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TELLING STORIES WITH STYLE: THE TROPES OF TARANTINO

TELLING STORIES WITH STYLE: THE TROPES OF TARANTINO

**CONTAINS MOVIE SPOILERS**

Quentin Tarantino is a powerhouse of cinema. He has proved consistently, since his debut film Reservoir Dogs (1992) right up to his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015), a filmmaker of incredible invention. His works are well known for their references to pop culture, TV shows, music, fashion, and quoting in general from an array of cinematic influences. Indeed, his films are always firmly planted in genre, from: war films to Martial Arts to Western to crime and B-movie pictures. However, despite utilising other genres as a springboard for his writing, Tarantino instils his own style within his work. This creates a paradoxical form of originality, making him what I would call a postmodern auteur. The postmodern auteur not only quotes, borrows and steals from other influences but they are able to present them in a fashion so as to make them feel fresh and somehow original.

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It would be easy to write an essay of Tarantino-style bingo pointing out which films and genres he has used and stolen or quoted from, thus, as an alternative, I would like examine the narrative tropes he employs to tell his screen stories. Tarantino isn’t simply a cultural magpie throwing in arbitrary pop references but he has a magic box of narrative tricks gained from cinema, stage, literature and music. In this essay I would like to explore some of these methods and how he diverts from the linear narrative style represented by the classical Hollywood norm. I will also examine his work in general and scenes from his films to show how he has created some fascinating means of telling stories.

Tarantino differentiates his films from the classical narrative style in a legion of ways. Such tropes include: “Chapter Headings”; non-linear timelines; unreliable narrators; and what I have termed “the long game” scene or sequence. Along with his perpetual references to various genres, specific films and the use of soundtracks from other movies, such devices work brilliantly to propel the narratives of his films. It may seem quite a simplistic device to use, but “Chapter Headings” are a very effective story device.  It’s obvious to say Tarantino has borrowed from literature in order to structure his films this way, but the ‘Chapter’ introductions establish the nature of storytelling and literally inform the audience of a change in scene, time, place and character.

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While classical Hollywood works to immerse us in the invisibility of filmmaking, Tarantino calls attention to the form with “Chapter Headings.” He does this not as a Brechtian distanciation device but rather as a means to include us in the story intellectually. The “Chapter Headings” also create humour, mystery and suspense. For example in Kill Bill: Volume 2, one chapter is called The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz, which immediately conjures a mysterious and eerie story to come. It  turns out to be just that as Beatrice ends up buried alive as the segment further reveals more of her fascinating back-story. In an ingenious aside in Tarantino’s “Universe”, Paula Schultz is in fact the wife of King Schultz from his own Western Django Unchained (2012).

“Chapter Headings” also seek to cement and bind another of Tarantino’s tropes: the non-linear or fractured timeline structure. Here, fractured events are portrayed out of chronological order and do not follow the direct causality pattern of the events in the standard narrative model. Non-causality is as old as the hills with Homer’s The Iliad in the 8th century BC being one of the first examples of such a narrative device. Indeed, it’s easier to pick out a Tarantino film that doesn’t follow a non-linear structure than not. However, even his most linear film Jackie Brown (1997), which follows the eponymous protagonist’s attempts to stay out of jail and alive, finds the narrative splintering into a triptych of varying perspectives during the final act.

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Often non-linearity is used to show dreams, flashbacks, time-travel and explore splintered identities or point-of-view; nonetheless, the non-linear narratives of, for example, Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994), Kill Bill (2003/2004) and Inglorious Basterds (2009) contain fractured timelines from mainly a creative and aesthetic choice. But they are not just style for style’s sake as they create a dazzling intellectual response and activate the viewer to piece the stories together like a jigsaw. Reservoir Dogs (1992) is especially ingenious in breaking the rules of genre as it’s one of the only films I’ve seen about a robbery which shows us everything aside from the actual crime. It is important, however, to say that while Tarantino knows the rules of linearity he chooses to break them, on the whole, to enhance the cinematic experience. Interestingly, in my opinion, his most satisfying films are those which are his most linear. Tony Scott proved this when he re-wrote and re-ordered Tarantino’s script of True Romance (1989), while Django Unchained (2012), aside from a few brief illusory dream sequences and momentary flashbacks, builds powerful emotions as Django hunts down his slave captors and wreaks revenge in order to be reunited with his wife.

A narrative off-shoot of fractured timelines is Tarantino’s use of stories within stories and unreliable narrators. The device of the unreliable narrator is another means in which Tarantino differentiates his narratives from classic storytelling. In 1981, William Riggan, created a study of various unreliable types, including: The Picaro, The Madman, The Clown, The Naif and The Liar. The Picaro will typically be a bragger, similar to the Liar but not as heinous. The Madman or Mad Woman, however, will be more sinister but The Clown and The Naif will either be playing for laughs or in the latter’s case, telling their story from a naïve position. Tarantino takes great joy with narrators, unreliable or otherwise, telling lies; something seen brilliantly in both Reservoir Dogs (1992) and his most recent film The Hateful Eight (2015).

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In Reservoir Dogs (1992), Tim Roth’s “Mr Orange” is revealed to be an undercover Police officer. “Orange’s” cop superior actively tells him to invent a story – because you “gotta have a story,” – to inveigle his way into the Joe Cabot’s gang. Thus, he invents a shaggy dog tale about the time he almost got bust by cops in a toilet. Tarantino presents a dishonest character delivering a story in a false reality providing both suspense and entertainment from a wholly unreliable basis. More ambiguous and vile is the story Samuel L. Jackson’s Major Marquis Warren tells to Bruce Dern’s irascible Confederate, General Sandy Smithers, in The Hateful Eight (2015). Sworn enemies while occupying opposing sides during the American Civil War, Warren, raises the dramatic stakes by regaling the story of how he strips, sexually humiliates and then kills Smithers’ own son. We flash-back to this incident and must consider if this is actually real or invented in order for Warren to provoke Smithers to grab a gun; thus allowing the Major to shoot him self-defence. These devices are tremendously effective narrative tools for creating shifting emotional responses to characters and again mark Tarantino’s work outside the classical norm.

The Hateful Eight (2015), given it is virtually set in one location, is very theatrical in feel. Marrying the influences of the Western genre in such television shows as Bonanza with Agatha Christie’s novel And Then There Were None (1939), the film also evokes principles of the “Shaggy Dog” story and Chekhov’s gun theory where every element of a narrative has cause effect irreplaceability. Consequently, the whole film feels like one long sequence of scenes and event with a massive and particularly violent payoff at the end. Indeed, this narrative conceit is a major styling of Tarantino. While most basic screenwriting books will tell you to get in and out of a scene as quickly as possible to move the narrative along, Tarantino disregards this rule throughout his oeuvre. This, I call the “Long Game” scene where lengthy dialogue gives way to a spectacular punchline at the end.

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A perfect example of the “Long Game” scene is the beginning of wartime epic, Inglourious Basterds (2009). We open with the “Chapter Heading”: Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied France and are introduced to Christophe Waltz’ SS Office Hans Landa. At first Landa is amiable and charming in his inquisition of a French farmer. Indeed the scene moves slowly and not without humour as the German takes out his over-sized pipe and drinks the farmer’s delicious milk. But, as this is Tarantino we know suspense is building to a slow but startling crescendo. When the reveal of the hidden Jewish family below the timbers is shown, we realise that Landa is not the affable German he acts but a devious murderer and the nemesis within the narrative. With machine guns firing and splintering wood in slow motion, the soundtrack swells operatically as the scene ends with Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) sprinting away, her family butchered by the Nazis. Such “Long Game” scenes are one of Tarantino’s memorable tropes and he achieves this through his brilliant handling of conflict, dialogue and expert use of cinematic form and content.

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Overall, Tarantino has had an exceptional film career by using established means of telling stories, both inside and outside the rules of standard narratives. He uses devices like those discussed to invigorate and entertain the audience. There is also much pleasure to be had from experiencing the tropes such as: “Chapter Headings”; unreliable narrators; non-linear structure and the “Long Game” scenes. Thus, using theatrical, literary, cinematic and musical narrative influences Tarantino proves himself a master of storytelling as demonstrated in his impressive body of work.

 

 

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SCREENWASH HOLIDAY ROUND-UP including FILM REVIEWS OF: ANT MAN & THE WASP (2018), SEARCHING (2018) and THE MEG (2017) etc.

SCREENWASH HOLIDAY ROUND-UP

Having a little blog break for a few weeks or so, thus here are some quick catch-up reviews of films I saw recently at the cinema, with the usual marks out of eleven.

 

ANT-MAN AND WASP (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas return in this simultaneously microscopic and gigantic work of Marvel entertainment. The story follows after the events of Civil War (2016) with Scott Lang under FBI house arrest due to breaking the Sokovia Accords. Thus, he must, alongside new crime-fighting partner, The Wasp, battle criminals, freaky super-villains and the FBI without leaving his home. While the original Ant-Man (2015) was anchored within the heist genre, this energetic sequel follows an action meets romantic-comedy plot and on the whole really works thanks to great chemistry between Rudd and Lilly. Throw in some mind-bending shenanigans involving the quantum realm and a memorable car chase set-piece, you get another fun-packed and witty Marvel film. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE MEG (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the cinema a gigantic budgeted shark movie comes at you. Derivative and overly serious The Meg is nonetheless, at times, a spectacularly decent guilty pleasure with some wonderful shark action. The ensemble cast led by the compact but powerful Jason Statham try their best with a functional script while director, John Turteltaub, hacks his way through a seen-it-done-better narrative. The best bits belong to Statham and the sharks but it should’ve been funnier and bloodier! I mean look at the size of the Megaladon and its bite radius. There should have been more gore and bloody death in this entertaining, if over-inflated monster movie.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

SEARCHING (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

You wait ages for a smartly scripted genre film and two come along at the same time with Upgrade (2018), and now, Searching (2018).  I’m not usually a fan of “found/live footage” films but this format absolutely worked for this film. The thriller plot finds John Cho’s computer programmer hunting down his missing daughter. As the images and sound derive from news footage, social media sources, YouTube, Facetime, and Live online chat sites it could get boring but it never does. This is because the script is so well written with a twisty plot which creates superb drama and tension throughout. John Cho is excellent too in a very entertaining genre movie that raises the pulse and tugs at the heartstrings too.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

SIX OF THE BEST #11 – GAME OF THRONES – GREATEST BATTLES

SIX OF THE BEST #11 – GAME OF THRONES (S: 1 – 7) – GREATEST BATTLES

Game of Thrones is one of the biggest literary and TV phenomena of recent years. It has entered Western cultures’ psyche offering a glut of: plotting, death, sex, class-divide, war, fantastical beasts and devilish sorcery!  I think the main strength lies though in the wonderful writing that stems first from George R.R. Martin’s behemoth tomes and the incredible production values of the show. Plus, the casting, acting and directing is more often than not better than most cinema offerings.

For my latest article on the show I would like to look at six of the best battles. The spectacular fighting and warring is often amazing but what makes it work is the emotional impact you feel during the battles. The writers have always strove to build empathy, sympathy and antipathy with the characters so you feel strongly as to whether they live or die. Heroes, anti-heroes, friends and nemeses are often pitted against each other in the most violent fashion and epic quite frankly doesn’t cut it as a word to describe such rousing and emotional action.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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BLACKWATER (S2 – EPISODE 9)

Arguably the first major battle epic of the whole show found Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) attacking King’s Landing in an attempt to smash through the Lannister’s stronghold and claim the Iron Throne.  Shadowed boats float amidst the blaze of wildfire as men cut down other men on the shore. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) gives a rousing speech as the Hound (Rory McCann) spites barbs and curses before finding fear in fire. Within the castle keep Cersei (Lena Headey) gets drunk and bullies Sansa (Sophie Turner) to tears. It’s a dirty, bloody and fiery battle tremendously edited and expertly directed by Neil Marshall.

THE MOUNTAIN AND THE VIPER (S4 – EPISODE 8)

While this fight between the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) and Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) is nowhere near as big as the others on this list, it does not make it any less impactful or brutal. Their hand-to-hand trial by combat is a both a legal fight to determine Tyrion Lannister’s guilt for the crime of murder; and a personal revenge for Prince Oberyn for the death of a loved one. Pascal is absolutely superb in his performance throughout this season and the hatred he for the Lannister’s spits out of his whole being. He is a skilful fighter and linguist too but sometimes that just isn’t enough as hubris proves his downfall. This fight is as unforgettable as it is gruesome and the end is one I will never forget.

THE WATCHERS ON THE WALL (S4 – EPISODE 9)

With the White Walkers march painstakingly forward toward the realms of men and women, The Wildling tribes and their hordes of men, women, barbarians, cannibals, Worgs and giants descended upon The Wall in this brutal episode. Like the battle of Blackwater, Neil Marshall again directs the whole shebang as we get fifty or so minutes of spectacular cinematic action throughout. The brave soldiers of the Night’s Watch essentially re-enact the conflict of Rourke’s Drift – albeit with a massive wall in the way – as they fend off the Mance Ryder’s fierce Wildlings. The emotion is high to as Ygritte (Rose Leslie) once again comes face-to-face with her lover Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), as their savage romance ultimately proves to be a doomed one also. Its fire, it’s ice; it bones crunching and bloody to the end.

HARDHOME (S5 – EPISODE 8)

The walking, running and horse-riding dead finally reach some semblance of civilisation as they launch a vicious attack on the Wildling settlement of Hardhome. It’s a beautifully designed battle sequence which begins with unease between Jon Snow and his Wilding allies, before a deathly silence befalls the area. After which silence gives way to: the slow drumming of feet, the slippage of snow and then the racing army of skeletal men and women smashing toward the living. We knew the first major battle with the Night King and his acolytes would prove deadly and just the beginning of the cold war. As Jon Snow and the flame-haired Tormen take the fight to the zombie foes many Wildling lives are lay waste in the sodden black and red dirt of Hardhome; only for them to rise again.

BATTLE OF THE BASTARDS (S6 – EPISODE 9)

I recall seeing an advert for Sky TV and Game of Thrones at the cinema. They ran with the tagline “Believe in better!” over an image of Jon Snow, sword held in hands, while affront him is an army of Ramsey Bolton’s cavalry charging toward him. It is a moment of sheer breath-taking spectacle. Designing and filming war scenes must be some of the most difficult for filmmakers. The Game of Thrones directors are under added pressure to differentiate their images as well. In the Battle of the Bastards the director, Miguel Sapochnik, and his team of cameras, actors and stunt-people open with these incredible wide shots before taking us into the nitty gritty of the fight. It’s all shot from Jon’s perspective. He fights off foes on foot and horse; mud and blood splashes and soaks him until the Bolton army are pushing the Stark’s army back and back until all seems lost. There’s one further twist before the end of a quite amazing battle set-piece.

THE SPOILS OF WAR (S7 – EPISODE 4)

Season 7, while suffering from pacing issues due to a speeding up of the narrative, was arguably the most cinematic and spectacular season of all. There were so many great battles as in Stormborn, where Euron Greyjoy’s attacked his niece’s Yara’s ships in a burning row under moonlight. Moreover, in the episode Beyond the Wall, the magnificent seven (Hound, Jon Snow, Tormen, Gendry, Davos, Jorah etc.) of Game of Thrones went white-walker hunting and found themselves surrounded by the dead. But, arguably the most exhilarating battle was in The Spoils of War. Having been blindsided tactically by Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) went on a Dothraki and dragon offensive and set about destroying the Lannister army and allies. Like a medieval Saving Private Ryan (1998), we are thrown from the air to ground to right into the faces of the soldiers. The shot where we track Bronn (Jerome Flynn) as he attempts to load the Scorpion catapult is incredible. Emotions are high too as our favourite characters face off against each other as they all perilously come close to losing their lives. Kudos goes to the stunt-team, extras and crew for pulling off one of the most memorable battles ever committed to celluloid.

 

If you love the show like me, please check out my other articles on Game of Thrones listed below.

Game of Thrones – Season 7 Review HERE:

Game of Thrones – Finest Heroes HERE:

Game of Thrones – Memorable monologues HERE:

Game of Thrones – Most evil villains HERE:

Game of Thrones – Scene Stealers HERE:

 

 

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE BINGO incorporating: FALLOUT (2018) MOVIE REVIEW

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE BINGO incorporating: FALLOUT (2018) MOVIE REVIEW

I have found  it’s difficult to find an original angle when reviewing certain films i.e. franchise movies or sequels. Indeed, unless they are absolutely brilliant I tend not to review them. Therefore, I had no major intention of writing about the new Tom Cruise produced Mission Impossible release, as these films, despite their technical movie-making brilliance, follow a very strict and safe formula. I mean what can I really add critically other than say I enjoyed it or I didn’t. However, it really is such a fantastic blockbuster movie I accepted an impossible mission, of sorts, to create something interesting while reviewing it.

So, here we go: Mission Impossible BINGO! It’s both recognition of the formula but also praise for the latest instalment which had me on the edge of my seat, heart in my mouth and biting my nails throughout. In the context of story it’s very generic but in terms of action, thrills and stunts it gets a Mark of 9 out of 11!

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McQUARRIE directs Fallout which is essentially a direct sequel to Rogue Nation. We know his track record as a writer but he’s now proving himself a fantastic director too. I enjoyed Rogue Nation but Fallout raises the stakes with a witty, double-crossing, high octane and explosive movie, which actually improves the clichés of the formula in wonderful fashion.

INGENIOUS double-crossing is at the heart of the original Mission: Impossible television series and the film franchise. This is done through identification theft, impersonation, lies, deceit, scene-shifting, fake walls, and the famous face and voice changing technology.

STUNNING locations feature throughout the franchise. Changing the scenery is a means of tricking us into thinking we haven’t somehow seen this car-chase, foot chase or air chase before. Yet, what Mission: Impossible does brilliantly is take us into existing locations like the CIA Langley Headquarters, The Vatican City and even the Kremlin.

STUNTS and extravagant set-pieces dominate the whole of this franchise. From the original 1996 film’s wire-from-the-ceiling-hanging set-piece downloading a CIA encrypted agent list to the current Fall Out nuke-ticking-time-bomb denouement, Tom Cruise’ has committed some of the most breath-taking and technically brilliant action stunts ever.

ICONIC soundtrack composed by Lalo Schifrin has been often imitated but never a bettered. Those simple but effective notes fire up and immediately you know the action is about to start.

OPPOSING government agents are rife in the original show and film series, as inspired by the devious nature of the East v West “Cold War” from the 1950s onwards. In M: I you’ve got good agents, rogue agents, double agents, triple agents and ghost agents pretending to be good, bad and all of the above.

NEFARIOUS villains, like the Bond films, are necessary to precipitate some evil doings and kick off the plot.  My personal favourite was Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I 3 – as he really was evil. Solomon Lane as played by Sean Harris is cool too and is given some great speeches. His plan to blow up the world isn’t the most original but he has a blast trying it.

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IMPOSSIBLE missions are at the heart of the film franchise. I mean the characters are mainly paper thin and the narratives are mainly empty so the gadgets and all manner of ticking time bombs, impenetrable garrisons, bad guys shooting and blowing stuff up; plus the covert interrogations and switcheroos provide the substance to the cinema experience.

MACGUFFIN-LED plots are not the strength of the franchise and on occasions the narratives a threadbare with Ethan chasing something called a “rabbit foot” or stolen nuke heads being the target. But who cares as long as we get to see things blow up.

PLAYFUL humour and one-liners dominate the scripts as a means to punctuate the action. The first three arguably had less gags but with Simon Pegg joining the cast in M:I 4 the joke quota increased and it settled into the a more humour-led vein. Personally, I prefer the serious espionage stuff, but the gags punch up the entertainment value nonetheless.

OUTSTANDING casting always brings a raft of class to these movies. Indeed, despite the style-over-substance nature of the narratives casting heavyweight actors such as:  Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson and many more raise the quality of the productions no doubt.

SUBTERFUGE and double-crosses are a major part of the plots. Often we never quite know whose side certain characters are on at any one time. In Rogue Nation and Fallout the troubled spy Ilsa Faust is simultaneously batting for three teams in order to keep herself alive. Such devilish plotting keeps the stories bouncing along, which is why they are never dull.

SPECIAL effects are a major part of M:I, however, what is incredible to that Tom Cruise will strive to make the stunts as real as possible by actually doing them himself. The opening of Rogue Nation and the end of Fallout are absolutely stupendous feats of daring which I would never contemplate. Similarly, bungee jumps, rock-climbing, free-jumping and many other effects-free actions give a very realistic feeling to proceedings.

INCREDIBLY talented directors who have worked on the franchise include: Brian DePalma, Brad Bird, John Woo, Christopher McQuarrie and JJ Abrams bringing their own inimitable styles to the various films and while Woo’s is pretty weak the franchise abides as each film has its own identity, look and feel.

BIG budgets are required to drive the Mission: Impossible film behemoth and while they continue to make the studio billions of revenue long will they continue. The first film cost a whopping $80 million dollars while the Fallout cost a mere $178 million. Although, given Fallout absolutely rocks it’s already made that back and much more besides.

LEAPING, running, driving, diving, swimming, crashing, disguising, fighting, flying, biking, parachuting, moving – you name it the IMF do it at incredible speeds and heights!

ETHAN HUNT as presented by Tom Cruise is a righteous dude fighting the good fight against the evil wrongdoers in the world. His commitment to the cause is unwavering and in defending the innocent against the corrupt goverments, villains and agents of evil. We all root for him as an aspirational action man of the people.

 

 

 

 

 

SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018 – including: Alone in Berlin (2018), Call Me by Your Name (2017), Leave No Trace (2018), Testament of Youth (2014) and many more.

SCREENWASH MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP – SUMMER 2018

I watch a lot of stuff. It keeps me out of the pub and my liver safe from further harm. In between a July dominated by the World Cup in Russia, over the last few months I’ve been mainly re-watching Star Trek (OST) and catching up with the first two seasons of Mad Men in my downtime. But, in the last month, I decided to have a break from those fine shows and catch up with some movies via Netflix and Sky. I also include some quick reviews of a few films I saw at the cinema too. All reviews are, as usual marked out of eleven.

 

ALONE IN BERLIN (2016) – NETFLIX

Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson give subtle and compelling performances in this excellent WW2 drama. They portray a German couple who have lost their son in the fighting and retaliate by waging a ‘quiet’ war distributing anti-Hitler leaflets.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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ANON (2018) – SKY CINEMA

Clive Owen stands out in this under-cooked sci-fi drama inspired by Philip K. Dick and Black Mirror. He’s a future cop where crime is contained by point-of-view surveillance techniques. The idea is stronger than execution as it falls apart in the final act. (

Mark: 6 out of 11)

 

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)SKY CINEMA

Luca Guadagnino’s direction is exquisite, while Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are exceptional in their portrayal of romance in 1980s Italy. A fantastic soundtrack and beautiful scenery cannot save the characters who I found narcissistic and tedious.

(Mark: 6 out of 11)

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CARGO (2018) – NETFLIX

Martin Freeman leads the cast in this Australian horror film which finds his kind father at the mercy of outback zombies. It’s a slow moving film which offers characterization over gore, effective moments of tension and the always dependable Freeman.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

DEEP WATER HORIZON (2016) – NETFLIX

This is an intelligent disaster movie about one of the biggest oil spills ever. BP’s drilling practices are criticized as the slow-build direction gives way to explosive action at the end. Overall, the excellent cast and script make this a very compelling drama.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

GIFTED (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Chris Evans takes a break from both battling Hydra with an altogether more everyday fight. He plays guardian and uncle to a gifted child (brilliant Mackenna Grace) who finds himself in a bitter custody battle for the child, in a very touching human drama.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

GODS OF EGYPT (2017) – NETFLIX

This is a really bad attempt at creating a Star Wars like franchise in mythical Egypt. Gerard Butler shouts throughout as though he’d swallowed the Brian Blessed guide to acting! Terrible waste of $150 million and my precious time.

(Mark: 4 out of 11)

 

HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) – SKY CINEMA

Groundhog Day (1993) meets slasher film as College super-brat portrayed by Jessica Rothe finds herself dying again and again in various horrific ways. Turning detective she must solve her own murder in this derivative but well executed horror movie.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

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HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017) – NETFLIX

Ryan Reynolds’ cynical performance and Samuel L. Jackson’s sparky turn make this assassin-action-film very watchable. Reynolds has to get Jackson to The Hague to testify against a nasty dictator; cue bullets, car chases and one-liners galore!

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

In Fallen Kingdom Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, once again pits their wits against mighty prehistoric creatures. J. A. Bayona brings a gothic style to the final act but ultimately, despite the incredible effects on show, the narrative feels tired.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE

The intense Ben Foster and brilliant newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie act their hearts out in this subtle family road movie. Opting out of society they play father and daughter attempting to stay ahead of the authorities in a very touching and heartfelt drama.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2017) – NETFLIX

Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are acting stand-outs in this watchable murder mystery set in Victorian London. The cinematography is impressively moody, however, the narrative runs out of steam by the time the twist kicks in.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

OCEANS 8 (2018) – ODEON CINEMA

An excellent ensemble cast including: Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter etc. cannot save this by-the-numbers heist film. It looks gorgeous but was low on jeopardy and ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters.

(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) – NETFLIX

Alice Vikander is outstanding in this heart-breaking story of the impact of World War One on Vera Brittain and those she loves. Based on a seminal work of literature, it features themes relating to: war, death, pacifism, violence and the struggle of women combatting everyday prejudice. It’s very touching story, stellar cast and deeply empathetic characters which make it a highly recommended period drama.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

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WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2018) – NETFLIX

Always interesting Noomi Rapace stars as septuplets in hiding during a dystopic future that allows one child per family. The intriguing premise starts well but gives way to O.T.T violence which detracts a tad from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi film.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)

FIRST REFORMED (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW – “Stunning work from Hawke and Schrader.”

FIRST REFORMED (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and Directed by: Paul Schrader

Produced by: Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Victoria Hill, Gary Hamilton, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Philip Ettinger

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Paul Schrader is one of the greatest writers that has ever committed a career to cinema. He has been involved in the writing of exceptional films including: Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Blue Collar (1978), American Gigolo (1980), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Light Sleeper (1992), Affliction (1997) etc. Of late he’d had some misfires, however, First Reformed, is a devastating return to form for Schrader.

Tapping into the structure and themes of arguably his greatest work, Taxi Driver (1976), we find Ethan Hawke portraying New York chaplain, Reverend Ernst Toller. He is a complex, haunted and sad man, yet instilled with a strong sense of duty and commitment to his dwindling congregation. He keeps a journal to record his thoughts and these are delivered via a devastating voice-over. Hawke’s voice staggers across the images delivering a combination of existential pleas for understanding and an intelligent questioning of the world around him. Toller’s depression or malaise is not helped by his alcoholism and illness spreading through his body. Thus, Schrader and Hawke create a very empathetic character, out of sync and in grief but very likable to his peers and flock.

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When Amanda Seyfried’s local mum-to-be Mary comes to see him about her troubled husband, Michael, Toller agrees to speak with him about his concerns for the world and the damage humans are inflicting on the environment. When the drama arrives you just feel every agonising moment through Hawke’s beautifully realised character. Just watching Ethan Hawke in a room is enough for me as he is such a nuanced and clever actor. Schrader frames Toller in doorways, rooms, shadows, mirrors and pulpits, pushing him into spaces and trapping him. The sparse nature of the sets also acts as a symbol of Toller’s emptiness and feeling of despair at the world. Yet, at no time does he question his faith per se. The film certainly has an air of that but the big indictment is the horror we have perpetuated upon God’s Earth; challenging whether we deserve this beautiful planet.

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Ultimately, this is quintessential Paul Schrader. Taking a broken individual in the midst of a life crisis and attempting to find salvation or redemption. Whereas Taxi Driver (1976) was, in part, about Travis Bickle cleaning up the streets of New York, Ernst Toller finds a desire to clean up the corporate and capitalist industrial processes which are destroying the Earth. While First Reformed’s ending is not as explosive or cathartic as Taxi Driver it paradoxically creates hope for a fascinating character nonetheless. While he may not be able to save the Earth, Reverend Toller, may somehow be able to save himself.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

SIX OF THE BEST #12 – UNRELIABLE NARRATORS IN CINEMA (WITH HUGE SPOILERS)

SIX OF THE BEST #12 – UNRELIABLE NARRATORS IN CINEMA (WITH SPOILERS)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

I find the nature of storytelling and narrative construction a fascinating craft. As someone who reads and watches a lot of stories via: books, cinema, theatre, comedy, radio and television, I am always drawn to devices which differ from the conventional norm. When I was younger I used to pour scorn on stories told straight and in chronological order. I like difficult or unconventional works as it appealed to my younger rebellious side. Of late though, I have come to realise that unconventional or non-linear storytelling can be used as a stylistic device for the sake of it and adds nothing to the story. Screenwriting navel-gazing devices such as fragmented timelines can detract from the emotional impact of the characters’ journey. Thus, to get a complex layered and non-linear storyline right is difficult. Many writers and filmmakers experiment with variant structures to escape standard narrative conventions. Indeed, with hard work and positive creative decisions it is possible to capture magic in a script and transport it to the screen.

Conversely, the device of the unreliable narrator is another means which a screenwriter can differentiate a narrative from conventional classic storytelling. Usually, in say a Hollywood blockbuster our hero or heroes will be those we root for from beginning to end. To switch our main protagonist or narrative focus from positive to negative or good to bad is brave writing. To even begin with an anti-heroic or even unlikable lead protagonist is obviously a risk and can alienate the audience. Furthermore, to make the lead character or characters unreliable is very difficult. However, the tricky craft of leading us one way with a protagonist before revealing them to be untrustworthy or twisted is a device which can provide much narrative satisfaction.

In 1981, William Riggan, created a study of various unreliable types, including: The Picaro, The Madman, The Clown, The Naif and The Liar. The Picaro will typically be a bragger, similar to the Liar but not as heinous. The Madman or Mad Woman, however, will be more sinister but The Clown and The Naif will either be playing for laughs or in the latter’s case, telling their story from a naïve position. Moreover, an unreliable narrator will potentially be hiding their own crimes or actions out of guilt. Or they will have amnesia, selective or deliberate to mislead the audience. They may just take great joy in telling lies or simply be unhinged to believe their fractured personality is presenting their version of the truth. It could be they are also attention seekers; OR actually a combination of all of the above.

Examples of unreliable narrators are legion throughout theatrical and literary presentations. Indeed, Agatha Christie and Jim Thompson often utilised them in their crime stories; as did novelists such as: Emily Bronte, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bret Easton Ellis, Gillian Flynn, Vladimir Nabokov and many more. In this piece I would like to consider six of the best films featuring unreliable narrators. It was tough to get just six as I could have easily doubled it but here we are!

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***

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ATONEMENT (2007)

Joe Wright’s majestic directorial adaptation of Ian McEwan’s tragic war story is a poignant study of petty revenge and romantic conflict. While the story focusses on the doomed love affair between James McEvoy and Keira Knightley’s class-crossed lovers, the narrator is novelist Briony Tallis (Vanessa Redgrave).  Due to a spiteful action by her thirteen year-old self the events of the drama are revealed at the end to be manipulated out of sheer guilt. While she attempts to give the romance story a more positive ending the horrors of war are to the fore and Briony’s remorse will never be humbled.

THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI (1920)

This silent movie classic is seen as the epitome of German Expressionist cinema. Set within the confines of a mental health asylum it was directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. The story concerns a man named Francis (Friedrich Feher) as he tells of a strange tale involving the mysterious somnambulist Cesare and nefarious Dr Caligari. Both stylistically and structurally formidable the film features: twisted and painterly sets, shadowy key lighting and ghostly make-up. Also, the story-within-the-story is both terrifying and all a lie in the mind of a madman. The ending would now be seen as potential cliché but on release it was astounding and clearly influenced another story with a troubled and unreliable narrator in Shutter Island (2010).

FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Chuck Palahniuk’s seminal novel and David Fincher’s incendiary cinematic adaptation is way too complex a piece to sum up in this little list. However, it still stands the test of time in terms of style and structure as Fincher directs the hell out of Edward Norton’s everyman and his charismatic alter-ego, Tyler Durden. A brutal, violent and coruscating vision of masculinity in crisis within a crumbling, corporate and schizophrenic society, Norton’s unreliable narrator spits and spirals and finally splits literally in half. Funny, dark, and a genuine film classic, no one’s meant to talk about Fight Club but it certainly deserves all the praise heaped upon it.

MEMENTO (2000)

Christopher Nolan’s early noir classic Memento (2000) is famously told in reverse chronological fashion, thus subverting the very nature of linear storytelling. His anti-hero, Leonard Shelby, has no means of making new memories thus via tattoos and Polaroid photos he constructs a present day movie of his own life in visual form. As the story unfolds we flash back and forth to a film within a film about a character called Sammy Jankis. Yet, incredibly and sadly, it turns out that Sammy is an imagined character used to suppress a terrible event in Leonard’s life and the film within a film is in fact the imagined vision of an unreliable narrator.

 

RASHOMON (1950)

Akiro Kurosawa’s superbly directed crime classic has not just one but numerous unreliable narrators. Structured around the investigation into a rape and murder in Japan the story splinters around the investigation of said crimes. Various versions of the same story are told from different perspectives as the subjectivity of truth is tested to the full. Are the characters’ stories from the perspective of: the bandit, the wife, the samurai and woodcutter lies or “true” reflections of the events in their respective minds? We all tell stories and is it possible we have got it wrong by mistake or manipulating the truth to our own benefit. Rashomon  posits such questions and more in a beautifully rendered cinema classic.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay remains one of the best I have ever read and the film is not too bad either. Shot on a low budget but cast perfectly the whole story is set around Chazz Palminteri’s cop grilling Kevin Spacey’s Verbal Kint about a major crime at the docks. What follows is a fractured structure which twists and turns on the basis of the narratives Kint is providing. We flash into event within event which is initially perceived to be truth but ultimately is a fiction. The final reveal where we find Kint has, in fact, been hiding a devilish truth all along astounds the cop and audience beyond belief. The story was so complex that Gabriel Byrne and other cast members actually thought they were Keyser Soze; only finding out they weren’t when they’d seen the incredible twist ending.