DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Bard’s tale of the ambitious Scottish lord who with his wife conspire to take the throne of Scotland by hook or crook has always made for great cinema. It’s one of the more violent and action-packed of Shakespeare plays and through the eye of Roman Polanski, at the peak of his abilities, turns the story into a ruthless and bloody parable of ambition - a film even more resonant with the Charles Manson tragedy only a couple years behind this production.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971) dir. Roman Polanski
Starring: Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw

By Alan Bacchus

As Macbeth Jon Finch is an especially sour and brooding doomed-hero. In the opening scenes his sad eyes and sulking face help exaggerate the character’s arc from wayward war hero of the land to despotic paranoid tyrant by the end.

As written by written by Polanski and Kenneth Tynan, Macbeth’s soliloquies are written as voiceover, thus absolving the director of the unnaturalness which can be associated those stagey moments. The result is an even more haunting experience, as Macbeth’s inner thoughts or murder and paranoia bridge over a number of delirious and psychedelic dream/fantasy sequences.

As expected, Polanski’s film is a breathtaking beauty. Much of the exteriors shot in glorious magic hour bask the film in a hypnotizing glow which looks stunning on the top notch Criterion Blu-Ray. In the moments of Macbeth’s purge of terror Polanski does not spare the audience the horrific sight of blood and maimed body parts. In particular Lady MacDuff and her family’s fate is given an especially brutal end, a massacre of MacDuff’s entire castle, but seen only as aftermath through the eyes of knights who discover them.

While it would be impossible to best Akira Kurosawa’s glorious death-by-a-hundred-arrows in the finale of his version of Macbeth, Throne of Blood, Polanski choreograph’s his final battle is a lengthy and impressive sword fight through the foyer of his castle in front of the army which seiged him. There’s no swashbuckling in this battle; the sloppy and messy swordplay give us a hint of how brutal medieval times must have been. Admittedly the under-cranked camera speed designed to create a faster fight doesn’t survive well these years, same with the wonky anamorphic lenses which does not hold focus as well as lenses today. Now, it’s part of the character of the film, all other elements linger magnificently over time.

***½


The Tragedy of Macbeth is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection

Monday, 6 October 2014

Gone Girl

If you were to simply describe the plot of Gillian Flynn’s pulpy bestseller it would come off as an outrageous Joe Eszterhas-style potboiler ripped from the era of early 90’s sexual thrillers. But when orchestrated by a master of the genre, at the top of his game, where other filmmakers would have made this picture into a sloppy ham-fisted mess, David Fincher makes two and half hours a completely engrossing experience, terrifying and witty in equal measure and self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

All That Jazz

The influence of Fellini’s 8 ½ is clear in Bob Fosse’s own memoir-like fictional film. The story of a theatre director under immense pressure to make his next show a hit, while under the usual pressures of the business, told with a mixture of fantasy and realism is cut from the same mould as Fellini’s great picture. The creative evolution of Fosse’s work from 'Sweet Charity', 'Cabaret' and 'Lenny' seems to culminate in this overly ambitious yet invigorating explosion of cinema.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Insomnia

While Erik Skjoldbjærg built upon the established cinematic traditions of procedural crime thrillers, in the light of the recent trend of atmospheric crime procedurals such as True Detective, The Killing, Prisoners, 1997’s Insomnia, in hindsight looks to be a direct aesthetic antecedent  for these other more successful pictures/series.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Pickpocket

The Bresson brand of neo-realism is perhaps exemplified best with this unconventional character study of a Parisian thief desperately in need to self-fulfillment. Remarkably Bresson's seemingly simple approach uncluttered by the elements of traditional cinematic narrative allows the master filmmaker to create as much uncompromising tension as anything in Alfred Hitchcocks's filmography.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Noah

After rebooting his career with two small scale earth-bound pictures, The Wrestler and Black Swan, to my surprise Aronofsky launched back into big idea cinema with the previously unfilmed biblical story of Noah and the Great Flood. It’s a strange mix of epic swagger and Hollywood heroism and the intellectual cinematic gymnastics which Aronofsky has been known for. Ultimately it’s mildly rewarding and nothing of the intense feelings of emotion he made his name for in his more successful pictures.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Amistad

Steven Spielberg’s slavery drama exemplifies the late-career inconsistencies of the hitmaker. Startling moments of dramatic intensity and eye-popping depiction of the horrors of slavery are marred by heavy-handed preachiness. Thus, like many films of the post 80’s era we can admire the film but never feel fully satisfied by it in the end.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Crocodile Dundee

The story of the rustic Aussie cowboy Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee character brought to the vacuous Manhattan lifestyle in the height of Reagan-era 80’s decadence milks every ounce of comedy and charm from this scenario. It was an unlikely megahit in 1986, but even today the film remains highly watchable thanks to the easy-going naturalism and uber chemistry from its two newbie stars Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Breaking the Waves

Von Trier’s extravagantly conceived neo-realist fable seems now like a monumentally significant film in the cinema of the new millennium. Laying out Von Trier’s grandiosly tragic and melodramatic journey of her golden heart heroine under the handheld griminess of Von Trier’s shaky documentary style creates a strange but inspired cinematic experience unlike anything that came before it. Not only did it jump start the Dogme movement but legitimized the lo-fi aesthetic for all filmmakers to come.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Riot in Cell Block 11

Cinematic tough guy Don Siegel first exemplified himself as a director with vision with this razor sharp prison thriller, at once as a first-rate claustrophobic thriller but also as a critique of the inhumane conditions in US prison system at the time.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Considering the massive overkilled marketing push behind this film, the inspired mix of absurdest humour and sharp satire make Anchorman 2 a genuinely pleasant surprise. The almost 10 years between the first film and this one is worth the wait. While the character of lovable buffoon Ron Burgundy and his outlandish gags and set pieces are finely tuned, it’s the film’s sharp critique of the commodization of modern news which sets the film apart from other money-making franchise ventures, such as 'The Hangover'.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Agony and the Ecstasy

With Easter coming around, this also means the season of a historical epics – both in theatres and home video. Agony and the Ecstasy was one of the bigger films of its day, a 70mm showcase, telling the story of the Michelangelo and his tempestuous relationship with Pope Julius I who commissioned the surly artist to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As usual with this kind of the film, the superb production value carries the weight over a dull story and hammy characterizations of historical figures.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

What a pleasure to see at age 70 Martin Scorsese, into the latter stage of his career, deliver one more sprawling crime picture, in this case a film which acts like a capper to a trilogy including Goodfellas and Casino, three pictures connected by the director's blistering cinematic pace, it's fascinating viewpoint into three segments of high stakes crime and corruption and it's sympathetic portrait of three contemptible characters. Once again Scorsese succeeds.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

George Washington

David Gordon Green’s dreamy feature debut renowned for its swath of Terrence Malick affectations feels even more warm and inviting fourteen years later. The consciously lazy narrative of a group of rural Texan kids, black and white, co-habitating happily, and growing up impervious to the pretty bleak squalor around them, is the functional foundation for Green’s lush tonal aesthetic. Essentially the film is made up of small moments of infectious and hypnotising beauty, moments and scenes which don’t always coalesce together fluidly, but collectively whet our palette through its nostalgic filter of childlike naivete.