Film

Profile: Robert DeNiro

Robert-DeNiro

source: Waking Times

My latest article for Film Inquiry is a profile on Robert DeNiro, one of my all time favourite actors. Check it out here, and feel free to comment on it and let me know what you think of the legendary actor.

Here are some of my favourite DeNiro moments, what are yours?

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Film, List

INSPIRATIONAL FILM SPEECHES:

Just as I recently shared with you some of my preferred study tracks, I thought I would also explore another of my useful study aids: the inspirational film speech.

A quick delve into Youtube and you will find yourself a treasure trove of cinematic brilliance – an inspirational speech is just what you need as you brace yourself to take on a mammoth task, be it a left-to-the-last-minute essay or a long day at work. Here are some of my go-to videos:

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY:

Let me level with you – I’ve never seen Any Given Sunday. I do, however, adore Al Pacino and never has his over-the-top-ness worked so well as it does here.

Inspirational speeches and sports films go hand in hand and the message being put across here is universal – take things one step at a time.

It is also speeches such as these that make you a little glad that the US hasn’t fully adopted the metric system, centimetre by centimetre doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

ROCKY BALBOA:

Rocky Balboa has a quite a few moments of brilliance from Sylvester Stallone, but the speech he gives to his son is the one that hits home hardest. 

Robert “Rocky” Jnr has some problems with living in his fathers shadow, and Stallone pulled the flailing film series out of the gutter with this speech where he tackles his son head on, reminding him that it is up to yourself to take control of your own life.

“You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Basically, you don’t have anyone else to blame if you don’t get your uni work done.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION:

Ok so it’s that point in the semester where everything is piling up and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, but at least you haven’t been falsely imprisoned for a double murder. 

Andy Dufrense managed to maintain hope in the face of some incredibly poor prospects, and this speech is the perfect one to drag you out of the pit if you are feeling sorry for yourself.

Not a straight up speech like the others, but still full to the brim with inspiration.

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE:

This is a film from the guys who make South Park, and I’ve always been an advocate of the fact that underneath the profanity and vulgarity (of which there is plenty) there is almost always a clever and sometimes affecting message. 

Plus, if you don’t buy into any of that you will probably at least get a laugh from it.

LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING:

Pre-battle speeches are a great form of inspiration – also see 300 and Braveheart for some other examples – but this one from Aragorn in the final instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy could easily be regarded as the grandaddy of them all. 

It’s fairly short and to the point, but Viggo Mortensen delivers it with such gusto that you will watch it and find yourself fired up and ready to take on the world.

LEGALLY BLONDE:

“You must always have faith in yourself.”

The world of inspirational film speeches is quite a male dominated one, from sports films to battle scenes, but Legally Blonde is a great one in the motivation stakes – if Elle can graduate, so can you.

BRIDGET JONES DIARY:

Less inspirational, more painfully relatable, this one was too funny not to be included. 

Which film speeches inspire you? Let me know in the comments section! 

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Film

FILM INQUIRY:

Just a quick update to say I am still alive. I’m super busy with university work at the moment and haven’t had the time to make many updates here. I hope to post something new soon, but in the meantime feel free to check out some of the work I’ve been doing over at Film Inquiry!

Here is a Beginner’s Guide to one of my favourite directors, Danny Boyle. I also wrote an essay about the place for screwball comedy in modern cinema, which you can check out here. Lastly I wrote another Beginner’s Guide for the late, great John Hughes, which you can read on this link.

Expect some new updates both here and on Film Inquiry in the very near future. In the meanwhile, here are some trailers for my most anticipated films in the coming months…

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Film, List, News, Opinion

OSCARS 2016

So, the Oscar’s are over for another year. The 88th Academy Awards, hosted by Chris Rock, was an eventful night filled with some the usual safe bets and surprises, but the night was owned by Leonardo DiCaprio, who finally brought home an Oscar, simultaneously breaking the hearts of GIF creator’s the world over.  

Rock was a strong host, hitting the ground running with an opening monologue that tackled the #OscarsSoWhite scandal that has dominated awards season head on, introducing the Academy as the “white people’s choice awards.”

Comedy has long been an effective means of exploring serious issues and Rock did so wonderfully. His speech was effective and well needed, addressing the nature of institutionalised racism and also tackling the calls that he himself resign as host, quipping that he didn’t want to “lose another job to Kevin Hart.”

But what about the actual awards? Here is the lowdown of the big wins from the night…

Best Picture:

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source: E Online

Winner: Spotlight

Nominated: The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Picture was a strong category this year and there have been various favourites over the course of the season, but it was Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight that came out on top.

The film is deserving of the top award – a sobering look at the true life child abuse scandal uncovered by the Boston Globe’s spotlight team in 2001. It would have been a shame to see a film that feels so undoubtedly important go home empty handed, and whilst more understated than some of the nominees – The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road being the obvious examples – the film packs an emotional gut punch.

I was holding out on futile hopes for underdog Brooklyn, my personal favourite from the nominees, but I don’t think there can be any real qualms about Spotlight’s deserved victory.

Best Actor:

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Nominated: Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Could it really be anyone else? The six-time nominated Leonardo DiCaprio has been the hotly tipped favourite to win for months now, and his long-awaited win for his lead role in The Revenant delivered on the promise.

At the end of the day, he deserved it. He should have received one years ago, and The Revenant shows the actor take on yet another challenging role that required him to push himself more than ever before.

His speech was fantastic, a testament to the fact that DiCaprio genuinely seems to be a very humble man. From his shoutout to “my brother in this endeavour” Tom Hardy to the passionate conclusion where he homed in on the climate issues that got him interested in The Revenant, the speech was one of the highlights of the night.

The reception from the crowd spoke volumes – DiCaprio received a standing ovation when he was announced as the winner, and the camera showed the reactions of his comrades as he made his speech. Particularly lovely was the pride on Kate Winslet’s face and the pure unadulterated glee from Hardy.

Had it been another year, I believe Bryan Cranston could have been in with a real chance for his fabulous turn as Dalton Trumbo, but this year was all about DiCaprio, meaning that the strong performances from the other nominees have been somewhat lost in translation.

Best Actress:

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source: E Online

Winner: Brie Larson (Room)

Nominated: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Another fully deserving winner, Brie Larson was incredible in Room. Playing a young woman who was kidnapped as a teenager and has a child (Jacob Tremblay), fathered by her captor, that she attempts to shield from the horrors of their reality, Larson gave without a doubt one of the standout performances of the cinematic year.

Every actress gave a great performance, but it was Larson who stuck out as the most raw and emotional of the lot. Her speech was also hopelessly endearing, as is her cute friendship with young co-star Tremblay.

Best Supporting Actor:

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source: Forbes

Winner: Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

Nominated: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Probably one of the biggest surprises of the night (to me at least) was Mark Rylance scooping the Best Supporting Actor award in an insanely tough category that included Tom Hardy, Christian Bale and Mark Ruffalo.

Whilst I haven’t seen Bridge of Spies and am sure that Rylance gave a great performance, I can’t help but feel that the award is out of a sense of obligation that any film by Steven Spielberg should not only receive nominations but must win something.

Every actor in this category gave a performance that stood out in some way – Ruffalo and Hardy in particular really could easily have won – but the nostalgic choice would have been to honour Sylvester Stallone for his turn in Creed, 40 years on from his win for the original Rocky.

Stallone delivered his best performance in years and was genuinely as deserving of the award as any other nominee, and the romantic in me would have loved to see him take it home. Congratulations to Rylance, but I feel this may be a choice that will be looked back upon with befuddlement in the future.

Best Supporting Actress:

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source: Variety

Winner: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Nominated: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

The Danish Girl really wasn’t that good, but without Alicia Vikander I am pretty sure it would be near unwatchable. The drone fest, which does no justice to the interesting characters it is based on, is such because of Tom Hooper’s uninspired direction, but Vikander is extremely strong as Gerda.

I still feel she should have been a contender for Best Actress as she is undoubtedly a main character, but she probably would not have been victorious in that category. Vikander brings nuance and emotion to her performance and the Oscar win is the perfect pay-off to what has been an incredible year for the actress (she also appeared in the critically acclaimed Ex Machina and fun caper The Man From U.N.C.L.E).

I would have liked to see Jennifer Jason Leigh get some love for what was a sensational turn in The Hateful Eight, but it is hard to begrudge Vikander’s thoroughly deserving win (even if the film itself isn’t great).

Best Adapted Screenplay:

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source: NY Times

Winner: The Big Short (Adam McKay and Charles Randolph)

Nominated: Brooklyn (Nick Hornby), Carol (Phyllis Nagy), The Martian (Drew Goddard), Room (Emma Donoghue)

The Big Short has been somewhat divisive, with many of the directorial choices McKay made being what some loved and others reviled about the film, but there aren’t many who can claim that it isn’t well written, condensing immensely complicated financial jargon and presenting it in an interesting way. McKay, who has been known for his comedy work until this point, used his acceptance speech to get political, saying:

“If you don’t want big money to control your government, don’t vote for candidates that take big money from banks, oil or weirdo billionaires.” 

Best Original Screenplay:

spotlight.jpg

source: CBS Local

Winner: Spotlight (Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy)

Nominated: Ex Machina (Alex Garland), Bridge of Spies (Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen), Inside Out (Josh Cooley, Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve), Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff)

A well deserved winner, and one of Spotlight’s two wins of six nominations. The strength of the film lay in the writing – the very nature of investigative journalism made it a challenging story to bring to the screen and Singer and McCarthy crafted a script which communicated the story effectively without ever feeling like it was spoon feeding the audience.

The Revenant:

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source: The Verge

Nominations: 12

Wins: 3 – Best Actor, Best Director, Best Cinematography

Leading the pack with 12 nominations, The Revenant seemed like a sure-thing for winning plenty of awards, but the decision to grant Mad Max: Fury Road the majority of the technical categories meant that the film ended up only taking home three Oscars.

The three wins were fully deserving – Emmanuel Lubezki took home his third consecutive cinematography award following his work on Gravity and Birdman – and high profile. The lack of awards could also be down to the fact that the films Oscar campaign has mostly been focused on finally bagging DiCaprio his (fully deserved) award.

Alejandro G Inarritu won Best Director for the second year running, and whilst The Revenant may have failed to take home Best Picture there is no doubt that his dedication and attention to detail made him fully deserving of the statuette.

Mad Max: Fury Road:

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source: Metro

Nominations: 10

Wins: 6 – Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up and Hair Styling, Best Production Design, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

In terms of number of awards, Mad Max: Fury Road was the winner of the night after receiving a surprising 10 nominations and scooping up six of them. It is great to see the Academy open its mind to the action genre, and whilst I haven’t seen the film it has been lauded as a genre best, so it is fitting that it did so well.

Some will be disappointed that director George Miller didn’t scoop Best Director for his meticulous work, but the gratitude and respect bestowed upon him in the acceptance speeches for each award made it clear how revered he is amongst those who made the film. With such a strong Best Director batch this year it was always going to be difficult to secure a win, but the nomination should not be taken lightly considering worthy candidates such as Todd Hayes didn’t make the cut.

A particular highlight was Miller’s wife Margaret Sevel receiving the Best Editing award and whilst the film may not have scooped any of the bigger awards, it is a positive step to see that the Academy did not ignore a summer blockbuster in the way it has tended to in the past.

Best Original Song:

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source: The Guardian

Winner: Writing’s On The Wall – Spectre (Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes)

While the latest Bond theme wasn’t welcomed by all fans, it shot to the top of the UK charts – a first for a Bond song – but it is hard not to find Sam Smith’s acceptance, which he dedicated to the LGBT community, endearing.

That said, Writing’s On The Wall is a decidedly weak entry into the Bond repertoire (which was going to be the case for anything that came after Adele and Skyfall), so whilst the win was unsurprising it would be a stretch to say it was deserving.

Empty Handed…

The Martian, Carol, Star Wars: The Force AwakensBrooklyn, SicarioSteve Jobs were just some of the films to go home empty handed in what has been, for better or worse, an extremely strong year in cinema. Until next year!

What did you think of the Oscars 2016? Share your comments below! 

 

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Film, Trailers

TRAILER – THE PREPPIE CONNECTION:

Directed: Joseph Castelo

Starring: Thomas Mann, Lucy Fry, Sam Page

Based on the real life scandal at Choate Rosemary Hall in 1984, The Preppie Connection tells the story of a private school student (Thomas Mann) who begins a drug trafficking network

The trailer paints the film as an interesting blend of genres, with teen movies, indie flicks and crime/drug capers all amalgamating into The Preppie Connection, which could prove to be the element upon which the film will sink or swim.

preppieconnection

source: Variety

Mann made waves last year in the excellent Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with this role as the student who helms the trafficking. Mann has the right balance of indie awkwardness and charm and looks set to be bringing plenty of that to this, with the crime element creating something different.

The supporting cast look to be just as interesting with Australian actress Lucy Fry appearing to have an important role as the love interest and motivator of Mann’s character. Mann and Fry’s roles were initially linked to Evan Peters and Bella Heathcote respectively, but the pair look like a solid fit for the characters.

Joseph Castelo has previously directed two films – American Saint (2001) and The War Within (2005) – which explore interesting subject matters, with this proving to be another intriguing entry. The director has also penned the script alongside Ashley Rudden.

The film is set for a limited release in the USA on the 18th of March, with no word yet on a UK release date. With such a promising cast and an alluring concept, lets hope The Preppie Connection will make an appearance on this side of the pond sometime soon.

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Film, Role Model

ROLE MODEL #2 – GEENA DAVIS

Every Friday A Peerie Yarn will look at a different female role model. They may be a role model for any reason at all, from a music legend to a fantastic author, and the piece will explore what it is that makes them someone to look up to. 

Background & Personal Life:

Geena-Davis-Hairstyles-1

source: SloDive

Geena Davis was born in Massachussets in 1956. She gained a Bachelor’s Degree in drama from Boston University in 1979 and began working in acting from the 1980’s.

Davis is a member of Mensa, a group for people in the highest 2% of intelligence based on IQ scores. She has been married four times, to Richard Emmolo (1982-83), Jeff Goldblum (1987-1990), Renny Harlan (1993-98) and to Reza Jarrahy since 2001.

She has three kids with Jarrahy, a daughter, born in 2002, and twin sons, born in 2004. In 2009 she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Bates College.

“I haven’t even gone to any Mensa meetings.” 

Acting:

 

thelmaandlouise_pub_627

source: SBS

Davis refers to herself as an actor, believing that the word “actress” will soon be dated in the same way as “doctress” is today. This pursuit of equality is also reflected in her choice of roles, with Davis becoming known for carefully choosing her roles.

She bagged herself a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1988 for The Accidental Tourist, as well as gaining another nomination in 1991 for Best Actress in Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise. The former is Davis’ staple work – a roadtrip/buddy movie that subverted pretty much every trope from the respective genres and created something that screamed girl power.

Other roles included the baseball film A League of Their Own (1992)  and pirate caper Cutthroat Island (1995), proof that Davis refuses to be put into the typical boxes so many females working in the movie industry are.

She played a female President of the USA in ABC’s Commander in Chief, which ran for one season over 2005-2006.

Whilst her acting work has taken a backseat as she has raised a family and become more involved in activism, she is due to star in the film adaption of Marjorie Prime alongside Jon Hamm.

“If you read someday that I have signed up to play Sean Connery’s kidnapped wife, then you’ll know I’m broke.”

Archery:

Davis became interested in archery in the 1990’s and in 1999 was one of 300 women who went for semi-finals berth in the US Olympics Archery Team to participate in the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics.

She placed 24th out of 300 and whilst she did not qualify she participated as a wild card entry in the Sydney International Golden Arrow Competition.

“Archery is something that I took up later and didn’t know I had a natural aptitude for.” 

Activism & Research:

geena-davis.jpg

source: Indiewire

Davis has become hugely prolific in her activism and research since the early 2000’s. She fronts the Women’s Sports Foundation and launched a campaign called “Geena Takes Aim” which advocated gender equality in sports opportunities.

She became even more interested in gender equality when watching children’s programming with her kids. She noticed the extreme gender imbalance and the worryingly sexualised nature of female characters appearances.

It was because of this that she paired with Dads and Daughters in 2005 to push for a balancing of the numbers of male and female characters in children’s TV and film. In 2007 she launched the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which launched the biggest research project on gender in the media to date.

The Institute published its findings, such as the fact that the ratio of male to female characters in Hollywood is 3:1, and Davis continues to speak at events all over the world to promote equality.

In 2015 she launched the Bentonville Film Festival, an event which was focused on promoting diversity in film.

“Six year old girls have already learned to see themselves through the male gaze.” 

Role Model:

Geena Davis is a massive role model for women – not only did she dedicate her career to making careful choices which allowed her to play a variety of progressive and strong roles, but she then went on to become part of the solution by spearheading the most expansive research into gender representations in media.

Davis has spent her entire career proving that no women – or person – should be put in a box. We can all be a whole range of different things, just as Davis is a wife, mother, actor, activist and archer, and her long and varied career is a testament to that.

“There are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but there can be lots of them in films. We haven’t had a woman president yet, but we have on TV. How can we fix the problem of corporate boards being so unequal without quotas? Well, they can be half women instantly, onscreen. How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM jobs today in movies and on TV. Hey, it would take me many years to become a real nuclear physicist, but I can play one tomorrow.”

What do you think of Geena Davis? Share your thoughts in the comments section! 

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#52FilmsByWomen, Film, Reviews

#52FILMSBYWOMEN – FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH:

After watching Amy Heckerling’s Clueless as part of the #52FilmsByWomen pledge, I decided to revisit her debut, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is considered a cult classic and launched the careers of many actors including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sean Penn

Directed: Amy Heckerling

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Judge Reinhold, Sean Penn, Ray Walston

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source: Youtube

Amy Heckerling is one of a very select group of women who has managed to forge a lasting career in mainstream cinema, and this is no doubt largely due to the strength of her debut. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a staple of the teen genre, featuring an ensemble of then up and comers who are now some of Hollywood’s most respected players.

The 1982 film, written by Cameron Crowe, is based on his non-fiction book of the same name, which he wrote after going undercover at Clairemont High School in California. The film has only a loose narrative, telling the tales of a number of High School students over the course of a school year.

fasttimesatridgemonthigh_bornunicorn

source: Born Unicorn

Characters include 15 year old Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is looking to lose her virginity and taking the advice of her older friend, the more experienced Linda (Phoebe Cates). Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer) admires Stacy from afar and takes dating advice from his own older friend Damone (Robert Romanus), whilst Stacey’s older brother Brad (Judge Reinhold) navigates a series of part time jobs. The film also follows stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) as he gets engaged in a battle of wits with history teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston).

Sean Penn is hilarious as perpetually stoned Jeff Spicoli and has no doubt inspired every similar character to appear in a film since, including Travis (Breckin Meyer) in Clueless, who is essentially just a more self aware and 1990’s variation of Spicoli. Even his stoner/surfer style has become iconic, with his character being largely responsible for the enduring popularity of Vans slip-on shoes.

jeffspicoli

source: Oyster

It is Penn’s performance that remains the most enduring and popular, with stories of how he stayed in character throughout shooting and would only answer to the name Spicoli becoming popular trivia, but the excellent turns from the rest of the cast is not to be ignored.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is a standout as Stacy, communicating the dual sense of braveness and vulnerability of exploring sexuality for the first time, whilst Pheobe Cates is also amusing as the older friend whose every word is lapped up by Stacy in spite of the fact she clearly isn’t all that sure what she is talking about. Each character is relatable in some way, especially Mark, who was based on Andy Rathbone, who has gone on to become the successful author of the For Dummies book series.

Other stars to be to look out for include Nicolas Cage (credited as Nicolas Coppola) and Forest Whitaker in their respective feature film debuts, as well as Eric Stoltz as a stoner buddy of Spicoli’s.

It is a credit to Heckerling’s direction that the film never feels meandering in spite of the loose narrative, and we come out feeling like every character has been on a journey of some sort. The film doesn’t shy away from exploring serious issues such as sexuality and abortion, and it probably has more in common with the raunch-fest Porky’s (1981) than the John Hughes classics of the decade.

The film is so on the nose about these issues in fact that it has sometimes drawn criticisms for sexism – Roger Ebert gave the film one star in his review and described it as:

“a failure of taste, tone and nerve – the waste of a good cast on erratic, offensive material that hasn’t been thought through, or maybe even thought about.” 

Ebert also denounces the film as sexist and bordering on sexploitation, and it has been debated for years whether or not Heckerling’s film is sexist. There is a plenty to suggest that it may be – particularly the famous swimming pool scene starring Cates – but the film is actually a very rare example of sexuality as portrayed largely from the female perspective.

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source: Youtube

This is clear at many points throughout the narrative, but is most obvious through the character of Stacy. When she gets pregnant she decides to have an abortion and Heckerling explores this in a wholly realistic way. There is no judgement, or even any debate, it is merely shown and the film ends in a way that suggests that Stacy learnt something and moved on, as is the case with many teenagers.

In her book It’s A Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Enviroments, Amanda Marcotte argues that the film is a very positive and female orientated depiction of the High School experience, saying it:

“…doesn’t romanticise high school from the point of view of a middle-aged man, but shows it as it is in all it’s cringworthy, immature nonglory.” 

In spite of the John Hughes dig, Marcotte does raise an interesting point about the film – whilst we see Stacy explore her sexuality, her encounters are far from the overblown and unrealistic depictions of sex usually put to the screen, and are much more reflective of real life experiences as had by many.

The film, like any great teen movie, also boasts a fantastic soundtrack which serves as proof that a pop music can have just as much impact as a traditional film score. From the opening track We Got the Beat by The GoGo’s it is clear that Heckerling has a talent for encapsulating contemporary youth culture, and the soundtrack features an array of brilliant tracks from the likes of The Eagles and Stevie Nicks.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a time capsule to the 1980’s, infused with a little more grit than the sugary sweetness of John Hughes, but with enough brains to still be feel-good, it inspired generations and films such as Dazed and Confused (1993) and many more would not exist without it.

What do you think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Which films are you watching as part of #52FilmsByWomen? Share your views in the comments section! 

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