Verdict: Sprawling, slow-paced and slightly indulgent. Sumptuous settings, clever editing and terrific performances can’t quite match the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s novel.
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
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.
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.
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.