1984

Big Brother is watching you
Film review: 1984 (adapted from the novel by George Orwell)

In a totalitarian society governed by the voices behind “Big Brother”, Winston Smith found his secret escape in the form of keeping a journal. In a life so contrived and regimented, where men and women were forced to rewrite history in order to obey their oppressors, Winston Smith dared to fall in love. In a soul-destroying landscape of rotting children and burning debris, where his every move was accounted for by the giant glaring eyes of Big Brother, Winston Smith faced an ultimatum in a torture cell numbered 101.

1984 is a tale of the time – a horrific dystopia envisioned in George Orwell’s 1948 novel of the same name. Whether this film aims to reflect a fictional time or one that could easily be recognised in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, it warns the audience of the possible deterioration of society. In it, Director Michael Radford effectively displays key themes of Orwell’s story, such as propaganda, media manipulation, and the power of language in shaping human thought.

First impressions count, and this is certainly true of this film. The opening sequence is harrowing, and enough to induce nightmares. Hundreds of citizens of Airstrip One, enslaved, indoctrinated and mesmerised by the Party are seen shouting “Traitor!” at a screen presenting the face of the ‘enemy’. They are taught to believe wholeheartedly in the propaganda that shapes their lives. Their minds are manipulated in such a way that the most positive report of all is the fact that their chocolate rations – yes, poverty has struck – have risen by twenty five grammes. The citizens are brainwashed in every aspect of their lives; children are taught to monitor their parents for thought crimes so that they can report disloyal behaviour to the Thought Police; they are forced to wear dreary, boy-scout-style uniforms to make them feel united in a youth group, mirroring those of the Hitler Youth that existed in Nazi Germany. People are trained to be suspicious of each other from a very early age, and are encouraged to report acts of defiance against the Party.

Winston works in a corporation with a name as ironic as the Ministry of Truth, in order to eradicate the past and re-write history as the Party wants it to be told. Winston claims that “Freedom is the freedom to think that two plus two equals four,” but in the extreme case of his torture in Room 101, he must undergo the process of brainwashing until he believes that two plus two may not equal four, but five. If the Party tells him it is five, then the answer is and will only ever be five (or at least, until they update the last edition of the Newspeak dictionary).

As part of the Party’s agenda, publicity is essential in promoting the values of their ideal society. There may be a war going on outside, but it is designed to be a constant, continuous struggle, and not to be won, in order to bring Society together for one cause. Publicity of the Party means that Big Brother’s unforgiving face is on posters plastered everywhere, to remind people that they are forever being watched. The blood red colour in the background of the posters is another stark contrast to the otherwise bleak landscape of Airstrip One, and it acts as a warning to the citizens who cannot escape their lives governed by this figure. Furthermore, a distinct female voice constantly recites statistics through speakers, supposedly to encourage people that the situation is improving. The effect in reality is the opposite. The voice is a reminder of the eternal struggle of the people under the Party’s regime, and the depressing world in which they live.

The lack of freedom is expressed throughout the film, either through the almost monochromatic visual tones, or the destructive imagery of inconceivable living conditions (such as Winston’s room), created to shock the viewer. Colour is used sparingly in the film, so that when an extreme close up of Julia’s red lips or a wide shot of the lush green hills of Winston’s dreamscape appears, the viewer is left with an uncomfortable sense of danger.

Despite the wealth of the Party, the population is left to believe that they are no less worse off, and left to suffer with limited rations of food, as well as dormitories resembling prison cells, and tentative relationships. No one is ever allowed privacy, as helicopters hover endlessly around the dilapidated landscape, as a constant reminder that “Big Brother” is watching them, like their conscience. Most iconically, George Orwell created the term “Newspeak” for 1984: an abbreviated language used to make communication more precise and less liberating. Parsons, Winston’s neighbour, is the character who engages the most significantly with this, and often uses the term “doubleplusgood” to express satisfaction. As well as spoken language, there is no freedom in thought, as they are taught that individuality leads to rebellion and disobedience.

Can you imagine your work colleagues spying on you, or your own children reporting you to the police for illegal, illicit thought patterns? Perhaps not. But how about interactive flat screens fixed to walls, or cameras following you on the streets? How is it possible that in 1948, when flatscreen televisions and closed-circuit television cameras were not yet invented, Orwell could conjure up such ideas? To what extent have we somehow fulfilled Orwell’s prophecy in our times, and how can we ensure that we do not create a reality for his most unbearable dystopic dreams? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2: Film Review

I enjoyed Pitch Perfect a lot more than I thought I would, as I assumed all the hype about the cup song was over-rated. I decided to see Pitch Perfect 2 as a fun way to unwind and start my holiday.

Overall, I thought the film was vibrant and energetic, with a lot of colour and good music. I loved all of the musical performances and the choreography was great. I liked that they included a wide range of music genres that matched the singers’ personalities and situations. The sing-off between the different acapella groups in the crazy fan’s basement was well timed and entertaining. I feel like the music producer cleverly put together the mash-ups so that the songs flowed from one to another in a fun and interesting way.

It was also great to be able to recognise other singing stars in the cast, such as Pentatonix (my favourite acapella group in the entire world) and Snoop Dogg (although I think his subplot was completely pointless). I was excited to see Flula, the German YouTuber, in the film as well, as he is absolutely hilarious in the videos he makes (and appears in –eg, I couldn’t stop laughing when he featured in Grace Helbig’s podcast, Not Too Deep). As I enjoyed the music aspect so much – and could have just watched the actors perform numbers for the duration of the film – I listened to the movie soundtrack as soon as I got home. I predict that the hype about the Pitch Perfect franchise will definitely make acapella more popular and appreciated in the music industry.

Whilst I admire Elizabeth Banks for directing her debut film and starring in it as well, I had some issues with the film, which I would like to highlight.

First of all, the script was terrible. I’m usually the one who notices visual effects and not so much the acting or script, so this script really stands out to me as being very poorly written. Pitch Perfect 2 is a musical comedy, and I can tell that they really tried to put an equal emphasis on both aspects. However, I felt that the music was strong, and the comedy was shockingly bad. Don’t get me wrong, there were some funny moments, but most of the time, I knew that the script was ‘supposed’ to be funny, but nobody in the audience laughed at all. There were lots of comments and jokes that were so unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the script. I felt like many of the lines were wasted and were used as fillers to pad out the film (in terms of extending its duration).

Something else I didn’t like was the fact that the characters were trying too hard to be awkward, possibly to seem relatable to the audience. I am a super awkward person when it comes to social interaction, and if I get nervous, my words come out in the wrong order and I say things that I instantly take back. Anyway, imagine situations like these, but magnified and acted out by every character in the film on multiple occasions. I don’t know why the writers decided that every character should be an awkward turtle because it made it so cringe-worthy and pointless.

In fact, I think that some of the characters could have been excluded from the film entirely, such as Lilly and Flo. Everything that Lilly said was completely random and irrelevant, much like Grandma Georgina from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Flo’s vulgar/stereotypical ‘jokes’ about her background were not needed. I didn’t really like any of the characters, and I particularly disliked John and Gail, who made awfully racist remarks that were not even slightly funny.

Following on from the issue of racism… Obviously every story has to have a villain, and in this case, the enemy was the German acapella group, Das Sound Machine. They were portrayed as totally evil characters compared to the Bellas, but it wasn’t just their personalities that alluded to harsh stereotyping. They wore all black, all the time, and their choreography had a militaristic style – it couldn’t be any more Nazi-esque if they tried. Also, maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seemed obvious to me that the choice of songs they performed further added to the evil aura. Firstly, they sang Uprising by Muse, which is based on the story of 1984 by George Orwell. Next, they sang My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up) by Fall Out Boy. If these songs don’t scream death, destruction, violence and manipulation, I don’t know what does…

Paper Towns

Having been a Nerdfighter for (what I believe to be) a while, now, I thought I should further establish my faith by delving into more of John Green’s books. I felt that TFiOS had become mainstream, so I’d need to read more in order to not be a common fangirl. After research and blurb-reading, I came to the conclusion that Looking For Alaska and Paper Towns would be the books for me. An Abundance Of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (and Let It Snow) don’t seem like my kind of thing, and they aren’t as popular among Nerdfighteria (from what I have gathered).

I recently read LFA. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It actually made me laugh out loud a lot, especially towards the end during the prank scene. In fact, I couldn’t stop laughing, and I realised that never before had a book made me laugh that much. The characters were loveable and I really engaged with the story.

This weekend, I read Paper Towns. This has to be my favourite of John’s books that I have read so far. I also laughed at times in this book because John is great at creating comedy. I want to touch on some things that I did and didn’t like. First, the negatives…

Although the story is completely different to LFA, I felt that some aspects were similar. For example, the spunky female protagonist (who disappears), the male protagonist who lacks confidence but builds on it throughout, the cocky yet hilarious best friend of the male protagonist, the element of jokes and pranks which characters play on each other, sexual reference, the idea of leaving an old life behind and starting afresh… The list could go on. To me, it was just a typical John Green book, which isn’t a bad thing, but it was a bit too predictable/samey.

Next, there were 3 references to cancer. One on the first page, one in page 109, and if I’m not mistaken, one on page 201. Considering John wrote TFiOS, and had connections with Esther Earle, AND he continues to inspire many (including myself) to this day, it surprises me that jokes and lighthearted comments about cancer cropped up here. I know that technically Quentin is narrating, but I’m sure John could have thought of something else.

It may just be me, but I got confused at times because of all the different characters. I had to flip back to check who was dating who and what the situation was between friendship groups etc. Too many emotional girls and drunk Seniors.

On top of this, I found the ending a little disappointing. I’m happy that Q and Margo were reunited, but what happened next? Where did Lacey, Ben and Radar go? How did they all get home? How did Ruthie and her mum react on the phone to Margo? I feel that more time could have been taken to pace the ending; I would have read on for another few pages!

Finally, I don’t know if this is just a mistake on the UK cover, but throughout the book, Q’s surname is Jacobsen, but on the blurb, it is spelled Jacobson. It’s a shame to have such an obvious printing error ruining the cover!

Now, into the positives. At first, I didn’t understand the title, because ‘paper towns’ was mentioned once near the beginning. But then it became a recurring theme, and it made sense. I now think it’s a great title, and there is an element of education in the novel, to explain the idea behind it.

John is excellent at creating characters and making them 3D. He is especially talented at writing females, and making them come alive. Just like Alaska, Margo is sassy and confident and smart. Also, in Paper Towns, Q and Margo’s parents have a purpose. Q’s mum is a psychologist, and this adds interest to the Jacobsen household. The parents also comment on Margo’s parents and allow Q to curse. Margo’s parents are made out to be awful, self centered people who don’t know how to show love and care for Margo. (I just wish Ruthie featured more, as she was a delightful character.)

I found the story gripping and fascinating at the same time. I felt like I was on a fun journey with Q and his friends. I think the road trip was one of my favourite parts. The good thing is that the themes and motifs are carried throughout the novel, and the ideas are expanded too (eg. string, maps, friendship etc). Although LFA was extremely quotable, and this was not, Paper Towns was full of witty narrative and dialogue that flowed well (sorry to use the forbidden phrase).

In conclusion, I would recommend Paper Towns as a first John Green read, if you choose to jump on the teenage girl bandwagon. I probably won’t read it again, as there are other books that I am desperate to return to, but it will sit nicely on my bookshelf between TFiOS and LFA for now.

Questions (if you’ve read this far, congratulations): Which of John Green’s books have you read or are you planning on reading? What do you think of his writing style and storytelling?

DFTBA and happy reading! 🙂

The Purge, Moonrise Kingdom & The Double

Film Review: The Purge, Moonrise Kingdom & The Double

I’ve seen these 3 films recently, and I don’t want to ramble on about them and analyse them in detail (if you want rambling, read my previous film reviews…) but I feel like I should talk a bit about them.

The Purge:

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I wanted to see this film when it came out in the cinema, but I never got the chance. I’m kind of relieved I didn’t waste almost a tenner on a cinema ticket, now that I have seen it. The idea for the plot was what really intrigued me. All crime is legal for one night a year – what a great concept (well, not in reality)! It was definitely a tense, gripping film, but it was disappointing. Out of all the possibilities for storylines, just from using that tag line, they didn’t choose the best one. Just by changing the story, the film could have improved a lot. I wasn’t too keen on the characters and the way the family interacted with each other seemed completely unnatural. I want to say that it was scary, but it didn’t really make that much of an impression on me. I want to say that the darkness throughout most of the film was effective, but it made me frustrated that I wasn’t really watching it – I was occasionally hearing people talking. So I don’t recommend this film. Someone please use the concept to write a book, and I will read it and praise it!

Moonrise Kingdom:

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My friend recommended this film because I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Wes Anderson directed them both. It made me excited right from the start because I could tell that it was going to be of the same style, and that’s what I was looking for. There was something really compelling about the film, the characters and the way the story was told. I felt engaged with the gorgeous protagonists (Sam and Suzy) and found their relationship adorable. Their characters were so interesting, and I found out afterwards that parts of Anderson’s personal life were reflected through these fictional people. I was a little baffled about the ending of the film, and it seemed a little pointless, but overall, I enjoyed the journey. For some reason, my brother did not seem to appreciate the film, and replayed the scene when Sam gets struck by lightning and thrown off the rocks about 10 times, laughing (this made me angry). I would recommend this film as a light-hearted and delightful form of entertainment for an evening.

The Double:

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I have just come back from watching this at the cinema this evening, and I have mixed feelings about it. The film itself was very good, and so interesting to watch. The setting and tone were what I liked best about the film. It was all vintage-style set design, props and costumes, and the dim lighting and sepia tones added to the atmosphere. The script was fascinating – cleverly constructed – and comical at times. Plus, Jesse Eisenberg was perfect for the role(s) – I think he’s a brilliant actor. However, I had to do some research afterwards, just because I was so confused about the ending! Please can somebody help me out because I’m still clueless about what happened to both Simon James and James Simon; there are all these questions burning in my mind about which one committed suicide and who slit whose face… I’m sure I can’t be the only one completely dumbfounded!

Divergent

Film Review: Divergent

By some kind of miracle, I was able to watch Divergent on Friday – the opening day in the UK. Dream come true, right? My two friends and I raced to the cinema with 5 minutes to spare, extremely excited about what we were about to see. First of all, I have to congratulate Veronica Roth. I’m so happy for her, and couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. I know the film is completely independent to the book, but I feel that it was a good representation of the original story, and it was pulled off very well. I had low expectations because I was too let down by The Hunger Games film and didn’t want to be as disappointed; however, I was not at all disappointed this time – I was highly IMPRESSED.

I want to start off with the ‘bad’ things I noticed about the film. I don’t have much criticism, so let me just get it out of the way. It’s not even to do with picking out differences between the film and book, which surprises me.

Music: Most of the time, the music was suitable for the situation, and wasn’t over-dramatic or anything. However, I absolutely hated the music that had singing in it. I found it very intrusive, and it didn’t go at all. Plus, Ellie Goulding was used as the main soundtrack artist, and I can’t stand her voice. It just didn’t work for me, and ruined the film.

Sound: The tone of the film (especially at the beginning with Tris’ voiceovers) was quite calm – either to set the scene or to create tension. But it was hard to hear everything that the characters were saying. I know that acting for film is totally different than acting for theatre because you don’t need to project your voice (as the gaffers pick up the sound from a close proximity to the actors). But some lines were barely audible, and I don’t think it was the cinema’s fault! I wouldn’t say it needed to be a lot louder, they just needed to have slightly raised the volume when the actors were whispering.

The sound wasn’t the only thing that was toned-down, in my opinion. I imagined the Dauntless to be more hardcore, somehow. They were definitely portrayed as badass, kickass people, and the instructors were menacing, but I feel that they needed extra… oomph?

Casting of extras: Your choosing ceremony is supposed to be when you turn 16. When the group is being briefed before the ceremony, I saw that there were lots of fully-grown men, and not enough young-looking people. I guess it didn’t matter too much, because it wasn’t mentioned in the film about the age of the initiates, and they all looked more mature. I guess that’s me being a bit picky.

Injuries: Something I didn’t understand was how the characters recovered so quickly from injury. One minute, they’d be shot in the shoulder, the next they’d be running down the street, with not even a glance at the bullet wound or a wince of pain. And Jeanine! I can’t believe that Tris threw a knife right through her hand, and when it was taken out, she was barely traumatised. I partly blame the actors, who should have done ‘method acting’ to be able to empathise with their characters more (I can’t criticise them too much because they were brilliant, really). I also partly blame whoever was supposed to check the film in post-production for continuity errors.

Veronica Roth: She had a cameo during the zip line scene, but it was too brief! It was too dark to see her face properly – I just recognised her physique and haircut. It’s a shame that she couldn’t have stayed on screen for longer…

Now onto the good stuff, because there’s a lot of it! A little bonus which has nothing to do with the film: I got a free book, which is an exclusive sample of the first 6 chapters of the original novel. I already own Veronica Roth’s masterpiece, but it’s such a nice memento of the special occasion.

Introduction: The introduction was so well thought out and it carefully pulls you into the Divergent world. I believe that if you haven’t read the book, the introduction explains everything so that you don’t need to have done. I loved the slow panning of aerial views of the dystopian Chicago city, complete with Tris’s explanatory voiceovers. The faction system is also described in sufficient detail, providing snapshots of their individual lifestyles.

Characters: They were extremely well portrayed on screen. You could see the personal development in each one. Caleb transforms from a smug, secretive Abnegation brother into a smart, brainwashed Erudite academic (a strong believer in the ‘faction before blood’ motto); Al transforms from a sweet, conscientious lad into a jealous, guilty wreck (it’s a sad, sad situation…); Four transforms from a tough, unforgiving instructor into a sympathetic, sensitive and protective (and totally gorgeous) boyfriend – at first he had no romantic intentions but then you can start to see him smiling to himself, which is so cute; Tris transforms from a shy, indecisive girl into a brave, selfless, independent and headstrong Dauntless initiate. Tris’ development is the most obvious and important, which is what makes her such a fantastic role model. Not only does she realise that she needs to train to survive, but she thrives in the Dauntless compound, and improves more than any other initiate (referring to the scoreboard). There are so many lessons we can learn from her determination, perseverance and feistiness. I also found Jeanine’s character worked well on screen. Her Erudite-coloured eyes and calm approach made her seem more threatening and cold than perhaps being outright aggressive. She has so much power and control, and her Erudite language woven subtly into her dialogue has a scary effect.

Actors: They were so much better than I had expected. Trust me when I say I’ve watched a fair amount of interviews with the cast, crew and author herself! I wasn’t keen on Theo James playing Four, just because he didn’t look like I imagined Four to look in my mind. But in the film, he fitted Four’s persona so well that I not just accept him as the face of Four. Shailene Woodley also wasn’t my first choice. Now I don’t know who I would have preferred in her place! They were both excellent and they deserve a lot of praise for their portrayal of such inspiring characters. Kudos to the casting directors for surprising us all, in a good way. It was great to see some other familiar faces – Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort (my baby) and Kate Winslet, for example.

Relationships: The relationships within the Prior family seem so tense, especially at the beginning of the film. This really added to setting the scene and laying out the family situation for the viewers. In the book, Christina and Will get it on, but here the main focus (understandably) was on ‘Fourtris’. I did notice how Christina and Will become closer all the time, and their growing relationship is definitely implied through the way they interact. I thought this was such a clever way of addressing the situation without dwelling on it and stealing the power couple’s thunder! Four and Tris were adorable. I ship them so much, and the relationship works so nicely in the film, which made me happy. The awesome thing was the development of their relationship. Usually in films, you can immediately tell who’s going to end up with who, and they get together within the first third of the film. But in this case, the crescendo comes at just the right point; there is enough time for them to build up a level of trust, and for Tris to gradually steal Four’s heart through her bravery and strength. The romance doesn’t dominate the film – it’s just kept very real and Dauntless-like.

Pace: The film has great pace; nothing is too rushed or too boring. It’s gripping throughout, and you never know what’s coming next.

World building: As I mentioned, the introduction helps build up an image of the rusty dystopian world in which the factions exist. The landscapes are beautifully shown, and nothing looks too CGI at all. The fence has an air of mystery about it, and the viewer is left to wonder what will happen in the next installment of the trilogy, with reference to it. It’s absolutely believable. The factions are all true to their characteristics described in the novel, and their buildings and costumes help to reflect each one’s nature. The style and colours of the costumes make Veronica Roth’s world come to life on the screen, and I appreciate all the details. I liked the style of the Abnegation houses: simple, grey and low key. Inside the Priors’ home, it’s kind of dark, and nothing has labels. It’s a combination of wood and olive/ grey tones along with dim lighting. I’ve seen a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, so I already knew what a lot of the sets would look like. The ones that I hadn’t seen came as pleasant surprises, and I was so fascinated by the way in which all these fictional places had been created. I particularly liked the jazzy tattoo parlour (and how the tattoos were printed on rather than injected with a needle).

Themes and messages: All of the key ideas and themes from the book were translated beautifully onto the screen. I could spend ages analysing everything, but there’s not really any point because if you’ve read the book then you’ll know that there are important things we can learn from the story and characters. I feel that young people can come away from the film having gained something (inspiration or hope) that they didn’t have before. I think that Divergence itself is explained well in the film, and it’s a significant idea that holds the story together. It doesn’t dominate the plot but the threat of being Divergent crops up at random times, reminding you of the danger Tris is in. It’s mentioned enough times for you to take it seriously, but the film is really more than just Divergence: it’s about friendship, loyalty, uprising, society and all that the factions stand for, plus more.

****

I recommend this film to those obsessed with the Divergent book(s) because it does stay true to the original work. However, maybe it’s not the best idea to read/re-read it just before seeing it, because you’d probably pick up on a lot that has been omitted. But anyway, it’s a really great film and I certainly enjoyed it.

 

Under The Skin

Film Review: Under The Skin

It’s weird because I don’t have a lot to say about this film. I’m still trying to figure out whether I liked it or not. I don’t know if it’s the kind of film you’re supposed to enjoy, or simply appreciate.

 Sound:

Under The Skin is an arty film, that’s for sure; stylistically, there are plenty of valuable attributes. A key element is silence. There is hardly any dialogue at all, and what we do hear are the vague mumbles from Glaswegians passing by, and the seductive undertones of the alien’s humanoid voice.

The rest of the background noise is from the alien’s surroundings as she explores Glasgow: the laughter and chatter of the people, the crashing waves against the shore, the hooting vehicles on the crowded roads… When I came home from the cinema, I noticed how alone I was, and every sound I created made me feel like I was in my own silent film. I suddenly became very aware of my actions, and although it gave me a sense of peace and perhaps mindfulness, I could only think back to the disturbing film I had just watched.

The music is minimal, but makes a big impact on the atmosphere conveyed. I only picked up on two pieces of music. One consists of a steady gong-like pattern, which is used when the alien lures naked men into her black, viscous void. It mirrors the slow, even paces of the characters, and yet your heartbeat can’t help but exceed the tempo as you anticipate the victims’ fate. The second piece of music is composed of scratchy violin sounds. The high-pitched, short, sharp sounds have the effect of your spine tingling and your head spinning simultaneously. So, so creepy.

 Light:

The contrast of light and darkness is evidently an extremely important component of this film.

  • Right at the start, you are left to watch a blinding white pinpoint of light race towards you through a black vacuum, accompanied by the ‘scratchy violin music’.
  • The second scene involves the alien undressing a dead woman and taking the clothes for herself. This takes place in an illuminated, endless-looking white space, and the two women are just black silhouettes against the backdrop.
  • The ‘viscous void’ I refer to is inky black and ominous, framed by a black studio-like room. Light is only shone on the naked bodies, to separate them from their surroundings, and it is unclear where the light is coming from.
  • Most of the film is set in dark places. The brightest parts are at the beginning, in the scene mentioned above, and at the end, when there is snow falling from a milky sky. This brings about a sense of wonder, in my opinion.
  • The alien’s eyes are dark. There is some fixation on her eyes, and I couldn’t quite work out what the meaning of it was. I just know that the darkness of the pupils has some relevance and symbolism that shouldn’t be ignored.

 Horror:

This is not some typical sci-fi film where an alien race invades Earth and tries to take over the planet. This is about one alien’s (ambiguous) mission, and it is very profound. I have to describe the intense moments, not because I want to give away spoilers but because I just can’t get these moments out of my head. They are more than unsettling images. It’s not to do with nudity or stranger danger; it’s the Under The Skin part!

I can’t tell you how much the body deflation under the ‘viscous void’ freaked me out. Watching the men’s bodies shrivel up into thin, hollow, latex sacks was enough to make me feel sick. When the insides of the bodies were churned down some kind of sewage shoot, with the ‘scratchy violin music’ dubbed over it, I couldn’t help but squirm in my seat. I had to hold in my tummy to make sure that everything stayed where it was (it’s a psychological thing that I fear bodily harm from fiction could occur to me at any given moment).

The other instance I want to talk about was the final scene. So the alien is being raped; the man is disgusted by her and flees; she stands up to reveal black patches on her back; she kneels down and peels off her head, as well as at least half of her abdomen; she exposes the black, anorexic creature that she is inside Scarlett Johansson’s skin and holds her human head in her hands; the man comes back and pours paraffin over her before setting her alight; she runs helplessly out of the forest and into a snowy field, and is left to burn; fire consumes her and a thick, black smoke rises into the pure white sky; and that’s how the film ends. I mean, firstly: WHAT?! What did I just watch? The alien is left to burn into an inter-galactic ash. I don’t understand the director’s message here. Are we supposed to learn something about consequences of interfering with others’ lives, maybe, or about how some tasks are just impossible? Someone help me out here, because I’m really dumb-founded.

 ***

I am completely weirded out by this film and do not necessarily recommend it, however artistic and intense it is. My friend and I can’t stop thinking about Under The Skin, and it leaves a very uneasy feeling in my gut. To be honest, I watched the trailer and did some research beforehand, and I knew just as much going into the film as I did when I came out afterwards.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

At the weekend, I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel at the cinema. Having watched the trailer a few times, I was very intrigued about the plot. It appeared to be a comic murder-mystery set in a pink hotel, with an unsuspecting lobby boy as a conspirator. That’s not exactly something you hear about every day! To be honest, the main reason I wanted to see this film was because I knew that Saoirse Ronan had a part in it, and she is one of my favourite actresses (I particularly admire her former roles in Hanna, The Host and How I Live Now). I have been meaning to start reviewing the films that I see, as I have been almost every weekend, without fail, for the past few months, and have always picked up on interesting things that I want to share. I feel that this film is a good place to start, as there are certain things that make it different to anything I’ve ever seen. Although I like writing, articles and reviews are not things I’ve had much experience creating. I hope that as I review more films, my style will take form, and I will improve my technique. For now, I will take a very casual approach, and just spill whatever’s on my mind. So here are my thoughts on particular aspects of The Grand Budapest Hotel

Characters:

The main character is Monsieur Gustave H. Gustave has one of those typical posh, British accents that is charming and alluring. He is calm and collected in almost every situation, no matter how diabolical, and asserts his authority all the way through the story. He is admirable, intelligent and brave, nonchalant, flirtatious and suave. But most of all, he is unexpectedly sensitive, often reciting poetry at the most inconvenient moments, or using his impeccable manners whilst serving ‘mush’ to some rather brutal-looking crooks in prison. There are so many character traits that make him a fascinating subject throughout the film, and he is definitely a likeable protagonist, whom one can respect greatly for his vitality.

Zero is Gustave’s apprentice, who starts working at the hotel as a lobby boy. At first, he starts off quite submissive and obliging, but you can really see his growth and character development. By the end of the film, he is the one to help Gustave with his escape plan (Gustave shows his appreciation in a very over-the-top manner, complete, of course, with a poetry recital…), he gets married to Agatha (Saoirse Ronan’s character) and he reprimands the new lobby boy (who is presumably hired in his absence). I really loved how this unpretentious boy matured into a real man, and how he helped to move the story along with his own sub-plot and comic persona. He was able to make his own decisions and have an influence on those around him. Despite his namesake, the list of ‘zeros’ at the start begins to pad out as he experiences more on his adventures in Lutz.

Agatha is a minor character in relation to the whole story, but she is a useful tool in plot development. The cast was predominantly composed of male actors, so this delightful (yet cunning) character was like a breath of fresh air. I was moved by Agatha’s response to Zero – I could tell how much she loved him just from the adoration in her eyes. As a side note, it was lovely that Saoirse was able to use her own accent in the film. I find her natural voice so sweet and soothing; I think this added to her character, even though the Irish accent felt a little out of place juxtaposed with the German, French, British and American accents.

I won’t go into much detail about the other characters, but I would like to point out that the villains were truly portrayed as evil antagonists. The black-clad figures were ominous with their metal rings and leather jackets and monstrous motorcycles… I remember one scene where the main villain is at the doorstep of a poor woman’s house and his eyes are barely visible – they’re just consumed in shadows. The lighting really did play an important part in defining him, wherever he was, and I noticed how eerily he appeared and disappeared. Another sinister character is the brother of the woman who is murdered. The reason I mention him is because there’s a particular moment I remember where he is chasing Agatha through the hotel, and the music is just perfect. As the man strides angrily towards her, his motivations, facial expression, general appearance, and emotions are wrapped up so completely by the music that accompanies the sequence. I enjoyed (and feared) that part, simply because the menacing music couldn’t have matched the character any better.

 Music:

Having mentioned the music briefly, I would like to add a few more comments. My favourite musical moment was when Gustave and Zero were in a monastery, and were told to sing along with the other monks as they filed into the chapel. The music dubbed over the film at this point was quite racy, and fitted in well with the action. However, the clever part was that the tune the monks were singing in the scene matched the music that was dubbed over. So although they were independent of each other, they happened to fit together beautifully, and the fact that the monks were humming/singing/“ahh”ing the perfect notes to the film score made the sequence all the more exciting! It’s quite hard to explain exactly what I’m talking about, but I hope my point is sort of getting put across.

Most of the music for the rest of the film was of a particular style, appropriate for the setting, in my opinion. It was what I imagined the traditional folk music of Lutz to sound like. All in all, it worked well, and added to the schema of the imaginary setting.

Cohesion:

The structure of the film was quite interesting. It starts off with a young woman placing a key on a statue, as if paying her respect to the bust. She sits on a bench next to the statue, and opens a book, called ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. Then we skip to a scene where the hotel manager asks the owner about how he came to own the hotel in the first place. From this point, the different sections of the film are introduced with chapter title screens, and so essentially it is a story within a story within a story. At the end of the core story, the owner finishes narrating the story, and the film finishes with the girl on the bench closing the book. So there is a clear, almost symmetrical structure, and a strong sense of cohesion. I think this added to the story-telling factor of the film, and I liked how this was executed on screen.

 Setting:

Lutz is a fictional European place, with a mixture of French and German-speaking natives. There is a very traditional feel to the setting: everything from the clothes of the characters to the style of the buildings. To me, Lutz felt completely real, and I believed in everything about it. Whoever created this place is a genius!

What I noticed about the setting was the fine use of purpose-made sets and backdrops. Some of the animation (eg. the cable car lift going up to the hotel) was animated, some of the backdrops were hand-drawn or computer-aided designs, and some of the rooms (eg. the hotel’s dining room) felt like they were models. I must emphasise that all of this really was subtle, and did not take away from the high quality of production; rather, on the contrary, it added to the world-building and fantastical element of the setting.

Something else that loosely relates to the setting is the careful placing of props. Some of the sets were very simple-looking (eg. in the prison cells), and yet just by adding something a bit out-of-the-ordinary (eg. photos of provocative women stuck on the prison cell walls), the sets could be completely transformed. To me, it felt like whoever designed the sets paid a lot of attention to detail, and this really paid off.

Camera shots:

As I watch more films, I tend to take more notice of how they are being filmed, and how the story is being told through the shots. This film had a very distinct and precise style, which is one of the reasons why it stands out from anything else I’ve ever seen. Every single camera shot had a purpose. Every shot felt necessary. I can’t stress this enough, and it’s one thing that I can really take away from having watched the film. A lot of the shots would focus on a door, for example, just as it was about to be opened by a character; close-ups on faces were less frequent, but helped to gage the character’s raw emotions, for example. One thing I particularly liked was that when characters were on some sort of journey (even just walking from one part of a house to another), you wouldn’t see the whole of it – just snapshots at random points along the journey (eg. just as they are about to go through a door, or are rounding a corner, or are nearing the top of a staircase). It’s as if the director just cut down to absolute minimum footage needed to capture the important moments. And it really works. This is the mechanism that makes the sequences of events so fluid and captivating to watch.

The continuity in the camera shots was very accurate. An example of continuity I can remember is a conversation between Zero (when he’s older) and the hotel manager, in the hotel’s dining room. The shots switch back and forth between their faces, and there’s a daffodil in every shot (in a vase that’s on the table between them), so that you know just how close the characters are, even though they’re not both in the shot simultaneously. This was just one of the techniques that I picked up on whilst watching.

Favourite parts:

Now we move onto my favourite parts of the story. I have to say that the escape sequences were the most thrilling. The fast pace and full-on action was what made these parts exciting. I particularly enjoyed Gustave’s escape from prison with his inmates. Their route meandered perilously through the building, and you didn’t have a clue where they would end up. Another wild-goose-chase type part was when Zero and Gustave were sent on cable cars near the ski resort, to chase after one of the villains. The repetitive series of events built up a lot of suspense and excitement.

I would like to point out that the film was hilarious in some parts, but there were also instances of extreme gore. The violence came at really random points throughout the film, and because of the generally humorous tone, it was totally unexpected. I couldn’t believe it when a man’s fingers were chopped off, or when a woman’s head was pulled out of a basket! The characters were surprisingly brutal! Maybe the shock of such horrors actually made the film more incredulous, and therefore more comedic? I’m not sure, but the extreme contrast of light-heartedness and goriness worked well in an intriguing way.

****

So those are my thoughts and interpretations of The Grand Budapest Hotel. As I have taken so long to write this (not that I counted or it felt like a chore), and seeming as you got to the end (if you’re reading this), it would be lovely to have some kind of response. Did you see the film too or are you planning on seeing it? Do you agree with some of the things I picked up on? Maybe you could do me a favour by re-blogging this or posting a comment. Either way, thanks for reading, and let me know what I should see next!