The Family – The Manzoni’s need a chill pill

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In most mob films it’s evident philosophy that the gangsters try to maintain some distance between family life and business. This is not so with the Manzoni’s, they are a mob, and they all feed off each other’s mishaps.

It’s refreshing to see Robert de Niro at home in playing Giovanni Manzoni (a great gangster name, by the way) as he blunders around, in contradiction of the witness protection restraining orders in place on the family, condemning trivial enemies to savage beatings with various tools (a sledgehammer and baseball bat, to name a few). It’s a reminder of why we thought of him as so great in the first place: De Niro is capable of honest warmth and love for his family whilst, at the same time, holding at bay his psychopathic tendencies which we’re always subliminally aware of. Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Maggie, the wife, gets to toy with a role she has so perfectly executed in the past (Scarface, Married to the Mob) after a recovery of working sparingly for over a decade. Not to mention that she still looks amazing and manages to pull of a likable character, even though she has committed so many sins that even the priest is shocked and henceforth refuses her presence at the church. It’s a wonderful mix.

Another veteran in the mix is Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Stansfield, the main man assigned to overlooking the Manzoni’s case. Jones is his usual deadpan perfect self and has a few moments of invaluable countenance appearing next to De Niro. Stansfield is indeed given a hard time trying to keep the Manzoni’s at bay!

Luc Besson approaches the subject in a refreshing, witty and light nature. Despite mixed reviews, The Family is no different from Besson’s entertaining and chic approach, held across the board of his filmography, from Nikita to The Lady. He is not afraid of big, flashy action sequences, when the story demands it, but when he takes this direction he does so with a pleasant dose of over-the-top humour and a flair comparable to Tarantino. Although in this film, not meant to be seen entirely as a farce comedy, Besson doesn’t shy away from various in-jokes and occasional moments of sporadic tongue-in-check moments; moments I actually laughed at.

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Giovanni’s previous life is brought to attention when we see snippets of a previous mobster gang stewing in a rather luxurious prison cell – a refrigerator, music, and jail guards acting as servants? No doubt, Giovanni ratted out this gang, hence his current position under a witness protection plan in Normandy, France, and the gang being obsessed to find the Manzoni’s and literally blow them off the face of the Earth.

The way in which the Manzoni’s cover is blown is unequivocally whimsical and daft. It’s one of the many lunatic moments in this movie, others include: Maggie blowing up a French supermarket for not stocking peanut butter, Belle (the daughter) blooding the face of a creep with a tennis racket and Warren (the son) constructing a coalition to deliver vicious payback on bullies. This isn’t great cinema but it’s certainly good fun.

It’s not all fun however, some subplots just don’t work – whether this was intentional, I’m not sure. For example, Belle’s romance with the Math teacher, her despair over the fact he was the love of her life, and the families offbeat relationship with the Feds across the street. Giovanni’s attempts at being a writer also seem a little discharged and despondent.

A fantastic in-joke worth noting is when Giovanni is asked to perform a debate on an American classic at the local film society. Ironically the film that ended up screening was Scorsese’s Goodfellas – Giovanni’s typecasting on the film is a gigantic triumph with the residents who all stand up in astonishing applause.

To sum up, The Family is a deliberately eccentric, chirpy, violent and hit or miss film with just enough moments of inspiration to permit a recommendation. Be prepared for weird, different, but good.

3 stars.

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Anamnesis – The ability to hold in the mind

Anamnesis basically means being able to hold memories in ones mind – it is the definition of memory. This film however is a metaphor for the inability of anamnesis – it is a metaphor for distorted memories.

My intention of this mini project was to explore memories via the medium of film. In this case, the staggered edits suggest remembrance is mislaid and the cycle of motion in the camera advocates that amnesia is boundless. Our memories are, no doubt, a monotonous foundation of deterioration.

In simpler terms, this short film attempts to showcase, in a lucidly abstract form, what existence might be like for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alternatively, the film can be interpreted as representing a facile dream state, which is being played on rotation.

You might be wondering what or who my influences are for this project. These influences are simply embedded in the boundless abilities of the camera and this cosmic medium we call film. However, I could cite filmmakers: Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and David Lynch as being influential players. Besides this, I also have a strong interest in mental health and it’s complexity – in this respect psychology correlates to the medium of film. So, expect more experimentally driven treats from me in the future.

Watch the film below:

https://vimeo.com/75404496

Don’t miss my other work: my films.

What a Rush!

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Riveting, thrilling, heart-wrenching, captivating, inspiring – these are all ways to describe Ron Howard’s Rush.

Before I dig deeper into this review, you must realize that I consider myself anything but a Formula One fan, plus, being born in 1994 really doesn’t contribute to my understanding of what really happened between these two great drivers in 1976. My principal point here is that despite my lack of knowledge and expectations, the film blew me away. It was so gratifying that I find myself sitting here writing a review of applause for a film that I nearly disregarded.

With Rush, Ron Howard and his implausible crew have reached out to a far wider audience then the petrol heads that I presume are Formula One fans. Lets hope their not annoyed by this! To be honest, if I was around in the 70s I might have actually been a fan if the rush of the sport was anything like depicted here (the mind-blowing British documentary Senna does justice to this notion also). Rush is alive with a profound and moving story. It is ultimately a film about two charismatic heroes; it playfully allows the viewer to either commiserate with the eccentric playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) or the critical hermit Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), or both. It is this interpersonal freedom that truly spellbound me to the picture.

On the track, the relationship between the two drivers is always explosive as they battle it out for the 1976 World Championships. These race scenes may be cinematically astounding and hold their own prodigious narrative, but it is the contrasting lives and philosophies off these two characters which really act as a significant counterpart to driving this story. The film winds itself into an epic, possibly overpitched, biopic drama of these two notorious drivers.

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What’s more, the casting of these two characters plays out to perfection. Chris Hemsworth is effortless and uncanny in his portrayal of James Hunt, capturing Hunt’s wide smile, frivolous hair and amiable behaviors. However, you could argue that Hemsworth is never entirely called upon to examine the obvious inner demons of a man who constantly chases thrill and pleasure would have. Hunt, seemingly never allows himself actual happiness. Consequently Olivia Wilde’s role as Hunt’s first wife Suzy Miller is unexploited, the great accumulation and subsequent breakdown of this relationship is never explored in any fulfilling detail. On the other hand, Lauda, engrossingly played by Buhr has more depth added into his romantic subplot. Lauda’s eventual wife Marlene Knaus (Alexandra Maria Lara) even has the power to subdue his almost maliciously, stubbornly cold exterior (“If I’m going to do this with anyone,” he tells her on their wedding day, “it might as well be you.”) Yet at the same time she brings natural love upon a man who believes “happiness is an enemy.” Hunt may have attracted more attention from the media (had sex with more women, taken more drugs, drank more alcohol), but it is Lauda who comes off as the ominously more fascinating and complex figure.

This complexity of Lauda’s character is a “European perspective” says Ron Howard during an interview on the Film 4 Programme. Whereas he implies the Americans prefer Hunt – he fits the American hero driven creed far better than Lauda who is just an intellectual dud. Though, Europeans could argue that Lauda is the hero for tolerating defeat in a tranquil fashion. That would be my argument. The societal divide couldn’t be clearer between the two. Lets look at the realities: The Germans undoubtedly make the best cars!

Howard goes on to say he was drawn by the “cinematic opportunities” and the “fantastic characters” offered by the story. His outlooks were remarkably achieved. These ‘fantastic characters’ offered Howard the chance to explore deeper into psychological aspects, hence Lauda’s complexity and Hunts irate state of mind. Hunts “shagalicious” tendencies were actually toned down in the process of making the film said Howard; even though there were clear scenes of Hunt malevolently partaking in the act on a plane and in a hospital ward. I can’t help but wonder how voluptuous this man really was?

There were moments that I actually found myself actually frightened by this film (not the sex scenes – the race scenes). The atmosphere of the race scenes were incredibly vivid and intense; Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is spectacular, weaving his camera, what appears effortlessly, in and out of close-up action, putting us up alongside the wheels, under the steering and even inside the drivers helmet. This stunning cinematography, alongside astonishing sound design (that will relentlessly bombard your ears) and Hans Zimmer’s electrifying score would be transfixing enough to get even a snail recoiling on the edge of its seat. Never has watching Formula One been so exciting – I felt like I was actually smelling the petrol fumes coming off those Formula One cars of the late 70s, which are somehow made to look admirable under Mantle’s lens.

Although the film is packed with American talent – Ron Howard for a start – the film is technically a British independent film. Producer, Andrew Eaton, claims the film was independently financed outside of the studio system – half private investors and half pre-sales of which were sourced within the UK (the film was also shot in the UK). This is a great achievement for British cinema (if you can count it that when the director is American), but let it be known! Our industry is too subtle with our achievement and always has been. Eaton says himself that the “British lack faith in our history,” and claims our “richer culture” is a reason why British cinema is so often surpassed. Indeed this is the European way and has been ever since that night in Paris on December 28th 1895. The situation is elucidated perfectly in David Puttnam’s book ‘The Undeclared War’, but I digress…

Rush might just be the best movie out so far this year. It’s definitely a nice surprise and a breath of fresh air for mainstream contemporary cinema, or rather British cinema!

4 whopping stars for Rush.