Tag: oscar

American History X (1998)

large-american-history-x-blu-ray3

Although it is somewhat heavy handed, American History X has great performances and a shocking brutality that leaves a large impression on you.

The film is carried by Edward Norton, he portrays his character Derek Vinyard with real gusto and vitriol; what a howling, credibility defacing decision it was for Robert Benigni to trump Norton at the Oscars for his vexing role in the saccharine turd that is Life is Beautiful.

Vinyard is an intelligent young man from a middle-class suburban home, but he rapidly develops fervent fascist views after his father is murdered by a black gunman. Vinyard has clear leadership skills and he unfortunately channels them in all the wrong directions. His fierce oration makes him a notable figure in the Californian neo-Nazi movement, bringing him to the attention of veteran racist Cameron Alexander (Stacy Keach), who is well cast as the creepy, manipulative leader. The influence of both Derek and Cameron mean that Derek’s younger brother, the rather more placid Danny (Edward Furlong), also harbours dangerous neo-Nazism, although not with the same zeal as his brother.

To its merit, the film is unrestrained in its depiction of violent racism. With their foolish understanding of Nazism, the swastika adorned skinheads have a palpable hatred of all things un-Aryan. No one’s hatred is greater than Vinyard’s, who commits a brutal act of street, or rather curb, justice that has since become infamous. So abhorrent is the scene that it entered my top 10 most painful scenes in cinema history.

It’s Vinyard’s act of violence that lands him in prison, where, perhaps predictably, he has a change of heart. I felt that the manner in which Vinyard changes is rather too pronounced and straight forward, the transformation of such an extreme psychology should have been more nuanced in its depiction – the shift of a psychological complex is one of subtle shades, not clearly defined, narrative friendly episodes.

However, I think a good argument can be had about Vinyard’s rapid change. Beneath all the extremism is a measured, intelligent man; he isn’t an ignorant, retrograde fool, he’s a subject one can work with.  After all, his realisation isn’t completely instantaneous, he integrates with the white thugs of his wing, which appears to be some variation of the Aryan Brotherhood, but their business practices are at odds with his strict principles. Combine this with his repeated and isolated work detail with the black Lamont (Guy Torry) (which I should think is an unlikely scenario for obvious reasons), and his sudden and considerable change of circumstance could have woken him up.

American-History-X--edward-norton-147640_1024_768

There’s a whiff of stereotypical characterisation at times; the two principal black characters of the film Dr. Sweeney (Avery Brooks) and the aforementioned Lamont are within the realm of the stock character, the latter particularly. They can both be deemed as Magical Negroes, a term that refers to black characters whose sole purpose is to serve the development of a white character. Sweeney is Derek’s former and Danny’s current high school teacher. He is a respected, righteous man with a seemingly infinite wisdom, disarming everyone with sagacious monologues and philosophical questions that are delivered with his deep, portentous voice. His character is heavily influenced by civil rights figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

Lamont, the inmate who Vinyard has repeated laundry duty with, is portrayed by comedian Guy Torry. I haven’t seen his stand-up, but his manic, animated performance is certainly reminiscent of a Chris Rock gig. He’s a rather frivolous character that’s little more than narrative function that services Vinyard’s character development.

It’s not a surprise to find that director Tony Kaye’s career began in advertising. With repeated use of slow motion and a black and white palette for flashback scenes, Kaye’s visual flair has very much transferred to the silver screen. Considering History’s subject matter, I felt the film was sometimes stylish to a fault, particularly during a racial territorial dispute on a basketball court that’s constructed in a way through aesthetics and music that inclines the viewer to support the white men.

Other examples of ill-judgement were during its humorous moments concerning the obesely corpulent and repellent Seth (Ethan Suplee), particularly during a brutal assault on immigrant supermarket staff where he steals a large plastic burger, it’s not funny and is inappropriate in its placing.

Although its morality tale is heavy handed and simplistic, I must reiterate that American History X is a highly memorable film driven by an incendiary Edward Norton and an unrestrained, vicious intensity that few contemporary films strive for.

84% 

Advertisements

Monster (2003)

charlize theron aileen wuornos

A torturous, depressing biography with an uncannily accurate lead performance.

What a tortured life this woman led; a life of inferiority, confusion, violence, victimisation, prostitution, anger and ultimately, murder. Charlize Theron’s utter transformation is what drives this film, her performance and physical emulation perfectly conveying the desperate pain and impetuous anger of her character. I think the Oscars are not much more than a smug festival of self-celebration, but this performance deserved commendation.

‘Monster’ is the story of Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute from Florida who murdered seven men between 1989 and 1990. One might think that the film’s title would suggest otherwise, but  the film gives a very human representation of Wuornos. She was indeed a ‘monster’ in her final years, but the film’s emphasis on the brutal, relentless path that led to her first killing shows the architecture of such a creation. But not for a second, I hasten to add, does the film condone her violence, she isn’t glorified and she isn’t vilified either, the film is so very downbeat and visceral that it would be impossible for anyone to be allured by it. ‘Monster’ is by no means the tale of one woman standing up against chauvinist pigs; her tale of nature, nurture and the consequences of violence is impartially told.

The film reflects on Wurnos’ childhood, a time of sexual favours, inadequacy, rape and beatings. A narrative gap, which misses a dubious failed marriage and numerous arrests, presents the viewer with a sorry picture, a woman who washes in petrol station toilets, a woman who is desperately trying to survive. She then meets a companion, the vulnerable Selby Moore. It’s at this point that the film strays from the facts; ‘Selby Moore’ is a fictional character, very loosely based, especially in appearance, to Tyria Moore, Wuornos’ lover until her execution.

The pair, who have moved in together, live off Wuornos’ prostitution wage until their relationship is complicated by Moore’s discovery of Wuornos’ taste for violence. The film depicts the first murder as Wuornos described it -self defence. Unlike her later stories, I think this claim has credibility; it’s quite possible that Mallory thought Wuornos was expendable social underclass, an easy thrill without consequence. I respect that the scene was orchestrated in this manner.

Monster is a stark and balanced insight into the frankly miserable life of Aileen Wuornos. You may not like her and all the violence will most likely strain your empathy, but I think you’ll leave the film having a greater understanding of the woman.

80%

The Artist (2011)

The Artist

‘The Artist’ is an audacious, jovial albeit predictable homage to the first stars of Hollywood.

It’s straightforward, predictable, and not entirely deserving of its Academy commendation, but ‘The Artist’ is ultimately a delightful piece of escapism. It’s a joy to watch, I became aware that I had a smile on my face throughout the first twenty minutes, which was thanks to a combination of the jovial soundtrack, ‘Uggie’ the talented Jack Russell, and also I think Dujardin’s rather infectious smile.

However, it’s slightly darker than you may have imagined. The film concerns George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent-movie star whose wellbeing is jeopardised upon the advent of the ‘talkies’. So, as you can imagine, the film is as much a drama as it is a romantic comedy, if not more.

It really is remarkable what the cast have achieved with this film. I’m sure many people would have their reservations about this silent film, but I’m certain they’d be engrossed from the start, completely indifferent that it’s missing a fundamental dimension. Of course, silent films aren’t completely silent, they’re scored, and ‘The Artist’ has a delightfully expressive soundtrack. Its energetic, upbeat tracks are my favourite; they have your torso gently swaying and your head bobbing jovially.

It’s ultimately a very nice little film with good performances from everyone, particularly from Dujardin. Though he is great in it, I feel his Oscar wasn’t fairly earned; his job was very different to the other contenders that year. However, if there was an Oscar for ‘Best Smile’, he would’ve won without a doubt.

80%

Django Unchained (2012)

samuel-l-jackson-django-unchained-closeup-16x9

Tarantino delivers another provocative and hugely entertaining film.

I love the sense of occasion a Tarantino film has, he’s in the lucky position of being one of the most popular and controversial directors of the past twenty years. Some may find him self-indulgent, but the merits of his energetic, funny and flamboyant films are undeniable; it’s fantastic that he is able to make such edgy blockbusters.

‘Django’, which is effectively a ‘buddy film’, charts the relationship between German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave Schultz rescues. Together they endeavour to save Django’s wife from the notorious ‘Candie Land’, a vast plantation owned by the ruthless Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The film has a great ensemble cast. Jamie Foxx makes the most of his character, who for the most part is a ‘man-with-no-name’ figure. He accomplishes Tarantino’s goal of ‘giving Black American males a Western hero’. DiCaprio successfully depicts Candie as a pompous pseudo-intellectual and at times a nasty piece of work, however the extent to which he brushes off barbed comments from Django surprised me, there were moments where I wondered if  he was menacing or authoritative enough.  Based on the great ‘Killer Joe’ (2012), I wondered how Matthew McConaughey would have performed the role, he could have steeped it in menace, but I doubt he could have achieved the risible ignorance of DiCaprio.

Christoph Waltz again showcases his talent here, but his character in ‘Inglorious Basterds’ gave him more scope to perform his ‘charming but deadly’ persona. Samuel L. Jackson completely transforms into the character of Stephen, who is Candie’s geriatric butler and the ultimate uncle tom. Jackson’s performance is my favourite, he’s both a tragic and very nasty figure. Tarantino himself appears in the later stages of the film with an Australian accent that ranges from being incoherent to not very Australian at all – thankfully it’s strictly a cameo.

There are laughs all the way through ‘Django’, a notable example being when slave owner ‘Big Daddy'(Don Johnson) attempts to explain to a slave how she should treat the newly liberated and somewhat respected Django – it completely ridicules the nonsensical, pernicious madness of racism.

I also found myself disregarding any form of moral compass and laughing heartily at the more cartoonish displays of violence. There is one particular scene that is a veritable bloodbath, seldom in the annals of celluloid has there been a moment more deserving of the term!

Some have criticised the film’s length, however I had little trouble with its 165 minute running time. There were indeed sections of the film, chiefly before and during the ‘Candie Land’ period, which could have been trimmed perhaps, however I was perfectly content.

The majority won’t be disappointed, the film has all the earmarks of a Tarantino film – he is the ultimate fan boy auteur. I can’t wait to see it again.

89%