Sunday, 31 July 2011

Harold and Maude

Year: 1971
Director: Hal Ashby
Screenplay: Colin Higgins
Starring: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner
Running Time: 91 minutes
Genre: Comedy, romance

Screenplay: 20 year old Harold Chasen (Cort) lives with his very wealthy but overbearing mother (Pickles). Harold is obsessed with death, drives a hearse and his favourite pastimes are staging elaborate faked suicides and going to funerals, even those of complete strangers. At one of these funerals he meets 79 year old Maude Chardin (Gordon) who shares his hobby of attending funerals. Maude however is a fun-loving free spirit who is dedicated to living life to it's fullest and always strives to "try something new every day".
Under pressure from his mother to visit a psychiatrist (G. Wood), join the Army or get married, to which end she sets Harold up with a succession of blind dates, Harold develops a strong bond with Maude which quickly blossoms into romance.

Opinions: Originally conceived by screenwriter Colin Higgins as a twenty minute student film, this film was not particularly successful on it's initial release, but has more recently become regarded as a cult classic. In a way it's a movie ahead of it's time, and is kind of a forerunner of the hip, offbeat indie comedies of Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman. However, it is very much a product of it's time, contrasting the nihilism of the Vietnam Genration with the hard-won optimism of those who had lived through the horrors of World War II (Maude is a concentration camp survivor).
The film is well performed with Bud Cort impressive as the morbid Harold and Ruth Gordon walking away with the whole movie as the eccentric Maude. Vivian Pickles is hilarious as Harold's super-snob mother. Charles Tyner also provides a memorable appearance as Harold's gung-ho military uncle.
This is a genuinely warm-hearted and tender film which, for all it's eccentricities, celebrates human nature with all it's flaws and virtues. It is also very funny with numerous laugh out loud sequences, although a lot of the humour is of a very dark variety. It also features a great soundtrack from Cat Stevens.

"A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can."
- Maude (Ruth Gordon) in Harold and Maude

Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are Harold and Maude

Saturday, 30 July 2011


Year: 2002
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin, Cherry Jones, M. Night Shyamalan
Genre: Science-fiction, thriller, drama
Running Time: 107 minutes

Summary: Former preacher Graham Hess (Gibson) lost his faith when his wife died in a car accident, and now works as a farmer a few miles outside Pittsburgh with his younger brother, former minor league baseball player Merrill (Phoenix), and Graham's two young children Morgan (Culkin) and Bo (Breslin).
Waking after a night disturbed by strange noises, the Hess family are shocked to find a large crop circle design in their corn field. Initially putting it down to local pranksters, the family soon discover that there have been reports flooding in from around the world of an unusually high number of crop circles appearing in a brief space of time.
Speculation is rife as to what caused the crop circles, some believing it to be an elaborate publicity stunt, some claiming it is a widespread hoax and others claiming that it marks the end of the world.
Morgan becomes fascinated with a book he buys about UFOs and extra terrestrials. The news reports on the television and radio become increasingly disturbing as strange lights are seen in the sky near the circles and video footage of briefly glimpsed strange creatures surface on the news. It soon becomes apparent that a full-scale alien invasion is under way, and the Hess family are among their targets.

Opinions: M. Night Shyamalan has had an interesting, if very uneaven career. From the highly successful and critically adored The Sixth Sense (1999) to the critically panned The Last Airbender (2010). Shyamalan is at his best when he is dealing with regular people pitted against otherworldly events. This film really has him doing what he does best, and provides an imaginative ground zero view of an alien invasion.
Unlike most films of this type there are no flashy spaceship effects or spectacular battles, or even ray-guns zapping everything in sight. The spaceships are seen briefly in TV news footage and then are basically lights in the sky. The aliens are barely glimpsed throughout the whole movie, and are usually depicted as just noises in the house.
The film features an impressively subdued turn from Mel Gibson as a tormented former preacher who is still stricken with grief and bitterness over the untimely death of his wife. Joaquin Phoenix is also good as the younger brother, who seems to be treated more like an employee than a family member. As the two kids, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin both provide powerful and affecting performances.
The movie does have it's problems, most notably a ludicrous final revelation about the aliens, although that really comes too late in the day to spoil anything. Also the elements of family drama and alien invasion movie, as well as the film's surprising religious overtones, don't always gel. At times it comes across as a fusion of Ingmar Bergman and Steven Spielberg.
However, this is an intriguing and fascinating film and a cut above most alien invasion movies.

"See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Do you believe that there are no conicidences?"
- Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) philosophises in Signs.

Rory Culkin, Joaquin Phoenix, Mel Gibson and Abigail Breslin watch for Signs

Friday, 29 July 2011

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Year: 1954
Director: Jack Arnold
Screenplay: Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross, from a story by Maurice Zimm
Starring: Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno
Running Time: 79 minutes
Genre: Horror, science-fiction, monster movie

Summary: A geology expedition in the Amazon rainforest discover a fossilized humanoid hand with webbed fingers. The expedition leader, Doctor Carl Maia (Moreno), believes that hand represents a hitherto undiscovered link in the development of sea animals to land animals and contacts his friend, Doctor David Reed (Carlson), an icthyologist working for a marine biology institute, to join him on an expedition into the Amazon to find the remainder of the skeleton.
Reed persuades the institute's publicity hungry financial backer, Doctor Mark Williams (Denning), to fund the expedition. Travelling on a ramshackle tramp steamer called the Rita, captained by the crusty Lucas (Nestor Paiva), the expedition heads down the Amazon. In addition to Maia, Reed and Williams, the expedition consists of Reed's girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Adams) and another scientist, Doctor Thompson (Whit Bissell).
Arriving at Maia's expedition's camp, they find that the members of his team have been savagely killed. Lucas suggests that a jaguar was responsible, however the others are unsure. After an unsuccessful excavation of the site where the fossilised hand was discovered, Maia suggests that the skeleton may have been washed downriver. Lucas tells them about a secluded lagoon, known as the "Black Lagoon", which is described as a paradise on Earth, although no-one has ever returned from it.
They travel to the lagoon, where they soon discover that one of the species that the fossilised hand came from is still very much alive, an amphibious humanoid "Gill-man", which has no intention of allowing the expedition to return alive.

Opinions: This was one of the last of the classic "Universal Monsters" movies, and one of the few which was not based on a classic novel or story. In fact the origin of the film is reputed to go back to when producer and actor William Alland attended a dinner party at Orson Welles' house in 1941 while he was shooting Citizen Kane, in which Alland had an acting role, and a fellow guest told him about a legendary race of half-fish, half-human creatures dwelling in the Amazon.
The creature of the title, the "Gill-man" (who was played by Ben Chapman on land, and by Ricou Browning in the underwater scenes), has become a horror movie icon and despite being very obviously a man in a suit, the design is still striking. Unusually, the creature is largely sympathetic. It rarely attacks unless provoked and of course the humans are invading it's territory, not the other way around.
The film's production design is impressive, and the action moves at a brisk pace. The film features a sequence which has become iconic, where Julia Adams is swimming in the lagoon and below her, the Gill-man swims, mirroring her movements, in a sequence which is almost like a seduction, and is really about as suggestive as movies got in 1954. Even today, the scene has a kind of eerie sexyness.
The acting is kind of bland and the characters tend to be stock figures, also the story-line is a fairly conventional monster movie, however the pluses far outweigh the minuses and this is a classic of it's genre.
The film was originally released in 3D and was followed by two sequels: Revenge of the Creature (1955), which is only notable for featuring Clint Eastwood in his first screen role, and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).
The inevitable remake has been planned and rumoured since the early 1980s and is currently planned to swim onto our screens in 2013.

"I can tell you something about this place. The boys around here call it "The Black Lagoon"; a paradise. Only they say nobody has ever come back to prove it."
- Lucas (Nestor Paiva) in Creature from the Black Lagoon

The Gill-man surfaces in Creature from the Black Lagoon

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Year: 1951
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Edmund H. North, based on the short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates
Starring: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Billy Gray, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Frances Bavier
Running Time: 92 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction

Summary: An alien spacecraft lands in the middle of Washington D.C. It's occupants are the humanoid Klaatu (Rennie) and large robot Gort (Lock Martin). Upon producing a strange looking device, Klaatu is shot and wounded by a nervous soldier. It turns out that the device was not a weapon but an interstellar communicator, intended as a gift for the President.
In hospital Klaatu tries to impress upon his official visitors that he has an urgent message to deliver to all the people of the Earth. However, they refuse to listen to him. Klaatu escapes, hoping to familiarise himself with Earth's people and customs. He moves into a small boarding house where he befriends widow Helen Benson (Neal) and her young son Bobby (Gray).
While Gort and the spacecraft stand immobile, resistant to any attempts at destruction or study, Klaatu finds himself the subject of a nationwide manhunt and desperate to find a way to make the people of the Earth listen to his urgent warning before the human race suffers complete annhiliation.

Opinions: This film is one of the classic science-fiction films and is one of the most influential of it's type ever made. Released during the Cold War period, this film is notable for it's fierce denunciation of militarism and paranoia. In this film the alien is not hostile, but benevolent, however he is treated with nothing but aggression from humanity.
The acting is impressive by all concerned, with Rennie in particular striking as the noble Klaatu.
A powerful and serious-minded film this has stood the test of time much better than many of other films of the period, and in many ways is still as pertinent now as it was when it was released. Many of the images and lines of the film have passed into cinema folklore.
The film has quite strong religious symbolism, which at times is hammered home a little too strongly.
This is essential viewing not just for science-fiction fans but for anyone seriously interested in cinema.
The film was remade in 2008.

"Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!"
-Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) in The Day the Earth Stood Still

Lock Martin, Patricia Neal and Michael Rennie in The Day the Earth Stood Still

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Fire in the Sky

Year: 1993
Director: Robert Lieberman
Screenplay: Tracy Torme, based on the book The Walton Experience by Travis Walton
Starring: D. B. Sweeney, Robert Patrick, James Garner, Craig Sheffer, Peter Berg, Henry Thomas
Running Time: 109 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, mystery, drama

Summary: In 1975, a group of loggers are working in the White Mountains area of Arizona, near the small town of Snowflake. As they make their way home the men notice a strange large, glowing object, floating beside the road. One of the group, Travis Walton (Sweeney) leaves the truck to investigate, and is struck and knocked out by a beam of light. The other drive off in a panic, believing Walton to be dead. When the group's leader, and Walton's best friend, Mike Rogers (Patrick) returns to the site to find him, he discovers that Walton has vanished.
Naturally, no-one believes their story and the general opinion is that the group murdered Walton, and suspicious Lieutenant Frank Watters (Garner), in particular, is keen to see the men behind bars, especially Allan Dallis (Sheffer) a drifter with a violent criminal record who was working with the group and was known to dislike Walton.
As the pressure on the group mounts from both the police and the community the story becomes a media sensation. A sensation which only intensifies when a deeply traumatised Walton turns up after five days, naked and with apparently no memory of what happened to him while he was missing.

Opinions: This film is based on the true story of Travis Walton who was allegedly abducted by a UFO in 1975. The Walton case is one of the most famous in the annals of ufology, mainly due to the fact that the abduction itself had several witnesses and that Walton was missing for several days.
The film is interesting in the fact that the UFO and alien scenes are mostly downplayed with much of the running time focusing on the impact of the events on Walton's friends and family and the police and media investigations. The most notable aspect of the film are the nightmarish sequences aboard the alien spacecraft, which differ wildly from Walton's account (Tracy Torme, the film's screenwriter, claimed that the studio executives found Walton's account boring and insisted on the changes). The spacecraft sequences are genuinely imaginative and disturbing and have made the film something of a cult movie among science-fiction fans.
The film is well cast with familiar, solid character actors. The film would probably have been more successful if it had been released a couple of years later to tie in with the increased interest in alien phenomenon caused by the success of the TV series The X-Files (1993-2002).
Whether you believe Travis Walton's account or not, or even believe in alien abduction or not, the blend of science-fiction and police procedural should help the film appeal to more than science-fiction fans.

"They took him."
- Mike Rogers (Robert Patrick) explains the situation in Fire in the Sky

Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) in Fire in the Sky

Friday, 22 July 2011

Whatever Works

Year: 2009
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Henry Cavill, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McKean
Running Time: 92 minutes
Genre: Comedy, romance

Summary: New York City: Boris Yelnikoff (David) is a misanthropic, hypochondriac chess teacher and one time professor of quantum physics. Hating the universe and pretty much everything in it, Boris has little regard for human weakness, but regards himself as a towering genius, frequently pointing out that he was almost nominated for a Nobel Prize. He avoids human contact as much as possible and his rudeness and constant criticisms manage to alienate everyone he comes into contact with. He is also given to long, angry rants about anyhting and everything, which he delivers to anyone who will listen (including the audience).
One night he comes across Melodie St. Anne Celestine (Wood), a 21 year old runaway from Mississipi, who is friendly, unfailingly cheerful and positive, and not particularly bright. Grudgingly, Boris allows her to stay in his flat, and as his attitude towards her gradually begins to thaw, the two fall for each other and eventually get married.
One year later, Marietta (Clarkson), Melodie's devoutly religious and strongly traditional mother, arrives and she and Boris hate each other instantly. Before too long the situation becomes more complex.

Opinions: This film marks Allen's return to New York City after shooting four films in Europe, and also marks a return to the type of comedy that made his name. Allen originally wrote the film in the late 1970s for Zero Mostel to star in, but shelved it after the actor's death. Allen claimed that the only changes he made to the script were to update the topical references.
In the lead role is Larry David, best known as the co-creator of smash hit sitcom Seinfeld (1992 - 1998) and as the writer and star of semi-improvised cult sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 - ongoing). Here he plays the typical Woody Allen-esque leading man: Neurotic, wisecracking, New York intellectual. It is a perfect match for Larry David's own comedy persona. Evan Rachel Wood complements him well as the adorable, ditzy Melodie. Even though it is kind of diffuclt to see exactly what she sees in the patronising and rude grumpy old man.
The movie is very typical Allen, and will probably please his fans, and is funny and engaging enough to appeal to non-fans as well. The film starts slowly, and the film does feel padded in places, also some of the situations feel quite contrived, but it is entertaining. It features a running joke where Boris addresses the audience directly, much to the puzzlement of the other characters who apparently can't see the audience and believe that Boris is talking to himself.

"Love, despite what they tell you, does not conquer all, nor does it even usually last. In the end, the romantic aspirations of our youth are reduced to, whatever works."
-Boris Yelnikoff (Larry David) in Whatever Works

Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood in Whatever Works

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Amityville Horror

Year: 1979
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Screenplay: Sandor Stern, based on the book The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Don Stroud, Murray Hamilton
Running Time: 117 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural

Summary: Amityville, Long Island, 1974: A young man brutally kills his parents and his siblings in a large house by the river.
A year later, George Lutz (Brolin) and his new wife Kathy (Kidder) buy the house, attracted by the low price. They move in with Kathy's three children and start trying to settle down, however they soon become plagued by a variety of bizarre occurances: An upstairs room is infested with flies, black goo oozes out of the toilets, objects mysteriously go missing, certain people become nauseous or overcome with fear in the house or even when they get near it, the family dog is forever scratching at a certain patch of wall in the basement, glowing eyes are seen from the windows in the middle of the night, the youngest daughter (Natasha Ryan) makes an imaginary friend who may be real, and George starts to undergo disturbing changes in personality.
After a disturbing experience in the house, the Lutz family priest Father Delaney (Steiger), becomes convinced that there are demonic forces at work in the house.

Opinions: This film was based on a best-selling horror novel by Jay Anson which detailed the allegedly real-life experiences of a family living in a haunted house. The book's claims to be factual made it very controversial in it's day, and the debate is still ongoing.
Whether or not the film is based on real events isn't really the issue, however. The movie is a fairly turgid spook house ride which goes through all the motions of a traditional haunted house story. The film is badly paced and full of stretches where nothing really happens. In the last half hour or so there is some tension generated, but it's all gone by the frankly ridiculous ending. It never really strikes to life and never manages to generate either scares or any real excitement. On the plus side James Brolin and Margot Kidder both turn in very good performances and when the film does work it is generally down to them. Rod Steiger carbes out massive slices of ham for himself overacting so wildly as the family priest that you can almost see the teethmarks in the scenery.
Possibly the most interesting aspect of the film is the emphasis on the financial consequences of the ghostly goings-on. Stephen King, who discusses the film at length in his 1982 non-fiction book Danse Macabre suggests that part of the reason for the enormous success of the film was the way it tapped into very real economic concerns of the time. I certainly think that he has a point with that. The characters frequently discuss money and business, and in one scene Kathy's brother, who looks all of about 15, is getting married and they lose a large sum of money which they need to pay the caterer's and George practically goes beserk trying to find it, practically tearing the room apart and screaming. As he puts it early in the film "this house'll nickel-and-dime us to death".
At it's core though it is a very traditional haunted house story which could, with very few changes to the plot, be a campfire ghost story, and the Amityville hauntings have already entered modern American folklore. Whatever the reason, for all it's flaws, the film was one of the biggest box office hits of 1979 and spawned to dateseven sequels, and itself was remade in 2005.

"I am not some pink-cheeked seminarian who doesn't know the difference between the supernatural and a bad clam! I am a trained psychotherpaist! I wnet into that house and what I saw there was real, what I felt there was real and what I heard there was real! Now, gentlemen, I have a family in my parish that's at great risk! They're facing real danger."
- Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) staes his case in The Amityville Horror

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityville Horror

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wayne's World 2

Year: 1993
Director: Stephen Surjik
Screenplay: Mike Myers, Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner
Starring: Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Tia Carrere, Christopher Walken, Kim Basinger
Running Time: 95 minutes
Genre: Comedy

Summary: Aurora, Illinois: Wayne Campbell (Myers) hosts a local public-access TV show called Wayne's World with his best friend Garth Elgar (Carvey). Aside from his TV show, Wayne's main interests in life are his girlfriend Cassandra (Carrere) and heavy rock music. However he feels like his life lacks direction. One night, Wayne has a mystical dream where he encounters rock legend Jim Morrison (Michael A. Nickels) in the desert, who convinces Wayne to put on an open-air rock concert.
As the arrangements progress for the concert, which Wayne dubs "Waynestock" (after Woodstock), he discovers that Cassandra, who is the lead singer in a band, is being lured away to Los Angeles by her sleazy producer Bobby Cahn (Walken), who has a more than professional interest in her.
Meanwhile Garth meets an alluring woman (Basinger) who ropes him into a passionate relationship but is quickly revealed to have ulterior motives

Opinions: This movie is the sequel to the original Wayne's World (1992) which was in turn based on a series of short sketches on the comedy TV series Saturday Night Live. The movie uses the kind of scattershot comedy style where there are so many jokes thrown at the audience that even when some fall flat there are bound to be enough that stick enough to keep the laughs coming at a good rate. The frequent jokes about rock music from the sixties through to the eighties might go over the heads of some younger viewers, and also there are quite a few flat sections of the film, it is certainly not as consistently entertaining as the original. However, Wayne and Garth themselves are pretty much impossible to dislike and the movie is consistently engaging.
The cast all perform their parts well, and there is a lot of fun to be had from spotting the celebrity cameos, such as Drew Barrymore, Charlton Heston (as a "Good Actor") and the rock band Aerosmith.
While not as good as the original, this is still a fun film which provides plenty of laughs.

"Sleeping like this will add ten years to your life. I learned it from Keith Richards when I toured with the Stones. This may be the reason why Keith cannot be killed by conventional weapons."
- Roadie Del Preston (Ralph Brown) explains why he sleeps upside down in Wayne's World 2

Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in Wayne's World 2

Saturday, 9 July 2011


Year: 2010
Director: James Gunn
Screenplay: James Gunn
Starring: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion, Andre Royo
Running Time: 96 minutes
Genre: Superhero, action, comedy, drama

Summary: Diner cook Frank D'Arbo (Wilson) has had two perfect moments in his otherwise miserable life: One was marrying recovering addict Sarah (Tyler), and the other was pointing a policeman in the direction of a fleeing purse-snatcher. When Sarah leaves him for sleazy local drug pusher Jock (Bacon), Frank falls into despair. After becoming fascinated by a TV show about a religious superhero called The Holy Avenger (Fillion), Frank experiences a divine vision in which God touches his brain. Inspired by this Frank puts together a home-made costume and sets out to fight crime as The Crimson Bolt. His favourite method is to hit criminals on the head with a pipe wrench. However, as well as drug pushers and child molestors, he also attacks people who happen to push ahead of him at the movies. Frank's activities attract the attention of excitable comic-book store clerk Libby (Page) who becomes his sidekick, Boltie. However it turns out that she is even more violent than Frank is.

Opinions: Let's get the obvious thing out of the way first: With it's concept of an ordinary person becoming a superhero despite having no powers or real abilities is bound to be compared to Kick Ass (2010) which was released a year earlier and has a very similar theme. In fact in both plot and style the films are very different. Super is a darker film, and more ambiguous. Frank D'Arbo is pretty obviously unhinged right from the start, while Dave Lizewski (the protagonist of Kick Ass) is basically a guy who has read a few too many comic-books.
The film is basically a dark comedy but there are several genuinely disturbing violent scenes which pull the laughs up short. The scene where Frank almost beats together a guy and a girl for cutting in line at the movies is really disturbing because it is both funny and very shocking.
As the intense, deranged but starngely likeable oddball at the centre of the film Rainn Wilson does a brilliant job with a character who is not too far removed from his most famous role as Dwight Schrute in the US version of The Office. The scene where he breaks down into a self-hating rant is a superb performance. Ellen Page, however, comes close to stealing the film as the psychotic comic-book store clerk and superhero fan who sees in Frank the chance to live out her fantasies. She also has a genuinely creepy seduction scene. By the way, this movie convinced me that if they ever make a movie of the X23 comic-book Ellen Page would be perfect for the lead role.
This movie is bound to be a big cult movie in years to come. Some audiences will probably be put off by the uneasy tone, shifting from laugh out loud comedy to intense violence, and some may find the lead characters difficult to warm to, but for superhero fans looking for something edgier this is a must-see.
I enjoyed the hell out of it.

"Actually, the guys kinda got a point. I mean, I wonder all the time why no-one's never just stood up and become a real superhero."
- Libby (Ellen Page) in Super

"Shut up, crime!": Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson in Super

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Winter Light

Year: 1962
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max von Sydow, Gunnel Lindblom
Running Time: 81 minutes
Genre: Drama

Summary: In a small Swedish town, Tomas Ericsson (Bjornstrand) is the local pastor. However, he has almost completely lost his faith, and merely goes through the motions of his profession. Atheist schoolteacher Marta (Thulin) loves him, however Tomas treats her with complete indifference or downright hostility. When one of his parishoners, fisherman Jonas (Sydow) comes to him for help due to his overwhelming fear of nuclear war, Tomas tries to help him, and offer some words of comfort. However, immediately after leaving him, Jonas kills himself, which causes Tomas to sink even further into existential depsair.

Opinons: This film (also sometimes known as The Communicants) is widely considered the middle part of director Ingmar Bergman's "Trilogy of Faith" which began with Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and concluded with The Silence (1963), which deal with spiritual matters, in particular the "silence of God" which was a recurring theme in Bergman's work. Bergman wrote "These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly - conquered certainty. Winter Light - penetrated certainty. The Silence - God's silence - the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy."
This is one of Bergman's most autobiographical and personal films. He claimed that he "only realised who he really was" and came to terms with himself through the making of this film. Bergman's father was a pastor similar to the one in the film and Bergman struggled deeply with religious questions.
It tends to be one of Bergman's most overlooked films, which may be due to the film's frustratingly elliptical structure as well as the sheer bleakness and misery of it. Through a Glass Darkly offered a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel, but there is no such glimmer here.
The film is beautiful to look at, photographed in luminous monochrome by regular Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and features some startling performances from all concerned. Bjornstrand gives a haunted performance as a tormented man who has lost all belief and faith in his vocation, and is merley clocking in every day and going through the motions like a bored and disillusioned office worker, unfortunately his job is to console others at their lowest points, and there is nothing to console him. The one glimmer of hope offered to him, the love of Ingrid Thulin's Marta, he angrily rejects at every turn. Thulin turns in an intense perfomance and her heart-rending long monologue delivered staright to camera is genuinely uncomfortable to watch.
This is a bleak and merciless drama, which is definitely worth checking out, although definitely not if you're in the mood for some cheering up. You'll also probably want to stay away from sharp objects for an hour or two after you've seen it.

"Surely that must have been his greatest hardship? God's silence."
- Algot Frovik (Allan Edwall) in Winter Light

Gunnar Bjornstrand and Ingrid Thulin in Winter Light

Through a Glass Darkly

Year: 1961
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max von Sydow, Lars Passgard
Running Time: 89 minutes
Genre: Drama

Summary: A family of four spend their summer vacation on a remote island. Karin (Andersson) suffers from schizophrenia and has recently come out of a mental hospital. Her loving husband, Martin (Sydow) is unable to understand what is happening to her. Her father, David (Bjornstrand), a second-rate but successful novelist, is more wrapped up in his own problems. Her emotional seventeen year old brother Minus (Passgard) is the only one Karin can confide in, and he is severely out of his depth.
Sneaking a look at her father's diary, Karin discovers that her condition is incurable and that David, while sympathetic, is interested in studying the effects of the illness on her as it worsens. Feeling isolated from bother her husband and her father, and racked with guilt about her increasingly disturnbing closeness to Minus, Karin's mental state quickly deteriorates and her hallucinations become increasingly severe, as her grip on reality begins to shatter.

Opinions: This is the first of Bergman's loose "Faith Trilogy" which continued with Winter Light (1962) and concluded with The Silence (1963). This bleak and austere drama helped to seal Bergman's reputation as the master of Scandinavian gloom. However there is humour there and also some of the frequently overlooked warmth that was often present in Bergman.
Shot on the Swedish island of Faro, this is beautifully photgraphed in crisp black and white by regular Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist and features some superb perfomances from it's small cast (there are only four characters in the entire film) most of whom were also Bergman regulars. Harriet Andersson especially delivers a stunning perfomance in the lead role.
The film's downbeat nature certainly won't appeal to all viewers, but it is a must see for Bergman fans and is worth seeing anyway as a major work from one of the masters of cinema. Also despite the gloom it concludes with a faint glimmer of optimism. it is fair to say that you probably won't have a lot of fun with this film, but then it is not intended as entertainment, it is a piece of art.
The title refers to a passage in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) which states that while we are alive we see God and God's plans as "through a glass, darkly" but it will all become clear after we die.

"It's so horrible to see your own confusion and understand it."
- Karin (Harriet Andersson) in Through a Glass Darkly

Max von Sydow, Harriet Andersson and Gunnar Bjornstrand in Through a Glass Darkly

Saturday, 2 July 2011

John Constantine, Hellblazer: The Gift

Written by: Mike Carey, illustrated by Leonardo Manco and Frazer Irving
Year of Publication: 2007, originally published as John Constantine: Hellblazer issues 207 to 215 in 2005 and 2006
Number of Pages: 221 pages
Genre: Grpahic novel, horror, supernatural

Summary: Following a battle with his three demonic offspring, occultist John Constantine is left with most of his friends dead and his sister Cheryl murdered and her soul damned to Hell.
The only solution is for Constantine to make the perilous journey into Hell himself to rescue his sister. However, his only guide is the treacherous demon, Nergal, whose blood Constantine once accepted into his veins. Along the way, Constantine encounters enemies both old and new and quickly discovers that there is far more going on then he could have suspected. As Constantine is pitted against some of the oldest and darkest forces of Hell he is forced to relive painful moments from his past and cofnront the terrible price that must be paid for his powers.

Opinions: This graphic novel contains the final nine issues of Mike Carey's work on the monthly Hellblazer comic book. The book is a powerful piece of urban horror taking the charismatic, chain-smoking "urban mage" and con-man antihero John Constantine into some of his darkest places yet. It collects three linked stories from the series which all follow on from each other, the six part "Down in the Ground, Where the Dead Men Go", the one issue "The Gift", and the two part "R.S.V.P.".
Blending gritty urban reality with startling supernatural horror, this collection is an example of Hellblazer it's best.
This is a must read for fans telling a gripping and disturbing narrative with some powerfully evocative artwork, however it is not recommended for newcomers to the Hellblazer universe, due to it's multiple references to earlier stories and the fact that it is a direct continuation of the previous collection Reasons to be Cheerful.
It also contains probably the bleakest depictions of magic that you are ever likely to find.

"My talents for lying. For sticking the knife in when people least expect it. Then walking away with a smile and a wave before they realise they're bleeding."
- John Constnatine, Hellblazer: The Gift