‘Building survey! This building is not up to code!’ – King Kong
The Lego Batman Movie is the second entry in Hollywood’s latest blockbuster franchise. This time we follow the life of the ‘break out’ star of 2014’s The Lego Movie, Batman. Whilst this is an at times hilarious and very enjoyable film, it doesn’t quite live up to the same quality as its predecessor, suggesting Warner Bros. will continue to earn diminishing returns on each release.
That said, it provides a welcomed break from the dark and dreary tone set by every DC comics film since Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Part of the appeal in the run up to cinematic release was the anticipation towards the more light-hearted superhero adventures of old. Warner Bros. gave us not only that but enough references subtle or otherwise to suggest the film is targeted to adults more than kids. The onslaught of pop culture jokes about films or tv shows too old for them to understand further implies this. Do not fret though, there is enough slapstick comedy to keep young children sufficiently entertained.
The biggest strength of this film is sadly also one of its biggest weakness. During the first act there are so many references and jokes that you can’t finish laughing at one before the next one comes along. After a while I just became numb, with each new joke getting acknowledgement but no audible reaction. A lot of this can be attributed to the target demographics: older adults, younger adults and children. It seems the writers added an entire films worth of jokes to please each, causing it to feel over-saturated and chaotic as the humour jumps backwards and forwards between each.
Chaos was not limited to the humour, appearing in other areas such as the on-screen action. The 129 minute runtime is by no means too long but it was simply exhausting. The animation maintained the same high standard and was accompanied by a pleasant colour palette that used an abundance of deep reds but the relentless nature of the film caused it to be visually offensive.
Another major issue was pacing. The first act is rapid, introducing lots of characters and lots of backstory for Batman and the DC Universe (including a phenomenal Michael Cera as Robin). By contrast the second act slows down dramatically, falling flat as they explore Batman’s loneliness and his reluctance to accept others into his life. A storyline that would be exposed as incredibly thin if the thick layer of jokes was removed. As we move into the final act, the pace returns to its initial state but this just highlights the inconsistency.
The next feature in the franchise will be The Lego Ninjago Movie, the second spin-off and the first based on original Lego sets. It will be very interesting to see whether the momentum will be maintained, especially given the multiple addition spin-offs and sequels already green-lit. Let’s just hope that there are no missing pieces.
Park Chan-wook’s sumptuous take on Sarah Waters’ award-winning novel Fingersmith
When reading other critics reviews of ‘The Handmaiden’, I was surprised to see how some thought the erotic scenes involving the two lead actresses were sexist. Lena Wilson (The Radical Notion) wrote ‘I think it’s time for non-lesbian/bi female creators to stop interpreting lesbian texts however they please’, calling it ‘uniquely troublesome’. I believe that she, along with all others, misunderstand the role eroticism plays in the film.
At the very beginning, men are very much portrayed as dominant. Strong characters who would not hesitate in using violence to keep their wives or daughters in line. The women, in keeping with the time period, are obedient, doing only what is expected of them. Therefore the sexual scenes involving Lady Hideko and her handmaiden follow the same rules. They succumb to their desires, too weak to control themselves.
But over the course of the whirlwind 167 minute runtime the roles change drastically. Behind man’s powerful facade lies fatal single mindedness. For some this is money, for others it is a sexual desire so deep-rooted it becomes perverse, shown most prominently during Lady Hideko’s readings. As this desire starts to unravel their rule, women rise to take over with this change encompassing the sex scenes too. Vulnerability is now replaced with righteousness.
It is important to note that there is not one scene that involved the naked body of a male (although there are a few male bodily organs in Uncle Kouzuki’s basement). Their lustful pursuit ultimately causes their downfall, becoming blinded to what occurs around them. In short, the men in ‘The Handmaiden’ are too weak to be seen in their purest form. Nudity is not cheap or meaningless here, quite the opposite.
This is but one example of something the film truly excels at, showing the same scene in dramatically different ways. Director and cowriter Park Chan-wook achieves this commandingly through the use of a non-linear storyline and by alternating the perspective between each of the major characters. In recent years this style of storytelling in film has become few and far between with Memento (2000) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) the only notable examples in the 21st century.
Perhaps seen as an unnecessary risk by filmmakers and producers, it uses the patience of the audience to bring multiple stories together, as well as giving us the ability to emphasise with each character, hero or villain. When implanted well, it can result in some of the greatest films of all time, such as ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001) and ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994). Can ‘The Handmaiden’ hold a candle to those? I absolutely believe so.
The majority of the film takes place within Uncle Kouzuki’s mansion and its grounds. Cinematographer and long-time collaborator Chung Chung-Hoon does an incredible job at bringing the setting to life with every frame looking visually stunning. Similarly as beautiful were the three lead actors/actresses Kim Min-hee, Kim Tae-ri and Ha Jung-woo, who are constantly adorned in elegant and luxurious clothing. The riches of the Japanese Kouzuki is often juxtaposed with the poorness of the Koreans, whose country his is occupying. All three, along with the various supporting characters, give phenomenal performances, with no single person outshining the rest.
Park once again turned to another collaborator Jo Yeong-wook for the soundtrack, having worked together on such films as ‘Oldboy’ (2003) and ‘Thirst’ (2009). Something I found particularly interesting about this fantastic soundtrack is that the main theme, contained in the track ‘My Tamako, My Sookee’, is very reminiscent of the main theme to the BBC television show ‘Downton Abbey’, which also shares the same deep-rooted class divisions. The original source material for ‘The Handmaiden’, Sarah Waters’ ‘Fingersmith’ is also set in historic England, however several decades prior in the Victorian era. Despite its often fiery nature, the orchestral backing never feels overpowering, instead lifting the on-screen action to reach more emotionally powerful heights.
‘The Handmaiden’ is a sensational psychological thriller, without a doubt one of the the best films of the year if not decade. Director Park Chan-wook has created a masterpiece, one that will captivate you from start to finish, leaving you breathless when it finally reaches its climax. There are many plot twists throughout that no viewer could successfully predict the ending after the opening 30 minutes and as a result it demands not just to be seen, but to be watched again and again.
Gentlemen, that’s a very sad thing… to be nothing.
12 men sit around a long table in a room. 12 men with different backgrounds, different upbringings, personalities and prejudices. They are tasked as jurors to reach a verdict on the case of a young man of which the charge is murder in the first degree. If found guilty his punishment would be death. On the surface this looks like an open and shut case, but not everyone is convinced.
Director Sidney Lumet creates something truly remarkable with this, his debut film. Despite fantastic reviews upon release, it could not find a following and was a box office disappointment. 60 years later and it is deservedly regarded as a classic, a case study of tension, claustrophobia and subtext.
The jurors, united by their call to duty, do not share any common traits and it is because of this that they are most qualified to judge the case. Each saw their own version of the trial, noticing seemingly irrelevant details such as the indentations on a witness’ nose left by her glasses or the poorly concealed limp of another. Details so small most missed them, but the implications they have can change a person’s entire perspective.
We can summarise the film by five crucial moments, the first of which occurs at the beginning. Once settled down they decide to open with a vote, with some beginning to joke about how quick they will leave. As hands slowly raise up for the vote of guilty they soon realise one hand stayed down, that of juror #8 (Henry Fonda). Juror #10 scoffs ‘Boy oh boy there’s always one’. The reasoning behind his hand staying down was not because he felt the defendant was innocent, he admitted that may very well be so, but instead that they should not be so hasty sending a young man to the chair.
At this moment, as with most of the first third of the film, the camera is above eye level, looking down upon those seated at the table. The effect of this is that it makes them more accessible and easier to be understood. As we learn the facts of the case through their discussion, the mood is relaxed and open. Notice also here how the depth of each shot changes from this point. Initially the focal length is short, making the depth of view high and consequently give the room an airier feel. This combined with the above-eye camera level allow the audience to see large swathes of the room. All the factors point towards an impartial conversation between civilised men.
As the discussion continues, Juror #8 raises interesting points on topics such as the knife, the ability to hear shouting as a train passes by, and one supposed eyewitness’s questionable version of events. The more logical jurors begin to rethink their decisions leading to the next two crucial moments: Juror #9 taking Fonda’s side making the vote 2-10, and the moment the vote becomes even, 6-6.
From this point on the camera is at eye-level with longer shots being replaced with mid-length shots. The room feels smaller and combined with the rising temperature contributes an increase in tension. Slowly but surely the more bigoted among them grow inpatient and resort to classist remarks as the amount of evidence supporting a guilty verdict decreases. An increased emotional intimacy as they open up about their true feelings is emphasised with the closer shots. Jurors #3 and #10 are taking the role of antagonists. The film depicted all 12 as civilised at the start, each as equals but as we learn more, both about them and the case, a positive light is cast upon the non guilty jurors.
The final two moments occur when the vote becomes 3-9 and 1-11. These I feel are the most powerful as they are immediately proceeded by explosive rants by the films two antagonists, Jurors #3 and #10. The remaining guilty voters are not choosing so out of reason, but out of emotion. Hatred towards a class of people viewed as lesser, or out of frustration from a strained relationship with his son. Stubbornness to admit you are wrong causes increased desperation among them, with both only conceding after becoming disgusted with their own actions.
The camera is below eye level now. We, the audience have gone from overseers of the discussion to sat at the table with every slur or hateful remark feeling equally spoken towards us as much as the rest of the jurors. The room is at its most claustrophobic too, as the depth of view is incredibly shallow and the ceiling can be seen in many of the shots making the walls appear to be closing in. Without exception each man is sweating, trapped inside the room until they reach a unanimous decision. The tension crescendos as Juror #10 erupts, peaking at the moment where he tears up a photo of his son and changes to the twelfth and last not guilty vote. Finally, 93 minutes in, we can breathe. The camera reverts back to the original state over eye level as the men get dressed to leave. Juror #8, the film’s hero, helps Juror #10 to put on his jacket. Regardless of what just transpired he remains neutral, working for the better wherever possible.
The courage Fonda’s character musters to stand in non-conformity against the intense scrutiny of 11 other people is heroic but also unrealistic. In the event of an 11-1 split, how often will he turn the opinions of them all? The far more likely scenarios involve he himself changing his mind, or if he is relentless, a hung jury. A real life example to this is the case of Williams vs Cavazos (see here for more). When it was reported that one of the jurors stood alone against the decision of the rest, each was then cross examined in order. The defiant juror was then dismissed on the grounds that they were biased against the prosecution and, with an alternate juror, a verdict of guilty was reached. However the defence appealed that the sanctity of the jury’s secret deliberations was violated and as such the defendants rights were broken. Interestingly the appeal was successful and the decision reversed.
Where the film grounds itself in the realism of our world is in the blatant ageism, classism and racism of some of the jurors. The most powerful scene taking place after the vote becomes 9-3 in favour of a not guilty verdict. Below is an excerpt of the script that follows:
Juror #10: I don’t understand you people! I mean all these picky little points you keep bringing up. They don’t mean nothing! You saw this kid just like I did. You’re not gonna tell me you believe that phony story about losing the knife, and that business about being at the movies. Look, you know how these people lie! It’s born in them! I mean, what the heck? I don’t have to tell you! They don’t know what the truth is! And lemme tell ya: they don’t need any real big reason to kill someone, either! No sir!
Juror #10: [#5 slams the paper down, gets up from his seat] They get drunk! Oh, they’re real big drinkers, all of ’em – you know that – and bang: someone’s lyin’ in the gutter! Oh, nobody’s blaming them for it. That’s the way they are, by nature! You know what I mean? Violent!
Juror #10: [#9 rises and crosses to the window] Where’re you going? Human life don’t mean as much to them as it does to us!
Juror #10: [#11 gets up and walks to the other window] Look, they’re lushing it up and fighting all the time and if somebody gets killed, so somebody gets killed! They don’t care! Oh, sure, there are some good things about ’em, too! Look, I’m the first one to say that!
Juror #10: [#8 gets up and walks to the nearest wall] I’ve known a couple who were OK, but that’s the exception, y’know what I mean? Most of ’em, it’s like they have no feelings! They can do anything!
[#2 and #6 get up from the table. Everyone’s back is to #10]
Juror #10: [looking around, starting to decline in volume] What’s goin’ on here? I’m trying to tell ya… You’re makin’ a big mistake, you people! This kid is a liar! I know it, I know all about them! Listen to me… They’re no good! There’s not a one of ’em who is any good! I mean, what’s happening in here? I’m speaking my piece, and you…
Juror #10: [The Foreman gets up and walks away. So does #12] Listen to me. We’re… This kid on trial here… his type, well, don’t you know about them? There’s a, there’s a danger here. These people are dangerous. They’re wild. Listen to me. Listen.
Juror #4: [quietly and firmly] I have. Now sit down and don’t open your mouth again.
Juror #10: [the shock of being ignored and silenced sinking in] I’m jus’ tryin’-a… tell ya…
At the beginning when 11 jurors thought the defendant was guilty, most either ignored the discrimination or timidly agreed due to the peer pressure from those much louder than them. They may not have believed in the content of those statements but by not taking a stand they were in silent agreement. This caused the bigots to continue, under the impression that everybody respected them and their ‘wise words’. Such prejudice is self-perpetuating and as a result very dangerous to society as a whole with the loudest voices often being the least knowledgable, driven by their emotions rather than reason. A quote from Plato reads ‘An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest babblers‘.
When the room for reasonable doubt increases the jurors tolerance for this simultaneously diminishes, becoming disgusted. In the above scene, each juror slowly got up or turned away from him until just one was left, another guilty voter. It was he who put him in his place, saying not to utter a single more word. His remarks became so extreme that no-one could stand behind him, not even those who were on his side.
60 years on from the release of ’12 Angry Men’, such situations still occur. There are still those who believe themselves to be above others, whether that be due to wealth, skin colour or another reason. In the technological age, everybody has a voice and only those who shout loudest can be heard. The differences being now that more people will take a stand and those who feel such things are more hesitant about speaking.
The same cannot be said about the internet though. A veil of anonymity gives many the confidence to say things they would not dare in public, making discrimination online rampant. This takes place to such an extent that several major sites such as Vice and IMDb have blocked comments sections as they have become a hive of racism. Whilst groups of people standing up to bigotry does happen, mostly within the domain of politics, it rarely does in such a manner found in the aforementioned scene, with total disassociation from people of both sides.
Upon the film’s release, only one actor (Henry Fonda) was considered a true star, however all twelve men gave fantastic performances, with no single person rising above the rest. Later four of the other actors beside Fonda would be nominated for Oscars (Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Ed Begley and Jack Warden) showing the wide range of talent amongst the group. The fact that they all were as impressive in their roles is representative of the film itself, with each of the jurors have the same, equally important role in deciding the man’s fate.
There is so little in terms of plot and diversity of environment throughout the film. Every little detail must therefore contribute to the progression of the narrative. The original playwright Reginald Rose, who co-wrote and co-produced this adaptation, made commanding use of the subtleties of his characters. The enunciation of the words, their body language as they spoke and the manner in which they presented themselves all demonstrated the jurors’ unique personalities.
Besides a small handshake conversation between the first and second not guilty voters as they leave the courthouse, there are no names are mentioned at all. The defendant referred to as ‘the boy’ and the witnesses as ‘the lady across the street’ and ‘the old man’. As the film progresses this keeps a shroud of mystery over all the characters, with the audience never fully knowing every detail of the case and making their eventual not guilty verdict impossible to completely agree or disagree with.
’12 Angry Men’ is an unsettlingly realistic look at the faults of mankind, with each person under the impression that their vote was the correct one and for the greater good of their society. The issues raised transcend the screen and the message of impartiality has far ranging applications. Lumet purposefully tackles such controversial ideas in his films (see Fail-Safe or Dog Day Afternoon), doing so with the upmost respect for the audience’s intelligence. He is rightfully regarded as one of greatest directors of the modern era and this is, perhaps, his masterpiece.
I would like to thank the ever-wonderful Eloise for introducing me to this film.
Welcome back for update four in the progress towards my film challenge. 25 more movies were watched this month taking us up to a grand total of 127, just over half of my target. This month’s entry will be longer than we have seen previously. As we progress through the year I aim to keep adding to the quality of this blog series to make it as interesting as possible. Enjoy!
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Suicide Squad (2016)
Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) x2
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Italian Job (1969)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
The Martian (2015)
21 Jump Street (2012) x2
Busking Turf Wars (Lift-Off 2017 Feature)
22 Jump Street (2014) x2
War Dogs (2016)
Secret Life of Pets (2016)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Kung Fu Panda (2008)
Hell or High Water (2016)
The Incredibles (2004)
The Other Guys (2010) x2
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)
Boss Baby (2017)
After putting off watching Illumination Entertainments latest features ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ and ‘Sing’ for fear they would be as bad as I had heard, I finally forced myself to watch them. I don’t want to go into much detail about my reactions to those films, in case I decide to review them, but let’s just say that it took ‘Kung Fu Panda’, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Megamind’ to regain my faith in competent animation films. On the last day of the month I got around to another animation I was worried about, DreamWorks’ ‘Boss Baby’. Unfortunately no amount of nostalgic cleansing will help me get over the torture that was the film. To read my review of ‘Boss Baby’ and to learn why you should never watch it, click here.
Most Watched Films of the Year so far:
La La Land (3)
The Nice Guys (2)
The Other Guys (2)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2)
Tropic Thunder (2)
Now from the worst new film I have watched in a long time to the best new film I have watched in a long time. Whilst not cinema new, it was released in 2010, it is the first (and second!) time I have watched it. I’m talking about ‘The Other Guys’. Changing the buddy-cop genre with its satirical and self-mocking nature. This will definitely be a film you’ll see a review about soon, I cannot recommend it enough. Mark Wahlberg overemphasises his loud and aggressive attitude hilariously and his chemistry with Will Ferrell is simply electric.
We’ve looked at badly reviewed films being bad and well reviewed films being good, it’s time to look at the others. Let’s begin with a poorly reviewed movie that I adore, Ben Stiller’s ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. With only 51% of Rotten Tomatoes, it doesn’t look like much. Thankfully I saw it in the theatre with my family and was exposed to one of the most beautiful cinematic experiences in recent times. A wonderful feel-good plot, combined with a great soundtrack and incredible cinematography make this perfect for lazy morning.
Worst Films of the Month:
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
The Secret Life of Pets
Lastly we have a film that saw fantastic reviews which I found incredibly disappointing, Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Being a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the expectations were very high. Whilst this wasn’t an ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ level of disappointment, it wasn’t far off. I don’t want to go too much into it as my review did a pretty extensive job, nor do I suggest you don’t go to see it, just don’t expect the same level of story, depth or humour that was present in the first.
Best Films of the Month
The Big Lebowski
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Other Guys
I won’t talk about numbers 1, 2 and 3 as I already have previously but number 4 is a film that has been on my radar for some time, Rounders. Stellar performances from both Jason Bou.. I mean Matt Damon and John Malkovich make this poker-based flick well worth a watch. A fun game to play whilst watching the film is ‘Guess the Accent’. Every scene in which Malkovich speaks you have to try and work out which Eastern European country his accent wanders into.
Lastly we have Megamind, an animation by the same director as Boss Baby. This may not sound encouraging but trust me you will not be left disgruntled. It features all-star cast of Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, JK Simmons and more. The premise, that a constantly failing supervillian finally defeats and kills his superhero counterpart, is highly original and explores the lack of meaning in a life without challenge brilliantly. If you have a child who wants to go see Boss Baby, stay home and watch Megamind instead.
To check out the months you have missed, click one of the following links: