Film in Detail
A deeper look at the films that matter - and more fantastic movies you might enjoy too.
Using non-professional actors as the stars of their movies is a decision that a lot of filmmakers have made down the years and it's one that seems to work particularly well when it comes to children. Believing that "real" kids and young people (rather than trained actors from stage school) give a film a sense of authenticity it would be impossible to get otherwise has been a vital ingredient in great movies from the influential likes of The 400 Blows and Bicycle Thieves all the way through to the films of modern British directors such as Shane Meadows and Andrea Arnold.
And you can add to their number the excellent American independent movie Chop Shop a story about hope, hard knocks and getting by in difficult circumstances from acclaimed director Ramin Bahrami. Although the film is set in New York, the world of its twelve year old central character Alejandro could be taking place on another planet to the glitz and glamour we usually think of when we picture the Big Apple.
Instead, he lives in a rundown part of the city called "The Iron Triangle" and the film follows him as he does his best to fend for himself in such a tough environment, selling sweets on the subway and drawing customers into the maze of car parts shops that make up the area. The result is a powerful and totally absorbing movie that combines the best things about documentary and fiction. And the great performance of young Alejandro Polanco in the role of his namesake is a big part of why he having been chosen to appear in the film as an ordinary student at one of New York's high schools, just as the adult cast of the film were all actual residents of the real "Iron Triangle."
The critics certainly agreed that Chop Shop was made into the fantastic film it is by starring so many real people rather than actors. "What is remarkable," wrote the famous American movie critic Roger Ebert about the film, "is the way, after careful preparation and multiple takes, Bahrani finds performances in them that are so natural and convincing, they put professional actors to shame."
David (Thomas Turgoose) is a lonely teenage kid living with his hard-drinking dad on a caravan site in Norfolk.
He spends most of his time with Emily (Holliday Grainger), a red-haired girl who is perhaps a year older than him and certainly more mature. With no parents around much of the time - both David's dad and Emily's mum work on the site - there is little to hold them back. So they spend the summer jumping from one caravan roof to another, hanging around by cliff edges and generally just about staying on the right side of the law.
Their perfect summer is shattered when Emily's mum decides to send her off to live with her father and David hatches a plan to stop her from going. They have grown up alongside each other like brother and sister, but David values Emily to such a degree that he will do virtually anything not to lose her. She is on the verge of becoming a woman and he is still a tongue-tied boy, unable to articulate the depth of his feelings for her. His misguided attempts to keep her prove to be disastrous.
The Scouting Book for Boys is the debut feature from Tom Harper - who previously directed a number of acclaimed short films - and is written by Jack Thorne, who has contributed to Channel 4's Skins. The film's title is taken from the Baden-Powell's book of the same name and with its celebration of hidden dens, jumping, stalking and concealment, this film is just what you'd expect from
the founder of the scout movement. It also hints at the dark ending of the film, which is both moving and shocking.
Thomas Turgoose, a veteran actor at just 18, is the undoubted star of the film. He made his debut in Shane Meadows' This is England at just 13 and now, five years on, shows that he has a decent emotional range and the ability to carry a small British film. He may joke about the relief of turning up on the set of The Scouting Book for Boys without a chaperone for the first time - "I had proper responsibility for myself and I got a real buzz from it" - but he clearly takes his work seriously. He is, above all, exceptionally good at portraying the journey from boyhood to manhood, as he did so well in This is England and as he does again in The Scouting Book for Boys.
Long before its release, Green Zone was known as "Bourne goes to Bagdad." Both its British director Paul Greengrass and American star Matt Damon had enjoyed huge success with the Bourne movies before they turned their attention to Green Zone - a fast-paced action movie about an American soldier in the Iraqi capital of Bagdad.
Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, whose job it is to find weapons of mass destruction in various factories across the city. While his colleagues say that they are in Iraq simply to do a job, Miller insists that the motivation behind the job is relevant: "The reasons we go to war always matter." The majority of his fellow soldiers just do as they are told and don't even question the empty factories it is not for them to wonder if America was right to justify its invasion of Iraq back in 2003 by wrongly claiming that Iraq was hoarding weapons of mass destruction. But for Miller, the truth still matters.
Although the script for Green Zone is based in part on the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, an expose of corruption during the occupation of Iraq by US journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, this is not a dull political film. It vitally questions the point of war - but also zips along at such a speed that you are never bogged down in dogma. Yet the project was born of personal political frustration - while Damon was against the Iraq war from the outset, Greengrass initially believed the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair's explanations for why the country was invaded, and only later realised he was wrong.
The director got stuck into research for Green Zone and, at one point, thought he was going to make "a very small, austere film." But as an action movie director at heart, he couldn't quite bring himself to stick to his plan. "I thought, if I'm going to make a film about Iraq, I'm going to see if I can bring that Bourne audience with me. They're mostly young people - the same people who are going to go off and fight that war, and also the audience that are vehemently opposing it."
Circled by stars against a sunrise, the mountain-peak of Paramount’s logo is one of cinema’s most distinctive images. No wonder, as the studio is the oldest in Hollywood still in existence. Located on Melrose Ave, it’s also the last major film studio to still have its headquarters in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles and this year Paramount celebrate 100 years of making movies.
Legend has it the mountain was first doodled by W. W. Hodkinson - known as The Man Who Invented Hollywood. After opening one of the first movie theatres in the US, he helped change the way films were made and shown when in 1914 he made a deal with producer Jesse L. Lasky and the Famous Players Film Company (founded 1912) to secure nation-wide distribution for their films
Lasky made the first feature filmed in Hollywood – 1914 silent western The Squaw Man, shot on borrowed money in a rented barn. It was the first movie-directing attempt of Cecil B. DeMille, a then-little-known but flamboyant stage director who was to become one of Hollywood’s most legendary filmmakers (he later made Academy Award-winning The Greatest Show on Earth).
Another Paramount co-founder, Adolph Zukor, believed in the power of stars, and from his Paramount signings emerged some of the first Hollywood celebrities.
Among the earliest was Clara Bow, who played a girl-next-door in love with a fighter pilot in 1927’s Wings - the winner of the first Best Picture Academy Award, and the only silent film to have ever won. Gloria Swanson also became big in the silent era but is now best-known for her later self-referencing role as a fading screen goddess in director Billy Wilder’s acclaimed Sunset Boulevard.
By the 1930s, the arrival of “talkies” (movies with sound) heralded the coming of Hollywood’s Golden Age and new stars to Paramount’s stable. Some are among cinema’s most enduring icons – from Mae West (She Done Him Wrong) to Marlene Dietrich (A Foreign Affair) and from Bing Crosby (White Christmas) to legendary comedians, the Marx Brothers (Duck Soup).
Paramount has kept up its success over a century. It’s the studio behind some of cinema’s all-time classics from Hitchcock (To Catch A Thief, Rear Window, Vertigo) to The Godfather, Roman Polanski’s acclaimed ‘70s noir mystery Chinatown, and several more recent blockbusters including Raiders of The Lost Ark and Star Trek.
Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki makes superbly-animated films about surreal, parallel worlds in which anything can (and does) happen. Backed by Studio Ghibli, the famous and hugely respected Japanese animation film studio, Miyazaki is a relentlessly inventive film maker.
In 2003, Miyazaki's sublime Spirited Away won an Oscar for best animated film and charmed and delighted audiences of all ages but failed to do well commercially at the American box office. Two years later, its nearly-as-amazing follow up Howl's Moving Castle met a similar fate.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that with his latest film, Ponyo, Miyazaki went all out for American success. His status in his home country is beyond question - but many people felt Miyazaki still wanted to achieve success with American audiences. So Ponyo was released in the west in partnership with Disney and the mighty Pixar, with a little script tweaking from Melissa Matheson, scriptwriter of the legendary ET: The Extra Terrestrial.
But Ponyo is still every bit as delightfully odd as its predecessors instead of being any more obviously commercial than Spirited Away, the only difference is that it feels like it's aimed at a younger audience. A charming tale which takes its inspiration from Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, it follows the adventures of a cute goldfish girl called Ponyo who escapes her suffocating underwater home and befriends Sosuke, a curious five-year-old boy. She has the chance to become human, but only with Sosuke's help. With Ponyo's desire to become a land dweller upsetting the mystical balance of nature, this is a fairy tale with a dark moral underbelly: the careless destruction of our planet.
For the real deal, watch the original Japanese version with English subtitles. Otherwise there's the American-friendly DVD with western character voices by stars such as Frankie Jonas, Cate Blanchett and Liam Neeson. But either way, Ponyo is a gorgeous, brilliantly offbeat cartoon with dazzling animation and a moving love story at its heart that we at FILMCLUB think is perfect for our primary school clubs.
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