Saturday, 15 October 2011

Elephant Review

Director: Gus Van Sant
Year: 2003
Starring: Alex Frost, Eric Deulen
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 81 minutes

I can't begin to imagine how challenging and arduous it would be to make an emotionally disturbing, compelling and haunting picture loosely based on the events of the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999. There is no way to escape controversy or complaint when making a film like this, whether it be fanatics yelling about how inaccurate and disrespectful it is to the victims, or perhaps even family members of those who were murdered on that horrific day. On an accuracy level, they may have the right to be angered - but as a film on its own, it is quite a wonderful spectacle. It is well crafted, brooding and features stellar camera work.

One of the main complaints that I have heard about this film is the long shots of people walking down halls and corridors in the school - I however, was hugely impacted emotionally by these scenes. It gave off a hugely effective message of alienation from society, peers and the world in general. It also helped emphasise how all of these children were simply going about their daily lives, unaware of the horrifying events that were to occur in the coming hours, how doing simple things in a day can suddenly turn to running for your own life. It may not be a message that is relevant to everybody, but for any child who attended Columbine or any school where events like this have taken place, it's extremely relevant, and these scenes were absolutely necessary. One complaint that I do have about these shots is that most of them were to the back of characters, so the emotion that these children felt whilst going through a normal day weren't as thoroughly shown as they could have and should have been. Apart from this, they were very well crafted, emotionally resonant scenes that didn't even have the slightest level of superfluousness about them, to me anyway. They helped to display high school life accurately and made the film even more simple to relate to. 

Another flaw within this film is that some of the characters weren't explained nearly enough - we knew barely anything about most of them, and whilst this may have been intended, it is nice to have area for character development. This didn't stop the characters being interesting however, and as we are taken on the differential routes of their daily lives, we begin to get attached to each character, regardless of how much we actually know about their personal lives. The lack of talking in this film added to how haunting the atmosphere and build-up were, and I feel as though if there were lots of talking within the film, it would have deteriorated the emotion that is supposed to be felt towards the characters and the trauma that they had to go through. Showing the different high school stereotypes had a huge effect on me, showing how much we actually care about cliques and groups, but that when something like this happens, all of that disappears and becomes irrelevant, you are not superior to anyone else - you are just another person. Displaying individuality in this film was hugely important as it emphasised the mindlessness of the killings, and the lack of consideration for the emotions of others by the killers.

A slight problem I noticed within this film was that the bullying scenes towards the future perpetrators didn't show their mental deterioration thoroughly - it was almost as if they were bullied and then out of the blue they decided to go on a shooting rampage. I don't know if Van Sant noticed, but that doesn't really construct much emotion for the audience to feel towards them. The film concentrates on far too many characters for us to feel highly emotional towards them, which is why in that respect, I preferred the documentary 'Zero Hour'. 'Zero Hour' was more effective because it concentrated mainly on the perpetrators of Columbine, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, and whilst I respect Elephant for attempting to concentrate on many characters, it didn't work quite as well as I had hoped it would. However, 'Zero Hour' was based purely on Columbine, whilst this was just a loose adaption of the events. Perhaps also characterisation was not Van Sant's main target for this film, but how the day unfolded and the sheer fact that some people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and to add an eerie and intense atmosphere throughout the build-up - and this is helped wholly by the lack of dialog in the film. I just felt as if many of the characters weren't explored fully in an emotional sense, and perhaps they could have been if the film had been slightly longer - there are also a few relationships that we are shown over the course of the film, that never feel necessary and are never really explained.

One thing I really admired about this were the transactions that showed the effects of conversations from the perspectives of both characters involved - it was very well done and it emphasised how the smallest things can have the largest and most tragic outcomes. The dark, broody cinematography reflects the emotion and atmosphere within the film brilliantly and chills you to the core. One scene that I am going to pick out is where a pupil at the school is sitting watching television, and on the television there is a documentary about Nazis. If I assume correct, they were attempting to compare Nazis to the perpetrators of the attack - considering that the attack hadn't commenced yet, this felt a little bit rash. It felt as if Van Sant was trying to emphasise how horrific the events were by comparing the attackers to one of the most evil, vindictive groups ever in history, and it felt a little extreme. Nonetheless, I will move on to the most acclaimed part of the film - the massacre itself. It is very moving and powerful. The relaxation on the faces of the killers shows their mental instability and is tremendously haunting. The calmness of some of the students during the massacre also added to this feeling. We are then given a conclusion that will either strangely satisfy you or purely disappoint you. A movie based in these events could be better, and probably will be made better in the future, but it could have been a whole lot worse. Without a doubt, this is worth a watch.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Ed Wood Review

Director: Tim Burton
Year: 1994
Starring: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau
Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 127 minutes

Ed Wood
A lot can be said about Ed Wood. It's wacky, fun and acted in a very enticing, soliloquy manner. But it's also quite a tender picture - it deals with the struggles, obstructions and pain of pulling a true career out of the harsh, challenging hat that is Hollywood. This is brilliantly reflected by the standout performances from Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Patricia Arquette, and much to my surprise, Sarah Jessica Parker. The challenging topic of this film reflects on all of these characters throughout the film, as we watch how they deal with them individually, and have a wonderful film watching experience in the process.

One thing that pisses me off more than anything is when a film constantly throws obscurity at you when there really isn't need, and it doesn't really work well with the rest of the film. Ed Wood is an exception to this rule, as the strangeness of the film is actually rather beautiful at parts, as it mirrors the personalities of the characters in a very charming and understanding way. The obscurity of this film actually makes the character of Ed Wood, among many others, intriguing and fascinating to watch, as their personas begin to develop over the course of the film. Each character appeared to be in a world of their own, with different aspirations, which was interesting to watch. 

The way this film was made actually made me forget about the fact that this film was made about one of the worst directors of all time. The fact that the film was entirely in monochrome effect really blended with how bland Ed's life often was, and how many times he was close to giving up, due to so many rejections. Aside from Ed Wood, a particularly fascinating character was Landau's Bela Lugosi, the legendary star of Dracula who relies on Ed for help, and features in many of his pictures, as he is displayed as a warm, kind yet eerily unstable human being. The camerawork in this film really brings out the emotions and social points that this film was obviously attempting to bring out, and Burton succeeded brilliantly in doing so. I've never been a huge fan of the Burton-Depp collaborations, but this is hugely different from all of the other ones - it's funky with reason.

There's numerous other things that make this film special - the sweet, often melancholic score that almost always displays the emotions that the characters are feeling. The chemistry between the characters, particularly Ed and Bela, or Ed and Kathy, is absolutely fantastic and is a complete joy to set eyes upon. The dialogue in this film is never superfluously random like many other of Burton's works, it's sharp and the delivery is wonderful. Not many films can blend all of the aspects that Ed Wood features and make it work at the same time. This film truly made the year of '94 that little bit solider in my books.

As you may have picked up from things I have said earlier on in the review, I'm not a big Tim Burton fan. I think that he packs unnecessary amounts of randomness and quirkiness into his films that just comes out as stupid. He constantly relies on the same style over and over again, and I honestly think that's why his crazy fan base go nuts for him. But Ed Wood is different - Burton's style actually works in this. Ed Wood really is a one of kind experience - it's touching, it's smart and almost every aspect of it blends well. This is a stylish, fun filled and surprising deep film that is sadly not noticed among the large part of Burton's cult followers.