My Brother The Devil

My Brother The Devil can be described as an formulaic gritty, realistic crime drama seen in a multitude of films like Boyz In Da Hood, Kidulthood and La Haine to name a few. Yet it does offer a shocking twist and tense atmosphere underlining the characters’ realities which were dramatically absorbing.

Until My Brother The Devil revealed its twist, it was a formulaic narrative. However there was no faulting its atmospheric direction. My Brother The Devil used still images of gang-life in its opening scene whilst firmly establishing differences between Rashid and Mo, Brothers and main protagonists. Visuals were primarily used as they are an emotive concept, actions speak louder than words. My Brother The Devil did well to establish atmosphere by placing characters (and consequently audiences) in violent situations. The actors’ direction in specific scenes was fundamental towards this, not relying on dialogue only. The scenes are left to settle through each actors’ instincts forcing audiences to absorb tension. Yet it is the shocking twist within My Brother The Devil whilst it felt questionable at first did fit into Rashid’s and Mo’s characterisation regarding gang-life’s requirement of fierce masculinity. In this regard it was a bold move which intensified My Brother The Devil‘s atmosphere.

Despite the intriguing twist, My Brother The Devil‘s narrative style did feel cliché. As previously stated the narrative was formulaic to an extent where I was predicted what would follow. Yet the acting in specific scenes are able to absorb audiences into their world. Wherever it was Rashid or Mo having to square up to fierce opposition or experiencing violent situations, the actors involved never overly convey their situation. Thanks to this the actors created a realism shocking audiences into realising the harrowing environment these characters were part of. This directness of My Brother The Devil‘s realism makes it slightly superior over its clichéd flaws to make it an dramatically absorbing feature.

A Prophet (2009)

A Prophet contrasts between gritty prison drama and romanticism of crime’s luxuries. A Prophet in despite of this contradiction in terms was an engaging film whose atmospheric and hard-hitting qualities on prison life were transfixing.

A Prophet‘s atmospheric qualities lied with Malik’s experiences, a fresh prisoner transferred from youth offender to adult prison. A Prophet was decisive in establishing prison’s harsh environment with Malik experiencing numerous harrowing moments which are bleakly toned, essential for A Prophet‘s narrative style. Such scenes’ tone were perfected as they were left to settle for audiences to contemplate Malik’s scenario. The hand-held cinematography’s irregularity personified Malik’s humiliation and anxiety within prison. Yet A Prophet also focused on other aspects of Malik’s life. Malik lacked formal education which makes his prison life more difficult, adding to the tragedy of his situation. A Prophet again perfected bleak atmospheric tones to let audiences contemplate Malik’s lack of formal education as a tragedy. It showed great direction from Jacques Audiard as capturing a bleak atmosphere effectively.

A Prophet‘s representation on crime was mostly direct and brutal. Malik’s time throughout prison involved him in various horrendous and dangerous tasks which were horrific not only for audiences but to Malik himself. Later Malik is shown to be increasingly haunted by his actions giving consequence to criminal activity. However A Prophet somewhat contradicted its’ representation on crime as Malik became established into criminality, there were certain scenes of sensationalism. This dented A Prophet‘s representation of crime through taking away the gritty realism previously conveyed.

A Prophet in regards to sensationalism was familiar by delving into such territory. Yet A Prophet‘s atmosphere and skillful direction concluded it to be a hugely satisfying drama capitulating the difficulties of prison life.

Who Killed Johnny (2013)

Who Killed Johnny from my perspective was an inconsistent film veering from the bizarre, supposedly hilarious to extremely dramatic. It would have worked better if there had been consistency between these various aspects yet it simply leaves you questioning what you saw.

Who Killed Johnny as a comedy relied heavily on visual gags which felt either flat or clichéd. These took place through Melanie and Max processing scenarios for their proposed script with characters of different features and persuasions imagined for comic intent but with no satisfying results. The visual gags which felt like clichés were the appearances of Jambo and Gudrun, an interracial couple. Jambo with his afro and very tight Y-fronts along with Gudrun’s large breasts and luscious behind were emphasised for their visual humour. I assume it was meant to be hilarious yet it felt bland.

Characterisation within Who Killed Johnny never felt truly elaborated. Although Melanie and Max did have chemistry with each other along with their relationship towards Jambo and Gudrun, Who Killed Johnny transitioning between real life and scenarios within their script warped characterisation because it was never given strong focus. Even after Who Killed Johnny‘s central narrative point occurred there was more reliance on comic moments rather than strong characterisation. Though some may feel comic moments are adequate within Who Killed Johnny, its lack of characterisation as a result did not make me invest into Who Killed Johnny‘s narrative.

As Who Killed Johnny‘s narrative continued to become more inconsistent, it was another clause for my viewing displeasure. Who Killed Johnny became more outlandish and switched directions especially in its climax where I was left questioning my viewing experience. The continuous inconsistency was Who Killed Johnny‘s most critical flaw which hindered it as a whole.

The Monroe Dilemma: My Week with Marilyn (2011)

My Week with Marilyn is based upon Colin Clark’s memoirs on his relationship with Monroe during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). Since Monroe was a tragic figure whose public persona contributed to her ultimate downfall I expected My Week with Marilyn to expose this tragedy, however it mostly contributed to Monroe’s glamour image.

My Week with Marilyn began establishing Colin as the misfit of his family. Whereas his Father is an Art Historian and his Brother a Military Historian, Colin’s desire for film making disgusted his family. As much emphasis is placed on Colin breaking from family tradition I assumed it would coincide with later plot points yet this was to no avail, one of many flaws within My Week with Marilyn. It swiftly moves onto Colin asserting himself into the film industry which is made both admirable and entertaining through a montage of scenes. It might be enjoyable to watch yet it was another flaw as it only filled time before reaching Colin’s relationship with Monroe. Once Monroe is first glimpsed My Week with Marilyn falls into a clichéd trap of reflecting her physical beauty more than her physiological vulnerability. Parading around in public places and being playful towards Colin reaffirmed well-established viewpoints of Monroe, there was nothing intriguing about her representation. Once Colin’s relationship with Monroe develops, there are interludes into her psyche whilst appealing do not delve deep enough. In one scene Colin has to comfort Monroe reeling from a sexist comment and later she confides with him that “all people ever see is Marilyn Monroe”. These are meant to be a profound insight into Monroe’s psyche yet My Week with Marilyn proves itself to be a contradiction. If this was a profound statement then Colin would not have been infatuated with Monroe simply because she was a sex symbol and My Week with Marilyn would have not glamorised her.

The only sincere response from Colin and Monroe’s relationship in particular her representation as a sex symbol was Colin’s interactions with Lucy, a co-worker. She was the object of Colin’s affections before dropping her for Monroe which understandably made Lucy upset. Running back to Lucy after his Monroe relationship reaches its decline, Lucy swiftly rejects him before asking if Monroe broke his heart. When he responds Lucy boldly answers “good, it needed breaking”. Lucy’s response was a powerful moment which challenged previous contradictions regarding Monroe’s representation as Colin’s obsessive gaze came at a serious price. This earnest moment is what I hoped My Week with Marilyn would contain, however it hindered itself on overly glamorising Monroe instead of truly revealing her vulnerability.

In a musical, nothing dreadful ever happens… : Dancer in the Dark (2000)

“In a musical, nothing dreadful ever happens”. These are words spoken in Dancer in the Dark which have ironic significance as this is a musical filled with dreadfulness in its unfolding tragedy and subverts musical traditions for sinister meanings.

Set in 1960s America, Selma is an Czech immigrant who came to America to benefit her son Gene. Working tirelessly in the local factory and hiding knowledge of an hereditary degenerative disease of blindness, Selma saves her money hoping to get Gene an operation to prevent him suffering the same fate. However Bill, Selma’s landlord in desperate need for money to repay his bank taking advantage of Selma’s vulnerability by stealing her money leading to an inevitable decline. This synopsis makes Dancer in the Dark sound like a standard drama. However this is a Lars Von Trier film, anyone aware of his filmmaking will know his unconventional style. Instead of standard drama Dancer in the Dark contains an awkwardness which at first is hard to distinguish if it’s deliberate. Selma is represented as a childish character whose mannerisms (waving at a train as it goes by) and her obsession with Hollywood musicals made it hard to believe she is a responsible Mother. This also applies to performances, there is a constant sense of otherness as if you’re witnessing an amateur production. Not to say the performances were inadequate but the direction involved along with hand-held cinematography’s intense movements and frequent cuts orchestrated the narrative into a series of awkward scenes contributing to an unsettling environment. At least at first.

Once Dancer in the Dark‘s turning point is reached its awkwardness reaches potential and the unsettling environment begins to make sense. Selma’s childishness intensifies into her musical daydreams. Dancer in the Dark used musicals numbers not to show expressions of joyous optimism but Selma’s denial of grim reality. The musical numbers thus contain an unconventionality, they were not vibrant and glamorous but unskilful and bizarre. Each musical numbers’ composition lacked structure, for example on a slow moving train Selma dances with workers on an open carriage followed by a couple dancing outside a near-by house. This unstructured style reveals Selma’s wild imagination briefly rejecting her dreadful reality. It was Selma’s childish fantasy to be a musical star yet Dancer in the Dark conveys this as simply an unrealistic obsession. It gives Dancer in the Dark‘s musical numbers a subversive context which is creatively intelligent as the musical numbers’ abnormality showed Selma’s delusional mental state. Dancer in the Dark though at first will take time to become accustomed to, it transforms into an exceptionally creative film which is brilliant in its unconventionality.

Ikiru (To Live)

Ikiru is poignant and directly profound through contemplating life’s meaning in Watanabe’s dealings with mortality. Watanabe is an old-aged bureaucrat whose life was obsessed with work until discovering he has terminal cancer. Whereas Ikiru takes its time in reaching Watanabe’s revelation of his terminal cancer, audiences are told at the beginning. Audiences being aware of this made Watanabe’s mundane office environment extremely bleak. Firstly Watanabe and his colleges are unresponsive at a joke by a younger, immature employee and a montage of citizens being moved around from department to department regarding their queries. Ikiru firmly establishes Watanabe’s routine occupation as somber which is emphasised in Watanabe’s acknowledgement of his terminal cancer, that he had wasted his adult life.

Ikiru‘s theme of morality became significance in Watanabe’s reactions to his impending death. He rejects his bureaucrat duties and becomes engaged with his human desires. Wantanabe disappears for days at a time drinking and reminiscing about his past as one memorable scene showed him singing an old love ballad to the stunned silence of those around him, reflecting Wantanabe’s realisation towards death. Watanabe also becomes infatuated with Toyo, a younger employee through her quirkiness giving him revived senses of youthfulness. Yet this soon flames out only emphasises Watanabe’s loss of time. These scenes in Ikiru relate to Watanabe’s notion of “a protest of my life up to now” provoking internal questions of morality and one’s use in life.

From protesting his life to giving it meaning, Watanabe becomes the catalyst for long-standing plan for a children’s park which had previously been ignored by his department. Watanabe’s determined vest to complete the park before his death continued to emphasis Ikiru‘s profound message regarding life. Once Watanabe has passed on and his achievements are recognised, his former co-workers say “compared to Watanabe we’re just trash”, consolidating Ikiru‘s profoundness for life. It is this message which audiences should take away from Ikiru.

Throne of Blood (1957)

A re-telling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth set in feudal Japan, Throne of Blood visually captured the play’s self-seeking and treacherous atmosphere whereas its characterisation is somewhat left to be desired.

General Washizu and his comrade Miki come across an evil spirit who prophecies their rise with Washizu becoming Master of the North Castle and Miki will be Fort Commander. The evil spirit concludes that Washizu will eventually become Lord of Cobweb Castle, and that Miki’s son will succeed Washizu. Washizu and Miki are understandably puzzled by the evil spirits’ prophecy and initially disregards them. However Washizu with his wife Asaji become obsessed with the prophecy, leading to violent greed and malicious manipulation. Considering the heinous themes within Throne of Blood, one would expect the performances through characterisation to be riveting. Unfortunately the performances were mostly sub-par incorporating little depth to their characterisations. The performances felt as if they were being read from the script and using over-emphasised facial expressions simply because they had to. Even Toshiro Mifune’s (Washizu) performance was mostly underwhelming. His performance gave little to establish reasons for Washizu’s inevitable lust for greed and murderous desire. It is only when Washizu becomes haunted by those he’s killed that Mifune’s performance improved capturing Washizu’s mental derangement. Isuzu Yamada as Asaji gave the only consistent performance. Asaji’s subdued expressions and cold-hearted tone influencing Washizu personified her character which Yamada fully understood.

Throne of Blood‘s strength lied in its visual representation. The opening sequence contained ominous music which was unsettling emphasised through misty surroundings where Cobweb Castle once stood, creating a mysterious tone relevant for the themes which followed. The visual representation was emphasised in various well-choreographed military scenes of enthralling action along with Washizu’s climatic death scene directed with hallowing silence and long shots to encapsulate excruciating repercussions. Throne of Blood was a film that faired better in visually conveying its themes rather than personifying them through characters. However that is not to say Throne of Blood did not well adapted the origins of Shakespeare’s play and in that sense its visual representation was an acceptable substitute for flaws in characterisation.

Consolidating Studio Ghibli’s Zest For Storytelling

Studio Ghibli films rarely fail to disappoint and usually leave me feeling mesmerised and exuberant. From Up on Poppy Hill was no exception with its solid storyline and brilliantly developed characters placing itself as another triumphant piece of Studio Ghibli’s legacy.

From Up on Poppy Hill centres itself on the theme of transition within Japan from post-war to hosting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This transitional period is both a backdrop and incorporated into the characters’ lives with Umi’s opening monologue, “the past is not ready to let go of us either”. Umi’s tangled past formed from their Father’s death, an event she never fully recovered from. Whilst her Mother is away Umi asserts herself as the families’ dominant figure making Umi an addition to Studio Ghibli’s admirable protagonists. Some may argue themes of transition and traditionalism are over emphasised, yet the characterisations make these themes admirable. Umi as her families’ dominant figure was noble as she undertakes various household tasks. The greatness of From Up on Poppy Hill‘s writing is what is unsaid. Scenes of silence with Umi preparing meals for her family created an atmosphere where Umi is respected. Yet Umi’s characterisation also had a tragic side with her Father’s death still raw within her memory. Umi’s loyalty to her Father is equally heart-wrenching and honourable reflecting the need to understand the past if transition towards the future will succeed.

Juxtapositing Umi’s struggles with the past is Shun, a fellow student at Umi’s school who forms a close relationship with her. Shun’s youthful ambition not only attracts Umi but gives audiences vitality within themselves to respect the past. His desire to restore Quartier Latin, an ageing building housing the high school’s clubs underlined why the past has to be respected and acknowledged if transitioning into the future.”Destroy the past and you dishonour who lived and died before us” was Shun’s defence in restoring Quartier Latin. Umi’s and Shun’s relations with their past helps forge their relationship which is admirable. Through their relationship and their dealings with the past From Up on Poppy Hill affirmed the importance of preserving and understanding tradition.

Whilst From Up on Poppy Hill dealt with transition with sincerity, there was room for pleasing comedy moments. The scene where Umi and Shun first meet occurs when Shun takes part in a stunt that is whimsical and amusing. Many of the secondary and minor characters during montage scenes of repairing Quartier Latin engaged in hilarious antics and dialogue which equally stayed on course with the theme of transition. From Up on Poppy Hill takes audiences on sentimental journey to respect our pasts if the future is to be improved.

‘Inspiring’ Chick-Flick… : And While We Were Here (2012)

If you asked me to summarise And While We Were Here briefly, my answer would be inspiring chick-flick. Though using the word inspiring is solely theoretical. In practice And While We Were Here does not deliver as it emerged itself in a cliché we’ve seen time after time.

Set amongst picturesque Italian locales, freelance writer Jane (Kate Bosworth) is searching to complete her first book in the company of husband Leonard (Iddo Goldberg), a touring classical musician. Though their visit to Italy takes a back seat as their relationship is explored. It’s established early that their relationship is lacking fullness from Jane’s perspective as Leonard has contrasting interests and opinions. Jane’s dissatisfaction, highlighted by an unsensual sex scene, tells us all we need to know.

This begins the build-up to Jane’s journey of life’s meaning, attempting to inspire the audience. During a day of sightseeing Jane meets free-spirited Caleb (Jamie Blackley), a younger man whose zest for life puts a spring in Jane’s step. In typical click-flick procedure Jane feels she has met the man of her dreams excited by Caleb’s knowledge of culture and life. Inevitably Caleb causes a three-way tension between himself, Jane and Leonard leading to predicable sentimentality and drama.

Reflecting over And While We Were Here there are criticisms to be made. Firstly Jane’s lust for the younger, exciting Caleb is a worn concept. Does life’s fulfilment always have to result in seeking adventure with strangers? This platitude continued with Jane occasionally listening to her Grandmother’s war experiences where she learnt to make the most of life in dire circumstances. We get it…

It was hard to see what Jane saw in Caleb beyond his rebellious nature. This is not to say Caleb was not portrayed well with Jamie Blackley giving an energetic performance. Despite Caleb’s personality relating to And While We Were Here‘s theme of fulfilling life, I could not to disagree with Leonard reference of Caleb as “that child”. If Caleb seems immature then why should audiences emote towards Jane?

In addition Jane and Leonard’s deteriorating relationship was one-sided. Only Jane’s side is portrayed with Leonard’s reasoning being antagonised rather than explored. His only defense comes in a revealing confrontation near And While We Were Here‘s climax. Whilst we’re supposedly meant to sympathise with Jane’s raw emotions, Leonard did make some convincing arguments which lent sympathy towards him. Rather it’s Jane who comes across as hostile. She conducted herself harshly towards Leonard and her reasoning within their argument did not deliver. Either this was the fault of Bosworth, the script or both. This only adds to my argument of And While We Were Here trying but failing to be inspirational though it was certainly a chick-flick, by no means a positive praise.

The Anonymous People (2013)

Lecturing audiences with a straight-up, honest attitude The Anonymous People aimed to challenging perceptions on alcoholism and other drug related addiction. According to The Anonymous People such addictions must be seen as an illness rather than moral weakness.

Interviewing those recovering and affected by addictions offering audiences personal insights. Every interviewee is stripped bare of inhibitions unashamedly discussing their experiences at face value. How addiction affected their lives and once in recovery forced to handle their past. Having to deal with social prejudices of addiction and in some cases political pressure to simply make good their errors by promoting progressive thinking. They have to be admired for openly sharing their experiences to further addiction awareness in spite of monumental opposition.

The historical context behind addiction and its activism to make addiction recognised as an illness was well covered. The formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, Marty Mann’s prolific campaigning, celebrities and politicians coming together. There has been extensive efforts to widely recognise addiction as a health problem which needs treatment rather than persecution. The historical knowledge The Anonymous People conveyed was compelling and delivered intelligently by comparing history with present day ethos. So with a rich historical framework why is The Anonymous People having to expose these issues?

The media is portrayed as a primary culprit for to their lust of sensationalism, “a sexy story sells” as one interviewee noted. The ‘War on Drugs’ crusade which dominated the 1980s was also referred to in formatting negative attributions upon addicts. Despite this acknowledgement The Anonymous People did not push their criticism far enough. It would have been beneficial to note the specific policies the ‘War on Drugs’ enforced that mistreated addicts and more crucially noting commercialism’s’ role in addiction. Considering The Anonymous People‘s context, from an audiences’ viewpoint it was screaming for criticism against commercialism’s relaxed approach in selling alcohol as seen in dozens of global advertisements. This was an argument sorely missing which would have evaluated The Anonymous People as a more hard-hitting documentary.