Film Pop: Gaslight

Year: 1944
Director: George Cukor
Stars: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten
IMDb

As I mentioned recently, I don’t watch very many films at all at the moment – I’m way too busy reading.  Last night, however, my girlfriend and I sat down to watch Gaslight, specifically the 1944 American-produced version (following the 1940 film adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play).  This was a film we’d been meaning to watch for a few months now, after she’d introduced me to the term “gaslighting”, a form of psychological abuse owing its name to the play and its adaptations.  All will become clear.

The film opens with reports of the London murder of Alice Alquist, famous opera singer, before cutting forward to Italy several years later, where her niece, Paula (Bergman) is receiving musical training from a man who once coached Alice herself.  However, Paula has had her head turned by Gregory Anton (Boyer), losing passion for her studies, and soon abandons her tutelage to marry him.  He persuades her to move back to the house where her aunt was murdered (in which Paula had lived at the time).  Among her aunt’s possessions, which are swiftly moved to the loft for Paula’s peace of mind, she finds a letter dated two days before the murder from a man named “Sergius Bauer” which could help solve the yet-uncracked case; Gregory swiftly relinquishes her of this and keeps it to himself.

Soon afterwards, strange events begin to happen around Paula which she is unable to explain.  She begins to misplace glightitems, finding them in places she is sure she didn’t put them (or not finding them at all).  Meanwhile, a man in the park recognises in Gregory a man whom he thought to be dead – this man, who turns out to be Brian Cameron of Scotland Yard (Cotten) starts to use his connections to investigate the matter.  These investigations are not helped by Gregory, who makes every effort to isolate his wife from the world, thereby encouraging her feelings of confusion and persecution – feelings which are increasingly revealed as justified, as it becomes evident that Gregory is deliberately misleading his wife in an attempt to convince her that she is going mad (i.e., “gaslighting” her).  Furthermore, Cameron’s investigations reveal that Gregory Anton is none other than Sergius Bauer, author of the mysterious letter and murderer of Alice Alquist.  He married Paula in order to find some precious stones, for which he had killed her aunt but failed to locate.  In the dénoument, he finds these jewels, but not before his atrocious behaviour is revealed to his wife by the heroic Cameron, who has arrived to detain the murderer and thief…

Gaslight is definitely worth watching, at least as much for its cultural significance as for its inherent quality as a film.  It suffers a little from traditional 40s over-acting, with a few interesting accents, but overall it’s a well-produced movie.  It also has some significance as the screen début of Angela Lansbury, aged 18, as a coarse maid who is either in on Gregory’s plot or just plain nasty.  But the idea behind the plot is a powerful and quite disturbing notion of abuse, making Anton one of the more despicable characters to grace my screen.  His eventual comeuppance is long-awaited and well-deserved, and the satisfaction of that is perhaps the highlight of the film.

 

My Rating: 8/10

Film Pop: Her

Year: 2013
Director:  Spike Jonze
Stars:  Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson (voice), Amy Adams
IMDb

After the recent announcement of the main nominees for the 86th Academy Awards, I made it my goal to get up to date with as many of the films nominated for the leading categories as possible before the ceremony on March 2nd. This has admittedly gotten off to a relatively slow start due to my newly-acquired busy schedule, but this weekend I did manage to see two of the Best Picture nominated movies, beginning with Her, the fourth feature-length picture from acclaimed herposterdirector Spike Jonze.  Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay (although not Best Director), Her is a movie I knew very little about before viewing other than the general premise (and critical recognition).

Some time in the not-too-distant future, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is employed as a writer of (mostly love) letters for people unable to express themselves emotionally.  Theodore, having recently broken up with his wife (Rooney Mara), leads an ironically miserable life alone until he installs an artificially-intelligent operating system onto his technological devices (which were already omnipresent in his life).  Samantha, as she soon names herself (Johansson (voice)), is smart and funny, although initially very naïve. The two soon become fast friends, and after Theodore returns from a blind date gone bad, shortly enter into a romantic relationship.  This is not without its difficulties.  Despite the support of old friend Amy (Adams), Theodore and Samantha struggle against obstacles like the lack of physicality. But as Samantha grows it’s only a matter of time until Theodore is outgrown along with the rest of the human race;  Theodore is not alone in his circumstances, but he is nevertheless once again alone.

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Her is a very strange film; although marketed as a comedy-drama, what humour there is is very dark. From a futuristic take on “phone sex” right at the beginning of the movie it’s clear that Jonze isn’t going to hold back in making this film into exactly what he wants, and this is refreshing.  This also helped me connect with the characters, as the candidness of the perspective made them seem more real and relatable despite the surrealism. This was true to the extent I actually felt invested in the relationship between Theodore and Samantha to a greater extent than I do with many “real” on-screen couples; when Samantha is suddenly and unexpectedly unreachable I truly empathised with Theodore’s panic.  The casting is excellent and Phoenix is very believable as a lonely guy a little on the odd side (I’m very surprised at his lack of an Oscar nomination for the part).  There is however an odd feeling that there’s something missing that keeps the film as a niche drama and holds it back from blockbuster status; I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it might be linked to the general unease I felt from the story (this seems to be a strong theme in Jonze’s work).  Perhaps it’s because it’s a little too believable as the possible future of technology.  Nevertheless, I definitely enjoyed Her, and I would undoubtedly recommend it for a watch.

 

My Rating:  8/10

Film Pop: My Left Foot

Year:  1989
Director:  Jim Sheridan
Stars:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker, Fiona Shaw
IMDb

It might seem odd, but the reason I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks is because I’ve been away from work – this blog was in fact born out of the necessity to fill my time at work, whereas at home I spend more of my time engaging in the activities I blog about.  I’ve been spending a lot of my recent hours reading, perhaps related to the fact that my accessible DVD collection had gone a bit stale, being cut off from the master assemblage at my dad’s house several hours away by train.  A painful visit therefore was tempered by the chance to pick up a number of movies I’ve been recently keen to watch; I’ve been dying to see My Left Foot for ages, and I’m more than glad I finally got round to it.

In this debut film from Irish director Jim Sheridan, Day-Lewis excels as Christy Brown, the real-life artist born with MV5BMTY5MTU1ODY4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzkyMDUxMDE@__V1__SX640_SY720_cerebral palsy and only able to fully control his left foot.  Adapted from Brown’s autobiography of the same name, the film shows the writer’s life up until the present day, where he is about to make an appearance at a charity event. Christy Brown is born, severely disabled, into a working-class Irish family in 1932.  His parents refuse to send him away, determined to bring him up themselves, although it is not until much later that his father (Ray McAnally) truly accepts him as one of the family.  Despite the family’s poverty, Christy is eventually upgraded from a barrow to a wheelchair thanks to the secret savings of his mother (Fricker).  She then introduces him to Dr. Eileen Cole (Shaw), who helps him realise his potential while giving him hope (wrongly, according to his parents).  Christy is somewhat overwhelmed by his new-found independence, struggling with drink and low self-worth.  Following the death of his father, Christy begins to write the autobiography which he is to present.

My Left Foot is an excellent film, even if it doesn’t exactly deliver the “story about life, laughing and the occasional miracle” that the box promises.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s an uplifting and inspiring account, but it’s nowhere near as cheery and upbeat as this suggests.  Unsurprisingly the plaudits belong almost entirely to Day-Lewis, who produces a characteristically involved performance which led to his first Best Actor Oscar (and a couple of broken ribs).  Fricker also gives a performance worthy of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay at the 62nd Academy Awards.  Although the performances do perhaps overshadow the film a little (I myself picked up the DVD mostly to see Day-Lewis), it’s undoubtedly a good movie on its own merit as the inspiring tale of a man’s triumph over the adversities piled on him by birth.

So overall I consider My Left Foot to be something anyone should watch, as long as you’re prepared to journey through a rather dark tunnel waiting for the inevitable light at the end.  Daniel Day-Lewis’s turn as Christy Brown is certainly not to be missed and in truth is worth the watch alone, but aside from that it’s a commendable film on its own and deserves all the awards and nominations it received.

My Rating: 8/10

Film Pop: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Year: 2011
Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
IMDb

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the Oscar-nominated tale of a young boy coping in his own peculiar way with the death of his father in the September 11th attacks. Thomas Schell (Hanks) is always setting little challenges for his nine-year-old son Oskar (Horn) in order to teach him about life. After Thomas is caught attending a meeting in the World Trade Centre on “the Worst Day”, young Oskar is thrown into personal chaos, rejecting the affections of his mother (Bullock) to go on an epic adventure he believes his father intended for him. He is soon joined in his quest by his grandmother’s mysterious mute “renter” (Oscar nominee Max von Sydow), and the two journey throughout the five boroughs of New York in a seemingly impossible search for answers. They encounter a whole host of interesting characters (most of whom share the name Black) and learn a lot about life, each other and themselves.

It’s touching in parts, but a lot of the action seems unnecessary and perhaps the two-hour plus running time is a little too much for what it is. It’s also slightly annoying that, having no idea what the film was about beforehand, from the two names at the top of the DVD case I was expecting a little more Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Instead I was made to sit through two hours of a somewhat annoying kid and this had me a little put out throughout. Nevertheless, despite the somewhat heavy subject matter the film displays an optimism in the face of adversity that can only serve to inspire even if it is a little hard to relate to some of the issues Oskar seems to struggle with.

This film marks the ninth of ten Best Picture nominees from 2011 that I’ve now seen, coming somewhere in the middle of a decidedly mediocre bunch (Midnight in Paris, the one I most wanted to see all along, has still managed to elude me and will probably let me down when the time comes). It was adapted from the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, and as usual I haven’t read this (yet) so can’t pass judgement on that side of things. The theme of “child comes to terms with loss of parent” isn’t exactly an original one, but the approach is interesting and the emotive setting will certainly reach out to some perhaps more than it did to me.

So Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a little long and a little fantastical but I’d say it’s definitely one worth watching. At its best it’s highly moving, even if these moments are buried slightly too deep in dawdling drama, and at its worst it would be harsh to call it a bad film. Despite the feeling that I was tricked into watching it, it held my attention and came close to moving my emotions, which isn’t the easiest thing for a film to do. It’s not quite something I expect to watch again any time soon, but at least I don’t regret watching it in the first place.

My Rating: 6.5/10