Tag Archives: Film Article

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.“— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990


Having most recently directed the searing period drama, Detroit (2017), Bigelow has been making feature films, since her debut, The Loveless (1981), for over thirty-nine years. With a strong academic background, having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University, it’s fascinating to review a career which has eschewed arthouse cinema and essentially been spent working mainly on big-budget genre films. However, one can see in her directorial canon that Bigelow, while striving for commercial success, is constantly testing the boundaries of genre storytelling.

Along with a powerful visual style that attains symbiosis with the core material, she intelligently explores themes relating to violence, individual freedom versus the system, masculinity in crisis, gender representations and socio-political corruption. Lastly, her characters are often outsiders, morally complex and dealing with deep personal trauma. In short: Bigelow’s worldview is one of both healthy scepticism and cynicism, but also an element of hope within the longing for control. So, here are five of Kathryn Bigelow’s most impactful cinematic releases.

***ARTICLE CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***



NEAR DARK (1987)

While The Lost Boys (1987) is rightly regarded as a very entertaining 80’s vampire film, Near Dark (1987) is way, way superior. Despite not catching fire at the box office, this neo-horror-western contains a fantastic cast of James Cameron alumni, including: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. These great character actors inhabit this snarling gang of vampires perfectly as the film contains shockingly brutal violence and hard-bitten dialogue amidst a tender love story.



BLUE STEEL (1990)

While Jamie Lee Curtis is generally better known for her horror and comedy film performances, Kathryn Bigelow made excellent use of her dramatic acting ability as a rookie police officer caught up with Ron Silver’s psychotic commodities trader. Blue Steel (1990) is a variegated genre film which takes a standard police procedural narrative and twists it into something far more psychologically compelling. Lee Curtis excels, as does vicious bad-guy Silver, aptly named Eugene Hunt!



POINT BREAK (1991)

This classic heist meets surfing movie meets gay subtext bromance is jam-packed with classic action scenes and faux-deep philosophical musings. Keanu Reeves is the daftly named cop, Johnny Utah, who goes undercover, amidst the beach brigade to find a bunch of bank robbers. His suspicions fall on Patrick Swayze’s elemental surfer-dude-god and a dangerous “bromantic” game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Bigelow scored her first major hit with Point Break (1991), infusing it with some incredibly visceral stunt, surfing, robbery and chase sequences in an exhilarating film experience.



THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

After the box office failures of her previous three films, the under-rated sci-fi thriller, Strange Days (1995), enigmatic mystery, The Weight of Water (2000), and stodgy cold war film, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Bigelow’s seemingly took a career break. She would, however, come back with her most critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008). From a brilliant script by Mark Boal and led by Jeremy Renner’s standout lead performance, The Hurt Locker (2008), put the audience right at the heart of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Putting aside the politics for a moment, the film is full of incredibly tense and superbly edited scenes which have your heart in your mouth. Simultaneously too, the film also shows the devastating emotional, physical and mental effect war has on the people of Iraq and the soldiers sent to fight this horrifically unjust conflict.



ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Whereas The Hurt Locker (2008) had highly emotional and empathetic protagonists, Bigelow and Boal’s next film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is a much more clinical and technically efficient cinematic experience. In parts, both a war drama and espionage thriller, the story also has a feel of an old-fashioned Western as American military and CIA operatives, led by the excellent Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Politically speaking this is a film which makes me feel very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It plays out like a revenge story. It also seems to both criticize and vindicate torture in the early scenes. This makes me uneasy as I understand the 9/11 attacks were just horrific, yet they seemed to get used as a motive for many more atrocities by the United States government. I guess that was what Bigelow and Boal were going for. They attempted to create a morally and emotionally complex war thriller that lets you interpret the events yourself and conclude one’s own judgements.



A TEST OF CHARACTER: BRIEFLY EXPLORING CINEMATIC PERSONAS

A TEST OF CHARACTER: BRIEFLY EXPLORING CINEMATIC PERSONAS

“Just because you are a character, doesn’t mean you HAVE character.”

Winston Wolf – Pulp Fiction (1994)


What makes one film character more interesting than others? Obviously, the actor who plays them brings much to the role, but the writing, their story and personality are what draws us specifically to them. While film studios have utilised the star system and cast well regarded actors to sell their movies, the actual personas of the characters are just as, if not, more important.

Having strong characters to support the genre, concept and plot of their works is integral to writers, directors and actors. Thus, I’d like to explore some general character traits which help define a strong film character. I would like to consider the following: LIKEABILITY, EMPATHY, EXPERTISE, RESILIENCE, HUMOUR, COOLNESS and COMPLEXITY. There are obviously many other aspects to a character we could consider but I’ll stick to these for now.

To support this, I will list five film characters in each category. If I have missed anything glaring, then please feel free to shout out and comment.

*******CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS*******



LIKEABILITY

Does a character have to be likeable for you to root for them? Not at all! However, if they are a positive character it does help you to warm to their stories and emotions. That isn’t to say you cannot appreciate unlikeable characters, however, they are more complicated and I will come to those later.


FIVE LIKEABLE FILM CHARACTERS

  1. GEORGE BAILEY – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
  2. WOODY – TOY STORY (1995)
  3. SAMWISE GAMJEE – LORD OF THE RINGS (2001)
  4. MARGE GUNDERSON – FARGO (1996)
  5. ATTICUS FINCH – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)


EMPATHY

Empathy and sympathy are two sides of the same coin, but can also contain variants. You can sympathise with a character but not necessarily empathise with their actions; and vice versa. For me, empathetic aspects are what I look for most in a character. They could still be pretty unlikeable, but if I feel drawn to their plight I will still connect with their story. Nonetheless, the characters I list here are both empathetic and mostly sympathetic too.


FIVE EMPATHETIC FILM CHARACTERS

  1. ROCKY BALBOA – ROCKY (1976)
  2. MARTY PILETTI – MARTY (1955)
  3. FORREST GUMP – FORREST GUMP (1994)
  4. CARRIE WHITE – CARRIE (1976)
  5. KING KONG – KING KONG (1933)


EXPERTISE

I have read a lot of screenwriting books and many of them say if you cannot make a character likeable or sympathetic, make them excel at something. Their expertise in their chosen field will draw you into their world, empathise and even admire their actions. If they are on the right side of the law that will obviously increase identification with such a character. Having said that there are many experts who are villains and I, like many, love a good nemesis too.


FIVE EXPERT FILM CHARACTERS

  1. TONY STARK – IRON MAN (2008)
  2. ETHAN HUNT – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise.
  3. INDIANA JONES – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
  4. HANNIBAL LECTER – SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
  5. DETECTIVE WILLIAM SOMERSET – SEVEN (1995)


RESILIENCE

Resilience or the overcoming of insurmountable odds is a sure-fire way of getting an audience on side. The fact a character refuses to give in despite overwhelming odds creates all manner of means with which to identify with a character. When watching a film we also want to see characters who mirror our own personalities. So, to watch characters who never give in is very appealing to me.


FIVE RESILIENT FILM CHARACTERS

  1. ELLEN RIPLEY – ALIEN (1979)
  2. SOLOMON NORTHUP – TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
  3. CELIE JOHNSON – THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
  4. ANDY DUFRESNE – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
  5. OH-DAE-SU – OLDBOY (2003)


HUMOUR

Obviously making an audience laugh is a fine way of making the one like a character. It’s also a good way to mask a characters’ agendas or be employed as a defence mechanism or weapon too. Funny characters are not just limited to comedy films as humour can enhance action, romantic and drama genres too.


FIVE HUMOROUS FILM CHARACTERS

  1. ACE VENTURA – ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994)
  2. PETER PARKER – SPIDERMAN (2002)
  3. JUNO MACGUFF – JUNO (2007)
  4. AXEL FOLEY – BEVERLEY HILLS COP (1984)
  5. RANDALL P. MCMURPHY – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)


COOLNESS

Arguably the most difficult one to quantify and even write, because it could be the actor who the one bringing the cool to the role. However, I think there are great examples of characters who are written that way too. Usually, a cool character will be someone of few words or a reserved demeanour or simply designated cool by their skills, actions and even what they wear.

FIVE COOL FILM CHARACTERS

  1. VIRGIL HILTS – THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
  2. CLIFF BOOTH – ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
  3. LEE – ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
  4. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY – BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)
  5. MAX ROCKATANSKY – MAD MAX (1979)


COMPLEXITY

Complexity can be defined it many ways. It could be they are conflicted souls, searching for their place in the world. Or characters who are behaving badly while striving to be good. They could just be presenting a certain persona while hiding their real self. Or they could just be totally screwed and have mentally flipped. Complex characters are often unpredictable, but always compelling.


FIVE COMPLEX FILM CHARACTERS

  1. HOWARD BEALE – NETWORK (1976)
  2. MIRANDA PRIESTLY – THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)
  3. DARTH VADER – STAR WARS (1977)
  4. TRAVIS BICKLE – TAXI DRIVER (1976)
  5. JOHNNY FLETCHER – NAKED (1993)

TO BE CONTINUED. . .

There are so many wonderful characters in the world of cinema. Those mentioned above are just a few. The aspects I speak of too are just brief sketches really in such a fascinating area. Certain characters are more than simply likeable, empathetic, cool, complex and funny. Some of are a collision of all the facets I have noted above. Lastly, as well as different elements to their personas, characters can also be defined as an archetype or genre type. But, that is another story for another article.


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MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #7: JAKE GYLLENHAAL

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #7:  JAKE GYLLENHAAL

Here’s another filmic sojourn into the roles of one of my favouritest actors. Last time I looked at Robert DeNiro while today it’s the difficult-to-spell yet ultra-talented Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake was a former child actor who has progressed into one of the finest leading acting stars around. Here are SIX of his best roles.

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

DONNIE DARKO (2001)

This genre-busting maelstrom of sci-fi-time-travel-teen-rites-of-passage-meets-weird-super-anti-hero movie is obtuse but powerful. Gyllenhaal confirmed himself as a dark, brooding force of nature as the young American being haunted by strange emotions and demonic rabbits. Gyllenhaal’s bravura performance somehow knitted together the string of imaginative concepts and pain of growing up, making this a mesmerizing cult classic.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)

This beautiful heartbreaker incredibly lost the Best Film Oscar to Crash (2005); but we all know there is no justice in the world kids!   Jake Gyllenhaal’s flashy cowboy falls for Heath Ledger’s less verbose ranch hand in a moving story of forbidden love within a masculine western setting. Gyllenhaal and Ledger are incredible with Ang Lee directing Annie Proux’s story with a deft and wistful touch. Much is made that this is a “gay” film but it is not – it is a very human story which will break the heart of anyone who has struggled in love.

ZODIAC (2007)

While frustrating in terms of satisfactory narrative closure (because it’s a true story, Paul!), David Fincher’s crime classic contains a series of brilliant burnt-out-obsessive performances from Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jnr and Mark Ruffalo. Each character becomes fixated on the identity of the vicious and random Zodiac killer including Gyllenhaal’s comic-strip artist. It’s a slow-burning film which benefits from Fincher’s shadowy style and there’s a palpable sense of creeping paranoia throughout which chills the bones.

SOURCE CODE (2011)

I loved this fast-paced, sci-fi actioner with a twist-in-the-tale from Moon (2009) director Duncan Jones.  It’s basically Groundhog Day-on-a-train as Gyllenhaal plays a soldier stuck in an eight-minute-loop trying to both foil a terrorist attack and discover where his identity has gone. The action fizzes along and as the plot twists and turns rarely allowing you to catch breath.  Gyllenhaal carries the film with both physical and emotional power right up to the breathtaking surprise ending.

PRISONERS (2013)

It was a tough choice between this brilliant crime story and Gyllenhaal’s doppleganging performance in Denis Villeneuve’s weirdly compelling Enemy (2013); however, I chose this one as the story was so enjoyable. Fantastic acting from our mate Jake as the preposterously named Detective Loki tracking down Hugh Jackman’s kidnapped young daughter and her friend. Jackman and Gyllenhaal are both full of obsessive angst and rage in a taut thriller which had me gripped throughout.

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

Gyllenhaal should’ve been Oscar nominated for this incredible turn as sociopathic self-starting media-bloodhound Lou Bloom. His rendition of Bloom was of a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his dynamic performance we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenhaal’s magnetic performance, and the film is a compelling satire on the parasitic press as vampires draining the life out of humanity.