The Big Five.

Whether it’s the Olympic-inspired girl power that’s pumping through my veins or merely a hope to emulate their success in my own career I thought I would dedicate a post to my 5 favourite female directors working today. Who doesn’t love a little bit of feminism? Samantha Brick I hope you’re reading.

5. Sarah Polley

A Canadian filmmaker who started off in acting, her directorial debut ‘Away From Her’ (2008) saw her produce a sensitive, if overwhelmingly sombre portrait of Alzheimer’s disease. She handled her narrative with grace and realism, something which earned her a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nom. Her second film, ‘Take This Waltz’, starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen is to be released shortly and will no doubt be another perceptive and heart-rending demonstration of her skill as a director.

Suggested Viewing: Away From Her, Take This Waltz

4. Kimberley Peirce
Her debut feature-film was the blisteringly powerful ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (1999), which bravely explored the topic of gender and sexual identity. Whilst her second critical success came in 2005 with ‘Stop-Loss’ based on soldier’s experiences of coming home after fighting in the Iraq war. Her films don’t make for easy viewing, often featuring disturbing or violent scenes; something which perhaps makes her the perfect director to be at the helm of the ‘Carrie’ remake. However she produces challenging and thoughtful material that forces the viewer to confront culturally important topics, for which she deserves massive kudos.

Suggested Viewing: Boys Don’t Cry, Stop-Loss,

3. Debra Granik

Another independent filmmaker with an eye for fantastic visuals, her second feature film ‘Winter’s Bone’ (2010) raised her profile enormously. And deservedly so. A stark, searing film of will-power, retribution and violence, it depicted a part of America not often shown. I am eagerly anticipating what she delivers next.
Suggested Viewing: Down to the Bone, Winter’s Bone

2. Kathryn Bigelow           

Easily the most famous of the bunch, Bigelow made history when she became the first female ever to win a Best Director Academy Award. Perhaps because she makes the kind of films you expect men to make; full of testosterone, action and brutality. Her films often gain cult status because of her ability to twist genre conventions using experimental storytelling without compromising thrill, tension or visual spectacle. Bigelow’s film are distinctly hers; strange, provocative and adrenaline-pumping; she has become a master of her craft.

Suggested Viewing: Point Break, The Hurt Locker

1. Nicole Holofcener

She of course scores brownie points for sharing my name. But more importantly she consistently produces intimate, independent feature films that portray the lives of ordinary women. There is something organic and resonant to her filmmaking, wherein she is able to balance the absurdity and beauty of everyday life with insight, wit, poignancy and hilarity. Holofcener generates an exquisite subtlety and without sounding pretentious, but what feels like truth, from her casts, something which has most recently earned her a Robert Altman Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
Suggested viewing: Please Give, Lovely and Amazing

Mirror, Mirror

(DIR. Tarsem Singh, Relativity Media, US, 2012)

For those unaware or unfamiliar with the story of Snow White, Julia Roberts’ narration opens the film recounting the traditional tale of a young girl abandoned in the forest by her wicked stepmother and adopted by a troop of dwarves. However, if you’re expecting a saccharine, family-friendly, ‘love conquers all evil’ type film…then hang in there because despite its aims to undo cliche and stereotype, this is after all a fairtytale.

That’s to not to say this isn’t a thoroughly enjoyable film. Julia Robert’s as the evil stepmother running the kingdom into ruin with her decadence, greed and vanity relishes each snide remark she delivers with bite. Whilst Lily Collins as the innocent Snow White serves more than adequately as the beautiful young Princess, this time with a bit more feist and teenage angst. Though she can never match the acting prowess of her co-star, both are utterly believable in their roles.

Set with the task of finding another rich suitor to avoid financial despair, the evil Queen focuses her attentions on the charming, affluent and might I add, often shirtless, Prince of Valencia, played by Armie Hammer (of ‘The Social Network’ fame). But as luck and tradition would have it he fancies the virginal Snow White. The fact that he looks about 30 and Collins about 17 is a tad unnerving. However in an attempt to rework convention and perhaps liberate the stereotype of the Princess being the damsel-in-distress, it is often she that must save him rather than the other way around. The seven dwarves are this time around thieving bandits who fancy their chances with Snow and teach her how to fight, not very well though it must be said.

The narrative itself isn’t particularly strong, with many plot-holes forming along the way, however the perfomances, along with some stunning costumes and set-pieces make this a sumptuous, rollicking comedy, if a little style-over-substance. The quips come frequently and are more hit than miss and I’ll admit to laughing out loud on more than one occasion. The third act does however falter slightly with an added dose of ridiculousness including Hammer being turned into a puppy and the running time starting to feel somewhat lengthy.

Although the ending reverts back to tradition with startling conformity, you can’t help but admire the film’s delight in its own silliness. The final scene take on a Slumdog Millionaire-esque tone with out of place dance moves and almost too cheest for words techno-pop song. But whether you groan at its awkwardness or smile at the sheer gaiety of it all, it must be said this is a film that will leave you smiling.

Verdict: Not as revolutionary or refreshing as it would like to be, but consummate performances from a delightful ensemble cast and amusement galore make this deliciously camp fun.

Review of Martha Marcy May Marlene

When a film is as highly anticipated, especially on the notably critical independent circuit, as Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, it can go one of two ways. Either you are left coldly disappointed, berating yourself for buying into the industry buzz or in the case of this film you are left haunted and mesmerised, waiting eagerly for what both Durkin and his star Elizabeth Olsen have to offer next.

This is a slow burner by any definition, cutting seamlessly from past to present, interweaving Martha’s (Olsen) time in a self-sustaining cult to the psychological damage it effects on her now. The prevalent use of close-up with stark locations create an eerie atmosphere to the film, one that effortlessly reflects the traumatised mindset of the protagonist.

Struggling to interact with her haughty older sister and impatient brother-in-law, Martha becomes increasingly distant and paranoid, something increasingly justified as the violence and hypocrisy of the cult is revealed. Martha may have physically escaped but her experiences seem forever ingrained in her mind.

Imperative to this psychological character study are of course the performances, with Olsen never failing to captivate her audience, utterly vulnerable and yet displaying feistiness you root for. Notable support is provided by cult leader John Hawkes who is quietly terrifying, as well as Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy as Martha’s only family, providing the judgmental, metropolitan counterpoint to Martha’s former communal existence.

Just as Martha’s time in the cult is one she won’t easily forget, this is a film that will stay with you long after you have finished watching it.

Verdict: Subtle, understated and yet disturbingly powerful. One not to be missed.

The Curtain Call for British Independent Film?

It has taken me a while to form a response to David Cameron’s recent demand for more mainstream filmmaking. Initially it confirmed my hostile and ineloquent opinion that he’s a complete douchebag. However having recently attended a talk for students interested in careers in the media industry, Cameron’s statement has had not only greater resonance for me, but also wider implications for student everywhere.

Although this is nothing new, it appears that government interests are increasingly at odds with the interests of the people. It’s all very well wanting to aim higher, target overseas markets and “make commercially successful products that rival the quality of international productions”, but Cameron is essentially showing himself to be bureaucratic, verging on the autocratic, by interfering with the film industry and demanding what type of films should be made. He’s suggesting that the commercial, the mainstream and the capitalistic is more necessary and more valid than independent, lower budget films. It is dangerous territory to enter, especially considering the commercial and critical success of independently funded films such as the Harry Potter franchise, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech. It is a narrow-minded and financially driven perspective. Of course we mustn’t forget that the film industry is a business and the boss of every creative, aspiring filmmaking is a producer with pound signs in his eyes. Nevertheless to embrace the mainstream with such fervour is to limit the range and variety of films that the British film industry is capable of making. So goodbye to intense, gritty dramas such as ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’ and hello to big-budget action films that serve only to benefit the box office and the corporate studios as opposed to accentuating the talent and originality that British filmmakers have to offer.

At its most fundamental level, independent filmmaking is a more accessible way for student filmmakers, screenwriters and actors to get their foot in the door. Whilst you may have posters of every Spielberg films on your wall, it’s unrealistic and quite frankly disillusioned of Cameron to believe that this is standard of success that filmmakers should aim for. Students don’t have that kind of budget or equipment; our way to get noticed and get our work out there is to start small and work our way up, but without the support of independent companies such as the UK Film Council the likelihood of this happening only looks to decrease. By focusing on the mainstream, Cameron is crippling student aspirations of entering the market. He is closing the door before we even have a chance to get a foot in.

Good intentions may be at the centre of these demands; it will boost the UK economy and what not. Nevertheless, the very unpredictability of the film market is what makes the industry exciting. There are of course trends and target audiences that producers base their decisions of what films to make and what films not to make on, but no-one can really guarantee whether a film will be commercially successful or not. Take a look at ‘Monsters’ for instance, a low-budget film produced and distributed by a British independent film company Vertigo Films that proved a huge success. Although unable to rival the likes ‘Avatar’, a producer or studio executive with years in business would have been unlikely to predict the success of such films, let alone an ignorant meddler such as Cameron.

Balance is the solution. By channelling government funding in a certain direction, Cameron is disadvantaging an entire sector of the British film industry and encouraging a certain genre or formula of films to be made. Not only is this unexciting and restrictive, creatively cocooning the minds behind the films, but it tips the scale wholly in favour of corporations and multiplexes, rather than art-house or independent cinemas. No harmony will ever be achieved by favouring one child over the other. Instead we should celebrate the commercial alongside the innovative, unconventional and independent and perhaps for once be trendsetters, rather than following in Hollywood’s footsteps.

So Long Celluloid?!?!

As we enter the digital age of instantaneousness and innovation, it appears it’s time to bid farewell to celluloid. Like an animal on the brink of extinction, celluloid is fast being replaced by the simplicity and swiftness proffered by digital camera revolution, with an estimated 40,000 digital screens popping up worldwide in 2010, an increase with a growth rate of over 100% since the previous year. The changing landscape of cinema is clear to see. But with a history dating back almost 200 years, does our generation not have the desire, or the failing that, the obligation to preserve celluloid?

Over the last year or so, those of you who still reluctantly shell out £7 or £8 to see cinema’s latest releases may have noticed the word ‘digital’ appearing on the tickets. For those as technologically ignorant as I, what this basically means is that the film is stored and therefore projected using a computer rather than old school reel style. The advantages of digital filmmaking are clear to see, especially for a budding filmmaker. Whereas celluloid film requires time, patience, lots of people and a big budget and thus prides itself on spectacle and exclusivity, digital technology is accessible, user-friendly, affordable and enables distribution to a wider audience; so you don’t have to be a Spielberg or a Scorsese to get your film seen. However I can see nothing sexy about the distribution and exhibition of films via hard drive. The excitement and corporeality of handing over a film stock is lost to the cold, heartlessness of transportation via the click of a mouse. There is something tangible and thus magical about celluloid film; like buying a vinyl record or flicking through the pages of a book that quite simply can’t be matched by the technological transparency of digital film.

Celluloid film effervesces’ with nostalgia and cool and with recent releases such as Midnight in Paris and Super 8 celebrating and indulging in a forgotten time, if anything its should remind us that the past should be treasured and preserved, rather than discarded. Of course in an industry driven by money, it’s easy to see why production companies are switching to digital. With an estimated saving of over £30,000, more if you record directly to hard drive, production companies must be having a field day. Though celluloid can actually be archived longer, with digital forms facing the perils of crashing hardrives and quality degradation and is thus a godsend for anyone wishing to watch a film the same age as your grandma, consumerism has always been about convenience rather than quality.

And yet it appears that a utopian co-existence is not completely out of the question. There’s no reason why cinemas should endure a monogamous relationship with film stock, when they can flirt with digital technology or why students should stifle their creative talent because celluloid is the only way. It’s not. The cliché espoused by many a teacher or parent actually comes to fruition in this case: compromise is key. The next generation of filmmaking is indeed an exciting concept to behold with all kinds of baffling technologies gaining popularity, but celluloid film reflects the hard-work, skill and experience that has facilitated the transition from grainy, silent movies, to the blockbusters we know and love today. And whilst I won’t say this often, in this particular case J-Lo speaks the truth; no matter where you go, you should know where you came from. Which is why celluloid ought to stay.

New Beginnings

I lost my blog. I typed in the address, which since my laptop has been ‘repaired’, a.k.a wiped off its memory, does not come up automatically and this proceeded to return with 0 results. It was an upsetting ordeal. Not only did I spend several minutes scrolling through google blogs, finding not my blog but several others called ‘my life in film’, but when I added Nicole Davis it came up with ‘is Nicole Davis Britain’s most spoilt baby’. Not quite what I had in mind. Eventually I scrolled through old tweets and found a link and thus my way back here, thank goodness, because its not as if I need anymore discouragement.

Let’s face it, I haven’t been writing in a while and this blog is turning out to be what you might call patchy. I certainly wouldn’t make the world’s greatest columnist…sorry readers going on a 3 month sabbatical because, well I’m just not in the mood for writing today. And its really as simple as that, I have been watching films and not writing about them. Gasp. Even the teaser trailers for The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider Man have not given me enough incentive to type emphatically about my passion for film. I despair. Being the self-motivator that I am, I will probably read that back to myself and cringe, but alas I have decided to sit down and write until I review at least 3 films that I have seen of late. Of course my timing is off, my mum has just come flouncing through the door (I’m not sure she’d agree that she flounces) and started dispelling chores left right and centre and now I have to be called away to chop peppers and onions and help my cat into his cat box.

But I do solemnly swear to review something within the next 24 hours….so watch this space.

X-Men : First Class!!

As regular readers of my blog will know, I was particularly excited about the release of X-Men:First Class. I haven’t ever been a particularly ‘mutant [fan] and proud’ but when news of this prequel came to light, I found myself inexplicably excited and a sudden X-Men fan. Well the 1st of June arrived and off I was to the cinema, barely able to contain my anticipation.


Technically being a prequel nothing can really be spoiled, but just in case you’d prefer to avoid details of the film being revealed I would advise you to stop reading and go and see the film!.

There is really only one word that can sum the film up and that’s epic. Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman are clearly X-Men fans and are very respectful of both the genre and of Bryan Singer’s films, whilst creating a film of their own. It begins in Poland in 1944, just as the first X-Men does and I couldn’t actually tell whether it had been re-used or re-shot; I’m presuming the latter and then rather than jumping forward several decades, we are given the backstory of Erik Lensherr a.k.a. Magneto. The child acting in the first two sections of the film is a little cringeworthy, but a good and necessary starting point for seeing our two protagonists develop and its not soon before Michael Fassbender (Magneto) and James McAvoy (Professor X) assume the older versions of the characters and being so easy on the eye as they are, all is well and good. Being a two hour film as it is, director Vaughn is clearly aware of the need to be pacy and no sooner than Magento’s desire for revenge has been established are we transported to 1962 and the backdrop of the cuban missile crisis around which the action proceeds.

James McAvoy perfectly showcases his cheekier and charming side, first witnessed (by me anyway) in Wimbledon and already there is a strange kind of nostalgia forming for Charles Xavier before he becomes Professor X. Another brilliant thing about the prequel is the development of the character Raven Darkholme, a.k.a Mystique, here played by the stunning Jennifer Lawrence who demostrates her range after independent hits such as The Burning Plain and Winter’s Bone. Whereas in the first film she is a rather undeveloped character; sidekick of Magneto and undeniably ‘evil’, here there is considerable and perhaps overly so, explanation for her decision to join the dark side. From her overarching desire to be normal to becoming accepted for who she is, blue warts and all; something which Magneto ultimately offers. The chemistry between Lawrence and McAvoy seems a little unbelievable and though she is introduced as his ‘sister’ there is clear sexual tension throughout which if I’m honest is a little disturbing. The only other criticism I would have is the rate at which Charlex Xavier becomes the polar opposite to Erik Lensherr. When we first meet Charles as an adult he’s using his knowledge of mutants as chat up lines with a dazzling twinkle in his eye and guzzling beer at the local pub. However as soon as Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne) comes onto the scene with sightings of other mutants, all his other cheeky chappy persona dissipates and he becomes the philosophical advocate of mutant rights that we know and love; though you can’t help but think if he wasn’t quite so uptight he may not have balded so soon. The Moira MacTaggart story is also modified somewhat from the original comics and rather than her being a friend that Xavier meets at graduate school and plans to marry, she is a CIA operative working for him. Though their passionate discussions about genetic mutation do eventually hint at and lead to a passionate romance.

Comedy is provided by the delightful Michael Fassbender, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors. Though initially characterised as aggressive and vengeful, he has a way with words that often elicits a chuckle from the audience, I won’t spoil these details! Although there is a fabulously tense and well-acted scene near the beginning in Argetina when Erik exacts revenge on the soldiers in the concentration camp. A deliciously taut and calculated sequence that forebodes the lengths Erik will go to in order to avenge his mother. And the foreboding doesn’t stop there. The film is continually peppered with dialogue that indicates their later situations; such as Charles telling Erik when he harnesses his full power he will be more powerful than him. As well as some great cameos from Wolverine and the older Mystique.

The chemistry between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender is fantastic and though Vaughn has very little time with which to ascertain their meeting, their great friendship and their eventual rivalry, he immediately establishes their different ways of thinking and incompatible ideals; the chess scene in particular, which also includes my favourite line: ‘now listen very carefully to me my friend’. The two share some great quips such as during the expansion of Xavier’s telepathic powers, in which Erik declares he makes a ‘very cute labrat’ or something to that effect and this gives ways to a fun and pacy sequence in which we meet several of the new mutants, among them Banshee, Havoc, Beast, Angel and the short-lived Darwin. I realise I may have to wrap this up somewhat as I haven’t even got half-way through the film and it appears I’ve written an essay. I apologise, but I quite simply loved this film.

The formidable enemy comes in the form of Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw and his sidekick Emma Frost, played by Mad Men’s Betty Draper: she herself made the joke about only starring in projects with Men in the title and set in the 60’s. Bacon clearly relishes his role at the evil Shaw, whilst Jones is dazzling (perhaps more to do with the diamonds than her at times wooden acting), but her ice queen qualities as Betty Draper are put to perfect use. I don’t need to bore you with the intrinsic details of the action, though you may argue I have already done so, but know there is an epic battle: of minds, of powers and of forces in which the mutant team splinters and we begin to see the formation of allegiances.

The two perhaps best moments of the film however, are when Erik and Charles essentially become Magneto and Professor X. The former in his excrutiating murder of Shaw, in which he takes on the telepathic resistant helmet and the latter wherein he becomes victim to a deflect bullet. As soon as we see where it hits there is the heartbreaking realisation that this is how Xavier becomes paralysed and as he shouts ‘I can’t feel my legs’, one can’t help but to feel a lump in their throat.

The support cast are excellent, with an especially good turn from Skins’ Nicholas Hoult as Beast, balancing the seriousness of the conflict with the fun of discovering the extent of one’s power. Despite being a sci-fi/comic book/fantasy movie, the message behind it is a universal one, espousing ideals of being proud to be different and embracing who you are meant to be. Though the whole ‘Mutant and Proud’ line is not subtle at all. The special effects are as impressive as one would expect and the whole film flies by, with one wishing it might actually go on a bit longer. As good as I had hoped and perhaps better, I recommened it highly, even if you are not an X-Men fan. Perhaps afterwards you might be.

In an after note, its also refreshing to have a franchise do something original and utterly compelling whilst staying true to its predecessor/successors, (I’m never sure how to go about this prequel thing). With the likes of POTC4 and the Hangover 2 at the cinema, you’d be far wiser to spend your money on X-Men than either of the others.

In other news, Cameron Crowe has made a Pearl Jam documentary; not only he is the director of ‘Almost Famous’ which is an outright homage to all that is rock’n’roll, but Pearl Jam are one of my favourite bands, i.e. a match obviously made in heaven.

Also I can now call myself an Oscar winner, despite the fact I was awarded not by the Academy but by Esher College, a no less prestigious institution I will have you know. I’m aware its not actually real, but let’s hope it does foreshadow the real thing. And at least now on my next script I can write ‘by oscar winner Nicole Davis’. I’ve always wanted a double barelled name.