Friday, 28 August 2015

007 Announcement - James Bond Month

Dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun 
Ba ba DON Ba ba DON Badap da da

No post this week because I'm busying researching and working on a month long James Bond series for September.

That means rewatching a number of Bond films, watching some I've never seen before, listening to various podcasts on Bond, reading articles, and basically working way more than I should for a blog nobody reads.

But it's my blog and I'll do what I want with it, so here it goes. This is my first series of blog posts, which is new, and will include another first, a two-parter focusing on Sean Connery. Lots of firsts going on.

That will be followed by a post on the Pierce Brosnan era and concluded by a post on the latest films starring Daniel Craig, which I've never seen.

This, and possibly more, all coming shaken and stirred.


Friday, 21 August 2015

Breakfast at Audrey's - Audrey Hepburn Actually Was An Actress

Now before I start, some qualification is required I think. Obviously people know Audrey Hepburn was an actress, a famous one at that, back in the 1950s and 1960s. Even people who have never watched her movies know that she starred in films like Breakfast at Tiffany's and My Fair Lady although those films only exist as titles and glamorous still images in their minds.

And that's the point. Those iconic still images of Audrey Hepburn are what she is remembered for, not the necessarily the movies they come from. Think of the iconic picture of Hepburn from her film, The Nun's Story. You know the one. Hepburn in an elegant black dress, her neck covered in pearls, a foot long cigarette holder in her silk gloved hand, her poise and beauteous charm the embodiment of sophistication and grace.

That's the one.

The image and idea of Hepburn is so detached from the films she starred in, that half of you didn't know this photo is actually from her most famous role, Breakfast at Tiffany's. The other half are angry I tried such an obvious ploy, shaking your heads in disapproval, despite the fact you probably haven't seen the movie.

I know I hadn't. At least until I watched it as part of the research for this article. Of course, I knew who Audrey Hepburn was. I've seen the images from Breakfast at Tiffany's too. I was aware she was an actress long before I was born and was an icon of glamour and elegance.

But I had never watch one of her movies. And aside from Tiffany's, I don't think I could easily recall any other movie she'd starred in of the top of my head. She just was those images. The image of style and grace. A slender slip of a woman who was strikingly stunning and pretty with a girlish charm under all the sophistication.

And she could be irresistibly cute when she wanted to be.

And that's the thing. She projected such an image of sophistication and style that it overwhelm her star persona until it was turned into a meme. Always known for her fashionable tastes, by the time the internet came around, her iconography was solidified.

An iconography of timeless grace that could be fetishised into a series of pictures which projected a certain image of sophisticated stylish charm that people, predominantly young girls, could look up to and admire. An iconography which could be easily disseminated online until the mere sight of a picture of Hepburn carried with it connotations far beyond any role she occupied in her career.

She became more than just an actress from another era immortalised in film and pictures, she became the embodiment of a certain sensibility, carrying with it a host of meanings but pointing to one thing, an ideal of feminine style which one could aspire to and be inspired by.

"Who me, darling?"

It also helped that Hepburn said a lot of charming and sophisticated things about life, because of course she did. These have often been plastered on images of her, adding to the ideology and iconography she came to represent.

Things like,
For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.

Not to mention, "If you've got it, flaunt it" (citation needed).

As those quotes clearly illustrate, the poise which Hepburn embodied in her iconography was paired with life advice which stressed the secret to being beautiful and sophisticated wasn't how you dressed or looked. Rather it was the manner in which you presented yourself through confidence, your own happiness, and through bringing happiness to others.

On a near complete tangent, I've noticed that often when celebrities or movie characters say seemingly wise, bite-sized quotes about life, people seem to take those quotes as a valid life philosophy. Even if that life advice doesn't actually make sense when you really think about it. This isn't to discredit Hepburn's words but is more a wider comment on the validity we give to bite-sized quotes which simplified life into easily manageable 'truisms'.

My favourite example is Yoda's "Do or do not. There is no try." That literally makes no sense. Of course there is try. Trying leads to doing. You can't just do something without trying it first. That is the meaning of the word, Yoda. Jeez.

"Bad my. Goof that time I did."

Now from our privileged position decades after Hepburn said those words, it seems almost condescending, at worst hypocritical, for one of the most beautiful actresses of all time to declare that beauty isn't about how one looks but how one looks at others. As if looking for the good in others will make my eyes more beautiful, the skeptic would say.

Especially since Hepburn seems to present a type of beauty which now appears near unattainable. Incredibly thin but tall, with a gorgeous face and an infectious smile framed by a distinctive profile and prim thick eyebrows, Hepburn presents an almost impossible standard of female beauty.

However, what I think has been forgotten over time is just how different Hepburn was when she started on the scene and how she was a drastic alternative to the voluptuous curvy women who had been dominating the silver screen at the time. Being skinny wasn't seen as desirable or in vogue for a female film star back in the 1950s, an era dominated by Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Mansfield, and of course, Marilyn Monroe.

And then comes along this impossibly adorable wisp of a girl.

When Audrey Hepburn made her start on the silver screen with Roman Holiday in 1953, she offered an alternative form of beauty, one that wasn't defined by a lady's bust or curves but her grace and poise. Rather than perpetuating the idea that there was only one ideal female body type, Hepburn presented the idea that alternative body types can be beautiful and glamorous too.

Unfortunately, that seems to have been lost over the years as we've had decades of models and film actresses literally starving themselves to attain the remarkably slender form with which Hepburn moved so elegantly across the screen.

Hepburn's thin frame was actually a result of adolescence malnutrition during World War 2, not a conscious attempt on her part to be skinny in order to be considered attractive. Luckily, Hepburn had an acute sense of what looked good on her, clothes which accentuated her assets and downplayed her 'flaws', like her lack of impressive cleavage.

Who needs boobs when you're this elegant?

However, in providing an alternative to the bodacious bomb-shells onscreen at the time, rather than showing that all body types are beautiful in their own way, over time Hepburn herself become an ideal vision of feminine beauty which seemed just as unattainable as the one presented by Elizabeth Taylor.

It doesn't help she was the original manic pixie dream girl. For those who might not be familiar with the term, a manic pixie dream girl is female character in a movie who exists solely as the ideal girl for the protagonist. Slightly quirky yet adorable, sharing many of the same interests yet infinitely interesting, able to hang out with his friends as one of the boys yet unmistakably attractive and feminine.

Think Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, or actually pretty much most of her filmography. Or think about the term which was created to describe Deschanel's acting persona, adorkable. Because she's an adorably dork and dorkly adorable. Attractive yet approachable. Now, while Hepburn was too graceful to ever be adorkable you can see how she trailed the way for the manic pixie dream girls to follow.

This is my favourite image of Hepburn precisely because it is so manic pixie dream girlish.

So when I read that Audrey Hepburn was the inspiration for Joy in Inside Out it made perfect sense to me. Hepburn could be boundlessly joyful, indeed a large part of her charm in Roman Holiday as Princess Ann is how boundlessly energetic and curious she is, trying to get the most of a day without royal engagements and a schedule.

I had intended to write about how Hepburn's films are often ignored in light of her image or the connotations associated to her image eventually getting round to reviewing some of her films. However, I've only watched her first film, Roman Holiday, and her most well-known film, Breakfast at Tiffany's, both of which have been discuss elsewhere online in great depth.

"What have they been saying?"

And it's an interesting thing but the truth is that Hepburn's image carries so much with it, style, grace, beauty, wisdom, sophistication, and so on, that it really is a story in and of itself. One that is just as rich as the wonderful characters she played in the couple dozen movies she made (a large number of which have become undeniable classics).

I think that Hepburn was a fantastic actress deserving of the accolades she was given based on the few films of hers I have seen but the greatest role she played was one she never auditioned for nor meant to play. That was the role of ideal feminine beauty which young girls either aspired to or felt was unattainable.

However, one can hope that the image of graceful elegance and sophisticated beauty she represents ultimately leads to furthering the belief that all body types are beautiful.

For after all, Audrey believed that happy girls are the prettiest girls.


Audrey Hepburn Wikipedia page

6 Lesser-Known Facts About Audrey Hepburn -

Roman Holiday Wikipedia Page

Audrey Hepburn’s Son: My Mother Never Thought She Was Beautiful - Vanity Fair

Audrey Hepburn Was the Inspiration for Inside Out’s Joy - Vulture

Audrey Hepburn Is Eternally Elegant in These Rarely Seen Photos - Glamour

Throwback Thursday: Audrey Hepburn's Lasting Appeal - Viva

Friday, 14 August 2015

Last Tango In Brando - A Marlon Named Desire

Marlon Brando is one of the greatest actors who ever lived. Some would argue that he was the greatest. I don't know about that but I do know that his influence is undeniable. Literally cannot be denied. So many fantastic actors have been shaped in one way or another by his acting that to list them would be a futile effort at best.

However, when talking about Brando, people tend to focus on three or four things. They would probably discuss the sheer intensity and sexual magnetism of his early performances or his mid-career peak as Don Vito Corelone in The Godfather.

"I'm gonna make them a reference they can't refuse."

Alternatively, they might mention his passionate, if ill-executed, activism, or his later bloated years making essentially glorified cameos for ridiculous sums of money as he became increasingly difficult to work with, not to mention, increasingly fat.

In whatever case, it cannot be denied that Marlon Brando was one of the most important stars in the history of Hollywood, leaving a definite mark. Even as his fame faded, his stardom was eulogised into myth: a story of a fantastic actor and new type of male sex symbol who seemed to inspire a whole generation before eventually descending into prima donna tendencies and seemingly wasting his prodigious talent in his later years.

The truth is of course more complicated than the myth but I'm not going to try deconstruct the myth of Brando since I really haven't done enough research nor am really interested in doing so.

I actually would have more interest in just posting pictures of Brando looking moody.

To be fair, I'm not really interested in discussing the three or four things I mentioned everyone talks about when they talk about Brando in any great detail. This post isn't about The Godfather or his activism. And it is especially not how this once beautiful sex icon didn't age particularly well. That has been well-covered elsewhere online and in print.

However, while I won't go on about his early roles in great depth, I do want to mention them. This is mainly because I had never seen his early iconic performances which made him a star and cemented his place in Hollywood history.

Of course I knew about his famous "I could have been a contender" speech from On The Waterfront and had seen the "Stella! Stella!" scene from A Streetcar Named Desire either on YouTube or referenced in a bazillion different things, including Seinfeld but I had never watched the movies they came from.

Here's another picture of Brando looking moody.

So I had me a bit of a Marlon Brando movie marathon this week to catch up on the Brando films I never got round to seeing. And, considering their iconic status, they are unsurprising great. Brando is fantastic, of course, although I could see where the things he was doing was picked up by later actors such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Tom Hardy (among others) and taken further.

This is not to underplay how fantastically intense and sexual Brando is as Stanley Kolwaski nor how powerfully emotive his performance as Terry Malloy is, but rather just an indication of how what he did then allowed the actors who followed to take it to the next level, building on what he had accomplished.

Yet another picture of Brando looking moody.

He definitely brought an intensity and realness to the screen which hadn't been seen before but in breaking that barrier, others sought to push it even further.

One way to think of it is how old movies tend to seem slow to younger audiences. They seem take longer to unfold their narratives with less action, probably because not every one was familiar with the cliches of movie storytelling yet and movies were slower paced. On the other hand, modern movies are incredibly faster paced in comparison, compacting a lot more information in less time with far more action propelling the plot forward leading from one scene to the next.

Similarly, Brando's performances might seem slightly muted in comparison to the intensity of De Niro in Taxi Driver or Raging Bull, Hardy's performance as prisoner Charles Bronson in Bronson, or practically anything Day-Lewis does. Again, this is not to take away from what a fabulous actor he was but rather to highlight how art is built on the work of those who came before us. In this case, the actors who followed in Brando's footsteps, and then the actors who followed in the footsteps of those who followed in Brando's footsteps.

Just one more picture of Brando looking moody

However, as a side note, I wanted to talk about how On the Waterfront really made me think of Rocky. You might remember that I wrote about the Rocky movies a while ago after watching them for the first time and noting they were more than I expected for films about a boxer who would eventually punch communism in the face.

Now, in his review of the first Rocky movie, Roger Ebert noted that Sylvester Stallone reminded him of a young Marlon Brando. At the time when I wrote my article on the Rocky series I didn't understand what Ebert meant, but having watched On the Waterfront it makes perfect sense. On the Waterfront is almost like a spiritual predecessor to the first Rocky.

Both are movies about uneducated boxers who could have been contenders but due to circumstances, the chance blew them by. Both characters work as muscle on the docks for a criminal type and dream of being more than being perceived as a bum by those around them.

Look at him. Just bumming it up. 

On the Waterfront uses Terry's failed boxing history as backstory for a character in a movie which focuses on a blossoming relationship and crime. On the other hand, Rocky's failed boxing history is used as backstory for a character in a movie which focuses on a relationship and the chance to become a contender.

Although attempting to compare the performances of the two would be futile, due to the reverence Brando is held as one of the greatest actors in the history of ever while Stallone has often been dismissed as a mumbling action star, I'm gonna compare their performances with one another. Brando is the better actor for sure, but just like how I mention those who followed Brando took it further, so too does Stallone.

Where Brando's Terry was uneducated and not the smartest man on the dock, like I've discussed in my previous article, Stallone's Rocky is rather slow and borderline mentally challenged. It's almost like Stallone, consciously or otherwise, built on Brando's performance of Terry, or at least let it inform his own. Almost as if he had said to himself, "Yeah, but what if we made him more slow and mumble more?".

"You say what, now?"

But what I really want to talk about are two films made in between Brando's early blast on the silver screen and his mid-career high with The Godfather. These films are almost never discussed when people think of Marlon Brando, despite the fact he made some intriguing films during this time, even if they weren't as successful as his early roles or the colossal hit The Godfather was.

Looking through his filmography during this period, two films (ten years apart from each other) stood out to me, Sayonara and Reflections in a Golden Eye. The former because it attempted to deal with interracial marriage in the late 1950s, the later because it dealt with suburban sexual repression and closeted homosexuality in the late 1960s.

Funnily enough, Brando plays military figures in both films, a major in Sayonara and a captain in Reflections. Although these movies were made a decade apart and bear no real relationship to each other, it's an odd thematic coincidence that both films depict a military man struggling with desires beyond what was expected of a 'good' masculine soldier at the time, and arguable today.

"Wait, they only repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell how long ago now?"

First things first, Sayonara is a really good film with rather progressive racial politics. It really tries to depict Japanese culture authentically and even if it might get some things wrong since it is coming from an outsider's perspective, the film is trying to be culturally sensitive, which was unusual for its time. The love between the supporting characters Joe Kelly and Katsumi feels genuine and the film doesn't shy away from all the prejudice and obstacles their interracial union would suffer in the real world.

Similarly, as we see Brando's Llyod "Ace" Gruver develop tolerance and understanding, eventually falling in love with a Japanese woman over his American Southern belle, the film really is a strong message for tolerance and acceptance in the face of racist adversity.

Brando gives deft and rich performance as the 'aw shucks' Southern pilot and general's son who has a clear idea of the future which has been planned out for him and was prepared to follow that path until he finds love. In contrast to the intensity in A Streetcar Named Desire, he is more subdued here depicting the transition from calling Joe's girlfriend slint-eyed in the beginning of the film to eloping with his Japanese fiance at the end of it. The fact that transition is completely believable is a testament to Brando's talent.

"Aw shucks."

Unfortunately, the film does suffer from the not-so casual racism of the times since the primary Japanese male lead is played by a Mexican in yellow-face. This might be a symptom of sexism too, for while it seems the film is totally okay with having Japanese actresses play Japanese female roles, apparently a supporting Japanese male character can't be played by a Japanese man for some reason.

But moving on, since if we get bogged down in the complex racial and sexual politics at work here, we'll never get past it, let's talk about Reflections in a Golden Eye. Starring Brando with Elizabeth Taylor, this appears to be a movie which time wanted to forget.

The movie bombed on its release and wasn't well-received by most critics at the time, Time Magazine didn't like it, while Variety called it a "pretentious melodrama" and didn't think to highly of Brando's performance. On the other hand, Roger Ebert praised the film and Brando's performance, stating it was a return to his peak after a run of poor films. He even took to chastise the audience in the cinema for their homophobic response to laugh at Brando brushing his hair when he thinks a private is coming to see him in his room.

"Why would they do that?"

When watching the film, it struck me how the primary theme, aside from repression, was perception, or rather keeping up the facade of normality while harbouring desires or tendencies outside of society's expectations. This is not limited to Brandon's Captain Penderton but also Tayler's Leonora who is having an affair with their neighbour and Penderton's superior officer.

This is a film about performance, where people struggle to perform the roles assign to them by society. There is a scene where Penderton practices his salute and smiling in the mirror. It is a rehearsal but you can just see the cracks in his performance, where he is struggling to keep up the act.

Furthermore, the character of Penderton almost seems like a retort to the sex icon status Marlon got for his performance in Streetcar, a status he reportedly hated. In the first scene we see Brando as Penderton he is doing weight excercises with a barbell and struggling to lift the weight. Although fit, we see the effort and strain he is under trying to lift the barbell with one arm, eventually giving up. It's almost like he is giving up on keeping his body muscular/attractive, a possible cinematic visualisation of Brando's rejection of his sex symbol status.

"Arrgh, fuck this."

But it also sets up Penderton's character perfectly. A man trying to keep up appearances but struggling and starting to fail. He tries to cover up his latent homosexuality by reacting with seeming disgust at anything untoward or immoral but it is merely a front and one which is becoming increasingly fragile.

Stylus suggest that Brando was miscast for the role but how that actually works in the film's favour and is one of its fundamental strengths since "Brando is awkward as Penderton, patently unsure of himself trying to fit into the role of a gay man". Essentially, Brando's own awkwardness at playing a gay man infromed Penderton's own awkwardness at trying to play the role of a macho hetrosexual leader in the film.

There is a moment where Penderton breaks down in the middle of a lecture and Brando is simply perfect. This isn't a showy role but a nuance one that unfolds as the film develops, and I would suggest is one of Brando's best.

And yes, that's including his performance as Jor-El in Superman.


Marlon Brando Wikipedia page

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 film) Wikipedia page

On the Waterfront Wikipedia page

Rocky - Roger Ebert Review

Sayonara Wikipedia page

The Duke in His Domain - Interview with Marlon Brando by Truman Capote

Reflections in a Golden Eye (film)

A Second Take: Reflections in a Golden Eye - Stylus Magazine

Review: ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’- Variety

Friday, 7 August 2015

Where in the World is The Last Unicorn?

I rewatched The Last Unicorn this past week with my girlfriend. So yeah... that was a weird animated fantasy film from 1982, wasn't it? I don't know how else to introduce the film, so there it is.

After watching it again, it was apparent that it would be a great film to review since it is so weird in a lot of different ways. For example, an article by the AV Club describes how the film is a horror show of terrifying images wrapped in gorgeous animation and a oddly odd fantastic tale.

Similarly, this Buzzfeed list lists the 20 creepiest and most bizarre moments from the movie, including the almost surreal moment when Captain Cully casually asks Schmendrick the wizard if he would like a taco. A taco. Keeping in mind that this is fantasy story set in a faux-medieval European backdrop like most fantasy stories, which means it is pretty Caucasian up in there, why the hell would he offer him a taco?

The 20 Creepiest & Most Bizarre Moments From "The Last Unicorn"
"Don't mind if I do but I could really go for some tequila if you've got any." 

Again, this in a time where people dressed in armour slayed dragons and , not to mention Captain Cully and his crew are outlaws living in a forest as though they're Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men (who they actually directly reference). Earlier in the scene they were complaining about eating rat soup, how do they even know what a taco is?

No seriously, I want to know. Supposedly this line is even in the book that the film is based on, so it isn't an ad-lib by the voice actor or some sort of in-joke by the screenwriter. This was written on a page for a novel about an unicorn set in a magic medieval world populated solely by white people and everyone, including the author's editor, was apparently cool with it.

How did the tacos get there? How do they exist in that world?

"Uh, magic?"

And there are many things I could talk about in my irreverent tongue-in-cheek way, like the Boob Tree, because there is a boob tree in this children's animated film for kids. That's a tree with boobs just in case you weren't sure.

But aside from the puzzling moments or traumatic scenes of real dark violence, there is much to admire about the film. The animation is beautiful, if very 80s in the movements of the characters, which are slightly stilted. However those somewhat jerky actions kind of add to the otherworldly or fantastical element of the film by giving the characters unnatural movements, especially the unicorn herself.

The designs of the characters are great, exaggerating the grotesque elements and somewhat misshapen form of Mommy Fortuna, the horrifying menace of the Red Bull, and the sleek, delicately gorgeous look of the Last Unicorn herself.

"Gazing at the solitary moon in the sky is a metaphor for my own loneliness."

However, as my girlfriend repeatedly mentioned while we were watching the film, the unicorn seems oddly Japanese in her design with large anime-eyes. This becomes even more apparent when she turns into a human halfway through the movie, looking like a more delicate Sailor Moon.

This isn't all too surprising considering that the animators were Japanese but still seems to stick out since none of the other designs have any overt anime influence. The rest of the human characters definitely appear more earthy than ethereal and if they have big eyes, they seem more Disney than anime (even though I know historically, anime got the big eyes thing from Disney but you know what I mean).

These two don't look like they should be in the same movie.

To be fair, perhaps the anime-style design of the unicorn's human form was intentional in order to highlight her 'otherness' in contrast to the less elegant and more earthy designs of the human humans. It certainly emphasises her mythical allure whilst she's an unicorn.

But there are other little touches in this movie that are great, like when Molly first meets the unicorn and bursts into tears, cursing her for coming too late. That she has been waiting for the unicorn since she was a girl but the unicorn has come when she is old and no longer new and innocent. It's actually a rather emotive scene that emphasises Molly's sense of lost youth and missed opportunity almost poignantly.


Oh, can I go back to the weird things about this movie? Since I've got one I don't think other people have mentioned. The theme song is by America. No, not the country, the band. Yes, that's right, the folk-pop band, America.

Famous for their 1971 hit, "A Horse With No Name", America were known for their tight three part harmonies and catchy folk songs with pop melodies, none of which screams theme song for a fantasy film. Surprisingly the song is rather fitting despite the occasional overwrought line and slight sappiness, providing a nice musical refrain for the film which matches its whimsical yet melancholic mood quite succinctly.

Did I mention there was singing in this movie? Because there is. Not a lot of it but there are songs. And they are sung. Some of them by the actors. None of whom can sing. While all of the actors they cast are tremendous stars and bring considerable voice talent to the film... they can't sing.

But they gave them songs to sing. This adds another layer of oddness to the film. Jeff Bridges in particular struggles to hold a tune in his duet with Mia Farrow. However, if I'm being honest, I quite like these imperfect performances since they add a vulnerability to the songs which underscores the melancholic feel and adds to the charm of the film.

I mentioned the boob tree, right?

And that's the thing, despite all the weirdness or scary moments, what really sticks out about the film is its charm. There is something rather charming about it. It's a surprisingly mature, bizarre, yet charming, examination of the themes of immortality, loneliness, what is happiness, and innocence.

As is usual with these blog posts, I never got round to talking about everything I wanted to talk about the thing I was talking about but I guess this will do. If you want, you could also tweet me about it and we can talk there or something.


The Last Unicorn (film) Wikipedia page

The Last Unicorn was nightmare fuel to a generation of kids - The AV Club

The 20 Creepiest & Most Bizarre Moments From "The Last Unicorn" - Buzzfeed