02/02/2014

One Of The Greats....

Oscar Nominated Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, February 17, 2006
Oscar Nominated...
Cliff Watts
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  I don't normally post anything relating to actors' deaths. Yes, it is always a sad occurrence when an actor dies before their time, as it is to anyone dying but I normally feel people jump on the bandwagon when an actor/celebrity dies - 'Oh, I saw him/her in concert/live in theatre, this makes me an expert on them and my comment must be heard above everyone else's' This time, I feel differently about commenting. A great actor today was taken from the world today in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman. One of my favourites, he always seems to capture the audience's attention in every role that he took, whether that was in Doubt or Along Came Polly. I first noticed Hoffman in Scent Of A Woman, where he stood out even amongst Al Pacino who won an Oscar for his role. He was so charming in every role that you sympathised with him even when he was playing a villain or questionable characters such as Father Flynn in Doubt. I remember watching Mission Impossible 3 and his character being the only one I sided with (which is saying something of the other characters really, considering that Hoffman was the main villain). Even in Happiness, a film that was uneasy to watch due to its themes, he managed to shine through the ensemble of actors featured. And there are still many great films of his out there that I have not yet seen such as The Master, Synedoche New York and Capote in which he won an Oscar for Best Actor.
 
Shortly before reading the news today of his passing, I had read that he was going to direct a film by the name Ezekiel Moss with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams confirmed to star. I was excited about the prospect of this film even before I heard the premise, just on the basis of the actors and Hoffman directing. It saddens me that I will no longer be able to enjoy future productions of his.

Rest In Peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's an absolute loss to the acting world with your departure, you will be missed.

03/12/2013

Sing-Along With Me

New York-Theatre
New York-Theatre
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Music makes everything better. It can bring instant joy or can reduce you to tears in a heartbeat. This post was influenced by my sister, who is crazily passionate about music. I, myself prefer films so I thought I'd take a look at both - the way Hollywood merges the two past-times, how music influences a film so much that people are able to conjure up the scene whilst hearing that specific track.


Grease
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I love Grease. There, I've said it. Yes, it's a musical and yes musicals are known to be cheesy at times, Grease being no exception but I don't care. I grew up watching this film and by now can sing along to every song, knowing all of the words. It's a feel-good film, helped in part because of the songs featured. Whether it's background music to help along the scene, for example Love Is A Many Splendored Thing before the opening credits, or of course when anybody randomly bursts into song (i.e. Summer Lovin', You're The One That I Want, etc), the pace remains constant and quick, never slowing down. The music matches the energy of the cast (ignore the fact that most of the cast were in their mid-late 20s playing teenagers). The soundtrack still remains strong today with a song to fit every mood: light-hearted (We Go Together); heartbreak (Hopelessly Devoted To You); insecurity (Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee - Reprise) and romance (You're The One That I Want) to name but a few. There's probably only one song that dampers the mood and slows down the pace but only by a little and that's 'Sandy' as sung by John Travolta's Danny. You've just acted like an idiot to the girl you're dating, don't then sing a song that basically puts the blame on her.
The music is a constant rollercoaster from start to finish, right up to the end credits. Grease is a film that never bores and even though some parts are a bit silly (flying car, anyone?), it's easy to watch over and over.


Dirty DancingDirty Dancing
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How can anyone not love Dirty Dancing? Especially teamed with the soundtrack that fits so well into scenes. I don't care if you're a guy, or a girl; old, or young, there's no excuse to not like this film. Slightly different to the previous film mentioned in that it's not a musical, I've included it as it has such a memorable soundtrack that, when it comes to thinking of famous music used in films, Dirty Dancing immediately springs to mind. More adult, in terms of subject compared to Grease, Dirty Dancing was still a film I grew up on (until I was 'banned' from watching it by my parents when they found out it was a 15 certificate and I was 7). The first song that springs to mind when thinking of the film is one featured in the final scene: Time Of My Life which sums up the film perfectly. It's a track that is fused in with the image of the film. Another memorable song featured is Love Is Strange, a song that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray playfully mime to, something that wasn't scripted and was just the two actors messing about between scenes. The director liked it so much, he kept it in the film. It's easy to see why as this scene shows not only the characters' undeniable chemistry but also the actors', all enhanced by a song. One song that will always conjure up emotion is Patrick Swayze's She's Like The Wind, which can be heard in the scene prior to the big finale. The audience can almost feel Baby's heart break as they listen to the lyrics that blend so well with the images on the screen.
 Dirty Dancing is a journey of first love and discovering oneself, amplified by the music in every given scene. The emotions conjured by the film and music are what makes Dirty Dancing so memorable.


Pulp Fiction – Cover with Uma Thurman Movie Poster
Pulp Fiction –...
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 It's hard to think of soundtracks without thinking of films by Quentin Tarantino. It's clear from watching most of his movies that he's as heavily influenced by music as he is by films. One film that comes to mind that relates to this subject is Pulp Fiction, a complete departure from the two films mentioned above. The film is driven by the music choices, giving it an almost laid-back feel in scenes. Most of the music used is to convey the coolness of John Travolta's character whilst ending abruptly when the succeeding scene becomes manic and faster-paced. An example being the track: Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon used in the scene where Travolta tries to talk himself out of doing anything with Uma Thurman's Mia whilst the camera cuts back to Mia calmly taking drugs. The music fades just as Mia overdoses. This can be symbolic of her growing up, she's experiencing death in a way that changes her, linking to the subject matter of the song. The track fading can symbolise her life slowly draining away, the pace still remaining quite calm until the next scene where it's more frantic. By then, the song has stopped altogether.
 A famous scene in Pulp Fiction is, of course, the Twist dance contest. Here Tarantino uses a song that is not a cliche when it comes to thinking of music associated with the Twist dance, Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell. This makes it unique, allowing people to conjure up the scene when later hearing that particular song. The scene in question is a favourite with fans as it was Travolta's big comeback, showing that he still has the moves as he demonstrated in Saturday Night Fever (1977).
  A film enhanced by the song choices, it is evident from Pulp Fiction that the director is passionate about music as he carefully chooses tracks so well, putting time and effort into the process.

Without music, films are stark and empty. Music helps to tell the audience what mood the director/producer is going for. It drives the pace of a film and allows the audience to relate to particular scenes. When done well, music in films stays with us for a long time after the credits have ended.

31/10/2013

Halloween Horrors

Halloween Pumpkin Sitting on Staircase
Halloween Pumpkin...
David Woods
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Since it's that time of year again, I thought I'd take a look at scary movies (in general and not the lame spoof series). I'll go through what I think makes a good gory horror slasher and which thriller is the most...enthralling (I couldn't bring myself to say what makes a thrilling thriller). Of course, with every good movie, there are a lot more bad ones out there (especially in this genre).

The Best:

The Shining - French Style

The Shining -...
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The Shining. It's a classic movie, a classic story. One that can still hold up over time and still chill audiences even now. Originally based (albeit loosely) on Stephen King's book of the same name, the film follows a family of three as they move into a hotel for the winter when the father, Jack (as sinisterly played by Jack Nicholson) gets the job as the winter caretaker. Of course, chaos ensues when it turns out that the hotel is haunted, in a way where ghosts can harm and kill, especially in their aim to get to Jack's son, Danny, a boy who has a psychic gift called 'The Shining' (hence the title - clever, no?) As the hotel and its ghostly inhabitants start to realise that there is a great force staying in the hotel in the form of Danny, they do everything in their power to take him for themselves, leading to some spooky moments in the film. One of these moments that sticks in people's minds is the character of Grady, the hotel's previous caretaker. His demeanor is so calm that it comes across as jarring, especially when you realise that he's actually instructing Jack to kill his family (as he so lovingly puts it: 'But I "corrected" them sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I "corrected" her.') Even more unsettling is when you realise that this character has actually died and has come back to recruit more people for his mission. Not once does this character raise his voice, being evil so calmly that nobody would ever suspect this British gentleman to be a crazed killer. And yet, this is the spookiest of everything that happens in The Shining, a mild-mannered man being affected by the hotel so much, he ends up a psychopath (this is the contrast Stephen King wanted for the main character, for him to be played by an actor nobody would believe would turn out to be a cold-hearted murderer, the change in character being so quick, the audience would be left reeling. Unfortunately, Stanley Kubrick decided to go with Jack Nicholson, someone who doesn't require much to convince people that he's a psychotic killer). Onto the acting then: as mentioned before, Nicholson gives a very convincing portrayal of someone who is possessed. Though saying that, there's a wariness from the audience all throughout his performance, waiting for the character to snap any moment - from the start of the film, when Nicholson first appears, to the moment when he is affected by the Overlook Hotel. Some could argue that the build up of character change could be more gradual but Nicholson still manages to have a charisma that intrigues audiences to his character. The one gripe I have with this film is the Wendy character, as portrayed by Shelley Duvall. I get it, your husband has just turned into a raving maniac, but that's hardly the time to have a complete breakdown. She's such a weak character that it is hard to conjure any sympathy for her. Fortunately Nicholson's Jack Torrence, Scatman Crothers' Hallorann and even Danny Lloyd's Danny Torrence all make up for it.
Even though it's a departure from the book, The Shining is still strong enough to stand on its own. So many of the film's trademark spooky scenes: the two twins asking Danny to play with them whilst quick cuts show them dead on the floor; Jack axing down the door whilst shouting: 'Here's Johnny!' and the lift/elevator opening up with a river of blood pouring out in slow motion are all conjured up from the mind of Kubrick. Scenes so powerful visually that they stick in an audience's mind for quite a while after the film has ended.


31/07/2013

Symbolism In Films

Symbolism. It's used in the majority of films, when looking close enough. Sometimes it is done with the director's/writer's intent, other times it is the audience's own interpretation, but done correctly, can always lead to insightful discussions and debates. I'll look at a film that 1) will look at hidden and double meanings as a whole and 2) focus on key moments that represent something deeper than is what is first seen on the surface.


Mulholland Drive
Mulholland Drive
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The film I have chosen to focus on is David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (2001), a film so full of twists and turns, it's hard to wrap your head around on first viewing. It is so full of layers, it is quite difficult to describe the plot without giving anyone a headache. On first viewing, Mulholland Drive comes across as a fairly normal film, albeit with strange twists and turns, film devices to be expected from David Lynch. When I first watched it, I was left scratching my head, frustrated that I didn't understand the whole concept. I was urged to re-watch it, paying close attention to the details. Mulholland Drive can be described with two concepts. The first concept is what the audience is first introduced to at the start of the film - a story about a woman called Betty moving to Hollywood to try and break into acting. She stumbles across Rita, a woman who is suffering from amnesia after surviving a car crash. From there, the two women form a partnership to try and figure out how Rita came to be in the accident and find any clues to help jolt her memory. Which sounds straightforward enough, until the film introduces other characters and subplots. And so, the two characters carry on with trying to find answers to the question they have until it leads them to a theatre. And that's where events in the film take an even stranger twist leading onto the second concept of the film. Just after halfway through Mulholland Drive, the whole plot shifts focus - with same characters having different personas, same scenes having different meanings. Betty becomes Diane, a messed-up wannabe actress, far from the eager, perky Betty Naomi Watts portrayed in the first half of the film. Rita becomes Camilla, a woman who has everything - success, beauty, a partner. The audience soon discovers that Diane and Camilla were involved in a romantic relationship - with Diane being the obsessed, meek partner of the two and Camilla being the dominant, unsympathetic one, complete opposite to the first half of the film. If we describe the film in two halves, it may be easier to grasp the concept of the plot and any meanings. It may be safe to say, in my opinion, that Diane and Camilla are the real-life characters here, with 'Betty' and 'Rita''s part of the story, either a dream or a fantasy world that Diane has conjured up to cope with the agony of what she has done (ordering the hit on her former lover). This could be seen throughout the first half:
  •  The opening scene of a 50s dance competition - which may symbolise a more innocent, glamourous age. This is corroborated by the poster seen in Betty's bathroom, that of Rita Hayworth in the 1940s film Gilda (again, a glamourous time in Hollywood). Betty's desperation to be an actress in these scenes seems to be more innocent and sweet rather than obsessive. She is innocent and naive, as demonstrated by how she speaks and dresses. 
  • Another way this first half can represent Diane's yearning for a happy ending is the use of colours throughout each scene - a lot of warm colours are used in the mise-en-scene: reds, oranges, pinks (this is directly contrasted with the colours  that show up in Diane's life - blues, whites which represent the starkness and emptiness that Diane seems to be feeling).
  • Throughout the Betty story, we see little clues pop up, instances that probably wouldn't make sense if viewed only once without any concentration but make more sense once thought about - an example being of Justin Theroux's director character, Adam. His purpose in the first half seems to be for comic relief almost, every little bad thing that can happen to someone happens to this guy - he loses creative control over his film, his wife not only cheats on him, but when confronting her, he ends up getting beaten by the wife's lover (a cliched, over-the-top, cartoon-like character). All the bad things that occur to Adam could be a representation of Diane's anger and hatred towards him, the reason to why is brought up in the latter half of the film.

16/06/2013

Movie Crazes

Photo by annaberthold

Hollywood has a reputation of going through cycles of repeating genres, for lack of a better term. If a film is an instant success, then that surely means that for the next 5 years or so, audiences are going to want to watch the same type of film over and over. If it isn't 'torture porn' (Saw, Hostel, A Serbian Film, etc), teen High School comedies (10 Things I Hate About You, Never Been Kissed, She's All That, etc) then it's magical fantasies (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Golden Compass) and vampires (Interview with the Vampire, Twilight, Byzantium, Fright Night, etc) I will look at two sub-genres and choose a film to represent the best and the worst of each.

Vampires

The current craze seems to have sparked after the success of the teen franchise Twilight based on the books by Stephanie Meyer. Of course, vampires existed a lot longer than this on screen.


The Best:

Interview With the VampireInterview With...
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  I'm slightly cheating with this choice as this technically came much before the craze was triggered. However, it is still one of the best films of the vampire canon. Originally based on the popular Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire showed us that Tom Cruise may actually be able to act and introduced us to Kirsten Dunst who was outstanding as the child vampire Claudia (though has not really matched the same intensity since). The film starts with the vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) telling his story to an interviewer, letting the audience see his version through flashbacks. It is a story filled with more heartbreak than joy, as Louis gets used to becoming a vampire, however reluctantly. The issue of turning a child into a vampire (Claudia) is represented well with Kirsten Dunst coming across very believable as Claudia struggles with the identity of being a much older woman trapped forever in an 11-year old girl. It also deals with the complicated relationship that Claudia develops with Louis without coming across as perverted and unnecessary. There are no bright moments in the film, each scene shot as dark as the subject's matter. The pace and mood comes across as sombre and yet intriguing as the audience awaits to see what is in store for each character. There are scenes in the film that almost come across as a dance, with each character choreographed to mirror the movements of how a vampire should appear, according to director's choice. This becomes apparent in the fight scenes which have a faster pace to represent the vampires' invincibility. Every character in this film comes across as believable, making the audience sustain belief that this may be a possibility, at least for the remainder of the film. It is a film that focuses on the story and plot rather than purely the fact that this is a film about mythical creatures.

The Worst:
Twilight
Twilight
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 It may be a popular film with the rabid fans, but let's stick to credibility here shall we? For this piece, I will only include the first film out of the franchise considering that is the only one I managed to sit through. I get quite annoyed with films that not only have teenybopper audiences going crazy in ridiculous manners, but also for films that aren't actually any good in the first place. I went to see this film at the cinema and was totally underwhelmed. I heard such rave reviews and everybody was talking about it so had to check it out to see what the fuss was. The result was me sitting in the cinema wondering if it was me refusing to like the film purely because everyone loved it or if everyone else was blinded by certain actors' 'charms'. The acting was stiff and wooden and the plot did not hold my attention. The so-called vampires were not believable, if we were suspending belief that this can actually happen (sparkling, glittery vampires - what is that all about?) The plot was something done time and time again, vampire falling in love with a human girl which was done with a lot more credibility in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series). The action sequences seemed forced and more farcical than a dance, the voice-over was done in a bored, monotonic voice that had me to bored to tears. And yet, the franchise spawned five more films all because of its devoted fanbase. This is the film I blame for generating a lot of copycat films, where the media is now obsessed with using vampires in every chance they get, whether that be in films, TV shows or books, making the audience with any sense avoid any film with a vampire plot attached to it.

12/05/2013

When Good Shows Go Bad



I started thinking about this the other day when I was watching a show that I used to love and thought what has happened to the programmes that made me excited for a Saturday night?

Photo by Irregular Shed

I can think of two particular examples that jump into my head straight away when I think of Good Shows that went Bad. And it will be here where I will try to analyse what I liked about the series in the first place and what went wrong.


Doctor Who Doctors Collage
Doctor Who...
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 We'll start with Doctor Who shall we? This is the programme that I mentioned above that influenced this article. Now most people would be shocked - it is not exactly a show that is failing in the ratings, but to me, it is just not in the same league as it once was. I am mainly talking about the revival of the series here (2005), since I never watched any of the classic episodes. I first tuned in on a whim, after hearing all the fuss I thought I would give it a go. And I'm glad I did, with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose,the companion, Doctor Who was energetic, engaging, witty and the characters full of life - all thanks to showrunner Russell T Davies, who helped revive the show for a new generation. After a brief stint, Eccleston was replaced with David Tennant, who was so natural in this role, it was like he was born to play it. He was able to balance the humour and drama well with the audience always gripped on the edge of their seat. Such was the popularity of Tennant, that on announcing he was departing the show, it was met with cries of anguish from the audience to who he announced it to. I, myself was eager for a fresh start on the show as after three seasons, it started to become repetitive. Little did I know that the show I loved would turn into something I'd have to force myself into watching due to loyatly. When Matt Smith was announced as the Doctor and after his brief entrance in Tennant's final episode, I didn't like him. I took an instant disliking. Here was the most emotional episode ever to be aired and this bouncing goofball comes barging in, ruining the atmosphere. I have since learned that actually, different to Tennant as he is, Smith wasn't the problem and he wasn't actually a bad actor. The problem, and I've spoken to and heard from several people who agree, is the writing and direction of the show. I couldn't quite put my finger on it to begin with - I figured it was just me, after being such a fan of Tennant, not being able to accept a change. I've since realised that actually the whole show seems off. I came to this conclusion after watching Smith's Doctor star in The Sarah Jane Adventures (written by Davies) and loving the way he way he was portrayed. Steven Moffat took over the role of showrunner after Davies had left, to the delight of me as he had written quite a few good episodes previously. This excitement soon wore off, after seeing that the characters are lacking - coming across as two-dimensional; the stories are dull and bleak, all merging into one; storylines and arcs are repetitive. Considering Moffet had promised to not feature classic monsters and aliens in his series, they do have a funny way of popping up every episode. Oh look, another dalek that's been defeated several times before, how terrifying...All of his characters that I never cared for - Amy Pond, the Doctor's companion; River Song, the Doctor's 'wife'; Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax are so dull, I stopped watching. They never brought anything new and exciting to the show. It was only with the departure of Amy Pond that I started tentatively watching again, noticing that it isn't as bad as it was during seasons 5-6 but it is also nowhere near the quality of the earlier seasons of the revival. The characters have lost their heart, one of the great features of Davies' era. He made you care deeply for them, so much that you'd laugh at their jokes and cry along with the sad scenes. Whereas in Moffet's era, the characters could disappear for all I care and I wouldn't even miss them.


23/04/2013

Movies Don't Create Psychos. Movies Make Psychos More Creative

                                   

 

This is a subject that many have argued and debated over the years - that of: do films really have an impact on the way people think and act? Are violent movies to blame for violence that occurs in real life? I know I've looked at this before, through my coursework during my studies but I would like to re-visit it again. My examples will highlight the media's moral panic and will argue for and against as best as possible.


Natural Born Killers
Natural Born...
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My first choice is a film whose whole purpose is to show audiences how violence is heavily influenced by the media. Originally written by Quentin Tarantino (a man often targeted for his violent films being a possible influence), Natural Born Killers was then brought to director Oliver Stone's attention who heavily re-wrote it after seeing how the media played a part in the cases of OJ Simpson and Rodney King. The film follows a couple - Mickey and Mallory Knox (played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, respectively) who decide to go on a killing spree. The film is littered with media references - the journalist (Robert Downey Jr) who follows their case is making a documentary of their lives as he knows the audience wants to see their actions in a glorified sense; the way the couple met is shot as an old tv show in the style of I Love Lucy, contrasting the violence with a laughter track. There are several times when images are projected against the background in scenes, easily representing how movies affect our everyday lives - in the case of Natural Born Killers, the everyday lives are serial killers. The fact that Natural Born Killers is a parody of critics quickly placing the blame onto films for violence, it still came under fire as, ironically, critics slammed the film for being too violent. Real life crimes followed, naturally being blamed on Natural Born Killers - the case of Sarah Edmondson and boyfriend Benjamin Darras, who after watching Natural Born Killers, went out and shot two random people. Though, it has to be mentioned that the fact they were high on LSD may have something to do with it...The media lapped it up, with the author John Grisham, a friend of one of the victims, verbally attacking Oliver Stone for creating a violent film and allowing people to watch it. It was only after getting advice from Grisham, did the survivor of the attacks change her lawsuit to include Oliver Stone and the production company, before she had only taken action against the criminals. Natural Born Killers is not always an easy film to watch, with the frenzied pace and disjointed cuts and editing but this is all to represent the minds of the killers, showing the audience how chaotic their lives are, right up to the very last scene.


Scream 4
Scream 4
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 My next example is the Scream franchise. Or at least the first one in the series. Now, Scream is a slasher film, a typical film showing a serial killer randomly murdering teenagers. Or, so it will first seem. But, in actual fact, Scream is a parody, cleverly sending up other slasher films. It's a different parody compared to Natural Born Killers, in that it is a more subtle attempt at highlighting cliches. Plus, Scream does not intend to drive its opinion down its audiences' throats as Natural Born Killers sometimes feels. Whereas Natural Born Killers' aim to show how media can be played in everyday lives was done visually and symbolically, Scream shows it through characters and their actions. The title of this article is uttered by one of the characters after the main character accuses them of seeing one too many movies, hence why she thinks they are a little bit unstable. The quote highlights a different view - not blaming films for creating violent people but explaining that they may be influenced. The film is littered with previous horror film references, one of the characters giving rules on what should and shouldn't be done in order to avoid the same consequences people in horror films face. This may explain the killers' obsession with all things scary-movie related, hence the phone calls asking each victim what their favourite film is. One can argue that the psychopaths portrayed in the film being easily led by the movies they watch, represent people being influenced and doing the exact same as the killers in the film. Again, like Natural Born Killers before it, Scream came to be heavily criticised and blamed for crimes linked to the film. One case that names Scream as a direct influence is that of Daniel Gill and Robert Fuller, teenagers who stabbed their friend after watching Scream. The drugs and an obsession with knives probably didn't help matters.

Conclusion:
It is so easy to place the blame on film. It's the easy way out for the criminals, 'the film made me do it'. And yet, people of a sound mind are never overheard saying to their friends: 'I watched Scream last night, it sent me messages in the guise of a plot and images to maim, torture and kill'. The critics are fast to place the blame, even without seeing the films in question, because surely if they were to watch the same film, then they too will go rushing out in an attempt to recreate images that they have seen. The argument that violent films influence violent behaviour is a flimsy one as it categorises every single person as a zombie willing to absorb all the images that are being fed to them. If this is the case, we'd all be a poor nation after buying everything that adverts tell us to buy. Each example of the cases I've mentioned all include uses of drugs and yet it is the violent films that were the main focus here. There is already something severely wrong with each of the criminals far before they had even watched a violent film, for their brain to even contemplate a crime and yet here they are passing the blame onto everything but themselves. It will be a sad time if the film industry decides to cave and censor their films as the majority of the cinema audience have never contemplated taking up a violent act after watching violent films, nevermind acting up on it. I think it's quite ironic that the two films heavily criticised for encouraging violent behaviour, are themselves a parody of this exact worry. Maybe I'm too defensive here, but I conclude that films are not responsible for peoples' actions. What do you think? Do you agree that films are blameless or do you think they should accept some responsibility?