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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
The BBC miniseries was perfect, why this? Or so I thought.
When I found out a film version of TTSS was coming out, I got angry. TTSS was already perfectly executed as a story by the BBC, I have the DVDs, Sir Alec Guinness was already perfect as George Smiley. Why cram and "Hollywoodize" a 2-hour version of something that was already perfect at 12 hours?
Then I saw the film and was astounded on every single possible level that matters. As of today, if I'm surfing channels and TTSS is playing, I put the remote control aside and joyfully watch this work of art over and over again.
Excellence. The best film I've seen since "The Lives Of Others" and "The New World".
Through the Wormhole (2010)
Noble attempt, but hit-and-miss. Too many voices.
All series on the topic of astronomy and cosmology must and will be measured to that watershed event of the early eighties, "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan, which left me with clarity of what we knew, and the relevant questions yet to be answered at the time.
A magisterial Morgan Freeman guides each episode by asking fascinating and timely questions, then allowing experts to answer them.
The result feels too all-over-the-map, sometimes patronizingly simple, then suddenly, as if taken for granted, skipping over crucial logical stepping stones in the explanation process. "Through The Wormhole" suffers from too many people with different verbal styles (and varying verbal skills) to follow a coherent thread of an idea from beginning to end, the way Mr Sagan did so masterfully back in the day.
Then there's a certain something Discovery Channel Influence, with episodes titled along the lines of "Is There A God?", which Mr Sagan would have found sensationalistic. And I agree with Mr Sagan.
Bottom line: As a passionate follower of astronomy since the early eighties, I watch "Through The Wormhole", but in 2012 I prefer my astrophysics/cosmology shows hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or Brian Cox.
Doctor Who (2005)
Blew the mind of an uninitiated, long time sci-fi lover
For as long as I can remember, I've heard about the good Doctor, references, inside jokes and the like. Such as "Real Daleks don't climb stairs, they flatten the building".
The quandary was this: Where do I begin, with thousands of episodes aired? I was afraid of getting myself into something deep, dense, voluminous and possibly repetitive, impossible to get back out of.
The very simple yet belated answer was, of course, by accident.
On one of those sleepless nights, flipping channels, I saw astronauts in a Victorian library, and was immediately intrigued by the weird homage to Kubrick. Before the commercial break, I was treated to electronic ghosts and invisible floating piranhas.
Then this absolute beauty comes up, I paraphrase - "You've been living in a computer simulation, your physical body is elsewhere" - "But I've been dieting"
Bleak, subtle and sophisticated humor? Check, and count me in.
As it turned out, I had stumbled into the middle of a Sy-Fy Channel short marathon of Doctor Who. I resisted going to sleep until the damn thing ended five or six episodes later, at ten in the morning.
What wildly imaginative premises, what a high-quality level of writing, what a gem this is! There is serious brain-power at work here, courtesy of the BBC yet again, on a continuing heroic mission to sacrifice short-term profit for long-term legacy. As evidence, I present "Monty Python's Flying Circus", "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", "The Singing Detective", "Brideshead Revisited".
From what little I've seen in half of a short marathon, Doctor Who deserves a ten out of ten.
Il gattopardo (1963)
The thinking person's "Gone With The Wind"
I have not read Giuseppe di Lampedusa's novel, but I have seen Visconti's semi-restored masterpiece and was utterly transfixed by it. In cinematic terms, it curiously serves as the background radiation to The Godfather Trilogy, as it represents the Sicily of the Andolini family, albeit from the royal family point of view. In fact, the sicilian sequences in The Godfathers I and II bear a striking resemblance to the Sicily portrayed in Ill Gattopardo, a supreme tribute by Coppola to Visconti.
Incredible but true, Burt Lancaster is picture-perfect as the tormented prince who deeply feels his mortality at age forty five, even as he struggles to keep his royal heritage alive for future generations in chaotic times, willing to make compromises his ancestors would have flinched at, which only makes our prince more royal.
The textures and nuances in Ill Gattopardo run constant and deep, the hand that directs them is as steady as a rock. Make no mistake, this is the work of an artist at the height of his powers, not caring if he puts half of us to sleep, probably even not caring if he hypnotizes the other half. If you want to see supreme confidence at work, you can do no better than Ill Gattopardo. Equal maybe, but no better.
Rumble Fish (1983)
Back to basics for Coppola is pacesetting for the rest of us.
I screen movies at a local cultural center. Rumble Fish was the one a few weeks ago. After the show, one guy approached me to say he loved it, then mentioned how similar Rumble Fish was to Sin City. First off, I straightened his idea: Sin City is similar to Rumble Fish, not the other way around. Then I got to thinking. I've always loved Rumble Fish, but I've never thought about its' impact on later cinema, except Coppola's own Dracula.
Then Drugstore Cowboy popped into my mind (also with Matt Dillon, to boot). Pulp Fiction, Coffee And Cigarrettes, etc. My God, some of the most influential current cinema around has Rumble Fish all over it! And then, the music by Stewart Copeland (drummer for The Police) is fascinating and independent of its' time period (the early eighties) in every way.
I think that Rumble Fish is a timeless piece. Many people say that the plot is slow and repetitive, but that's not the point. Coppola gave himself the luxury of exploring other facets of cinema: Rumble Fish is an impressionistic piece, an attempt to capture life in some nameless town in a nameless midwest state, while always, the myth of California hangs over the heads of our heroes. The quiscentennial western myth, really, our hero Abram leaving Ur due west, where he became Abraham and fathered a nation.
When questioned in hindsight about his ability to direct The Godfather, Coppola answered that it was he who chose all the people to help him assemble the masterpiece. Excellent answer, one which is also apparent in Rumble Fish, a personal (as opposed to epic) masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless.
Still incredibly relevant after all these years.
I screen movies every Wednesday night at a local cultural center. Having seen it twenty years ago and remembering next to nothing of it (I was way too young and distracted), I opted to wait until screening "Z" to see it again, along with the rest of the audience. Our collective response was that of buzzing astonishment.
Politically, "Z" is a sobering lesson in history and human nature. Cinematically, "Z" is mean and lean, with not a single ounce of excess fat. Brilliantly using the editing room as a weapon, "Z" is that rarest of birds, a defiant thriller raising its' fist in triumph at dictatorship, for the story will now be known to the world. Truth, and only truth, will always vex the tyrant.
Based on the 1963 coup of Greece by the political right wing, "Z" offers a clinical look at a democracy's tragedy unfolding before our eyes, at first in real-time as a confusing jumble of characters and events, then as a forensic process that builds a coherent jigsaw puzzle of events to an ultimately shocking double ending, leaving you firmly grasped by the throat even days after it's over.
"Important" is a label that should not be thrown around freely when talking about film, yet "Z", made forty seven years ago, is a real cry from a dark past, as timely now as it was then, as history may be in the process of repeating itself.
THX 1138 (1971)
Grape juice CAN turn into wine.
It is fascinating to see a film go from being considered a curious box-office dud to a masterpiece in one's own lifetime, especially when that film made a deep impression on you when you were a (fan)boy.
From the first time I saw it, I knew THX was something special; much of the background noise that made Star Wars the magical experience that it was, for me, came from this source, this peculiar creature named THX-1138. Between then until now, I've read both Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984, which seem to be the main literary inspirations of THX-1138. Also, I've revisited THX several times, but I still wasn't able to decipher and fully appreciate it.
Then, the visually enhanced DVD version was released last year, and I was able to view THX in digital mode and with headphones, approaching as much as I ever will the vision George Lucas had in 1969 of how a film should be experienced.
Heartfelt congratulations to Mr. Lucas for the visual elements and audio enhancements done for this new release of THX. I can now fully immerse myself in the extreme textures of THX's daily surroundings, therefore feel for his (and LUH's, for that matter) plight.
Mr. Lucas, limited by theatre technology back in the day, had the right intellectual feel. Now you pump up the volume and get the sensory (therefore emotional in this world) content; it is tragic, but also triumphant. It is what happens between acts three and four of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a small chapter that occurs between human and starchild.
My final verdict is that George Lucas, thirty five years later, is still ahead of the pack, with a film he made...well, thirty five years ago. What an amazing man, I'd love to buy him a beer or three.
A true eye opener and mind blower.
I haven't written a review here in a long time. However, after having just watched Outfoxed, I am compelled to put down my impressions while they're still fresh.
For a long time, I was indifferent to Fox the network and Fox the "news" channel. But a few years ago, as Ruppert Murdoch's modus operandi began to make itself apparent to me, I became so disgusted that I stopped being a fan of the LA Dodgers, which Murdoch owned for a period of time, and I even stopped watching the Simpsons, owned and broadcast by Fox.
At the beginning of Outfoxed, I recoiled at being subjected to relentless footage of this propaganda machine in motion. Mercifully soon thereafter, the filmmakers began to unravel, point by point, the tactics used by Fox. I found myself shifting from emotional revulsion to intellectual fascination, as if the filmmakers were presenting a toy machine, taking it apart, and pointing out how the gears, levers and pulleys work. Or, more appropriately, the filmmakers were taking a monster to the scalpel and dissecting it for all to see.
Now the heroic aspect of Outfoxed is daring, like David, to take on Goliath, but the objective value of Outfoxed is the specific lesson it provides in critical thinking: detecting the content and delivery of a propaganda machine.
Pundits will say that this sort of analysis can be applied to Outfoxed itself. However, Outfoxed presents well documented PATTERNS over extended periods of time. Furthermore, the video archive and the statistics presented, even without a narrator's commentary, speak for themselves, and it is a grotesque portrait.
Highly recommended, see Outfoxed for yourself and show it, gently, to friends and loved ones who believe that Fox News, and mainstream media in general, is a fair and balanced enterprise.
One final piece of advice: rewind and freeze-frame often, taking time to read the distracting ticker at the bottom of most Fox News broadcasts, especially in the months leading up to and during the Iraq deployment. The ticker distracts from the commentators, and the commentators distract from the ticker, so you are taking in BOTH, SUBLIMINALLY. Explosive stuff, this is.
For its' relevance, guts, content and eloquence, Outfoxed gets a 10 out of 10.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Damn fine popcorn spy flick (minor spoilers)
I've always been a fan of spy movies, for the same reason I like baseball, probably, to watch something that's complex and thoroughly inconsequential at the same time. To just sit back with some nachos, ice cream bon-bons, suspend all disbelief and have my brain tickled. Bourne Supremacy successfully delivers.
Now, Bourne Identity was about a mystery in which we are digging deeper and deeper along with the main character. Bourne Supremacy cannot repeat this feat, nor should it, so the movie opts instead to be quite transparent about the plot and concentrate on the road towards payback. I really do enjoy how Mr. Bourne is ALWAYS a step ahead of the CIA pack, I smile at his unbelievable competence. I love the cosmopolitan settings in which the film takes place, more so than on the original Bourne Identity. And while not entirely able to disregard the laws of nature, I truly enjoyed the car chase, the first to acknowledge a post-"Matrix Reloaded" cinematic language, as the intense crescendo that it is.
The only thing that put me off a bit was the editing (which worked fine for me elsewhere in the film), during the fight sequence, MUCH more thrillingly executed in Bourne Identity, where you can clearly observe the choreography of two precise, relentless killing machines going for each other's throats.
Yes, Bourne Identity is a better, smarter, sharper film, as Doug Lyman is a superior director to Paul Greengrass, but Bourne Supremacy is pretty damn good, and quite a bit of pokerfaced escapist fun, to be taken with a grain of salt. Exactly what a spy flick should be. By the way, for a more serious example of the genre, check out 1973's "The Day Of the Jackal", a superb piece of intelligent cinema.
I am enthusiastic about the final installment of this adaptation of Robert Ludlum's trilogy, "The Bourne Ultimatum", and I seriously hope that the studios will be wise enough to call it quits when that one hits the theaters.
Duck Soup (1933)
Short but sweet. Spoilers ahead.
Clocking at 68 minutes, Duck Soup ended a bit too quickly for me.
I really enjoyed this film, shortcomings nonwithstanding: Very poor
editing in some spots, a couple of gags are poorly constructed or
are orphaned halfway through.
However, there are three great set pieces: The lemonade stand
(parts 1 and 2), the mirror scene (pure genius) and the war
sequence (packed with insane rapid-fire gags, Airplane!-style).
I find it amazing just how much Looney Tunes ripped off from
these guys. Having grown up with Looney Tunes, Duck Soup is, in
a manner of speaking, like going full circle and finding myself
Another thing I really like about Duck Soup (or any Marx Brothers
film) is Harpo, doing his silent movie character in a world
surrounded by sound. This creature from another era gives a
surrealistic depth to the comedy offered on screen.
It is said that Duck Soup's anarchic style is what makes it current
and relevant. I beg to differ. I rather think Duck Soup remains
timely because of "We God's chillun an' we got guns, so let's go to
war". Sounds absurd, doesn't it? Well, it's how it happens, isn't it?
How a people, any people, can be whipped-up into a war frenzy for
no excusable reason (such as Firefly's war-at-all-costs mentality),
is the ultimate essence of this film. The fact that Duck Soup does
this in an absurd manner makes the observation easier to digest,
putting up a mirror to us all without offending so easily with the
truth. The message, in some level, makes its' way through.
Tapping into universal truths and skewering them, Duck Soup was
timely when it was made, and remains timely today.