Dream Is A Shadow...Of Something Real: The Last Wave (1977)

Peter Weir is an interesting director his subject matter and overall cinematic oeuvre are quite spectacular, yet each films is inherently different and the most keen of cinephiles find themselves forgetting that he directed certain films because of their uniqueness.  For a rather in-depth analysis of the director I cannot recommend enough the blog Frederik on Film, which intensely analyzes the auteur, picking out key shots to match each film thematically across Weir's ever expanding career.  I myself intend to do a similar analysis of Danny Boyle in the future, but for the time being, I will simply focus on The Last Wave as a stand alone film, one that is rather early in the directors career.  A dark film, The Last Wave, is a psychological thriller of sorts that is more in line with Ken Russel's Altered States, than something like Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout, to which it is often compared.  It is a classic commentary on the abrasive effects of colonization, yet in Weir's crafty hands it also becomes a study of an aging marriage, a focus on the troubles of antiquated methods of law and most importantly the problem of projecting one's ideologies about life onto an individual despite their methods of living being completely foreign.  Weir's approach never seems to preachy and manages to stick quite nicely to its genre, yet at no time throughout the intensely filmed piece of cinema do viewers question what is being said, in fact, one will find themselves constantly amazed by the layering of ideals portrayed within the movie.

The Last Wave opens rather simply with a group of children playing during recess, only to have their games interrupted by an intense storm that produces a deluge of water and enormous pieces of hail.  After this rather inconsequential event, we are shown Sydney at night, while an unnamed Aborigine flees fellow Aboriginals.  Just at the moment when he thinks he has escape, an elder Aborigine sticks a wand out of a car, stopping the young man in his tracks and killing him in the process.  This inexplicable death, later determined to be a heart attack results in skepticism on the part of local law enforcement and as a result they hire a well-known corporate tax lawyer named David Burton (Richard Chamberlain), who agrees to the task partly out of pity, but also because of eerie dreams he has been having involving visions of an aboriginal boy.  Initially it appears as though Burton will fail to get through to the young men do mostly to language barriers, but the emergence of a well spoken Aborigine named Chris (David Gulipilil) who explains that it is impossible to describe the mans death, because it involves actions from the "dreamtime," which is a shadow of the reality in which he and David live.  This bizarre revelation is only greatened by Chris introducing David to his friend, and elder Charlie (Nandjiwarra Amagula) another individual who has occupied David's dreams.  In the process of defending the group of aborigines, David becomes obsessed with the notions of "dreamtime," so much so that he becomes distanced from his family and even begins attempts to obtain relics and tools from the Aborigine ceremonies.  As David becomes obsessed with what he believes to be an impending apocalypse, he finally confronts the elder shaman in an underground lair, who is none other than Charlie.  It is during this confrontation that he discovers a subterranean labyrinth of tribal wonders, items he attempts to take with him, particularly a stone mask that appears to resemble David.  In a fit of panic he drops the mask and escapes with intentions of warning about the last wave of destruction that will destroy Sydney, however, he fails to make it in time and falls to the ground to visions of the wave hitting the city.

As noted in the introduction, the film is incredibly concerned with colonization and its affects on urban Australia.  David is clearly the outsider to urban life, living in a nice home on the countryside, preoccupied with tennis and his well to do children.  Furthermore, he is a corporate tax lawyer and defends individuals who are clearly fine off as it is and have no need for more benefits.  It is not until the outsiders preoccupy his mind that he must acknowledge their presence, because he is literally unable to function without doing so, and it is only made clearer by the fact that his friends and wife dismiss his concerns as frivolous.  Only David is concerned with the struggles of these individuals because only he deals with it on a mental and visceral level.  Yet with all his concern for the Aboriginal peoples, he is not only incapable of grasping their ideals, but his inevitable exoticization of their culture leads him to a position of greed and lust that results in his downfall.  For David, it becomes a desire not to prove that the men are innocent, but instead to show that he has come to understand the inner working of an exclusive group...this is clearly not the case.  The wave that is to cleanse Sydney then becomes more relevant as it likely represents a removal of notions of class, race and perhaps gender from societal dominance.  Ironically, David cannot blame the native peoples for the apocalyptic results, because as he realizes upon finding his visage in a mask in the films closing scenes, it is wholly his fault from a position of power for not helping to end such destruction.  He and the world he comes from clearly ignored the destruction of those below and his slighted attempts at redemption were simply too little, too late. 

Key Scene: The opening sequence with the storm is rather intense and grabs viewers into what will be a crazy film.

The Last Wave is one of the lesser acknowledge films within The Criterion Collection, but as avid followers of the company know that usually means that it is one of the best gems in the entire catalog.  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, before it suffers the tragedy of inevitably going out of print.


Say Hello, She Is Like Your Second Mother: Carnivore; Beasts of Prey (1985)

I remember pondering all the possibilities of American influence on Japanese cinema upon initially entering into heavy film viewing.  I would watch films like Vengeance Is Mine and Jigoku and find myself drawn to their similarities to what was being done in America during the era.  I was quite certain that no other country displayed influences form The United States in quite a way, until I sat down to watch a relatively old Korean film in Kim Ki-Youngs Carnivore, also known as Beast of Prey and Carnivorous Animal.  A film that is preoccupied with the fears of modernity, particularly those involving shifting gender norms and sexual power dynamics, Carnivore is melodramatic, cinematic and horrific all at once.  I was a bit thrown off when reading that Kim Ki-Young's work was considered to be placed solidly within the horror genre upon initial release, but when viewing this narrative I found it to be fitting, although the work clearly flirts the lines of dark comedy as well.  The movie offers no clear moments of redemption, nor does it provide a single good character, rather ironic for a film steeped in the traditions of melodrama.  As has been the case for so many Korean films thus far, Carnivore does not succinctly fall into one single genre, in fact it is very much a hybrid of multiple genres, layered together, at times rather abrasively, but mostly with flawless precision.

Carnivore follows Kim Dong-sik, an aging securities firm employee, who is becoming forced to take a back seat to his wife's successful business ventures in transports.  He begins to question his own masculinity and spends much of his time drinking at a local bar, which clearly doubles as a brothel.  This action is only worsened by the fact that his wife also spends her evenings at a bar for women to meet young gigolos.  During one particularly bad night, Kim blows a large some of money at the bar chatting with a young woman.  The madame of the bar-brothel tells the young woman that she is responsible for obtaining his large bill and suggests she offer herself sexually to recoup the debt.  Engaging in a rather brief sexual encounter in the back of Kim's car, the woman becomes infatuated with Kim and demands that they move in together.  At first dismissive, Kim finally agrees to build two homes as he realizes his wife and himself are doomed for failure.  Despite the concerns of his whole family, Kim engages in the two homes and finds himself revitalized by the lust and vivacity of a younger woman.  However, the lines between his first family and his new mistress begin to blur and come to a climactic crash during a birthday celebration in which his family and lover are simultaneously present.  The mistress, engulfed with jealously demands that Kim spend the night with her, an action that would directly break the agreement between his wife and the mistress.  Regardless of the pact, Kim agrees to stay with dire results, after a fiery round of intercourse, the mistress stabs Kim and he falls down the stairs in defeat, just as his family enters the house to inquire to his tardiness.  The film then closes with claims of the events being based off real events, a fact that I am unsure about.

I mentioned this film being squarely in the horror genre, much like Audition, much of the film seems rather mundane and unfit for the genre.  However, for those of you who have seen Miike's dark work, it become clear in the back half of the film that it is something grotesque and completely horrific.  The last thirty minutes of Carnivore certainly adhere to this notion between the stabbing and the slipping sanity of those involved within the bizarre love triangle.  This bit of action, does not fully explain the horror within such a film though, instead the disturbing qualities within the film rest solely in the absurd, something that directors like Hitchcock used extensively in their horror works.  Arguably, a viewer knows that what is being depicted is not normal; however, the characters within the narrative treat it as the usual, recall Vertigo if you have any questions.  Between the unquestioned visits to gigolos and Kim being dressed as a baby, nothing is made to seem out of the ordinary.  Even the agreement between Kim's wife and mistress seems bizarre, because it is done so with almost business like formality.  It has been said that Korean audiences laughed loudly at many of the scenes within the film, I can imagine that it is due partly to the ridiculous scenarios depicted; however, I would also venture to say that it is from a bit of discomfort at the fears of such actions occurring as a result of modernity.  I cannot claim this to be one of my favorite horror films, but the unusual approach to such a genre and its clear intention to mesh genres may very well make it one of my favorite genre hybrids.  It is realized and incredibly scathing in its intentions.

Key Scene:  The scene in which Kim begs for candy is absolutely brilliant...you will know it when it happens.

This films accessibility suffers from region locks and the like, yet, thanks to the Korean Film Archive it is instantly available, with subtitles, on Youtube.  Please take advantage of this viewing opportunity before the film is inevitably removed for some stupid reason.


There's A Storm Coming Like Nothing You've Ever Seen: Take Shelter (2011)

I really am beginning to regret making my favorite films of 2011 list so early, particularly considering that I had not seen a considerable amount of films that received critical acclaim from the year.  It is likely that films like The Artist, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and even Drive would have replaced some of my choices.  However, I was adamant that no film I watched from last year would be more spectacular and profound than Tree of Life.  This was certainly the case, until I watched Take Shelter.  Without a doubt, this Jeff Nichols film about paranoia and the decaying of the family unit within rural America is one of the best films of the past decade and contains what may very well be the best ensemble acting performance of last year.  A film like this gives me faith in the possibilities of independent film in the next decade, considering that its budget was nothing compared to a work like Super 8 or Midnight in Paris, yet manages to exude both the thrill of cinema and honesty of good narrative better than both of the previous films combined.  I also mentioned that The Muppets film accrued much of its praise from being an astute observation of the economic woes in The United States, however, its comedic leanings lessen some of its pertinence, where as Take Shelter focuses on the same issues in a grating and inescapable manner, and for that its is also brilliant.

Take Shelter, set in Ohio, the heart of tough living American in the past few years, focuses on the daily interactions of Curtis (Michael Shannon) a working class man struggling to support his loving wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and the medical demands of their deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart).  Curtis seems capable of dealing with his heavy demands; until he begins have hallucinatory dreams about an impending storm of yellow water that will leave nothing in its destructive path.  As a result of the paranoia that insues with his dreams, Curtis begins repairing a worn down storm shelter in his backyard, despite the economic demands of such an endeavor.  Initially realizing the absurdity of his actions, Curtis keeps his projects a secret to his wife and friends, only recruiting the help of a co-worker to help build the storm shelter.  As the dreams become more dark and the economic demands become greater, Curtis finally falters and his visions hinder his ability to be productive.  He loses his job and his wife becomes enraged with him and at one point he completely falls apart at a luncheon attacking his former friend and yelling at everyone in the room with a prophetic omen about the impending disaster.  As a result of love, or perhaps fear, Samantha follows Curtis into the shelter on a particularly stormy night and they await a passing storm.  Eventually they leave the shelter to realize that everything is fine and that their world is back to normal.  The family then takes a much needed trip to the beach where, Curtis watches Hannah become preoccupied with a storm brewing across the ocean.  Samantha steps outside and witnesses the storm herself, suggesting that Curtis was indeed right about his fears, or in a more bizarre possibility that the entire family has slipped into a destructive paranoia.

While paranoia certainly influences the narrative of the film, Take Shelter is far more concerned about the effects of the economy on family relationships, particularly when money proves an inescapable burden.  I plan not to elaborate in too great of detail on this because I am going to formulate a paper about this for an academic journal, but I will give a few general commentaries on this notion.  First off, the film inserts various brief scenes about money woes through the film, whether it be the depictions of the family eating the same meals every day, or Curtis' pricey trip to the gas pump.  All these brief additions are intended to set up a monetary demon for the family that is constantly attacking them, only to be worsened by the dangling promise of healing Hannah through a pricey medical procedure.  With these notions in place, the impending storm could represent a variety of ideas whether it be complete bankruptcy or the fears of divorce it is something that could cause a frenzied panic and, furthermore, an anxiety so great that Curtis would need to seek psychiatric advice.  In one of the films more brilliant scenes, Curtis takes his family into the house built within the shelter, one created from using a storage unit as a portable home.  It could be read as creating a sort of new sphere, separate from the private and public, considering that neither has proved beneficial to the family.  However, as the film proves, even this new creation is useless as the "storm" that influences the entire narrative finds new methods to attack Curtis and his family.

Key Scene: The dream sequence between Curtis and Samantha...you will know it when it happens.

Take Shelter is a gem of 2011 that was all but ignored.  Thanks to the excellent podcast Battleship Pretension, I was turned onto this film and I can only further their recommendation and demand that you get a copy on bluray.  It will be worth your time and money.


We're Always A Step Behind: Shiri (1999)

Shiri, sometimes referred to as Swiri, was for quite awhile the highest grossing film in Korean cinema's sporadic history, going so far as to beat out sales for Titanic within Korea that year.  While Shiri is by no means a stellar piece of cinematic acheivement, it is certainly an enjoyable film with much to offer in the way of an action flick.  Vibrantly film, at times recalling a Wong Kar-Wai film, Je-kyu Kang's work is what one should expect from a thriller film.  However, what makes Shiri an exception to the general nature of action films is its incredibly heavy focus on the political nature of North and South Korea, something that becomes quite evident from the opening shots of the film.  As is no surprise to anybody who has remotely paid attention to the world over the past twenty-five years, North and South Korea are sworn enemies and their attempts to reconcile always fail miserably.  Shiri focuses on these issues in great detail and even attempts, at times, to offer optimistic solutions to the divisive state of things, however, as is integral to a action film, there are good guys and bad guys and in the case of this film they are clearly divided between national lines, almost as if the DMZ were the separating force.  Ultimately, this film full of Korean superstars exists first as a well-executed action film and secondly as proof that Korea can hold its own on a global scale, both in art house films and in big budget works as well.

Shiri begins with the training of a group of North Korean soldiers in a remote part of the Communist nation.  The trainees depicted engage in a variety of ruthless activities that range from bayonet practice of living individuals to a race assembling a gun to shoot the person next to them, all with the intent of creating an elite group of fighters to place within South Korea as a sort of sleeper cell.  This display sets of the underlying plot of the entire film, as the group will attempt to steal a explosive liquid material with a power equitable to an atomic bomb.  The central figure within the film is an unseen sniper known as Shiri, who has taken it upon herself to wipeout various South Korean leaders and diplomats, causing a considerable amount of unrest within Seoul and its surrounding provinces.  As is necessary to any good action film, a set of relationships and romances evolve and devolve throughout the film, particularly between partner detectives Yu Jong-won (Han Suk-kyu) and Lee Jang-gil (Song Kang-ho).  Yu constantly frets about accidentally killing Lee, while also panicking about the imminent marriage to his fiance Yi Myung-hyun, played masterfully by Kim Yunjin of LOST fame.  Each attempt by this triangle to deal with their relationships is halted by the ever present threat of total destruction at the hands of a nearly indistinguishable bomb.  The climax of the film takes place at a "friendly" soccer game between North and South Korea, aimed at helping to bond the nations; yet, it is precisely at this place that the bomb is intended to be detonated.  Through tough actions and quick thinking, the two detectives are able to prevent the bomb from exploding, however, for Yu it has very problematic consequences, as he realizes his own fiance was involved with the sleeper cell and had spent the entire time under a false alias, she herself, was none other than Shiri the entire time.

The commentary within Shiri is clearly one intended to critique and question the issue of a seemingly ideological divide between two struggling countries.  As the few documentaries available show, North Korea lives under a guise of self-sustenance, but is actually struggling to feed its ever expanding population, similarly, South Korea struggles to succeed on a global market, despite being relatively powerless to compete with well established global powers.  Shiri clearly critiques the divide between the two countries and uses the soccer game as a blatant metaphor for the necessity of unification.  On a more filmic level, Shiri is preoccupied with notions of identity, particularly those of North and South Korean, which to a Western eye are indistinguishable.  The fact that Shiri can steal the identity of a woman from South Korea placed within a mental institute with little to no problem is indicative of the political forces influencing the divide between the two nations.  It is not a matter of race, religion, or to much an extent class but a political pressure that has plagued the two nations for well over a half century.  In a rather simple comparison, it is the much like our own Cold War in that each side fears the destructive possibilities of the other, yet neither country possesses the means to outright destroy the other.  The bomb within the film is a water-like substance that is indistinguishable from the rejuvenating substance except when it is both placed under a light source and heated to an incredibly high temperature.  This liquid is much like the peoples of North and South Korea, they are calm and peaceful to the eye, yet to do the fueling of political rhetoric and misguided ideologies, it is possible for either side to destroy the other within seconds.  Unity is impossible due to a fiery paranoia that nothing seems to squelch.  While Shiri is optimistic of possible reunification, it is clear that the film gladly exploits this fear for a great film narrative and its high revenues reflect the ideas of South Korea far to greatly too ignore.

Key Scene: The entire composition and editing of the soccer game is something of a marvel to view

You could say that Shiri has become "the movie" that reflects New Korean Cinema, while it is certainly not a profound piece of filmmaking it is certainly worth taking a look at and Netflix has copies available so you are only hurting yourself by not checking it out.


You Have No Power Over Me: Labyrinth (1986)

I have tragically been unable to procure any blogs for what appears to be twenty plus days, although considering that I have been knee deep in moving for the past week I figure it is slightly excusable.  However, knowing that this rather lengthy break leaves a gap in my movie reviews I completely understand that in order to return to with a new blog that it needs to be something spectacular and in my opinion the 80's cult classic Labyrinth provides for the perfect return. A spectacle in the very sense of the term, this Jim Henson directed film is otherworldly without being so fantastical as to dismiss accessibility to those less inclined towards the fantasy genre. The combination of some masterful puppeteer work and what is simultaneously David Bowie's best and worst offering to music, Labyrinth manages to be very fun and at times bizarre.  I am fully aware of its lack of success upon initial release and could expound on the possibilities for days, however, that is unnecessary and I would be more inclined to simply celebrate its cult status and demand its immediate viewing to all those who have not seen its glorious absurdity.  A film like Labyrinth reminds me that not every big budget film to come out of the 80's is indeed terrible; in fact, many were quite enjoyable and stellar offering to the world of movies.

Labyrinth focuses on the experiences of one young girl named Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) who is at wits end with her indifferent father and stubborn stepmother that seems more concerned with making it to their various outings than spending time with her.  This problem is only exacerbated by their continual dumping of their youngest child Toby (Toby Froud) onto Sarah.  Constantly seeking solace in a fantasy world known as Labyrinth, Sarah utters words from the novel that are supposed to cause her younger brother to be kidnapped by goblins.  At first loving the silence, Sarah immediately regrets her decision and decides to check on her brother, who has disappeared.  In a panic, Sarah attempts to redact her decision, only to encounter Jareth (David Bowie), the king of the goblins.  He explains that Sarah will only see her brother again if she is able to successfully find the center of his labyrinth within thirteen hours.  Accepting her fate, Sarah quickly takes to the task of finding her brother within the madness of the labyrinth, along the way she encounters various creatures of fantastical proportions from a grouchy dwarf named Hoggle, to various logic puzzles and riddles, all intended to test her wits and maturity.  Fed up with her successes, Jareth intervenes on many occasions to throw obstacles in Sarah's way.  Ultimately, however, with the help of a new set of friends and a newly found inner power, Sarah defeats Jareth by accepting that she has no control over her and that she truly loves her brother and would do anything for his safety.  Sarah returns home safely and finds Toby fast asleep, she thinks fondly of her encounters with the various creatures of the Labyrinth only to discover that within her imagination that she can revisit each and everyone of them on countless occasions.

While the film is littered with surprisingly excellent special effects and a very large amount of song and dance numbers, particularly the somewhat awkward "Dance Magic" bit, it is possible to glean a series commentary out of the film.  Sarah represents a young woman who is attempting to traverse through the world with a headstrong sense of independence, one that is ridiculed by her step mom who thinks she should be more concerned with her dating life.  The labyrinth, and to some extent Jareth, represent a imaginative world of oppression, quite similar to the real world she exists within.  It is only when she displaces her anger on someone weaker than her that she realizes her mistakes and for this, she must seek redemption.  Along the way, Sarah evolves from a stubborn girl who simply runs in one direction until she is tired to a born leader who helps to defend a town from a goblin onslaught.  More importantly, however, Sarah learns both the value of companionship and loyalty through Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus, all theoretical extensions of her personality as well as independence from a patriarchal figure head, as is evident in Jareth (despite his rather androgynous appearance).  The puzzles within the film evolve from very literal ones, as is the case with her encounter with the traditional Knight and Knave dilemma to breaking from her own restraints of dreams involving bourgeois extravagances that adhere to heteronormative notions of male and female relationships.  Each encounter within the narrative could easily be read as Sarah attempting to encounter a ridiculous social rule head on.  Of course, it could all just be an anti-drug film, as is evident in the peach scene.

Key Scene: A certain scene invoking the work of M.C. Esher that I have dubbed Jareth's Lament.

This is a great piece of 80's film that has recently been upgraded to bluray.  While I fully intend to obtain a copy of the film, it is perfectly acceptable to simply rent it instead.


I Love YOu But You Have No Idea What You Are Talking About: Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

I went into Wes Anderson's newest offering with quite high expectations considering that I have yet to dislike anything the hipster-adored auteur has made.  Roughly ten minutes into the film I was uncertain as to whether or not the film would deliver considering that Anderson chose to focus almost the entire narrative on two kids.  However, as I should have expected, the film starts off in a world of irregularity and spirals into absolute absurdity and this is easily one of his better film, third only to Bottle Rocket and Rushmore.  A sweet and sentimental film, it is clear at this point in Anderson's career that he fully understands how to make a film that is both accessible to mainstream audiences and intimately familiar to his die hard fans.  Furthermore, as is often the case with his works, the film is heavily concerned with the notion of family and the decaying unity that results from financial comfort and an unhealthy amount of existential self-reflection.  Moonrise Kingdom takes this theme from Anderson's films a step further by becoming preoccupied with a coming of age story that is both laughably honest and heartrendingly mature. 

Set in the 1960's, Moonrise Kingdom focuses on the burgeoning love relationship between two young children, the orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) who is the butt of the jokes within his scout troupe and is completely overlooked by the overly zealous Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and the well to do Suzy (Kara Hawyard) who is completely ignored by her divisive lawyer parents, played excellently by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.  Meeting by chance at a local performance, starring Suzy, the two agree to meet and run away in the woods to live together in happy uninterrupted bliss.  This plan appears to be perfect until the individuals who previously ignored them, suddenly decide to pursue the lost couple.  This expedition is led by the simpleminded island police officer Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) who follows the book and calls Social Security (Tilda Swinton) to inform her of the lost orphan.  It becomes apparent that despite their best efforts that Suzy and Sam will have to part, especially after they are discovered at an uncharted inlet of the island.  Despite the attempts by both parties to part the couple, the wiley group of scouts agrees to help Sam reunite with Suzy.  This agreement is enacted with absurdist results, considering that Sam is at one point struck by lightning from the storm that is to lead to an upcoming flood.  Social Security finally intervenes with the intention of taking Sam to a juvenile correction facility, however, at the last moment Captain Sharp agrees to adopt Sam and raise him on the island close to Suzy, despite the clear disapproval of her parents.  All ends well, with Ward placed back in charge of his scouts and with Suzy closer to her family, although not completely reconnected.  The film closes with a beautiful painting of the now named inlet; of course it should be no surprise that the name is Moonrise Kingdom.

After viewing the film, I could not wait to have discussions about Anderson's newest work with many of my friends who share a passion for the indie filmmaker.  Many of the responses were what I expected, often citing how much they loved the quirky soundtrack or the pitch perfect performance of Bill Murray, but I found myself hung up on a particular statement from a friend.  He noted that, in his opinion, many of the characters were underdeveloped, particularly Suzy's parents.  I agreed with him wholeheartedly on this commentary and began considering why this occurred.  I am quite certain that most of this can be explained by the notion that the film is about the two kids and not any of the other characters.  We are allowed to see Suzy's parents as failing drunkards, because that is how she looks at them.  Similarly, we only see Sam's orphan parents for a brief moment and it is assumed that this brief interaction is exactly like his own interactions with the elder couple.  In fact, when one considers that Anderson clearly intends the other characters to be manifestations of Suzy and Sam, whether it be the bratty younger brothers of Suzy's or the almost demonic fellow scouts of Sam's.  The more complex characters are then lesser realized, like Captain Sharp who is stoic and stalwart, because that is the concept that Sam knows, however, when looked at by Suzy he becomes something less.  The more obscure characters are then caricatured and almost impossible, which is evident in Social Security, Commander Pierce (Harvey Keitel), and most blatantly with the too cool for camp Cousin Ben (Jason Schwartzman).  It is a new vision for Wes Anderson filmically speaking and I am all for it and can only hope for more in the future.

Key Scene: The Dance Party

If you even remotely enjoy Wes Anderson you will love Moonrise Kingdom and it is only now making its run through theaters.  Go and watch it immediately.


Thousands of M. Hulot’s And No Single Person: Playtime (1967)

Only one Jacques Tati film managed to find its way on to the TIFF Essential 100 list, which is great considering that besides being credited with the script for The Illusionist I had no prior experience with the prolific comedy director.  Playtime is Tati’s fourth work as a director and is a film that barely made the cut, at #100 on the previously mentioned list.  While it would have probably eluded me for many more years had it not been on the list, I am extremely excited that it did make the list, because my experience with this cinematic achievement was more than wonderful.  Playtime, arguably, lacks a narrative structure and appears to be a series of lengthy vignettes and despite this manages to tap into a very cynical and disparaging commentary on human interactions in a world that is becoming increasingly dependent on the advances of technology around them, a pretty hefty commentary for a film that was made decades before the introduction of cellular phones or even the internet.  Tati’s film, is nothing less than a fully realized condemnation about everything he witnessed destroying Paris, mostly an unstoppable globalization that was causing mass conformity and disillusionment and every line of dialogue and each subtle filming choice reflects this notion completely.  Playtime, yet another great film that suffered from unreasonable editing demands, will likely prove to be my favorite Tati film, as well as one of the best commentaries on modernity to date.

Playtime, while certainly not traditional in its narrative, nonetheless has some semblance of a plot.  Viewers are introduced to an incredibly modernized Paris with high symmetrical skyscrapers and seemingly formulaic individuals.  People are passing through what appears to be a airport terminal, although it is hard to determine whether or not this is the case.  In this terminal, viewers see everyone from regular citizens, to religious figures, as well as a slew of foreign tourists, most of whom are German and American.  Peppered into these interactions are Tati’s most well known character Monsieur Hulot, a fumbling man whose attempts to be a gentleman, always end up in quixiotic absurdity.  However, while Hulot is usually the center of attention within Tati’s work, he merely interacts with the environment in this narrative, often falling into the back of scenes and being ignored entirely, individuals even go so far as to mistake other extras for him.  After this interaction Hulot wanders into a trade expo that includes superfluous luxuries such as soundless doors and wastebins fashioned to look like Greek columns, Tati in a stroke of genius makes sure that the American characters find particular joy in messing with these inventions.  Hulot then finds himself wandering Paris in the evening stopping at an old war friend’s apartment, which is shot from outside so we can see the going-ons of  those in the other rooms.  After this brief interaction, the rest of the film centers on the opening of a new restaurant in Paris that is clearly rushed to completion, considering that the workers are literally pushed into the back in order to open the restaurant to American tourists.  However, the inability to properly run the restaurant causes the place to fall to shambles and the metaphorical glass of social performance literally breaks.  The film then closes at a Parisian roundabout that clearly intends to reflect a carousel, one that is a circle of inescapability, which leads the vast cast of characters to an inevitable darkness, a rather grim film, from one of France’s funniest directors.

Tati’s film is absolutely and undeniably about the problems of society attempting to place rigid, but clear masks of conformity and normalcy onto something that is clearly random and illogical.  Tati, who is by no means confused about the inherently problematic nature of human existence, throws caution to the wind when depicting modern France, a place that attempts to emit symmetrical perfection and uniform existence amongst its citizens.  As the film begins, it appears as though the only character who has not adhered to this near military rigidness is Hulot, who fumbles through the scenes only to be overlooked by each individual that simply attempts to adhere to the demands of perfection.  It is clear, with this in mind, that windows play a huge part to Tati’s assumption of conformity, the windows provide a transparency between the private and public world for the characters within the film, one which provides a point of references as two when it is acceptable to be an individual and when it is demanded that one must follow social norms.  This is most evident in the scene in which we watch Hulot interact with his former military pal, whilst also watching another woman become irate with her television, amongst other unusual circumstances.   It is because she is disengaged from the public that she finds herself not following the regulations of performance.  The glass then becomes a point of concern for the rest of the film, particularly in the restaurant.  As the mask of control slips from the hands of the restaurant owners it becomes clear that they can no longer pretend that everything is all right and by no coincidence things completely fall apart when the glass door to the restaurant’s entrance is broken, after this nothing is safe and the entire group of individuals become wild, employees and customers alike, which is brilliantly signaled by the emergence of some diagetic jazz music.  Ultimately, the window returns in one last scene involving the roundabout in which women riding a bus are shot through the reflection of a window being cleaned.  As the window rises and their reflection raises, they react with screams of exhilaration, as though they realize the fading nature of mirroring conformity.  Perhaps in one of the films most sobering moments, Tati briefly shows us a reflection of the Eiffel Tower through a glass door, reminding us that somewhere behind this vain performance is a rich and vibrant history that is slowly risking falling into obscurity.

Key Scene: The “carousel” scene.

Criterion’s bluray upgrade of this is phenomenal and has some of the best extras I have ever come across.  Do yourself a favor and get a copy immediate


Something You Don’t Need, An Excuse: The Hustler (1961)

I am a stalwart fan of Paul Newman as an actor, granted I have not seen his entire filmography, and as such cannot speak to his scope of acting abilities.  That being said, what I have seen from the actor proves to me that he is versatile, earnest and fully involved with any performance he delivers, this is quite clear in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as one of my personal favorite films Cool Hand Luke.  If you add the already nostalgic touch of black and white to such a film then the result is something that only helps to make Paul Newman pop off the screen, at least this is how I felt while watching The Hustler.  What is likely to be my new favorite sports movie, The Hustler is sentimental, yet jarring in its reflection on an era far gone in which even pool sharks had a set of ethics that were followed without question.  Pitting the still young Paul Newman against a veteran actor like Jackie Gleason furthers the enjoyability and acting seems so simple with the aid of Piper Laurie and George C. Scott to the cast.  I assumed going in that there would only be so many ways to shoot a game of pool, but Robert Rossen manages to make even repeated shots seems vibrant and fresh, and is smart enough to let the camera just observe at points in times throughout the movie.  Compose with a clear goal in mind, The Hustler is an exceptional piece of cinema that reflects one of the last mighty breaths of Hollywood filmmaking that would irrevocably change with the onset of the sixties.

The Hustler follows the trials and trebulations of one “Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and up and coming pool hustler who has already made a respectable name for him throughout the country.  Along with the help of his manager Charlie (Myron McCormick) Eddie desires nothing more than to verse and destroy rival pool shark Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).  Eddie is so willing to verse the legend that he goes to his home billiards room and challenges him directly.  Fats, in a rather dismissive manner, agrees to verse Eddie and makes work of the young and inexperienced hustler with sage-like precision.  This loss is rather devastating to Eddie who is now broke and seeks refuge in the town, one that is rather unwelcoming to the infamous hustler.  Despite this trouble he manages to meet a young woman with a bit of a drinking problem named Sarah (Piper Laurie) who instantly takes a liking to the witty ways of Eddie.  Looking for an out, Eddie agrees to help Fats’ manager Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) with the hopes of paying off his debt.  While Bert is certainly willing to help Eddie, he sends him through the ringer a few times in order to assure his power, particularly in the scene involving Eddie losing to a rich aristocrat in multiple games of billiards.  It is at this point that Bert uses Sarah as a means to bring Eddie down and gain monetary reward in the process and humiliating Sarah in the process, leading to her tragic suicide.  All but defeated, Eddie attempts his hand at playing Fats one more time and succeeds in winning a substantial amount of money.  Fats, for the first time in his career, is force to quit and Eddie is the ultimate winner, although he is told forcefully by Bert to never step foot in his billiards hall again.

The Hustler is, like many sports movies, concerned to a great deal with an individual (in some cases a group) making a name for themselves.  However, at the point in which viewers are dropped into the narrative Eddie has already made somewhat a name for himself and desires to obtain accolades previously unimagined.  To him the only thing that matters is winning against Fats, and once he does this, he realizes that in order to be fully satisfied he must not only win, but also completely obliterate the aging pool shark.  It is at this point that the theme of hubris develops within The Hustler and becomes a point of criticism throughout the film.  Eddie’s hubris is the cause of his name being tarnished through a portion of the narrative, just as Bert’s hubris ultimately cost him his relationship with each friend he makes throughout the film.  Similarly, Sarah’s own self-involved quest for meaning borders on hubris in that she seems to treat her rather simple sufferings as a trust fund child as a burden on par with Atlas.  Hubris literally destroys Sarah and greatly harms both Bert and Eddie, at one time Eddie’s fingers are broken.  It is only after severe loss that either men realize the consequences of their pride, although for Eddie it is far to late.  With this notion in mind, it would appear as the only two characters void of such pride are Eddie’s mentor Charlie and Fats, although the latter is an unusual circumstance because we are at no point provided with his past story and are only aware of him as a Goliath like being in the world of pool.  Although his presence and graceful playing style are likely intended to be the example of modesty to the young Eddie, Fats teaches him the most important rule of all, accepting defeat.

Key Scene: The montage involving Eddie and Fats first meeting
The Hustler is a staple of American cinema and a giant in the genre of sports films and given the recent bluray release it is necessary to own, not only for its gorgeous cinematography, but for its easily accessible and morally profound message.