Saturday, October 22, 2016

Regarding Marilyn Monroe...

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did
"Candle in the Wind"- Elton John

Where do you even begin to start writing about Marilyn Monroe?

I've been meaning to write about what Marilyn means to me for awhile now and even sitting here I struggle to find the words. I find my inspiration when I look at the photo above, which was taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE in 1953. It is a beautiful photo to be sure and Marilyn is stunning, but I look at it and just see sadness, as I do with many of her photos. She may not have been sad at this moment and 1953 was indeed a breakout year for her with the releases of Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, but knowing what I know about Marilyn Monroe makes me just feel pity and sorrow for the poor little lost girl by the name of Norma Jeane who just wanted to be loved.

I've always wondered what Marilyn's life would have been like if she knew that 54 years after her death, she would still be one of the most recognised of all movie stars past and present and to many personifies old Hollywood and its glamour. Her luminous face is printed on countless pieces of memorabilia in the souvenir shops that line Hollywood Boulevard and tourists flock to see her handprints at the Grauman's Chinese Theater forecourt and take photos with her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Even those who just know the basics about Marilyn, will talk with conviction about how she was a legend and about how much they admire her. Yet, in life she was incredibly insecure regarding her acting ability and always worried that people weren't taking her seriously.

Norma Jean Mortensen was born on June 1 1926 to a single mother, Gladys and a father who Norma Jean never knew and was never named. She never experienced a stable childhood as she was moved from home to home because of her mother's mental condition and as a result, struggled to find and hold onto love. This constant need to be loved followed Marilyn for her whole life. She was always on the lookout for someone who would love her with their all and never leave. Marilyn married three times (Jim Dougherty in 1942, Joe DiMaggio in 1954 and Arthur Miller in 1956) and this neediness was something each husband experienced. She aspired to become an actress believing that it would make people love her and ultimately bring her happiness.

Fame certainly found her, but as Marilyn Monroe and not Norma Jean...who were two very different people. Norma Jean had reinvented herself as the persona of Marilyn Monroe (although the studios gave her the new name) and it was Marilyn who was being loved, not Norma Jean. For someone who had had a childhood riddled with abandonment, she was destined to struggle in Hollywood and she was unfortunately always going to feel the pressure of the studio system. Poor Norma Jean never really had a chance of pure and all encompassing happiness as Marilyn Monroe.

But....if by some crazy way she was able to see into the future and see how loved she still would be and how many girls would still admire her for her beauty and glamour, would Marilyn's mentality have been different? For the girl who was always worried whether she was loved and whether she was being taken seriously, a snapshot of how much she dominates the world and our minds when we think about  old Hollywood would surely have made a difference.

So my point is that we can all learn from Marilyn and not in the way that many people believe. Marilyn Monroe is an extraordinarily loved Hollywood historical figure not just for her beauty, but also for her films which are still widely available today. She was always worried that she wasn't being taken seriously, but history has always taken her very seriously. Maybe we can all remember Marilyn next time we wonder if people are taking us seriously and if we are loved? We often see ourselves in the harshest light and Marilyn was no exception, but the world see's us differently to the way we see ourselves.

When I started reading books about Marilyn (I have to this date read biographies by Barbara Leaming, Michelle Morgan, Fred Lawrence Guiles, Donald Spoto, J, Randy Taraborrelli and Anthony Summers), the lyrics of  "Candle in the Wind" by Elton John (as above) suddenly made complete sense to me. I feel so sorry for poor Norma Jean having to go through life looking for someone to stand by her and take her at her best and her worst. It does make you feel as though you somehow should have been there for her no matter how impossible that is.

So our lesson learnt is that the world often sees us differently to the way we see ourselves, as was clearly the case with Marilyn Monroe. It is easy for us to see how loved she was then and how loved she still is, but her mind was clouded over by her insecurities and sadness. If only she had had a crystal ball to see the world now and know that she is still a part of it in a way she would have loved.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cafe Society (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 96 minutes
Director/ Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll

Café Society opens in Australian cinemas on October 20 and is distributed by Entertainment One.

Woody Allen's 1930's tale of two cities, Café Society lacks the lovely nostalgia that it should have with not only it's lukewarm screenplay and lack of strong plot, but also it's strange choices in cinematography that don't make the time period and locations anywhere near as exciting or wondrous as they should be.

In 1935, young and naïve Bronx native, Bobby travels cross-country to try his luck in the glamour town of Hollywood. He is employed by his uncle who is one of Hollywood's leading agents, Phil Stern (Steve Carell) and has one of his uncle's office girls, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) show him around town. Bobby is instantly besotted with Vonnie, but she is already in a relationship with a mystery man who is already married. However, Bobby and Vonnie's story doesn't end there and spans over time and the two cities of Los Angeles and New York City in one of their most exciting times.

Looking at Café Society from the viewpoint of a fan of the golden age of Hollywood, the film does not hit the heights expected from the exciting prospect of Woody Allen making a period piece about the earlier days of the film town. Allen did such a great job with Midnight in Paris in 2011 with reconstructing Paris in the 1920's complete with personalities such as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway that one would expect a film set in the 1930's with such a strong film basis to be successful. However, Allen does not do this period justice. Not only are there several historical inaccuracies (including architecture and costume design), but the screenplay features famous names from the time period such as Judy Garland, Errol Flynn and Joan Crawford being thrown around for the sake of it rather than to move the story along. While Café Society is also supposed to be equally focused on the New York City scene, it feels more focused on Hollywood and the New York world which the film's title is named after is left rather unloved.

While his films can often leave people trying to figure out what their point is, the usual consensus is that it doesn't matter if there was a greater meaning just as long as you were entertained and enjoyed the film. Café Society has no real direction, a tedious story and we can only have a guess at what Allen was trying to tell us as an audience, but not with any great confidence. It may be that the person we don't want to be is the person we are really longing to be inside, or it could be the idea that circumstances change us and our views on the world. However, it does really feel as though Allen wanted so greatly to make a film about this time period that the story wasn't as important as the visuals.

Yet the visuals are not as striking as they possibly could be. The type of lighting used throughout the film mirrors what the lighting would have been like in such a location, but on screen it can look particularly unattractive at times, especially in Phil Stern's office. The production design for the outdoor locations is really quite lazy. Old Hollywood enthusiasts love seeing old venues recreated for the screen, don't expect this to be the case in Café Society. All the locations appear the same as they would if you visited them in Hollywood yourself today and no effort is made to show locations that once existed and now do not. The Hollywood history film is almost a sub-genre in itself and Café Society is a particularly weak member.

Jesse Eisenberg does fine in the lead role of Bobby and is enjoyable and charismatic. However, it is obvious that Allen has once again directed his leading actor to be a clone of himself. Once upon a time when Woody Allen was playing himself in his own films, it was nowhere near as tiresome as it now is watching a series of films with big name actors giving their best Woody Allen impression. On the other hand, Allen's female characters remain as diverse as ever. Kristen Stewart is luminous as the woman everyone is falling for, Vonnie. Stewart continues to impress with each film she is in and show how versatile an actress she truly is. However, she has little chemistry with Steve Carell. who is her primary love interest of the film.

Café Society is an incredible shame of a movie. Woody Allen could have done so much more with the film by way of screenplay depth and got really inventive and gritty with the time period, but the film feels lazy and uninspired.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Inferno (2016) film review

Year: 2016
Running Time: 121 minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Dan Brown (based on the novel by), David Koepp (screenplay)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Ben Foster, Irrfan Khan, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy, Ana Ularu

Inferno is now showing and is distributed in Australia by Sony Pictures.

Dan Brown's fast-paced suspense novels that typically tread a fine line between fact and fiction almost beg to be adapted into screenplays. So why aren't they working so well on the big screen when they are so popular among readers?

Inferno is just fine. Like the book of the same name, it follows the same pattern of those which have come before it...with a few minor differences. Robert Langdon (portrayed once again by Tom Hanks), the Professor of Religious Iconology and Symbology at Harvard University who has such a strong pull to dangerous situations, wakes up in a Florence hospital recovering from a gunshot wound with no recollection of how he arrived there or in the city. With the help of Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones), Langdon attempts to solve the puzzle set out for him which heavily involves Dante's "Inferno", as well as trying to understand why his life is in danger thanks to those who are following his every footstep.

For The Da Vinci Code in 2006, the order of the day was over-expectation considering how astronomically successful the book was. Despite the film not being well-received by critics, it performed very well at the box office as all those who read the Dan Brown book flocked to see Ron Howard bring it to life. Much the same occurred with Angels and Demons in 2009, so why not bring Brown's sixth novel, Inferno to the screen?
Inferno is high paced and entertaining for the most part and intriguing enough to keep your attention for it's entirety. However, as stated before, the small details are not enough to make the film feel original by any means. Any reader of the Brown books and those who have seen both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, it is inevitable that there will be at least four twists in the story and these twists may be predictable in their occurrence, but the good news is they are still unforeseeable in nature.

And of course, there's a whole lot of facts about historic places and artefacts thrown in there as the books can often feel as though they are a regurgitation of a "Did you know?" history book. However, this is one of the reasons why people still do flock to see these films as it is like having a guided tour of such locations....with the tour guides constantly running from the bad guys. Florence and Venice are on show in exquisite fashion. If you are planning a holiday to these cities, than Inferno may work as a great tool for what to see with a whole set of trivia attached to it (as what The Da Vinci Code did for Paris and Angels and Demons for Rome). There are some truly beautiful landscape shots, but the depiction of Dante's "Inferno" on Earth is downright terrifying.

Tom Hanks is solid in his third outing as Robert Langdon. He gives a flawless performance of the character of Robert Langdon, which he has moulded to be his own over the past three films. Felicity Jones has bee given the job of portraying a character who is not particularly interesting until the last third of the film and as would be assumed, her performance hits it's stride at this time. One of the best things about Inferno is it's depiction of the "bad guys". The film correctly shows that most of the time in real life, the people who are perceived as being the enemies always believe that they are the good guys and are doing the right thing, as is shown here.

Inferno is entertaining, but is just another film in the now tired series of Dan Brown adaptations.