YOUR GUIDE TO: Hard Candy (2005, dir. David Slade)

1 Sep

hard candy

“Go on then. Worship me.” 

For those that loved:

Freeway, Kill Bill (part one), Halloween

For those that are writing on:

Representation of adolescent femininity/sexuality, positions of spectatorship, revenge cinema, images of women in the cinema, masculinity in crisis, relationships of power (especially in relation to representations of masculine and feminine sexuality)

In a nutshell

Far more brutal than a Mean Girl, and anything but Clueless, sharp-witted and ever-resourceful Hayley Stark is a teenage force to be reckoned with. This is ‘girl power’ in it’s truest, and most dangerous form. An understandably difficult but rewarding film.

Plot

When charming 32-year old photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) strikes up a flirtatious online ‘friendship’ with seemingly naive 14-year-old-student Hayley Stark (Ellen Paige), the suggestion of a face-to-face meetings seems wrought with danger for Hayley. However, after going back to Jeff’s secluded suburban home, Hayley reveals a strength, intelligence and taste for revenge that throws them both into a tense cat-and-mouse struggle for power. As Hayley forces Jeff to confront his past indiscretions, the viewer is left to ponder the truth behind not only both characters actions, but both characters themselves.

Why should I watch?

Despite the R 18 rating, Hard Candy is not an explicitly violent nor explicitly sexual film, especially when compared to the numerous ‘gore porn’ features (Hostel or Saw anyone) that have found success within recent years, or even the slasher-pics of yore. However, the sensitive subject matter – adolescent sexuality and paedophilia –  at times make Hard Candy a difficult, albeit intriguing watch.

Slade masterfully maintains a tense and uneasy atmosphere throughout Hard Candy, and despite being hampered at times by an occasionally cheesy script, his artful direction and deft editing choices keep the film running at a cracking pace.

Playing out like a cinematic stage play, the relationship between Hayley and Jeff develops in a perhaps not entirely believable, but engrossing way, thanks to skillful performances from both leads. Wilson delivers a problematically charismatic performance, and when considered against the manipulative and almost monstrous Hayley, it is hard to know which side you are cheering for, if any at all. 

Consider/Further study etc

  • Initially Hayley can be seen to embody a fantasy image of adolescent femininity. How does Hayley subvert traditional characteristics of adolescent femininity? How dors she challenge the normative status of such characteristics?
  • How are women and women’s bodies represented throughout Hard Candy
  • Is the act of looking represented as an empowering or disempowering act? 
  • Consider (particularly in relation to Laura Mulvey’s theories of cinematic spectatorship) the spectatorial structures within Hard Candy. Does the film support or challenge Mulvey’s association of the gaze with masculine power and the act of being looked at with feminine submission?
  • Consider the roof scene, towards the end of the film. Here, Jeff’s ‘phallic’ weapon (his knife) is rendered useless. Are there any other instances within the film where a phallic symbol becomes disempowered?
  • Vision and voyeurism play an important role within Hard Candy. How does Jeff view women – ie does he worship them? Fear them? Hate them? What might this suggest about the representation of ‘traditional masculinity’ within Hard Candy?

FIVE OF THE BEST: Child performances

20 Aug

stanley - magnolia

1. Jeremy Blackman – Stanley Spector in Magnolia (1999)
Although his genius is confirmed by his record-breaking winning streak on a ‘children vs. adults’ quiz show, lonely Stanley Spector dodges the cliche precociousness found amongst many other child roles. Ignored and misunderstood by those around him, Blackman manages to convey not only a believable and touching sadness to the audience, but more importantly, a determined inner strength. Holding his own against an impressive ensemble cast in one of the best scenes of the film, Stanley informs his callouss father, quite simply, that “he needs to be nicer to him”. Only the coldest heart could possibly disagree.

hayley - hard candy2. Ellen Page – Hayley Stark in Hard Candy (2005)
As a pregnant hipster in the indie darling Juno, Page displayed a kind of sunny charm that seemed to come to her so naturally, it could be argued that she was maybe playing herself. However, her versatility is well proven here as the sardonic Hayley, a scheming teen with a vendetta against suspected paedophile Jeff. The quiet intensity of Page’s anger lifts occasionally hammy dialogue, and despite her diminutive figure, her power over Jeff is rarely in doubt.

annie - lovely and amazing3. Raven Goodwin – Annie Marks in Lovely & Amazing (2001)
Adopted into a bewildering upper-class white world, it is clear that life is, and will continue to be, hard for overweight African American child Annie. Her role models – two much older sisters and her adoptive mother – are dysfunctional and neurotic, and a carer found through a ‘big sister’ program refuses to continue their relationship after Annie tells a racial joke. Despite these moments of lashing out at the cruel world around her, Goodwin’s doe-eyed smile and undeniable charisma make her a lovable and memorable character.

 

son_of_rambow_movie_image__2_-14. Bill Milner & Will Poulter – Will Proudfoot and Leigh Carter in Son of Rambow (2007)
Although the story of the misfit nerd befriending the seemingly tough school bully is certainly nothing new, Rambow is a charming version of the lion and the mouse fable. Milner (as the slight and sheltered Will) and Poulter (as the rough around the edges Leigh) develop a believable bond and effect each other in a way that is both genuine and touching. Solid performances from Milner and Poulter ensure that Rambow steers clear of unbearable sentimentality or cliche pap.

tracey - 135. Evan Rachel Wood – Tracey Freeland in Thirteen (2003)
Although co-star Nikki Reed also delivers a solid performance as vampy, sexually promiscuous rebel Evie Samora, it is Wood who shines in this almost anti-coming-of-age film. A make-over movie with a difference, Tracey’s swift transformation (or disintegration) from unassuming nerd into a rebellious, pill-popping, thong-wearing nightmare is both painful and mesmerising to watch. A vivid mess of anger, dangerous curiosity, determination and confusion, it is hard to know whether to hug or lock up this Lolita of the new age.

JUST FOR FUN: ‘La Puppe’

12 Aug

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In 1962, French film-maker Chris Marker released the ground breaking 28-minute short La Jetee, a beautifully presented story told almost entirely through the use of still photo imagery and voice over narration. Set in post-apocalpytic France, a sinister ruling council experiment with time travel in an attempt to avert the Nuclear war that has forced humanity underground.

If you haven’t yet encountered this short within a film studies course I highly recommend you seek it out immediately and not just for its sheer brilliance; rather, if you have seen La Jetee you can then turn your attention to La Puppe, a loving 10-minute homage made by film student Timothy Green in 2003. Despite being told through the eyes of a stuffed toy dog, it is easy to look beyond the novelty factor and appreciate the humour  of the film. While perhaps not as philosophically ponderous as the original, it is nevertheless a clever re-imagining of the original story, and well worth watching. 

Find it here: La Puppe

YOUR GUIDE TO: Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002, dir. Lone Scherfig)

9 Aug

wilbur-wants-to-kill-himself-3

“Everybody always loved Wilbur” 

For those that love:

Off-beat – and at times, quite dark – humour, anti-feel good films that bring equal parts tears and smiles

For those that are writing on:

Mental illness, suicide, black comedy, masculinity in crisis, the representation and construction of family, mise en scene, art direction

In a nutshell

Suicide as a way of life; certainly no laughing matter, but this quirky British gem manages to put a refreshing and believable spin on the ‘disillusioned loser learns to appreciate life again’ tale.

Plot

Despite several unsuccessful attempts, Wilbur (Jamie Sives) still wants to kill himself, much to the dismay of his long-suffering and impossibly good natured brother Harper (Adrian Rawlins). However, when Harper marries single mother Alice (Shirley Henderson) and she and her young daughter come to live with the brothers in their recently inherited bookshop, Wilbur is forced to confront the possibility of a life worth living.

Why should I watch?

Self-destructive and seemingly hopeless, Wilbur is the archetypal anti-hero. His initial disregard for almost everybody around him, and his determination to – as the title suggests – kill himself should make him an entirely unlikable character. However, Sives delivers a winning performance here, instilling Wilbur with an inexplicable charisma that draws in not only those around him, but the audience as well.

The genuinely funny moments peppered throughout this film produce an easy kind of laughter, that feels neither uncomfortable nor desperately essential, despite the serious nature of the subject matter at hand.

Thanks to strong lead and supporting performances that are both subtle and engaging, by the films end each characters personal story arc feels genuine and affecting. 

Beautifully shot, at times Wilbur’s almost sepia colourings perfectly compliment the modern-day fairy tale feel of the film. A truly enchanting experience.

Consider/Further study etc

  • Consider the characters of Wilbur and Harbour. What similarities do they share? What differences? By the end of the film, in what ways have each of the characters changed? 
  • Again, consider the characters of Wilbur and Harbour. How is death and suicide represented in relation to each of these characters?
  • Wilbur undoubtedly deals with a dark subject matter, often in a humorous manner. Is it ever appropriate to treat such subjects with a comic effect? Why is humour used to investigate dark subject matter?
  • What does the art direction suggest about the setting of Wilbur

YOUR GUIDE TO: Brick (2005, dir. Rian Johnson)

8 Aug

brick

“Ain’t bodies got a right to be curious?”

For those that loved:

Pulp Fiction, Magnolia, Layer Cake, Donnie Darko

For those that are writing on:

Adolescent cinema, representations of masculinity (and femininity) in contemporary film, noir, neo-noir or suburban noir, construction of the self (many philosophical possibilities arise from the relationship between Brain and Brendon)

In a nutshell

Drugs, thugs, scheming dames and noir intrigue set amongst a Sunny suburban landscape. Expect heavy lashings of teenage angst; this is Sam Spade, the junior years.

Plot

After receiving a frantic call from his ex-girlfriend Emily (Emilie de Ravin), teenage loner Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) must unravel the mystery that surrounds her disappearance. Inserting himself into an underground drug ring lead by the scheming Pin (Lukas Haas), with the help of his seemingly only friend Brain (Matt O’Leary) Brendan is determined to “make Em’s troubles mine” until he can uncover the truth.

Why should I watch?

In the strangely parent-less world of Brick, kids converse in hipster noir lingo that seems to be at odds with the sun-streaked suburban locale. The usually banal high school setting is inflected with an eerie seriousness, as are the characters that inhabit this bleak landscape.

An intricate murder mystery is slowly unravelled by the unflappable man-with-a-plan Brendan and while the story is perhaps familiar ground for anyone even vaguely familiar with the noir tradition, it is a story worth telling.

Solid performances are delivered by a relatively unknown cast; Gordon-Levitt in particular shines as Brendan. Having escaped the hell of child stardom (he played Tommy in 90s sitcom ‘Third rock from the Sun’), Gordon-Levitt seems only a few more wise character choices away from indie-to-mainstream, Gyllenhaal-styled stardom (hello, (500) days of summer?).

The almost Western styled guitar strains that echo throughout Brick add to the intence, haunted feel of the film and further emphasise the care put into this production. A promising first feature from director-to-watch Rian Johnson, Brick is the kind of intricate film that benefits from repeat viewings.

Consider/Further Study etc

  • In what ways does Brick resemble classic noir? In what ways does it subvert noir conventions to present a contemporary suburban image of film noir?
  • Film noir is often suggested to be a ‘cinema of paranoia’. In what ways is this reflected within Brick?
  • Consider the last scene that takes place between Brendan and Brain. Without wanting to give too much away, notice Brain’s last path of movement. What might this suggest about his relationship with Brendan?
  • Emily, Kara and Laura all embody vastly different representations of femininity. In what ways are these characters similar to the classic femme fatale archetype? In what ways do they differ?
  • Throughout Brick, Kara is shown in many different costumes, each creating a distinctive representation of femininity. What might this suggest about contemporary understandings and constructions of femininity, and the normative understandings of femininity?
  • In the final exchange between Brendan and Laura, she whispers a “dirty word”. What might this suggest about the representation of masculinity within Brick?

Further Reading

  • Oliver, Kelly and Trigo, Benigo, 2003, Noir Anxiety, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press
  • Tasker, Yvonne, 1998, ‘New Hollywood, New Film Noir and the Femme Fatale’, in Working Girls: Gender and Sexuality in Popular Cinema, London, New York, Routledge
  • Telotte, J.P., 1989, Voices in the Dark: the Narrative Patterns of Film Noir, Urbana, University of Illinois Press