30.3.12

Now It Is Your Turn To Clean Up After Me: Drive (2011)

With the exception of Tree of Life, Drive was probably the most hyped 2011 film for me.  I heard an onslaught of positive praise for the film claiming it to be completely unlike anything released last year and reminiscent of some brilliant hidden gem of seventies Italian cinema.   I was somewhat worried that it would be a let down no matter how good the film was, because my expectations were so incredibly high.  However, I fell in love with every bit of the film from the ambient soundtrack to the excellent action scenes, not to mention the stellar cast that made a film about arguably normal people seem otherworldly.  I did not go into the film realizing that the director was Nicolas Winding Refn, who this blog recognized for his work Valhalla Rising, after discovering this it helped to explain the intense pacing and intimate attachment to silent characters.  Drive, like Refn's previous work, is poetically violent, often placing acts of aggression in the center of the frame forcing viewers to fully acknowledge the acts without being able to put up a cinematic wall of distance.  Drive, is an incredibly reflective film that demands viewers engage with the work and question the legitimacy of actions, particularly those that cross the borders of morality and legality.  No character in the film is fully justified in their actions, nor is any character in need of full on reprimanding for their actions.  Drive questions life's gray areas and like a good film provides very few answers.


Drive, follows the appropriately named Driver (Ryan Gosling) who as his name suggests works driving cars.  On the acceptable side of the law, he works as a mechanic and stunt driver for movies, while also providing getaway cars for criminals during the evening.  He works from a law of ethics that make him not questions individuals behaviors while he is working, but he makes it very clear that beyond the five minutes that he provides a getaway that he wants nothing to do with the individuals he is helping.  He seems fine working side jobs for his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and his sketch associates Bernie (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Pearlman) until he runs into his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) who despite having a kid and husband in jail becomes an love interest to driver.  After close involvement with her, it is revealed that her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) will be leaving jail and returning to live with Irene.  Driver's infatuation with Irene causes him to stick around and help the family despite it being very clear that Irene has chosen to stay with Standard.  It is at this point that it becomes clear that Standard has a very shady past and owes large debts to people he encountered while in prison.  Agreeing to help Standard clear his name for the sake of Irene and her son, Driver goes against his strict moral ways and ends up stuck in the middle of a monetary transaction far larger than anything involving Standard or even his boss Shannon.  As a result, he becomes an enemy of Nino whose heartlessness leads him to a rampage of killing, which he uses Bernie to enact.  In a calm rage, Driver proceeds to kill those who interfere with his task, including Nino's henchmen, Nino and by the end of the film Bernie.  Realizing that even after the death of Standard his life with Irene is impossible.  The film closes with Driver alone driving the streets of L.A. lost and in a state of despair.


As I mentioned in the introduction, Drive is a film about moral ambiguity, particularly that of individual desires and their effects on societies functionality.  Driver for a considerable portion of the film is a man who borders the words of criminal and lawful choosing to engage in each action contingent on his own self-advancement.  Despite this lifestyle though, it is clear that Driver is a morally just person, which is evidenced by his relationship with Irene and her son, while it is clear that he possesses strong feeling for her, he also helps in their time of need simply because he understands that it is the right thing.  Even characters like Bernie and Nino have qualities of morally redeeming qualities.  Bernie is clearly an individual who has become so involved with a criminal life that to leave would assure his death.  As such, when he is forced to kill his friend Shannon he does so in a pain free manner, slitting his wrists to assure that he dies quickly and quietly.  While it may seem inhumane, given Bernie's situation it is incredibly cavelier.  Even Nino's actions are justified, he makes note of his disdain for his cousins who dismiss him simply because he is a Jew, often talking down to him, despite Nino being considerably older than anyone else.  Finally, the viewers are supposed to empathize with Standard who clearly became involved in unfortunate crimes, which forever caused him to be a target for mobsters. As such, he, like Bernie, becomes inextricably entrenched within the crime world and his only means of escape is death.  It is a film that focuses on life decisions and their last effects on a person future, implying that in some tragic cases no amount of redemption can assure change.

Drive is a glorious bit of filmmaking.  It was certainly under-appreciated during the awards season and probably under viewed as well.  The bluray is a thing of beauty and without a doubt one of the must own films of 2011.

26.3.12

I Like To Feel His Eyes On Me When I Look Away: Before Sunrise (1995)

Minimalist narrative cinema seems to be a thing long gone from contemporary filmmaking.  Sure you get a film like The Trip, from which I just returned from viewing, that relies on the discussion over the style or non-language elements of the film.  However, there was a time in the nineties when directors felt it necessary to focus on people simply engaging in conversations.  Noah Baumbach, Jim Jarmusch and many others approached this format with much success and praise, however, it was quite clear that nobody performed the conversation film with as much poise and grace as Richard Linklater and his 1995 work Before Sunrise certainly proves this.  While it initially seems like a dry conversation piece set abroad for affect, it becomes clear quite quickly that the film offers much more in the way of tapping into some universal truth about love, lust, and friendship.  It also questions the length necessary for two individuals to build such a relationship and to what extent such an amount of time has on the validity of their experiences.  Tacky romantic comedies fail to build a believability and approachability even remotely close to what Linklater offers within Before Sunrise, because between his constantly precise directing and the excellent acting of the lead roles, each pause, quick glance and whispered line makes the film incredibly intimate and unabashedly sentimental.  I would be hard pressed to find a romantic film from the nineties that I would enjoy more.


Before Sunrise, as noted earlier, focuses on two people who, while riding on a train, suddenly find each other to be soulmates of sorts and vow to spend an entire night together in Vienna and part in the morning to go their separate ways.  The man is Jesse (Ethan Hawke) an American in his late twenties who clearly has a rebellious past from which he clearly wishes to be distanced.  His love interest is the French woman Celine (Julie Delpy) who clearly enjoys throwing caution to the wind, while also asserting her own power as an independent woman.  The two appear to be somewhat opposite in their life goals, Jesse clearly concerns himself with scraping by and drifting, while Celine desires to excel and make notable differences in the world.  One could call Jesse a young soul and Celine an old.  The two debate various things through the night while running into a variety of Viennese people, all with their own stories and existences.  The two continue through the night eventually obtaining a bottle of wine, which they use to enjoy a night in the park.  At first, Celine is reluctant to sleep with Jesse, because she fears that he is merely attempting to fulfill a male fantasy of the foreign one night stand, but as they continue to talk it becomes clear that he cares deeply for her and desires her genuinely.  As the sunrises the two part ways at the train station agreeing to meet again at the same place in 6 months, however, the film closes with all the locations in which they spent the evening empty, suggesting that the second meeting never occurs (although there is a sequel).  


Minimalist narrative can be awful and when done incorrectly, a handful of contemporary indie films show this to great extent.  As such, it is important to discuss what proves a successful recipe for a good narrative only film.  First and foremost, believable characters make minimalist films work.  If the characters are too entwined to the directors personal life it is hard for casual viewers to relate, this is not the case with Before Sunrise.  Even knowing Ethan Hawke as a relatively popular actor, his character, as well as that of Celine seem somehow possible, and despite the story seeming incredibly unlikely, Before Sunrise for whatever reason seems plausible.  We as viewers want this story to work.  Another factor is the topics of discussion within the film, they must be varied.  Bad narratives falter from focusing too heavily on one subject, from my experience usually music or literature.  Before Sunrise covers many topics: from fratricidal spiders, to women's liberation, to world politics.  The insights are multifaceted and surprisingly unbiased.  Finally, and most importantly, the film has to have the one perfect scene.  In Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket, it is the scene at the end in which Owen Wilson's character belts out "They can't get me...I'm fucking innocent," in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law...it is the entire movie.  As for Before Sunrise, it is without argument the pinball scene.  Delpy and Hawke deliver it so perfectly in synch that it is really hard to believe that you are indeed watching a film.  Before Sunrise covers all these tenants, and many more, making it a masterpiece of minimalist narrative.

Before Sunrise is an excellent film and a staple of nineties romance.  Purchase a copy of this film if you enjoy American indie films or the work of Linklater, but at the very least rent this film.

25.3.12

He Who Values His Life Dies A Dog's Death: 13 Assassins (2010)

The wicked mind of Takashi Miike has brought movie lovers a wide array of twisted films, most notably his 1999 film Audition, which is a personal favorite of mine.  Upon hearing that he had signed on to direct a remake of a sixties samurai film was a cause for celebration and was a film I greatly anticipated viewing.  I had, unlike many people in the United States, the pleasure of viewing the grand piece of cinema on 35 mm, which only helped to make the already brilliant film that much more amazing.  It is a film, in which those familiar with the expansive oeuvre of Miike, will instantly realize the directors maturity.  While his earlier films such as Audition and Ichi the Killer are brilliant, it is obvious that the, then young, director relied heavily on violent images for shock and awe.  13 Assassins certainly has its fair share of grotesque and hard to view imagery, however, Miike has clearly learned to moderate the imagery and help it to advance the narrative, as well as cause audiences severe discomfort.  With his newest work, Miike is beginning to mirror his contemporary Michael Haneke.  As a samurai film, 13 Assassins is true to the tradition, and has all the poetics, action and bad ass characters one would come to expect from the genre.  It is expertly shot, mixing stagnant symmetrical camera work, with experimental handheld action angles to create a viewing experience that is truly unique and incredibly engaging.  To put it bluntly, several Hollywood directors could use a lesson on making action films via Miike.


13 Assassins, as the title suggests, follows a group of samurai who have been assigned the task of assassinating a corrupt political leader named Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki) who has become considerably infamous for his psychotic fascination with torturing and often killing the people under his jurisdiction.  Given his unquestioned place of power, those working below him struggle to find a way to undermine him one individual Sir Doi (Mikijiro Hiro), particularly loathes Naritsugu for his aggressive and evil actions.  This rage leads him to hire an aging samurai named Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) to take upon the task of killing him.  Realizing it is likely his only chance to actually engage in the samurai code, Shinzaemon stoically accepts the job and proceeds to gather a group of samurai's to join in the assassination.  In traditional samurai film fashion, the group consists of a varied group of samurais including among others a silent lone wolf, two humor inclined bomb experts, an aging spear master, a rebellious youth who is unsure about the ethics of samurai ways.  At one point in their travels, the group even recruit the help of a boar hunter, who despite being a samurai proves to be very adept at beating the crap out of people with sacks of rocks.  After some effort and careful planning the group of thirteen warriors, take command of a village and use it as a mousetrap for the soon to arrive Lord Naritsugu.  Even after realizing the dangers of entering the town, Lord Naritsugu faces the attack head on seeing it as more a game of chess in which he can throw hundreds of soldiers at with little concern for the value of life.  Over an epic battle scene, the group of samurai slowly dwindles leaving only Shinzaemon and the rebellious youth to fight Naritsugu.  Realizing it is Shinzaemon's battle the youth steps aside and watches as the aged samurai makes rather quick work of the pretentious Naritsugu.  Upon being stabbed Naritsugu whines in distress as he had up until that point only dealt pain.  Indifferent to his pain Shinzaemon kills Nartisugu, but passes out from his own wound, only to die momentarily.   The people left standing are the rebelious youth, and by some miracle the hunter.  The two go their separate ways, as the film closes with a note from Miike telling viewers that the system allowing such rulers to go into power would be abolished only decades later, suggesting the equal, if not greater power of politics to prevent corruption of such dire forms to ever take power again within Japan.

Keeping such a closing commentary in mind, it is clear that Miike's film is considerably political.  It adheres to the old notion that "absolute power corrupts absolutely," but adds the twist of the truly dangerous problems of such possessors of power being by all definitions insane.  The Lord Naritsugu, depicted within 13 Assasins is a historical character, although it is obvious that Miike took poetic license when depicting how truly cruel the person acted.  However, it is not unfair to compare the actions of such a person with the atrocities that were occurring in 2010 and are in some tragic cases still occurring within much of the world.  One only needs to look up Sudan in the news, or read about the problems happening in The Congo, barring the ridiculous outpouring of "support" from Invisible Children, to see that such acts of violence do occur.  We as a privileged Western power have the fortunate ability to completely ignore such happenings, yet their existence is nonetheless there.  A film like 13 Assassins reminds viewers of such facts and that like the seppuku committed in the films opening that it is only until someone of high power gets hurt or dies that we remotely begin to care.  Miike's film also reminds people that action is necessary, and that sometimes the action requires a small amount of well-reasoned actors, as opposed to a large number of people half-attempting to solve the problem, again an organization like Invisible Children comes to mind.  In essence, Miike's film demands action against atrocity, however, he suggests that the action enacted should consider the importance of quality over quantity.

Miike's film is a thing of violent beauty and a must see, thankfully it is available on Watch Instantly, at the moment, and is well worth spending over two hours to watch.

23.3.12

Are You Shoveling Sand To Live, Or Living To Shovel Sand?: The Woman In The Dunes (1964)

The arthouse cinema of the 1960's swept quickly and poetically over the globe, forever changing viewers' understandings of what was acceptable in a filmic narrative.  When discussing Japanese art house cinema, perhaps the most prevalent name is that of Hiroshi Teshigahara, given that he released a slew of excellent films, dealing with incredibly complex social commentaries, almost back to back.  His work The Woman in the Dunes, is undeniably his most prolific, not only for its brilliant composition, but for the global acclaim it received upon its release.  It is a maddening vision of one man's quest to find meaning in a desperate situation that is perfectly shot and just distanced enough with the viewer that the film does not come across as experimental pretension.  It is a film that perfectly defines oneiric, without becoming so dreamlike as to make the film impossible.  It is some hybrid of magical realism and poetic expressionism that manages to capture the human condition without fault.  It is clear that Teshigahara's film is concerned with political ideologies and the reshaping of family values in modern Japan, yet at no point do such commentaries crowd the space of the film.  The Woman in the Dunes , along with Persona, rigidly defines the perfect art house experience, and is an enigma of a film, which still manages to seem incredibly personal.

The Woman in the Dunes spans well over two hours in length and covers a lengthy dialogue on one person's very internal experiences, as such I will give a cursory overview of the films plot as to help readers understand the gist of the film.  It follows a man, who is purposefully unnamed as to help fulfill the existential elements of the narrative.  The man, is a full-time schoolteacher and part-time bug enthusiast who hopes to discover a rare breed of beetle, which will earn him a place in entomology texts.  Getting distracted by the scenery the man passes out and awakes to discover that he has missed the last bus out of the dunes he is visiting.  After an offer for hospitality from a local, the man agrees to stay the night, only to discover that he must do so in a thatched up house at the bottom of a sand pit.  Ignorant to the dangers, the man climbs down to get rest only to discover immediately that his situation is about to turn dire.  In the pit resides a woman, who has lived in the village her entire live, however, unlike other villagers she is stuck shoveling sand from the pit in order to survive.  If she fails to shovel sand the villager will deny her food, but more importantly she will become consumed by the sand falling into the pit.  She informs the man that he is to be her husband and together they will live a life of shoveling sand without question.  This information, of course, does not fly for the man and he demands to be let go, because he has family and friends who will look for him.  The man, unfortunately, quickly realizes that escape is impossible no matter how elaborate of a plan he makes.  After various rebellions, the man realizes a method for trapping water that will help him survive without the help of the villagers and he finds hope in his new situation.  He eventually comes to accept his place in the new society, dismissing his old life completely.  At this point, the screen shows a missing persons report with the name Jumpei Niki, the male who has been the subject of the entire film.  In a cruel twist of irony, Niki has gotten his name placed in a written work, however, it is not necessarily the most ideal of locations.

The Woman in the Dunes is a textbook study of existentialism, a philosophical belief system which posits that life is inherently meaningless, and that anything that individuals attempt to do in their lives is precisely because of their own ill-fated attempts to find purpose.  With this in mind, it is clear that Niki is attempting to place meaning into his own life by getting his name in a periodical.  To him this is the ultimate victory, because his name will have relevance long after his death, thus giving his life some semblance of eternal relevance.  However, upon entering the dune, Niki is forced to realize the arbitrariness of his life up to this point, despite making decisions to advance himself the actions become irrelevant when he is thrown into a completely new world, with different rules and norms.  Niki, in a traditional attempt to find meaning, rejects these new rules, because they make no sense.  However, as he struggles with his existence and faces the real possibility of death he accepts these new life changes to avoid dying, because once again he foolishly values his life as having something meaningful.  The result then is a film that focuses on not one, but two moments of foolish belief in something tangible proving a legitimate source of meaning.  The first being Niki's attempt to value his name in the book, the second being a scientific discovery that will have a lasting effect on society.  Teshigahari, is nice enough to provide viewers with an example of a person successfully dealing with a meaningless life though the woman in the dunes.  She accepts her arbitrary life knowing that to question it will only cause despair; as a result she simply smiles and adapts.

The Woman in the Dunes is a superb piece of artistic filmmaking and a significant piece of Japanese cinema.  I would suggest spending a few bucks and grabbing the Teshigahari boxset from Criterion.

21.3.12

Don't You Think Dreams And The Internet Are Similar?: Paprika (2006)

This blog lacks no fondness for anime, and is certainly not ignorant of the work of Satoshi Kon, given a previous positive review of his much earlier work Perfect Blue, I assumed that when I picked up Paprika that it would be on equal level to that spectacular animated film.  To call the film equal to Perfect Blue would be doing its standalone brilliance an injustice.  Paprika, even more concerned with the dreamscape than Kon's previous film is something magically realized and innovatively executed.  It is impossible not to become completely involved with the cinematic feast offered to viewers, particularly given the viscerally vibrant palate with which the film is colored.  Simply put, a film like Paprika does not only help to promote the artistic relevance of Japanese animation, it outright demands its attention.  Paprika is unlike anything drawn before, and will likely surpass anything following, barring of course Kon outdoing himself.  To call Kon a director of animated films is to discredit him severely, he is something far more, and earns his place high upon the list of the most important Japanese directors ever.  This film is not anime, it is not a psychological drama.  Instead, it is quite simply perfectly crafted and easily enjoyable cinema.  It is in a tier far above any of its contemporaries.


Like Kon's other works, Paprika squarely resides in the psychological genre.  As such the narrative is incredibly convaluted and full of twists and surprises.  Given this, I will only provide a cursory glance over the plot as not to ruin what proves to be an incredibly rewarding viewing experience.  The film focus on a Japan struggling to deal with a problematic rise in psychological disorders, particularly depression.  The answer to curing these issues resides, to some scientists, in recording dreams for interpretation.  The process involves through, cerebral hookups, actual video recordings of dreams to be viewed after they occur.  It appears as though the process will be incredibly successful, particularly given the help of an entity known as Paprika who helps dreamers work through their subconscious experiences almost telepathically.  While it is known that this is done merely through external communication, the results are nonetheless the same.  Problems arise when the technology is used in a terrorist manner and individuals dreams start overlapping with others, causing instantaneous meltdowns and in some cases accidental suicides.  In response a group of scientists including the obese Doctor Tokita, whose genius overshadows his childlike state and unhealthy weight, as well as Doctor Achiba, a woman who is so entwined in the research involving this psychotherapy that to discontinue research in the face of societal concern is simply not an option.  Simultaneously, one detective Konakawa finds himself engaged in this psychotherapy as a means to deal with a past of disappointment and disillusion.  In time, the entire groups dreams begin to merge and their reality fractures as they attempt to deal with the intruder to the whole of Tokyo's dreamscape.  The ending results are unexpected and climactic as the extravagance and surreal images grow exponentially, playing ultimately into a doomsday finale that reflects a tradition so well-known in Japanese cinema.  However, the film ends sweetly on a fond closing of one willingly reflecting on their past, without regret or disillusion.


Paprika is at time concerned with gender and power, while at other times keenly astute on its references to psychoanalysis, however, it seems to most excellently approach problems of unrestrained technocracy, a theme that I would imagine is quite prevalent in the entirety of Kon's works, although I cannot say for certain having only seen one other work.  However, it is clear that unrestrained technology lacking a filter is a concern within Paprika.  Many references are made to dreams being similar to the internet in that it allows individuals to find dark corners of themselves that they did not think existed, particularly those parts that could drive them to become manically obsessed with certain things.  Kon clearly intends to question the effect of internet of a global scale.  However, internet usage and loss of a individual identity are certainly not the biggest concern in Paprika.  Instead, it is the very real fear that a government institution could have access to peoples thoughts.  In the film, this fear is enacted in a very grand manner, suggesting that not long after one is allowed unrestrained access to another persons inner most thoughts that dire events will ensue.  In Paprika, it leads almost instantly to terrorist behavior that comes extremely close to apocalyptic destruction.  Kon, is perhaps suggesting that once we allow our minds to be a thing of government, or an entity acting like a government, that the destruction of mankind will follow.  It is interesting to keep this film in mind as we emerge into a new technological era in which a person can find incredibly large amounts of information on a person simply by googling their name.  If this is not enough to scare a person, image a future in which we only need to think of another to have complete access to their mind.  It may be far in the distance, but I doubt people in the 1950's really thought they would ever compose messages with only their thumbs.

Paprika is an extravagant film, that is all-encompassing and a blast to watch.  While I own it on DVD, it is certainly on my short list of bluray upgrades and you should get a copy too.

20.3.12

Experiments In Film: E No Naka No Shouja (1960)

Nobuhiko Obayashi is perhaps better known for his zany 1977 horror comedy House than anything else.  However, prior to being a noted director and producer of commercials, Obayashi offered the world a slew of experimental films that often were as innovative as they were sentimental.  Often filling the screen with editing tricks and post-filming overlays his films clearly reflect a realized vision from their initial opening to their often poetic closings, and this is certainly evidenced in his 1960 offering E No Naka No Shouja, which has no clear English translation as far as I have found.  However, I am in little need of a translator to realize the meaning and intent behind Obayahshi's work, it is all too clear.  It is a short narrative of a longing memory for a lost love that is matted over sweet piano jazz and images of youthful bliss.  In both grandiose long shots and focused close-ups Obayashi's film is a memory play of the most endearing kind, given its honesty and reflective elements it is hard not to enjoy, let alone be utterly moved by.  It is a filmmakers flowing expression of all that is lost, but not easily forgotten.

The film is a series of encounters involving a young man, and what appears to be a few different women, however, the viewer can never be certain as the women's faces are often shadowed or just far enough out of focus to seem vaguely similar.  The young man, with a sketch pad in hand, attempts to go about recreating the memory of either one, or a handful of girls, however, his drawing is always missing the figure in the center, one that is clearly feminine.  Thus the man's quest through various parts of sub-rural Japan meeting up with multiple women, lead him through an amusement park, a very oneiric playground and a lift that carries him loftily over what could be any village in Japan.  We as viewers always appear right behind the films memory, trying to play catch up to the young man's vision, which is executed brilliantly by Obayahsi as the camera often lingers behind the characters as they walk far off into symmetrical roadways and sidewalks.  Even the obvious aging of the film strip helps to add to the surreal nature of the film as every scratch and scrape helps to make the memory somehow truer, yet never fully realized.  As the film closes the man still lacks the figure for his drawing, and in disbelief closes his sketchbook and continues to wander the roads of Japan lost in something from the past that he still lacks.

For more information on Nobuhiko Obayashi or to watch E No Naka No Shouja click on the film images below:



19.3.12

That's Unfortunately What Happens To An Asparagus: Island of Lost Souls (1932)


The filmmaking that existed prior to the heinous implementation of the Hays Code was something to be marveled.  Grandiose films with absurdly inventive plots, regal sets, and scathing criticism of modern society.  Often these bold films made declarative statements on cultural extravagances in clear opposition to the powerful individuals running film companies at the time.  While not as sexual as the films of today, they certainly implied far more in the thirties than they would be able to until well into the sixties.  The tragedy of films of this era, however, is that due to restoration many of them are lost or severely damaged.  Thankfully, the folks at Criterion, have through a clear labor of love released one such pre-code film, and it is a thing of spectacle.  This work being none other than Erle C. Kenton’s Island of Lost Souls, an adaptation of a popular H.G. Wells novel titled The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Island of Lost Souls is a stirring science fiction film that invokes the same kind of mad scientist fears of work in the fifties, yet provides a much more artistic approach, placing it squarely with films of its contemporary, including none other than the granddaddy of monster movies King Kong.  Surprisingly, engaging Island of Lost Souls mirrors its era of filmmaking, but clearly demarcates itself as something wholly its own and ethereally realized, it is a gem of not only thirties filmmaking, but movie history as a whole.


Island of Lost Souls begins with a ship discovering a man stranded at sea, because of a recent shipwreck.  The man named Edward (Richard Arlen), is returning from a trip to meet his fiancĂ© Ruth (Leila Hyams), and it is a ship owned by the eerie Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) that saves him.  Edward, grateful, for Moreau’s help agrees to take rest at his island, a decision that is exacerbated given that the original ship’s captain disdains Edward for his refusal to accept his tyrannical running of a ship.  Despite the clearly offsetting demeanor of Dr. Moreau, Edward trusts him, as well as his assistant Montgomery (Arthur Hohl).  Upon arrival, it is clear that Moreau’s island is as unusual as its owner.  The jungle is filled with half-man/half-beast creatures that are like nothing seen before.   Edward accepts these creatures as some new breed of animal that inhabit this unmapped island.  However, he realizes the unusual nature of Dr. Moreau’s work after meeting Lota (Kathleen Burke) who is eponymously nicknamed The Panther Woman, because she is indeed a hybrid of woman and panther.  Upon conversing with Lota, Edward realizes that Moreau is a demented sadistic scientist who fancies himself godlike.  Making no apologies for his work, Moreau explains that Edward must remain a captive on the island for to release him would be to allow the world to know about his morbid secret.  Edward thus plans an escape which is aided by the arrival of his fiancĂ© and a naval officer only to realize that to leave the island means to destroy it as well.  Recruiting the aid of the disillusioned Montgomery the group is finally able to leave the island and upon exit they incinerate the entire compound, choosing not to look back on the hellish world they leave behind.


I mentioned earlier that the film is pre-code in its production and displaying of narrative.  This means that it was free from the illogical constraints of censorship that would rule Hollywood for decades to come.  However, this by no means meant that the film is erotic in its sexual nature or violent imagery, on the contrary, it is quite subdued and relies heavy on viewers inferences to make assertions.  This is clear at many times throughout the film.  For example, it is clear that Moreau intends to have Edward engage in sexual relations with Lota, but at no point is the word sex, or any variant of that word used.  Instead, he refers to their act as it, requiring viewers to make all the assumptions, although they are terribly clear.  Similarly, it is implied that Moreau’s own sexuality is not that of a heterosexual.  He claims that he cannot engage in sexual acts with Lota, given her fear of him, but it is clear that he has no desire to enter into this relationship regardless.  Instead, he offers longing looks towards Edward and is clearly involved in at least a homosocial relationship with Montgomery.  Finally, violence within Island of Lost Souls is present, however, using a trick that would become a staple of Hitchcock’s work, Kenton cuts away at the last possible minute from any violent imagery, realizing that the viewers imagination will produce far more grotesque ideas than could ever be displayed.  This is most apparent and well executed when the monsters of the island conquer Moreau and strap him to the table in the “house of pain.”  Nothing is shown, only the screams of Moreau are heard as Edward and the others leave the island.  It is horrific, but in a purely imaginative way.  A film executed in such a manner truly has me as a film historian baffled at the seeming necessity of The Hays Code in the first place.

Island of Lost Souls is everything glorious about early Hollywood filmmaking.  It is clear that Criterion put their everything into making this transfer look nice.  It is not so cinematic that much will be lost by choosing DVD over bluray, but purchasing either copy is a must.  Also, watch out for Bela Lugosi in one of his first film appearances.

17.3.12

I'll Go To Your Room, But You Are Going To Have To Seduce Me: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

I rarely go into Woody Allen films expecting something terrible, at the very worst one of his films will be wrought with existential wit and a swooning jazzy soundtrack.  What is nice with Allen's films are the times when he offers something so much more, as is the case with Annie Hall or Midnight In Paris.  While certainly not as prestigious as either of those films, Allen's 2008 offering Vicky Cristina Barcelona is quite enjoyable.  It is a cinematic vision that takes on new understandings of love and seduction, both in terms of romance and friendship.  However, as is often the case with any film by Allen the narrative delves into something much grander and more concerned with human existence, it is not blatantly obvious nor is it similar to every viewer, but despite the film involving a cast of incredibly attractive actors and being set in Spain it seems so common and accessible that you quickly forget that it was indeed directed by one of art house cinema's most beloved children.  When you place this in Allen's entire body of work it is nice to see him making his way back into Hollywood movies with big budgets, without losing his keen sense of contradicting the traditional images of said films.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona, like so many of Allen's films, is multi-faceted.  However, the main focus of the film is centered on the title characters the reserved Vicky (Rebecca Hall) who idolizes traditional love and conservative romantic values and the wiley Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) who seeks sporadic encounters and assumes romance to be a fleeting occurrence with little few positive outcomes.  Vicky, who is set to be wed to Doug (Chris Messina) an average but likeable guy, agrees to go on vacation with Cristina to Spain for one last celebration as friends before she become married.  It is during this lengthy vacation that the couple meets Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) a local painter who is infamous for his troubled marriage that procured near fatal results.  Not one to mince words, Juan Antonio invites the girls to return with him to his hometown to sight-see and make love. Naturally, Vicky dismisses this offer in disgust, while Cristina swoons over ever one of Juan Antonio's words.  Despite her demands against engaging in affairs with Juan Antonio, Cristina's demands win out and the trio takes a dangerous airplane ride to Juan Antonio's hometown.  At this point in the narrative things become incredibly convoluted as Vicky accidentally falls for Juan Antonio in Cristina's absence.  Realizing her mistake after Doug surprises her with a visit, Vicky detaches herself from Juan Antonio who has now taken a keen liking to Cristina.  As Cristina and Juan Antonio's relationship evolves, another woman enters the picture Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) Juan Antonio's ex-wife for which he still has strong feelings.  Their relationship evolves into some artistically inspired threesome, while Vicky comes to discover her own love for Doug.  Ultimately, and explosively the film ends with both women finding themselves at the same place as the story began, however, this time they have accepted their ways as just, agreeing that their behaviors, while not suitable for everyone are perfectly acceptable as longs as they work for them.

I can say with certainty that Vicky Cristina Barcelona is Allen's most artistic work.  Sure, he has dabbled in expressionism and surrealism throughout his career, but much to my surprise the melodrama that is Vicky Cristina Barcelona proves to be his most visually appealing.  Perhaps this is because Allen's film is so clearly inspired by Spanish architecture.  As the repeated images of Gaudi's work show, Allen is preoccupied with the unusual structures of the world that still appear to work.  If one reflects on Midnight In Paris is is obvious that he is influenced by the work of French authors in the film, so it is no surprise that Vicky Cristina Barcelona borrows is narrative leanings from Spanish work.  Each character in the film is arguably a reference back to the zany and winding work of Gaudi that still manages to stand without trouble.  Vicky, while the most conservative character in the film, has her own crevices and secrets that would seem to cause her inevitable falter, but despite this she manages to hold to her own steadfastly and independently.  Even Cristina, who appears to flourish off codependency, actually finds herself most fruitful when alone, although she finds out quite quickly that self-motivation is incredibly difficult when attempting to engage in artistic endeavors.  Even Juan Antonio, who appears completely independent, displays twists and bumps that influence his being and despite thinking he has it made when engaged in a polygamist relationship come to understand that his life is solely involved on his own self perseverance.  I would argue that Allen's ability to depict the tough yet resilient natures of human existence, on the backdrop of Guadi's work are precisely what make this his most artistic film to date.  Of course, I could be reading way into the film, but I doubt Allen would mind that at all.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is quite easily one of the best bluray films I have seen to date.  I would encourage purchasing a copy if you are a fan of Woody Allen films, but at the very least rent the film, it is well worth your time to watch.

15.3.12

Top Ten Thursdays: 1980 In Film

For my third top ten thursday focusing on "best years in film" I have decided on 1980.  It is a year of broad films that reflected a cinematic world on the edge of the rise of independent cinema.  The works offered were nonetheless profoundly artistic, and the years comedies were particularly hilarious.  Some people look at the decade of the 80's as a wash, however, these ten films prove that to include 1980 in the statement would be terribly unfair.

10.) The Gods Must Be Crazy

An anthropological film of sorts, The Gods Must Be Crazy truly does more to display the problems of Western interference in African than anything to date.  Eat that Kony2012.






9.) Caddyshack

The comedic performances in this film are varied and well-executed.  My personal favorite being Chevy Chase as the antagonistically zenned out golfer.










8.) Airplane

A god tier post-modern comedy that is keen to early 80's culture, as well as being irreverently hilarious.









7.) The Long Good Friday

 Bob Hoskins will blow your mind as a crime lord whose entire world is collapsing below him.









6.) Out of the Blue

Dennis Hopper directs and performs in this abrasive film that was for a long time banned in many countries.










5.) Altered States

Perhaps Ken Russel's most well known work, Altered States does far more for commenting on drug use and its affects of personal relationships than Requiem for a Dream could ever hope to.








4.) The Elephant Man

When I watched this film as a kid, I was not aware of David Lynch.  Reflecting now on The Elephant Man, his hand in the film is so damn evident.











3.) Kagemusha

When Akira Kurosawa decides to make a film based on his watercolor paintings, it is hard not to be enamored with the result.







2.) Raging Bull

When Scorsese won an Oscar for The Departed, the Academy was really giving him an award for this film.












1.) The Shining

Choosing this as number one really should not be a surprise considering that he arguably has the best film in any year that he released a work.











Honorable Mention

Friday the 13th

13.3.12

If You Weren't Fine, I Wouldn't Even Bother With You: She's Gotta Have It (1986)

I am an outspoken fan of Spike Lee’s work.   To many, he is a blowhard filmmaker who is self-aggrandizing and too preoccupied with racial representation to create a proper film narrative.  I, on the other hand, view Lee’s work as existing as a honest commentary of race that is critical of all parties involved, as well as being particularly self-reflective on his existence as a black male in the urban landscape of America.  With that being said, I had up until a few days ago failed to view his debut work She’s Gotta Have It, because it was simply out of my points of access.  With it’s recent release to Netflix Watch Instantly, I seized the opportunity to view the film and was, as should be no surprise, enamored with its existence.  It is a fantastic study of black life in New York City that is critical, hip, and extremely approachable, often mirroring the work of Lee’s contemporary Jim Jarmusch.  In the film, as Lee would prove to do countless times afterwards, the characters are vibrant, believable and problematic, reflecting both the pros and cons of any ideology without necessarily promoting a singular idea.  On a much more important level though, She’s Gotta Have it focuses on narratives that are still overlooked in Hollywood, and even independent cinema, and at no point in this experimental narrative does the film apologize for lacking traditional images, arguably it relishes in ignoring them, and it is perhaps this that proves to be its most lasting contribution.


She’s Gotta Have It, as the title suggests, centers on a woman named Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Jones) who is so attached to sexual encounters that she is seemingly tied inextricably to three relationships with distinctly different men.  The first being the suave and charming Jamie Overstreet (Tommy Redmond Hicks) who clearly desires a meaningful relationship with Nola that involves feelings of romantic love.  The second being the self-obsessed and vain Greer Childs (John Canada Terrell) who obviously sees Nola as arm candy meant to be paraded as an object of envy.  Finally, there is the sharp tongued messenger boy Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) whose only concern with Nola seems to be sexual conquest.  The three men spend the majority of the film attempting to claim Nola for their own using every form of convincing they deem fit to persuade her to their side.  For Jamie it includes romantic outings and words of affirmation, for Greer it is nagging reminders of his physical superiority, while Mars simply belittles the masculinity of his competitors and clings to his black hipness as a point of power.  Realizing the mess she has entered Nola seeks advice from her former roommate Clorinda Bradford (Joie Lee) who reminds her that she is in sole control of her life, and that no male persuasion should make her sway one way or the other.  After briefly returning to Jamie, Nola decides to pursue a life without the overbearing opinions of the three men and is shown in the films closing shot claiming innocence, confessional style, to any negative claims spouted by Jamie, Greer or Mars.  She is a woman who was simply acting out her own desires, and the fact that these men were so upset by the entire ordeal purely reflects each one’s immaturity.

While I am quick to praise what Lee offers with She’s Gotta Have It, like much of his work, it is not void of points of contention.  The film clearly walks a very thin line between astute relationship commentary and blatant accusations of women for being at fault in any relationship.  As mentioned earlier, the film is partly a confessional documentary in which each of the characters explains their opinions of the events.  It is clear that the men depicted think Nola to be of less than reputable character.  They find her sexual prowess to be unhealthy to her as a woman, but nothing is made of their own flippant sexual behavior throughout the film.  While it is entirely possible that Lee is depicting the absurdity of masculine sexual power, it is never fully dealt with in a manner that assures this opinion.  Similarly, Nola is depicted in the nude at various points in the film, often times in direct gaze during the film, suggesting a voyeuristic element that would align more with Mulvey and criticism of traditional women’s images in film than with a new a fresh view of women for which the independent film movement known.  Lee clearly enjoys depicting women sexually in his films, an occurrence that would surface again with Rosie Perez in Do The Right Thing.  Ultimately, while She’s Gotta Have It has a large amount of problems within its narrative, I find its positive commentaries on the experiences of black urbanite relationships to outshine any issues and it is certainly deserved of the moniker of being one of the first offerings in American independent cinema.

I cannot recommend She’s Gotta Have It enough; it is a rare feat of masterful independent filmmaking and one of the best things offered on Netflix right now.  Under no circumstance should you miss watching this film.

9.3.12

Welcome To The Graveyard Of Ambition: One Day (2011)

I assumed that since I was enamored with Lone Scherfig's previous offering An Education that by default I would also enjoy her newest work One Day.  When the film began the title cards and minimalist cinematography seemed to assure this film to be one that I would enjoy, however, as the film paced along it slowly became apparent that it was nothing like An Education, but instead a rather underwhelming film.  It does not lack from excellent acting, but from something missing, the characters are never fully developed and are unbelievable, they just appear to drift through the film without evolution or self-realization.  In fact, the characters are only believable in their first few scenes, before it becomes painfully clear that they phoned the entire thing in.   Sadly, I cannot comprehend why such a failure occurred, given that I like the director involved and both actors playing the lead roles, therefore, my next place of blame went to David Nicholls and his writing, yet that seems not to be the problem.  Instead, I can only posit that it is one of those rare occasions in which too many good things come together resulting in a film that looses focuses by simply displaying what it has good to offer, without having a set of checks and balances to assure the quality of the good.  One Day is a dud of a film that sparks with a quick flare only to die out uninspiringly.


One Day, as the title suggests, follows a couple who become romantically involved during the night and morning following their college graduation.  The couple, like any good romantic drama, are complete opposites.  First is the bookish and reserved Emma (Anne Hathaway) who appears to have her future planned in great detail and the sly and suave Dexter (Jim Sturgess) who throws caution to the wind and plans to let his future unfold as fate sees fit.  The two after drinking and finding each other absolutely fascinating, as friends, agree to keep in contact, and meet as often as they can on the same day each year.  The first few years find Dexter in great success, while Emma hits a wall of reality that places her working at a Mexican restaurant while she attempts to jump start her writing career.  As time passes, Dexter's mom passes away and he has trouble dealing with his delusional life full of drugs and random sexual encounters, while Emma settles with a local aspiring comedian and undertakes teaching at a local school.  Both Emma and Dexter begin to drift through life, taking turns pursuing one another, as they realize that their only source of happiness comes from their togetherness.  After much strife, and a complete downward spiral the two are finally able to reconnect and marry almost immediately.  Things seem great until Emma is fatally hit by a bus, which leads Dexter into another spiral of self-destruction.  However, after a rare heart-to-heart with his father he realizes that to honor Emma he must actually continue life to the fullest.  The film then closes in a flashback of the couple's first encounter in which they almost engage in romantic acts, only to be blocked by Dexter's parents.  It implies that their relationship could have begun more than twenty years earlier, if not for the tragedy of life getting in the way.


I really struggled to find a critical approach to One Day, mostly because I found myself so detached from the movie as a whole.  As such, it seems that the best thing I can offer is a blanket critique of the film's reaffirming of heteronormative relationships.  It is a mainstream romantic drama that offers nothing fresh or unusual to the study of a relationship, when you compare this film to something like Gus Van San'ts Restless or Spike Lee's Jungle Fever; it seems like a terribly traditional film.  I am not dismissing all films that focus on heteronormative filmmaking, as it was the only acceptable format for romantic images for much of filmic history.  However, with a film in 2011 it can be said that to display an entire film that involves normal relationships is regressive.  I understand that the film is based on a previous literary work, but Scherfig could certainly use her own poetic license to insert a relationship that pushes boundaries.  In fact, the only relationship that is unconventional is the one between Dexter's parents given that his mother has cancer, but even this is not a point of unconventional narrative.  This ailment while crippling does not necessitate the film to be about a love between a handicapped person and a fully able person, even this touch would have helped to detract from the normalcy.  Ultimately, this never happens, and is a plausible explanation as to why the film is so unwatchable.

One Day is a sold 3 star movie as far as Netflix is concerned.  Unless you are an unwavering Anne Hathaway fan there is really no reason to watch this film.  I would suggest Scherfig's An Education over this without waiver.

8.3.12

Top Ten Thursdays: 2007 In Film

So, as promised, I am going to continue my top ten lists for this month concerning the "best years in film."  This weeks edition will focus on one of the first years that I truly realized the glorious experience of moviegoing.  In 2007, I was blown away by a onslaught of excellent films and have decided to focus on it for this list, my list is as always biased, but hopefully rather broad.

10.) Lars and the Real Girl

I had only seen Ryan Gosling in The Notebook prior to seeing this indie dark drama.  Needless to say, it changed my entire understanding of him as an actor.









9.) Stardust

 This came from out of nowhere for me when I went to see it in theaters.  I have yet to revisit it, but have nothing but fond thoughts when reflecting on its cinematic grandeur.






8.) Funny Games

And then the world had Michael Haneke...well he had been there, but he was now a global name thanks to this horror film that goes from serene to abrasive in seconds.






7.) The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Simply put, this is the only found footage film that matters, and here is why.








6.) No Country For Old Men

This is a perfect film, without a doubt, while it is not my favorite of the year it certainly earned its place as the best picture winner.











5.) Juno

When Judd Apatow and Diablo Cody got together for Juno everything viewers understood about comedy changed, and has yet to evolve to the next level.









4.) I'm Not There

Multiple people playing Bob Dylan may seem like a bizarre concept for a film, but between the Fellini references and a rambling Cate Blanchett it is all so poetically realized.








3.) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a graduate course in stream-of-conscious filmmaking.










2.) The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford

This is probably the one Brad Pitt movie you have not seen and you for that you should be ashamed.  It is a gem of a film that succeeds in cinematic ponderings as well as excellent acting.







1.) There Will Be Blood

Draaaaaaaaiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnaaaagggggeeeeeeeee!










Honorable Mention

Atonement
The Darjeeling Limited
Paranormal Activity

5.3.12

Since You Only Come In The Afternoons: Belle De Jour (1967)

Not that anybody has noticed, but the blog has been a little low on reviews and activity in general.  A portion of this is due to much needed employment, while the other has been my involvement in an academic side project on Luis Bunuel.  This project, focusing on issues of patriarchy within the Spanish director's work has allowed me to revisit a handful of his films.  As such, I have pondered over which film to review on this blog and decided without waiver on his 1967 work Belle De Jour, as it appears to be his most well-known and enigmatic of works.  Furthermore, the film possesses the treat of having one of the 1960's most prolific actresses in having Catherine Deneuve.  Belle De Jour is a puzzle of a film that is as convoluted as it is sexy, the film is either completely a set of fabrications of a dream or some bizarre alternative reality in which desires of the carnal nature are met with little challenge or social outcry.  Whatever the film is at its core, it is certainly Bunuelian in its composition.  Clearly an attack on all things bourgeoisie, Belle De Jour scours and claws at the frivolity of rich extravagance and complacency with no restraint, and manages to do so without ruining the films enjoyability.  To call this film a romp in one woman's sexual liberation is too simple, instead; it seems better to describe it as a sexual awakening for an entire generation of film goers, as it is a film that revolutionized cinema and sensuality in a way that still has yet to meet a match.

Belle De Jour, in some for or fashion, follows the experiences of Severine (Cahterine Deneuve) as she struggles to find fulfillment in her life as a trophy wife.  In the films opening scene she is shown fantasizing about being whipped and sexually overcome by her husband and his chauffeurs only to quickly awake from this fantasy into reality with her wealthy doctor husband Pierre (Jean Sorel), who is oblivious to Severine's unfulfilled sexual demands.  When the couple travels to Paris on business, things falter even more and Severine longs for a place to engage in her debasing fantasies.  Luckily for her, she overhears a conversation during a cab ride that provides her with the location of a local brothel, run by one Madame Anais (Genevieve Page).  In a moment of spontaneity, Severine decides to seek employment at the brothel under the name of Belle De Jour.  While at first hesitant, Severine quickly becomes enamored with the ways of the brothel and finds herself enjoying the soda-masichist acts she engages in while in the brothel.  All appears well in her alternate life, until she meets a young man named Marcel (Pierre Clementi), a gangster who becomes instantly infatuated with Severine, given that she is clearly unlike other prostitutes.  Despite her constant attempts to explain to Marcel that her employment at the brothel is temporary, Marcel continues to pursue her, going so far as to meet Severine at her house moments before Pierre is to arrive home.  It is at this point that Severine's fantasies and reality clash with great force causing her to confront what she truly values and what is simply left to be forgotten.  The film closes in the usual Bunuel fashion with images that leave more questions than answers, as viewers are never fully certain if what they experienced actually occurred, or if it simply existed in the imagination of one sexually unsatisfied woman.

The academic project I previously mentioned is focusing on Bunuel's use of patriarchal domination as a means to provide stability for his critique of the wealthy.  What I mean by this is that in order for the director's critiques of bourgeois extravagances to appear completely maniacal, he often relies on degradation of women as a means of emphasis.  For example, in his film The Exterminating Angel he attempts to show that if wealthy persons are placed in a situation where decorum is irrelevant their social actions will quickly become barbaric, a point that is driven home by the attempted rape of a woman.  Bunuel knows the shock value of such imagery, yet appears to fail in realizing that he is using his patriarchal power further promote such imagery, even if done so in a critical manner.   Belle De Jour is certainly full of these moments, whether it be the brilliant, yet troublesome scene of Pierre, and what appears to be a working class farmer discussing politics before slinging excrement at a degraded Severine, or Severine being beaten and abused by an Asian brothel customer who appears to win the hearts of women by flashing expensive trinkets.  The issue is simply that Bunuel chooses to victimize women in driving home his point about the problems of wealth and lavish extravagance, when it is quite possible that such ideals could be posited in a much more women friendly setting.  Ultimately, Bunuel fails to ever actually correct this behavior, making his films, no matter how sexually liberal, solid examples of patriarchal dominance in cinema.

Critiques aside, Belle De Jour is a Surrealist vision of a film that is well worth seeing multiple times.  Thanks to the folks at Criterion a Bluray is now available, and is easily one of the best I have seen to date.  Owning is not suggested but heavily demanded.

4.3.12

Where You Ever Engaged In Any Sadomasochistic Behavior: Basic Instinct (1992)

When one approaches a Paul Verhoeven film, they can expect something abrasive, gratuitous and intriguing.  While Robocop is arguably his masterpiece, he is more well known for a certain shot of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.  While Basic Instinct is certainly not as violent as Robocop it has earned its own place as an unrated film that is whispered about, mentioned by people and not really understood until viewed.   Simply knowing the film for the infamous crotch shot is tragic, given that as a whole it is a rather stellar piece of film that is well-acted and envisioned, all be it a bit problematic.  It captures passion, paranoia and sadism without a single break and manages to make what is an inconceivably convoluted plot seem probable.  Verhoeven knows how to compose, edit and deliver a film in such a way that the viewer becomes engaged with the narrative even when they strongly desire to detach from its presence.   Basic Instinct is a crude film in content, but a thing of beauty in composition and certainly serves as a prophetic vision of what the remainder of early 90's cinema would offer, dark dramas with a ironic undertone so sarcastically honest that it seems bizarrely possible in some alternate world of degradation.

The film focuses on a police investigator named Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), who is attempting to reaffirm his place on the force, after falling off the wagon with drugs and alcohol, which led to his accidental murder of innocent bystanders.  His return to investigating comes with the horrific death of a fading rock star that has been murder viciously with an ice pick while in the throws of passion.  Uncertain about who would kill the seemingly irrelevant man, Nick makes it a point to investigate the man's recent lover Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone), an author of crime fiction, which seems to eerily reflect her own experiences.  With this in mind, Nick is not surprised to discover that Catherine's most recent novel discusses a woman who kills her rock star boyfriend.  Nick brings Catherine in for investigation and quickly discovers his insatiable lust for Catherine, a woman who seems to know everything about him, including his dark past.  Simultaneously to this, Nick is desperately attempting to deal with his own troubled past with the police forces psychologist Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn), of whom Nick still has occasional flings.  While Nick attempts to reconcile his own past, Catherine leads him by a string making him believe countless stories framing other individuals and assuring her innocence.  As the stories grow and Nick loses sense of reality he falls back on his old habits leading him into an even greater layer of insanity.   The film spirals into madness only to clear up in the end as the killer is finally revealed, but even this offering is brief as it closes with the possibility that the truly guilty individual remains free, a perfected ending from the ever-brilliant Verhoeven.


The problems within Verhoeven's work do not necessarily come in his portrayals of sexuality or violence, as I have noted on countless occasions within this blog, I am pro violence and sex in films as longs as the means justify the end.  The existence of both these elements within Basic Instinct are justified to truly allow the film to visceral, making Nick's slipping into insanity more believable, however, the provocateurs of violence and sex within the are the reason for such contention.  The film clearly sides with male egos in its imagery.  The threat of insatiable sexual desire and subsequent violent acts are seen as a fatal problem for males.  In the now well-known interrogation scene involving Sharon Stone and a cast of sleazy onlooking males, it is clear that her lack of sexual inhibition by choosing to reveal her most lusted after sexual organ, throw the men into a frenzy as they sweat and grunt in arousal.  This attraction results in the men quickly snapping at each other and beginning to battle for Catherine's affections, while completely disregarding the fact that she is a very legitimate suspect for murder.  Similarly, it is implied that Nick's entire falling out is a direct result of Catherine's influence.  While it is clear that Catherine intends to use Nick for her own self-advancement, mostly as inspiration in her newest novel, to blame her for his alcoholism and drug addiction is simply unfair.  It suggests that his lack of self-control is inherently tied to women's influence, when it truthfully reflects his own weakness as a human.  This entire notion would not be problematic if the film acknowledged this, but as it stand in the films closing, Nick is allowed to escape scratch free both figuratively and literally.

Basic Instinct is one of those films whose reputation precedes it.  With that being said, it is well worth watching as it holds a significant place in popular cinema.  Owning the film, however, is up to the discretion of the individual, for me it is a rental only.

2.3.12

Experiments In Film: Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise (2011)

Remember all those fond memories you possess regarding high school, particularly those you can recant based solely on opening your yearbook.  Well, Kelly Sear's recent experimental narrative aims to rethink every word, image and heartfelt sentiment a person attaches to their yearbook.  Her film Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise, is part found material art and avant-garde ambient filmmaking.  Clearly borrowing from Peter Tcherkassky, Sears's work illuminates a paranoia that even the best crime thrillers fail to maintain.  It posits the very real existence of some dark secret at an unnamed high school without ever providing the viewer with a certainty, making it a textbook horror film in a yearbook setting.  It is so unusual, bizarre and lacking logic that viewers are thrown off by every image, only to be driven further away by each image in negative and the subtle, yet constant movement of the cut out images pasted over still photography.  It is something so absolutely realized that to dismiss it as a hodgepodge of black and white imagery over colored images would be a grave and ignorant mistake.

The film approaches the facade of middle class ideologies in its narrative, suggesting that beneath the veneer of a happy high school setting something dark and disturbing occurred.  This event, while never named, apparently has lasting effects on those involved in its occurence.  Sears clearly intends to evoke conspiracy theory in her work, implying that even the most seemingly secure of settings possess their own dark and inexplicable occurrences.  Through genius editing, a brooding soundtrack and a keen awareness of what viewers understand as disturbing, Sears is able to make a peaceful high school yearbook into a thing of violence and infidelity.  Each blown-up image that Sears depicts is more and more unsettling as we are given tidbits to a vague story that suggest something grotesque.  While it may seem like a drawn out exercise in ambient terror, Sears work clearly asks a question about trouble hiding behind the veneer of normalcy and to what extent we as viewers allow such travesties to occur.  It is something so astute in its darkness that to pass up viewing it would be to play into the precise issues posited within the film.

For more information on Kelly Sears, or to watch Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise, click on the images below:


1.3.12

Top Ten Thursdays: 1998 In Film

The blogosphere, or at least the blogs I follow, appear to occasionally offer lists of the "best years in film."  I listen to these lists being amazed by years that genuinely do offer a lot of great movies.  As such I am dedicating the top ten thursday lists for the remainder of the month to years that I find to have a large amount of great films.  I will begin with 1998 with brought moviegoers first-time offerings from a group of now well respected directors as well as great films from those who were already well established.  The list while numbered is easily maneuverable and not necessarily reflective of my personal favorites.  Although number one is certainly the best film of that year.

10.) What Dreams May Come

I remember being told in Sunday school that this film was blasphemous, which resulted in me not seeing it for sometime while I grappled with my religion well into college.  Now that I am a full on Atheist it was a pleasurable experience to watch this film a few years ago and I am mesmerized by both its visual style as well as its honest approach to world religion.



9.) Dark City 

I stumbled upon this gem after reading a list of best bluray releases, and I was quickly sucked into this dark neo-noir world.  The films claustrophobic and evasive imagery still haunts me.

Review Here




8.) The Truman Show

Religion really seems to be a thing prevalent in the works of 1998, Peter Weir's study of a man whose entire life is a reality show had a fair amount of religious overtones, particularly Ed Harris playing a Godlike figure controlling the life of a wide-eyed Jim Carrey.




7.) Life is Beautiful

People were baffled when Beningi racked up awards at The Oscars, but to be honest if your heart does not break when watching this movie, it is probably because you do not have one.








6.) Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Could you imagine a world without Robert Downey, Jr. playing Sherlock Holmes.  Well thanks to this directorial debut by Guy Ritchie you will never have to.  This film is in a close second to Snatch as my favorite work by the British director.





5.) Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

I could pick just about any line from the film as my favorite, but I think this one sums it up best: "I was right in the middle of a fucking reptile zoo!  And somebody was giving booze to these god damn things!"







4.) Rushmore 

 Perhaps the most critically acclaimed of Wes Anderson's films, Rushmore is brilliant, if only for Bill Murray jumping into a pool whilst holding a cigar and a glass of scotch.






3.) Pi


Yet more religion, this time in the form of Darren Aronofsky studying Jewish mysticism gone awry.


Review Here










2.) The Big Lebowski


If you really think about it, Dudeology is its own religion, or at least it is certainly a cult.












1.) The Thin Red Line


My high school history teacher once told me this is the greatest war movie ever made.  I would be hard-pressed to disagree.  If it were not bad enough that Malick was snubbed at this years Oscars, it was a sad case of history repeating itself, because his 1998 film faired no better at the 71st Annual Oscar's either.












Honorable Mention


Pleasantville
Saving Private Ryan
SLC Punk