So I have something quite embarrassing and shameful to admit. Do you remember my 100 Top Films Challenge? Yeah, well, I didn't complete it by Christmas as I wanted to. Which is a little embarrassing for me. Despite this grievous oversight, I still love watching films, and really enjoyed the reviews I did for the challenge every week...so I thought: why not incorporate it into a weekly blog post? Seeing as I go to the cinema to watch new films every week anyway, I thought I could couple a review of a 'golden oldie' with one of a new film out at the moment - y'know, just for shits. So, along with Wish List Mondays and Tune Tape Tuesdays, I give you the first instalment of Film Fest Fridays - a new addition to LBeLB's weekly portfolio.
It would seem, quite unintentionally, that I have a theme for this week. It's racism. Now, before you (and I) shift uncomfortably in our seats, I will clarify that although it is a very real and serious issue, I personally will not be preaching about this matter (for the moment). Instead, I am simply going to examine the different aspects of racism as seen through the medium of film - three films, to be precise: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), American History X (1998), and Quentin Tarantino's new film Django: Unchained. I will say before I start the reviews, that I am neither black, nor American, and therefore although I recognise that racism is a very dark aspect to America's past (and I'm sure some will argue present), I can only sympathise - rather than empathise - with the issues presented by these three films. But before this becomes too serious a post; here are the first 3 reviews of Film Fest Friday. I hope you enjoy!
American History X (1998)
IMDB Score: 8.6/10
My Score: 7/10
Ok, on a side note before we begin...how ripped is Edward Norton in this film?! It's insane! Ahem. Alright. Let's start. For those who haven't seen it, American History X is a film about a legacy of Neo-Nazi's in LA - a legacy mainly created (or at least propelled) by the incarcerated character of Derek Vinyard. The film is set over the 24 hours after his release from jail, and centres around his younger brother, Danny - a skinheaded adolescent who personifies the festering legacy that his brother left behind. At the beginning of the film, we see Danny get into trouble at school for writing a favourable review of Hitler's Mein Kampf, and as punishment, is set an assignment by his African American English teacher to write an essay on his older brother. The rest of the film is told in a series of flashbacks, mainly focusing on the reason behind Derek's three-year incarceration, and his time in jail. While the film is compelling, and makes for uncomfortable - but necessary - viewing, I can't help but think that the issue of racism is only made 'serious' or 'poignant' by the brutal ending - by the death of a white boy (spoiler, sorry). We are left wondering if the reformed Derek, who, because of an enlightening experience in jail is made to rethink and repent his previous wrongdoings or misgivings, will return to his old ways because of this incident. Don't get me wrong, it is an incredible film, and does make you think - a lot - I just think that it could have been done in a less violent, or dramatic way. But that's my opinion. The film is shot almost completely in black and white - a reference, I am assuming, towards the racist natures of the characters. While a little obvious, it does make watching the film an altogether more serious and sombre affair. The scene that I found most interesting and compelling is the reasons behind Derek's racist beliefs, which stem from a conversation of his now-deceased father. It is a testament to how powerful the ill thought-out opinions or off-hand comments of a parental figure can be on an impressionable teenager, and the devastating effects that these can subsequently have on an entire family. The film definitely approaches the very real problem of racism in the late 20th (and probably 21st) century in a thought-provoking and direct manner, and, although I might disagree with the ending, it's a film that will stay with you forever, in an almost haunting way.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
IMDB Score: 8.5/10
My Score: 8/10
Set in a small town in the South during the 1940's, To Kill a Mockingbird is the film adaptation of Harper Lee's novel of the same name - based loosely on her experience growing up in a small town in Alabama. The film's plot centres around the lawyer Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck), who agrees to represent the African American (falsely) accused of beating and raping a white woman. Told pretty much through the eyes of the 6-year old Scout (Atticus's daughter) and her brother Jim, the film is an incredibly accurate account of what it would have been like growing up in a small southern town. Atticus Finch is an amazing character. He raises two children almost single-handedly, and has a resolutely fixed moral compass. In this film, childhood innocence is juxtaposed with adult racism. In many ways, although the kids get up to all sorts of hijinks (spying on 'mad' neighbours, rolling down the street in tyres), it is the adults' behaviour that is far more damaging. This juxtaposition is most clearly brought to light when the children follow their father to the town's jailhouse, where he is is keeping watch over his defendant. Atticus, sitting outside the barred windows almost like a guard dog, is suddenly set upon by a large group of angry men with guns, demanding to get a shot at Tom Robinson - the African American charged with rape. The men are only snapped out of their bloodthirsty rage by the innocent words of Scout - unaware of what the true situation is. The film not only touches upon post-slavery racism, but also attitudes towards those who are mentally ill. In the beginning title sequence of the film (which looks pretty damn modern), we see the hands of a child playing with a number of toys - items which, we later find out, are deposited in a tree for the children by the local 'crazy' - Arthur 'Boo' Radley. I'm sure you could read a lot into the character of Boo Radley - how he is essentially a child in an adults body and therefore, combining both innocence, a moral compass and physical strength, is the most noble...but I think that might be a bit too 'film studies' for now. However, it's an interesting point that it's also shot completely in black and white. This has nothing to do with the age of the film - Breakfast at Tiffany's was shot only a year later and that was in colour - it's simply to highlight the issues addressed. While personally I think the film becomes somewhat lacklustre after the trial of Tom Robinson, it's an incredibly powerful and moving piece of cinema, that still strikes a chord in today's society. As Atticus Finch says: "you can never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...'til you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
Django: Unchained (in cinemas January 18th)
IMDB Score: 8.7/10
My Score: 8.7/10
So I was lucky enough to attend an - ahem - 'private screening' of this film, which isn't out in the UK until next week. Ever since I saw the trailer, I've been itching to see this film - and let me tell you, it doesn't disappoint. The title sequence, reminiscent of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, uses an Ennio Morricone-esque theme tune to pan across slaves following men on horseback through the desolate, rocky landscape of what can only be the Wild West. From the start, it feels like you are watching the love child of Tarrantino and Sergio Leone (the director of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). A very violent, very old-school-western-feeling love child. Which is pretty much amazing. Set in 1858 (two years before the Civil War), the film centres around three main characters: a former slave "the D is silent" Django, the man who freed him (Dr Schultz), and the bastard who owns Django's wife: Calvin Candie of 'Candieland' - the biggest plantation in Mississippi. However, all characters surrounding these three are woefully stereotypical: idiotic white southern slaveowners, baddies with eyepatches over their eyes/scars across their faces, black women who sound as if they should be saying "lemme holla atchu, guuurlfriend", but the central trio are so brilliantly good, you almost don't care what anyone else is doing. Django, who dresses like a Steampunk Clint Eastwood for most of the film, is not like any 19th century slave (freed or otherwise) that you've seen before. He's a gun-toting, horse-riding, epic one-liner-ing badass, (muuufucka!). Schultz, a german former dentist-turned-bounty-hunter (you couldn't make it up...but they did), comes a close second to favourite. He undoubtably has the most consistently fantastic script and manner throughout the film. Whilst not a comedy, the film does have it's funny moments; notably a particularly amusing exchange in a gang of Ku Klux Klan members (containing a cameo-Jonah Hill), complaining in deep Southern drawls how they can't see anything out of the eyeholes in their pillowcases. Obviously, it being a Tarantino movie, the film contains a lot of violence (if you are particularly squeamish I would suggest looking away when the 'Mandingo Fighting' happens) - and not one, but TWO shootouts near the end; the first played out to the awesome tune of Unchained (The Payback/Untouchable) by Jamie Foxx and 2Pac. On that note (pardon the pun, har har), the whole soundtrack is amazing, and I would seriously recommend you download it (legally, if you please, from iTunes here). Much applause should be awarded to Tarantino, who not only has made an incredible film, but also managed to make Leonardo DiCaprio look entirely repulsive. Well done Sir.