Notes on Blindness – Review

5 Stars

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Notes on Blindness is hard to put into words (he says, as he puts it into words). It is a sort of line blurring docudrama, but even that sounds wrong. Perhaps the best, and simplest, way to describe it is this: Notes on Blindness is an experience. A pure yet complex cinematic experience. All films are at their best in the cinema, but it is still worth stressing that this film needs to be seen on the big screen, with the best surround sound, with other people equally as enthralled as you.

Directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton have decided to chronicle John Hull’s descent into blindness in a unique way. Hull, a highly intelligent and eloquent academic, kept audio diaries as he began to lose his sight, and in the years following when the blindness was complete. He did this to convey, with heart-breaking honesty, his thoughts and feelings of life without sight. Spinney and Middleton have taken these tapes, along with interviews with the Hull family, and lip-synched them up with actors. This is not the only use of this interesting technique in film (Clio Barnard’s The Arbor), but it is still very refreshing, and allows the film to convey Hull’s thoughts both through his own words, and through film itself. The way Notes on Blindness uses sight and sound is special. Stunning cinematography, alongside Hull’s words, makes you really appreciate sight and even starts to make you feel slightly guilty. The film plays with sight, snapping between darkness and brightness and playing with focus in ways films rarely do. The sounds of the world we see is emphasized, allowing us to imagine how a blind man might visualize the world around him using his hearing. In one eye-opening scene, John Hull describes how he can differentiate between objects when it is raining, as the sound of rain hitting each material is unique. These thoughts are visualized in shots of rain with the noise of the water amped up, making us realise that we too can differentiate, yet are lucky enough to have never had to. There are plenty of other genius moments, but to reveal them here would never do them justice.

Often, when talking about performance in film, people say that acting is all in the eyes and, by extension, the reaction. Notes on Blindness is perhaps the perfect example of this. The lead actors Dan Renton Skinner (John Hull) and Simone Kirby (Hull’s wife Marilyn) never actually deliver a line of dialogue themselves, leading to performances which are all about reaction. Whether it is Skinner’s hands feeling their way round the environment or Kirby’s face as she begins to notice her husband’s deteriorating mental health, every aspect of their physical performance is perfect.

Notes on Blindness uses John Hull’s ground breaking diaries to provide an insight into a world that very few people have any real notion of. It is a necessary piece that has been constructed in such an intelligent way by Spinney and Middleton. A truly unique and educational experience.

The Pursuit of Happyness – Review

3 Stars

The Pursuit of Happyness is a prime example of how having an inspirational and incredible true story does not necessarily make an inspirational and incredible film. It is also an example of how an actor can really carry a film, with Will Smith’s career best performance.

Chris Gardner (Smith) is a man who came close to absolute poverty as he attempted to become a stockbroker through a competitive internship. The juxtaposition of a man working in the city during the day and sleeping in a subway bathroom is interesting, but the film’s exploration of poverty vs wealth isn’t particularly profound. Perhaps this is down to the film being released in 2006, before the economic collapse of 2008. Our current views on the banking industry reflect the events of 2008 and therefore one might be a bit harsh to look down on the film for not criticising the greedy nature of the banking industry. Even so, the huge differences between the homeless life Chris lives and the wealthy one he pursues is not looked at closely enough. The film doesn’t pay much attention to those who are in a similar economic position to Chris, but do not have the ability to escape it.

The overall story is moving but that is more down to Will Smith than anything else. Smith’s charm allows you to believe some quite unbelievable moments, like passing a strict interview whilst not wearing a suit. The relationship between Chris and his son (played by Will Smith’s real life son, Jaden) is the highlight of the film as it is both natural and convincing. Smith has a great ability to convey the stresses and strains Chris Gardner would have had to deal with whilst putting on a brave face. The film’s most moving moments are a direct result of Smith, a weaker performance would give very little emotional impact. There are elements of humour here and there, as well as the sadder moments, which rounds out the film’s feel nicely.

The Pursuit of Happyness is perfectly well made and reasonably entertaining but there is little more to elevate the film beyond that. The story should have been much more profound and, if it wasn’t for Smith’s convincing style, the film could have easily slipped into cheesy melodrama.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates – Review

1 Star

Recently I was lucky enough to receive tickets to a preview showing of a film (thanks to ShowFilmFirst), but was unlucky enough that the film was Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. While not as repulsive as the ‘comedy’ Dirty Grandpa, also starring Zac Efron and Aubrey Plaza, MADNWD is another unfunny film filled with young stars wasting their potential.

The stars in question are Efron, Plaza, Anna Kendrick and Adam Devine, four very talented individuals whose comedy skills cannot be questioned (Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Pitch Perfect etc). Their skills lift some of the otherwise unfunny jokes. Efron and Devine in particular show off great chemistry and hyperactivity that make these otherwise unremarkable and unlikeable characters bearable. Kendrick and Plaza on the other hand aren’t as lucky. Any Parks and Recreation fan will notice Plaza’s Tatiana character bears a striking resemblance to a scene where April Ludgate jokingly impersonates an annoying co-worker (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FewTWONPHRU). Just under two minutes of that type of character works well as annoying comedy, but when you’re stuck with two of them for an hour and forty minutes, it starts to get really really irritating.

The jokes as a whole are the expected crude affair that lack any real wit or intelligence. They come along at a good quick pace, so if you are a fan of that type of humour it will work for you. It is worth noting that, although I barely laughed, most of the audience I was in were roaring with laughter.

Avoiding spoilers, MADNWD attempts to end with a lesson and redemption, but the problems these characters created would still surely outweigh anything they did to help, making this ending seem very forced and completely unbelievable.

Bloopers are played during the credits which show the stars having a good time in the making of this film. I’m glad they enjoyed it, because I certainly didn’t.

10 Cloverfield Lane – Review

4 Stars

A distant cousin of 2008’s Cloverfield, (also produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk) 10 Cloverfield Lane bears little resemblance to the found-footage horror flick. Instead it is a more subtly scary and tense mystery surrounding three characters in a claustrophobic bunker as they try to deduce each other’s motives.

The three characters in question are Michelle, Howard and Emmett, each played brilliantly by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr respectively. After a car crash Michelle wakes up to find herself held captive by Howard in his underground bunker, and he informs her that the US has had some kind of attack meaning that to go outside is too dangerous. Fellow bunker member Emmett seems to agree, leaving Michelle in the precarious situation of not knowing what has really happened and whether she can trust these two odd yet helpful strangers.  As Michelle, and the viewer, are slipped small clues to whether or not an attack has happened or she is a hostage to a psychopath, the tension mounts and dynamics between the characters shift and transform. As mentioned earlier, each performance is fantastic, which really holds together the mystery as you, as a viewer, really don’t know who to trust.

This tension all comes to a head with an unexpected finale that you will either love or hate. Personally I didn’t like it but I loved the rest of 10 Cloverfield Lane so much that it didn’t bother me too much.

Go into 10 Cloverfield Lane with as little knowledge as possible about it (even this review probably says too much) and you will be rewarded with one of the most unnerving and tense psychological thrillers of recent years.