Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Film Review: Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass) 2013

Captain Philips

It is sometimes forgotten that Tom Hanks spent the 1980s doing relentless comedy films (such as The Money Pit, Turner & Hooch, The ‘Burbs and Big – all of which are brilliant in their own way.)  Then in 1990 he took a more serious role in Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Bonfire Of The Vanities, where he played a Wall Street yuppie that has a public breakdown after keeping the secret of his mistress knocking down a teenager with his car.  From this point on in his career (albeit with some exceptions) Hanks has seemed to gravitate towards characters that are alone amongst a crowd of unsympathetic or misunderstanding onlookers. 

Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Cast Away, The Terminal, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Green Mile, Saving Private Ryan and arguably even Toy Story all feature Hanks playing a protagonist who is symbolically (or literally) detached or stranded away from the rest of his peers – Captain Phillips is the latest installment of that trend…

Hanks plays the eponymous captain of a freight liner which is set to travel through the Somali Basin as it delivers commercial cargo and international aid to the east coast of Africa.   Intercut with the liner preparing to sail, we are introduced to a number of Somali pirates recruiting members to try and capture a ship for ransom.  After a number of attempts on the ship, they board and take Philips hostage for 10 million dollars.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Crispy Sharp Competition! Jane Bussman at the One World Media Festival

This year, the One World Media Festival is being closed by Jane Bussmann doing her one-woman-show Bono and Geldof are C**ts - a 'lighthearted look at foreign aid and who it really helps'.  Bussmann has worked on South Park, Smack The Pony and Brass Eye (all classics of course) and has just recently written the book The Worst Date Ever: or how it took a comedy writer to expose Africa's secret war...

The show has had a sell-out run in Sydney, much like her earlier Edinburgh show, and Crispy Sharp have got pairs of tickets to give away to the event.  All you have to do is follow us on Twitter and tweet a message with the hashtag #CrispySharpCompetition and you can be in on the chance to win two tickets on the 9th of November for the closing of the festival at the UCL, Gower Street, London.

We have been given three sets of tickets to be announced on Wednesday the 6th at 20:00...

For more information about the event then click here

The winner will be announced on Wednesday the 6th of November at 20:00 and will be decided by random.  Information will be sent via email after the announcements


The Iraq War on the big screen

Anti-war march September 2007
In hindsight, it has become conventional wisdom to some that American (and European) television news let the public down in the run up to the Iraq war.  Hours and hours of broadcasting allowing politicians to ‘sell’ the war to the public, not scrutinising the evidence given for the war robustly enough, and sensationalising and dramatising the build up culminating in the live broadcast of war as it began in March, 2003. 

It could also be argued that 30 years of increasingly serious/realistic war cinema had managed to prep audiences for the inevitable mediated war that was to come out of 24 hours news channels and social networking.  Once the war was in full effect though there began to be a cautious effort from Hollywood to represent the war differently as public opinion began to change – looking at the chronology of Iraq war films shows a serious shift that begins with Lions for Lambs (2007) and culminates with Buried (2010).

The first interesting point is the lack of films produced that focus on the war.  There are plenty of violent films that could symbolically service the fatigue of a nation at war, as well as a huge rise in superhero Good vs. Evil narratives – but there are few films that are explicitly set during the occupation.  I want to mention a handful of them to make a point about the role of cinema in reflecting the mood of a nation:  Lions For Lambs (2007), The Hurt Locker (2008), W. (2008), Fair Game (2010), Green Zone (2010) Buried (2010).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Film Review: White House Down (Roland Emmerich) 2013

White House Down

I really want to believe that Roland Emmerich is a smart director.  In my mind, his films simultaneously give the mainstream audience what they want, whilst including enough layers to appease a populism-skeptic like me.  They may all have moments of saccharine family bonding, interspersed with (at first glance) the worst manifestation of American exceptionalism – yet upon closer inspection it is possible to see more nuanced representations of military strength, politics and American civic culture.

White House Down takes place during the morning after President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) has announced that all American troops are to be withdrawn from the ‘Middle East region’ and all military contractors removed.  This same morning, Martin Walker (James Woods) is retiring as the head of the presidential Secret Service team that John Cale (Channing Tatum), an Afghanistan veteran, is desperately trying to be recruited to.  Cale has a tumultuous relationship with his 11-year-old daughter, so after his secret service interview, and due to her obssession with politics, they go on a tour of the White House to try and bond.

During the tour, Emily disappears to use the bathroom at the same time that a group of terrorists set off a bomb and shoot all of the security guards, thereby systematically taking control of the White House and it’s control centre.  John uses his expert training to escape from becoming a hostage and goes to try and find his daughter, yet he quickly has to concentrate on protecting the president from the mercenaries.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The greatest ensemble casts of all time...?

The release of the new Wes Anderson trailer for The Budapest Grand Hotel shows that his contact book has grown exponentially since the humble beginnings of his career.  The ensemble cast for his latest film is absolutely huge, with lots of A-listers hungry to work with the hipster ironist.  Including:

  • Ralph Fiennes
  • Willem Dafoe
  • Edward Norton
  • Owen Wilson
  • Bill Murray
  • Jude Law
  • Saoirse Ronan
  • Tilda Swinton
  • Jeff Goldblum
  • Adrien Brody
  • Jason Schwartzman
  • Harvey Kietel
It got me thinking about other great ensemble pieces...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Film Review: The Fifth Estate (Bill Condon) 2013

The Fifth Estate
Wikileaks is an online organization that allows whistleblowers a virtual space to publish unedited, leaked documents that are deemed politically important and in the interest of individuals, as opposed to institutions.  This seems to me like a noble and democratic aim, if not slightly vague on the nuances of handling sensitive information.  The problem with making a decent film about an organization like this is that by its very construct, cinema has to edit, exaggerate and editorialize information in order to gain an audience – thus doing everything that goes against the principles of the focus of the film.  It is only possible to give a version of events, instead of the definitive account of an event – a line that is spoken towards the end of the film by Julian Assange, the founder of the website.  Here is my version, of the version of events contained within the film:

The narrative begins with Daniel Burg (Daniel Brühl) refreshing his web browser on the eve of The Guardian, The New York Times and Die Spiegel simultaneously publishing thousands of leaked war logs recounting the Afghanistan war.  The story then jumps back two years to a time when Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) first meets Daniel in Berlin as he is trying to get information about his web vision to any audience who will listen.  The two get together and publish their first big story, information about tax fraud committed by a Swiss bank.  As they begin to get more and more leaks published, a tension grows between them about whether it is ethical to edit the information before release, in order to protect people, or whether any redactions declare inherent bias.  The story then dramatically builds to the moment where we began on the eve of the war logs release and the immediate geopolitical aftermath.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

One World Media Festival - (8th & 9th Nov)

The brand new One World Media Festival launches this morning and will take place on the 8th & 9th of November.  The festival is in association with the successful Open City Docs Festival and will host two days of guest speakers and comedians looking at human rights, international development and aid.  There will also be keynote speeches, industry panels and film screenings including:
Wadjda – the first ever feature film by a Saudi Arabian woman (Haifa al-Mansour), which has been submitted to the Oscars this year.
TV Slum – a 2003 film created by Nairobi slum teenagers in and around the Kenyan capital.
Mare Chiuso (Closed Sea) a 2012 film about Libyan refugees trying to get to Italy filmed on their mobile phones by the travellers in the boat.
Leave to Remain a film made with asylum seekers in East London about the immigration system.
The event takes place at University College London and is free as long as tickets are booked online in advance.  They are available here from today (Thursday 10th October)
For more on the Open City Docs Festival check here

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Film Review: How I Live Now (Kevin MacDonald) 2013

How I Live Now
It is a growing concern amongst certain film critics that any film that has a target audience other than 15-35 year old, heterosexual, middle-class men will probably receive a poor critical review, irrespective of the box office takings or the quality of the film.  The harshest attacks from critics and the more aggressive side of the twittersphere are usually aimed at cinema produced for teenage girls, even if they are one of the most vocal audiences at declaring their love for the films/franchises that they embrace.  The tragedy here seems to be the lack of imagination from other demographics of filmgoers at empathizing enough with young women/girls in order to enjoy a film that is aimed at them.

MacDonald’s adaption of Meg Rosoff’s much-loved debut How I Live Now is a film that unashamedly gets inside the head of it’s teenage protagonist.  From the second it opens we hear a cacophony of teenage angst inside the head of Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), who we then follow for almost every shot of the film.  Daisy is a 16 year old American girl who has been sent to England for the summer to spend some time with her 3 cousins, Edmond (George MacKay), Issac (Tom Holland) and Piper (Harley Bird) and her Aunt Penn, who incidentally works for the UN.  She initially resents this move but ends up falling for the quiet and outdoorsy Eddie.  The narrative thus begins as a teenage love story…

Monday, October 7, 2013

Film Review: The Pervert's Guide To Ideology (Sophie Fiennes) 2013

The Pervert's Guide To Ideology
For those who don’t already know of him, Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian cultural theorist that uses psychoanalysis and Marxist theory (amongst many other ideas) in order to uncover the hidden ideological challenges and reinforcements contained in moments in pop culture.  He has written countless op-eds about geopolitics and the decline of the USSR, as well as analysing popular films and cultural trends as reflections of popular conversatism / capitalism.

In The Pervert’s Guide… he returns for a second installment of cinematic deconstruction using iconic (and guilty pleasure) moments from the last half century of film history to explore his ideas about ideology – the central tenet of his argument being that at precisely the moment when you expect to be taking a break from politics and ideology, it is influencing you the most on screen.  He does this mainly by delivering a lecture (or series of mini-lectures) in the form of a voice-over projected over a number of clips from classic films. Alongside this however are moments where he steps into the set, dressed in character, in order to reflect on the ideology of the film whilst inside the action – as in the picture below from Titanic.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Upcoming Films - Dark Side of the American Dream

There are three film coming up towards the end of this year that look brilliant - and furthermore they all seem to focus on the dark side of the American Dream Factory.  The first film focuses on Hollywood, the second is set within DisneyLand and the third shows a pair of high school kids simulating a school shooting.  All have obvious themes of media and postmodernism, all of them revealing the inner workings of the 'culture industries' (Film, Theme Parks, Television) in a dark way:

The first is the joint venture from Paul Schrader (Director) and Bret Easton Ellis (Screenwriter).  I have an unhealthy obsession with Ellis and can't wait to see his first cinematic narrative (regardless of the questionable response from its American release.) The film focuses on an unhealthy relationship between an amateur filmmaker (James Deen) and his leading star (Lindsay Lohan) who is having an affair.  The symbolism of using a porn actor and a troubled child-star in this narrative provides an apt metaphor for Hollywood and exploitation...