Archive | May, 2014

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.

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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