Friday, 30 December 2016

300 Words on "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934)

Alfred Hitchcock is one of my all-time favorite directors and I think that few scenes in his oeuvre of brilliant set pieces can compare with the Royal Albert Hall scene from The Man Who Knew Too Much. While that scene may be more polished, better edited, and even more suspenseful in Hitchcock’s masterful 1956 remake, special attention must be given to the 1934 original for doing it first.

1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much feels very much like a film ahead of its time; a testament to Hitchcock’s abilities as a director. At a time when early talkies were often stodgy, plodding affairs, The Man Who Knew Too Much moves at a nearly breakneck pace. Barely twenty minutes have passed and all of the plot points have been introduced and set the stage for the rest of the film. In some respects, this is the film which truly defined the style with which Hitchcock would become forever associated during the remainder of his incredible career. It has all of his usual hallmarks: an ordinary set of characters in the most unordinary of circumstances, danger, intrigue, a memorable villain (played by Peter Lorre in his English film debut), set-pieces played out against real-life landmarks, a tense climax, and a vein of pitch black humor woven through it all.

Hitchcock obviously took a liking to this film deciding to do it again in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day. While the remake is the superior film, the original Man Who Knew Too Much shows what “the talented amateur” had in store. Without this film, it’s unlikely that we would have The 39 Steps, Saboteur, North by Northwest, and Frenzy. The Man Who Knew Too Much is, perhaps, not Hitchcock’s finest hour, but surely one of his most important.   

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

300 Words on "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016)

(Spoiler Free)

Rogue One holds a unique place in the Star Wars saga. It is unlike any of the other seven movies which have come down the pike, all proclaiming that they were the newest, untold chapter in an epic tale which began a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And, while there may be some skepticism leveled at a Star Wars movie which works to upset the established order of the series’ tone and conventions, Rogue One nevertheless stands out as the most original and distinctive in the franchise’s history.

That distinctiveness begins with its plot. Compared to a heist movie and a WWII epic by Entertainment Weekly, Rogue One never shies away from playing up the high stakes of its story, but chooses to focus on character. These newly-woven, unfamiliar threads in the great Star Wars tapestry make for fine heroes and antagonists; they are just the kind of characters who are needed in a movie of this kind which is not afraid to dwell on the bleaker aspects of intergalactic conflict.

But, that’s not to say that Rogue One isn’t afraid to play to nostalgia – as a prequel, a certain amount is to be expected. Truly breathtaking special effects are utilized in order to recreate some of the series’ most memorable figures – including the ever welcome Peter Cushing as the villainous Grand Moff Tarkin.

But, at the end of the day, Rogue One really is about the darker fringes of Star Wars. If The Forces Awakens was a spiritual successor to A New Hope, then Rogue One follows in the wake of The Empire Strikes Back. A prequel which does more than just set the stage for the original trilogy, Rogue One flawlessly answers the pressing questions which have remained unanswered for nearly forty years.  

Saturday, 24 December 2016

300 Words on "La La Land" (2016)

When it comes to film, I don’t often use the word beautiful. However, I can think of no better adjective to describe Damien Chazelle’s open love letter to Classic Hollywood. While I think it would be hard to say that La La Land has broken new ground in terms of storytelling, this movie is a fine example of how style can reshape and enliven even the simplest of subject matter. Utilizing fluid, sweeping camerawork, cinematographer Linus Sandgren goes some way towards wreathing La La Land in a sumptuous, dream-like atmosphere. The film beautifully feels like it is set in an otherworld; one where the 1940s and the modern day intermingle seamlessly. From its opening minutes onwards, La La Land is a testament to an age of moviemaking – and to an even greater extent American history – that has come and gone.

Like his previous, critically-acclaimed film, Whiplash, Chazelle places a great deal of emphasis on music in La La Land. The film’s score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, is a lush and romantic one. Its repeated melodies and motifs linger, sometimes hauntingly, in the memory and complicate the on-screen intangibility in no small measure. While some compositions, particularly the film’s opening number, “Another Day in the Sun,” may make one feel as though they have stepped into the midst of the most saccharine of musicals, the musical numbers in La La Land never remain a main focus.

If one was to look for any real criticism in La La Land it would be that the story it has to tell is one which has been told countless times through the years. But, the presentation of the most familiar of tales is enough to make this movie worth careful examination. This character study is compelling, deeply moving, and mesmerizing. In a word: beautiful.  

Friday, 23 December 2016

Sacred Celluloid is Back!

Yes, it has been nearly a year since I last posted here. And, if you were at all a fan of this blog, then I can say that you can expect a new series of reviews from me. Starting just after Christmas, I will begin a new review series called "300 Words on ________" detailing my thoughts on films both new and old.

What can you expect first? Stop back tomorrow for 300 words on La La Land and then, shortly thereafter, 300 words on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I can guarantee some classic cinema will be included in here soon enough.

I hope you are all as excited to begin this new adventure as I am. Until then, enjoy the holiday season. May it be filled with many great movies.