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Classic Film Review: Four Weddings and a Funeral [1994]

That a low budget comedy revolving around the social calendar of the British upper classes could become the highest-grossing British film of its time… was apparently a huge surprise. At the time. That it would no longer be a surprise is largely down to this film. Four Weddings and a Funeral is an affectionate and fresh film, boasting a boatload of homegrown talent, including Simon Callow and the emerging Hugh Grant. The characters may be posh but the film is built on universal themes: love, friendship, looking like an idiot in front of someone you fancy.

Whilst the Hugh Grant staring British rom-com, in which a stuttering suitor manages to balls things up and yet come out on top, became a money-spinning cliché, this first incarnation is a genuine delight. And no actor can better show how to make a woman swoon without being overly-masculine (which doesn’t work in real life anyway).

This sly comedy revolves around people living their lives in public, attending weddings- the film doesn’t supply the everyday lives of the characters. Even in the case of our main man, the shy, perennial best man Charles, we never find out what he actually does for a living. Which makes sense in a British film, I suppose! Good form.
This extended group of friends, who probably met at school or university or Waitrose or just married people who somehow know the others maybe… who knows. They all know each other basically.

Occasionally someone new walks into their lives, like Carrie, the supposedly sparkling American girl who is a guest at the first wedding, turns up again at the second and is scheduled to be married at the third. Spoiler.

Andie MacDowell plays Carrie in a way that is probably meant to come across as being a woman who is not quite as confident as she seems… but instead the part seems rather hollow. She is smart and beautiful but falling for Charles whilst engaged to marry Hamish- a man so thick and overbearing that loving him makes very little sense. She does all of the aggressing because obviously Charles will never come out and say what he really feels!

Most people hate her performance, I don’t particularly care for it but it certainly doesn’t ruin the film for me. There are a huge number of interesting guests at the various weddings… she just happens to be the least interesting! Much like being at a real life wedding we’re introduced to various members of the crowd in a rather haphazard way. We see them across the room, learn their names, forget their names and then meet them again at another wedding… where we embarrassingly can’t remember their name. Or who they’re with.

Sweet, jolly Gareth eats too much, drinks too much and has a vest that is too tight but we love him. Eventually we realise he’s gay but as in all personal matters, the film is subtle enough not to scream it out, just to let us read the social cues- much as at a real wedding. The film’s community eventually envelops us and subtly shows how a gay character can become a focus for what is best among the other characters, who are mostly straight. Gareth is the centre of good feeling and creates a sense of family. By the end of the film you’ll be reacting to the weddings and funeral as if you knew them all.

Film Reviews · New Film Reviews

Classic Film Review: Bridesmaids [2011]

I’m a very fair person, I like to think; someone who favours equality and tries to take my own biases out of deciding whether I like or dislike something… (debatable). Well, okay, moving on. When it comes to Bridesmaids, this means two things: 1) I am so happy to see women being allowed to do on screen what they do in real life and 2) I hate gross-out comedy just as much when a woman is doing it as when a man is. If it makes me cringe, I’m not going to laugh. So here is a review of Bridesmaids from someone who laughed at every bit of The Hangover that did not involve disgusting things… (beat).

Let’s talk about the good stuff: Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, the female characters actually sound like real women and the rivalry between down-on-her- luck Annie, whose long time best friend Lilllian is getting married, and Helen, who is new to Lillian’s life but rich, overconfident and hyperorganised. We all know someone like Helen. Rose Byrne does a great job of playing her and brings out that it’s not so much that Helen is trying to one up Annie, she’s just genuinely shocked that she isn’t running everything. Kristen Wiig as Annie her honed and perfected physical comedy- something that I love- with an excellent bit of slapstick on the plane.

If there were a film only about Annie, I’m sure it would be hilarious.

There is a large cast and the film does a great job of keeping even the side characters in the thick of things so they can add the occasional wisecrack. This includes Melissa McCarthy’s character, Megan, who a lot of people enjoy but again she doesn’t do much that isn’t cringe-worthy so I’m not much of a fan. The film does have a heart however- gaps in friendships are knitted back together, hurt feelings are soothed, secrets are confessed and there’s a happy ending! Which is pretty vital or else Annie really would be the worst Maid of Honour.

As a deliberate attempt to cross the Chick Flick with the Raunch Comedy, the film is a roaring success. It proves that just like in real life, women in films can be as vulgar, lusty, drunk, insecure and sexually frank as the men. There are also areas ripe for gross out comedy that only women can explore… I’m thinking of the bridal shop scene… I feel a little haunted by that. So, Bridesmaids… would I watch it again? Yes. Would I studiously ignore every disgusting moment? Undoubtedly.

Film Reviews · New Film Reviews

Classic Film Review: Taxi Driver [1976]

Taxi DriverMartin Scorsese’s 1976’s American psychological thriller film, Taxi Driver, was shot during a New York heat wave and garbage strike.

Robert De Niro plays insomniac New York taxi driver, Travis Bickle, driven mad by driving around the hellish streets at night- or perhaps already that way? He has a humiliating date with a political activist, played by Cybill Shepherd, who is way, way out of his league, and becomes a would-be assassin once he realises. He also conceives an obsession with a 12-year-old underage prostitute, played by Jodie Foster (who puts all child actors everywhere to shame).

Taxi Driver came into conflict with the ratings and censorship board for it’s violence- a problem Scorsese handled by de-saturating the colour in the final shoot-out, earning the film an R rating.

To create the atmospheric scenes in Bickle’s cab, a sound man would be shut in the truck and Scorsese with his cinematographer, Michael Chapman, would conceal themselves on the floor of the back seat, using just the available lighting to shoot.

The film rarely strays very far from the personal, highly subjective way in which Travis sees the city and lets it wound him. He is a Vietnam vet and the national trauma of the war blends perfectly with Bickle’s paranoid psychosis, making his experiences after the war more intense and threatening.

To feed this anger and hatred, Travis drives his taxi to places he abhors in the city.

It is a city populated with women he cannot have: Unobtainable blondwomen who might find him attractive for a moment, who might join him for a cup of coffee, but who can see through to the madness under his shell. The men of the city anger Travis just as much- the city is full of men who can have these beautiful women: men who might be awful human beings in Travis’ mind but who have the mysterious ability to not get everything wrong.

Taxi Driver is not a film about New York, per se; more the weathers of a man’s soul and the things he selects that feed and reinforce his obsessions- New York is just the setting.

Scorsese clearly finds Travis’ rejection more painful than the later murders: as Travis talks on a payphone to a girl who is turning him down, the camera slowly dollies to the right and looks down a long, empty hallway. As if the audience and the camera cannot bear to watch Travis feel the pain of being rejected. When Travis later goes on a killing rampage however, the camera goes so far as to adopt slow motion so we can see the horror in greater detail.

This mindset clearly tells us a lot about Travis as a film character and also urban violence on film; he stands here for the men who have been shut out so systematically, so often, from a piece of the action that eventually they have to hit back somehow.