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The King’s Speech

7 Jan

The King’s Speech is an engaging account of the speech impediment that King George VI suffered from and the Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who successfully treated him for it. The acting is outstanding; Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are excellent as the King and Lionel, while Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce illuminate the roles of the Queen consort, Elizabeth, and Edward VIII, the predecessor to George VI.

The film opens with a speech the protagonist made in 1925 at Wembley Stadium, when he was the Duke of York. In a time when attitudes to the monarch were rather different, the crowd is clearly bothered by his awkward stammering. The conclusion of the film depicts his successful address to the Empire upon the declaration of war with Germany, for which he receives resounding applause. Lionel Logue not only treats the King’s stammer, but also becomes his first friend and it is this relationship that establishes the heart of this film.

Not once throughout the film is the protagonist the subject of propensity or respect merely by virtue of his office; for Lionel and Elizabeth, each of who make it clear that they have little regard for whatever title the King might hold, the affection they have for him is a part of their personal relationships with him. In regard to the public, whose “God save the King” placards are interpreted by the King as a reference to his better-loved predecessor, the relationship they have with the King is one of apathy until they come to appreciate the innate qualities he has as were manifest in his successful concluding speech.

As the protagonist’s ability to speak improves, his sense of alienation from his world diminishes. He remarks to Lionel that he finds it disturbing how little the average man knows of him and how little he knows of the average man, and Tom Hooper’s use of a fisheye lens contributes to this alienation the King describes. The applause scene that concludes the film is evidence enough of the end of this troubling emotion that had heretofore stricken his countenance and a relief for the audience, who have experienced his suffering throughout the film.

The King’s Speech portrays the unusual and oftentimes uncertain relationship between the King and Lionel in a masterful manner and conveys the emotions of the characters superbly. Despite the thematic and character-based triumphs, much of what can best be appreciated about this film are the details: singular lines of dialogue or the use of Gill Sans to produce a typically British appearance. What is most disappointing, perhaps, is some unfortunate set design and the fact that it is less consistent with matters of royal protocol than many other recent films. All in all, however, it is a fascinating and highly recommended film.


The Bicycle Thieves

22 Dec

The Bicycle Thieves follows the story of a man – Antonio – living in post-WWII Rome who is fortunate enough to find employment. The job requires that he use a bicycle, which is promptly stolen from him. The remainder of the film charts the protagonist’s endeavours to recover his bicycle; his son, Bruno, obediently assists him in these futile efforts. Vittorio De Sica’s film is a simple story of poverty but also a powerful piece of neorealistic cinema with boundless textual integrity.

The film juxtaposes the poverty-stricken masses with the disproportionately affluent in a plain yet enduring way. Antonio is ecstatic and eager once he finds a job. He pastes cinema posters around the city, traversing Rome on his bicycle to illegally plaster images of wealthy Hollywood actors around the city – an ironic addition to Antonio’s situation. As the responder is aware that the bicycle is to be stolen sooner or later, De Sica plays with their expectations and the item is stolen not when it is made to seem most likely but rather when the responder least expects it.

The efforts Antonio and Bruno make to retrieve the bicycle are of no consequence and Antonio, unemployed and despairing, suggests that he and his son eat a pizza. The restaurant does not serve pizza, but their meal is nevertheless indulgent by their standards. Bruno glances at the pasta-clad table of the family beside him, after which Antonio says wistfully “To eat like that, you need a million lira a month at least.” This image, more than any other, conveys the gravity of their poverty.

When Antonio finally confronts the bicycle thief, his angry acquaintances threaten to steal his wallet. In a reference to the thief and his friends, Antonio cries “You’re all thieves, the lot of you!” Their collective poverty has driven them to crime as well, and Antonio still sees himself as too honest for such dealings. This collapses not long afterwards when, with neither his bicycle nor the evidence to press charges against the thief, Antonio attempts to steal a bicycle himself, thereby providing further insight into the film’s title. He is unsuccessful, and it is but for the kindness of the victim that he is not imprisoned. In this way the film concludes on a note of futility and hopelessness, underlining the futility and hopelessness of the poverty Antonio experienced.

Since its release, The Bicycle Thieves has found a home in lists ranking the greatest films of all time. Its enduring legacy is a result of its plainly universal thematic concerns.

Please Give

7 Oct

Please Give

Nicole Holofcener’s most recent film, Please Give, is a sharp and creative story of the interaction of a fascinating set of ordinary people. Kate (Catherine Keener) owns a vintage furniture shop with her husband Alex in which the couple sell items purchased from the nescient relatives of the recently deceased. Kate’s concerns about their business practices have increasingly tickled her conscience, which she partly mitigates with her admirable generosity. Her relationship with her daughter Abby, who is her mother’s antithesis in her materialist and less charitable nature, is tested by Abby’s declining self-esteem. The family’s neighbour is an invective and cantankerous nonagenarian cared for by her granddaughters — one a shy yet caring radiology technician, the other a shallow spa employee — whose apartment they own but cannot renovate until she dies.

Please Give

Please Give is essentially an exercise in character development; the wonderfully intricate characters intertwine with each other in the most fascinating manner with impressively dry and witty dialogue. This is accompanied with dynamic acting throughout the play — the most noteworthy performances given by Keener and Ann Guilbert, who plays the grandmother Andra. While Kate and Alex make their living off the dead, generating a profit from the furniture of the deceased and waiting for Andra to die in anticipation of her apartment, this fact consumes only the conscience of Kate and not Alex. The juxtaposition of the introverted and altruistic daughter with her apathetic, extroverted sister provides for a considerable amount of insightful conflict, and the diverse range of responses different characters have to the recalcitrant Abby, who is simultaneously self-absorbed yet critical of herself, offer deeper depictions of their nature.

Please Give

The largest failing of this film is its remarkable lack of substance. It is characters rather that plot that are the engine of this creation, and as a result some may find it disappointingly lacking. What little does happen that is of actual consequence is utterly predictable, but necessary to provide structure and purpose to the text. Despite this, the strength of the characters, acting and dialogue is enough to allow Please Give widespread critical acclaim that is wholly justified.

Three and a half stars


Let the Right One In

3 Oct

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Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) is a 2008 Swedish film by Tomas Alfredson, adapted from a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist. The film depicts the relationship between Oskar, a 12-year-old who is the victim of bullying at the hands of his classmates, and Eli, a vampire that is responsible for the gruesome murders taking place around their suburb in Stockholm. Although it comes at a time when Twilight et al have engendered the composition of myriad saccharine films and books that concern themselves with vampires, this wonderful creation is a distinct text worthy of far greater recognition.

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Oskar and Eli are purposeful and intricate characters. The pair, who develop a seraphic and romantic relationship, are united by their status as outsiders; as a vampire, the only relationship Eli has is banal and borne of expediency, while Oskar is ostracised from his social circle as a result of bullying. The pair also share a haunting affinity for violence. For Eli, murder is a physical necessity, while for Oskar it is a naïve, emotional fascination. Oskar collects newspaper clippings of murders and harbours a love of his knife, but his capacity for action is uncovered at Eli’s encouragement.

The most gruesome scenes of this film are intrinsically cold and still; Alfredson’s style is pleasingly bleak when contrasted to the overwrought excrement that is most of Hollywood. This manner is well suited to the beautiful yet eerie landscape that the story inhabits.

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Låt den rätte komma in is powerful and its images are haunting. A Hollywood remake has already been concocted from the fragile form of this film, which is an unfortunate addendum to its profound existence. As an exceptional film, the original is highly recommended, but certainly not for the standard Twilight audience.