Movie Review - The Birds
Taking what is commonly thought to be nature’s most innocent creature and twisting it to become the cause of an almost apocalyptic scenario, famed suspense-inducing filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock has created an unusual thriller heavily bent on terrifying its audiences rather than forcing them to engage in any considerable thought. The Birds is an obvious product of Hollywood—even if from a more innocent era—and in the end, it’s not much more than a frivolous romance wrapped in the guise of a horror story.
Although it’s taken inspiration from the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, Hitchcock’s revision of the narrative is largely his own with the exception of its premise; the movie is meant to be far more character-driven and spends much of its first half creating a relationship between its two leads, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). Daniels travels all the way from San Francisco to Bodega Bay, a small coastal town in Northern California, intent on finding a man she just met in a bird shop. The town, after many entirely unsubtle moments of insinuation, becomes the scene of an unexplained series of bird attacks, and the tail end of the film is spent mainly with the cast avoiding assault from above.
The obvious question, I ask, is: Why? Of course, the cause for the birds’ actions is never explained in the film, which merely assumes that you shouldn’t care. Although it’s especially unsettling when something to that extent is left unsaid, in any movie. The plot becomes meaningless and one-dimensional in effect, and I lose interest if nothing comes of it. In this case, for example, the birds are excessively destructive—though it’s chaos only for the sake of being chaotic. There is no actual, logical explanation for it.
Hitchcock’s technical genius gives the film an unbelievably creative edge, on the other hand; I often found myself blown away at his use of practical effects, his inventive techniques—there were scenes with backdrops that had been unnoticeably painted and melded completely with the rest of the footage, scenes that used birds trained explicitly to attack, to dive bomb on cue and peck when insisted.
It is understandably dated at points, however—any scene with an actor driving, though typical for the time, is glaringly fake and almost cringe-worthy. The sound of the actors’ voices that frequents so many movies through the early decades of film and in the 60s can be found prominently in The Birds. They’re unavoidable, prevailing aspects of the era, but nonetheless diminish some of the appeal for me.
And, while there is nothing particularly wrong with the actors, I had realized by the end that there’s no lasting effect—no distinguishable scene that has any resonating performance, or anything beyond a simple exchange between characters. There are some moments when the birds decide to attack that leave a greater impression, but even those suffer from being drawn out. One comes to mind in which a character opens a door after hearing the sound of wings flapping on the opposite end, walks in, closes the door behind her, and is mauled by crows for at least four minutes. Again, chaos for no reason at all.
If it had been Hitchcock’s original intention to create something for shock value, then he’s done it. From the last shot alone you’ll find the movie is grim, but its characters are shallow and the plot is mostly barren. Essentially, it’d be a stretch to call The Birds anything more than decent.
Movie Review - The Shawshank Redemption
Moments resembling the very essence of freedom are spread ironically thick across The Shawshank Redemption, a film that seeks to capture both the good and the bad of a lifetime spent in prison, and, equally as much, how a sense of desperation can turn to insurmountable hope in spite of confinement.
A story adapted from the Stephen King novella, the not-so-gracefully titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, this Frank Darabont classic only became so after its release in 1994, and eventually found its place among the most celebrated films of all time. Through the narration of a convict called Red (Morgan Freeman), a man who’s spent the better part of his life behind the walls of Shawshank, we are given the story of another remarkable lifer named Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), as quotable and equally iconic in his role.
Both are brilliantly realized from King’s initial story, both delivering lines lifted straight from the pages as to keep the film’s devotion to the source material natural while largely self-sufficient—in essence, the beauty of Shawshank doesn’t hinge on the merits of its origins. Of course, there are bits scattered throughout which have a greater levity if you understand where it is they’re coming from, though there’s nothing here to stop you from merely enjoying one or the other. The film is a lively depiction as much as it is a stand-alone piece.
As a prison narrative, The Shawshank Redemption is drab and provoking yet still heartfelt, at points casting its inmates in a demoralizing light while often making some feel right at home—the bleakness, for them, is on the outside. Brooks Hatlen (James Whitmore), the one they call institutionalized, is the prison librarian at Shawshank until he’s spit back out onto the streets where, as he puts it, everyone seems to move a whole lot faster; they speak louder, and cars cram up the city. This idea, the thought of being on the inside for so long that you’d be crippled by actual society, adds an entire emotional layer to the bulk of the plot and really helps to contrast some of the overarching ideals in the film.
Andy is a different breed of inmate, however. His retained sense of humanity rubs off on the other prisoners—Red especially, thinking himself to be institutionalized right alongside Brooks—and their eventual exchange near the end comes to affect Red’s entire outlook on life. This development, the progression of Red’s character as a result of Andy’s optimism, I think, is what carries the most weight in all of Shawshank.
In terms of the film’s more tangible elements—the obvious threat mostly existing in Samuel Norton (Bob Gunton), the prison’s warden and almost implausibly nefarious—there’s a soundtrack that works to heighten even the littlest moments and an aiding cast, intimate and handled thoughtfully by Darabont. I do see the character of Tommy Williams (Gil Bellows) a bit convenient for Andy’s sake, but, admittedly, we’d have no movie without him. As for Gunton’s persona, needless as it is, there’s something to be said for his performance and the sheer irony of his character.
Even so, typical story tendencies aside, The Shawshank Redemption is as much of an achievement in filmmaking as it is an ageless lesson—its message is deep and rooted in the perseverance of the human spirit, encompassing hope in every imaginable sense.
Movie Review - The Spectacular Now
There’s a certain feeling of dissatisfaction when you’ve just spent a film’s length with two 30-somethings acting out high school all over again. No doubt the “teen movie” genre suffers a wretched case of this; we’ve seen it often enough by now and it’s near unavoidable. Of course, it makes sense to want experienced actors and actresses in roles as delicate as these movies demand, but it makes them nonetheless transparent. We can see right through their good looks, their wit that only a screenwriter could provide, and we know that it’s just a movie. We know that if we saw what the characters saw, we’d be staring into a screen of lights.
We’re not in high school. We’re on a set.
But The Spectacular Now is none of this. Only compelling, and charmingly real at that. When finishing a movie prompts some fervent rush of emotion, you know you’ve found a gem.
If you’ve seen the film, or have at least read anything about it, you’ll know the tagline. You know that “Sutter Keely lives in the now,” which is how the title comes to make sense. It’s a constant that makes everything about the movie fall freely into place. It’s what makes Sutter’s character work so well, whose impressible wit and self-indulgence is brought to life by Miles Teller. Ultimately, though, it’s what complements the girl, Aimee Finecky, imbued with all of Shailene Woodley’s charming normalcy and endearing quality.
Sutter’s almost never without his flask, and if not his flask then something more covert—but still spiked. He’s the life of every party, but has no future plans. The answer to question number two on his college application begins without perspective, as it most definitely should: “Dear Dean of Admissions, my name is Sutter Keely and up until yesterday I had the best fucking girlfriend in the world.” He continues to apologize for using “fuck” on a formal paper, but still hasn’t the care to rephrase it. This is his life, and we come to realize that he lives it as his own father does—intoxicated and momentary. His whole world is fleeting, while the people around him have more prospective intentions. His girlfriend—and not the hackneyed kind they always are in film, but the “I can’t be around you because it’s bad for me” kind—chooses a better path and a more reliable boyfriend. This leads to Sutter finally passing out on someone’s lawn, life philosophy still the same, and then waking up.
Literally, he wakes up from this dumb, childlike delusion, and Aimee Finecky is hovering over him.
Aimee is Sutter’s living contradiction. A quiet and reserved, science fiction-reading girl, she’s never had a boyfriend, is yet to have been told “I love you” by anyone, and thus has never said it in return. The scene in which she does, haunting as it is, is a powerful, effecting moment. In fact, not a single coming-of-age film in recent years has left me so disturbed or elated by its nonstop, consummate potency. The presence of Teller and Woodley on-screen carries incredible weight. Their chemistry is so pronounced, and not only overt but intoxicating—sort of like Sutter and his beer. Yeah, Teller’s 26, but Woodley is barely of voting age. They both have a youthful tendency on camera; he has a boyish look and nails the personality of your hard-partying high school senior, and she admits no trouble convincing anyone of her 17-year-old mannerisms. The film bears a very naturalistic tone throughout—though its authenticity is only further captured by these two.
The Spectacular Now breathes a new life into its genre—a genre that is, by all accounts, oversaturated with uninspiring, apathetic teenage romps that come from anywhere but the heart. They’re cold and callous, with an effect that’s barely long-standing. This, directed admirably by James Ponsoldt and adapted from the Tim Tharp novel, is so much more. Its impression is deep-rooted and lasting. You walk away not only considering what you’ve just seen, but you’re thinking about its relation to you and your own life, your own experiences.
It shouldn’t be missed.
Time by Hans Zimmer
Source: SoundCloud / Deep Records
Movie Trailer - Interstellar (2014)