Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Last Samurai (2003)

The Last Samurai is a feast of a movie. It draws upon a lot of the same material that Dances with Wolves, The Patriot, and Avatar do. The set up for Tom Cruise's Captain Nathan Algren is the same as in Dances with Wolves. The warrior preparation that Capt. Algren undergoes is reproduced in Avatar with Sam Worthington's Corporal Jake Sully training by the Zoe Saldana's Neytiri. I see parallels in the misdirecting in the last battle scene with Mel Gibson's plan in The Patriot where he manipulates the arrogance of General Cornwallis.

It's a feast because the movie's so overly dramatic too, but whatever. I guess it has to be.

I think the moderation between both sides being equally culpable was very well done. I'll write about this later, when the mood strikes me.

Anyway, that's it really.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Jacket (2005)

[Editor's note: SPOILER ALERT WARNING about almost the entire film.]

First off, The Jacket is a mind-fuck. It starts off in disorienting chaos (is there any other kind?) and then comes to some sort of ordered finale. It reminded me of your classic Greek comedy (without the humor) in the sense that the film begins disorganized but slowly finds order through the sequencing of events. At first, you think all of the flashbacks are some sort of psychological detachment from the simple, linear reality. This film is constructed in a way that the temporal shifts are part of the physical journey of the protagonist, Adrien Brody's Jack Starks. The director John Maybury takes the viewer to the different extremes of the levels of perception. There are a lot of quick cuts, use of scenes with unequal color schemes, extremely close close-ups, and heightened ambient audio. Jack Starks is panicked and startled. So are we.

Second, I loved Adrian Brody's performance in this film. Despite the fact I'm not the biggest fan of Kris Kristofferson, he plays the salty doctor trying to serve his patients the best way he knows how. He contrasted Brody's daintiness. On that note, I didn't buy Brody as a Gulf War vet, but I accepted it and moved on. Daniel Craig did a terrific job as Brody's semi-sane confidant in the mental institution where they are both placed.

Director John Maybury and his editors did a great job trying to weave the viewer in an out of Brody's Jack Starks' perceived insanity. The movie alternates between the normal linear path of time (which we can dub "real life") and flashbacks to instances that defined Starks' descent into madness and into an insane asylum (mental institution?). This space carries the main thrust of the action. It is the reason Jack Starks is forced to wear the straight jacket and spend time alone in a morgue cabinet space. In this confined space, Jack Starks can't do anything but detach from reality. The viewer assumes he's crazy, but we come to find out that we're crazy.

In the end, the movie takes on the same treatment of time like Frequency. Everything makes sense in the end as a result of the passage through time. All of the Grandfather Paradoxes you normally think about within time traveling movies. There comes to be some Time Traveller's Wife sorta romance between Brody and Knightley as he finds her at different points in time. There's this weird dynamic that exists because he met Keira Knightley's character when she was 8 or something, and then meets her again when she's 20 (and hot). He has a paternal relationship with her at first, and then he starts having a romantic relationship with her, which struck me as odd. Despite The Jacket's initial chaos, the film gets organized and becomes more coherent. Watch it if you wanna see really effective editing.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Dead One (2007)

The Dead One is a supernatural suspense (is that what they were trying to do?) flick where Wilmer Valderrama plays a roaming dead man sent back to capture a heart in order to sacrifice it to the Aztecan gods. It was based on a comic book of the same name. Apparently it's supposed to be the zombie genre with a Aztecan twist.

Wilmer Valderramma plays Diego de la Muerte (clever). Valderramma apparently does not do really well at acting... even in roles that aren't that demanding.

They use enough cliche plot techniques.
  • Like his face being reflected in a mirror to show he's not the true person he was before he died.
  • The desert to illustrate the Mexican heritage.
  • The love interest, Maria, gives Diego a ring with a heart on it instead of fucking the protagonist Diego.
  • The stereotypical gringo authority figure needing explanation and contrast for this highly spiritual subject matter.
  • The pure love interest does submit to the alive Diego's sexual advances.
  • The blind woman who sees through the charade of the protagonist's disguise.
  • The power of the female to rescue a man from desturction/death/failure: much touched upon in Latin American literature.

On a note of verisimilitude, or just pain simple believability, is the fact that there are some consanguine relics of Aztecan history in east-LA. Anyone who knows the history of the Spanish conquest of America knows that no one of influence survived. There were no Aztecan princesses who survived to spread their bloodline. Especially those royalty that were exposed to the Spanish even more than the normal commoner. The ones who survived were the lower classes who had no sway or profound understanding of the Aztecan history.

The one clever thing they did do was to have the white guy of the group, Diego's best friend Charlie, to espouse all of the mythology of the Aztecs. I thought it was subtle and well-timed. I knew why they put admiration in the voice of the white best friend, and I think it was preaching is a good-ish sorta way.

It's just another film that searches to better represent Mexican-Americans and their history (be it an invented one to legitimize their perceived marginality) within white Hollywood.

The editing could have done better to evoke the type of hooror that the movie purportedly is trying to convey. The action sequences were poorly acted and poorly edited. A few more quick cuts would've given these scenes a faster tempo.

I personally liked the use of the eerie score of bells and chimes, both high and low-pitched, to convey that there is an creepiness is all of the macabre subject matter. If only the rest of the elements could have been composed even better.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bolivia (2001)

Bolivia se trata del puesto de los inmigrantes en una ciudad desarrolladla funcionando en un espacio al nivel igual de los ciudadanos. Las personajes de Freddy y Rosa operan en un barrio de nivel económico medio bajo donde las frustraciones de ese tipo de vivencia, simbolizado en el taxista Oso, les atraen la discriminación. Esa discriminación es lo que aparece a través de la película. En ese marco, Rosa está deseada por los patrones de es restaurante, y Freddy está despreciado. Rosa tiene una madre paraguaya y un padre argentino, y por eso, ella tiene más legitimidad estar en la ciudad. Más que una discriminación económico, existe una discriminación étnica en ese restaurante que sólo funciona para reforzar la división entre los ciudadanos y los inmigrantes. Esa xenofobia está muy aparente en toda la película.

Don Enrique, el dueño del restaurante, es un jefe justo pero asume que Freddy es peruano. Marcelo desprecia los uruguayos. Oso también dice que Freddy es un negro. La apariencia sirve para marcar quien pertenece y quien no. Aquí, Freddy no quiere amoldarse al espacio nuevo porque sólo viene a Buenos Aires para ganar dinero. Al orto lado, Rosa no está desarrollada en la misma manera de Freddy, y así sin ambiciones explicitas, podemos concluir que ella quiere establecerse en Buenos Aires. En tener esa media legitimidad en la ciudad, Rosa puede ser el objeto del deseo sexual por los patrones porque es exotificada por su linaje paraguaya pero puede ser gocido por Freddy porque ambos viven en el mismo mundo marginalizado. Con la muerte de Freddy y con su conquista sexual de Rosa, es posible de ver el puesto de los inmigrantes que tienen que navegar una inmigración. Tiene que retener una humildad (aun su propia sexualidad privada) en frente de los ciudadano o es posible de perder su vida.

Central do Brasil (1998)

Central do Brasil tiene muchos paralelos con la religión católica en Brasil. Es un comentario sobre el lugar de la ciudad en contraste con el campo con alusiones transparentes a la función de la religión. La película comienza con la protagonista Dora que escribe sus cartas en el estación de los trenes en Rio de Janeiro. Ella es una personaje amarga y sin motivación para la condición humana. Lo que simboliza este cambio es la manera en que ella fue una maestra en una escuela primaria pero no puede relatar muy bien con Josué. Las cartas que ella escribe en el terminal de autobuses son degradas y soeces. Todas las cartas son intentadas para ser enviadas a la periferia de la ciudad. Todas las cartas son escritas por personas que son de afuera de la ciudad y quieren comunicar con sus amigos de su propia comunidad. La jornada que Josué y Dora empieza es una búsqueda del padre de Josué, quien está llamado Jesús. Su padre es un carpintero, y así, las dos personas abandonadas buscan Jesús a través del campo brasileño. No le encuentra a su padre, por el hecho de que su padre es un alcohólico, pero Josué halla algunos hermanos que no conocía. Es como si fuera un reunión de Isaías, Moisés y Josué, los tres hermanos bíblicos unidos solamente por su religión.

La afuera es el lugar donde todo está realizado, simboliza lo posible de escapar los peligros del centro. La periferia no tiene las conexiones y las estructuras de la ciudad, o puede decir no tiene la lógica, pero tiene más religión, o puede decir más fe y espiritualidad. Josué a principio tiene una familia construido de Dora y de Cesar, un conductor de camiones que circula las carreteras de la nación. Dora se siente mucha atracción a Cesar, pero él no reciproca eses sentimientos porque él siente la incongruencia entre ellos. En el restaurante, el espectador tiene la presentación de una familia posible para Josué pero Dora no merece el cariño de Cesar ni la obligación de criarle a Josué. Por eso, Cesar les deja en ese restaurante mientras Dora empieza sincerarse con el poner de maquillaje. Al fin, Josué se encuentra su familia biológica, esperando la llegada de su padre Jesús. Y Dora tiene que dejarlo allí para continuar su vida propia separada de Josué.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cyborg Cop (1993)

Cyborg Cop is basically a low-budget action film that rips a lot of its material from Robocop and The Terminator. It takes place in a Jamaica-type island with John Rhy-Davies (Sallah from Indiana Jones or Professor Max Arturo from Sliders) as the evil mad scientist who builds cyborgs assassins. Everything is pretty predictable. It's cheesy. It's gratuitously violent and sexual. The main character is too macho for my taste and knows a little too much karate to be believable as a full-blooded American. The acting is poor. The interesting re-visioning of a robotic is funny. The evil robot comes on-screen with a gun in its holster, which is sewed/glued to his shirt, instead of the badass Robocop version where it comes out of his thigh. Pretty good stuff. I don't know. Watch the movie if you're high or something, but don't waste your time otherwise.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Goodfellas (1990)

Everyone knows Goodfellas. I'll only comment on what was discussed in my film class. That's a cop out, but whatever. Screw you. Two things were brought up: the use of music to represent the change in mood and the use of archetypes within the film. Each of these discussions will be very brief compared to what actually is present within the film, but it's a good enough taste. So (apparently), this film was one of the first films to heavily rely upon music in order to convey the passage of time in a post-WWII America. The Graduate, Apocalypse Now, & Easy Rider relied on music to convey the spirit of the times, but Goodfellas contrasted the genre of music and the manner in which the music was used.

Goodfellas is basically a tale about a guy trying to fit in a world he will never. This all takes place during an era where the protagonist's world is changing with the times. The story of Henry Hill begins in New York in the 1950s during an era when the Prohibition-formed Italian-American organized crime syndicates were at the height of their power due to the post-WWII prosperity. Henry Hill had a bad family life and found solace and legitimacy and acceptance within the local group of organized crime. Throughout the film, you see each one of these characters either die, leave, or transform. Henry Hill changes himself. He comes to realize what his new values are as the organized crime world changes right along with him.

This vision is realized through the the contrast of Bel Canto music with the classic rock of the 1970s. All of the Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Frankie Valle songs of the 1950s and 1960s were highlighted as part of the fabric of the establishment and growth of Henry Hill. The "Good Ol' Days" is the basic punchline as to why these classic songs were woven into the film. The turning point of the film comes when Joe Pesci's Tommy and Robert DeNiro's Jimmy beat Frank Vincent's Billy Batts to death. Since Billy Batts is a "made" mobster, and therefore untouchable, so Henry Hill and his gang have really fucked up. At this point in the film, there is a fading out of the orchestral Bel Canto and the Rolling Stones is cranked up. Thenceforth, The Rolling Stones, Cream, and The Who take over.

Unlike the vocal-focused Bel Canto songs in the beginning which seem to be drawn out, the classic rock of the 70s consists of hard-hitting guitar riffs and fast-paced instrumentation. There is a particular scene where Ray Liotta's Henry Hill has a long day of maintaining familial tasks, errands, drug running, drug dealing, etc. Throughout the day, there are a lot of jump cuts throughout the 15-minute sequence as well as many changes of the soundtrack playing underneath these jump cuts and track zooms displayed on-screen. The quickness of the music demonstrates how non-traditional Henry Hill's new life is after having committed this horrible crime of being an accomplice o the murder of a "made" mobster, which is an inviolable rule within the gangster underworld. One finds themselves hearing the change on top of seeing the character of Henry Hill change.

I'm not going to write about the use of archetypes. Maybe later. Sorry!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Deep Impact (1998)

Deep Impact is the better of the two 1998 movies about killer rocks hurdling toward Earth. This sci-fi drama follows Tea Leoni, Elijah Wood, Robert Duvall, and Morgan Freeman with its Contact-esque verisimilitude. The characters are developed well. Each of the leads have their own microcosm with which they are involved with the falling comet, and each group is nicely and deftly interwoven to the macro-storyline. Tea Leoni plays the investigative reporter who the story follows to discover the main plot device. Elijah Wood is a one of the people who discovers the comet. Robert Duvall is the aged astronaut sent to fly the pimped out space shuttle to land on the comet. Morgan Freeman plays the President of the United States, which was a "Fuck Yeah!" moment for me.

Other than Tea Leoni's weirdly raspy voice and coked out acting method, I think all of the actors were well chosen. Tea Leoni's relationship with her parents was a distracting storyline, but its purpose was to provide the viewer with some pathos for the moment when it was announced that the national lottery would not extend to people older than 50. You feel bad for the Leoni's mother, who has been left by her husband for a younger woman. Her mother's death demonstrated the darker side of living in an apocalyptic Earth. Also, it gives her a reason to decide to give up her spot on within the underground caves and return to that beach house in the photograph. So whatever.

With the Robert Duvall's storyline, the script did a good job of contrasting the younger, more competent, astronaut played by Ron Eldard with Duvall's older, more experienced and wiser astronaut pilot. The writers, Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, kept using Duvall's knowledge of the past to assure his fellow astronauts (and the viewer) that there was a logic, and therefore calmness, to the horrific, disastrous events at hand. Duvall's expertise is not understood by his fellow astronaut's until the moment of crisis is confronted. It gave the viewer a sense of perspective. Despite the fact that this comet was headed toward Earth to destroy it, every one single story dealt with people's encountering the issue of their own death. It reduced the panicked mindset of the viewer to more tranquil reflection of all the action occurring before them.

In terms of the film's cinematography, there's nothing too outstanding in the construction of the story. I felt like everything presented was done in a very formulaic manner. Further, there really didn't need to be a over-exuberant camerawork since the real weight of the film lies it it's personal dramas. Worth a visit if you'd like to see a version of Armageddon withsome storyline behind it.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead is a seminal work that started the whole zombie genre in cinema. The actual zombie genre was started by novelist Richard Matheson (a brilliant sci-fi/horror writer, btw), but George Romero's treatment of this topic was one of the first commercially viable ones. From the get-go, George Romero's direction of the horror film relied upon the use of handheld cameras, tilted low-angle shots, and a dramatic score. The film's premise is very simple: there are supernatural killers out on the loose, and the remaining survivors must figure out how to escape. Like everything else in life, it's about the internal conflict between the people enclosed that is more harmful than the external forces. The film goes for the first forty minutes of the film consists solely of three characters, one of whom dies within the first ten minutes. Then the film expands its cast to seven characters, one of whom is an unconscious child.

With the lead female character (Judith O'Dea's Barbara) turning almost autistic after seeing her brother die in the first ten minutes, the other male lead presented is Duane Jones' Ben who is strong-willed and resourceful. He carries the film for this first act since she is supposed to play shell-shocked. Barbara comes out of her catatonic state and struggles with Ben as she's trying to escape. He restrains her, but she slaps him. Ben, trying to do what's best for her, slaps her back. To this, Barbara passes out. This is definitely a chauvinist move on part of the writing, but the equal footing of each character shines through. I was impressed with the manner in which Romero presented Ben as not an African-American male, but as a human trying to get through this.

Some of the helplessness characterized by Barbara is mitigated by the appearance of Cooper Family and Tom & Judy in the second act. About a third of the way into the film, there appear two men from the cellar door. We come to discover that there is a family of three (the Coopers) and Tom and his girlfriend Judy hiding in the basement. Mr. Cooper pushes for Ben and Barbara to hide downstairs, but Ben decides for both him and his new charge Barbara (now unresponsive) to stay upstairs. He goes toe-to-toe argumentatively with Mr. Cooper, a white male, and unintentionally convinces Tom to stay upstairs with his girlfriend. From here, we are presented Mrs. Cooper, who chides her husband for deciding to blockade themselves in the basement away from the others and away from the radio (the only connection they have to the outside world).

Night of the Living Dead is obviously a low-budget production. Despite the small amount of money, the story is constructed well enough, but technically deficient (or in my personal opinion, sloppy). At times, the shadow overtakes the entire face of a character. At other times, there are jump discontinuities (?) within certain scenes. The camera is out-of-focus at some high tense moments. The only technique from the above three that I mentioned, which got old was the low-angle that Romero kept going back to. The handheld never got old, though, and it kept the spectator close to the action. The tight spaces were expertly filmed so that the viewer got a sense of the claustrophobia and the eventual fright that would suddenly break it. Movements were slow and labored, which contrasted greatly with the panicked music keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat.

Concusatorily, I feel like the action of having Ben live was an intention one. There's definitely racial undertones within the dynamic between Ben and Mr. Henry Cooper. Ben ends up hiding in the basement in the same way as Mr. Cooper initially suggested. He has to kill the white people from becoming zombies. He survives the ordeal. The image of a posse created with barking dogs to search for zombies, only to encounter a living Ben, harkens one back to the Civil Rights era. White men with arms and animals hunting The Other is readily apparent. Not giving the black man a chance to prove himself as something other than The Other is the basis of racism. The white men posse treat Ben like every other zombie, and they are none the wiser of their ignorance.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rising Sun (1993)

Rising Sun is a murder mystery dealing with Japanese corporate politics and American geopolitical strife starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. It is based on a Michael Crichton novel of the same name. Crichton helped convert the novel into the screenplay. The cinematic treatment of the novel (not that I've read it or anything) is very peculiar. There is the simple, ominous music which makes the film seem like a Hitchcock film. The shots gave the film an unintentional playfulness. Sometimes there were wipes as temporal transitions. These were distracting. There were lots of car riding scenes with Connery and Snipes, and each one of them, in quality, reminded me of some low-budget detective film. I felt like the film was inconsistent in its tone. There was initial development of the plot, and then a random voice-over which jumped the film back to Snipes being interrogated a la Usual Suspects. So the viewer finds out the film is a flashback. This interjection into the film slows down the pace but does not really continue. I think there were 2 or 3 more little jumps back, but the main bulk of the film continues going forward. No voice-over narration on top of the action, which you could only assume would be natural in a flashback film like this. Then, about 2/3 of the way through the film, the interrogation of Wesley Snipes ends and the film continues in the present. There were other sloppy techniques like this that which distracted me from truly enjoying the plot and all its minor subtleties with regards to the exploration of Japanese culture. All in all, I was unimpressed by Rising Sun, but enjoyed the weird mixture of cinematic tones and moods.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Blue Heaven (1990)

My Blue Heaven is your normal Steve Martin-fied comedy utilizing the framework of a fish-out-of-water New York gangster living in a San Diego suburban hellhole. Steve Martin's character Vinnie Antonelli is a good guy, but just used to a different lifestyle. The Henry Hill parody gives an interesting example of what life is like for a gangster after getting out of "The Life". Wikipedia mentions its close alliance to Goodfellas' protagonist Henry Hill, references which I saw time and time again. Apparently, the title cards I liked so much were the titles to chapters within Henry Hill's autobiographical book Wiseguys. I enjoyed these title cards since the white text were placed against a background of sky with a white border framing the text. These title cards gave My Blue Heaven an episodic pacing, which presented each sequence with a particular quaintness. This presentation highlighted the suburbia contrast that Antonelli was feeling. Basically, this is a good movie to watch Steve Martin just do his circuitous locution with the many oblivious people around him. Its 90-minute length gives enough humor to the viewer without dragging out the plot longer than it should be. If you've seen Goodfellas, this is an intriguing interpretation of such a autobiography so different from that of Scorcese's.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Silent Movie (1976)

As usual, Mel Brooks does a good job of creating pandemonium on-screen in order to transmit his thoughts on the whole silent film genre in his movie Silent Movie. I thought it was awesome how he got big name actors (e.g. Burt Reynolds, Jame Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman, & Marcel Marceau) to appear in the movie as themselves, which lends a lot of credibility at how much sway Mel Books had in Hollywood at the time.

The genius of the film lies within the ability of Brooks to incorporate physical comedy into the plot. What is lost in the film is the huge capacity of Brooks to write really zany dialogues between his characters. He obviously had to compensate by focusing that energy toward visual representations, but still did not make up for the loss of talking. Brooks created a great on-screen trio with him, Marty Feldman, and Dom Delouise getting themselves into comical endeavours. I had just seen a Three Stooges show last week, so all of their comportment reminded me of the actions. The clever use of different scores and sound effects gave Silent Movie an interesting rhythm.

The film's non-plot related gags were so funny since they held no other purpose than to make us laugh. Sometimes you saw the "punchline" coming, but it didn't matter since it still made you smile at their balls to make the joke. There was social commentary on the modern state of cinema. There was commentary on consumerism. There was also non-sequitur zaniness that kept the viewer occupied. All in all, Silent Movie is a great study as to what can be accomplished without spoken dialogue. I think we could see that in the normal B&W silents, but the usual poor quality and overly effusive acting of the actors abscond the truly genius manner in which silent films transmit information without sound.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tears of the Sun (2003)

Tears of the Sun is a war film that follows Bruce Willis' Navy SEALs platoon as they try to rescue a naturalized US citizen who is the doctor at a mission in Nigeria. They wander through the Nigerian jungle as they go from mission to Landing Zone Alpha to Landing Zone Bravo to the Cameroon border. The movie kinda takes on the same tone as Across Enemy Lines, but the added racial component, fratricidal violence, and the platoon of troops gives the film another angle than Across Enemy Lines ever had. The racial component makes one consider the manner in which the third world conflict affects only the colored peoples of the world. The fratricidal violence introduces how complex the political and social situation is in the developing African nations. Unlike in Across Enemy Lines, the protagonist has a group of people to bounce around thoughts. This interaction improves the manner in which Bruce Willis' Lt. A.K. Waters is able to exchange his moral ambivalence and self-doubt.

They only started developing the characters around the mid-point of the film. It picked up a little afterwards but was already starting behind. I have a few thoughts on the way in which the story was carried out.

My only thoughts are that the director Antoine Fuqua seemed to think that, in lieu of having developed characters someone could identify with, he could just show the viewer a bunch of pretty shots of the Nigerian wilderness and a bunch of dramatic music to views of developing world refugees. Oddly enough, for a war film, I found this film pretty boring for the first hour. Lt. A.K. Waters' betrayal of Monica Bellucci's Dr. Lena Fiore Kendricks was evident from the outset (even before he responded with his cold "What the fuck do you think he said?" comment). The film gave nothing to the viewer about Lt. A.K. Waters. He's a character in conflict, but his ruggard exterior ruins the ability to truly emote anything. You just see all hardass and non-believable person. Contrast the lack of characterization at the beginning with a complete pussification of Lt. Waters at the end where he buries his head into the bosom of Monica Bellucci. Ok, Tears of the Sun writers, I get it. But it's not like you did a good job of getting to the end point. For a war film, I didn't connect with the reason for the violence, and that's sort of a bad thing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kill Bill (Vol 1 & Vol 2) (2003-2004)

There's a lot that can be written about the Quentin Tarantino film. I've always thought this term is an elitist, pretentious thing to say about a piece of artistry, but the Kill Bill series is a tour de force within the frame of cinematic history. Just like the Coen Brothers blend many different genres into the same film, Tarantino explicitly and demonstrably pulls the viewer into the different moments of cinema which have left indelible marks on the audience at-large. I'm not going into those because I'm a busy guy. There is one object within the film that I would like to mention, which I feel encompasses the entire film: the Death List Five. [Editor's Note: Watch the video first. It's like 2 minutes and begins at 3:00.]

Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo creates The Death List Five after killing Lucy Liu's O-ren Ishii. This list bears no verisimilitude to what one would think of when one thinks of a tale of pure, cold revenge. First off, it's very explicit and stylized. It's overly simplified. And it is so convolutedly created.

Instead of writing the numbers in all black and then all the names (and their assassin code-names) in all red, she switches pens from black to red between writing one name down. She increases the size of each subsequent name after the first entry: O-ren Ishii. As each name is written down in the book, the sounds overlap and then the sights dissolve over a scene of that person (minus the already dead people). She writes each name very slowly for dramatic reasons.

The very notion of the List itself is preposterous. She knows who she wants to kill. She'll remember who she already killed once it's done. There's no one who she has to show the list to, so there's no real reason for it's existence, other than the visual enjoyment of the viewer.

As the movie progresses from beginning to end, the viewer is actually presented the list in the first sequence with Vivica A. Fox's Vernita Green's death. After that sequence, we see Beatrix Kiddo strike through her name (at 4:50), which is actually the 2nd name on the list. O-ren Ishii is the first name and already striked through. Tarantino then inverts the sequencing of the film to go back to the time when she had yet to even make the list. Beatrix Kiddo kills O-ren Ishii, and the film ends with her creating the list for the first time. Like everything else in the film, it probably is unnecessary, but the viewer accepts it and enjoys the list's arbitrary place within the film.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Hubo un incendio. Era un incendio. Era un incendio con llamas. Comieron todo, aun la noche. El fuego resultó cobrar velocidad insuperablemente durante la noche. La lumbre alumbraba el estacionamiento frente al complejo de nuestros apartamentos. De la manera en que todos estábamos en medio de la noche fríamente de pie, hubieras creído que asistíamos a un funeral si no notaras el fuego detrás de tu cabeza. Escuchaba las llamas del fuego consumiendo todo lo que encuentró en su camino. También escucho mis vecinos. Los grupos que se reunieron parecían congregarse de acuerdo a la gente del pasillo de nuestro piso. Nos vimos lo suficiente para que esto validara el comienzo de una conversación. Al igual que cómo se forman las razas. Pero a este grupo también se le incluyen los perros de todos los vecinos que deseaban oler las culatas de los demás. Salvo el perro de Señor Cleveland, que se yacía allí, mirando a su dueño abatidamente para que le permitiera socializar con los otros perros. Sr. Cleveland, llevando lo que ninguno usaría para dormir, miraba con desdén al fuego, como si le hubiera prohibido quemar el apartamento pero, de todos modos, el fuego había decidido desobedecer al Sr. Cleveland. Atrás del Sr. Cleveland estaba la Señora Carenas que se había envuelto en un cobertor todavía usando con sus rulos. Ella miró con espanto al incendio mientras se aferraba a la TV Guide. Su mirada serpenteó por el incendio al Sr. Carenas coqueteando con la Sra. Davinia con sus plumas, mostrando las que tenía en su bolsillo. Tal vez estaban hablando de algo de importancia, pero el lenguaje corporal de la Sra. Davinia demostraba que estaba de acuerdo (o de cuero) con todo lo que dijo Sr. Carenas. Sra. Carenas llamó al Sr. Carenas, "Marco, ¿trajiste la correa y la chaqueta de Danny? Se ve con frío." El Sr. Carenas malhumoradamente vio su dachshund al pie de su esposa y respondió a su mujer con "No, querida, pero creo que no tienes que preocuparte ya que nuestro hogar está lejos del fuego".

"¿Sabes adónde empezó el incendio?"

"Esto se ve mal. Esto se ve muy mal."

"Yo estaba lavando un plato, y escuché un ruido. Entonces salí."

Nos barajamos frente al complejo ansiosamente esperando. El viento arremolinaba muy rápidamente desde el norte y nos enfriaba hasta la médula. Chloe estaba correteando, llevando una bata de baño, con su mirada hacia las rodillas de los adultos. Mis dedos de los pies se entumecieron por el viento o por el fuego. "¿Has visto a mis hijas?" Le respondí que no. Empecé de buscarlas. Las hijas de Chloe aparecieron detrás de Sr. Carenas y la Sra. Davinia como unos lobos mirando de reojo a su objetivo. Tímida como una oveja, levanté mi brazo para alertar a Chloe donde estaban sus hijas. Mientras agarraba a la más baja de las dos, oí al Sr. Cárdenas y la Sra. Davinia discutir el hecho que todavía los bomberos no habían llegado. La lumbre se había extendido a lo largo del techo a lado de nuestro edificio, estirando sus manos hacia las ramas, los apartamentos, las pertenencias. La lumbre tenía el poder de asentar hogares en minutos. Se quemó de arriba hacia abajo, quemando las hojas del árbol. Las hojas se ardían y se despegaron del árbol. Volando en el aire como una luciérnaga, cada hoja se volteaba.

El edificio tenía un pedazo de hiedra, que había crecido por el noroeste del edificio. La hiedra se había secado con la llegada del invierno, y el fuego encontró un huésped que permitiera que ser consumido por completo. Esta estrategia del fuego estaba funcionando. El Sr. Cleveland, dijo, "¿Por qué no están aquí los bomberos todavía? Nosotros pagamos nuestros impuestos. Somos ciudadanos. Tenemos nuestras cosas." Se volvió a la señora Carenas y no vio esperanzas de arrancar una conversación de ella, por lo que se dio vuelta a Chloe y le preguntó: "¿Usted llamó al 911?" Chloe dijo: "No, Señor Cleveland, yo estaba tratando de sacar mis niñas y Fluffy fuera de la casa lo más rápidamente posible". Fluffy era un Pomerania que adquiría una infección de la piel, y por eso Chloe tenía que afeitarlo hasta que se sanó de la.

Yo no había llamado al 911, pero ahora me preguntaba cómo estaba mi sofá ahora que el fuego ardía en mi parte del apartamento. No cesaba el fuego brincado de techo en techo.

Los bomberos finalmente llegaron. Se reunieron por el camión de bomberos. Gritaban mientras trabajan. Sacaron sus mangueras, y comenzaron a hablar nasalmente. Los bomberos empezaron rebotar alrededor del estacionamiento de puntillas como bailarinas. Empezaron a gritarle al fuego, que lentamente cambió en un ladrar. Después, corrieron alrededor del edificio. Los bomberos formaron un semicírculo alrededor del fuego que se habían movido hacia abajo del edificio. Un bombero salió del semicírculo y comenzó a un boxeo con contrincante imaginario con el fuego. Los bomberos en el círculo comenzaron a aullar. Él que inició el boxeo le dio la espalda al fuego. Detuvo lo puñetazos al aire. Comenzó a agacharse y gruñir a los bomberos. Los otros entraron en pánico. Ellos comenzaron a agruparse y jugaron una lucha de cuerda con gruñidos agresivos contra el bombero boxeador. Continuaban así. El boxeador defendió el fuego para detener a los bomberos tratando de acabar el incendio. Un bombero del grupo se salió, se subió al techo del camión de bomberos, y administró los movimientos de los bomberos. Otro se acercó a la camioneta y abrió el grifo para poder utilizar las mangueras. La manguera se llenó y onduló como si fuera una serpiente tratando de moverse sobre el concreto al fuego. Abrieron las mangueras, y empujaron el boxeador por el suelo. El líquido de la manguera, sin embargo, hizo que el fuego quemara más rápido. El líquido que brotaba de la manguera no era agua para apagar el fuego, sino la gasolina para ampliar la sed del fuego para consumir más. A pesar del calor, el viento nos sopló y tratamos de cerrarnos más contra el frío.

Es un ballet que atrajo la ira de mis vecinos. "Mis películas!", gritó el Sr. Carenas mientras su esposa agarró TV Guide aún más. Las hijas de Chloe lloraban por la pérdida de sus muñecas. El fuego se había extendido a su lado del edificio. Mi cara se heló cuando vi lo que estaba pasando. Todas nuestras cosas se quemaron. Lo que alumbraba el fuego era nuestros almas.

El viento seguía soplando. Así que comenzamos a cavar por fuego a gatas. Sr. & Sra. Carenas, Sra. Davinia, Chloe y sus dos hijas, Sr. Cleveland incluido, y el resto. No sé lo que nos hizo cavar por fuego, pero el frío nos había afectado y teníamos que encontrar un escape. Buscamos el fuego en la tierra, pero no lo encontramos. Y seguimos intentando. Y los perros se quedaron presenciando el apartamento decaído, confundidos.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Pianist (2002)

First off, I'd like to comment on the how I fell in love with how the film was developed from the beginning of Władysław Szpilman's pre-Nazi Occupied life in Poland to the end of his time scurrying from the Nazis.

Secondly, I had no idea that the film was directed by Roman Polanski. I've heard a lot about Roman Polanski throughout the years, but never had made an effort to watch one of his films. [Editor's Note: Apparently Nich has seen three more of Polanski's, including Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, and The Ninth Gate. He feels like The Ninth Gate shouldn't really count since it's more a B-movie production than what one thinks of when one normally thinks of Roman Polanski. Either way, he has seen more than he's letting on.] Obviously, Polanski's Polish heritage probably pushed him to really obsess over a movie like this.

Third, I think the Adrian Brody's portrayal of Władysław Szpilman and the WWII set design were miraculous. The creation of 1939 Warsaw was an obvious hurdle to overcome in order to contrast the new Warsaw that would be Szpilman's new home. Basically, Adrian Brody carried the film. There was enough gravitas of the events unfolding to help the viewer really buy into what Brody was selling, but I would've bought double what he was selling.

I just really liked this movie. It wasn't too Jew-y or Holocaust-y, which was nice. It's a survivalist tale of one man who can't let the music die. Watch it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Toys (1992)

Toys is a lighthearted comedy with a great cast. Robin Williams, Michael Gambon, Joan Cusack, Robyn Wright, and LL Cool J lead the story about a changeover of leadership at a toy factory. Basically, this entire toy company is a huge playdate between all the workers. Throughout the film, there is a huge blurring of the line between reality and fantasy. It's whimsical and light within the entire film. The whole setting is a playground for both the adults and the children. The same way the movie opens up with children playing among the miniature replica of NYC's Manhattan island, the entire film is a bunch of adults playing with toys.

The wardrobe is what stuck out the most. The set also in a huge thing to discuss, but I'm pretty sure everyone took note of the fantastical mise-en-scenes created for the film.

The first scene between Michael Gambon and his brother Kenneth Zevo (played by Donald O'Connor) establishes the conflict that will precipitate change for the status quo, but it also creates great contrasts with regards to the different values embodied by each of the characters. The camera zeroes in on the military uniform of Michael Gambon's General Leland Zevo by beginning from the officer's hat. Then commences the pan down the entire uniform of Leland. The path traveled by the camera goes all the way down to Leland's feet wearing black, standard-issue black dress shoes. The camera traces the distance between the two brothers and encounters Kenneth's shoes. The most evident difference of Kenneth Zevo's shoes is that they aren't shoes at all, but house slippers with lights on the bottom. He is wearing socks, but not shoes. You keep seeing the camera travel upwards and you discover a goofy, looking jacket, not one you'd expect the president of a company to wear (albeit a toy company) to the office when having a serious meeting. To top off the differences between the two brothers, you'll notice that Kenneth Zevo is wearing a propeller hat. Compared to the cold, dark, and stick material used for General Leland, Kenneth Zevo is a beacon of all that is whimsical and special about this world we're about to enter. Leland is rules and discipline. And Kenneth is going to turn over the company to Leland for the exact reason why he is ill-suited for the job.

So we have Leland Zevo, the general who cares for discipline and order. As articulated above, Leland is supposed to represent how law and order (and thus power) operate in a fantasy land. He is bored with the monotony of toy R&D, but, upon hearing about something involving power struggle, Leland becomes engaged into the company. Then he begins his awareness of the company's operations, but from an unhealthy perspective: blending the reality with fantasy in order to practice war more effectively. This reading comes from the scene where Leland and his son first encounter what video games the kids are playing, and he finds a tank commander game where he starts shooting the UN Trucks instead of the Enemy Tanks. Leland does not understand rules of the game (as detailed and reminded by his younger, more sensible son Patrick), but since the game is about war, he vents his frustrations through it. Toys are meant to escape from reality rather than train for some utilitarian mission later. Leland only sees the potential of these Zevo video games being used to fly actual missions for the military. This same lack of understanding can be seen in Leland's re-appropriation of his military camouflage in order to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. He has a military-inspired camouflage that starts to use all colors on them. First off, military camouflage doesn't work like this. There are usually like 4-5 colors used at most. Secondly, Leland's "camouflage" to fit in yet doesn't actually work because it's a poorly constructed facade. Everyone else in the factory wears 2-3 colors on their uniform, while Leland wears almost all the colors possible in order to appear like he's taken on the role of Whimsical Company President.

There's got to be some read of Leland's meeting with the Pentagon military officials and the meeting being viewed from the observation truck with x-ray scanners. Here's Leland's plans are accepted with incredulity. Leland's plans are deride by the Pentagon folks, and Leland snaps and starts chocking one of them. Obviously (and hopefully for me?), this has some significance for Leland's own cronies not to believe in the plan in which he so wholeheartedly believes. He is exposed as a failure (baggage brought over from his dad's lack of approval), and he cannot take it. There is no more facade to put up, so he takes out his frustrations in physicality.

Leland's obvious presence as an outsider requires the viewer to be introduced to the toy factory to establish normalcy for these characters. Upon this tour, you see that all the workers wear a colorful uniform with different earthen and pastel colors chosen to imbue the scenes with a simple line of demarcation between the good people and the bad. The lawyer Owen Owens is in a suit, so he's regarded as the rule-monger within the factory. His job as a lawyer automatically includes him to be one who is used to enforcing/following rules.

Robin Williams' Leslie Zevo is a silly character throughout. He is always changing clothes. He's never in the same clothes. Most of the times, he seems to be wearing clothes on behalf of some R&D for the company. He is dedicated to the cause, but all over the place. For this, he is not trusted by his father to run the family business.

Joan Cusack was a wonderous selection to play Alsatia Zevo, first off. Then, it must be mentioned that her job is to create the outfits for dolls. As a result, due to her dedication, Alsatia always is wearing some sort of life-size doll outfit. Further she wears the plastic cap of some caricatured homemaker's hairstyle. For almost the entire film Alsatia is wearing fake clothing meant for dolls to eventually wear. When the viewer later discovers that Alsatia is a robot, you can make the short leap to the fact that fake clothing is being worn by the fake person.

LL Cool J's Captain Patrick Zevo is the (apparently) biological son of the white (and British?) General Leland Zevo. He is introduced by coming out of the couch of Robin Williams' Leslie Zevo. The General, Les, and Alsatia are waiting for a tardy Patrick, and the viewer relaxes back into the lull of a dialogue biding its time until the plot can move forward or this purportedly new character can enter the film. Patrick Zevo's outfits, though, are always changing. He is a chameleon. His ability to change is what allows him to "survive". Patrick imposes a change in the milieu of the toy factory. He hires security personnel, dressed in black and red, in order to create an order (and thus security) where there is believed to be a lack of it. The rank-and-file march wherever they go. They are dehumanized since they wear sunglasses as well. But Patrick is not immutable like his father since he values things other than the uniformity and precision his father encompasses. Patrick Zevo is quirky as well as everyone else in the factory, which is demonstrated in the scene with Alsatia where he reveals his weird habit where he can't have any of his food touching. Obviously he has appropriated some of his father's teachings to develop that habit. Only by learning of the truth about his mother's death does Patrick realize his father's betrayal of both him and his mother. This leads Patrick to break his silence about Leland's plans.

Leland's and Kenneth's father is an interesting wardrobe as well. The old, higher ranked General Zevo has no advice for his child, who comes off as weak and servile to his father. Old Man Zevo, oddly, appears in a WWI-era tent with a nurse in attendance. Obviously this wartime General is more nostalgic than realistic about the current state of warfare. Leland even states that there is a serious problem with military nowadays since war has changed. Leland also says that you can't trust your own troops, which comes true later on when Patrick betrays him. The specter of Old Man Zevo seems to represent what Leland wanted to be but was never able to do, i.e. what ideals he's clinging to.

Compare Patrick's uniform ability to blend in with that of Alsatia, which draws parallels between different topics. After the MTV scene with Alsatia and Les, the guards are alerted to the intrusion. Alsatia needs to escape, since she was a diversion for Les to slip into the restricted zones, and uses her best skill-set: costume making. She takes off the red bowler hat and cape (ranted about below) and has the same black and red uniform that the security guards wear. With this believable change of wardrobe, Alsatia is able to slip by the guards rushing through the hallways. Patrick's ability to blend in with any terrain and his attachment to his mother makes the parallel between him and his female cousin and interesting read.

Contrast the camouflage that Leland believes should trick the employees vs. the one that Les and Alsatia's believe should trick the guards to imitate an MTV music video. The two dress up in a red trench coats and red bowler hats in order to mimic a rock band's facade. This use of the red bowler harkens one back to Rene Margritte's surrealist The Son of Man painting. The painting featured in The Thomas Crown Affair, is the one with the stuffy looking British guy with the green apple in front. Here, Les and Alsatia know there is no way they can pretend to exude the demure of an uptight, regimented Leland or his squad of goons. They decide to try deception by hiding in plain sight. There is no missing the two. Les and Alsatia revert to a world of the surreal in order to achieve what they need to for the good of the company. Leland's camouflage is a obviously false appropriation of silliness. Les and Alsatia's camouflage is a silly appropriation of being false.

All in all, the movie's very simple and very silly. I can understand why this fantasy world failed since it's a fantasy world for children. (And why it left such an indelible mark on me.) The film doesn't really appeal to adult sensibilities. It's silliness is a little too much, but I found it quite refreshing from the subdued silliness that usually is portrayed in films.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Battle of the Bulge (1965)

When I think of the Battle of the Bulge, I think of the last battle in Patton. I think of the longest middle section of Band of Brothers. I do not think of Battle of the Bulge with Henry Fonda. It's a (¿fairly?) accurate depiction of the Battle. We'll assume it's pretty close-ish to whatever was believed at the time. Either way, the story follows a couple of different men on the frontlines trying to keep the Germans from advancing to pillage the Allies of their fuel supplies. Henry Fonda leads with the intuitive character that knows when things are amiss. He plays his role like he did in Twelve Angry Men, except his supporting cast plays it a lot less frantic. They try to do what Band of Brothers did so well by bringing in a lot of differing plotlines of different sects involved in the battle. I think they did a mediocre job at this panoramic view, but whatever. The lines between the two sides is clearly drawn. Despite the fact that Col. Hessler, a tank commander for the German Army, is vilified in his role, there is enough character development to identify with his motivations. The fact that this film was made 20 years after WWII end says a lot about how the Germans are depicted in this film. It glorifies America. It demonizes the German Nazis. There's a pretty bow on the film at the end. Everyone who wants to fight America dies; those who fought for America sacrificed all they could to keep Germany from winning the Battle. It's a good relic of the past, but not a good film.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Madness of King George (1994)

The Madness of King George is a tragic tale of an old man who's lost his grip on the world, and shoved aside by the utilitarian expediency of the increasingly modernizing world. Adding texture to the tale is the love between him and his Queen, like Zack Snyder's 300 later takes on. King George III of England goes through some stroke/infarction sorta thing before going to bed and there begins the drama. King George's preoccupation with having lost America attributes to his descent to madness, which functions as an obsession.

Nigel Hawthorne's portrayal of King George III really cares the film's plot forward. If Hawthorne's portrayal of King George III hadn't been so powerful, I don't think I would have bought the whole development of his insanity. Whoever plays Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger also holds enough reservation that you're curious about what he's thinking. He doesn't give much, and that's why I feel a lot of these movies about royalty and their court rely so heavily on dialogue. Maybe I'm wrong. I usually am.

The best aspect is the emphasis on the dialogue of these stories. These sort of stories of the king and his court usually detail the movements of many little people trying to worm their way closer either to the king or to his conspirator trying to dethrone him. The film opens up with the same composition as old BBC television shows started. There were doors opening up to the array of people waiting on the king to dress in his regale to observe him. The cinematography transmit some more contemporary techniques which seems to modernize the tale. Adding to true depiction of the time period. My opinion is that most period films suffer from distance (and thus a lack of identification) between the audience and the characters, but the way in which the camera relates to the characters gives a modern feel to the tale. There are enough juxtaposing shots that give a levity to the film, which I feel is a more modern approach to filmmaking. There are waves between madness and then softer scenes, which I felt were magically exercised. There seems to be a ludicrous point when the King is being quarantined with the intention of having him examined. He's wearing his white nightgown and is hiding underneath his bed. Adding to this ridiculous costume is the little white nightcap he has on. The camera then takes a POV shot of looking out from underneath the bed to the 4 servants trying to coax the king out to be examined. It's a funny scene. Simple. Direct. Effective.

Shortly after there is a scene where the villainous psychologist and his thugs physically assault the king and bring him back to the chair remind me of A Clockwork Orange. It was the use of the steady-cam to move along the attempted escape of King George that flowed through corridors and rooms within the royal . Really, the psychologist that brings King George back to sanity is just an animal tamer, not a doctor. The King's sanity return near the end with him acting out of Shakespeare's King Lear, a play about a king's descent to madness. The finer points of this literary reference are lost on me, but it serves as a healthy catharsis for King George to turn a corner.

In the end, The Madness of King George is about the appearances underlying duty. King George returns to his original state of sanity and states: "Only now I seem myself. I have remembered how to seem. Most truth about being royalty." Near the end of the film, there is a shot of the Members of Parliament are placed right next to a shot of sheep blocking the path. The reading of this is obvious that the Members of Parliament are lost without their King, whom they look to to guide them. The last sequence has the royal family ascending the steps to a Church for some ritual. The members of Parliament in earthen tones are on the left, the military personnel in red are on the right, the court & the commoners (?) are at the base of the steps. All are looking upward at the kind of model they aspire to be.