Friday, July 3, 2015

BOOK VS MOVIE: Testament of Youth

There have been many acts of brutality throughout history. And throughout all of them, they have been chronicled for the sake of fiction. Many of said chroniclers weren't even alive when these events occurred but if done properly, they can be just as haunting as the actual events.

That said however, many writers will channel their own experiences into their fiction. (See Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five and almost everything Ernest Hemingway wrote pertaining to World War I as examples.) But even then writers won't sit down and document everything they experienced from their perspective instead of from a fictitious narrator. Thankfully there are those exceptions.

Vera Brittain's memoir Testament of Youth chronicles her life before, during and after the events of World War I. Much like Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong decades later, Brittain writes about how this brutal battle changed the world she knew and claimed the lives of those she cares for deeply. Through her perspective as a V.A.D. nurse (and with the occasional aid of poetic prose), she witnesses her generation lose its innocence.

A few omitted details aside, James Kent's adaptation stays true to what Brittain witnessed. Through Rob Hardy's cinematography, the film shows the life of Brittain (and countless others) drastically change from bright-eyed and innocent to broken and jaded. (If only Brittain had know this current generation is the same as hers...)

So which of the two comes out on top? Both are stunning though not without their flaws (the memoir gets too poetic in spots, and the film has a penchant for dramatic flair) but still, both provide a personal insight to a futile battle that scarred an era.

What's worth checking out?: Both.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Inside Out

Animation nowadays generally has a mixed consensus. Some consider it as an unoriginal genre thanks to its dependence on pop culture references and recycled gags. Others view the genre as a way to explore one's imagination. Either way, you get some interesting concepts from animation.

Most of the time, said concepts come from Pixar, and they frequently deliver. So how has Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen's Inside Out, their newest feature, fared? Well, in comparison to several other animated films in recent memory (including some from Pixar themselves), it holds up very, very well.

The concept of Inside Out is indeed an original one. (After all, how often do you see psychology featured prominently in an animated film?) As is frequently the case with Pixar's work, Inside Out is the kind of film that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults.

Evidently more for the latter demographic, considering whom is amongst the five principal voices. You have two alums of Saturday Night Live (Amy Poehler and Bill Hader), two actors from the cast of The Office (Mindy Kaling and Phyllis Smith), and a profane comedian (Lewis Black). And all five of them do exceptional work, Poehler in particular.

Inside Out, as mentioned above, is very well done. It's not very often you see an animated film this clever and original. And as expected for something from Pixar, yes, it will make you cry at some point.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The "...And Scene!" Blogathon

Sister Celluloid is hosting a blogathon where the objective is "your chance to go into excruciating detail about your favorite classic film scene (or one of them, anyway—I’d never be so cruel as to ask you to narrow it down any further)." Having seen my fair share of classic films, I wanted to choose something different. No "We'll always have Paris" or Gene Kelly splashing around in puddles, I wanted to talk about a scene from a movie that not enough people are talking about. In the end, I settled for this:

(1966, dir. John Frankenheimer)

(Spoilers ahead!)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The SEX! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon

Steve of Movie Movie Blog Blog has conjured up a clever idea for a blogathon where the rules are as followed:
1. You need to write about an entire movie that you find sexy, not just a single scene. The upside-down kiss in the 2001 Spider-Man movie was undeniably sexy, but unless you can make a case for the entire movie being a turn-on, please don’t write about it. 
2. The movie you choose can be from any era (even silent), but it needs to be a movie that subtly suggests sex. No writhing, naked bodies, and no explicit dialogue about how much one person wants to go to bed with another. 
That’s not to say that your choice can’t be a modern movie with adult dialogue. If you can make a solid case for something like, say, Body Heat (which was a modern homage to 1940’s-style movie sex), I’ll accept it. 
3. Explain why you think the movie is sexy. Your explanation does not have to be lurid or explicit, just a simple description of why the movie “does something” for you.
Sounds simple enough. So what did I choose for this?

(1958, dir. Martin Ritt) 

Monday, June 15, 2015

I'll See You in My Dreams

Hollywood has garnered a notoriety for its ageism towards actresses. The minute an actress starts showing the faintest hint of aging, studios lose interest in hiring them. (Yet if the actress hails from the United Kingdom, no hindrance of their career whatsoever.) Thankfully in recent years, there have been several women-led films starring actresses over fifty and not named Meryl Streep.

One such film is Brett Haley's I'll See You in My Dreams. It's a quiet film, certainly, but it's also a nice change of pace from the other options at the cineplex. (You can only stand so much CGI.)

Starring in I'll See You in My Dreams is Blythe Danner, who's more known nowadays for being the mother of Gwyneth Paltrow than for her own career. Thankfully this film proves that Danner is just as good of an actress (if not better) than her daughter. She's in a role that's been given to many actors in their later years but not to actresses. (Is it honestly that hard to write a role for a woman?)

But what is I'll See You in My Dreams about? To put it simply, it's about reclaiming youth in old age, experiencing romance after so many years, and gaining a new lease on life. Or to put it in another way, it's a film about life.

Though not without its flaws, I'll See You in My Dreams is a very charming film. It proves that there are roles available for women of an older age. All it takes is a good writer to provide them.

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Saint Laurent

With so many films being released every year, it's always a challenge to have each one of them to be successful. And with a wide array of genres to choose from, it gives the viewer more options of what to see. But even then there's more pressure for a film to do well.

One genre that's frequently hit and miss is the biopic. Often a controversial one if the subject is still very much alive, it's hard for filmmakers to deliver if expectations are high. So where does Bertrand Bonello's Saint Laurent rank? To be honest, not very highly.

If you couldn't tell by the title, the film focuses on the life of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (played here by a fairly decent Gaspard Ulliel) from the years 1967 to 1976, the peak of his career. With a subject like him, it's hard to mess up, right? Well, Bonello managed to do that.

Fittingly, Saint Laurent is a film that has more style than substance. Many of the designs for the sets and costumes are stunning and deeply reminiscent of the era the film's set in. That said, that's the only good thing Bonello has going for him with this.

It's clear that Saint Laurent has a lot of ambitions behind it. Unfortunately many of those ambitions go unrealized due to the film's disoriented nature. Had it been more organized and about forty-five minutes shorter, then maybe better things could be said about it.

My Rating: ***

Friday, June 5, 2015

BOOK VS MOVIE: Far from the Madding Crowd

For years, fiction has depicted those of the fairer sex as always having romance and marriage on the mind. (Looking at you, Jane Austen.) Granted, in recent years, that's been rectified to an extent (read: making female characters have more than one dimension) but we've still got a way to go.

However, there have been early exceptions of proper female depictions before women's rights even entered everyday lexicon. Take Far from the Madding Crowd for instance. It revolves around an independent woman trying to survive in a man's world as well as fighting off the romantic pursuits of three men. A familiar premise, perhaps, but a good one if done properly.

Thomas Hardy's novel is a deeply lush piece of literature, ranging from the descriptions of the vast English countryside to the emotions felt between the characters. With its numerous Biblical references (two of the main characters have their fitting names derived from the Good Book), the novel shows how emotions can overtake one's better judgment.

Thomas Vinterberg's film keeps several elements of Hardy's novel alive (Charlotte Bruus Christensen's cinematography captures the rolling hills of southern England Hardy so vividly described) but as is the case with most adaptations, the does deviate from the original source. Several scenes (some of which slightly crucial) are either altered or removed entirely, and the general mood has been changed as well. Oh, Hollywood, always romanticizing things that shouldn't be.

It's pretty clear which of the two comes out on top, don't you think? Yes, both have their own individual qualities but there's one thing worth pointing out: actors can only do so much with what the writer originally intended.

What's worth checking out?: The book.