Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Testament of Youth: battles of Brittain make for moving biopic

Testament of Youth (2014)
Director: James Kent
Entertainment grade: B
History grade: C-
Vera Brittain’s memoir of her experiences and losses in the first world war was published in 1933 as Testament of Youth. It became an instant bestseller and remains a classic.


Before the war, Vera’s main obstacles are parents and boredom. She is played brilliantly by the Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair). Her parents don’t like the idea of her going to university: they fear that if she becomes a bluestocking she will never find a husband. This is more or less accurate. Brittain was bored out of her mind during her girlhood in the beautiful but snobbish and conservative environs of Buxton. “Even at 18, a mentally voracious young woman cannot live entirely upon scenery,” she wrote, adding that she would have been in danger of “dying of spontaneous combustion” had she not had her diary to write and an interesting curate in a nearby village. The film’s screenplay might be accused of losing a little of Brittain’s wit in its translation from page to screen, but it captures her courage and sharpness well enough.
Testament of Youth
‘A mentally voracious young woman cannot live entirely upon scenery’ … Testament of Youth. Photograph: Allstar/BBC Films


Just as Vera is shouting at her father (Dominic West) that she doesn’t want a husband, in walks hunky young Roland Leighton (Kit Harington). “Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron. All these romantics aren’t good for you, you know,” he says, rather patronisingly, as he helps her collect the books she has hurled out of a window in a fit of teenage angst. The meeting seems contrived, and it is – the two really met at dinner, according to Brittain’s memoir, and there was no book-throwing rage or patronising putdown. Both Vera and Roland are due to go to Oxford, until Roland announces – when they meet on the station platform to go up together – that he’s joining the army instead. The film has, understandably, dramatised this moment, which in real life was communicated by letter. “I don’t think in the circumstances I could easily bring myself to endure a secluded life of scholastic vegetation,” the real Roland Leighton wrote. “I feel that I am meant to take an active part in this war.”
Alicia Vikander with Kit Harington in Testament of Youth
‘All these romantics aren’t good for you, you know’ … Kit Harington as Roland Leighton with Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain

More romance

The film’s recreation of Roland and Vera’s courtship is sweetly done, and the scene in which he leaves for the war – with a train full of desperate, heartbroken women saying goodbye to the men they love – is extremely moving. It is fictionalised, though. “We never kissed and never said a word,” wrote the real Brittain of seeing Leighton off for France.


Vera cannot live a life of scholastic vegetation either, and leaves Oxford to become a nurse. Christmas approaches, and Roland gets leave to come home and marry her. Vera’s parents are with her at the Grand Hotel in Brighton, and she is already wearing a white suit – “Just half an hour to go!” Then a telephone call comes through. She thinks it must be Roland, but it is his sobbing mother (Anna Chancellor), with the news that he is dead. In reality, there was no wedding scheduled – just a small reunion. The call from Roland’s mother came on the morning of 27 December 1915, as Vera was getting up.


The film misses out the real Brittain’s period of nursing in Malta, skipping to 1917 when she travelled to France to work in a field hospital. She is put to work nursing German prisoners of war. One day, a huge number of British casualties come in. As she walks out of the hospital hut, the camera pulls back to show rows of stretchered men laid out on the ground. It pulls back and back, showing more and more as Vera picks her way between them. This isn’t in Brittain’s book, though film buffs will recognise the shot from the famous moment when Scarlett O’Hara walks through lines of injured soldiers in Gone With the Wind. Told that her brother, Edward (Taron Egerton), is among the wounded, she searches frantically for him among the bodies. She finds him, and carefully nurses him back to health. This is fictional. The real Edward Brittain was not wounded in France, nor was he nursed by his sister.
Alicia Vikander in Testament of Youth.
Testament of Youth charts the origins of Brittain’s pacifism Photograph: Allstar/BBC Films


A fine and moving film, if heavy-handed in places. The screen version of Testament of Youth gilds the lily of Vera Brittain’s memoir – though fans of the book may well feel it didn’t need so much extra adornment.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

George Lucas: I haven't seen Force Awakens trailer

The teaser video for JJ Abrams’ forthcoming Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, is set to be the most-viewed trailer of all time, but George Lucas hasn’t seen it
from the upcoming film, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," expected in theaters on Dec. 18, 2015from the upcoming film, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," expected in theaters on Dec. 18, 2015
Lightsabers ain’t what they used to be … JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Photograph: AP/LucasFilm/Disney

It is on course to be the most-viewed trailer of all time, with an estimated 52m views in its first four days online. But the man who created the long-running Star Wars space saga, George Lucas, has not yet taken the time to view the teaser for new entry The Force Awakens, reports
Lucas told the site he would wait until JJ Abrams’ film hits cinemas. The film-maker, who sold all Star Wars rights to Disney in a $4.05bn deal in October 2012, said he was “not really” curious about the new movie.
“I don’t know anything about it. I haven’t seen it yet,” quoted Lucas saying. Asked why, he replied: “Because it’s not in the movie theatre. I like going to the movies and watching the whole thing there. I plan to see it when it’s released.”
The internet has not been kind to Lucas since the release of the trailer on 28 November. Wags immediately reimagined the teaser with incongruous CGI aliens, in a reference to the remastered Special Edition versions of the original Star Wars trilogy.
One Funny or Die video even speculated over the film-maker’s miserable reaction to Abrams’ take on his creation. In the spoof commentary, Lucas and the “force ghost” of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker lament the addition of a new, three-pronged lightsaber and complain about the absence of Jar Jar Binks’ race, the Gungans, in the teaser.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Big Eyes review – Tim Burton’s art fraud film is a slow-burn study of abuse

Amy Adams as Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes.
But is it kitsch? … Amy Adams as Margaret Keane in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes.
The irony of Big Eyes, Tim Burton’s film about the authorial stamp on a work of art, is that it is nearly bereft of what makes Burton’s work so recognisable. The deeper implications of this are a matter for Burton and his shrink, but for us in the audience it’s a welcome recharge from a man whose last picture, Frankenweenie, was merely a longer version of one of his earlier projects.
Big Eyes reteams Burton with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who collaborated on the (dare I use the M-word?) masterpiece Ed Wood. Both films are about a misunderstood artist, but the similarities end there. The new film tells the strange but true story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a divorcee who arrives with her young daughter in San Francisco in the late 1950s. She’s a bit of a mystery – women simply didn’t just up and leave their husbands back then – but she takes great pride in her paintings. Her work, at first mostly portraits of her daughter, takes the cute but sad form of waif-like children with dark, enormous eyes.
Big Eyes film still
Margaret finds a stable provider in Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a real-estate man and “Sunday painter” of dull street scenes. What he lacks in artistic spark he more than makes up for in loquaciousness and hucksterism. He can’t get his or Margaret’s work exhibited in art galleries, so he works out a deal to get the paintings shown in the Hungry I jazz club. When Walter argues with the club owner (Jon Polito), he is fortunate enough to do so while the press is watching. Amid the confusion, the paintings start selling and the next thing you know, Walter is taking credit for Margaret’s work.
They don’t just sell a few portraits of “big-eyed waifs”; the paintings become a national sensation. Despite the work being derided by serious art critics as kitsch, Walter, with the aid of a columnist pal (Danny Huston), gets it seen and admired by movie stars. He goes on television. The masses who can’t afford a painting are soon buying cheaply produced posters. Even Andy Warhol approves. Meanwhile, trapped in a darkened studio in their new googie-style mansion, Margaret slaves away creating more “Keanes”.
The slow burn of Big Eyes is watching Margaret find the courage to confront her husband, resulting in a fascinating, and funny, trial. Though it is set 50 years ago, Big Eyes is eerily a film of the moment. As we hear more testimonials from the victims of Bill Cosby – himself a figure of Americana bordering on kitsch – there are many who still refuse to take a woman’s allegations at face value. CNN talking head Don Lemon’s ludicrous line of questioning to Joan Tarshis lays bare the misunderstanding some people still have about abuses of power. Margaret has her confidence and agency destroyed slowly and methodically. Walter can stumble into his scheme, knowing that he’ll be able to rely on the “woman’s place” argument when he needs reinforcement from a patriarchal system. (A visit to a Roman Catholic confessional in which the priest tells Margaret to just do as she’s told is among the more infuriating moments in the film.)
Big Eyes film still
The setting and the politics of the era are what keeps Big Eyes intriguing, but much like the waif paintings themselves, the script isn’t exactly subtle. There are many scenes in which we don’t so much get an insight into a character’s thought processes through some deft observation, we get it because the characters stand in a corridor and shout their inner conflicts at one another. Shading from supporting players, even entertaining ones such as the hipster gallerist (Jason Schwartzman) or the snobby New York Times art critic (Terence Stamp), are really there to bark a point of view, and are not gracefully threaded into the drama.
Tim Burton’s usual visual language peeks through sparingly. There’s that fabulous house and then there are the paintings themselves, which harmonise nicely with Burton’s established, playfully macabre iconography. Part of the film’s problem, though, is that it’s hard to know if we should be celebrating or laughing at Margaret’s work. Certainly we care for Margaret and the way Walter has her trapped, but her character comes across as a cypher representing a great number of issues without being a real individual. This movie wants to be an oil painting, but ends up being more of a mass-produced, though good-quality print.
  • Big Eyes is released in the US on Christmas Day, in the UK on Boxing Day and 19 February in Australia

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Are The Best Hollywood Action Movies Of 2013

What are the top 10 Hollywood action movies of 2013, The American Film Industry, or the Hollywood, as is commonly known, is termed as one of the most versatile industries in the world is also termed as decades ahead from any other film industry in the world in terms of imagination, filming, direction and acting. Be it action, drama, romance, comedy, science fiction, historical, theme based or any other cinema, Hollywood makes them all and excels at them most of the times. The number of categories being so many, it is difficult to list the best of them altogether, hence let's has a look at the upcoming best Hollywood Action movies of 2013 ones category wise.

The list of Top Hollywood action movies 2013 is a big comparison to last year 2012. After reviewing the movies as based on box office report, we picked the best ones. Some of them have great action with amazing quality of visuals. As the year goes on, the list will increase with some greatest upcoming English movies in action category.

1. G.I. Joe: Retaliation: In this sequel of G.I. Joe rise of the cobra, that released in 2009, Rob Moore, hired writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick to write the plot and the movie stars Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson with Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, and Lee Byung-hun continuing their roles of the first part. The G.I. Joes have to not only fought their worldly opponent the cobra, but they are also forced to compete with the continuous threats from the government that bringing in danger the very existence of their department.

2. The Lone Ranger: This upcoming action western film is directed by Gore Verbenski and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. The leading role is played by stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp playing Tonto. This action comedy revolves around a masked hero who is brought to life via new eyes. Native American spirit warrior Tonto narrates the countless stories that altered John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice. The two not likely heroes have to now work as team against the antisocial elements like greed and corruption.

3. Snitch: Scheduled to be released on February 22, 2013, this action thriller stars Dwayne Johnson and Susan Sarandon, directed by Ric Roman Waugh. The movie shows how a father becomes an undercover informer in order to expose a drug supplies group when his teenager kid is arrested for drug distribution and sentenced prison for a decade despite of being innocent.

4. Office Down: Directed by Brian A Miller, the movie is written by John Chase starring Stephen Dorff, Tommy Flanagan and Dominic Purcell. The plot revolves around a cop whose not so good past comes in his present and haunts him. Now the decisions to either do what's right or to bow down to the threats of his past connections.

We hope the above list helps you decide your watch list for the coming year. So it's just a few more days and you can start booking your tickets for the shows of these Top 10 Best Hollywood action movies 2013.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Top Famous Feature Films This Year

Most film critics are list fetishists. And while I do enjoy stacking up movie titles at the end of the year, it's also a frustrating holiday ritual. First off, I've seen a few hundred movies this year, and yet inevitably a few slip by that, based on the buzz they are receiving, I suspect would rank on this list. This year those include feature films like Tabu and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and documentaries like Brooklyn Castle and This is Not a Film.

Also, going over all the movies I saw this year, it was hard to let some go unmentioned. Sure, Steven Soderbergh had a great year with Magic Mike and Haywire, but how do those compare with The Turin Horse? I was also big fan of the insanely exciting Indonesian martial arts film The Raid: Redemption, but how do you compare that with Bernie? Then there are the films you list because, despite their flaws, they have a particular personal resonance. Sarah Polle's adept direction of Take This Waltz, and Michele Williams' endearing performance in that film, have not garnered mention on many other year-end lists, but the movie stayed with me for so many months I couldn't leave it off mine.

1. Amour (Dir. Michael Haneke)

Haneke's quiet movie about a dying woman and her devoted husband is simply unshakable. In it we encounter two of the most subtly rendered characters on screen this year, and their last days inside a modest Parisian apartment reveal so much about human interrelation. Here Haneke's penchant for starkly-drawn worlds allows for an exploration of character and affection that resists sentimentality and nostalgia. Instead, his straightforward rendering lays bare our longings, frailties, fears, and failings.

There are plenty of movies this year that try to engage with the peculiar confusion of contemporary life – from blinding violence to a splintered sense of self – but Haneke's film reminds us that perhaps what we often fail to grasp is a nuanced appreciation of the nature of a love that is hard-bearing, sacrificial, violent, open-ended, enigmatic, and necessary.

2. Holy Motors (Dir. Leos Carax)

Leos Carax's Holy Motors is befuddling, enrapturing, diabolical, exhilarating, infuriating, and beguiling. It is a movie-riddle that strikes at something unsettling close to the core of existence. In it, Denis Lavant delivers the year's best singular performance as a hard-to-pin-down actor who glides through Paris in a stretch limo, performing living scenes. It takes a while to begin to understand what Carax is up to with his film, which breaks down our expectations of what we take to be "true" or "real," initially in a cinematic sense, and then more broadly. Lavant plays a businessman, an actor, an artist, a performer, a beggar, a thief, a murder, a father, a scoundrel, a lover, a dying relative. He is lived contradiction, honesty manifested as a lie, whose presence serves as a foil both to society and existence.

Holy Motors is an unholy satire, an elusive and beguiling critique of life itself. Through his character, Carax breaks-down his audience, spinning Holy Motors into a carnivalesque hall of mirrors, an image play about images. "What is beauty if there is no beholder?" Lavant's character speculates at one point. The answer that emerges in the movie is that beauty is something equal parts seductive and horrifying — horrifying, perhaps, because, as we fear (and begin to suspect), in the context of Carax's vision of reality, it may be nothing at all.

3. Zero Dark Thirty (Dir. Katheryn Bigelow)

There has been no small amount of controversy surrounding Katheryn Bigelow's new film. Objections have been raised regarding its depiction of torture, its glorification of war, its blurred moral stance on human rights, its possibly racist depictions of Muslims, its conflicting characterization of feminist vigilantism, its suspected historical untruths and journalistic indiscretions, its flagrant breaching of national secrets, and what might be characterized as callous patriotic blood-lust.

The reason for all of these muddy and uneasy reactions to Bigelow's movie is that while Zero Dark Thirty appears in the form of an exciting Hollywood movie about search and capture of Osama bin Laden, it is equally a challenging critique – of the institutional structures that drove the manhunt, of the structure of human reason and capacity for understanding that deciphered the riddle of bin Laden's location, of the seek-and-destroy mentality that ended up leading a team of Navy Seals to the hated terrorist leader. And while Zero Dark Thirty is ostensibly a movie about hunting for bin Laden, it is also a piece of entertainment that raises its very entertainment as a crucial point of moral questioning. If hunting and killing bin Laden was a victory for America, than Americans share complicity in the murky and unsettling means to that end.