Thursday, 20 December 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Image: 20th Century Fox

From viewing the trailer, Life of Pi has always looked like our kind of film: it features an array of wild animals (we love wild animals), it focuses on the relationship between a man and a Bengal tiger (we adore wild cats), and it’s set in a couple of attractive locations (India and the Pacific Ocean), so, as you can imagine, we were extremely eager to see Ang Lee’s latest picture – in all its 3D and Dolby glory.

Based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name, Life of Pi highlights a boy’s strength and courage as 16-year-old Pi (Suraj Sharma) must fend for himself and survive on a boat in the middle of the ocean after the ship carrying his family to Canada capsizes. Having lost his family in the storm, Pi (Suraj Sharma) is left with only a few unfriendly animals for company, namely Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger.

Life of Pi is a beautifully realised film with excellent performances from the ensemble cast. After an impressive opening few minutes, in which we observe some of natures greatest creatures in a David Attenborough-esque montage, the narration of Pi's life begins, as does a slew of stunning images that take us on an intense journey of enlightenment. The message the movie is carrying isn't for everyone but it doesn't take away from Lee's direction and the actors' performances. Sharma's portrayal of the lost boy is the most impressive. He's given the most to do and handles the responsibility with great conviction. It's an emotional, occasionally humorous journey, and Sharma's performance pulls us along willingly.

Overall it could do with being a bit shorter - some of the scenes with Pi as an adult recounting his story to a journalist do drag, but his story does, nonetheless, hold your interest right to the end. Additionally, we generally don't appreciate the third dimension in movies but, on this particular occasion, it does add a few nice touches to the film, and so we urge you all to submerge yourselves in the experience and go and watch Life of Pi.



Monday, 17 December 2012

The Shining (Original US Cut)

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining has made a return to our screens this year, and for the first time British audiences are seeing the original longer cut which was truncated for European release following unfavourable reviews. This truncation is a point of contention: on the one hand we obviously want our films to be as complete as possible, but on the other this is not the ‘director’s cut’ some have touted it as. In fact Kubrick chopped the film down himself, and apparently expressed a preference for the shorter version. With this in mind, how does the film hold up?

What is not up for question is that The Shining is a masterful work, and one which has aged remarkably well, thanks mostly to Kubrick’s marrying of slow-burn tension with immaculately timed jump-scares.  Those crazy 70s carpets might have dated, but if anything this just adds to the film’s unique atmosphere. The actors rise to the standard set by Kubrick and his team. With her wonderfully expressive face and giant doe-eyes, Shelley Duvall is the real star of the film while Jack Nicholson, equally gifted with a face the camera loves, is beyond acting here. His febrile Jack Torrance is the centrepiece of the film, as much a part of its make-up as the Overlook Hotel itself.

Kubrick shows no interest in answering questions. It is hard to find a scene from the film which is not loaded with symbols, but their overall correlation is obscure, and wilfully so. The recent documentary Room 237 gave ear to a wild range of theories as to what is really going on up at the Overlook, but nobody is ever going to find a decisive answer. Stephen King, author of the novel on which the film is based, was reportedly shocked at what had been done to his work when he first saw the film, but a faithful adaptation was probably never on Kubrick’s agenda.

Obviously we cannot let this review go without mention of the scenes which were lost in the European cut. Well, it might be a question of what I was brought up with, but for me the European version is still superior. Whilst some of the cut scenes help to bolster the bizarre atmosphere, they can sometimes be a step too far. Early building on the Torrance family dynamic is intriguing, adding a layer of true-life melancholia to the supernatural shenanigans, but a scene towards the end where Wendy stumbles upon a ghostly dinner party looks like something from Disney’s Haunted Mansion, and punctures the delicious tension. Such niggles aside, though, this re-release is a chance to experience a true classic on the big screen, and is not to be missed.



Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: Wayne Manor

We here at Fohnhouse like nothing more than to take a leisurely stroll around scenic filming locations. This week, I decided to pay a visit to the latest incarnation of Wayne Manor, Wollaton Hall, which masqueraded as the home of billionaire playboy (and – shhh! – Batman) Bruce Wayne in the recent blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises.

Located in the beautiful Wollaton Park, just beside the University of Nottingham’s University Park campus, Wollaton Hall was the home of the Willoughby family until the 1880s, and now houses the Nottingham Natural History Museum. Walking up from one of the many approach paths to the rear of the house, one can have fun playing at being Catwoman, scoping out the Manor for a heist (though we advise against wearing the full Pfeiffer – stick with Halle Berry’s get-up and you won’t be noticed amongst all the students in similar gear!). 

Beyond the Hall itself, the Park is worth a visit just for the scenery. If you’re lucky you might catch sight of one or more of the resident red deer – Britain’s largest native mammal is usually spotted avoiding the visitors, though as we come into rutting season it’s probably the visitors who will be avoiding them.

There may not be a bat cave (though it’s worth having a nosey around just in case), but Wollaton Hall is definitely worth a visit – Nottingham must be very pleased to be able to call itself home to a second moral crusader in tights!

These floodlights carry the Bat symbol – just a shame they haven’t installed a proper Bat signal