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Le scaphandre et le papillon (2007)
Intense and beautiful, but just misses the mark
It's undeniably powerful and beautiful, but I almost wish it had more balls. The opening scenes with the nearly unbearable point-of-view is so intense and remarkable and original that part of me really wanted it to remain like that for the entire film, perhaps with a few surreal dream sequences interspersed. As difficult and frustrating as an entirely POV film would be, I kinda wanted one when the film began. Instead, the POV is slowly phased out, and the film became more of a Godard/WKW love child, though it's not nearly as interesting or original as that image implies. Though I can understand what the film was going for, with the dream sequences breaking out of the prison that the rest of the film was trapped in, this really would've worked better had all the hospital scenes been strictly POV, which they were not. The juxtaposition between the uncomfortable, interior, present scenes and the alive, colourful, past scenes is key to what the film's going for, and I think it just missed the mark by chickening out and not going all out on the POV.
Still, it's an innovative, imaginative ride, despite its rather depressing story.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Solid film, but it feels a bit off
My first introduction to Herzog. Probably not the best option, but it's an easy starter lesson.
I didn't really notice any specific stylistic traits, but there's a lot of thematic stuff to work with. I really dug how he stuck as close to history as he could, forgoing cliché and traditional arcs in favour of a more realistic approach. This makes the story seem almost symmetrical; Dengler gradually gains more human contact until he is fully immersed in the POW camp, and then he gradually loses these contacts until he is, once again, alone. Of course, the film is bookended by scenes of him in the military, but the contrast between these moments is startling, specifically in the physical figure of Dengler, with his extreme weight loss and unhealthy appearance. The disparity of these scenes is key to this idea of a naturalist narrative.
I also liked how there wasn't one specific conflict, with a build-up, climax, and resolution, but a series of smaller conflicts, both internal and external. Herzog deals with traditional hierarchies of man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. himself, never emphasizing one over the other, giving each of them their time in the sun.
However, I didn't love it. I felt the film could have been a lot stronger technically, or at least more in line with the themes it dealt with. The 'fade to black' was overused to a ridiculous degree, and it made the film seem more episodic than continuous, at odds with the ultra-realism of the story. There was also no real continuity among the cinematographic choices, switching from panoramic pans to gritty hand-held work to subjective perspective shots without much reason for it. Perhaps this is a trademark of Herzog; I'd have to watch more films of his.
I certainly enjoyed it, and it's a solid film overall, but something just felt off about it. It felt almost like Herzog was dampening his style for Hollywood, though I have no real clue what his style is. Still, it's a 'good' film, as weak as that sounds.
Le salaire de la peur (1953)
A nearly perfect thriller
For about forty minutes of this film, I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into. Nothing was really going on, the characters were ambling about, talking in circles, and there was no semblance of a plot developing. Despite my best intentions (and everything I've learned about cinema), I lost interest.
However, once the oil well disaster occurs, sparking the plot, I was hooked. It's such a contrived and nonsensical story (was there really such an urgent need for the nitroglycerin that the oil company was willing to risk it all blowing up?) but it's pulled off so expertly and thrillingly that the film thrives because of it, not in spite of it. Every trivial problem is life-threatening, every moment is potentially deadly, each normally banal act becomes increasingly important and serious. The sense of doom developed is palpable, and it's entirely because of the plot.
Coupled with that sense of doom is a terrific atmosphere of fatalism. It lingers just under the surface throughout the film, finally bursting forward when the first truck explodes and Jo becomes injured in the bog. That great final conversation between him and Mario, in which he expresses his desire to survive, despite taking the high-risk, low-reward job, is a perfect summation of the film's themes; Mario's subsequent collapse in front of the exploding oil well is one of the great shots in all of cinema (reminding me strongly of There Will Be Blood) and superbly symbolizes the dread and desperation that he has undergone. That final twist is just icing on the cake.
That first act hurts it, but this is a nearly perfect thriller.
Refreshingly dark epic
The presence of two directors is quite noticeable, as is the lack of Kubrickian influence on the script, as it's almost like a tale of two movies. There's the dark, depressing, realistic Kubrick stuff (the scene right before the first fight to the death, where the gladiators hear the nobles discussing trivial matters, is right out of Paths of Glory), and then there's the sappy, melodramatic, happy Hollywood stuff (those terrible montages of life in the slave camp). Luckily Kubrick wins out (for the most part) and the end is suitably dismal.
As with Paths of Glory, there's a lot of ideas thrown about dealing with the distinction between the higher and lower classes, and that couldn't be more obvious than with the political maneuvering of Crassus and Gracchus nearly outweighing the noble plight of Spartacus. Kubrick also likes three-way conflicts (Jack/Danny/the Overlook in The Shining, US/Russia/Ripper in Dr. Strangelove) and Spartacus and Gracchus uniting (in a way) to beat their common enemy is symptomatic of that. That stuff, along with that horribly depressing end with all the slaves crucified along the road, is vintage Kubrick.
Unfortunately there's all that cheesy Hollywood stuff about hope and glory and freedom that really feels at odds with the realistic epic that the rest of the film is trying to put forth. The ill-fated romance, Spartacus' many speeches, indeed the entire epic battle all fall in line with this. Of course, we also get that great "I'm Spartacus!" scene, so maybe it's not all bad.
The sexual innuendo and political drama which lie just under the surface are quite refreshing, and really distinguish this film from, say, Ben-Hur. It seems to me to be an epic more concerned with art than financial success, at least for the most part, and I really dug that. It's not perfect, but it's not mediocre like so many epics of the time, either.
Definite recommend, especially for Ben-Hur fans so they can learn what life is really like.
I laughed. A lot. More than I thought I would. A lot more. And I wasn't even stoned! Yeah, there's a lot of poop and fart and penis jokes, and that ruins some of it, but there's also a lot of genuine hilarity about race relations and middle America that feels authentic. Sure, it's a silly stoner comedy, but it's at least one that makes (somewhat) sense.
I also love these types of comedies that deal with one crazy night (Dazed + Confused, American Graffiti, Can't Hardly Wait), and though this isn't about graduation, there's that same sense of spontaneity and immediacy developed here. The film is just about getting to White Castle. That's all that matters.
Better than I'd thought it be. Looking forward to the sequel.
L'âge d'or (1930)
A bit of a step down for Buñuel
I loved Un Chien Andalou. Like, really, really loved. There was something about its utterly bizarre surrealism and total lack of any semblance of a plot that really struck a cord with me. So I couldn't help but be slightly disappointed by this.
Don't get me wrong, it has its fair share of wonderfully surreal imagery and truly unique moments, but it couldn't match the delicious randomness of Buñuel's earlier work. I think because it's too focused on telling a story, and subsequently mocking the Church and bourgeois society, to truly embrace its surrealist mentality. There's flashes of it, like the cow on the bed or throwing the bishop out the window, but, for the most part, it's far too concerned with making fun of stuff to actually be weird or artsy or even that interesting.
Still, it's worth a look. There's a lot of worthwhile stuff here - even if it is masked by overtly satirical material - and it's a breeze to get through. And the woman fellating the statue's toes is bizarrely erotic and not something you're likely to find in a film of the 30s, no matter how surreal it is.
For fans of Buñuel only, I think.
Paths of Glory (1957)
There's something to be said for watching this after a few hours of Call of Duty (and also followed by Harold + Kumar and something called The Giant Gila Monster - but that's another story), but I'm not sure exactly what it is. Suffice to say, the great disconnect between these two forms of entertainment, both dealing with war, is stunning and affecting.
This is a sobering and infuriating piece of work. The characters and dialogue are a little too on-the-nose and obvious, but I'd be lying if I said that they didn't anger me anyway. I'm rapidly getting the sense that Kubrick likes to deal with the dichotomy between superficial 'high' society and passionate 'low' society, and he expands on it here to great effect. The carefully chosen vocabulary of the various generals and other higher-ups contrasts exceedingly well with the dialectic slang of the soldiers, with Dax being somewhat of a bridge between the two classes. With that in mind, it's the eloquence and articulation of the generals as they call for soldiers to be made an example of that truly angers me, as their silver-tongued calls for patriotism and loyalty while they hide behind their fortifications is utterly maddening, if a bit heavy-handed.
But it's also in the depiction of the battlefield where the film really gets me. The utterly alien landscape of the trenches at night, as the patrol scampers about, is a suitable reflection of the totally inhuman trial that will soon dominate the film. Combined with the claustrophobic tracking shots through the trenches, as well as that great pan during the actual attack, this is as well-directed a film as Kubrick ever made. And that final scene, when the soldiers realize what they have lost and what war has done to them, is heartbreaking.
Simply one of the finest anti-war films ever made.
The Mist (2007)
Amateurish and overwrought
This is one of the most overrated films of the year, and it's certainly not one of the best horrors of any timeframe. The creature designs are cool, and I guess the acting is fine enough, but the whole thing looks really shoddily put together. Aside from that great, atmospheric opening shot (loved the nod to The Thing), the camera work is really amateurish and made-for-TV (not surprising, considering they used a TV crew). Darabont should have either gone for a really raw, documentary feel (a la Cloverfield) or a painterly, stylish look, not some half-hearted hybrid. Plus the special effects are pretty bad.
It also doesn't help that the characterizations are terribly one-note and not convincing at all. Instead of real people, we're stuck with some stock stereotypes and unbelievable characters, so there's no sense of emotion when any of them die. Marcia Gay Harden couldn't have been any more one-sided if she tried. And the film's message is hammered home with such force that I'm surprised they didn't start invoking Lord of the Flies near the end.
I spoiled myself on the ending, so it really didn't shock me like it should (or could) have, but I really didn't find it effective regardless. It's rushed, it's silly, and it turns borderline hilarious with Thomas Jane's anguished screams. Best horror ending, I think not.
Save your time (and money) and go watch The Shining again.
Time Bandits (1981)
Childish but fun
Fun and inventive and often hilarious. You can tell that Gilliam's just having fun with this, though, and then he buckled down and made Brazil. There's a real sense of childishness and frothiness to the whole thing. I mean, what's it about really? There's some stuff about technology and bureaucracy ruining imagination (themes he expanded upon later on), but this is just a fun adventure flick.
But it does that really well. The Python sense of humour works wonders with history (especially loved John Cleese as Robin Hood), and there's rarely a joke that doesn't work. Still, that long sequence with Agamemnon really drags and feels quite out of place. Connery is pretty wasted in what is, essentially, a straight role with no comedic partner to play off of. And the climax, while fun, is pretty silly.
As far as Gilliam goes, you could certainly do worse, but this is far from the heights of Brazil or Twelve Monkeys, or even Holy Grail. Even so, it's not a throwaway, though it occasionally feels like one.
Les diaboliques (1955)
Based on a novel by the same authors who were also adapted for Vertigo, this is a dark, scary, and deadly serious thriller with oodles of suspense and a heart-stopping ending. The plot is laid out simply, and it progresses quickly; the tension is soon amped up as the mystery deepens. There's no hint of irony or comedy in its tone; the brutal events and actions are depicted with unflinching solemnity. Its supernatural qualities grow as the story unfolds, but the ending ties all the loose ends up and ends on a distinctly depressing note. Even the final scene, returning some of the mystery with a hint of ambiguity, cannot lift this film's spirits up.
I found the macabre tone a bit off-putting at times, but its manner of storytelling and horrific tale cannot be overlooked. The last five minutes or so are truly terrifying, and I would've liked more of that pure horror throughout, but the use of suspense is just as effective. The slow psychological breakdown of the main character is portrayed well, if not too subtly, and the horrific climax is the perfect scene to top it off. I also would've liked a bit more style and expressionism to the camera work and production design, as they utilize the same brutal realism that the plot does, but they are effective nonetheless.
A must-see for fans of Hitchcock and horror nuts especially.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Faithful, not boring, but very dry
It's faithful enough to the novel without being boring, and it's surprisingly sharp-witted, considering the overall feel of it. It manages to make Wilde's wordy prose and dialogue feel natural enough - George Sanders is particularly terrific as basically Wilde himself - and this means it keeps the themes and message of the novel without adapting it word-for-word. In that case, it's a relatively impressive adaptation.
Still, there's not a lot to it. The lead's stone-faced performance is either brilliant or terrible, depending on how you want to look at it, and the portrait itself isn't showcased enough (though its horrible unveiling, in full Technicolour, is one of the film's highlights). The whole thing looks beautiful enough, but there's not a lot of horror to it. None of it is scary or frightening. There's no passion to it. It's a very dry film.
I'd say the positives outweigh the negatives, as it's enjoyable and entertaining enough, but there's a lot here that could be done better. A full-throttled remake could be something really special. Unfortunately, all we've got is a bunch of half-baked, BBC stuff and some low-budget stuff that never sees the light of day. Shame.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
It's solid enough for a Best Picture winner. The characterizations are deep and fleshed-out, and this is only enhanced by the two great lead performances (I would've given the Oscar to both of them), but I found myself wanting a bit more meat on the actual story. The whodunit mystery lacks real interest, and I wanted something more engaging and intriguing for these characters to do. I also found myself perplexed by the solution at the end - far too confusing a mystery to be an effective one. This may seem like a contradiction, but what I really wanted was a meaningful, layered story, not a twisted, confounding one.
It's got a great sense of style about it, helped by that great score and Jewison's often flashy direction. But, in the grand ol' year of 1967, it's got nothing on Bonnie and Clyde or even The Graduate. So, a solid enough BP winner, if not a deserving one.
Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)
It's a buddy cop movie with some distinctly Canadian humour that's all about hockey. So, pretty much the most awesome movie ever made.
There's nothing artistic or high-brow about its supposed 'style', and the hockey parodies are really obvious and fairly unfunny, but it's hard to top this kind of sheer outrageous fun nowadays. The banter between the leads is pretty great, and the linguistic comedy is occasionally hilarious. Still, it's rather embarrassing that this is both the highest grossing Canadian movie ever and the winner of the Genie for Best Picture in its year.
Actually, thinking about it, it's still better than Titanic. So maybe not that embarrassing.
It's basically a thematic sequel to Videodrome. It deals with a lot of the same questions of virtual realities, existentialism, and media culture, only it does so fifteen years later, using video games and cyberculture, instead of television, as its starting point. And it's just as brilliant. The use of nested realities is both intriguing and thought-provoking, and the wonderfully self-aware performances from the two leads only add to this. Cronenberg tackles issues as wide-ranging as technology, sexuality, morality, and reality, and he does so in a much more subtle and effective way than was done in The Matrix, which overwhelmed this film. Plus there's his trademark grotesque imagery, a dark sense of humour that pervades every moment, and even a touch of self-reflexivity. Don't be dissuaded by the similarities to other films of its ilk; this is a superbly original work.
Visionary, absurd, and viciously satirical
It's visionary, it's absurd, it's hilarious, but most of all - it's downright terrifying. Gilliam's trademark brand of bone-dry, pitch-black humour makes for some vicious satire, which is only aided by the brilliant production design and mishmash of genres. Indeed, the compaction of the entire 20th century into a single patchwork cultural pastiche, combined with the purposefully vague time and place, hammers down the point that this is not a parodic vision of some futurist dystopia, it's a commentary on our own times. And so it's not really a science fiction work at all, though the fantastical settings and technological advances certainly help. This is a political satire, through and through. And it's one of the best films of all time.
Chung Hing sam lam (1994)
Colourful, expressive, powerful.
I found it extraordinarily powerful and nearly emotionally overwhelming. The use of colour, slow-motion, fast-motion, music, and several visual motifs makes for a truly sensual experience. This is not a film of narrative continuity, character development, or psychological motivations (though it's certainly not lacking in the latter two). This is a film based entirely around the notion of being a film, and everything that comes with that. It's not an animated storybook. It's not a visual novel. This is a movie. Every shot is expertly crafted, every cut timed specifically, every moment utilized perfectly to maximize effect. Only one film in, and Wong Kar-wai is already one of my favourite directors. This is a masterpiece.
Not really sci-fi, but the ideas and themes run much deeper
I really likes how it draws the viewer in with its promise of sci-fi spectacle and ideas, but then shifts gears and becomes something else entirely. I'd argue that it's not really science fiction at all, it just uses it as a base for its larger purpose. At its heart, it's really a psychological drama, and though I usually prefer sci-fi, I really dug the ideas and themes it got going through its human relationship. I read that Tarkovsky didn't like 2001 because it was cold and distant, and so set out to make this film differently, but I didn't really view it as the 'anti-2001'. It's an entirely different type of beast entirely.
It's a film first and foremost about memory, and in that regard it's a lot more similar to something like La Jetée in the sci-fi realm. From the opening scenes where Kris is gazing sadly into a pond, the film is almost completely concerned with the effects that lost loves and past memories have upon us. When Kris first encounters his deceased wife in the space station, he doesn't know how to deal with it at first, and he sends her away in a rocket. When he encounters her again, he becomes afraid to lose her again, and thus when she risks death to be near him (by busting through a door), he vows not to leave her side again, foregoing his mission to stay with her. It's almost as if he falls in love again, and it's interesting to see it happen.
Even more intriguing, though, is the actual character of the wife, Hari. Though she is nothing more than a manifestation of Kris' thoughts at first (she can not even exist without him there, as evidenced by her door-busting antics), the way she evolves into a real human being by the end of the film is probably the most interesting part of this film. It brings up all these ideas of what it means to be human and where our memories come from, and this, in my opinion, is a lot more compelling than Kris' story. When Hari, the manifestation, eventually decides to commit suicide by drinking liquid oxygen (only to return to life, moments later, in a terrifying and disturbing sequence), it conjures up even more questions. Is the manifestation doomed to follow the path of the original, who also died by her hand? Perhaps no shot is as provocative as the final one, though. Just as we've thought that Kris has returned home to reconcile with his father, the camera pulls back to reveal that he is, in fact, on one of the island that has formed on the surface of Solaris' ocean. So many questions abound. Does Kris know he's on Solaris? Why is he there? Is he, really, or is the planet manifesting him as well? It's one of the more baffling and affecting final shots in cinema (right up there with 2001 and Planet of the Apes, as far as sci-fi goes), and it just feels like the perfect ending. The film ends where it began, at Kris' father's home, but it's not the same place at all. The journey of the story is at once linear and circular.
I don't feel like I got everything on just one viewing, so I'll definitely be watching it again. It certainly doesn't feel like a masterpiece - certain scenes feel strange and out-of-place - but when viewed as a whole, I don't know what else you can call it. It's one of the greatest films I've seen, let alone in sci-fi, and I truly look forward to visiting it again someday.
Looks cheap and feels awkward
When it works, it really works. Reno is great, Portman is impressive, the two have great chemistry, and the action scenes are exhilarating. When it doesn't work, though, it really doesn't work. Oldman is basically playing the same role he was stuck with throughout the 90s (though he gives it his all), the direction is bland and damn near amateurish, the whole film looks cheap, and the core relationship, while developed well, leaves a bad taste in one's month. A little too much awkward sexual tension. I think the problem is that Portman's role was written for someone older, and, as such, she just seems too young. It's rather overrated, and it's also dated by some terrible, terrible music choices.
Ivanovo detstvo (1962)
For my first taste of Tarkovsky, I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something much more bitter, but this actually came off as rather sweet. In other words, it was a lot easier to comprehend than I thought it would be. There's an interesting dynamic that develops by positioning the lead character as a twelve-year-old adult, of sorts, and it's contrasted well with the rather childish soldiers that compose the supporting cast. It's also very expressionist, and that helped to convey what the dialogue or characters couldn't. And the ending is brutal, ruthless and totally fitting. A bit rough around the edges, but an impressive start for one of the directors I want to see more of.
Horí, má panenko (1967)
Funny but awkward
It's a pretty funny and witty slapstick comedy, until you realize that you're laughing at the objectification of women and the corruptness of bureaucracy. So, in that sense, it's a pretty sly sociopolitical commentary. So sly, in fact, that you don't even notice it in the film. You've got to read up on it to figure out what Forman was making fun of, and even then he denies any meaning behind the humour. The non-actors and natural dialogue add to the absurdity of the situations, and the end's got a similar sharp veer towards tragedy as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In fact, the humour in both films is the same, as what you're laughing at really shouldn't be that funny at all, but it is. Overall, this is a light but deep (if that makes any sense) product of the Czechoslovak New Wave, and it's definitely worth a watch.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
I'm not sure where to start with my praise.
I could talk about the story, how it tells both the tale of Plainview and the oil rush while also being about neither in particular. It's a narrative that could be told in any time, in any place in America, with any protagonist. It could just as easily be the saga of Howard Hughes or Henry Ford. But it's also very directly about oil. It's an interesting dichotomy.
I could talk about the acting, how Daniel Day-Lewis steals the show and is also very nearly matched by Paul Dano in his dual role where you're never really sure if there's two characters or not. But if Dano's performance is terrific, than Day-Lewis is nothing short of legendary. It will go down in history as one of the few outstanding one-man shows in cinema, up there with Orson Welles and Jack Nicholson.
I could talk about the visuals, how every shot seems sprung out of the mind of an insane genius. The exploding oil well is the highlight, of course, but there's also the fantastic dialogue-free opening that wouldn't feel out of place in bloody 2001. Combined with the frantic, alien score and the impeccably accurate sets and costumes, this is a film that is both a period piece and something else entirely.
I could talk about the themes, but I'd take way too long. I could talk about the music over and over again. I could talk about the bloody credits. I could talk about the bowling alley and milkshakes and whiskey. But I'll just say this: "I'm finished."
Lifeless, bland, insert adjective here
Wow, I'm not even sure I saw the same movie as most of you. I found it to be blandly directed and almost totally lifeless from beginning to end. Even the much-ballyhooed one-take, which I would normally be a huge fan of, didn't move me or excite me at all. I just followed it mindlessly. I suppose my problem is I didn't buy any of it: I didn't buy the romance, I didn't buy the tragedy, I didn't buy Briony's regret. I actually kinda liked the first third-ish, up until Robby was arrested. It set up the story in an interesting way; it craftily showed Briony's distorted perception, which culminated in her false accusation. But once the story shifts to Robby and the war it just dies. We should have stayed with Briony the whole time, seen her grow up, seen her regret worsen and deepen, seen her ultimate act of atonement as actually meaning something. But instead we're left with some shoddy war scenes, a choppy final act, and a completely unfair and unrealistic ending.
I mean, it's not terrible. I thought Ronan was terrific and the dialogue (at least in that first third) was sharp and witty and enjoyable. But after just having seen TWBB, it just doesn't even compare.
I think the best compliment I can pay is this: even though it's lengthy, even though it's slowly paced, and even though it has nothing close to an action sequence, it's never boring, it's never predictable, and it's never anything less than utterly compelling. The two leads are fleshed out so deeply that, by the film's end, you know exactly why these two men are doing what they're doing, without need of explanatory dialogue or rich narration. And it's complimented by two of the best performances of the year: Pitt's rogue, mysterious, and near-evil outlaw contrasted perfectly with Affleck's quiet, awkward, and off-putting coward. I think it's fascinating how Ford is the real protagonist of the film, and how his consuming desire to become Jesse James culminates in a devastating and fitting finale. Coupled with the beautiful cinematography (I particularly loved the shots with the hazy edges) and the terrific score, this is a character study of the highest order.
I guess my problem with it is that I found the story to be too conventional and I wasn't as emotionally impacted at the film's end as I should have been. The wonderfully surreal dreams and nightmares and flashbacks do a terrific job of outlining Isak's character and his empty life, but I felt that the story in the present didn't accurately reflect what the stories of the past implied. The elder Isak wasn't cold, wasn't harsh, and didn't deserve the loneliness which had crept over him. And, as such, I felt like his character didn't really grow over the course of the narrative, as I didn't think he was that distant to begin with. There's some redemption to be found with his son, of course, but why was that redemption required? I just thought Isak's character didn't fit within the context of the flashbacks.
I suppose I'll probably like it better once I understand Bergman more and watch it again, but for now, I'll just have to be disappointed.
Great acting wasted
Sure, Gosling and Hopkins are both pretty great, but if only they were given something to do! Instead, we're stuck with The Silence of the Devil's Advocate, only without anything interesting happening. This film had the perfect opportunity to have some great courtroom fireworks, with the kind of brilliant back-and-forth usually only found in an Aaron Sorkin script, but, as Sorkin is nowhere near this project, we get some half-assed character development and a terribly weak 'story'. Not to mention that utterly inane, retarded conclusion, which not only requires every character to act moronically, but also assumes that the audience will find the twist much more interesting than it actually is. This is John Grisham for people who don't like reading.