In 1934, Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night" made Academy Awards… MoreIn 1934, Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night" made Academy Awards history by becoming the first film to win all top five Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress & Screenplay. 80 years on, this is an accomplishment that has only been achieved twice since that time. Most recently was in 1991 with Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs" and the other (that's the most deserving of them all) is this 1975 adaptation of Ken Kesey's radical novel.
Randall Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a convict who fakes insanity to escape the confines of prison and instead, spend his remaining years of incarceration in a mental hospital. McMurphy gets more than he bargain for though, when he comes across the tyrannical Head Nurse (Louise Fletcher). Rebelling against her control over the vulnerable patients, McMurphy turns the hospital ward upside-down with his wildly infectious and challenging personality, which incurs the wrath of the embittered Nurse.
Now widely considered a classic of American cinema, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was not without it's problems in making it to the screen. The film rights to Kesey's novel were actually owned by Kirk Douglas who starred in the 1963 Broadway production. However, there wasn't a major studio that was interested in financing it. Douglas' intention was to reprise the leading role but the film took so long to get off the ground, that it left him too old to play the part.
Before passing the rights down to his son, Michael Douglas, he recruited Czechoslovakia's Milos Forman as a suitable director and even had a screenplay drafted up by Ken Kesey himself. It was Forman who rejected this version, though, as Kesey wanted to retain the mute, Native American, Chief Bromden as the narrator of the story (as it was in the novel) while Forman's intention was to focus on McMurphy. This proved to be only the beginning of the films problems; Kesey was so incensed with the filmmakers approach to his material that he sued the producers and vowed never to watch the completed film while numerous actresses including; Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft and Faye Dunaway turned down the, supposedly coveted, role of Nurse Ratched. Nicholson wasn't even the first choice for McMurphy either; Marlon Brando and (Kesey's proffered choice) Gene Hackman turned down the part while Forman had his heart set on Burt Reynolds.
With a sense of irony, it could be said that these fraught production issues actually reflected the fraught and rebellious themes of the material but despite the hiccups, the film opened to widespread critical acclaim and went from a $3 million budget to gross over $100 million and as well as sweeping the board at the Academy Awards, it received a further four nominations.
Nicholson may not have been the first choice but there's no doubt that he was born to play McMurphy. He's an actor that has always produced high quality performances and has even become synonymous with rebellious characters but this is the absolute definitive, The only difference between actor and character is that Nicholson‚(TM)s appearance is nothing like the flame-haired Irishman described in the book (where it's easy to see why Kesey might prefer Hackman) but he‚(TM)s McMurphy in every other hazardous and feral way. He's the perfect embodiment of the character's reactionary behaviour against the repressive and authoritarian figurehead of Louise Fletcher's villainous and castrating Nurse Ratched. Although it's these two stupendous performances that anchor the film, the rest of the supporting cast are equally solid - with particular mention going to Brad Dourif and his nominated turn as the stuttering, immature Billy Bibbit. Also not going unnoticed is the haunting score by Jack Nitzsche and the striking cinematography by Haskell Wexler in capturing the stark, enclosed environment that reflects the perceived insanity of the inmates.
Whether observed from the point of view of Chief Bromden or R. P. McMurphy, it doesn't matter, as there's still no denying that it retains the free-spirited theme's of Kesey's novel and the revolutionary and anti-establishment ethos that was rife throughout a generation. A masterful adaptation where Milos Forman and screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman put their own stamp on the indicting material without losing any of it's emotive or uplifting power. Simply superb!
In 2009, director James Cameron opened the floodgates on the… MoreIn 2009, director James Cameron opened the floodgates on the innovation and possibilities of stereoscopic filmmaking when he delivered "Avatar". Since then, it has been experimented and tinkered with by many filmmakers but now, four years later, Mexican director Alfonso Cauron has set a whole new benchmark.
Fixing a satellite on a seemingly routine spacewalk, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) finds themselves in the midst of a catastrophe when their shuttle is destroyed by flying debris. They lose all contact with home and end up adrift above the Earth‚(TM)s atmosphere with their oxygen running dangerously low. Somehow, they must find a way to save themselves as they spiral into the blackness of space.
When word broke about the revolutionary use of 3-D in Cauron's "Gravity", cinema goers flocked in their numbers to see what all the fuss was about. So much so, that only a mere two weeks after it's UK release date, I felt very much like the film's protagonist and that I was getting left behind. Now having finally seen it with my own eyes, I can personally answer the major question that hangs over it: Is it worth the hype? The answer to that is a resounding, Yes! In terms of a visual and immersive cinematic experience, "Gravity" is simply unparalleled. Cauron and his highly talented cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have crafted a film of such powerful magnitude and engagement that it will have you in awe at just how they managed to do it. I began the film expecting dazzling visual effects and long uncut shots in the style that Cauron has become accustomed to - his work with Lubezki in "Children of Men" has one of the most impressive tracking shots I've ever witnessed and here, they both go about their business in the same manner. The opening 10 minutes alone are entirely one long, uninterrupted, shot and after this I gave up trying to work out how they actually achieved it. It's such a seamless, technical marvel, that it's nothing short of mesmerising.
As is often the case with special effects laden movies, though, there tends to be shortcomings elsewhere. Which brings to me answer another overriding question at the film's core: Does Gravity have the requisite depth in terms of it's story? The answer to that is, sadly, No! It certainly achieves a feeling of claustrophobia and existential dread but it's story is rather tame in comparison to its sumptuous visuals. It could, understandably, be argued that this isn't an issue in the grander scale of things, but I was looking for more. In fairness, it does attempt the themes of science and technology versus religion with constant reminders hinted at in the shape of Christian and Buddhist iconography. It even touches upon life and loss with symbolic representations of rebirth and being in the womb but ultimately, this is a disaster story, reflecting the human spirit and the insistence of survival against insurmountable odds. It's here, that the film focuses on the suffering and endurance of Bullock's character. Many have heaped critical praise on the actress but her casting was another slight issue for me. I'm simply not a fan. I don't think Bullock has the ability to command the screen for as long as she does. It's not a poor performance, by any means, but she's more of a kooky rom-com actress and lacks the range to fully convince. As for Clooney, he's in it very little, but again, I found the Cloonmeister's charm and charisma a little distracting and misplaced here, reminding me that it was still a movie I was watching. I wanted to forget and be swept into the film's endless void but it never allowed me to fully do that, leaving me with the feeling that lesser known actors may have worked better here. Despite, these minor flaws, though, the film itself is absolutely gripping. Cauron builds the tension slowly, letting you bask in the sheer beauty of our planet and the wonderment that lies beyond it, before bombarding you with dizzying and visceral action set-pieces that refuse to let up. Take my advice and see it in all it's visual splendour at the IMAX where if any film deserved to be seen on such a scale, it's this one. On that note, I wonder about the replay value of a film like this. Only time will tell wether it will have the same impact when viewed in 2-D or on the small screen.
At the time, I couldn't quite overlook the slight, aforementioned, issues but on reflection this isn't a film whose main intention is to appeal intellectually or existentially, this is a film that intends to immerse you in a physical experience and for that it deserves a rapturous applause. There's really no denying that "Gravity" is an involvement and an adventure like no other and it will leave you, without a doubt in your mind, that you've just witnessed the most accomplished use of special-effects in cinematic history.
During the 1990's, Luc Besson was a director that I kept a very keen… MoreDuring the 1990's, Luc Besson was a director that I kept a very keen eye on. He delivered the dynamic French thriller "Nikita" before moving on to the kinetic and striking "Leon". He followed this up with an outrageously unique Sci-Fi in "The Fifth Element" before tailing off with more obscure art-house and animation fair. "Angel-A" in 2005, was the last time I seen anything good from him and his latest in "The Family" would suggest that I'll have to wait a little longer before he finds his feet again.
Giovanni Manzoni (Robert DeNiro) is a former mob man who enters the witness protection programme with his family and are relocated to Normandy, France to lay low. The problem for Manzoni, though, is that he finds it hard to keep a low profile and his old volatile habits bring just as much attention as they did back home.
A farcical French/American mob movie that has all the potential to be something quite exquisite; a (once) quality director in Luc Besson; three outstanding central performers in Robert DeNiro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones and the great Martin Scorsese lending his hand to producing duties. With this abundance of talent involved, you'd be forgiven for expecting that nothing can really go wrong here but that isn't entirely the case. For a start, the writing is very scratchy indeed. It's farcical nature doesn't gel with it's sporadic violent outbursts and it can't seem to make amends with it's extreme tonal shifts.
In it's favour, it has a snappy energy, buoyed by it's solid trio of actors; DeNiro seems to be right up for it with his subtle comic timing in-check but it's just a shame that he's let down by Besson who doesn't write any decent gags for him and those that are in place don't work with the rest of the material. In fact, most of the sub-par gags are so forced that they're delivered with some whimsical French accordion music playing overhead, reminding us that it's supposed to funny - much in the same way that canned laughter is used. Pfeiffer is as watchable as ever and lends ample support with shades of her work in Jonathan Demme's "Married to the Mob" and it's great to finally see DeNiro and the great Tommy Lee Jones share the screen together. Unfortunately, their relationship is seriously underdeveloped and comes across as more of a missed opportunity than anything else. They do, however, share an amusing "Goodfellas" in-joke towards the end. It's arguably misplaced but it's still an enjoyable little moment between them.
As far as the actors go, they can't be faulted but the material does very little for them. If only Besson had settled on a particular tone then this could have worked so much better. It would also have helped if he had a script in place that wasn't so lazy or mediocre and didn't overly rely on his strong cast to carry him. There are good scenes to be had but they just don't come together as a complete whole with some plot strands woefully underdeveloped and, in some instances, completely forgotten about.
It's a film that strangely finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place. It might have worked better had it been more in touch with its funny bone or it might have been wiser to omit the humour altogether. I can't quite decide but, as it is, the final product is very much hit-and-miss with an emphasis on the latter.
Being the son of legendary musician David Bowie must put a lot of… MoreBeing the son of legendary musician David Bowie must put a lot of pressure on you, especially if your chosen profession is also to entertain. However, this is a pressure that director Duncan Jones seems to relish. His talents are used in a different medium from his father but equally as impressive with this relatively low-budget debut and he produces one of the finest science fiction film's for quite some time.
Lone astronaut Sam Bell (Rockwell) is nearing the end of a three year service harvesting the Moon for much needed resources to keep Earth functioning. While carrying out his duties, he is involved in a collision resulting in a serious concussion. Upon wakening, he realises that things are not as they seemed during his years of isolation and that he‚(TM)s not been alone either.
While having some obvious comparisons to ‚2001: A Space Odyssey‚? in terms of it's onboard computer Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) resembling HAL- and a similiar structurely directing approach to Stanley Kubrick‚(TM)s, that‚(TM)s where the comparisons end. The themes of isolation and loneliness have more in common with Steven Soderbergh‚(TM)s tormented ‚Solaris‚? or the existential pondering and exploration of individuality and memories echo the work of Ridley Scott's ‚Blade Runner‚?. Being a fan of both of those, I found "Moon" to be very appealing indeed.
In a time where science fiction, seems intent on throwing as much money on the screen as possible, it's refreshing to see one that works on it's simple, yet very effective, concept rather than smooth over the cracks with excessive special effects. It's through this that real talent is allowed the room to develop and that opportunity is seized by an outstanding Sam Rockwell. In a year that Awards pretty much had Jeff Bridges‚(TM) name already engraved on them for "Crazy Heart", Rockwell‚(TM)s performance here was shamefully overlooked. He at least deserved a nomination. By now, everyone is aware of this great actors talents but Jones gives him the chance to really show his range in multiple roles and without his sublime and commanding work, this film might not have worked as well as it does. However, it does work and very well at that. Jones has a good handle on the thought provoking material and shows a restraint beyond his years, while the subtlety of Rockwell's performance brings out the spiritual and intellectual struggle of his character(s).
Gary Shaw's sublime cinematography does not go unnoticed either. He perfectly captures the claustrophobic environment which only serves to heighten a foreboding sense of paranoia and Clint Mansell‚(TM)s excellent use of music is eerily atmospheric by simply using basic piano notes.
Not only on modern terms, "Moon" can hold it's own with some the best that science fiction has to offer and just goes to show that a basic concept, a basic structure and a minimal cast can culminate into something quite special.
This cemented an already talented actor‚(TM)s reputation and heralded the arrival of a promising new director. With the impressive "Source Code" already in the bag and the forthcoming "World of Warcraft", Jones is certainly one for the watching. He‚(TM)s a director that already shows confidence in himself and won‚(TM)t be rushed into telling his story, making it all the more satisfying for a contemporary audience that's been slapped around the head with too many Michael Bay movies.