Screen

Matthew McConaughey buys into real acting

Matthew McConaughey buys into real acting

The Matthew McConaughey revival is turning into one of the great cinema stories of our generation; the once-jaded rom-com star has turned his career around in truly impressive style, moving from schlocky rubbish to arthouse chic in a matter of a couple of years. His turns in Magic Mike and Mud garnered praise from critics, and he is now the odds-on favourite to add an Oscar to this haul of accolades, with Dallas Buyers Club a huge success critically and commercially in the US.

The film is good enough to justify the buzz it’s been accompanied by as it opens in the UK, for once, and McConaughey’s performance is really a superb one. He plays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic bundle of machismo in the US south, who is blindsided by a diagnosis of HIV, a disease he considers reserved for homosexuals. Given thirty days to live, he initially goes on a binge of drugs and meaningless sexual contact, but then starts to react against the hopeless situation the medical professionals have presented him with. He embarks on a variety of journeys to a variety of countries to secure alternative medication to the controversial drug he was initially prescribed, AZT, and has to deal with the litigious and obstructive input of the FDA while he does so.

The central performance is a hugely impressive one from McConaughey veers from huge vulnerability and weakness into bravado and false confidence at a moment’s notice, and is constantly riveting. When Woodroof eventually gains a measure of wisdom and calmness it feels like a victory in characterisation, and a heartening moment for the audience. Equally impressive is Jared Leto, as Rayonne, a transgender woman who Ron befriends, whose reach extends into the LGBTQ community Woodroof is so repulsed by. He and McConaughey have both lost a frightening amount of weight to fit their roles, and the instances when they are changing or stretching out leave horrifying images of skeletal bodies behind, to remind the audience of the situation these impressive people find themselves in.

The supporting work from Leto is highly likely to win the singer an Oscar, and McConaughey is well-backed to gain the Best Actor gong, at the expense of the slightly more deserving Chiwetel Ejiofor. They are both on top form, and Jennifer Garner is convincing as well, as the primary medical presence in Ron’s life, his doctor Eve Saks, who has serious reservations about AZT but no license to do anything about it. The serious subject matter might have attracted goads of Oscar-baiting, but the film is so well-made and heartfelt that such slurs haven’t really surfaced, and nor should they. The AIDS crisis is treated very maturely, and it is not the absolute centre of the film – it obviously drives the action, but Dalls Buyers Club does not seek to educate too much at the expense of immersion. Some knowledge is assumed, and much is implied and learned through organic inclusion, but it never feels like a documentary (that hole has been recently filled by How to Survive a Plague, which will screen at the Keble Arts Festival this term).

Dallas Buyers Club is a superb film, led by an impressive cast, and will deserve the Oscars it will most likely gain – even if, for me, Twelve Years a Slave will deserve some of them a mite more.

Dallas Buyers Club is now showing at the Phoenix Picturehouse.

PHOTOS/ Empire

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Golden Globe: awarding or restraining art?

Golden Globe: awarding or restraining art?

With the announcement of the Golden Globe winners this year, the media inevitably splashes out in stories from the most mundane repetition of the winners, to the painfully more mundane Daily Mail ‘scoop’ that ‘Jennifer Lawrence was thrashed the night before the Golden Globes’. As the awards are shared and spread, actors, producers, and those other people who get awarded during the interval for bizarre things like sound editing, rejoice in the recognition. Then the moment is gone, and they all gear up for the Oscar nominations.

Since the early post-war period, the circle of cinema-making has been dictated and defined by this period. Any film intending to be considered as a serious and self-aware creation has had to ensure it is released in the period of consideration for the Oscars, and preferably not win Best Drama at the Globes.  Because, when journalists agree too much, they go on to realise they may be wrong.

What does not seem to be questioned as thoroughly as perhaps it should be is: why have such institutions been awarded with the ubiquitous voice of cinema? In fact, it seems difficult to recall them ever winning an award in their own right – it is ironic to think they have never been acknowledged by their own system of worth-attachment.

Rather than launching into the question of whether we should, at all, try to create any omniscient measure of cinematic quality, let us turn to the organisations themselves.

The Golden Globe award is given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. This organisation was founded by foreign journalists, based in Los Angeles, trying to raise the profile of overseas markets for cinema amid the turmoil of the Second World War. The group was originally led by none other than the British correspondent for the Daily Mail. 

The original intention, therefore, was not at all focused on cinema, or the art of picture-making. It was an attempt to improve the marketing strategy of Hollywood films abroad via access to top-end celebrities for interviews in local papers around the world.

Today, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association annually selects up to five journalists to join their prestigious ranks, and boasts a combined readership of over 250 million. In essence, these people are influential enough to have ensured these films are given a certain level of praise before they even reach the stage of award-giving. The fact these journalists are influential enough, however, seems somewhat counter intuative to the process of award giving. Namely, the worth of an award stands quite aside from a local newspaper review offering praise in the Telegraph. Yet, given the structure of the organisaiton, as nothing more than a conglomerate of those very same people behind the Telegraph, Le Figaro and Vogue reviews, the Golden Globes acknowledge nothing more than the fact several important people may have enjoyed the film.

Rather than necessarily encouraging film quality, and the death of the contrived rom-com (probably featuring Jennifer Aniston), the Golden Globes is a celebration of influence. The award ceremony is a ploy, initiated by journalists, to demonstrate the weight of their own opinion that will (in an ironically metaphysical twist) then be discussed even further in the media. It is media-led influence driving influencing media.

The films themselves are perhaps excellent, at times dire, but all in all perfectly acceptable. What they are certainly not is the life changing experiences suggested by the titles Golden Globe and Oscar.

Diane Keaton, for instance, accepted Woody Allan’s award for a lifetime achievement in writing, producing, and directing films, by noting that “Woody Allan films have changed the way we think about life.” Yes, somewhere between solving global warming and offering a military strategy for the colonisation of Antartica, Woody Allen films have also had me completely reconsider my epistemological conceptions of the world. So shaken was I, at the sight of Midnight in Paris, that I began to think of life not as the historically chronological and ordered thing that it is, but as the magically lyrical paradigm where people and events occur for my cinematic convenience. It’s done me wonders, really.

The more Golden Globes we hand out, the more we restrain cinema-makers to this seemingly inescapable globe of golden showbiz and loud noise. In fact, the best reaction a filmmaker could ever provoke is a simple, still, heavy, and thoughtful silence.

FEATURED PHOTO/ jdeeringdavis

Capitol Couture

Capitol Couture

“Dude, have you seen the new Hunger Games?” “Yeah it was amazing, what did you think of it?” Such was the conversation that dominated the Oxford scene following the release of the Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Having not read the book and found the first movie somewhat average, I made my way to the cinema with mixed feelings.

 

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the film, and found it to be a very exciting experience, much more exciting than the second Hobbit film at least (yes. You heard me, die-hard hobbit fans..). But what really impressed me was not so much the CGIs nor the intriguing plot, but the depiction of the fashion couture of the Capitol, the heart of Panem.

 

It is obvious that when Collins described the fashion scene in her book and when Trish Summerville designed the costumes, they aimed to depict a vulgar, self-centered mob desperate to fill their insatiable souls with fabrics, tattoos and delightful food. In writing about the Capitol, Collins is mocking (albeit in a very exaggerated manner) the world of high fashion and its over-emphasis on the aesthetic and pursuit of youth and beauty. Certainly, the mobs’ acts of almost self-harm in changing their bodies that Katniss describes (in the book) could be compared with the issue of runway models living off drips and single pieces of salad in order to stay bone-thin. Having said so, one cannot remain unmoved by the beauty plethora of colours and styles depicted in the film, especially in the famous garden party scene or Katniss’ wedding dress.

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The costumes were in fact very thoughtfully designed, as each costume is an expression of the thoughts and feelings of each character. For example, Effie Trinket’s dresses, which were glamorous but always made a little too tight, exemplify her yearning for the beauty that the Capitol offers and yet at the same her discomfort with the way the districts were treated. On the other hand, the blazers of President Snow and his hair cut are designed in such a way as to convey a certain sense of regality and power.

butterfly

Is there anything we can get out of Capitol fashion and apply it to the real world? Yes is the answer. In fact, many pieces featured in the film are in fact real pieces made by designers. Effie Trinket’s dresses are designed by Alexander McQueen and House of Worth, whilst Junn J and Nicholas K provided pieces for Katniss and Peeta. Unfortunately, they are hardly within the spending range of us, who are living off student loan.

 

Instead, go away from the film taking this idea with you: that fashion is a form of self-expression, not restriction; what you choose to wear should be an outlet of your individuality, not some means to conformity. It must be with this idea in mind, that costume designer Trish Summerville went about the daunting task of dressing over 6,000 extras individually to give each of them their own expression.

 

Fred Shan.

 

Photo Source: www.reviewjournal.com; www.eonline.com.

Wanted: Bearded Men

A film company has been seeking bearded extras this week to take part in a new production of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.

The film is set to star Carey Mulligan and Micahel Sheen, with filming set to take place near Bicester next month.

Guy Campbell, crowd second assistant director, stated that people with who could boast “really good faces” were needed to appear in the latest adaptation of the nineteenth century classic.

Those who still wish to be involved will have to hurry to auditions, however, as campbell continued:

“We have had a large number of wonderful faces appearing already.

The company was also on the hunt for women with a “natural appearance”.

Furry-cheeked Balliol PPEist Tom Wainford expressed his gratitude at the news, commenting, “‘I’m pleased to see that the inherent beauty of the beard is finally being given the recognition it deserves, after the discrimination we have received from the media for so long.”

“The first step on the road was Paxman, now with this, nothing can stop us.”

From Dumbo to the Digital Age: Celebrating 90 years of Disney

From Dumbo to the Digital Age: Celebrating 90 years of Disney

feveroffateOnce upon a time, not too long ago, mere mention the name ‘Disney’ evoked blissful memories and rapturous emotion for viewers young and old. Films like Bambi and Dumbo have forever etched their names into the lore of immortal cinema, and the company’s entire enterprise is a great example of an utterly cornered market. Granted, there are other companies who have spawned fantastic animations over the past few decades, but the original is still widely considered the best. Over the years we’ve seen over fifty features, from the unforgettable Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs way back in the late 30’s to last year’s Oscar-nominated Wreck-it Ralph. The company finds itself firmly in the top century of the fortune 500, and looks set to continue popping out classics left, right and centre.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, of course. Though the original hand-drawn fairy tales (so earnest and endearing to a wide audience) had endeared the company to generations, they soon fell out of favour, and the good people at Disney were forced to look elsewhere for inspiration. Executives’ attempts to craft a new image for Disney fell somewhat flat, with films like 2000’s The Emperor’s New Groove and the (excellent by criminally under-watched) Atlantis: The Lost Empire failing to impress an audience that had become accustomed to continued brilliance. The turn of the millennium was the worst possible time for an identity crisis, with DreamWorks and Pixar filling the void with modern family entertainment in the shape of films like Shrek and Toy Story. It seemed like a no-brainer to snatch up the brightest young starlets from the budding Pixar well of talent and grant them the task of forging a new look for Disney – from the ground up.

Disney Animation President Ed Catmull and Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter are the brains behind the new era. Arriving seven years ago, together they’ve overseen the development of fantastic films such as 2010’s Tangled, a reimagining of the classic tale of trapped Princess Rapunzel, and a recent black-and-white short entitled Paperman which went on to win an Academy Award. ‘Success breeds autonomy’, said Lasseter recently, with the implication being that these men don’t simply want to make films, they pledge to develop a dynasty. They’re an unusual pair with an unusual team behind them: upon being lured to the company in order to direct Wreck-it Ralph, ex-Simpsons alumnus Rich Moore was shocked by the ‘freshness and tenacity’ of such an old and (by now) enormous company. The hat-shaped office in which all the movie magic happens (sorry) is just one example of the enchanting oddity which has come to define this particular arrow in Disney’s already-bulging quiver.

joeypaurIt’s not all about Catmull and Lasseter, of course. The company boasts impressive directors across the board, and behind the scenes things only get more star-studded. A great example of Disney’s sheer depth can be seen through a look at the team behind their latest project, entitled simply Frozen. Jennifer Lee will become the first woman to direct a feature at the studio, with The Book of Mormon composer Robert Lopez supplying the music. Frozen is a triumph of the Lasseter-Catmull ‘story trust’, a group modelled on the original Pixar ‘brain trust’ where high-ups are invited to sit down together and discuss potential issues with character, storyline, tone, etc. The film promises to be all the better as a result, with the group also allowing Catmull and Lasseter to see promise in their employees, earmarking them for later consideration.

Disney-Pixar stories are shaped by the animators – that’s a key part of their philosophy. The film develops more complex storylines as a result, says Lee, and takes on a new identity. As films enter the latter stages of production, the filmmakers meet weekly with Lasseter – a far cry from the more insulated reps of other well-known corporations. It’s the Disney way now to be involved, passionate and ever so slightly wacky. With the takeover of Marvel presenting animators a wealth of exciting properties, including one particularly exciting opportunity in the shape of Big Hero 6, a little-known Japanese hero series with whopping potential. With films like these on the horizon, and a star-studded cast of animators in the wings, the future looks very bright for this revitalised and reenergised company.

PHOTO/ Joey Paur, FeverofFate, ohmyghost

High Drama in Almodóvar’s ‘I’m So Excited’

High Drama in Almodóvar’s ‘I’m So Excited’

TomBreugglemannAs we’ve all been told a thousand times before, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I’m So Excited, the latest film from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (Volver, The Skin I Live In) also suggests that you can’t judge a film by its trailer.

The Spanish title, Los Amantes Pasajeros, a pun meaning both ‘the fleeting lovers’ and ‘the passenger lovers’, emphasises the film’s comic elements, and first glance at any of the marketing material suggests that I’m So Excited is merely a camp and farcical romp.

Take the subject matter: a group of airline stewards, all gay, turn to drink, drugs and cabaret to get through a stressful flight to Mexico City. Of course the presentation of business class stewarding team Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajas (Carlos Areces) and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) does rely somewhat on stereotypes, especially when they perform The Pointer Sister’s ‘I’m So Excited’. Descriptions of some of the passengers, such as a corrupt businessman and crazed psychic also sound like archetypal characters we’ve seen countless times before. However, the film manages to be much more than recycled characters and forgettable popcorn comedy.

Once the garish (but wonderful) opening credits fade a moment of predictable klutz comedy is countered by a touching scene between airport colleagues and couple León (Antonio Banderas) and Jessie (Penélope Cruz). Regrettably these roles are only cameos, and it’s a shame that these characters remain grounded when the plane takes off.

The confined setting of the Airbus 340, and the malfunctioning landing gear which forces the plane to circle aimlessly for hours, does encourage bonds between the unrealistically sparse number of business class passengers. Most have fairly nuanced stories, and these are gradually revealed as the film progresses. The rather convenient device of a broken telephone, which means all conversations are played to the entire compartment, promotes empathy between characters. There is also some usage of monologues, in a comparable vein, though less emotively, than in John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club.

Almodóvar’s is also a much darker film than the trailer suggests, treating themes such as murder, crime, and mental illness. One of the only times we catch a glimpse of the world outside of the aeroplane has major potential to tug on the heartstrings. Passenger Ricardo Galán (Guillermo Toledo) makes a call to his ex-girlfriend Alba, and she answers from a precarious position atop a viaduct from which she was intending to jump. In a whimsical coincidence befitting a Woody Allen screenplay, when Alba drops her phone it lands in the basket of a cyclist passing under the bridge – who just so happens to be another of Ricardo’s old flames. A love triangle from the past is hinted at, but via the plane’s less-than-private phone Ricardo is able to mend old rifts.

Unlikely coupling is a theme throughout, and this is one area where the film disappoints. The stewards decide to drug the passengers with mescaline in order to subdue panic, and as a result of side effects many characters, both passengers and crew, join the mile high club. The treatment of sexual relationships is distasteful; a man repeatedly date-rapes his new wife and the psychic takes advantage of another drugged passenger.

The plot may be utterly ridiculous, and the blend of gross-out humour and more emotive moments rather odd, but I’m So Excited is engaging and entertaining throughout, with a well-judged and modest running time, unlike much cinema of today.

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PHOTO/ Gary Ellwood, Tom Breugglemann

Swanning around in Black Tie

Swanning around in Black Tie

blackswan2As part of Keble Arts Festival, on Thursday Oxford’s own Hacked Off Films followed last term’s successful Ferris Bueller’s Day Off screening with an immersive tribute to Darren Aronofsky’s unsettling psychodrama, Black Swan.

After its release in 2010 the film saw Natalie Portman deservedly scoop up multiple Best Actress awards for her appearance as ambitious ballerina Nina Sayers. The film somewhat ambiguously follows the fracturing of Nina’s psyche as she prepares to dance both the white and black swans of Swan Lake.

The team at Hacked Off certainly lived up to claims of being bigger and bolder, proving that their imagination and ingenuity is not limited to only ‘feel good’ films. The re-created world of Black Swan was understandably much more sinister than those previously brought to us by HO, and it was also perhaps more stereotypically ‘Oxford’ in its black tie sophistication.

Less sophisticated, however, is getting lost and deciding to follow people in black tie hoping they’ll lead you where you need to go, only to find that there are two black tie events occurring simultaneously in one college. Only in Oxford.

Compared to the ugly concrete and ancient chalkboards of the English Faculty building, which provided the backdrop for HO’s Ferris event, the Keble O’Reilly theatre was a blessing in terms of the various spaces it provided. Hacked Off were resourceful in putting many parts of the building to use in order to create another unique immersive cinematic experience, blending live music and theatre with art installation and a well-chosen film.

We began by mingling amongst champagne (Tesco’s finest?) and canapés to the soundtrack of a string quartet playing music from Swan Lake itself, the now-infamous strains which were also used to score Aronofsky’s film.

Just as we got comfortable, an eerily recognisable voice began to intone familiar words. An actor gave an impressive imitation of Thomas Leroy’s (Vincent Cassel) speech announcing the retirement of veteran dancer Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) and introducing Nina, his new Swan queen, to the distinguished guests of the ballet.

This moment of imitation from the film served as a fitting introduction, especially within the context of a reception room dressed elegantly in black and white to resemble both the foyer from the film and allude to the two parts of Nina’s role. The atmosphere created was closer to a visit to the ballet than the cinema.

However, this soon changed as we were next ushered down several flights of stairs and through a cramped corridor, all of which were surprisingly close in appearance to the backstage areas where much of Aronofsky’s film takes place. Here more actors bustled around in headsets, suggesting the claustrophobic panic of opening night at the ballet, but causing some confusion among audience members as to whether something had gone wrong.

More successful however, were the sets we passed while walking the corridors; actors could be seen stretching or applying stage make-up in dressing rooms strewn with tights and leotards. This was a far more subtle and realistic touch.

Finally we passed a recreated version of the bedroom-cum-studio of Nina’s mother, a role performed to fabulously creepy and overwhelming effect by Barbara Hershey. Although the drawings which paper the wall appeared (somewhat understandably) more hurried than those in Black Swan itself, they provided a necessary evocation of the darker world we were about to enter.

This walking tour, strangely reminiscent of interactive seaside haunted house attractions, ended with the audience entering the auditorium from backstage. But first we had to look down at dancers on the stage, just as Nina does in the film.

Despite the originality of Hacked Off’s vision, which goes far beyond the creativity of famed audience-participation screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (let’s NOT do the time warp again), their additions to Aronofsky’s film are references to be perceived by those who know and love Black Swan. This is a brilliant way to re-watch a film, especially one which is so amenable to repeated viewings, but it may be less enjoyable for newcomers to the film.

The immersive elements of this screening occurred largely prior to the playing of the film, although it was also followed by a further set piece at the exit. Potentially to the disappointment of some, once the film began it was allowed to play without interruption. In a sense, Hacked Off were limited by their own medium, but their views on the thriller genre aptly explain this decision. HO cite the construction of tension within individual scenes and the larger plot as important features of successful thrillers, finding Black Swan’s achievement here ‘sublime’. Although some might argue that more could have been done during the film to live up to the label of immersive cinema, HO have ultimately chosen to respect Aronofsky’s work by not disrupting the suspense it ably builds all on its own.

Audience reaction was also testament to the wisdom of this decision; nervous energy was apparent in the form of gasps, shrieks and giggles at several points (anything involving blood or self-harm, and especially that part you really don’t want to watch with your mum).

If you missed out this time be sure to look out for Hacked Off’s next event, coming to an Oxford location near you. As usual details are top-secret, but we do have a cryptic clue to pass on for any sleuths among you: 23 77 OHU 545 pineapple.

PHOTO/Rachel Cheng

Wes Craven’s Scream moves to the Small Screen

Wes Craven’s Scream moves to the Small Screen

caseymoviemaniascreamLast week MTV confirmed rumours that have been flying around for almost a year by announcing that Wes Craven’s Scream franchise will be adapted into a television programme. The pilot isn’t due to land until Summer 2014, but journalists and bloggers have already turned to various animal-related clichés, suggesting that this is a case of milking the cash cow, or flogging a dead horse.

There is a legitimate argument that the franchise, which falls somewhere between horror and spoof in terms of genre, has already had enough second chances. The journey began back in 1981, with Byron Quisenberry’s Scream, a tale of a teenage camping trip gone wrong. Quisenberry’s film documented the successive and grisly deaths of the group of friends, employing the repetitive narrative later popularised by Craven’s Scream movies and utilised slightly differently in the Final Destination franchise.

In 1996 Craven’s Scream was released, and enjoyed much more success than Quisenberry’s earlier effort. Scream was followed promptly by Scream 2 the following year and Scream 3 in 2000. It could, and perhaps should have been, a trilogy ending here.

But in 2011 Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williams, who had worked on each of the previous films, reunited to bring us Scream 4. It used the same formula; a mystery character disguised in a ‘Ghostface’ mask runs amok killing the teenagers of small town Woodsboro. Some of the faces may have been new (Emma Roberts, Pretty Little Liars’ Lucy Hale and an up-and-coming Alison Brie), but the story was virtually identical to those that preceded it.

Scream 4 continued a trend which Craven and Williams had perfected in their original trilogy; the ability to make films that had been seen before saleable, simply by changing the setting and replacing each cast with a new and more stylish version.

That said, the lynchpin of the Scream saga has always been Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a perpetual victim, and one of the only characters who really develops as the series progresses. Campbell starred in all four films, each of which saw her become entangled with a new killing spree, each featuring a new killer behind the Ghostface mask. Miraculously she survives every time, but whether Campbell will return for the televised adaptation remains to be seen.

Scream’s popularity must surely be due to its self-conscious awareness and parodying of the conventions of slasher movies, a tendency which escalates throughout the series. Scream 3 largely takes place on a film set for fictional movie Stab 3, part of a film-within-a-film trilogy based on the Woodsboro murders depicted in Craven’s first Scream film.

By Scream 4, which is set ten years later and takes a new generation of Woodsboro teens as its protagonists (and, of course, victims), the Stab films have reached classic status and are screened in epic quote-a-long marathons.

The rules both mocked and adhered to by Scream include conventions such as a rising body count and more elaborate death scenes for sequels (also true of Final Destination).

Similarly, the level of meta-cinematic reference and technique increases throughout the saga; Scream 4 opens with not one but two framing scenes which turn out not to be a part of the movie’s true plot.

So where is there to go with the TV series if we’ve seen it all several times before? The much shorter running time on TV obviously hinders the inclusion of multiple narrative levels, and techniques for creating suspense are likely to suffer if they’re seen every week. It may be that the best we can hope for is a series of CSI-type murder mysteries, where every killer just happens to use the same disguise.

Not many stories have made it from the big to the small screen, but Joss Whedon proved it can be done with his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which ran for 6 years after Whedon was reportedly unhappy with the feature film made from his original script. Maybe Scream needs the touch of its original creative team, Craven and Williams, in order to resurrect once again.

PHOTO/Brian, caseymoviemania

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