How To Survive a Plague.

5 Oct

plague

I have just finished watching one of the most important films I have ever seen. ‘How To Survive a Plague‘ focuses on the organisation Act Up, who during the 80’s and 90’s were directly responsible for the growth of political and public awareness in relation to the Aids virus. During the height of the groups activism, its leaders, affiliates and supporters, many of whom faced almost certain death from being HIV positive, focused on standing up to a government who seemed to have no intention of helping a community plagued by a killer disease. Through their triumphant and courageous efforts the medical and political community of the time were unable to simply stand by and watch people die of a disease that could indeed be prevented. The documentary shows the lives, and deaths, of those directly involved in Act Up and the incredible results that came about thanks to a movement who never gave up.

This film is unbelievably powerful. Shot using a blend of video footage from the time and interviews, it puts you directly in the middle of the activism and emotional hiatus, and allows the story to be told from the people who were there, a film that feels utterly unique in its approach.

It moved me to see people who in their dying days still took a stand and fought for what they believed in. They fought for their lives, for the lives of their friends and the lives of people yet to be born. They fought against a government and certain institutions who seemed to ignore the rising death toll and instead place blame on a community for the situation they found themselves in. They fought for humanity and life itself.

Watch the trailer and then watch the film. This is a story that is long overdue, a part of our history and our present. Don’t ignore it.

act up

Nooooooo-ah.

21 May

‘Just because someone releases a few hit singles, it doesn’t mean that the whole album is going to be any good.’

noah-movie-posterIf at some point in your life you were a child, as I am sure you were, then there would have been a time when you came across the story of Noah. Whether it was at school, at your local library, or read to you as a bedtime story in a beautifully illustrated and colourful childrens edition of the Bible, you never forget. It is an epic story filled with animals, good and evil, hope, belief and a tonne of water. Religion didn’t even have to come in to it, the story was what you cared about. Andsometimes the song.

This is why, after falling in love with the story of Noah as a young boy, director Darren Aronofsky had made it a lifetime ambition to tell the tale using the big screen. Sadly, in doing so, he has tarnished all of those childhood memories with a tragically poor film.

Now I would like to take you back to my opening statement – ‘Just because someone releases a few hit singles, it doesn’t mean that the whole album is going to be any good.’ Said to me once by someone I know, it was all I could think about after viewing Noah at my local cinema. Aronofsky’s back catalogue is so strong (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan), as is Russel Crowe’s (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Les Miserables) and Anthony Hopkins (do I even need to list them?), that I believed whole-heartedly that I would not be disappointed. But after two, five or even ten hits, all that was proven was that it is still possible to flop in the charts.

Russell Crowe as Noah in Darren Aranofsky's biblical epicThe film begins with a series of titles explaining the creation of the world, the first man created in Gods image, Adam, and the first lady Eve and the story of Cain and Able, accompanied by visual imagery and a calming voiceover. They all serve to not only patronise the audience through immense simplification, but to bombard us with every sensory telling of the stories. Why titles and images and voiceover? Pick one and lets move on. Unfortunately moving on is exactly what happens.

The story progresses in a sloppy and haphazard way, the editing being the largest failure of the film. Scenes and shots are drawn out for no discernible reason, some repeated presumably for dramatic effect (the coming of the animals to the ark happens I’d say around thirty times) but end up as no more than an annoyance rather than events that should take your breath away, and focus is given where focus isn’t needed. The acting is also an incredible let down. Crowe, Connelly, Hopkins, Watson and even shouty, raspy Ray Winstone are all capable of sincere, poetic and powerful performances, but here they are as wooden as the ark they are building. Connelly destroys one of the most pivotal and potentially heartbreaking scenes through forced tears and breathy screams, Emma Watson sounds as bored and as British as ever, Crowe’s bland and lifeless tone has stood him in good stead before, but here his apathetic nature breeds only hatred not sympathy for a man in torment, and Hopkins…I think he has simply just given up. Don’t worry Anthony, so have we.

Help can not be found anywhere. The score is at times beautiful and at others clumsy, particularly in a scene where Noah finally loses it and the music is almost humourous in its delivery, with large pounding drums and leisurly-paced chase music, creating an abysmal collaboration. The script feels uncared for, conviction and annunciation is lost, with conversations unable to flow and the characters passions and fears unable to thrive.

The film is laughable at times, which when you are watching a biblical epic is probably not the direction the makers would have intended it to go, but it happens. A lot. Aronofsky’s giant-fallen-stone-monster-angels, The Watchers, are utterly ridiculous. Their voices and dialogue come from a world where The Ent (The Lord of the Rings talking trees) and Optimus Prime have had a baby, and their sole purpose is to move the building of the ark quickly along, as you know, they are oh so big and strong. Noah’s solitary, drunken, naked, ‘the-world-is-saved’ cave party is badly placed and too short to create any positive impact on our emotions. There is also a scene in which trees and rivers burst forth from the earth so that Noah and his family may use the materials to build their ark, which is beautifully shot and has some astounding special effects, but is ruined by two doves drinking from the river hundreds of miles away and connecting to some sort of God-line whereby they understand something important is happening and fly to see what all the commotion is about. See, laughable.

noah birdsIn the Bible, the story of Noah is relatively short. According to an abundance of fan reviews, Aronofsky manages to maintain an element of realism by sticking to the written word and his portrayal of various events surrounding Noah, such as his personal struggle with the immense responsibility bestowed upon him by God and his whole getting drunk in a cave malarky. However,managing to include such events in order to please the masses, doesn’t mean that the finished product will actually be a good film. The lack of lengthy original material allows for a huge amount of interpretation and cinematic indulgence, and as you have read above, there are indulgences aplenty.

noahOf the films staggering 138 minutes, I’d say I enjoyed about 20 of them. The ark itself is an incredible creation, going against the preconceived boat idea that we may have had as a child, and under Aronofsky’s vision becomes more of a stronghold against the ensuing tides. Noah’s visions of the earth flooding are beautifully done, being almost unexplainable in their power and presence within the film. The Watchers falling to earth is a stunning scene in which the bright and shapeful figures are coated in the earths dust and dirt, surrendering them to a life of serving the humans they despise. And Ray Winstone kicks Noah’s ass.

But at the end of the day, when you are treated to a point-of-view shot, flying into the spectacular ark, accompanied by soulful music, amongst all of the worlds beautiful birds, and you find yourself staring at the backside of a pigeon, you just have to take a moment and think to yourself, ‘Really, what is this?’. Hopefully for everyone involved, it is simply one bad song on a great album.

Would You Rather?

20 May

would-you-rather-posterTake yourself back to that college party; that birthday party; that night sat round the campfire, sitting with all of your friends, laughing and talking, while occasionally sipping on your open can of beer in the hope that it will give you just enough courage to chat to that guy or girl you’ve had a crush on for the past two years. And then some crazy character, the joker of the group, pipes up and asks, “Hey, has anyone here ever played ‘Would you rather’?”

Well this film is nothing like that. Except for the part where I mentioned the game ‘Would you rather’. Obviously.

So let me explain the basic rules. One person, often the joker who brings up the game so that they don’t have to take part, is the games master. He or she then gives the other players a number of ultimatums in which they are presented with two options, one of which they must choose. For example, would you rather drink a shot of urine or kiss a sweaty armpit? And you would have to choose. Normally these questions are purely for entertainment purposes and no-one is about to hand you a shot of their own bodily fluid, but that would be boring if a film just showed us an hour and a half of people posing funny scenarios. No danger of that here.

would you ratherWould You Rather (2012, Dir. David Guy Levy) centres around a dinner party where eight individuals have been hand-picked to take part in a game of…..ok, I don’t really need to tell you do I?….in which the winner will win a substantial amount of money and life full of opportunities. For Iris, (Brittany Snow – Pitch Perfect) this means that her brother who has leukemia will get the treatment that he so desperately needs. They are offered this opportunity through the charismatic and formidable games-master Shepard Lambrick.

Lambrick is surrounded by a mob of sharply dressed, shady individuals who help him to conduct his horrific game and eliminate any players who fail to comply. The contenders are sympathetic, desperate, cruel and delusional; trying to save others as well as themselves. The deadly rounds include shootings, stabbings, lashings, electrocution and drowning, not necessarily in that order, with eye-ball slicing and blowing up of hands thrown in for good measure. It really is a party that they wished they had missed.

Would-You-Rather 3For me, ‘Would You Rather’ poses an often familiar choice. Would I rather watch an A or B list horror? Recently it has been the latter, as I often find that quirky, imperfect and minimally advertised  films are somewhat more fascinating. I like a film packed full of special effects and fancy A-list actors as much as the next person, but the lack of pretense for a B-movie means you are able to simply enjoy the story and the characters, no matter how funny or twisted, and come out the other side feeling fresh and excited.

Levy has created a film that is well paced, intelligent and ripe with intensity. There aren’t too many decisions to be made, with rounds being clear, concise and designed to eliminate members of the group quickly, leaving the audience squirming out of disturbed joy rather than boredom. It has its clichéd moments, as do most horror films, and some unfortunate lapses in acting ability, but at the end of the disgusting affair you are left with an oddly charming feeling.

So I say to you, there might be dishes piling up and vacuuming to be done, the kids might need to do their homework and the cat might need to go to the vet, but wouldn’t you rather sit down, relax and watch a movie? Well? What would you rather…

would you rather 2

For extra reading see my Top 30 Horror films where there are B-List movies a plenty!

Starry-eyed.

7 May

Click the link to read my perspective on the shiny star ratings and exactly why I have chosen to avoid them on my Blog.

Happy Reading everyone!

Why No Star Rating

Semiology and Structuralism – Delicatessen (1991)

7 May

delicatessen 4   Semiology and Structuralism, the two interrelated theories of words and images as different kinds of signs or ways of making meaning, was properly established and determined in the 1970’s predominantly by Ferdinand de Saussure. The theory focuses on how a film doesn’t necessarily have grammar or a vocabulary, but it has a system of signs, the ‘signifiers’ and the ‘signified’. In its simplicity, film images are loaded with signs and symbols for us, the audience, to decipher and interpret our own meanings. For example, a white dress worn by a female character would be the signifier, and our interpretation that the character is a virgin, would be the signified.
When applying this theory to the French film, ‘Delicatessen’ (Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, France, 1991), it helps us as an audience to understand the films representation of the post-holocaust period in France in which the film is set. By retracting meaning from various images in the film, the audience can derive a personal depth and understanding, from an already deep and complicated plot. The film is, in retrospect, trying to explain to the audience the enormity of the devastation caused by the holocaust, not only in France but around the world. The Second World War, from its beginning, had involved every country, and therefore effected every country. ‘Delicatessen’ focuses on a number of issues, predominantly rationing, underground movements and methods of killing, all of which are signifiers of the war, and portrays these issues through the different characters.

The films setting;

“a starving, post-holocaust France”
(Delicatessen, Dir. Jeunet and Caro, 1991)

is established extremely well in the opening scene. The mis-en-scene is very dark and dismal, with abandoned, derelict streets, broken fences and buildings in ruins, suggesting that France has been completely devastated, in all respects. There is a thick, cloudy, yellow atmosphere, which remains throughout most of the film, which signifies to the audience that the air is poisonous and toxic.

delicatessen 3    In the same scene, we are introduced to a building, the delicatessen or butchers, which we realise will be the films central focus as it shares its name with the title of the film, and a man who we presume is the butcher. He is shown sharpening a meat cleaver, which instantaneously signifies that the man is dangerous and sinister, and thus creates a feeling of fear amongst the audience. The camera follows the sound of the cleaver through various echoing vents, to a man on the receiving end, who appears to become agitated and scared by the noise, thus signifying that the butcher is a threat to him. As the man tries to escape in a rubbish bin, he is found by the butcher and killed, which we later realise, is for meat. In terms of signifying an element of the Second World War, like Hitler, the butcher is the fascist dictator in their small society. He is a very powerful man, not simply in his size but his mind as well. He is presented using various low angle shots in the film, signifying his superiority over the other characters. Throughout the film, his presence is felt in every scene, by the characters themselves as well as the audience, as everyone is petrified of him. Although he is saving them by providing them with food, a place to stay, and in some cases, a job, they all know that he could take that away from them at any moment, as well as their lives.
It is worth mentioning at this juncture, the music in the title sequence that follows the opening scene that I have mentioned. It is very happy, and somewhat, comical music, which is quite ironic considering the subjects addressed in the scene beforehand, and signifies to the audience that the film may be quite eccentric, and an exaggerated take on the reality of the holocaust period that it is attempting to portray.

    One of the central issues raised in ‘Delicatessen’, which is a clear signifier of the Second World War, is rationing. Due to the value of most currencies going down during the war, and not revitalising themselves properly until the early 1950’s, the economies of every country suffered greatly, therefore food, drink, clothes and other basic amenities, were scarce. This issue is well represented in the film, and somewhat exaggerated, through cannibalism.
The scene following the titles is where a new level of desperation and eccentricity amongst the characters, is introduced. As the holocaust period continues, the rationing remains, and so the butcher;

“keeps his customers supplied by his
cannibalistic tendencies”
(Delicatessen, Dir. Jeunet and Caro, 1991)

    In other words, he sells his customers human meat, which they in fact know about. This signifies to the audience how incredibly desperate and starving the people of the world were before, during and after the holocaust, not simply in the lives of the characters, but of those who actually lived through those conditions in real life.
Another scene that shows evidence of the cannibalism that is going on is where the other central male character, Louison, who used to be a member of the circus, and Julie, the butchers daughter, share a lunch that consists of cookies and tea. When Louison comes to the delicatessen looking for a room to stay in and a job, he is actually replacing the man who was killed at the beginning. This signifies to the audience that his stay at the delicatessen will probably lead down the same tragic path, which in turn creates a feeling of hope for Louison, that he will get away from the situation alive. After rescuing Julies package of ‘tidbits’ from the starving hands of the other residents at the delicatessen, Louison is invited around to her room to enjoy them with her. It is here that the audience are assured that there is evidence of cannibalism, due to the rationing. They embark on a conversation, in which Louison talks about his old partner;

“The doctor and I had an act once…Dr. Livingstone…He
was my partner…But now he is gone…He disappeared
after a show. We only found his remains. They’d eaten
him. Can you imagine that? They ate him.”
(Delicatessen, Dir. Jeunet and Caro, 1991)

    When he talks about his partner at the circus being eaten, the audience realises that Julie does not seem fazed by the notion of cannibalism at all.
Although the film as a whole suggests that the residents are eating the ‘new guys’, there are a further two scenes that suggest cannibalistic happenings better than others. One is near the beginning of the film, where two of the residents are in their workshop discussing Louison;

“What do you think of the new guy?”
“Too skinny.”
(Delicatessen, Dir. Jeunet and Caro, 1991)

    The other signifier of cannibalism is near the end of the film, when Louison and Julie are attempting to escape together. The residential community of the delicatessen are outside the room that the pair is trapped in, signifying their desperation to the audience. The butcher tries to reason with them, but when he is unsuccessful he turns to a female resident and says;

“Get my cleaver’s. Every single one of them.”
(Delicatessen, Dir. Jeunet and Caro, 1991)

    Each one of the scenes mentioned, signifies what lengths people were willing to got to, so as not to starve to death. Although there is little evidentiary support that cannibalism itself ever happened during the Second World War, there is the suggestion of it.

delicatessen 2    Another issue addressed in ‘Delicatessen’, is underground movements. This is signified clearly, and fitting with the historical period that the film is set in, as there were many underground movements, or non-conformists as some may call them, during World War Two.
As Hitler’s army grew and the threat of a fascist dictatorship began to truly terrify some people, underground movements, or simply those who did not believe in fascism, began to break out across many different countries. They developed in towns, cities, and prisons, as well as amongst members of the army. Although Hitler and his Gestapo led many to their deaths, some remained hidden and survived the war. The underground movement within the film, ‘the troglodytes’, are a band of vegetarian freedom fighters. The fact that they are vegetarians, and the residents of the delicatessen are carnivores, signifies that Jeunet and Caro are trying to represent the opposing sides of the war, the fascists and the capitalists, through another, somewhat eccentric, group of oppositions. The troglodytes are essentially outlaws, who have chosen to live in the sewers and underground tunnels of France, escaping some of the toxic atmosphere above them.
After Julie pretends to agree with her father that Louison should be used for meat, she goes underground in an attempt to ask the troglodytes to pretend to kidnap Louison so that he is out of harms way, in exchange for corn. The mis-en-scene of the underground is much like a horror film, with dripping ceilings, dark corridors, scummy water and shadows all around. This signifies to the audience that the underground movement may not be safe, and so creates a feeling of anxiety and fear for Julie’s life. When she meets them, there are an array of lines that confirm the audiences interpretations of the films underlying historical representations;

“We’re at war girlie…We watch out for moles. You
could be one.”
(Delicatessen, Dir. Jeunet and Caro, 1991)

as well as more signifiers of the cannibalistic happenings, and how the opposing sides represent the realistic ones of the war;

“Your brother Matt’s shirt. Shot down like a rabbit…
Common game. That’s all we are. And your predators.”
(Delicatessen, Dir. Jeunet and Caro, 1991)

    The sewers, drains and pipes in the film, are signifiers in themselves of the underground movements and spying. Due to how much sound can travel through them, they allow a person to hear things that they should not, which is technically spying. This signifies many areas of the Second World War, in which spying was crucial in obtaining information about the opposing sides whereabouts and plans of action, which tended to happen a lot amongst a sides own government.

The last essential issue addressed in ‘Delicatessen’, is methods of killing. A character in the film, Mrs. Interligator, tries to kill herself in an incredibly large amount of ways. Each method that she uses in an attempt to take her own life is a signifier of each killing method used by Hitler, in his own attempt to eradicate an entire human race; the Jews. At first she tries electrocution, by incorrectly balancing a lamp by the side of the bath, whilst she is in it. She then places her head underneath a sewing machine, which is hanging from the ceiling by some thin rope, which is being burnt by a candle. Her third and final attempt, which when it fails is extremely comical for the audience, is the best signifier of the methods used by Hitler during the holocaust. She tries to gas, hang, shoot and drug herself to death. All of those methods are known to have been used at many, if not all, of the German concentration camps, including Belsen and Auschwitz, during World War Two;

“Some concentration camps were specifically equipped
for mass killing by means of gas chamber…”
“after people were gassed, their bodies were burnt in
open pits…”
“the camps purpose turned more toward execution…
shooting and hanging were used to kill hundreds or
thousands of people at a time.”
(Crime Through Time – The World’s only Black Museum,
Stephen Richards, 2003)

    Despite the complexity of the scene, with so many suicide methods being used, it signifies just how many inhumane ways there are of dying, and how many were actually used by Hitler.

The end of the film is in fact a signifier of the end of the Second World War. When Louison and Julie try to escape, they flood the room that they are trapped in, making the door burst open, and sending the residents tumbling down the stairs. The water, and the washing away of the ‘carnivores’, signifies the end of Hitler and the Nazi’s, as the bad element in their society is being washed away. Louison and Julie are then shown on the roof of the delicatessen, playing their instruments, whilst the blue sky can be seen in the background. This atmospheric change is also a signifier that the bad element in their lives has gone.

There are everlasting arguments about the legitimacy of the ‘Semiotics and Structuralism’ theory, one of the arguments being that although semiotics allows the audience the freedom to derive what meanings they wish from a film, that freedom is limited, as it can only be reduced;

“to basic discrete units that can be quantified.”
(How to read a film, James Monaco, 2000)

    However, even if the ‘theory’ had not been developed, people’s freedom to interpret a film would still remain, and therefore, technically speaking, the theory would remain as its basis does.

In conclusion, when the theory of ‘Semiotics and Structuralism’ is applied to Jeunet and Caro’s ‘Delicatessen’, it successfully signifies the intended historical context of the period that the film is set in. The directors include a large amount of signifiers of the Second World War and the holocaust, which creates a terrifying, yet eccentric, representation of the Fascist dictatorship. The theory of the semiotic image, allows human intervention to determine the films overall purpose and meaning, rather than simply accepting its pre-given qualities.

delicatessen

By Amy Evans

Heaven’s Basement. They are electric.

29 Apr

heavens basementDate: Tuesday 25th March 2014. Place: The Fleece, Bristol. Time: 19:30. Band: Heaven’s Basement. Mood: ROCK.

Let me take you back almost an entire year to Download Festival 2013. In the build up to the drunken, moshing chaos that would ensue at my first Download festival, I ensured I would make the most of its platter of rocking delights and so set about researching the various bands that I had never heard of. I listened to tracks on YouTube, as you do, and discovered a number of bands that spoke to my musical soul. On that list was a band called Heaven’s Basement.

After sampling the sounds of their album Filthy Empire, I decided that yes,  I was indeed a fan. Almost instantaneously in fact. It’s pretty hard to hear the punk-ish ‘I Am Electric‘ (now the title of this blog entry makes sense doesn’t it?!) and the pulsating rhythms of ‘Jump Back‘ and not want to leap about your livingroom, with hair flailing all over the place, in a head-banging fit of joy. So when I went to Download I made sure that I would see them. In the end they were so good, we saw them twice.

Taking my dubious friends along to see a band they had never heard of, if it wasn’t for my girlish gushing comments on their brilliance, was a risky move. But we stood in a large crowd, waiting to be blown away. And we were not disappointed. Heaven’s Basement rocked. Drumsticks were thrown in the air, guitars were wailing and frontman Aaron Buchanan gave meaning to the words ‘vocal range’. The crowd took to them like a duck to water and people’s lists of ‘favourite live bands’ just got larger.

DSCN8115Bring you back to Tuesday 25th March 2014 and there I was standing at the Fleece with my friend, who had accompanied me almost a year ago to that same Download, buzzing with excitement. The support bands, especially GOTK (Glamour of the Kill), fired up the crowd, and the beer flowed as The Fleece got busier and busier. And then, it began.

Framing the evenings music with the first and last tracks on the Filthy Empire album, the show was utter brilliance. For a band who I am fairly new to, it was astounding to see such a loyal following, one who knew the lyrics to every song and who enjoyed being in the presence of such an energetic band.

For me, rock music needs to be accompanied by showmanship, for the band or artist to appreciate and perform, for its audience, to its audience. Heaven’s Basement are artists at it. Frontman Aaron and lead guitarist/vocalist Sid Glover projected themselves into the crowd by standing on raised platforms for much of the show, whilst drummer Chris Rivers and bassist Rob Ellershaw slapped the audience in the face with beats and funk. No stone was left unturned; from encouraging mosh pits, to ensuring one guy made it around the room and to the bar without ever touching the floor, to lead singer Aaron’s unfamiliar crowd surfing techniques (as shown below).

heavens basement 5heavens basement 6What I have experienced of Heaven’s Basement so far has been quite unique. For the most part, the rock and heavy metal bands I like have been around for a long time. Bands such as Metallica, Rammstein, Thunder, Whitesnake and Iron Maiden are still touring and performing to sellout audiences, but I missed their initial hiatus due to me either not being born or too young to rock out with my nappy out, and so I watch them now, knowing the hits, respecting their presence and expecting excellence. Somehow, Heaven’s Basement are already making audiences feel this way. People want to see them, to hear anthems like ‘Nothing Left to Lose’ and ballads like ‘The Price We Pay‘, and to watch them perform like they have been doing this for 50 years. Whether its their music, their showmanship, their passion, their talent, or all of the above, there is something special about this band and to be in the middle of it all, watching it build, is a great feeling. One might say its electric.

heavens basement 3heavens basement 4

I’ve got chills, they’re multiplying. Part Two.

24 Mar

As you may or may not have seen I have been constructing my Top 30 Horror films. In part one I spoke about how the horror genre comes with a lot of subjectivity, how one persons idea of ‘horror’ is completely different to that of another person. I ask you to bare that in mind as you continue reading, and hopefully my opinions wont be too frightening. So here goes with part two, films 20 to 11. Enjoy.

20. The Mist (2007)

the-mist1To me, Frank Darabont is one of the best out there. Writer, director, producer, he dabbles in it all and comes out on top. In The Mist, his third Stephen King adaption (the first two being The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), Darabont cements his stunning story telling abilities. As a thick mist descends over a small town, a large group of local residents find themselves trapped in a supermarket as it quickly becomes apparent that the mist contains deadly and otherworldly creatures.

Boasting an incredible cast that includes Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn and Chris Owen (better known as The Sherminator – probably much to his disappointment) the main protagonists are a real treasure to watch, slowly being driven insane by the deadly predicament they find themselves in. Partnered with some great visual effects and one of the best endings I have ever seen on film, The Mist has it all. Humour, intrigue, attitude, atmosphere, action, drama and of course horror.

It is also the home of one of my favourite pieces of dialogue; “As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?” Trust me, in context it will be beautiful. So watch it.

19. Zodiac (2007)

ZodiacDuring the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a serial killer known as ‘Zodiac’ terrorized the civilians, the press and the law enforcement of Northern California. The killer taunted investigators with hand-written letters containing cryptograms and claimed to have killed almost 40 people, although in years to come investigators only ever agreed on 7 confirmed victims, 2 of whom survived. Although there have been a number of suspects over the years, most notably a man named Arthur Leigh Allen, to this day the identity of the Zodiac killer is unknown. Even from the 4 cryptograms sent to the Bay Area press, only 1 has ever been solved.

David Fincher’s film tackles the complex subject matter to absolute perfection. The main performances are of the highest calibre, as you would expect from Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo, as they capture what it is to be wrapped up in an investigation filled with mystery and intrigue that has spanned decades due its unsolved status. Zodiac is a long film at 157 minutes, but Fincher uses that time carefully and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. To hold the attention of audiences who will for the most part already know the ending, is an impressive skill, but the eerie, unsettling and shocking world he creates is one you are more that happy to stay in.

Until the credits role and you are reminded that the killer may still be out there…

18. Funny Games (2007)

funny gamesIMDB’s synopsis of Funny Games is, ‘Two psychopathic young men take a family hostage in their cabin.’ The explanation is concise, blunt and cold. Appropriately, it is much like the film.

Writer and director Michael Haneke made Funny Games in 1997. It was in Austrian and the intention was not for it to be a horror film but to be a message about the over-exaggerated links between violence and the media, a subject the director is very passionate about. For the 2007 version, Haneke replaced the Austrian actors with American ones and replicated the first edition shot for shot. The change in language is a great move as it allows Michael Pitt to enter the fray. As one of the ‘psychopaths’, Pitt is the heart of this bloody affair. Softly spoken, disgustingly cruel and chillingly intentional, he is utterly superb.

It is a hard watch. Not simply for the fact that ‘shot for shot’ means that it has the incredibly sluggish pace of the original, but because it is unbelievably dark and troubling. The films setting is clinical and claustrophobic but with it being the families stereotypical holiday home it adds a reality and a familiarity that truly makes you want to stay at home. Additionally, some of the violence is presented through the power of suggestion so when you find yourself filling in the blanks, it becomes an astoundingly disturbing place to be in.

Not originally created to be a horror film in the conventional sense, Haneke’s story telling is so brilliantly cold that Funny Games becomes one of the most horrifying films you will ever see.

17. Cube (1997)

The-CubeCube is about 7 strangers who wake up in a room, wondering how they got there and why they are there. They soon realise that they are trapped in a never-ending maze that contains deadly traps, and the key to their survival lies within themselves. You may be thinking, ‘This sounds vaguely familiar…’ but trust me this is no Saw 2. For Saw 2 is atrocious, Cube is not.

I wanted to write something about this film that would help you to understand just how incredible it is. I couldn’t. I wanted to put a trailer on here to that you could see just how incredible this film is. None of them did it any justice. I thought to myself, what can I do? What can I say?

Honestly, there isn’t anything I can do or say. Except for, it is INCREDIBLE. I implore you to watch it with as little information going into it as possible. It is a surprising, scary, intelligent and unique journey.

16. The Killing Room (2009)

the killing roomIt was quite hard to find a picture for this section of my Top 30 that didn’t give away some of the plot. So I chose Chloe Sevigney. She is in the film, I promise.

The Killing Room is what the term psychological-horror was invented for. Four individuals sign up to take part in a psychological research study that takes place in a stark white room only to find out that they are part of a much bigger and much darker government experiment. The room itself becomes a puzzle that they must solve in order to survive.

The four individuals are played by Timothy Dutton, Clea DuVall, Nick Cannon and Shea Whigham and brilliantly so. It is an interesting cast as they are far enough under the Hollywood radar to make them somewhat strangers to us an audience and far enough above it to hope for their survival. Much like Cube, The Killing Room has so many twists and turns that it would be foolish of me to reveal too much more of the plot. It is about going on the horrific journey with the characters and by the end you will not be disappointed.

15. The Shining (1980)

jack-nicholson-the-shiningJack Nicholson’s frozen dead face at the end of The Shining will haunt me forever.

Many of you may be screaming ‘Woah, spoiler alert!’ at your various technological devices right now but it is hard to believe that anyone reading this article won’t have seen the film. It is simply one of the best horror films, and possibly films of all time.

Based on the book of the same and directed by Stanley Kubrick, the film is about Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) who moves himself and his family into the isolated Overlook Hotel where he has taken a job as a caretaker. His son Danny has the ability to see the past and future, and therefore the ghosts in the hotel, and when the family become trapped at Overlook after a freak snowstorm, Jack finds himself being influenced by a supernatural presence. The influence being that he attempts to kill his wife Wendy and his son.

The Shining is an astounding and completely terrifying film. Kubrick uses iconic long-shots to create such a terrifying feeling of isolation and the soundtrack is both humourously and chillingly eerie. Nicholson’s performance is a how-to on acting as every line, every grimace, every eccentricity in his decline into madness is timed and convicted perfectly. Overall, the film plays on your senses, leaving you in a state of total unease and exhaustion. But it’s so worth it.

“Here’s Johnny!”

14. Eden Lake (2008)

eden-lakeEden Lake is one of the few films that I never watched more than once. Obviously, as I am including it in my Top 30 Horror films it is not because I didn’t like it. The reason I have only watched it once is because it left me disgusted, horrified, shocked and ultimately exhausted. But in a good way.

When a young couple take a weekend away at the isolated Eden Lake, their peace and quiet is jeopardized by a gang of youths. In hope that they can salvage their time together, the couple played by Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender, decide to confront the youths which leads to deadly consequences.

For those of you who have seen it, you will be able to understand my unwillingness to watch it repeatedly, but it is not to say it shouldn’t be watched. The realism is what gets you. Not the realism of the plot as clearly it has been exaggerated for film but the realism of the shots, of the acting, of the terror. A scene in which the head youth Brett (Jack O’Connell – 300: Rise of an Empire and This Is England) beats up another member of his gang, is shown as an upper-shot from the kid being beaten, and by this point in the film you feel like you are well and truly being punched in the face.

Eden Lake is a complete attack on the senses. You will leave the experience shaking with disbelief, anger and sadness. The aforementioned scene physically brought me to tears when I watched it, it was that horrifying. But then isn’t that what you want from a horror film?

13. Misery (1990)

miseryJust a side note really but I am starting to notice a Stephen King obsession manifesting itself on my blog…should probably read his books at some point.

Rolling in at number 13 is another King adaption, Misery. Starring Kathy Bates and James Caan, Misery is about writer Paul Sheldon (Caan) who crashes his car whilst returning home from his Colorado hideaway and is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Bates). Annie is Paul’s ‘number one fan’ and on discovering that his final book kills off her beloved character Misery, Annie’s caring nature turns possessive and deadly, keeping her beloved writer hostage at her home.

The film, directed by the legendary Rob Reiner, has been praised world over by critic and audiences alike since its release. Bates is both mesmerizing and petrifying as Annie, the psychotic fan. The role catapulted her into the Hollywood A-List and she won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her performance, the first Oscar for Best Actress within the horror genre. Reiner places the audience completely and brilliantly in the perspective of Paul Sheldon, where you are never certain of what is around the corner, freedom or the ever-lasting fade. A claustrophobic, powerful film that leaves you breathless. Especially after the ‘hobbling’ scene.

12. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

exorcismofemilyroseIt is a rare thing when you watch a horror film that a performance stands out. Often horror’s can bread contrived, clichéd and stereotypical characters that are essentially cannon fodder for the big crazy guy with the machete. Then in walks Jennifer Carpenter.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose combines courtroom drama and horror to bring us the story of Emily Rose, a young Catholic girl who dies after experiencing signs of possession. It is up to the court to decide whether Emily’s death was the result of the supposed possession or if it was the result of her refusing medical treatment for what was believed to be a strong case of epilepsy and psychosis. Hesitantly I feel I should say that the film is loosely based on a true story but fortunately it doesn’t affect the impact it makes on your mind and your senses.

Anyway, back to Carpenter because she is mind-blowing. Shown through flash-backs of Emily’s struggle with possession, Carpenter contort’s her body in ways unimaginable, screams with raw and unbridled pain, and gains stunning sympathy from an audience in fear of her. She is the stunningly scary centre-piece in this twisted and controversial world. Her portrayal of Emily Rose, mixed with the courtroom drama makes for an extremely smart and original horror film.

11. The Woodsman (2004)

the woodsmanOK, so you may be thinking, ‘This is not a horror film’. But as I have mentioned before horror is such a subjective concept. For me, horror isn’t simply about blood and guts or exorcism’s and things that go bump in the night, it is about a mood, an atmosphere that puts you on the edge of your seat and threatens to kick you off of it at any given moment. Sometimes that scare, that fright, that kick, can come from suspenseful music or a display of the aforementioned blood and guts, but for me it often comes from a feeling of uneasiness developed from psychological suspense. Perfect example; The Woodsman.

The controversial subject matter immediately puts you on edge. Walter, a convicted child molester, returns home after 12 years in prison and finds it hard to adjust to life on the outside. See, the words child molester put you straight on edge. Kevin Bacon plays Walter beautifully, attempting to gain sympathy in every scene as he is targeted by a suspicious and abusive police officer (Lucas – Mos Def) and as he tries to redefine his existence. Ultimately though it is to no avail as pedophilia, even in cinematic terms, is a hard pill to swallow. The horror is thus created by our own rage and inner torment towards a character whose life we are seeing a brief glimpse of. An interesting horror paradigm.

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So there we have it, My Top 30 Horror films from 20 to 11. Hopefully there hasn’t been too many surprises along the way and you’ve enjoyed the ride so far. Coming very soon, my Top 10 which includes a jigsaw, a nice bottle of Chianti and some delightful business cards.

I’ve got chills, they’re multiplying. Part One.

17 Mar

silence of the lambsUnfortunately this title doesnt denote the beginning to an article about the musical Grease. Quite the opposite actually, as below I have constructed my Top 30 horror films, in order no less. I want to clarify quite quickly that I use the word horror loosely as the definition can vary from person to person. One persons definition of horror might be a group of defenseless teenagers having their limbs hacked off with a chainsaw by a mad man, another’s might be a ghost haunting the home of a young family and another’s could be minimalistic film about a stalker. Therefore my list is based on what I have found to be horror-ible (I am so clever) over the years, from instant classics to slow burners, from A-List to B-List and from ghosts to ghouls. The films that have kept me awake at night, made me turn the light on to check what the suspicious noise was in the bedroom and ensured that I never wipe the condensation off of the bathroom mirror for fear of a figure standing behind me. Some may seem like a traditional horror film and some may make you wince with confusion, but please remember as far as film genre’s go, this is the most subjective.

30. Adrift (2006)

open-water-2The sequel to Open Water has met a large amount of criticism over the years, being called ‘obvious’ and ‘tedious’ by many. For some reason the first film had a huge reaction, possibly as it was based on a true story which audiences seem to crawl hands and knees on the floor to the cinema for these days, but the sequel is by far superior.

A couple Amy and James and their baby head out into the open water with some friends to celebrate the 30th birthday of Zach. When the friends decide to take a dip Amy, who has a fear of being in the water, stays on the boat with friend Dan. After Dan recklessly jumps in the water with Amy in his arms, the friends soon realise that they are unable to get back on the boat and panic quickly sets in.

Adrift has some great performances from the six main protagonists, in particular Richard Speight Jr of hit television series Supernatural and Cameron Richardson (as seen above) whose sanity is truly tested. There are a couple of plot holes where you will find yourself shouting at the screen but I see this as an investment in the characters and their impossible situation, and if you want suspense, drama and an evening of hyperventilating in your living room, then this is definitely your bag baby.

29. The Devils Rejects (2005)

devil-s-rejectsThis film is disgusting. You have been warned.

The incestuous, twisted and murderous Firefly family take to the road to escape the local police force led by Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe). From start to finish the director Rob Zombie is set on making the audience squirm and boy does he succeed. From the literal gore, to the sadistic and awkward torture of two families, right up to the climatic ending, the film is one hell of a ride. Zombie also ensures his fans are kept happy by reviving the appearance of the crazed and iconic character Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) from ‘House of 1000 Corpses’, who assists the family on their road of destruction.

The Devils Rejects is not one for the faint hearted, not just in its content but in its scrappy and raw filming style, but for those of you who have a strong stomach it truly is worth swallowing.

28. Salem’s Lot (1979)

salems.lot_.barlowAs vampires invade a small New England town, it becomes the responsibility of a young horror fan and a novelist to save it. Adapted for television from the incredible Stephen King novel, Salem’s Lot is one of the first films that truly terrified me. I mean, look at that face. Look at it! From director Tobe Hooper who had already brought us ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (1974) and was soon to undergo the paranormal epic that is Poltergeist (1982), Salem’s Lot is from an experienced hand. Completely eerie, at times petrifying, beautifully atmospheric and with a score that seeps into the soul, it really is a piece of art. One of the all time classics.

27. Splinter (2008)

SplinterNetflix can often randomly select quite atrocious films for me to watch. With some selections I am simply put off by the artwork of the dvd cover and with others I will read reviews before deciding that it’s not for me. But on occasion it can drum up an absolute corker.

Splinter is a classic B-movie. A young couple and an escaped convict must find a way to work together after they find themselves trapped in an isolated gas station by a voracious Splinter parasite that transforms its still living victims into deadly hosts. With a fairly unknown cast (unless, like me, you recognise Paulo Costanzo from comedy Road Trip), handmade special effects and lets face it a slightly ridiculous plot catalyst, help to hugely cement it in the B category. But in this case the B ends up standing for Brilliant.

It is an absolute gem of a film that keeps you gripped throughout and the performances are anything but low quality, in particular Shea Whigham’s escaped convict Dennis Farell. And for those of us who prefer prosthetics and blood-bags to CGI it does not disappoint.

26. The Amityville Horror (2005)

amityville horrorA plot synopsis seems unnecessary here as the story of the house in Amityville is so famous, but its one of the few times that the sickening words ‘based on a true story’ really gets me going. Now some of you may want to stop reading as I have opted for the new version of the film rather than the original but I beg of you to stay with me on this terrifying journey as I feel strongly about it.

Written by Scott Kosar (The Machinist and The Crazies) this adaption is slightly more glossy and Hollywood than the 1979 version but it manages to give the audience all the atmosphere and scares you could ask for. The reason for me sticking to my guns however is mainly due to Ryan Reynolds performance. He plays George Lutz to perfection, a man filled with inner torment and pure darkness, whose demise into insanity is complex and compelling. Much like McConaughey in A Time To Kill, he proves his worth as an actor so early on and then opted for an array of rom-coms, but the performance struck such a chord with me that I had to include this version over the original.

25. The Hamilton’s (2006)

the hamiltonsThey look like such a wonderful family don’t they, with their boy-and-girl-next-door smiles and their pastel coloured shirts? That’s exactly what they want you to think! The Hamilton’s are four young siblings dealing with the untimely and mysterious death of their parents but not all is at it seems as they harbour some dark and murderous secrets.

This independent low-budget film is disturbing, surprising and intelligent. It keeps you guessing right until the end about who this family really are and its grainy film quality adds an element of realism to the whole affair. Really worth the watch.

24. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

nightmare on elm streetSo you know how you like to go to bed to relax after a tiring day, wrap yourself up in your big thick warm duvet, and then fall into a deep sleep? Well if only it was that easy on Elm Street. For the local children are literally having their worst nightmares come true as they are being stalked in their dreams by Freddy Kruger, a child murderer who was killed by the children’s parents.

Freddy Kruger has become such an iconic character over the years, with his razor-sharp hands, burnt face and Dennis the Menace jumper, and almost ten adoptions of the story have been made since the original, but it is in the first installment that Kruger (played by Robert Englund) really takes a hold of you and your senses. He is a true predator, one with reason for revenge and Englund plays him to perfection. Not only that but Wes Craven’s world is filled with iconic scenes. Who can forget the spine-tingling bathtub scene, as shown above, Tina’s screaming-floating-ceiling death and who doesn’t find delight in Johnny Depp’s bloody demise?!

The Elm Street franchise really has run its course but what started it all was an incredible piece of cinema that can scare even the bravest of audiences. Sleep tight.

23. Hard Candy (2005)

hard-candy-movie_102285-1920x1080Hard Candy was not what I expected at all. I’m not sure what I expected but there was a lot of hype and controversy surrounding the film on release that I tried to steer clear of it, hoping that time and space would bring clarity to my judgment. I watched it a number of years later after hearing so many more good comments than bad and luckily no-one had spoilt the plot for me during that time because the twists and turns are really what make it so magical. That and Ellen Page.

Teenager Hayley Stark invades the private home of a man (played by Patrick Wilson) she believes to be a paedophile in hope of exposing him. What ensues is a dark, perverted and controversial plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Or running for the sick bucket if you are a man…trust me. Ellen Page is tremendous as Stark, her performance so seamless and twisted that you can not take your eyes off of her, and director David Slade uses the power of suggestion to absolutely blow your god damn mind.

22. Scream (1996)

scream-416829What can be said about this film that hasn’t already been said? The film launched the careers of many of its young actors including Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Matthew Lillard and held its own amongst the years fellow releases such as Jerry Maguire and Independence Day. It was the film that revitalised the horror genre in the 1990’s, receiving world-wide critical acclaim and staying in cinemas for nearly eight months after its release. It made terror and horror out of such simplicity, creating a world that didn’t rely on morbidity but on a chilling and often humourous realism.

What I love about Scream is its awareness of itself. It mocks its own clichés and asks audiences to pull apart the conventions of the horror genre, to take humour from a place filled with contrived and dated concepts. Through an intelligent script, beautifully crafted scenes and many twists, the film brought to life a dying genre and kept audiences on their toes and in their seats. Well, until the killer jumps out with a knife that is.

21. Ginger Snaps (2000)

ginger-snaps-1My friend used to talk about this film all the time. Every time I went round there to stay she would suggest watching it, and of course I said no seeing as I was scared of everything when I was younger! So after about ten years I bought a copy and sat down to watch it. Now I know what she was talking about.

Ginger Snaps is about two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte. Outcasts in their own neighbourhood and obsessed with death, the sisters are forced into a realm of impossibility when one of them is bitten by a werewolf.

This film is simply brilliant. Low budget, smart and gory, the film portrays a very realistic image (minus the werewolf part…) of what it is to be a teenager who feels different amongst an over-abundance of ‘normal’ people. The two leading ladies are superbly awkward and the raw emotion of what they go through as people and as sisters penetrates deeply. Its scares come from stereotypical jump-from-your-seat moments, but overall it is an enthralling piece of film.

COMING SOON: Part Two – films 20 to 11 – which includes The Shining, Cube and Misery.

David O. Russell: The Hustler.

17 Mar

Every once in a while a film comes along that surprises you. It may be from a random selection on Netflix or from a friends recommendation but it will take you by the heartstrings and tug until you have fallen head over heels. Over the years this has happened a number of times for me. These times have included Alex Kurtzman’s People Like Us starring Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks, Danny Boyle’s Trance full of its complex twists and turns and one of Daniel Craig’s many exceptional departures from his Bond character in The Mother. But much more recently the surprise has come from David O. Russell and his trio of hits: The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.

With the former two films the surprises came from the performances. Bale, Wahlberg, Cooper, Lawrence, the list of stars with incredible delivery and believability could go on and on. With the latter, the surprise came from simply everything.

american hustleDuring the months before its release American Hustle, a film about con-man Irving Rosenfeld who is forced to work with FBI agent Richie DiMaso to bring down high stakes powerbrokers and the mafia elite, whilst wrestling with a complicated and lustful love life, felt slightly overshadowed by its fellow Oscar nominees. It fell way below my radar but after seeing just one trailer, I accompanied a group of friends to the cinema to watch the quietest nominee in action. Never before have I left a dark room full of strangers more satisfied….

David O. Russell has managed to achieve what so many others can only dream of. Having a large ensemble cast, creating a script heavily laden with dialogue and tackling an intriguing yet rarely visited subject matter, and making it all work. So many times we see these elements, individually and collectively, falling short of the mark due to the directors lack of clarity, but O. Russell does it seamlessly and beautifully. With his last three films he has focused on substance over style (I know, I know, Bradley Coopers hair in American Hustle is pretty stylish but hey!), managing to create a universe in which the actors are truly able to shine. One technique which has established their abilities to truly act upon impulse is through improvisation. In regards to the improv, roughly making up a third of the film’s dialogue, it has been reported that during shooting Christian Bale noted (Source IMDB) to his director, “You realize that this is going to change the plot greatly down track.” To which the director replied, “Christian, I hate plots. I am all about characters, that’s it.” What is interesting about the latter statement is that from watching his films, you can really believe this.

american hustle 2And in American Hustle that statement could not be more true. From start to finish it is the people who you care about. Not the glitz and glamour of the 1970’s, not the structure of the plot, not even the electric soundtrack, but the people. You root for them all, you care about them all, you get invested in their highs and their lows and pray that this one has a happy ending. The direction by O. Russel with actors and his avid involvement with every scene obviously plays a huge part but it is truly a testament to the actors cast in this film who are making a mark on the world.

Christian Bale proves once again that he is one of the worlds all time greatest actors, submerging himself into the character of Irving Rosenfeld with ease and clarity. Renner is superb as Carmine Polito, the Mayor caught between a rock and a hard con, with a vulnerability that we havent seen yet seen in his career but hope that it may continue. Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence shine, both literally and metaphorically, with sparkly dresses, big hair and power house performances that alight the flame for the women of Hollywood. For me though the main star is Bradley Cooper. It’s hard to believe that the young quail-shooting sleaze-ball we saw in ‘Wedding Crashers’ would grow to be such a huge contender, and if you still have doubts of his abilities then I am going to presume you have not seen this film. His acting comes from the gut, the soul, and the characters belief, passion and inevitable demise are something special to watch.

AMERICAN-HUSTLE-04-Bradley-CooperBut what about the plot I hear you cry. Well, there is one but it really isn’t whats important. On researching this film I found so many people disagreed with that statement, that they were bored by the characters, crying out for a plot that took centre stage, and proclaiming that the film didn’t live up to its hype. What is interesting about this is that the hype escaped me completely. That as I said a mere 27 lines ago (yes I counted) my attention was being diverted by other Oscar nominees such as Gravity and The Wolf of Wall Street, so I went into that dark room full of strangers clutching my £5 popcorn with very few expectations. Perhaps it is the best way to enjoy a film, I don’t know. But what I do know is that David O. Russell’s universe is one that I would happily live in.

Selling Point – Bradley Cooper for the ladies. Amy Adams cleavage for the men. Oh and it is surprisingly funny.

Line-o-rama – “I felt like we had a secret, just the two of us. Like that thing where you just wanna be with one person all the time. You feel like the two of you get something no one else gets.”  – Irving Rosenfeld

It’s all political – My Top 10 Political Drama’s

8 Oct

Political. Po-lit-i-cal. adj. 1. Of relating to, or dealing with the structure or affairs of government, politics, or the state.

Political drama’s can often be a huge point of contention. Facts are missed or twisted, stories are over exaggerated and actors face the challenge of portraying a ‘real-life person’ who has been either loved or loathed. Even stories that are perfectly told cause controversy and anger, as when based in politics, and like politics itself, you are never going to please everyone.

Some however, despite having quite obvious dramatisation (we are talking about films after all), stop the press. In hope that they will captivate and inspire, they come at times when the world needs them, telling stories of people and days gone by, reminding us of the struggles and pain endured, the battles won and lost, and the leaders who changed it all so that we can live the lives we do today. The films are so believable, so astounding, that they become and remain classics.

Now some of you may take a look through my Top 10 Political Drama’s and think I have taken a few liberties with my collection as not all of the films could have the above definition stamped directly on them. But hopefully you can forgive me, as where government based politics are missing, prejudice and beautiful shiny courtrooms are ever-present. Keep in mind as well that this list is entirely my own opinion, developed from films that have interested me with and without any previous knowledge of the subject matter and have truly moved me through storytelling.

10. Frost/Nixon (2008)

frost-nixonStarring Michael Sheen as David Frost and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon, the film re-tells the televised interviews between the two men three years after the Watergate Scandal, where by President Nixon resigned following the discovery of his own tape-recordings in the Whitehouse that implicated him in the cover-up of extensive illegal activity.

Adapted from the play in which both Sheen and Langella starred in the same roles, the incredible partnership of screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Ron Howard (most recently known for the Formula 1 based melodrama Rush) is also reunited. The story is beautifully told through their vision but what it truly triumphs in is its cast. Sheen and Langella are electrifying in their portrayal of the iconic characters, powering through each interview, each scene, with such charisma and relentlessness that you find yourself rooting for both characters. Those around them are also faultless, in particular Sam Rockwell and Kevin Bacon whose passion to succeed for their respective protagonists, is both compelling and heartwarming.

Parts of it are fabricated, most notably the intense midnight phone conversation between Frost and Nixon, but as far as ‘real’ stories go, this one is as truthful as it gets. Howard’s Frost/Nixon, much like the 1977 interviews, is a complete success.

Trivia – Rotten Tomatoes rating – 92%. Nominated for 5 Oscars. The entire film was shot in 38 days.

9. Milk (2008)

milk-movie-posterSean Penn is no stranger to difficult roles. Brutal and cold Sgt. Tony Meserve in ‘Casualties of War’, mentally retarded yet loving Sam Dawson in ‘I Am Sam’ and revengeful Jimmy Markum in ‘Mystic River’, and in ‘Milk’ he plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into office in the state of California in 1977.

Directed by Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting) the film is an incredible portrayal of an incredible man. Milk was a visionary who ‘imagined a righteous world inside his head and then set about to create it for real, for all of us’ (Anne Kronenberg – Harvey Milk’s final campaign manager), and Penn plays him as such. It is a strong and yet beautifully delicate performance, helped along by the supporting cast of Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch and James Franco.

A truly inspirational and moving biography, that speaks out about issues both past, and unfortunately present.

Trivia – Rotten Tomatoes rating 94%. Winner of 2 Oscars including Best Performance by an Actor for Sean Penn. Josh Brolin doesn’t appear in the film until the 45th minute.

8. Lincoln (2012)

LincolnWhen Daniel Day Lewis comes up in conversations I often find myself taking a moment to remember who he actually is. Not because I have never heard of him, but because he immerses himself into roles so deeply that he becomes one with them and I forget that Daniel Day Lewis ever existed. This is proven in the simple fact that he is the only actor in the history of film to win the Oscar for Best Actor three times.

Lincoln is a brave film. Not only does it take on the astoundingly iconic figure of Abraham Lincoln but it choses to tell the tale of when he fought for the abomination of slavery in the United States in 1865, at the same time as the Civil War was coming to a close. So who better than to take on the sky-scraper of a task than world-renowned director Steven Spielberg. And what a remarkable job he does. As well as Lewis providing his third performance of a lifetime, Sally Field plays her role of Mary, the sad and desperate yet encouraging wife of President Lincoln, to absolute perfection, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes it a truly family affair with his powerful performance as the Presidents son Robert.

Lincoln doesn’t shy away from uplifting, and occasionally cheesy, speeches but its power is undeniable. Packed full of stunning moments and intelligent scripting, it does justice to a time of both cruelty and bravery.

Trivia – Rotten Tomatoes rating 89%. Spielberg spent 12 years researching for the film.

7. Citizen Kane (1941)

MBDCIKA EC019What can be said about Citizen Kane that hasn’t been said already? It has been over 70 years since the films release and it is still one of the most influential films in history. Directed by and starring, for want of a better word the ‘genius’ Orson Welles, Citizen Kane is about a group of reporters who aim to decipher the final word spoken by Charles Foster Kane, the millionaire newspaper tycoon: ‘Rosebud’.

It is an incredible piece of cinema, one that despite its dated use of language speaks to any generation, predominantly through Welles’ central performance. Simply, watch it.

Trivia – Rotten Tomatoes rating – 100%. Winner of Best Writing, Original Screenplay Oscar. Despite it’s now timeless and iconic status, the film was originally a box office flop and at the 1941 Academy Awards when each nomination was announced it was simultaneously booed.

6. Hunger (2008)

hungerFor full length review please follow the link below:

Hunger.

Trivia – IMDB star rating of 7.5. Winner of 36 awards world-wide including Carl Foreman Award for the Most Promising Newcomer for Director Steve McQueen.

5. Argo (2012)

Argo 3Remember earlier when I said that political dramas can often be a huge point of contention as they sometimes miss out or twist facts? Well Argo did exactly that. Set in 1980, it follows the life of CIA agent Tony Mendez who sets out on a dangerous mission to rescue six Americans who managed to escape during the U.S hostage crisis in Iran. The film focuses almost entirely on the American effort to rescue its people, but fails to properly acknowledge the extensive involvement made by other nations in the rescue attempt, most notably Canada and its Ambassador Ken Taylor. Now you may be thinking that it seems strange to include the film in my Top 10 as I have begun this section of the article so negatively, but it is simply because Argo is one of the best films ever made.

Upon viewing the film I knew very little, if at all anything about the subject matter and so being unaware I was able to sit back, relax and enjoy the film for what it was. Ignorance is bliss as it were. Every aspect astounded me. The script was complex, interesting and occasionally funny, the situation was hopeless yet somehow always hopeful, the characters were brave yet astoundingly human, and the story was compelling from start to finish. Everything from the use of old news footage, to the pounding soundtrack brought me to life in the cinema. And what a cast! Affleck is impeccable, Cranston is as charming as ever, Arkin and Goodman are hilarious and ‘the six’ including Tate Donovan and Clea Duvall make a huge impression amongst the leads weighty performances.

Knowing what I now know about the film’s subject matter, I would say that Argo and its director/star Ben Affleck certainly took some liberties in portraying the story solely to serve Hollywood, but loving the film as I now do, its hard to imagine it any other way. I guess you would simply have to adopt naivety to enjoy it as much as I did.

Trivia – Rotten Tomatoes rating 96%. Won 3 Oscars for Editing, Motion Picture and Adapted Screenplay. Family members of the real Tony Mendez appear as extras.

4. A Time To Kill (1996)

a-time-to-kill-46674-16x9-largeLong before Matthew McConaughey relinquished himself to a career of romantic comedies before remembering he could act, he proved the latter point in ‘A Time To Kill’, an adaption of the book by John Grisham. When a 10-year-old black girl is raped and left for dead by two white men in Mississippi, the girl’s father Carl Lee (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes hell-bent on revenge and murders the two men. It is then up to Jake Tyler Brigance (McConaughey), a young, broke and inexperienced lawyer to defend Carl Lee, causing controversy in a racially driven deep south town.

Boasting a cast of seasoned experts (Sandra Bullock, Keifer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd and Kevin Spacey) and a script that is at worst inspirational, ‘A Time To Kill’ is one of my all time favourite films. It’s power lies in its humanistic approach to a brutal act and its portrayal of the statewide epidemic of racism. The final courtroom scene has, in my opinion of course, one of the most intensely brilliant moments in the history of cinema. In the 30+ times that I have watched it, it has never failed to move me to tears, for all the right reasons.

Trivia – IMDB star rating 7.2.  Woody Harrelson wanted to play Jake Brigance but author John Grisham objected to his casting.

3. JFK (1991)

jfkIf heavily laden scripts aren’t your bag baby, then stay unbelievably clear of this one.

Boasting 189 minutes of screen time, JFK is not for the weak-hearted. It details the life of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison who disbelieves the official story released by the FBI about the events that led to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and so undergoes his own investigation.

The JFK assassination has and always will be a controversial subject, one that many people believe has had extensive lies and cover-ups attached to it. Oliver Stone, the director, was criticised for the film in many areas with people proclaiming that he had in fact fabricated most of the story. He proved otherwise by printing his screenplay and detailing precise reasons for each decision made and it is with this knowledge that the film becomes even more believable.

Played out like a detective story, JFK grabs you by the brain and never let’s go. It asks you to question yourself, the assassination, government, and the film itself. Its central performances from Kevin Costner, Donald Sutherland, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci and Tommy Lee Jones are absolutely incredible, particularly with the former whose characterisation of Garrison is all-consuming and poignant.

An absolute classic that due to its controversy will never get the full recognition it deserves, but in my mind Oliver Stone’s best work.

Trivia – Rotten Tomatoes rating 84%. Winner of 2 Oscars. Costner memorised his final speech completely and is said to have claimed that Stone would only need to do one take.

2. 12 Angry Men

12angrymenA young man whose race is unknown but is not Caucasian, is being tried for killing his father. The defence and prosecution have rested and now the 12 jurors must pile into a small, un-air-conditioned room to determine his fate. What seems to be a foregone conclusion by the majority of the jury, soon turns into an initiated dissection of justice, morality and prejudice, as Juror #8 (Henry Fonda) convinces the other 11 men to consider that the case may not be as obvious as it seemed in court.

For years I had heard of this film, spoken through the lips of many Media and Film Studies lecturers, urging classes of people to watch the timeless classic. And for years I seemed to unintentionally avoid it. So one day when I went DVD shopping (yup) I saw it for just £3 and decided to give it a go. Often when people have spent minutes or hours actively telling me how great a film is, when I finally watch it, it can feel slightly underwhelming. Not this. Not in any way at all.

12 Angry Men is phenomenal. From start to finish, as the plot thickens and the tension builds, you find yourself being drawn further and further into the plot and the room, giving nothing but the television screen your full attention for the duration of the film. There are no explosions, no time-filling montages, no sex scenes and no pounding soundtrack, it is simply 12 men in one room, all giving the performances of a lifetime. Often I completely disagree with film ratings, but the Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100% is completely accurate. It is perfection in cinema.

Warning: Be sure not to fall off the edge of your seat.

Trivia – The film lost out on all three Oscars it was nominated for – The Bridge On The River Kwai won all three instead.

1. A Few Good Men (1992)

a-few-good-men-4ff9467ac1b4fJust as political based dramas can sometimes cause controversy, I am sure that the final film in my Top 10 will cause a slight amount of outrage. But number one it is. For me anyway.

Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise), Lt. Cdr. Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore) and Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak) set out to defend the innocence of two young Marines who on being charged with murdering a fellow Marine Pfc. William. T. Santiago, proclaim that they were acting under orders. Directed by Rob Reiner (Stand By Me, This Is Spinal Tap, Misery) and with a supporting cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Kevin Bacon and Kiefer Sutherland, the film is undeniable as ‘one to watch’.

The script, adapted for the screen by the writer of the original play Aaron Sorkin, is fast-paced and intelligent, giving you more and more with every viewing. The plot plays out as a detective story, a thriller and a drama (of course), keeping you glued for its entire 138 minutes. But the genius of the film is in its cast. Not one person puts in a mediocre performance, including brief performances from courtroom witnesses Noah Wyle and Cuba Gooding Jnr, and the main protagonists are electrifying. Moore is strong yet delicate as Lt. Cdr. Galloway and Pollak adds some comedic and touching relief as Kaffee’s accomplice and friend. But the main focus is the relationship between Cruise’s Kaffee and Nicholson’s Col. Jessup, which plays out like a scene from the Roman Colosseum, resulting in the countlessly quoted final famous courtroom scene:

Jessup – You want answers?

Kaffee – I think I’m entitled to them.

Jessup – *You want answers?*

Kaffee – *I want the truth!*

Jessup – *You can’t handle the truth!*

[pauses]

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

My favourite film, not just in this Top 10 but of all time, and to be honest, it gets there on that speech alone.

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Well there you have it, my Top 10 Political Drama’s. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And for my latest full-length film reviews follow the link.