Film and TV

‘Cherrybomb’ (2009)

This afternoon I watched ‘Cherrybomb’ (yet another film I have been meaning to watch for a long time) – a British drama (although it is often referred to as being a thriller as well) set in Belfast about a pair of teenage best friends – Malachy (Rupert Grint), a “hard-worker”, and Luke (Robert Sheehan), a reckless drug dealer trying to support his drug-addict father. After meeting Michelle (Kimberley Nixon), Malachy’s boss’ daughter who has just moved to Belfast from London, the boys strive for her attention and find themselves in a chaotic mix of drugs, violence, crime, sex and, to end it all, a huge party which threatens to ruin them once and for all.

Despite the fact that critics gave it mixed reviews, I really enjoyed it. It was gritty and at times pretty violent, but there was often an undercurrent of dark humour. The best way I can describe it is, it’s similar in tone to Skins, but Irish and feature-length. One thing I really like about British films is that the actors are usually better, in my humble opinion, than all these glamorous Hollywood stars. Rupert Grint was perfect as always, and I have to say, this film has rekindled the slight crush I had on him. Despite the fact that the Grint’s and Nixon’s Irish accents were put on, they were actually very convincing. It was quite funny seeing Kimberley Nixon in something for the first time since ‘Fresh Meat’, as her character in ‘Cherrybomb’ is the polar opposite of Josie (her character in ‘Fresh Meat’, for those of you who don’t watch it).

Although the whole film was engrossing, what really drew me in was the opening scene: police tapes of Malachy and Luke being questioned about a murder case. The murder in question isn’t until near the end of the film, so it left me wondering how events were going to unfold. The ending then links back smoothly to the opening scene, meaning there is a real sense of closure. I found this very satisfying, and I have to say, even though it’s used quite a lot, I think this is one of my favourite plot devices used in film and television.

I would recommend ‘Cherrybomb’ mainly to those interested in teen drama, although really, the quality of acting and storytelling is so good and so audacious that I’m sure it would reel anyone in.

My overall rating? 7.5/10.

Film and TV

‘Hard Candy’ (2005)

Yesterday I finally got around to buying the DVD of ‘Hard Candy’, a film I’ve been meaning to watch for absolutely ages now. I watched it last night, but it’s taken me a while to process what I actually thought of it.

For those of you who don’t know the plot, I’ll briefly explain: it’s a thriller about a teenage vigilante (Ellen Page) who befriends a (supposed) paedophile online. When she eventually meets him in person, she takes the opportunity to punish him for his crimes – this punishment takes the form of various tortures. She finally offers him an ultimatum – he can either kill himself or face having his crimes revealed to the world.

It was much more intense than I expected. I did like it, it was a very well-crafted film, although “enjoyable” isn’t the word I would use to describe it. It hooked me because of the tension and the horrific tortures which it explored, along with Page’s fantastic acting (I must admit – I have had a slight girl crush on her since I saw ‘Juno’ all those years ago, and she was part of the reason I wanted to see the film. Her portrayal of a 14-year-old was perfect – at times, I found it hard to believe that she wasn’t really that young). It was definitely one of those films which makes for engrossing viewing every now and then, but isn’t exactly the kind of film you’d watch just because you were bored and needing entertained.

I really admired the cinematography of it though. The opening titles really reminded me of a Hitchcock thriller – I think this was partly because quite a large amount of credits were shown at this point, something typically found in older films but not newer releases, and also the graphic design of it, which was reminiscent of the sliding, slashed opening titles to ‘Psycho’ (1960). It really had that old-fashioned feel to it. This was in some ways an interesting contrast to the fact that the film was essentially based around the consequences of  internet grooming – a very contemporary issue. I also enjoyed the music in the opening titles (composed by Harry Escott and Molly Nyman, daughter of composer Michael Nyman), although I was surprised by the lack of soundtrack throughout the film as a whole. There were a few microtonal drones to build suspense dotted around the soundtrack, but really nothing much that you could call “music”. This did work well though, as it created much more suspense than if there was constant music in the background. I’ve noticed this is a common feature in newer thrillers – I suppose it makes the viewer feel as if they are witnessing the action first hand, as opposed to through a screen, as obviously there isn’t a soundtrack to everyday life.

All in all, I did like ‘Hard Candy’ but I found it a bit too brutal and bleak at times. It’s not one for the faint of heart!

My overall rating? 6.5/10.

Film and TV

‘Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial’

This afternoon I watch both parts of the Channel 4 documentary ‘Drugs Live: The Ecstasy Trial’, which was broadcast quite a few months ago now but has been sitting in my 4oD “to watch” list for some time. I decided, since I had nothing better to do this afternoon, to give it ago.

It was absolutely fascinating, especially to learn that MDMA is being researched as a possible treatment for mental illnesses like PTSD and depression. It was really interesting to see how the drug affects the human brain (even more interesting that it can affect different people in such wildly different ways – from total euphoria, to indifference, to aggression) and to hear both sides of the debate on whether MDMA is really as harmful as it is made out to be and whether it should be considered for therapeutic use more routinely.

Personally, this really challenged my views on the drug. As a child, I was always led to believe that all drugs were highly dangerous and if you ever experimented, something would go wrong and there would be no way back. This childhood belief influenced my way of thinking for many years, and even now, when I learn that someone regularly takes drugs – even if it’s just marijuana – I’m taken by surprise. It doesn’t bother me anymore though, because it’s such a common thing to do, but there is always that sense of, “oh, that’s what your take on it is”. To learn that, yes, while MDMA still has potentially lethal side effects, it really doesn’t seem as bad it once did in those ‘childhood propaganda’ days, where we would be shown videos in school, dramatisations of teenagers dying from dehydration or overdose and led to believe that this would happen. In fact, I can see why so many people would want to take it: the relief from anxiety, the connection with other people, the fact that it’s not an addictive substance (psychologically addictive, maybe, but not physically), the pure release from everyday troubles. To hear those who’ve taken MDMA say this is one thing, but to have leading researchers and scientists share this point of view is really quite thought-provoking.

All in all, it was a really interesting experiment and I would urge anyone to watch it – there is no bias and the science behind it all is totally captivating.

Film and TV

‘Harold and Maude’ (1971)

Yesterday evening my mum and I decided to watch the cult romantic comedy ‘Harold and Maude’ together. Neither of us had seen it before, and we were both thoroughly enjoyed it.

‘Harold and Maude’ tells the story of a brooding young man, Harold (Bud Cort), who is preoccupied with death – his hobbies include faking suicides and attending the funerals of strangers, and he drives a hearse. One day, at one of these funerals, he meet a cheerfully existential old woman, Maude (Ruth Gordon), who also enjoys going to funerals for fun. They form a beautiful friendship, as Maude teaches Harold the joys of art, music and living a carefree existence, not bound down by sorrow or expectation to conform to society’s rules. This friendship slowly turns into love, which is not well-received by those around them. However, despite the unusual nature of their relationship, Maude helps Harold to learn how to make the most of his life.

I couldn’t keep the smile off my face for the duration of the whole film. Even the ending, which would seem sad if the overall tone of the film had been different, was touching and beautiful. I absolutely adored the character of Maude. I found her attitude to be inspirational and her utter disregard for acting “normal” (for example, she routinely steals cars because she thinks it’s important for humans to learn that their existence is not defined by material possessions, she uproots trees from cities and replants them in the forest, and wears bright yellow to funerals) made me laugh. Two of the most beautiful lines, which absolutely sums up the essence of the film, are the last two:

Harold: “I love you.”

Maude: “Oh Harold…that’s wonderful. Go and love some more.”

Although Maude has been called a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” by critics, and I can see where they’re coming from, personally I think she doesn’t totally fit this negative stereotype. She’s a well-developed character, and yes, while her main function in the film is to get Harold to see life in a more positive way, she is not without her flaws. She’s simply an optimist who wishes to share her worldly wisdom and hope. It’s quite sad, in my opinion, how in films you cannot have an optimistic, quirky female character without her having this derogatory label thrust upon her.

I would highly recommend ‘Harold and Maude’, it is absolutely sublime and I could easily watch it again and again. The soundtrack, by Cat Stevens, is also incredible. It sounds silly, but when I was watching it, I felt this overwhelming sense of hope, and momentarily, I felt that things would get better. It was amazing to have this relief for my depression, even if it was only for 88 minutes.

My overall rating? 10/10.

Film and TV

‘The Piano Teacher’ (‘La Pianiste’) (2001)

I have just finished watching a French-Austrian thriller, ‘The Piano Teacher’ (known as ‘La Pianiste in French). I had been wanting to see this film for a while, and after finally getting the DVD for Christmas, decided to give it a go this evening.

‘The Piano Teacher’ is a psycho-sexual thriller about Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), a repressed piano teacher at the Vienna Conservatoire who is constantly under the thumb of her overbearing and somewhat tyrannical mother (Annie Girardot), whom she lives with, despite being in her late 30s/early 40s. Her sexual repression is manifested in a variety of fetishes, such as sadomasochism, self-mutilation of her own genitals and voyeurism. When she falls for one of her students (Benoît Magimel), she tries to control him (much like how she is controlled by her mother) and convince him to indulge in these (often violent) fetishes. However, he is disgusted and slowly turns against her. The film eventually reaches a climax with a series of dramatic and violent events which threaten to destroy Erika’s life.

Huppert is absolutely fantastic in the role of Erika, no doubt the reason that in 2001, the year of the film’s release, she won awards for “Best Actress” at both Cannes and the European Film Awards. Her performance ensures that you really feel Erika’s pain as she is slowly spurned by those around her.

There are two main words I would use to describe ‘The Piano Teacher’: bleak and intense. With its graphic sexual content and violence, I wouldn’t recommend it for those who are faint of heart. However, there is something beautiful about the cinematography, so despite the grim themes, the film as a whole is absolutely gripping. One aspect of the cinematography I found fascinating was the lack of soundtrack. Obviously as a film set around a conservatoire, there are scenes with concerts and music lessons, but otherwise, there is no music. This really helped built the tension, especially at the end, when the film suddenly cuts to black, silent credits. I was really left wondering what happened next, as without music, there was no indication of whether Erika was headed for a happiness or tragedy. It really goes to show that music really can affect your perception of the plot.

I enjoyed ‘The Piano Teacher’ very much, although because it was very dark, I can’t see me re-watching it any time soon.

My overall rating? 7.5/10.

Film and TV

A blast from the past: ‘RARG’

So, yesterday, I was suddenly reminded of this cartoon I had on VHS as a kid (I don’t know what caused me to remember it), and all I remembered was it was really weird and on the box there was a picture of an old man, a clock and some babies.

I spent all of yesterday evening trying to remember the name of it. I even got my parents involved, but obviously with such little information, they had no idea what I was on about.

Several fruitless Google searches involving the phrases “childrens cartoon”, “film”, “old man”, “sleeping babies”, “time machine” and “clock” later, I struck gold – I found a forum post of someone looking for what sounded like the same cartoon. And then someone told them the name: ‘RARG’.

It was exactly what I was looking for.

I ended up watching it on YouTube, and while it was still as trippy as I remembered it, there was something quite endearing and thought-provoking about it that was lost on me as a child. Not to mention, the score – composed by Philip Appleby – is absolutely luscious, with sweeping scales and arpeggios and the harp often taking a central role. I wonder if it was exposure to music like that, via film and TV soundtracks, at a young age which developed my love of music from the Romantic period? I don’t know. All I know, is ‘RARG’ is actually well worth a watch, even after all these years.