Tag Archives: britain

Following – Review

31 Oct

Christopher Nolan is now officially one of those names in the film industry that everyone knows, and with good reason as well. With films like MementoInception, and The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan has established himself very well. But even film makers as great as he need to start somewhere. Kevin Smith had Clerks, Darren Aronofsky had Pi, and Nolan has Following. I compare Following to the other two films because it is also filmed in black and white with a super low budget, two things these famous first films also share.

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A Young Man (Jeremy Theobald), who goes by Bill, is an aspiring writer who attempts to get inspiration for characters by picking people at random and following them for a little bit just to see where they go. He has a very specific set of rules that he uses to make sure he doesn’t get caught or become too obsessed. Of course these rules are all broken when he meets Cobb (Alex Haw), a thief whose motives lie mainly in learning what people are about and changing their lives. As Bill becomes more involved in Cobb’s “work”, he slowly becomes an obsessive thief who gets involved in ways that he never should. What Bill doesn’t know is that everything that is happening around him all serves a bigger purpose that he knows nothing about.

I heard one reviewer say that Following was Memento on training wheels and I think that is a very good way of putting it. Make no mistake, this is an outstanding effort by Nolan and his crew, especially as a first feature film. The budget for this film was $6,000 and was shot over the course of a year since the people on Nolan’s cast and crew had day jobs and could only film on the weekend. Considering this is a 70 minute movie shot on 16 mm, it’s a pretty ambitious project.

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Much like how Memento is essentially told backwards, Following is broken into three fragments and mixed up. The story doesn’t necessarily have to be presented like this, and it can be argued that it’s a bit over the top, but I personally enjoy the way it’s presented. Piecing together this film is very interesting and the way the characters are so different in every fragment builds suspense in a very interesting way. Nolan turned what could have been a film with a very straightforward narrative into something of a puzzle film.

The only thing that doesn’t sit well with me about this movie is the attempt to make the story a lot bigger than it really should be. The film really works best when it’s more of a psychological character study surrounding the two thieves and their views on society. Then, as the film goes one, we learn that there is a much bigger conspiracy going on that is nowhere near as interesting as the smaller piece of the story we are shown in the beginning. I thought this movie was just going to be a psychological journey of one man who gets sucked into an obsession that he can’t control. Unfortunately, what is actually going on is pretty unbelievable and turns the story into something totally different.

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For a first effort at a feature film, Following is a great start to Nolan’s illustrious career. There are major flaws in the story, but they certainly don’t ruin the film. The cinematography an 16 mm film make the movie look really cool in that low budget kind of way. Of course, this isn’t really something Nolan was going for. It really was very low budget, which makes it an even better movie to appreciate. You can tell from watching Following that Christopher Nolan was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Sexy Beast – Review

17 Oct

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more curious name for a movie title. It doesn’t really have too much to do with the story, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make you want to know what it’s about. Well, to put it simply, Sexy Beast is a British crime film that does border on comedy at times. There is one part of the movie, however, that is remembered the most about this movie. It isn’t the heist and it isn’t the main character. It’s Sir Ben Kingsley in one of the most terrifying performances of film history.

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Gal (Ray Winstone) is retired, and loving it. He has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife, and great friends who just add to his relaxation and comfort. That is, until one night at dinner they mention they will be getting a visit from an old friend. Enter Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), their old partner in crime who is now a part of a heist being prepared by the mysterious Teddy Bass (Ian McShane), and Don wants Gal on the job. As much as Gal persists, saying that he is retired, this only fuels Don’s determination, who has no filter or limits to what he will do to get him to do the job.

As much as I’d like to start off with talking about Kingsley’s performance, I’ll wait till a little later to mention it. First, lets talk about the writing. The dialogue in this film is note perfect and quick as a whip, which is pretty essential in British crime films. It the talking isn’t as fast as it is tough, than the writing isn’t really respected. Not only is the writing tough and quick, but there’s a lot of comedy that is questionable to laugh at. Don comes in, and we can’t help but laugh at his sociopathy at first. As the film goes on, though, the tone gets much more serious and the laughing slows down.

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Still not time for Ben Kingsley, yet. Bouncing off what I said about the writing, Sexy Beast is pretty unconventional in plot. We say it’s a crime movie about a heist, but the heist has really very little to do with the movie. The movie is more about Gal trying to keep Don off his case and doing something crazy in the process. But we still can’t forget about the heist, because that plays an important part, too. In comparison to the story with Gal and Don, they whole robbery seems kind of glazed over. If anything, I wish that was a more important part of the story, or on the flip side, I wish that was show even less. It kind of lingers in a gray area where it’s not shown enough, but is shown too much for me to not care about. In this respect, Sexy Beast feels very uneven.

But fine, now we have to mention Sir Ben Kingsley. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and now Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. This is a list of some of my favorite performances in film, and it’s nice to have Kingsley on that list. His performance as Don is terrifying and hilarious at the same time. His line delivery is smooth in the choppiest way possible and we can’t help but to hate everything about him. Even by his introduction to thumping electronic music and his awkwardly quick gait, we know that we are in for a wild ride. Kingsley himself said playing Don was like getting all of his anger out, and at the end of the day he was very serene.

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So, if you’re into British crime films and don’t mind a touch of surrealism, than Sexy Beast is a cool movie. I just wish that the second half didn’t feel so uneven and rushed. Running barely even an hour and a half, it would have been better to flesh out some stuff and touch up the entire second half. Still, this is some fun entertainment that may not reach the levels of Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it’s still a pretty cool film.

Fish Tank – Review

2 Oct

I was first exposed to the work of Andrea Arnold in my first screenwriting class when the professor put on one of her short films called Wasp. This was a pretty incredible short film that showed a realistic depiction of the lower middle class in Britain, but more importantly, it showed the struggles of a family. The drama was never overdone and it was a very personal story. Now I can add Fish Tank to the list of Arnold’s movies that I have seen, and although the story is a lot more dramatic than that of Wasp, it still doesn’t seem like it couldn’t happen. In fact, this is one of the best examples of realism I have ever seen.

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Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a fifteen year old girl living in a council estate with her mother and her younger sister. She is on the path to destruction with the type of people that she associates with and how her mother treats her. Her only solace can be found in dancing to hip hop. Her life undergoes a drastic change when her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), starts hanging around and making his way into their lives. Mia takes a surprising liking to Connor that she doesn’t really understand, but this connection flips her and her entire family’s life upside down.

This doesn’t really seem like the kind of movie that I’d run out to the store and spend a good amount of money on. The only reason I did purchase it was because I saw that Andrea Arnold made the film and Michael Fassbender had a starring role. When I actually saw what the story was about, I wasn’t to thrilled about actually watching. This just goes to show that I need to learn not to judge a movie before I see it, because Fish Tank is a really powerful movie in both its realism and its multiple layers of thematic material and a cast of characters whose problems really hit you where it hurts.

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I keep using the word “realism” to describe this movie, but that’s because it really is an excellent example of British realism. Italian Neo-Realism was a popular movement in the early to mid 1900s, but now the British are having their turn at the realist style. Every where from the down to earth acting, the complete lack of extravagant lighting, and the very natural set pieces really turn this movie into something special. The locations, save for a few, have this grit to them that makes the places seem livable, but not too comfortable. In terms of the camera work, a lot of it is steadicam, and Arnold seems to relish in tracking shots to pull the viewer in to the character’s lives more and make them forget that they are watching a movie.

So while there is a lot of minimalism of style when it comes to the set design and other aesthetic areas of this movie, the acting is on par with the story. Katie Jarvis gives an outstanding performance where, as cliché as it might sound, you can see the pain and confusion in her eyes. Matching Jarvis’ naïve angst is Fassbender’s pleasant, yet suspicious, personality. Seeing the two characters clash works so well because the writing and the performances are all spot on.

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So while Fish Tank doesn’t seem like my first choice of a movie to watch, I am in no way disappointed in what I saw. The story was understated at first, but really winds up into something explosive, without ever going overboard. While the movie could be a tad shorter, that is really my only complaint. If you don’t mind a slow pace and a minimal, gritty style, Fish Tank is an excellent drama that you should check out.