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Monday, 28 February 2011

What are you up to, Oscar?

So, the 2011 Oscars have been awarded, and as I have mentioned previously, it is nice to have an award season in which one is so spoilt for choice!  2010 saw some terrific cinema in all categories and competition was always going to be close this year; it is an honour for all film makers to be recognised for work done, and winners are able to feel they had competition.  Dustin Hoffman once pointed out that there are so many people involved in the making of a picture, so much heart and soul going into something these people love, that it is impossible to recognise everyone; in an industry where true success is creating something you can be proud of, nobody who succeeds in this goal has truly lost, and awards are simply a bonus.  I do not disagree with this notion, but while the Academy are voting and those golden statues are being placed in grateful hands, there will always be the chance for people (and specifically film lovers) to debate.  I am no expert in fringe categories, such as "Short Film" and "Foreign Language", partly due to not being able to access all the films nominated in time for the awards season, but it is great that these categories are always present.  With all that said, here are my thoughts on all the major category results.....for what they're worth ;)

Best Picture - "The King's Speech".  I have seen seven of the nominated films in this category, and of those seven, I cannot say I agree that this is the winner.  I really enjoyed "The King's Speech"  a lot; an important story, told well, and a film that will undoubtedly find its way into my collection, but ultimately quite a straightforward movie that is primarily a performance piece.  When all said and done, though this result did not surprise me because there is a fawning over any story about royalty, I do think Oscar was blinded somewhat by some great performances and the hype.  My choice: "Inception" / "Black Swan"

Actor In A Leading Role - Colin Firth.  Anyone surprised?  Completed deserved.  Regardless of my love of Jeff Bridges in general, and despite the fact Jesse Eisenberg was surprisingly captivating as Mark Zucherberg, the dedication Firth gave to perfecting King George VI's speech impediment, and a very balanced delivery of the emotional beats in this role meant there could be no other contender. Well done, Mr Firth.

Actor In A Supporting Role - Christian Bale.  I have seen three of the five, but crucially not the winner's performance yet, so I cannot give a balanced argument.  I do not mind Ruffalo, but find it hard to picture him ever winning anything when put alongside heavyweight actors.  If Bale really is as good as they say in "The Fighter" then I am sure it is well deserved (he is, after all, famous for being rather dedicated to a role), but I must say I am sad to see Geoffrey Rush miss out, as he is just as big a part in "The King's Speech", and is just as deserving.  I also think Jeremy Renner was outstanding in "The Town", and please see my previous entry about Ben Affleck for my views on that film, as it never garnered enough attention.  Of what I have seen, my choice: Geoffrey Rush

Actress In A Leading Role - Natalie Portman.  Very similar response to this as for Colin Firth, and oddly, for similar reasons.  She had a strong contender in Jennifer Lawrence (again, see my previous entry about the Oscars for my thoughts on her), and she is one to keep an eye out for....she will win this award one day. Nevertheless, well deserved by Portman!

Actress In A Supporting Role - Melissa Leo.  Again, I have not seen the winner, so cannot say much.  What I will say is people need to stop going all stroppy over the fact Bonham Carter missed out; a great performance yes, but check out "True Grit" to understand why my choice, again of what I have seen, was Hailee Steinfield.

Art Direction - Alice In Wonderland.  ????????????????????????????????????????????????????  Where, may I ask, was "Black Swan"?  My choice: "Inception" / "The King's Speech"

Cinematography - Inception.  All starting to go a bit wrong, isn't it?  What's with awards going to great films for the wrong reasons?  My choice, without a second thought, and I will add that I am shocked it didn't win: "True Grit"

Costume Design - Alice In Wonderland.  I really did not like this film, but as much as I thought the costumes for "The King's Speech" were superb, I will concede this one......fair dos.

Directing - Tom Hooper.  Okay so Christopher Nolan, a director who created unarguably the greatest Batman incarnation, who otherwise has never made a bad movie (even his no budget debut is impressive!), and who, most importantly, created the smartest, most challenging summer blockbuster for a long time, is snubbed for this category?  Fair enough, so of those who did get a nod, one assumes the winner will be one of the best....directed films....seeing how this is a category for....director?  Ok, let's give it to Tom Hooper for "The King's Speech" :/  My choice: David Fincher / Darren Aronofsky

Film Editing - The Social Network.  Once again, "Inception" doesn't even get a nod....something's up.  Still, the winner is a good job, and the behind the scenes features really do open your eyes to just how good.  Well done, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
Original Score - The Social Network.  I'm just happy "The King's Speech" didn't take it, the most notable music for this film is not original.  As for the other nominees, it was a toss up; one of those rare occasions where you simply cannot make a choice.  Both top contenders' score worked perfectly and I enjoyed both equally.  I would have also been happy with  "Inception".

Sound Editing - Inception.  Not much to say, the other nominees did not stand much of a chance.

Sound Mixing - Inception.  So here I do have a problem.  Once again we're seeing awards go to good films for the wrong reason.  There is no excuse, and as far as I am concerned no other contender; my choice: "The Social Network"

Visual Effects - InceptionJust yes :)  "Alice In Wonderland" did not look good, so don't even start thinking it.

Adapted Screenplay - The Social Network.  No other contender, Sorkin is the definitely the man!

Original Screenplay - The King's Speech.  Oh, they were doing so well there, weren't they?  Given the fact he was snubbed for "Director", I would have thought Nolan would take this one at least.  This means that the clever, challenging, exciting blockbuster of the year was not the best film, was not best directed, and was not best screenplay.....I'm starting to wonder what everyone liked about "Inception" so much, really ;)  It will come as no shock that I think the winner was: "Inception"

 So, 9/16.  I guess it could have been worse.  In summary, I am glad that the year gave us so much to enjoy, but sad that some of these major decision were probably swayed a bit by hype, meaning certain people who should have walked away with a little golden man, did not.  Though I have not seen it myself, I am surprised that "127 Hours" was completely blanked, although that said, Boyle had his fair share of glory with his last film.  I am sorely disappointed for Mr Nolan, who really deserved more recognition; to not even be nominated where David O. Russell is is a huge crime.  Still, these controversies happen all the time, and I do not doubt Nolan will just keep doing what he does well, and knock all our socks off again with a near-perfect "Batman" movie.  Perhaps then he can come back with a nice little romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, and clean up at the Oscars next time round ;)

Bring on another year like last one; if cinema was of this quality all the time, I would be a happy man.




Monday, 21 February 2011

Unsung Masterpieces: Entry 1

It occurred to me I should use this blog as an opportunity to raise awareness of things that I personally feel never received the attention they deserved.  This does not necessarily have to apply to movies, although as this is the nature of my blog you can expect it to be the focus the majority of the time.  The idea is that with these "Unsung Masterpieces" entries, I take two or three films, artists, albums, books, etc. and talk a bit about them.  It is nice to think I'm doing my part to bring to light works that were, or are overlooked, and perhaps introduce people to works they would be otherwise unfamiliar with.

Let's begin with the 1996 Barry Levinson movie "SLEEPERS".  I recall the controversy this movie caused when I was at school, the most common adjective used by my male classmates at the time (who were all too young to have seen it, I should point out), I believe, was "disgusting".  This reaction really only illustrates all the more why they should not have been seeing such a film.  "Sleepers" is a well-adapted, epic, and supposedly true story of four boys' incarceration at the Wilkinson Home For Boys, for a childish prank gone wrong, how their innocence was brutally snatched away during their time there, and the subsequent revenge that took place so many years later.

Perfectly paced, it is a long film whose length is never an issue; exciting courtroom drama, realistic sense of time and place, gritty yet stylishly shot, and convincing performances from a cast that is actually to die for: Jason Patrick, Billy Crudup ("Big Fish") Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver and Brad Pitt in the same movie; it is a rare line-up of stars, none of whom are afraid to go to horrible places as performers for the sake of the story.  Kevin Bacon, in particular, shows once again a bravery that is uninhibited by his place as an A-List actor; something he would continue to do in films such as "Mystic River", "The Woodsman" and "Frost/Nixon".  This is not to mention the young leads, who are completely convincing in heavyweight roles.

Leading the pack was Brad Renfro, whose passing in the same month as Heath Ledger was sadly less marked, and is still a shock, for some, to learn of!  If one is to go back and watch not only this film, but "The Client", "Apt Pupil" and the indie hit "Ghost World", one can see another River Phoenix, another talent that was perhaps not as widely recognised as that of Ledger, but just as unfairly snubbed short, and just as worthy of our recognition.

Barry Levinson puts together a film here that could easily be mistaken for a Scorsese work, and that may be the only criticism, if it is even that!  Well drawn characters, electrifying, often emotional drama, the story never in a rush but never feeling laborious, this is an overlooked work of perfection.

I would also like to bring attention to one of my favourite films of all time, second only to David Lynch's "The Elephant Man".  It is a Peter Weir film from 1993 called "FEARLESS".  I recently became aware of the fact that Peter Weir may be one of my favourite film makers; a strange situation of loving a lot of his movies, but not immediately recognising the fact they are all his, so unassuming is he as a man, and so absent is any real signature from his work.  This sounds like it is a bad thing, but all I mean by this is that he famously, and successfully, puts the importance of any story he is telling before any stylistic choice, the result being that you cannot spot a Peter Weir film at first glance.

"Fearless" is A CRIMINALLY unknown film, which not only stars Jeff Bridges in what I believe to be one of his finest roles, but also boasts star turns from John Turturro, Isabella Rossalini, and Rosie Perez, the latter of whom received an Oscar nomination.  Everybody is on top form in this perfectly executed, beautiful meditation on what it is to be a human being.

To explain all the subtext of "Fearless", all the symbolism, the various layers of allegory, would be an essay in itself; safe to say this is a film that sends you away reeling, thinking and talking about life for a long time.  It sounds melodramatic, but when you see it, it makes perfect, serious sense.  I understand "Fearless" received standing ovations when it premiered, and rightly so!  Many have said in the past, and I will say it as well, that the final ten minutes of this film is pretty much the most powerful cinema I have seen to date; Jeff Bridges nails it, and I find myself inexplicably in tears each time.  Trying to explain the reason for such reaction is tough; it speaks to something fundamental in you, and is truly life-affirming, if you choose to listen.  A film that proves that on occasion, when image, performance, music and meaning are meshed perfectly, cinema is able to convey what nothing else can.

Sadly, the movie is a very tough find in the UK (I am lucky enough to have tracked down a copy), and not even a movie that is referenced much in conversations with the director, but if you can find some way of catching it, please do; it is a film that must be seen!


Monday, 14 February 2011

Ben Affleck....And Other Surprises

Isn't it a strange, terrific buzz when you get to experience something, not just in film but in any sphere, that you genuinely were not expecting, something that completely knocks you sideways because you did not see it coming?  An example might be Justin Timberlake successfully making the crossover from music to film, and becoming a serious actor with a potential future, most recently portraying Sean Parker in "The Social Network" with some panache.  Another, Robin Williams portraying the killer in "Insomnia", or achieving the highest level of creepiness in "One Hour Photo", whilst in both cases keeping them completely earthed and human.  People are concerned about the supposed casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in the next "Batman" film, but quite apart from the fact that when doing something worthwhile Hathaway is perfectly fine, have they already forgotten that the last time Chris Nolan made an unusual casting choice, it stunned every naysayer into shocked silence?  I would like to talk a little about another couple of people whose best work is of unprecedented quality, and yet almost unrecognised!  I'd like to start with Ben Affleck.....yes, I did just say that name.

Apart from winning the writing award with friend Matt Damon for "Good Will Hunting", it is no surprise that Affleck's early career is viewed lightly, even as a joke by harsher critics; not a good actor, a man who kinda plays himself a lot, and in roles that never really amounted to much.  For the most part he either got on your nerves, or at best you simply did not care for him a great deal.  In fact he has recently been overshadowed, on the acting front, by his little brother Casey, whose performance in "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" (doesn't it just flow off the tongue, eh?) won him overnight attention, an early success he has strangely been unable to least for now, as it is by no means because it was a fluke, he really is that good.  We had seen the guy in roles before, even alongside Ben in the aforementioned "Good Will Hunting", but he's that guy who, now looking back you say, "Oh yes, there he is!"

I had actually recognised Casey's ability in a film I had seen before "The Assassination....", and it is the film that also highlighted for me the directing talent of.....Ben Affleck!  "Gone Baby Gone" is his first feature, and given his reputation at the time, you can imagine what one would expect, for his first time directing to be just as wobbly as everything else, right?  Well, apparently our Ben had been hiding his talent under a bushel; after seeing "Gone Baby Gone" I found myself genuinely hoping he would stop wasting his time in front of the camera, and get his arse behind it more.  I am not exaggerating, if you have not seen this film, check it out; this applies all the more if you are a fan of Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River" and "Shutter Island"), as it is once again a morally challenging, exciting piece of writing.  Affleck managed to get together a stunner of a cast (Casey, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, as well as numerous other familiar and superb character actors) and put together an intelligent, well-shot, well-paced, very mature film that does not let you down; from the opening scene to the closing moments it is completely gripping.  It retains the thoughtfulness of the book; it is divisive and controversial, and it completely blew me away.  If you did not know you were watching Ben's first feature film, it is not an exaggeration to suggest you would place it happily alongside the work of Eastwood or Scorsese.

Affleck followed this up recently with a second Boston based film (he really hates the place!), and this time one that is completely of his own making.  This probably explains why "The Town" is not on the same level as his debut (he is no Dennis Lehane), but I must say that although you have seen it all before and it is a pure "nuts and bolts crime thriller" (although there is an interesting love story element to it that creates a "Heat"-like playoff between the criminal and the man), for what it is he still displays great talent; Ben can write, shoot, and put a film together well.  "The Town" even managed to get a BAFTA and Oscar nomination for Jeremy Renner in the category "Actor In A Supporting Role".  On top of this, Ben steps back in front of the camera to lead on this one as well.  This could have been a big mistake, but to my shock, he seems to have re-invented himself in this regard also; gone are any of the traits that annoyed us, gone is any lack of conviction.  What he has shown me with his two films so far is not only that he is a very efficient film maker, but now a good, strong actor.  It might be a while before we see him up on that Academy stage in the capacity of director, but I have to admit....I would not put it past him to be there one day!

Next up, Colin Firth, an actor we all have a fairly solid view of, and who has recently garnered much deserved attention for his role in "The King's Speech".  What is interesting is how people are talking about his acting being knockout, and the role being so different from his usual performance, and so surprisingly good.  I take objection to this; yes the acting is knockout, but why do they say it with such surprise, as though Colin Firth is somehow a better actor now than he was before?  I have always known he was great and it didn't shock me one bit that he turned in remarkable work here.  So, good yes, surprising not at all!  As for being different, is it really that much different?  He's British, socially disabled, awkward and of high class....being royal, of course.  I am not taking away from the study he must have put in, nor am I trying to detract anything from his success; I am merely making the point that he really only did what any leading British actor would have done.  Yes, leading British actor.  Not totally convinced about Firth's abilities by "The King's Speech"?  Let me tell you about a film that was recently recommended to me, in the same way and for the same reason I am now going to do so to you.  It is a 2005 film from Marc Evans ("My Little Eye" and "Snow Cake") called "Trauma"!

"Trauma" is about Ben, a man who suffers a car accident with his wife Elisa, and upon emerging from his coma, discovers she is dead. His accident coincides with the death of the famous singer Lauren Parris, who we discover was connected to Elisa. Ben moves back to his apartment, is befriended by a neighbour named Charlotte, and proceeds to try to get on with his life with the aid of sessions with a psychiatrist. Unfortunately he is haunted by visions and a growing feeling that there is something wrong, that he is missing a huge piece of a puzzle he seems to be part of.

This is a film that suffers from various problems: a rather unremarkable turn from Mena Suvari (American Beauty) as Charlotte, Naomie Harris and Brenda Fricker being given fairly little to do, and a sense that Richard Smith, the writer, was so intent on telling a strange story, he perhaps lost his way with some of the finer details. All that said, Marc Evans brings it in at 90 minutes, and manages to create a tense, exciting experience, if not a wholly satisfying one. It seems to be an issue for a lot of people that there are more questions than answers, and that the film is unnecessarily confusing. The thing is, though I do agree it is flawed and certainly not technically on the level of Evans's previous work, I don't think the direction is as unruly and ill-disciplined as these people believe.

"Trauma" is not supposed to be a story with a beginning, middle, and an end where you get all the answers; it is not a story where everything is crystal clear, which once finished you can then forget about. To me, it became clear that it was Evans' intention to tell a very subjective story, through the eyes of our protagonist. The hook of it is exactly that question of doubt about Ben, and the questions you have to ask, some of them questions that even he has himself: Is he a victim of some game, is he really missing a bigger picture, is he paranoid, is he losing his mind through grief, is he schizophrenic? Evans's use of tone, editing, and pacing, and his ability to blur the line between reality and delusion really do put you in the piece with Ben. You are not supposed to go away fully understanding it all, but rather having experienced the character's fears and possible delusion for yourself, having been dragged through the film, regularly as confused as Ben is. In this regard I would draw a comparison to David Cronenberg's "Spider", though this does play out as a thriller rather than a drama.

Anyway, back to the original point.  Whether this sounds like your sort of thing or not, there is one reason above all else to watch "Trauma", and that is Colin Firth! He said himself the film jumped out immediately; amidst the numerous proposals landing on his mat to play the next romantic lead, it is easy to see how.  "Trauma" is your rare chance to see him playing a man who is dangerously damaged; it is a performance that goes to a shockingly dark place; it is surreal to see him as closer to Norman Bates than Mr Darcy, but if anyone needs convincing that Firth has range as an actor, this would most certainly be it. The film was completely overlooked, but see it; his performance alone makes it a worthwhile experience.  

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Four Performances In A Row!

Each of the last four movies I watched feature lead performances that have been rightly recognised by various institutes.  First up was Natalie Portman in "Black Swan", for which I have little doubt she will win the Academy Award.  Her year's study of dancing alone is enough for a nod, let alone her intense performance as a young woman rapidly cracking under pressure.

Now don't get me wrong, I do not begrudge Portman the accolade, and think it is very much deserved, but since her shadow looms so large over it, and it is assumed she will take it, I would like to do my little part in drawing attention to somebody in the same category, who is equally as worthy of the win.  Her name is Jennifer Lawrence, the film is "Winter's Bone".  Whilst I think the film was too small a release to garner any major attention, I would say that if Portman was going to lose to anyone, it could only, and should only be to this girl.  She would have been barely 18 when making "Winter's Bone", but she carries a screen presence and an ability to convey and emote that can match the likes of Annette Benning or Meryl Streep.  Lawrence takes on the role of a girl who is bringing up her young siblings, in lieu of a disabled mother, and who, upon discovering her waste of a father has put up their land for his bail only to disappear, sets out to find him.  Along the way she is met with hostility from family and friends, and no matter where she turns or what she does, she does not appear to be able to break the silence over his whereabouts.  The story is a heavy character piece, and the film very much relied on the audience buying Lawrence as this hard-nosed, stubborn young woman, who is old beyond her years out of necessity.  Whilst the film was not perfect, I found numerous scenes where I was hugely impressed with Lawrence's delivery of sharp, hefty dialogue, and the range of dark emotions she was able to convey, whilst remaining completely understated throughout the entire film.  If there is one reason for you to watch "Winter's Bone", it is her, so please do; the film may be a bit of a slog, but the joy of watching this actress work makes it worthwhile.

Just recently I had the privilege of finally seeing "The King's Speech".  At last people get to see what some of us have probably known for some time; Colin Firth is a formidable actor.  Although I am a little aggravated that other members of the cast seem to have been overshadowed, such as Geoffrey Rush, whose character the story is as much about as the King, I will not deny that Firth is brilliant.  Whilst the focus is of course on his speech impediment, Firth's mastering of the infamous stammer, making it appear to be so natural, is only part of the great performance here.  Along with the stammer he has managed to in fact alter his way of speaking almost entirely, the mispronunciation of his R's, and the royal cadence in his delivery, never faltering.  Add to that the fact that he manages to be completely believable as a Duke terrified of his inevitable position and responsibility, a point that the majority of the film's emotion relies upon, and it can safely be said that he deserves his award, which he is sure to get (No doubt he is quietly thankful that Daniel-Day Lewis has not had any work out in time for this awards season).

The final performance is sadly not one that was ever recognised by the Academy, even in the form of a nod , which is quite shameful.  "Moon" is a fascinating, low-budget sci-fi film, independently produced, and one which genuinely surprised me, as I think it did many; it is fast becoming a cult favourite for people, sci-fi fan or not!  Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell, a contract worker who has been mining the moon for helium-3, the solution to Earth's energy crisis.  He has been doing it for close to three years, which is his contracted time, and he is excited about getting home; for so long his only company has been that of video messages from his wife and child, photographs, and the on-board computer Gerty.  Upon visiting one of the mining stations, Sam has an accident and finds himself waking at base under the care of Gerty.  What then unfolds is something which cannot be easily described without spoiling the things that make the film so good, but it is fair to say that on more than one occasion, due to a lot of the sci-fi tropes seeming so familiar, I believed I knew where the film was going.  I didn't.  It was refreshing to see this sort of film take more than one turn along the way and become a movie I really was not expecting.

Sam Rockwell may well be becoming one of my favourite actors now, a man who seems able to manifest actual physical transformation from one role to the next without the aid of effects; put Rockwell from "Frost/Nixon", from "Iron Man 2", and from this film alongside each other, and you could almost believe they are different men!  This film really does illustrate most just how complex and real a performance he can give, and despite the other things about "Moon" that I love (Clint Mansell's gorgeous score, for one), it is ultimately Rockwell the film's success hinges on.  This is literally a one man show; even Gerty was only voiced by Kevin Spacey after the man himself had seen a rough cut and was so impressed by the actor.  This fact is not only testament to the quality of work from first time film maker Duncan Jones, but also to just how impressive Rockwell is.  This is the performance that in time to come, people will likely look back and think, why didn't he get an Oscar nomination for this?

I am so happy to be able to say that four films on the trot have provided me genuinely astonishing performances from these great actors.  I wish all the luck to Portman and Firth, not that I think they need it, and I advise anyone who has not seen Jennifer Lawrence or Sam Rockwell in action to do so; they deserve everyone's attention!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A Bit Demented!

So this week I saw a couple of movies that treated my brain like an egg, dumping it in boiling water until cooked rock solid, only to be thrown to the floor and stomped into tiny pieces.  Yes, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself!

First up, the new and hugely praised Darren Aronofsky film "Black Swan".  It takes the terrestrial story of a ballerina desperate for the role of the Swan Queen in "Swan Lake", a part requiring her to dance both the white and black swan, and turns it into a psychosexual, brooding and horrific descent into a personal Hell.  Aronofsky does clearly have a taste for the theme of a personal descent or journey; in some way or another the idea has been the subject of every film he has made so far.  This could be a complaint about him being "samey", but he does it with such verve every time, each film so vivid and unique an experience on its own, it is impossible to moan.

Upon seeing "Black Swan" the first time through, I found myself rather numb; the film is so vivid, I knew what I had seen was good, but it was hard for me to discern whether I had actually enjoyed it.  Having seen it twice now, I can confirm it is a masterpiece; it moved me far closer to tears on a few occasions the second time through, and is my personal favourite of Aronofsky's work so far.

What is fascinating about the film is that a lot of the ideas are long-held penchants of foreign art house and horror.  Indeed, I take a rather sadistic pleasure, as a fan of the director, from the thought that a lot of people walking into the film, believing they are getting an average thriller, might be rather shocked by the unexpected elements.  Once over the standard setup, the film rapidly takes you on a trip into a world of competition, obsession, self-harm, duality, sexuality, violence, psychosis and body-horror....oh, and overbearing mothers!  We watch the whole thing through the eyes of Nina, played with ridiculous dedication and power by Natalie Portman, whilst the pressure of the role and obsession with being perfect ruins her mind, splits her personality, and drives her to ever-worsening degrees of paranoia.  On the point of performances, I also give praise to the always-overlooked Vincent Cassel, whose acting I recognised, on second viewing, to be far more precise and thoughtful than I first gave credit for.

Anybody familiar with his previous efforts, "Pi" and "Requiem For A Dream", will already know how well Aronofsky can put the broken psyche on screen, and anyone who has seen "The Fountain" and "The Wrestler" will understand how ambitious, daring, and emotional a filmmaker he is.  With "Black Swan" he manages to inject all of those elements into one piece of cinema; it is intense, emotional, dark, upsetting, intimate and beautiful, haunting and bold.  The colour schemes, the staging of scenes, Clint Mansell's original score, the editing and sound; everything is so well-orchestrated, with nearly every scene being essay-worthy, that although not always hugely original in his techniques with this one, Aronofsky has made a film so startling, so hard to forget, it is impossible to not be in complete awe by the time the credits role. (10/10)

On recommendation, I unearthed a film called "Possession".  Now please don't make the mistake of thinking I am referring to any film other than the 1980s "video nasty" by Andrej Zulawski, starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani.  In reading about it, I came to understand it is quite a cult classic, and the only English language film by the director.  It is essentially a horror film, which is about, in the director's words when first pitching the idea, "a woman who fucks an octopus".

As a fan of David Lynch (which means I have seen "Eraserhead"), and not being somebody unfamiliar with experimental cinema, I can honestly say this is the most demented film I have ever sat through.  It would be easy to think that means it makes absolutely no sense, is about nothing, and is essentially a host of ridiculous imagery edited together, much like the previously mentioned Lynch piece, but that is not the case. "Possession" is a film that actually appears to be about something, and does apparently follow that through to its logical, if by the point of the finale, completely twisted conclusion!  It is the fact that on some level, you are aware it is following a story, that makes what you are experiencing all the more insane.

The story is pretty much a precursor to the Lars Von Trier film "Antichrist", the main differences being that in the case of "Possession" it is not grief over a lost child that is destroying the couple's relationship, and that "Possession" is the better, if more messed-up piece (seriously!)  Mark returns home in the knowledge that there is something wrong with his wife Anna, and it quickly becomes apparent to him that she is unhappy with their marriage and that she has taken a lover.  Once past this point, the film appears to become a much larger, extremely metaphorical piece, which goes far beyond these two people's relationship.  My impression is that the characters you are watching become political archetypes, dialogue and onscreen events often not making any sort of literal sense, but rather begging you to read between the lines.  This impression is backed up quite firmly, I believe, by the fact that it all unfolds next to the Berlin Wall, the monstrosity often in frame, if not being shot as a central character at points; the fact that Adjani is clearly playing two roles, and that the lover Anna has hidden away for her private sexual encounters is in fact a monster...literally!  Talking of the monster, Carlo Rambaldi, the man responsible for the "Alien" creatures and E.T, is the person behind this, and he still does not like to talk about this film.

There is some complaint that a lot of what happens between these character seems very stagey and false, but that is not how I saw it.  Given my previous impression, I believe that we are being taken up close and personal in this surreal play, often far too close for comfort, as these people scream their conversations hysterically, and we plunge into the madness.  The "stagey" feel comes from the fact it does seem to play out as a theatre production,  but we are put right on the stage with them (again, something Von Trier would later visit in his work).  It is clearly intentional that everything be surreal and strange, adding to how unnerving the whole thing feels, but the performances are undoubtedly superb.  Adjani did, in fact, win an award at Cannes for her performance, despite the film being banned!  You need no explanation as to why, other than watching the acting; to see her give this grotesque, shrill, hyper performance is truly uncomfortable, and her notorious "miscarriage" scene is totally distressing and completely bizarre.  The fact Sam Neill stands his ground through all of this is testament to his prowess and presence.

You walk away from "Possession" completely dumbfounded and unsettled, with an inexplicable desire to watch it again; either that or you will simply despise it.  Whatever happens, and whatever one makes of it, its power to alarm is still top-notch (9/10)