cinema

Happy Friday The 13th, from me and Jason Voorhees

When it comes to horror the 80s, bathed in blood and soaked in spine-chilling screams, gave us so many classics. And Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th is certainly one of them…

And as I’m sure you all know today is Friday the 13th, so there is no better excuse to blow the dust of an old classic and give your blood a good curdling, and your bones a good chilling.

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Loaded with suspense, a classic two note horror score, and a complex (and surprising) villain it’s got everything you could want… And more!

Enjoy!

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Philadelphia on the silver screen

Growing up with an Eagles fan for a dad meant somewhere behind Hello, Mom, and see-at (who knows?!) Philadelphia was one of my first words. Alright so I couldn’t say it properly, but it goes to show I’ve been raised with a strong love and passion for The City of Brotherly Love. It’s ingrained in me.

But once my strong love of film kicked in, it was all about New York though. I started drooling over the Big Apple and begged my mom to let me rent every movie from the video store that was set in NYC.  Ghostbusters, Three Men and a Baby, Sleepless in Seattle (a lot of it is set in New York, don’t let the name confuse ya!), Home Alone 2, The Usual Suspects, and of course Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a few of my favorite showcases of the city as a little one.

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But fast-forward a few years to The Sixth Sense, and suddenly the iconic and unmissable skyline of Manhattan faded away and the slightly more interesting and certainly more unassuming streets of Philly became immediately fascinating to me. My new mission was to dig out movies set in Philadelphia — which, was surely going to be so simple seeing as there were already two in my mom’s collection at home, ‘Philadelphia’ and ‘The Philadelphia Story’. These filmmakers were making it so easy for me to live vicariously in this exciting place through my new favorite movies.

Now, I can’t claim to have seen them all but I can say I have given it a good go. And as a celebration of one of my favorite cities in the world, and my favorite film location, I’ve picked the best of the bunch. A love letter to Philly, on the silver screen…

Philadelphia. Well, we might as well start with the obvious one — Absolutely no prizes for guessing where this movie is set, but the film itself gets top marks for being the only movie to this day that has made my dad cry (or so he claims!). When I set out on my quest to watch every film ever made that showcased Philly in some way or another, this was the first one I picked out — I was sure I was in safe hands. It’s a beautifully tragic tale that is acted intricately and to perfection and the city’s backdrop is really just that, this film is all about the story.

Rocky. Is there a man, woman, child or dog alive that hasn’t seen Rocky? Or, in fact, is there anyone out there who hasn’t gone for a run, listened to Eye of the Tiger and pretended they were Rocky Balboa? Didn’t think so! Those famous steps Rocky climbs in that unforgettable training montage? They lead right up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art — and a bronze statue of Stallone’s Rocky now sits at the bottom of those very steps.

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Witness. My Mom’s favorite movie of all time, which all kicks off in Philly’s 30th Street Station. It’s not long before Harrison Ford’s tough-as-old-boots cop John Book ends up living in an Amish community in deepest darkest Pennsylvania in order to protect a little boy who witnesses a murder in said station.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Twin Peaks might be (one of) my favorite thing of all time, and what makes it so incredible is the eccentric and original characters of the small town of Twin Peaks. But for the movie, David Lynch switched things up a bit and got the FBI headquarters in Philadelphia involved. And if you asked me, it worked.

The Sixth Sense. M Night Shyamalan was raised in Philadelphia so it makes sense that he’s chosen it to be the location for many of his films. This was the one that kicked it all off for me when as a ten-year-old I assumed I was watching yet another movie set in New York, I discovered I was dealing with a whole different kettle of fish — and if you ask me a whole lot tastier. Although, funnily enough, now watching it as an adult it’s actually completely impossible to tell where this movie is set as Shyamalan purposefully avoided any of the city’s iconic landmarks to create an ambiguous setting for this movie. The only clue is in the restaurant scene, which is a real-life eatery called ‘Striped Bass’ on Walnut Street right in the heart of Philly.

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In Her Shoes. If Cameron Diaz is in a film, I’ll watch it. There’s something electrifying and sassy about her performances that I just can’t resist making her my ultimate girl crush. So as you can imagine I was doubly excited to watch this film when it ticked two of the boxes on my hit list. Cameron and Philly. Winner. Plus, this is actually a sweet and funny flick that is a little more original and refreshing that most Rom Com types. And there’s even a nice little reference to Philadelphia’s most famous movie, Rocky, when Rose climbs those same steps — but this time there’s no boxing gloves, just lots and lots of dogs. Also, Philly’s famous and funky South Street is showcased again and again, and there really is no place quite like it.

Twelve Monkeys. What a freaking awesome film, that is both scary and alluring. Unlike some on this list that showcase exciting, cultural areas of my fave city Twelve Monkeys gives us a glimpse of the bleaker side. Eastern State Penitentiary, where Bruce Willis’s James Cole is locked up. In real life it’s a crumbling ruin, but if you like to take a walk of the weird side you can go on a tour and see exactly where Al Capone spent a large portion of his prison life. It’s only five blocks from those Rocky steps!

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The Master. Set mainly in California, this is one of the most exquisite and thought-provoking films I’ve seen in a long while and I was especially excited to see my beloved Philly crop up halfway through. Again, it’s really just a backdrop but it still gives me a warm, fuzzy glow just to know it’s getting its own nod of recognition. This, like Fire Walk With Me, is definitely cheating but I can’t resist.

Silver Linings Playbook. There’s not a lot I don’t love about this movie, and it’s being set in Philadelphia — and the continuous references to the Eagles — only add to it. In the opening scenes the audience is treated to a condensed guided tour of the city as Pat’s mom Dolores drives from Maryland back to Philadelphia. We get to see so many of those iconic, and glorious, Philly landmarks and there is no better way to open up a movie than that, if you ask me. So much of this film is set outside, from pounding the pavement and running in a bin liner (a strong look for Bradley), to getting into punch ups at the Lincoln Financial Field, so you really get a flavour of Pennsylvania’s biggest city! Gorgeous!

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While I love seeing the blue skies and the palm trees of Los Angeles, the crowded streets and the eccentric characters of London, the vibrant atmosphere and the diversity of New York City I want to see more of the City of Brotherly Love on the cinema screen. It’s got it all, a beautiful skyline that adds drama and depth, culture and arts that make for interesting backdrops and a rich history that deserves attention again and again.

Philadelphia, I love ya.

 

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!

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.

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!

Sometimes it feels like we’re all living in a Prozac Nation

Prozac Nation tells the true story of writer Elizabeth Wurtzel’s battle with depression and addiction while studying journalism at Harvard, based on her best-selling memoirs.

Whether it’s the curiosity (or nosiness, as some may call it) in me or the sheer fascination as to what makes people tick I don’t know, but I can’t get enough of films that explore turning points in people’s lives.

So often a character that is vivid and exciting in a book can become stale and lifeless when transformed onto screen, but after reading Prozac Nation I wasn’t the slightest bit worried when I saw the cast for the film. From the moment it started, to the sound of fingers furiously tapping across a keyboard (such a familiar noise) I had a feeling it was going to be amazing.

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Christina Ricci played Lizzie, the troubled but talented writer to perfection. There is so much about her character that I can relate and sympathise with. I, as a writer, know all too well the struggles of creativity and the unreliable path it paves. And even the desperation and madness it can stir within you when trying to pluck originality from somewhere deep inside your brain. But luckily for me, I get distracted easily and always find a way of stopping myself from becoming obsessed, or dangerously obsessed in Lizzie’s case, with a project. And Prozac Nation is a glimpse into the mind of someone who is unable to stop. Someone who can’t help but become so fully absorbed in something that it consumes her.

It is a tale of one girl losing her grip on reality, but it also explores society’s attitudes towards depression, and how it is commonly treated. In this film, what I find particularly interesting — and shocking — is the use of prescription drugs as a way of helping her deal with her fight against drug addiction and depression. It also studies the relationship someone has with therapy, and their therapist as well as using flashbacks to show where her troubles began.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is an incredible writer, and whether you’ve read any of her work or not that comes across strongly in this film. But, it doesn’t hold back when showcasing her dark side. During her manic struggle with work, exhaustion, addiction and the onset of depression the direction becomes more frantic and erratic to give us a sense of what it’s like to be inside her mind.

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Talk about perfect casting, not only does Christina Ricci actually look like Elizabeth Wurtzel but she kicks so much ass at playing a girl who is literally spiralling out of control. There are moments in this film where we get an up close and personal look at someone who just can’t cope with her own emotions, and abilities yet she seems so aware of her actions that it’s like a form of torture for her. As she narrates the film, you know she is totally aware of where she is going wrong but she can’t stop it. It’s like fingernails down a chalk board…

Christina Ricci and Jessica Lange have an amazing, off beat chemistry together that is so believable. I grew up watching Jessica Lange in Tootsie, and from a young age I picked up her ability to just ooze charisma and charm every time she stepped on screen. And here, in Prozac Nation, as a mom sick with worry and teeming with frustration for her daughter she’s still charismatic and buoyant with her bouncy blonde perm and her powder pink suits as she tries to stitch her family together.

Cinematography is a biggie for me — blame it on my years of studying art and photography, but I am obsessed with framing, lighting and clever use of panning and camera angles. It drives me crazy when directors don’t exploit the technology they have at their fingertips, but in Prozac Nation I don’t have any complaints. You could pause it at any moment during this film and you would be left with a beautiful photograph on your screen. Each shot is carefully thought out, and intricate — and really reflects the mood of the protagonist.

This movie is an interesting insight into someone’s mind, and as much as it might feel a little (or a lot) voyeuristic at times it is worth watching for the amazing screenplay and acting alone. It’s not a glamorous film, and it won’t leave you feeling full of admiration for characters you wish you could be best friends with but it will leave you with lots to think about and be intrigued by — and that, for me, is the mark of a great movie.

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I need someone to shut off my brain, and turn on my heart