Breaking the Waves

Film Title

Breaking the Waves

Director

Lars Von Trier

Starring

  • Emily Watson as Bess McNeill
  • Stellan Skarsgård as Jan
  • Katrin Cartlidge as Dodo McNeill
  • Jean-Marc Barr as Terry
  • Adrian Rawlins as Dr. Richardson
  • Udo Kier as Man on the trawler

Breaking the Waves is the devastating and very powerful story of faith, sacrifice and love. Crafted by Lars Von Trier, it doesn’t make for the easiest viewing but boasts an emotionally complex performance by Emily Watson and a dizzying visual style that haunt the mind.

Bess McNeill Breaking the WavesBess McNeill is a naive, childlike and devoutly religious girl brought up in an austere Scottish coastal town in the 1970′s. The elders of the town rule with a dogmatic power and are strictly religious to say the least, their actions include giving sinners a pauper’s funeral and not allowing women to voice opinions in church. Bess falls for Jan, an oil rig worker who is deemed as an outsider to the community. They eventually marry although this isn’t without a few eyebrows being raised. During the blissful days after their wedding, Bess is shown the love and sexual relationship that can be had between a couple. It is when Jan has to go back to his work that Bess finds it most difficult. She becomes distant and panics as she can’t bear to be without her beloved. She prays for his return from the rig. Jan does return yet not as Bess had hoped. He is severely injured in a working accident and most of his body is now rendered paralysed. Unable to sexually express his love to her, Jan asks Bess a strange question. He asks her to take other lovers and report back to him regarding the encounters, thereby making Jan feel like he is still a part of Bess. Bess is initially shocked by his question and refuses it. But she later becomes convinced that this will help Jan and so she goes out to perform these favours which start out innocent enough, but slowly evolve into dangerous and ultimately devastating consequences. Starkly powerful, uncomfortably shown and startling performed, Breaking the Waves makes for an uncompromising but astonishingly told story of the singular power of love and the horrifying sacrifices one is forced to make.

As is often the case with movies by Von Trier, Breaking the Waves is not for everyone and will polarize many. The grim quality to the story and the visual style won’t be for all audiences, but for those with a strong stomach it may be watchable. Von Trier employs a delirious, handheld camera to capture the escalating events that befall the beatific Bess. The colour appears to have been washed out which compliments the austere and horrifying community and its beliefs. A well-chosen soundtrack of 70′s rock and pop give the events a certain immediacy to the audience and provides a brief moment of happiness in the uncomfortable saga that soon arrives.

What really gives Breaking the Waves a haunting and shocking power is the emotionally shattering central performance from Emily Watson in her movie debut. She encompasses the pixie like innocence of Bess and the deep and heartfelt love that she holds for her husband. There isn’t one emotion that Watson doesn’t encompass in this story and her raw, intense and heartbreaking performance anchors the startling story. Whether crying out for Jan’s return, telling her doctor her talent, speaking to God in a childlike voice( before answering back in His voice) or marching up her strange path of martyrdom, Watson is a revelation.  Stellan Skarsgård is well cast as Jan, bringing an alternate tenderness and strangeness to his role. Katrin Cartlidge and Adrian Rawlins provide stunning support as the best friend of Bess and her local doctor, who both begin to worry for Bess. Jean-Marc Barr provides some humour as one of Jan’s co-workers, while Udo Kier is frighteningly sadistic as a sailor.

Uncomfortable and shocking in equal measure, Breaking the Waves is also a heartbreaking and powerful saga of religion and the strange power of one woman’s love and the shocking consequences which arise as a result of it.

The Skeleton Key

Film Title

The Skeleton Key

Director

Iain Softley

Starring

  • Kate Hudson as Caroline Ellis
  • Gena Rowlands as Violet Devereaux
  • Peter Sarsgaard as Luke Marshall
  • John Hurt as Ben Devereaux

A creepy supernatural horror/thriller with Gothic ambience and strange imagery, The Skeleton Key in my book is an underrated entry in the supernatural horror genre. Trust me you won’t be sleeping soundly after viewing this film.

The Skeleton Key CarolineCaroline Ellis is a caregiver in New Orleans. She has become disillusioned with working at a nursing home after seeing the way that when a patient dies the place can’t wait to dispense with them. Caroline has always felt a certain amount of guilt for not being there for her father when he passed away and through her work she sees it as an opportunity to make up for this. After quitting her job at the home, she finds an advert in a newspaper for a care worker at an old former plantation house deep in the heart of Southern Louisiana. In need of work, Caroline applies for the job. She is to care for Ben Devereaux, an old man who had a stroke the year before and has paralysed most of his body. Ben’s wife Violet doesn’t take to kindly to Caroline at first, but grows to tolerate her. The creaking house is a strange and mysterious place that soon becomes interesting to the curious Caroline. She is given a skeleton key by Violet and as one would, she begins to explore the house. She finds her way into the dusty attic that is anything but ordinary. She discovers various paraphernalia belonging to Hoodoo,  a form of conjuring. It seems the house once belonged to a rich man who had two servants who were practitioners of hoodoo and were lynched when it was discovered they were attempting to teach the rich man’s children to conjure. Caroline learns the story from the steely Violet, but remains skeptical surrounding it. The thing with Hoodoo is that it is harmless only if you don’t believe it. But Caroline’s discovery is far from good as various strange events begin to occur around her and her faith in logic is tested by awaiting horror.

From the opening shots, The Skeleton Key has marvellous visuals that radiate the smoky, Southern Gothic atmosphere of the house and the surroundings. The sense of mysticism abounds through various symbols such as old, scratchy records and folk stories that are weaved into the narrative thread. You can almost feel the humidity of the place. The various flashback scenes of the house’s history are visually stunning, using a cross cutting technique between black and white and colour. Iain Softley directs with a sure touch that helps slowly engulf us in the creepy story that awaits us and Caroline. He manages to build some great suspense and sense of dread with the narrative. Sure some moments may have hints of schlock and the occasional lull, but The Skeleton Key is still riveting and effective viewing.

What gives The Skeleton Key the edge as a supernatural horror/thriller is the talented cast. Kate Hudson sheds the rom com girl image to play the part of the caring and curious Caroline. Hudson creates a sympathetic and believable character who is far from the screaming heroines of some horrors. She is an intelligent woman caught up in the creepy mystery surrounding the house and attempting to escape the horror that slowly moves in. I hope Hudson chooses more roles like this in the future, as she is talented in more serious fare than people give her credit for. Gena Rowlands is ideally cast as the imperious Violet, who at first just appears to be a stubborn old woman stuck in her ways. She emerges as something much more scary and enigmatic than this. Peter Sarsgaard provides able support as Luke, the lawyer for Ben and Violet. John Hurt does some great acting in the underwritten role of Ben. Hurt rises above the scripts limitations and manages to convey fear, shock and uncertainty all through his eyes.

It may be far from original, but The Skeleton Key is an engrossing and spooky horror elevated to a higher level by the cast and with a sly and shocking ending that will leave you sleepless.

 

Suspicion

Film Title

Suspicion

Director

Alfred Hitchcock

Starring

  • Joan Fontaine as Lina McLaidlaw Aysgarth
  • Cary Grant as Johnnie Aysgarth
  • Cedric Hardwicke as General McLaidlaw
  • Nigel Bruce as Beaky
  • May Whitty as Martha McLaidlaw

A suspense laden thriller from the master Alfred Hitchcock, Suspicion is only slightly let down by a studio imposed ending. Despite this, the picture has much to praise in the way of some superb acting from Cary Grant and an Oscar-winning Joan Fontaine, spine tingling music and an air of encroaching menace.

Suspicion Joan Fontaine and Cary GrantLina McLaidlaw is the shy and sheltered daughter of a general and his wife. She lives in the English countryside and has been brought to behave like a lady. One day she meets Johnny Aysgarth, a handsome irresponsible gambler who she immediately falls in love with. Lina is desperate to escape her controlled existence and Johnnie proves to be just that. Despite the warnings of others surrounding Johnnie’s behaviour, the two of them marry after a brief courtship. After a luxurious honeymoon, Lina and Johnnie move into a lovely home. Yet this idyllic way of living starts to become clouded by Johnnie’s gambling and his various lies. After a series of strange events, a panic-stricken Lina slowly comes to believe that Johnnie plans to murder her for her money. Yet she can’t prove this, but as the tension mounts will she discover that she is right or wrong regarding Johnnie? Suspense and uncertainty abound as Hitchcock plunges Lina into a waking nightmare, slowly seeing that Johnnie may not be the ideal man that she met and may in fact be something much more sinister.

As I mentioned earlier in my review, the studio producing Suspicion changed the ending to fit in with the conventions of the time. The imposed ending does detract from the overall impact of the movie, but there’s still more than enough to enjoy in Hitchcock’s thriller. After all, any movie by Hitchcock at least at some time shows the amazing techniques and sense of unnerving tension that he brought to the movies. The camerawork is marvellous in its close-ups of the characters, especially Lina’s slowly terrified face as she wrestles with the notion that her husband has sinister designs for her. The tension filled script boasts some interesting dark humour that boosts the narrative along nicely. The score makes for a chilling listen as it echoes Lina’s mounting fears surrounding her doubt. As always, Hitchcock crafts scenes dripping with suspense that make the hairs on the back of your neck shiver. One great example is Johnnie bringing Lina a drink of milk at night, the glass seems to glow with malicious intention and Lina’s quivering face as it rests on her table transfers to the viewers mounting suspicions.

Joan Fontaine is marvellous in the role that won her an Oscar. She subtly portrays Lina’s girlish and sheltered innocence that soon gives way to mounting terror at the thought of her husband’s plans. Fontaine conveys so much emotion through her eyes that is a really a marvel to behold, we see her uncertainty, love and suspicion as events take on a mysterious air around her. Cary Grant is suave and sophisticated, yet also hints at the possible darkness that may lurk within Johnnie. Cedric Hardwicke is great as Lina’s stern father as well as May Whitty as her observant mother. Nigel Bruce portrays the likable Beaky, Johnnie’s hapless and humorous best friend with ease and charm.

Suspense, romance and skill combine to craft this marvellous thriller. Suspicion may be let down by the ending but the film is far from unwatchable. It may not be Hitchcock’s best work, but it is far from his worst with its splendid performances and tension filled suspense.

My Second Versatile Blogger Award

I recently received the Versatile Blogger Award for the second time. I am greatly appreciative for the respect of my fellow bloggers and all the positive contributions they make to my site. I accept the award off Alex Raphael, whose site is amazing to say the least. I would like to extend my gratitude towards him for this award.

versatile-blogger award

Here are the rules:

1. Thank the person who gave you the award.

2. Include a link to their blog.

3.  Select 15 bloggers you follow who want to pass the award onto.

4. Nominate the 15 bloggers and inform them.

5. Lastly, list 7 interesting facts about yourself.

So without further ado, here are the nominees:

Cinematic Corner

Richard Ankers Writes

Movies and Music Cafe

Cindy Bruchman

CC Popculture

Black is White

Three Rows Back

Oracle of Film

Liam Does Film

Thy Critic Man

Where The Wild Things Are

My Mind Reels Through Film

JJames Reviews

Film Nerd Blog

Silver Screen Serenade 

Please check out these wonderful blogs, they are all outstanding in my book.

And now 7 interesting facts about me:

1. I can speak parts of the Elvish language from The Lord of the Rings movies.

2. My favourite season is Summer.

3. San Francisco is on my list of places to visit in the future.

4. I personally believe that the soundtrack or score to a film has to be good for me to enjoy it.

5. My favourite movie critic is the late Roger Ebert.

6. I like to watch a character transform during a film.

7. I firmly believe that what goes around, comes around.

Once again I would like to reiterate my thanks to Alex for this award.

The Emperor’s New Groove

Film Title

The Emperor’s New Groove

Director

Mark Dindal

Voice cast

  • David Spade as Emperor Kuzco
  • John Goodman as Pacha
  • Eartha Kitt as Yzma
  • Patrick Warburton as Kronk

A fresh take on the buddy genre with a moral lesson at the centre, The Emperor’s New Groove is a funky entry into the Disney canon that is often overlooked in my view. Why it is I’m not sure because it has humour, eccentric characters and some excellent voice work.

The Emperor's New Groove charactersKuzco is the selfish, bratty emperor of an Incan Empire. He has no patience for anyone and is always used to getting his own way. He summons Pacha, the leader of a nearby village to inform him that his town will be destroyed for the building of an amusement park for Kuzco. Angry and dejected, Pacha is uncertain of what to do. But he isn’t the only person that Kuzco has rubbed the wrong way. His power-hungry advisor/sorceress Yzma is left bitterly angry when she is fired for attempting to assume Kuzco’s position. Rather than just take being fired nicely, Yzma along with her dim-witted sidekick Kronk, concoct a plan to kill Kuzco. This in turn will elevate the malicious Yzma to the role of Empress. Their plan backfires when the potion to kill Kuzco is misplaced and he drinks a potion which transforms him into a llama. Kronk whilst trying to get rid of Kuzco accidentally loses him and he ends up in the hands of Pacha. Although they are initially belligerent towards one another, Kuzco and Pacha eventually develop a friendship as they take the hazardous journey back to the palace through the jungle. This is whilst being chased by Yzma and Kronk after the revelation that Kuzco isn’t dead emerges. Through his friendship with Pacha, Kuzco begins to change as a person and considers the effects of his selfish needs. Laughs, groovy music and memorable characters make The Emperor’s New Groove a treat that the whole family can enjoy.

Firstly, the animation is superb as is to be expected by Disney. In this movie they craft some excellent scenes of Kuzco and Pacha travelling through the dangerous jungles. The script is razor-sharp and full of hilarious lines, especially in the form of Yzma’s. Interestingly the humour is funny for children but also manages to be appealing to older people in the audience. The music is fresh and comical in equal measure.

What really gives The Emperor’s New Groove spark is the talented voice cast. David Spade nails the role of the arrogant Kuzco, and his many extravagant and eccentric antics are really funny to watch. John Goodman provides the suitably kind but firm voice of Pacha, who eventually begins to break through to Kuzco’s kinder nature. Stealing the show has to be Eartha Kitt, whose slinky voice and flair for theatricality lead to some great comical scenes. Whether barking orders at the put-upon Kronk, mistakenly bragging about her supposed beauty(which no one seems to see) or plotting the many ways she should eliminate Kuzco, Yzma is a hoot of a villain. Patrick Warburton gives the character of Kronk a soft heart that often leads him into trouble when it comes to going through with the many heinous plans of Yzma. Yzma and Kronk are the two characters that really stick in the imagination because of the humour involved in their scenes. Just watch the scene in the jungle when Kronk confers with a squirrel and Yzma tries to gain knowledge of Kuzco’s whereabouts and you will see the hysterical humour on show.

So if it’s a funny moral story mixed with elements of the buddy genre and comedy that you’re looking for, The Emperor’s New Groove is the film you should watch.

Spin-Off Blogathon

Spin off blogathonI recently came across the announcement for a blogathon. It is hosted by the talented Sati over at Cinematic Corner and it is entitled the Spin-Off Blogathon. The idea is to choose a minor character from a movie or TV show who you would like to see in a lead role. Explain why you have chosen the character and what you think a movie would be like with them as the lead character.

My choice is Lirio (Assumpta Serna) from The Craft.

MCDCRAF EC009The Craft is a movie I discovered years ago that I have always enjoyed watching. It tells of four outsiders; Sarah, Nancy, Bonnie and Rochelle who dabble in witchcraft and the gradual emergence of Nancy spiralling out of control  in a power struggle with Sarah. The first glimpse of Lirio is when the girls take Sarah to the witchcraft shop that she owns. Lirio notices that Sarah is different from the other girls, in that she doesn’t steal and means well as a person. From the first time we see Lirio, there is a mystery surrounding her. On one hand she is kind and wise, yet there is a sense that she shouldn’t be crossed by anyone. Lirio warns the girls about the dangers of invoking the powerful deity they worship, and describes that “Pure magic is neither black or white. It is both because nature is both, loving and cruel all at the same time”. Out of the girls, Sarah listens to her message about the consequences of magic coming back on someone. Later on in the movie, she helps Sarah come to terms with her power after Nancy begins to torment her. She emerges as the guiding light towards Sarah’s salvation and arising as a powerful witch.

Lirio is mysterious, exotic and quietly powerful as a character. Her wise words may be wasted on the other girls, but they are soon proven right as magic comes back times three. I think that Lirio would make a great leading character. She is enigmatic and wise, yet there is a danger surrounding her. She exhibits power that she seems to subdue in times when it is needed. Lirio would be great as a character in a prequel to The Craft. We could learn about her past and how she came to be a witch. How powerful is she? Why does she take a liking to Sarah? All of these unanswered enigmas could be explained in great detail if a prequel was honed.Perhaps we would see the powers that she often conceals and the reasons she suppresses them. Assumpta Serna is a gifted actress who portrays warmth and passion whilst also suggesting the hidden depths of this wise and powerful woman. Her role may be small in the movie, but Lirio makes a lasting impact that is deeply felt throughout the course of it.

I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this blogathon and I want to thank the amazing Sati for setting it up.

A League of Their Own

Film Title

A League of Their Own

Director

Penny Marshall

Starring

  • Geena Davis as Dottie Hinson
  • Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan
  • Lori Petty as Kit Keller
  • Madonna as Mae Mordabito
  • Rosie O’Donnell as Doris Murphy
  • Jon Lovitz as Ernie Capadino

Inspired by the relatively unknown All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own tells a funny and often moving fictionalised story of the creation of the league during the Second World War and the women of one particular team .

A League of Their Own PosterAs World War II rages on overseas, there is a threat to the Baseball League which may have to close. Candy magnate and Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey has the idea to create a baseball league for women in the hopes of attracting money. Dottie Hinson is an attractive girl talented at baseball from Oregon who is spotted by scout Ernie Capadino. Dottie’s sister Kit also plays, but feels like the lesser sibling because she isn’t as talented. Dottie agrees to go only if Kit comes, which she eventually does. Soon the sisters are trying out for a team and are eventually accepted into the Rockford Peaches. Also occupying the team is Mae Mordabito, a former taxi dancer and her loud friend Doris Murphy, as well as many other talented girls. The person appointed coach is Jimmy Dugan, a once great player himself who has since become an embittered alcoholic. At first the Peaches struggle for success, but little by little, they begin to rise up in the ranks because of their team spirit and attitude. They manage to overcome the idea that women can’t play baseball by showing of their skill. The success of Dottie as the leader of the team begins to take its toll on Kit, who feels pushed back in favour of her sister. The girls must also deal with the knowledge of their spouses fighting in the war and if they receive a dreaded telegram informing of death. Funny, charming and surprisingly moving, A League of Their Own depicts with respectful historical detail the long neglected beginnings of the Women’s Baseball League.

Penny Marshall’s crafts this entertaining story with down to earth characters and a sense of nostalgia for the era. She also manages to infuse an emotional streak to the story, best embodied by the wedge driven between Dottie and Kit as the cracks begin to form in their close bond. The baseball scenes are entertaining and thrilling to watch as they are crafted with such authentic detail and loving care. The various cutting between matches and spinning headlines make for nostalgic and surprising viewing as the film progresses. The musical score adds to the sense of camaraderie that builds within the Peaches as they edge closer to the world title. Costume design and make-up should be rightfully praised for its authenticity to the War era styles. The script for the most part creates both humour and pathos in depicted the journey of the women. Only in the last two-thirds does sentimentality creep in but for the main duration the overriding nostalgia keeps this a moving and funny movie. The ending of the movie is a really moving one that is well executed.

Heading the ladies of the cast is Geena Davis. She is on fine form as the beautiful and strong Dottie who takes on the role of leader. Yet Tom Hanks steals the show with his hysterical performance as Jimmy, the washed up star managing the Peaches. He gets all the best lines including the now famous “There’s no crying in baseball” which really adds to the humour. As soon as he enters the picture, Tom Hanks commands attention with his excellent comic timing. Lori Petty movingly portrays the wounded Kit, who feels inadequate next to her talented older sister. Out of the other girls of the team, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell stand out. They make a comic double act that is really engaging. Madonna isn’t known to be the best actress, but she plays the role of the team flirt Mae with charm and humour to burn. She also contributes the moving ballad “This Used to be my Playground” which can be heard near the end of the movie. Rosie O’Donnell as her best friend Doris greatly adds to the humour that both bring. In a small but memorable role, Jon Lovitz is crusty and wise cracking as Ernie, the baseball scout.

It may lapse into sentimentality from time to time, but despite this Penny Marshall directs this heartfelt story of some groundbreaking women.