Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Documentary Day 2! McDonalds

A while ago I did a Documentary Day (Catfish, Exit Through The Gift Shop). Since then, besides Fahrenheit 9/11, I've hardly touched the genre here. So I thought I'd do it again! Documentary Day 2!

Food. It is one of the few things that humans NEED to survive. It is something that can be done in so many different varieties, that business that are completely dedicated to food are some of the most loved and most profitable in the world. The need for food opened a spot on the market for the meal for the person on the move. Some fast food, if you will. But how bad really is fast food for you? Morgan Spurlock investigates in Super Size Me.

Morgan is a healthy man with a vegan chef girlfriend and a good exercise routine. Not all Americans are like Morgan. Some Americans eat McDonalds once a day or more. When McDonalds was sued for making two teenage girls extremely overweight, Morgan asks, how bad can it really be. Spoiler alert. Pretty bad. But we knew that right? Morgan sets himself a challenge to eat McDonalds for every breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for thirty days. He will only go for the super size if he is offered it. He gets himself checked out by all the relevant doctors and dieticians before ploughing ahead, confidently, into his challenge. What follows is a little shocking but thoroughly enjoyable ride into one of the largest health problems in the world, let alone America.

Shocking enough to make your heart stop. 

Released in 2004, Super Size Me remains extremely relevant even today. With confident doctors on his side, Morgan's diet seems not to be a worry. But, after building a relationship with Morgan, the audience begin to see him deteriorate in health - from him throwing up his first super sized meal, to chest pains. It, honestly, is scary. This food that is everywhere takes Morgan, his girlfriends, the doctors, the dietician, and the audience by surprise. Not only this, but Morgan looks into obesity in other aspects of American society as well, such as school dinners and the actual running of individual McDonalds' branches. What he discovers along the way is bound to make you shiver and gasp as his realisations get made known to us. However, it may still make you hungry. 

The Last (Healthy) Supper

What is it about the fast food world that is so addictive? Morgan explains his feelings and emotions at relevant stages in his investigation, keeping the audience in total understanding of his own body, as well as the general public of America with statistics and facts. He slams the organisation of McDonalds and even leaves your mouth hanging open at the end, not with drool, but with shock. Is the McSalad a healthy option? Do not be so sure, Super Size Me claims. Try and find the nutritional information in your local McDonalds next time you pop in (if you dare) and if you can find it, take it in. Realise this film presents a scary reality that surrounds us all, no matter where you are. The probability is there is a McDonalds within walking distance from you right now. Think of the Happy Meal, aimed at kids, to get them eating the McDonalds food from a young age, bribing them with toys, and sometimes, play parks.

A shocking and absorbing documentary. It takes you on an uncomfortable, but arguably needed, journey. Will you stop eating McDonalds forever? Probably not. It is still very tasty, a fact that Morgan never denies. But after the release of the film, the Super Size option vanished from McDonalds. If that does not suggest the importance of this film, I do not know what would.

Best Bit? Meeting Don, the man who has eaten nearly 20,000 Big Macs. Passion like his is unparalleled. 

Documentary Day 2! The Art Of Trolling

A while ago I did a Documentary Day (Catfish, Exit Through The Gift Shop). Since then, besides Fahrenheit 9/11, I've hardly touched the genre here. So I thought I'd do it again! Documentary Day 2!

As this blog, every critical reviewer, every film fan, and... well... everyone can tell you, there are good films and there are bad films. Then there is the grey area. There are some films that are so bad they are good, if that is possible. How do these films make it into creation? How does something so bad become a cult favourite. Say, perhaps, The Room, or Troll 2. This documentary takes the latter and tries to find an answer. This is Best Worst Movie.

Troll 2 was, at the time the documentary was filmed, positioned at #1 on IMDb's bottom 100 films - essentially the worst film ever made. It has since moved up to #99, but that is still not a great deal. It has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is widely regarded as the worst film ever made. And yet it has screenings and parties dedicated to it across the USA. Why? Michael Stephenson (Joshua in Troll 2) sought to find an answer. Along with George Hardy (Michael in Troll 2), he travels around the country looking for Troll 2's fan base and is overwhelmed by the response. Hardy, almost completely unaware of the films fame, becomes an instant cult celebrity along with his co-stars, yelling about pissing on hospitality time and time again. Together, they look back at the film and where it went so wrong. The lack of English spoken by the crew? Perhaps. The lack of acting experience from the cast? Perhaps. The terrible, terrible script? Perhaps. Or perhaps all of these. Best Worst Movie aims to find out.

I really thinks this speaks for itself.
George Hardy, as the opening section emphasises, is the nicest guy, seemingly, ever. A dentist that helps those in need and provides entertainment in the community. We travel on his journey to minor stardom and see the true meaning of the phrase 'cult following'. As we go, George's chemistry with everyone he comes across would bring a smile to everyone's face as he finds out of his fame. We are also given a very good idea of the films flaws and how they happened as the cast attempt to act through a couple of scenes on the original set, all the while, director of Troll 2, Claudio Fragasso, yells at them to be sensible as they are 'actors'. The clear divide between a director proud of his work and actors who have seen the funny side is clear and is one part hilarious, and one part saddening. 

With Troll 2's success, Claudio had to ask, 'is it real?'

There is a real heart to the documentary. It is more than nostalgia; it is community. The communities built through love of the film and the community that was built in making the film. At parts, it is honestly touching - mostly involving Fragasso as he talks about his dedication to his work, and as fans tell him how much they adore the film, seeming totally unaware they are talking to the director. For the cast, primarily those who did not care for a career in acting, the film is a blip in their past. For Claudio, it is his impression left on the film world. Whilst seeing the inner workings of bad film-making is very interesting, the documentary is not without its flaws. We see several of the screenings which all end up being very similar. Whilst it is nice to see the cast loving their cult fame, it is dull once all the cast have been met. The film does not have enough material within it to lose those repetitive scenes, but it feels like too much of the film is taken up on it. The best moments are when we find out about the craziness of the past, not the normality of the present. 

Overall a fun documentary. A really interesting view into 'so-bad-it's-good' films and why you can never purposefully make one. There has to be passion and heart in the driving force and Best Worst Movie shows that passion in its joyful communities. 

Best Bit? Whenever the cast re-enact a scene from the film, they break down into contagious fits of laughter and it is impossible not to join in, even with Claudio calling them 'dog actors' from the side.

Documentary Day 2! Let It Shine

A while ago I did a Documentary Day (Catfish, Exit Through The Gift Shop). Since then, besides Fahrenheit 9/11, I've hardly touched the genre here. So I thought I'd do it again! Documentary Day 2!

Stanley Kubrick, the master of film. A man who created masterpiece after masterpiece after masterpiece. A man who was so well known for his attention to detail and his obsession for his film making precision, that there have been television specials detailing the boxes he kept. But what happens when you put five critical theorists together and let them analyse one of the man's masterpieces? Rodney Ascher seeks to find out. This is Room 237.

Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, and Jay Weidner each have an opinion on what Kubrick's The Shining really means. Sure, it is advertised as a horror film, a psychological thrill ride into the terrifying state of the human psyche, but is that what it actually portrays? These five professionals argue no and with a bit of pointing out, that becomes obvious. They each present a theory. They stretch from the understandable metaphor of destruction and genocide of Native Americans and their land to the absurdity of proof of Kubrick's heavy involvement in faking the moon landing. There is also a wonderful middle ground that demonstrates the impossibility of the hotel, the labyrinth of it, as Kearns suggests constantly. This is not five people swaying you to their views; this is five people presenting their own personal obsession with analysing details.

This can really be that important.

Each theory is fascinating in its own manner, however ridiculous it is. We hear the theory develop and are given frame by frame break downs of important details. Each theorist describes even the smallest factor with passion for their own personal logic. A poster of a skier - or is it a Minotaur? The chair that vanishes - a continuity error or parody of horror? The window that cannot be - simple construction error or elaborate design element? These questions seem absurd, like an English teacher that reads too much in the poetry the class are studying, but with detail, they become genuine points of interest. A director that pays so much attention to detail making continuity errors? They make valid points and you cannot help but get sucked into the obsession that the theorists share and that, no doubt, Kubrick himself had in his own films.

The theorists thought Wendy was too transparent. 

There is a truth in the film that verbatim materials often lack. The interviewees deliver their thought process step by step, analysing the film with the audience alongside - pausing on important frames. One interviewee even pauses to quieten his son before returning to the analysis and the frame by frame breakdown. All points are backed up with heavy evidence. Particular positioning of objects and camera shots are analysed in detail. Most interestingly, maps are created of the overlook to emphasis points surrounding the architecture. Danny's tricycle rides are plotted with a line in regards to his location in the hotel and the way in which the three differ becomes a key point in one argument. This is a detailed critical analysis of a great film. Is it too detailed? That is up to the viewer. One interviewee makes the crucial point that author intent is only part of the story. The rest is the viewers reception. The main flaw, and arguably the only serious one, is the truth of the interviews meaning a lot of 'um's, 'erm's, and 'ah's, left in the final cut which can often detract from a point. Apart from this, the only complaint is when they do not point out a supposed face in the clouds. It seems, from the IMDb message boards, that I was not the only person who saw squat. 

A fascinating documentary for those who love The Shining, Kubrick in general, or just plain ol' film theories. It almost felt like five people taking turns at guessing what would be said in a director's commentary of the film. A solid film. 

Best Bit? The most intriguing moment is a segment about the way in which the film is meant to be seen: both forwards and backwards at the same time. Evidence of this, one superimposed on the other, creates a eerily exciting effect. Scenes contrast each other perfectly causing you to sit upright, jaw dropped, awe in your expression. Was Kubrick that clever? Probably not, but it is fascinating all the same. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013


In space no one can hear you scream... or talk... or do much of anything which is why communication technology is a really important thing when working in space. But what happens when things do not go right and neither screaming, nor talking, nor much of anything can help? This is Gravity.

Up above the atmosphere, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), and the team of the Explorer shuttle are working on some repairs and updates on the Hubble Telescope. They tell stories and fun jokes whilst Stone works hard with the space technology and Kowalski floats around on his jet-pack, enjoying his last mission before returning to Earth. Suddenly, Houston aborts the mission as a satellite that the Russians have blown up has become debris rocketing through space at lethal speeds and the shuttle is right in the middle of its path. Stone is not fast enough and gets separated from the ship, spinning away into the abyss of space. Breathing heavily, fearfully flying, she tries to orientate herself so that Kowalski can catch up to her. What follows is ninety minutes of two astronauts going against every challenge (low oxygen, low fuel, flying killer debris etc) to preserve their own lives.

What's got ya down, Stone?

There may be no sound in space, but there is the opportunity to put in a fantastic with little more than your face and voice and both Clooney and Bullock do just that. There was no use of zero gravity in the production of the film, all the weightlessness is simulated with extremely clever choreographed sequences memorised by the actors. These were sometimes extremely long sequences too, the first scene alone is ten minutes or so without a cut. Bullock should be particularly praised. It is her that the audience build a connection with through the story telling and cinematography of the film, and it is her that is thrown into space alone. She is completely moving as the innocent, newcomer to the world of space, her only crime being over-enthusiasm for her work.  Several times she resigns herself to the fate of the universe before being inspired by Kowalski, or a Chinese lullaby, or whatever. We see the process of a human brain contemplating life's worth with the back drop of a sci-fi thriller through Bullock's performance - often with the smallest visual of her face or just her voice. Clooney gets to do what Clooney does best. A smart, charismatic man, who truly emulates kind arrogance as the mission commander and always puts the safety of Stone before himself. Delightful.


Fantastic performance aside, no film such as this would be a success without a stunning technical side. Throughout film history, the most critically acclaimed science fiction films have been just as technically astounding as they have been well performed. Look at 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, or even Avatar. Like 2001 and Moon, Gravity puts emphasis on the size of the universe and how small and alone a person can be compared to something that incomprehensibly huge. But unlike those films, Gravity rockets through with adrenaline and suspense at a speed to rival a Die Hard film. Constantly on the edge of your seat as one thing goes wrong after another, continuously putting the innocent astronauts in life threatening situations through no fault of their own. But it is not just the writing that makes this film, it is the way in which we, the viewer, get to experience it. We get put inside the helmet of Dr Stone on multiple occasions and see the disaster as she sees it. We spin with her and are made dizzy and delusional. We are essentially placed in the situation with her through a roller coaster like journey with the camera, enhanced brilliantly by Steven Prices score and the choice of soundtrack. This is a true success by Alfonso Cuarón and will go down in the books as an essential sci-fi.

An emotional, heart pumping, and suspenseful piece of cinema. What else do you expect from the director of Children of Men and the best film in the Harry Potter franchise (Prisoner of Azkaban)? Clooney and Bullock are phenomenal, and the film is a brilliant creation with 3D so perfectly utilised to create the depth of space and the minuscule nature of humans. A must see and one of the films of the year.

Best Bit? There are a lot of cracking moments but a moment that stood out was just after Stone had survived yet another life threatening challenge, she curled up into the foetal position whilst floating in an airlock with the sunlight shining brightly through the window behind her. Why did it stand out? It was the moment that said, this film is more than a sci-fi thriller, this is a story that contemplates life. This is the rebirth of someone who just escaped death. Complex stuff below surface level.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

English Pastures

Art is a word that gets bounced around a lot in the creative industries. Cinema is no exception. Of course, there will always be arguments over what actually constitutes 'art' and many will dispute items that are supposed to be 'art'. Well today we look at a film that has been labelled under this particular term, but what actually is it? This is A Field In England.

It's the English Civil War. An assistant to an alchemist, Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), clambers over/ through a bush to escape the prying eyes of his master. Further down the bush line, a man, Friend (Richard Glover), crawls through the growth only to collapse on the other side, the life leaving his body. A third solider, Cutler (Ryan Pope), appears and checks the lifeless body before running to try and help Whitehead. Finally, a fourth man, Jacob (Peter Ferdinando), a deserter, shows up, checks the dead body - who turns out to not be dead - and swears a lot. The four of them decide to head for an alehouse but along the way they pull a man through to the world with a piece of rope. The man is O'Neil (Michael Smiley), an Irish alchemist with great power and intent on finding a treasure in the field they are in. He utilises Whitehead's abilities in order to hunt and as they go along, the group have to perform some surreal tasks in order to get the treasure.

Some describe the film as a thriller.

With only a five man cast - well, pretty much - all of the performers need to give brilliant performances. Fortunately they do. In some ways, it is a wonderful achievement in writing as the characters on screen create a perfect balance of emotions and atmosphere between them - something that is especially difficult in the world of the abstract. Shearsmith's Whitehead is a level headed, intelligent man that is somewhat more accessible than the others. He questions the abnormal and objects to things he deems morally unsuitable. A point of view in which the audience can adapt to. Ferdinando and Glover's deserter characters bring comedy release to what is, on the large scale, a dark film. Glover's friend, particularly, is wonderfully entertaining with his slow nature and impeccable timing. His speech about his wife is a particular highlight of this. Ryan Pope, is the adaptable Cutler. He lures both the audience and the other deserters into a false sense of security, knowing of the darkness ahead, and yet he never seems to falter in charm or authority. Finally, Smiley's O'Neil is a horrible character. Powerful, charming, and yet completely detestable. Perhaps it is Shearsmith's likeability clashing with O'Neil's evil that emphasises how undesirable the character truly is but either way, nothing can be taken away from Smiley's dominating, engaging, and captivating performance.

Well, they look like a civil bunch.

There is something about A Field In England's production that is extremely interesting. Perhaps it is the actors standing in tableau at the beginning of important scenes or the long drawn out slow motion sequences, or the strobe like hallucinations, but there is definitely something that makes A Field In England truly unique. In a similar way, Ben Wheatley creates a haunting picture. The frantic editing contrasting with the slow scenes combined with a ominous score build an atmosphere of mystery and fear. The fear of the unknown is arguably the most universal of all fears. Wheatley immerses the audience and characters in this with hundreds of unanswered questions. However, it is important to note that the questions do not, in fact, need answers. We accept the reality that Wheatley presents us with, even if we do not understand it. The decision to shoot in black and white only adds to this world of maniacal magic within the fairy circle and really emphasises the hallucinogenic sequences. A truly spectacular exploration of the human mind in some respects, even if you do not truly follow what actually happens in the film.

An exciting and interesting piece of cinema. Some may call it art, some may not, but it is certainly an interesting film and one well worth a watch. It will definitely bend your mind and give your brain a good work out. It will, no doubt, make you feel highly uncomfortable at some points as well. Wheatley's world is not exclusive to on screen. Its presence fills the room you are in and chills you.

Best Bit? There are several exciting sequences. Some would say the tent scene, others would say the tug-of-war. I personally feel that The strobe scene was the most powerful. The most haunting, certainly, and a really intriguingly edited sequence that raises questions of deeper meaning within the film.