Get behind it, it’s exquisite.

Nature vs nurture: Psychos on film

My post about Elijah Wood’s creepy turn as Frank Zito in Maniac sparked a nice little discussion over on Blogcatalog about the depiction of psychotic, homicidal maniacs in cinema — and how they are so often portrayed as having a tragic start to life, which often triggers their psychosis. The whole thing got me thinking about the old Nature vs. Nurture debate and how it’s frequently used in horror films, especially.

We all know Norman Bates had mommy issues, as did Jason Voorhees, and Se7en’s John Doe was physically abused and suffered electric shock treatment as a child. But, is it more terrifying when on screen psychos have ‘normal’ lives?n

This started me off on one of my personal gripes. The remake. And, in this particular case, Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of Halloween. I’ve got two things to say about that: One, I hated it. Two, it wasn’t necessary. And my reason for both is Michael Myers was totally misrepresented in the remake.Yes, that mask-wearing, knife-wielding unstoppable creep who in  John Carpenter’s original 1978 movie starts his killing streak by murdering his sister when he’s just a young child.

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What is so sinister and unnerving about this is that Michael appears to live in, what seems like, a great neighbourhood in a nice house with wealthy, loving parents. There’s absolutely no sign or suggestion that he suffered any type of trauma or mistreatment that could lead to his homicidal behaviour. Making it shocking and all the more blood-curdling to think evil can be simply born — and there’s nothing we can do about it. From a writer’s point of view, it was a refreshing twist on the well-worn road of serial killers having flashbacks of childhood trauma as a way of ‘triggering’ their behaviour.

Compare this to the remake where Michael is living in squalid conditions and regularly exposed to drug paraphernalia and abuse as well as his mom being mistreated by her clients — so, watching a kid live with such depravity and absolutely no moral compass, it doesn’t seem as shocking when he lashes out with violent behaviour and displays a complete lack of morals himself.

And, as a viewer, this portrayal of his character becomes immediately less interesting and therefore less frightening. In this instance it seemed almost reasonable, and understandable, for a child like that to grow up with a skewed view of the world and a warped idea of right and wrong. And from a writer’s point of view, this is the easy way out. Plain and simple.

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So, when it comes to psychopaths with absolutely no apparent rhyme or reason to behave the way they do Alex Delarge step right up. He is, without question, as depraved as they come. And why? Purely because he wants to be. He is a boy whose primary interests involve ‘Beethoven, rape and ultra-violence’ and we can all agree that two out of three of those are not things you’d list on your resume in a hurry.

Alex is a character I have been fascinated by and obsessed with for the past eight years. It’s a testament to Anthony Burgess’ incredible skill as a writer that he could create a character so devoid of empathy, or compassion and yet charming and endearing . Especially in Kubrick’s controversial big screen adaptation where there’s something sexy and alluring about Malcolm MCdowell’s portrayal of Alex, you become increasingly spellbound by his actions and the motives he gives. There’s never an excuse offered up as to why Alex is the way he is, and isn’t that more unnerving?

This ability to dazzle and blind you from his abhorrent actions is what I find most terrifying about his character. It’s a lot harder to pull this off, and perhaps this is why we are so often presented with characters with tragic backstories as a way of explaining why they are so maniacal. Maybe it’s an attempt to create some amount of sympathy, or a desperation to explain why because there must be a reason for everything right? Right? Does it make us, the viewer, more comfortable knowing that a human behaving with monstrous qualities is only that way because he was treated so monstrously too?

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And at this point it feels only right to mention Kevin Khatchadourian who, via the pages of Lionel Shriver’s exquisite novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, kept me awake at night for weeks.

In both the book and the on screen adaptation we are given the chance to get right inside the mind of a killer from a young age — but what makes this so interesting is it’s primary focus is on a mom trying to work out whether her son’s fatal attack on his high school had anything to do with the way she raised him or whether it’s just in his DNA. Think about that for a second. The thought that we might have no way of stopping evil in its tracks. Blood curdling.

There’s nothing here to suggest that Kevin is anything other than a cold, hard psychopath and the story of his life is engrossing — and spine chilling. Not to mention, an incredible contraceptive as the thought of having children becomes less and less appealing with each frame of the movie. Ha!

And this sense of mystery doesn’t just go for serial killers — I also feel the same about all characters if I’m honest. Like Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Detective Loki in Prisoners. He was a tortured soul but we were never given a reason why — and that’s definitely a risky move on a writer’s part, but it pays off big time in my book. It keeps you thinking, and leaves you waiting for more.

Like Walt Disney said, Always leave ’em wanting more

Reflecting on what makes a Maniac

The horror genre has been, excuse the pun, butchered so much lately. As a self-confessed Horror nut I’ve been left feeling frustrated so many times over the past few years when directors have heavily relied on over-the-top gore for cheap thrills instead of crafting terror through twists you don’t see coming, characters loaded with depth and mystery, and chilling cinematography.

Maniac, is a remake of the 1980 slasher movie by William Lustig, starring Elijah Wood as a troubled and creepy mannequin store owner by day who gets his kicks by mutilating girls on the street by night. He kills and scalps girls before attaching their scalps to his own private collection of mannequins, which he then interacts with as if they were alive. So, on the surface it sounds like your average freaky, gore fest but at its core it’s so much more than that.

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Considering how much of a mad crush I’ve got on Elijah Wood, I was surprised by how much I dig him in a role where he is playing such a disturbing and unnerving character. The dialogue was stilted and eerie which certainly carved a sense of terror in me from the moment the film started and reinforced the idea that this guy was off the freakin’ rails. Big time.

Filming it almost entirely from his point of view was a genius move, as we only get to see his face as a reflection in mirrors, windows, and car doors, which ramps up the creepy factor by a few notches. Plus, as Elijah Wood is, let’s face it, totally beautiful it makes sense not to let us indulge in his beauty too much purely because it’s distracting and the last thing we want is to be attracted to him. And mirrors are a really powerful tool because they open up and explore that idea of self image and how we see ourselves compared with the facade we’re putting on for the world. So, that element of the film just rocks and I loved it. It’s not the first time I’ve ever seen this technique but it’s certainly one of the better uses of it, for sure.

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During and after watching this film I felt myself wanting to know more about Frank as I was super intrigued by his character and some of the suggestions that he was maybe dealing with a multiple personality disorder as well as clearly being traumatised by his childhood — and in particular, his relationship with his mom. He has flashbacks of some of the most pivotal moments of his upbringing that could have triggered his bloodlust and psychotic behaviour as an adult.

What I loved so much were the obvious references to Silence of the Lambs, one of the greatest Horror stories of all time, especially with its choice of music —THAT Goodbye Horses song, eurgh! — which completely transcended the film because what Silence of the Lambs does so well is lulls you with suspense and draws you in to a dark, and sinister place and that is exactly what Maniac needs. It needs for you to be captivated and terrified from the beginning so it can pummel you with fear to create that overwhelming sense of distress and anxiety, and nothing does that better than a not-so-friendly reminder of another sick lunatic who also gets his kicks from skinning his victims — albeit it for totally different reasons, but hey let’s not split hairs here.

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I won’t pretend I didn’t watch this movie purely because of Elijah Wood, but after a few seconds I completely forgot about him and was absorbed into a new, frightening world that was almost too much at times. It’s so intense, partly down to the direction, but mainly because it is gruesome and unrelenting. It’s access all areas as far as the violence goes, so if you’re squeamish this is not the movie for you. Sorry.

In the end, it is quite a tried and tested structure and without wrecking the plot I’ll just say I wasn’t satisfied or blown away with the ending but I did enjoy (if that’s the right word to use when watching a man scalp innocent women in the street) the path it took to get there. For originality and creativity I can’t fault this movie, and that’s good enough for me. It’s engrossing, and has a lot more lurking beneath the surface for you to sink your teeth into — if you can move past the (enormous amount of) blood.

Go watch it, and keep a sick bucket close by just in case!