Archive for October, 2010
3 Stars out of 4
What Rodrigo Cortés’s Buried does best is trap you. The camera shifts to different positions but all are relatively enclosed in the box. Buried is about claustrophobia and straining suspense. We’ll never know more or less than Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) which is what drives the film – the audience demands an answer from this shocking situation.
Buried’s poster has the whirligig features of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Nevertheless, Buried is much different; it does develop obsession, paralyzing fascination, and abrupt scenarios, but it’s not about the fear of falling but about remaining fixed – parched, alone, and suffocating. This intensity alone makes Buried work and also bestow terrific entertainment. It’s 95 minutes long, but it does not feel too long or too short. It’s under a taut narrative that hurdles it past any lag points and drives towards a breath-taking conclusion. (continue reading…)
4 Stars out of 4
Close your eyes and imagine the world of Spirited Away. After sitting through this 125 animé visual feast, you will find yourself picturing every corner of its world. It’s like you’ve been down that rabbit hole too. This subsequent Alice is Chihiro, a sullen young girl very reliant on her parents. Unlike Alice though, Chihiro does not descend into this world as a result of her stubborn curiosities. This fault goes to her parents, who fester deeper into the empty-foreboding village, gluttonize the food, and morph into pigs. Poor, reliant Chihiro is all alone. (continue reading…)
2.5 Stars out of 4
One of Hitchcock’s golden rules was once you (the camera) are in the vehicle, you remain in the vehicle. That’s the concept to Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon, a noble cinematic achievement that many perceive as the redolent The Hurt Locker. In various ways it is (it has no villains and not necessarily heroes and it never cares to explain its events that take place) – except in Lebanon, an unconventional take on the First Lebanese War in 1982, our sense of space is alienated and our fear is compacted.
Lebanon seems deadly real with its display, rarely cloys and delivers genuine shocks. Some will become vehemently fascinated by Lebanon, but at the same time, more so frustrated. Despite its close ups and impressionistic shots of water, sweat, and flowers, the film can act unexpectedly arid in which its message, or mere energy, is as oblique as its detached narrative. (continue reading…)
2.5 Stars out of 4
Like its predecessor, Paranormal Activity 2 is more about an atmosphere than a film in itself. At least most of us have gotten past the cockamamie myth that this is actually real. The sequel here is a spook show, a haunted house based only on surprises never interest. We demand nothing else from the movie other than it to scare the goosebumps off us. When footage of those azure-night visioned camera arise we hold our breath; when the morning dawn, we can breathe.
Paranormal Activity 2 is not exactly a good movie but it will deliver on the nightmares. Throughout the film I became fascinated by the audience, not the film in front of me: I noticed several people, staring with cavernous gazes, mouths gaped, and huddled into the fetal position (knocking over the popcorn next to them). We wait…wait…wait. Then BANG! The audience jumps, squeals - then recoils and would you know, start to laugh. This is why Paranormal Activity 2 interests me: it exposes the audience-performer relationship to a tee, and even when the scares are absent, this is an audience in the exact uneasy state that you are in. (continue reading…)
2.5 Stars out of 4
Could we believe that all these characters in You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (to paraphrase Will Shakespeare) find life to be full of sound and fury, but in the end signifying nothing? Some like Helena (Gemma Jones) are content with that uncanny feeling that love will emerge from the darkness, out of a magical box and be rather meaningful. Others seem to reject this supernal serendipity and frustrate their relationships to the point that a new love would be the best medicine.
Cue the Woody Allen music, the classic credits, and slashingly cynical one-liners. You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is every frame a Woody Allen, but it does wrong what many of his great movies do right: it uses circumstance as a catalyst but never allows itself to unfold through character choice and consequence. (continue reading…)
2 Stars out of 4
Hereafter is about death, but why does it feel so dead? Director Clint Eastwood is the master of emotion (Million Dollar Baby, Changeling, Gran Torino) but Hereafter is an uncomfortable movie to watch. It takes actors, actresses, and a director and puts them out of their comfort zone into a supernatural drama that seems to be an elegiac definition of nothing.
The opening is something from a Roland Emmerich film: in southeast Asia a tsunami wave deluges into the city where Marie Lelay (Cécile De France) is on a journalistic expedition. She has a near-death encounter, involving a reverie of an azure hereafter. Her character transforms into something more restrained and superstitious, where she no longer has the brazen persona of a top-class journalist. She wants to write a book. (continue reading…)
A Director’s Style in Easy Rider
Easy Rider would be Dennis Hopper’s directorial debut and probably his most important work. It speaks much about the counterculture of the late 1960s and the rather bland-authoritative edifice of American society. But the film is a conventional road movie, a part of a genre so popular at that time because “America had so many roads” (Ebert, 2004). Road movies implied a destination for the characters; predictably it was about moving from one point to another. The emphasis was not on plot, but on motive. The characters took a trip down these roads as they paved routes for their freedom, or perhaps redemption.
Road movies express that characters can escape the city to find their more natural roots (Ebert, 2004). Marlon Brando’s The Wild One kickstarted the road movie in 1954, but emphasized campy drama over literal meaning (this type of road movie expired a few years later). In 1967, Hell’s Angels on Wheels inspired the fusion of motorcycles and hippie counterculture. Easy Rider took that combination and became an odyssey that begins with discovery, energy, and freedom and climaxes on hallucinations, failure, and death. Hopper’s style was avant-garde: “heavy on scenery, light on dialogue, pregnant with symbolism and foreboding” (Ebert, 2004).
Easy Rider was avant-garde as its style surrounded its time period but did not reflect it through conventional narrative or cinematography. Hopper emulated Nouvelle Vague directors such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. He purposely shot in low budget (approximately half-million dollars), opted for a handheld style, and created characters whose main goal was “to beat the system” (Holmes, 2002).
The style throughout Easy Rider is unchanging. Even though Captain America (Henry Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) “blew it” and are changed and deleted from the counterculture, they mesh with a style that is frenetic, disorienting and realistic (as a result of its home-video panache) stressing that the hippie counterculture is alive but not well in a “whole country [the United States] that is ablaze” (Holmes, 2002).
Hopper encourages a minimalistic (it was shot in five-and-a-half weeks for 360 000 dollars) and impromptu feel to capture the spontaneity of this adventure. Since its script is heavily improvised, Easy Rider emphasizes scenery and uses cover songs for relevance. After all, this was the age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (Brandum, 5). When the camera pans to a sky filled with a pacifying vermillion and the music rings out “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, the style directly submits an ecstasy within the characters, who travel down desolate roads accompanied by an alluring landscape.
This style is why Easy Rider is “akin to viewing a museum artifact” (Brandum, 1): it embodies an atmosphere that today, can only be retrospective and vicariously (or indirectly) fascinating. If this was 1969, we would find the style to be a window to a present reality, immersed in a style that strays away from normalcy. Easy Rider personified the late 1960’s counterculture, which is why nobody “saw the film only once” (Ebert, 2004).
Easy Riders in the Twenty-First Century
Dennis Hopper and Henry Fonda easy riders may no longer exist. The last drug-addled character Hopper portrayed was Frank Booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and the last reactionary idealist Fonda played was Ulee Jackson in Victor Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold (1997). Since then, it seems easy riders have driven off into cinematic oblivion and are now irrelevant caricatures.
In twenty-first century cinema, motorcyclists are clichéd tough guys and transparent goons. In Todd Phillips’s Starsky and Hutch (2004), Owen Wilson and his blond coiffure and Ben Stiller and his fake handlebar mustache strolled down an empty road in Harley Davidson’s, listening to “The Weight” by The Band (a number in Easy Rider). Phillips emphasized parody not counterculture, freedom, or nostalgia. Could it be that today, Easy Rider can only be regarded as a frivolous reference to a ‘groovy’ time or is it still relevant and important?
Easy Rider in itself is a timepiece but in contemporary cinema it comes in different, unobtrusive forms. Some directors try to take the road movie genre and create pure comedy, lacking message or relevance. The emphasis in this respect is on who the characters are and how they are not cut out for that arduous road ahead. Walt Becker’s Wild Hogs (2007) presents characters (played by John Travolta, William H. Macy, Tim Allen, and Martin Lawrence) who could have been adolescent motorcyclists at the age of Easy Rider. Wild Hogs is not fascinated by the ‘road’ in the road genre, but in the mere folly of the characters – how their engines break down incessantly and their accessibility to only aviator helmets not a motorcyclists (like how Jack Nicholson wore the football helmet in Easy Rider).
Road movies are still omniscient but are not congruent to Easy Rider. Some are about driving lawnmowers (The Straight Story, 2000) or just walking (Into the Wild, 2007). The Straight Story and Into the Wild were about discover and self-liberation, but differentiated in that the latter was about a young boy and the other was about an elderly man making ends meet with his estranged brother. The point of emphasis in those two, like Easy Rider, was in its ending: the death of Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild signified that his success in self-discovery made his death, though tragic, timely. The Straight Story ended jovially, as Alvin’s atonement with his brother suggests Alvin will die peacefully. Therefore, road movies are dependent on a conclusion because it shows where the road has taken the characters and if they have succeeded.
Easy riders are not evanescent, but come in different personas. Even reactionaries in road movies today pertain dramatic or comedic roles. Ernesto Guevara in Walter Salles’s The Motorcycle Diaries endured a trip down the road to find his life’s calling. On the other hand, Borat in Borat (2006) went down the American road to discover that very country, while simultaneously looking like Saddam Hussein’s dorky cousin to emphasize political irony.
Current road movies dictate that Easy Rider is not expired, as it is also not a prefiguration of the genre. This genre continues to expand (and at times contract) to which it can be accepted as very much alive, in itself, and a part of Easy Rider – a film like Borat that plays more like a period piece than living cinema (Ebert, 2004).
2.5 Stars out of 4
Catfish says if we could make sense of people then life would lose its value – it’s beauty. Much of its discussion is about and on the web, particularly Facebook. Facebook is a social cyber world but it creates this facade – we only know people by their pictures, what their status reads, and their relationship status. Catfish tries to shock while suggesting something further: what if this facade had another layer behind it and people were masquerading as incognitos they wish they could be like or look like. Catfish, and rightly so, desperately tries to be a tragedy on human communication.
It does not exactly pull it off. This is one touchy, dangerously philosophical topic that, as a fault of directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, isn’t justified through the documentary’s exposition. Before complimenting the film in other ways, it’s important to note Catfish does wrong what I have noticed most young documentary filmmakers surrender to: never exactly balancing out their subtle messages, while ensuring they, simultaneously, do not condescend. (continue reading…)
2 Stars out of 4
I don’t know about you, but how long does it take for the heli’cock’ter to lose meaning? Jackass 3D has repeated its shenanigans for the third time, but this time the stunts and delicious cocktails are exploding right at your faces. Don’t you just wish you were there with them? Them - Wee Man, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Preston Lacy, Dave England, and master of the stupid coaxes Johnny Knoxville. Look out Tennessee!
Everything is pretty much the same: a goofy introduction of the whole marching band parading in and bludgeoning each other with fish heads and paintballs. The dazzling difference is how the far out imagery jumps at your eyes and you begin to think the Jackasses have a brand new bag. Minus the 3D subterfuge, they do not. (continue reading…)
2 Stars out of 4
Red is as old as its actors. When 93 year-old Ernest Borgnine looks like the newest addition Red can offer, this is clearly a concept in its own dotage. Red does the opposite of what Kick-Ass did earlier this year: instead of using lurid, profane teenagers, Red takes the elderly, idolizes them - locked and loaded. The film isn’t.
It’s a real letdown. For one, you have John McClane (Bruce Willis), God (Morgan Freeman), the Queen (Helen Mirren), Agamemnon (Brian Cox), and well, who doesn’t know what it’s like being John Malkovich? This is an all-star cast, who really seem to be playing bad-ass versions of their previously-played characters. Oddly, the chemistry is pedestrian and for some darn reason this is a B Team with A-class actors. (continue reading…)