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Mary and Max (2009)
Mary and Max Review (12/24/13) Adam Elliot's 2009 animated film, Mary and Max, is a very unpleasant film. It mixes charming visuals with some of the most depressing characters I've ever seen. Mary and Max succeeds in capturing the feeling of complete hopelessness that its creators probably weren't intending.
First the good. Mary and Max has a very nice visual style. It's toned down coloration and spot on design and animation contribute to a rather evocative atmosphere. Unfortunately it evokes misery. Even the sound is good. On the whole Mary and Max has very good production value which is always nice to see in an animated film. Also there are some very nice images that have quality in themselves such as a frowning fish puffing bubbles on a cigarette beneath the sea. In addition to the visual style and production value Mary and Max maintains an involved, kinetic pacing that if you don't pay too much attention to should keep you entertained somewhat. This was the path I opted for.
Mary and Max is the most depressing film I've ever seen. It's not devastating, just depressing. It's more depressing than Paths of Glory and even The Ascent (both films which are more devastating than depressing). Mary and Max follows two sad and pitiful characters: Max and Mary. Mary is an unexceptional little girl who has uncaring parents, and no friends despite wanting friends more than anything in the world. She spends her days doing pointless things and routinely cries to herself. At one point in her life she has a loving husband and a nice job. It's not long till she trashes her career, resorts to alcoholism, and is left alone when her husband goes to live with his own gay pen pal. Then she almost commits suicide but doesn't. What a triumph. Mary is a pretty unsympathetic character. Why can't she make friends? Why is she so emotionally unstable? Everything about her character bites into me. Max is at least sympathetic because he has Asperger's. However his life is also very depressing. Like Mary, almost the only thing that he wants is a friend. His Asperger's prevents this from being a reality. Other than that he lives a tortured existence. He is looked down upon, horribly overweight with no hope of controlling it, molested by a class- mate, surrounded by stinky, doomed animals, and he lives in the most hellish depiction of New York City. Eventually he dies. The torture of these characters just makes me feel crummy.
Mary and Max knocks you down to your knees and teases you with false hope. The ending is like a worthless consolation prize when you should have won something. Mary and Max is a mediocre film ranging on poor, just because of the way it makes me feel.
Das Boot (1981)
Wolfgang Petersen's 1981 German war film, Das Boot, is the longest film I've seen in two years. I watched the director's cut which runs 209 minutes and doesn't even compare with the five hour mini-series version. Luckily for me Das Boot manages its running time perfectly and delivers one of the most suspenseful film experiences I've had in a long time. Das Boot's running time consists of drawn out suspense sequences interspersed with down-time, where the crew takes measures to deal with their boredom. Considering how entertaining these down-time sequences were I can certainly imagine Das Boot successfully running longer than it does. The suspense sequences are excellent as well. There are so many things that can go wrong on a submarine and Das Boot uses them all in fantastic intersecting patterns. The sub is trying to hide from a destroyer and drops down to the deep. So deep, it seems, that the pressure will crush the boat like a tin can. The crew strain themselves in their tortured anxiety. Boom! A depth charge rocks the sub. Das Boot is filled with moments like this. A real U-Boat interior was used in Das Boot. The camera work in this extremely limited space is profound. It dances around the men as they bustle and sweat, forming every shot perfectly. At first I was impressed with the interior motion of the set as the boat rocked back and forth. Later on the use of water gushing from every direction set a new standard for realism. Complementing the realistic set are the actors. Wonderful performances all around. The actors were able to convey an immense amount of strain in stressful situations where they were required to remain quiet. Man is a weak and fragile creature. However he is able to erect complex systems that allow him to manipulate his environment with extreme force. A submarine is one of those systems. However this is a double-edged sword because when that system fails and man is once again reduced to his weak and fragile state it can be impossible to rebuild it, especially when he's stuck on the bottom of the Strait of Gibraltar. The film's finale is the superlative representation of the stress that the U-Boat crew faces. They are running out of oxygen, there are injured men, enemies above them, their depth goes off the meter, water is flooding in, and the damn boat won't work like it's supposed to! Horrible death seems imminent. However through great resourcefulness and hours of hard work the crew are able to see the sun once more. What a glorious feeling that is, for the audience as well as the characters. Das Boot is not about a cast of characters. It is about a boat. Maybe that's why it doesn't matter so much that the men whose story we are watching fight for Hitler. Das Boot is a near masterpiece worthy of being rewatched many times despite its great length.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, takes the form of its subject matter. The film itself feels like an alien transmission received by beings incapable of realizing its true significance. For many viewers of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the film is dull and pointless. But many others decide to accept it for what it is and desire to understand it. I am in the latter, and each time I watch 2001: A Space Odyssey I feel like I understand its greatness even more.
I feel like I'm flinging the word "monumental" around a lot recently, but if that word doesn't apply to 2001: A Space Odyssey then it doesn't apply to cinema. From "the dawn of man" to "beyond the infinite" 2001: A Space Odyssey explores some of the most fascinating and significant questions to face mankind: the dramatic quirk of the mind that allowed humans to first proliferate by using tools and weapons, the place of artificial intelligence in relation to organic intelligence, the interaction between man and alien, or even god, and finally the ascension of the whole human race to a greater field of being. Not only does 2001: A Space Odyssey explore these fascinating concepts, it makes the viewer feel as if they are witnessing these incredible events firsthand. Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" carries the emotion of many scenes to an incredible height. It lends its gravity and escalation to the events depicted on screen. It perfectly complements the man-ape's first experiments with bone as it does the starchild's return to Earth. In addition to that fantastic piece of music are many others, many of them ethereal and otherworldly in themselves. The stargate sequence makes use of this kind of music but the real magic is in the visuals. Nothing that can be seen really makes sense. There is only a vague feeling of transportation across multiple fields of existence. And still it is beautiful. What this sequence does is simulate man's journey into alien territory, where things aren't likely to fit into man's expectations about the universe. The sequence is highly haunting and sublime, just like the rest of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I would be remiss not to mention the great suspense that the voyage to Jupiter scenes supply. The finale is a chilling showdown between man and his own creation: machine. As Dave finally kills his supercomputer copilot, HAL's emotional appeals feel particularly poignant. Perhaps that is because we do not know if HAL really feels or not and we feel guilty for not being able interact with him in a way that might comfort him. These are the main monumental sequences that give 2001: A Space Odyssey value, but they come at a price.
2001: A Space Odyssey represents two extremes in its storytelling. First are the fantastic scenes listed above, but equally present are drawn-out scenes that are very hard to find enjoyment in. The sequence that follows Dr. Floyd to the Moon feels particularly long and pointless. I know it's looked down upon but I must criticize the space ballet that represents the doctor's movement between space stations. I feel like the images and the editing are not proficient to match the beautiful, lilting, happy "Blue Danube." Another component of the sequence is several dialogue scenes that feel entirely too long. Knowing that the characters in these scenes do not matter for the rest of the story I felt very alienated, an emotion I would expect to be Kubrick's intention. And a fine intention it was except it was uncomfortable to see the scenes take so long, as if there was some underlying importance beyond merely divulging information. Indeed there might be but it escaped my grasp this time around. The second part I have issue with is the glacially slow build up to HAL's mutiny. I did not have much of problem with watching the boring daily activities of the astronauts, but the drawn out, painstakingly detailed retrieval of the mechanical component from the dish nearly had me in tears. Luckily the following scenes more than made up for the pain suffered in these frustratingly slow scenes.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a great film. I'm not quite ready to call it a masterpiece, even though it achieves something that I doubt any other film has.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Steven Spielberg's 1998 war film, Saving Private Ryan, is a monumental picture. It portrays the rawest, most real-feeling, vision of war that I have ever seen. Though the grave portrayals and subject matter exclude Saving Private Ryan from being a traditionally entertaining film, it is still very engaging. It falls prey to some issues characteristic of war films and some issues characteristic of Spielberg films, but those do not take away Saving Private Ryan's claim to greatness that it rightfully deserves.
There is not an ounce of blood nor spray of bullets from beginning to end that doesn't feel real. Many highly violent films lose their impact entirely when the special effects are less than convincing and when character deaths feels too complicit to the story. Thankfully Saving Private Ryan has incredible, mainly practical, special effects, and the film is not afraid to kill even its most sympathetic characters in addition to literally boat loads of extras. The opening flashback to Omaha Beach is an incredible feat in cinema and likely the best subjective view of warfare caught on film. When the doors of the boats open and German machine guns mow down the U.S. soldiers without a moment's hesitation, it is truly shocking. For one shot the camera is in the position of a soldier near the back of a boat, his comrades in front of him. The doors open and all the soldiers in frame are ripped of their lives by an unstoppable hail of bullets. The fact that I would be dead if were there is effectively disturbing. Some other shots take place underwater. Down there the screams of the dying, pounding of artillery, and incessant chatter of machine guns are muffled. For a second I felt calm and safe, before a couple bullets penetrated the water and the soldiers beneath it, calming their struggle and causing plumes of blood to rise to the surface. The scene continues in this fashion for an extended time as it follows a group of soldiers fighting their way up the beach, eventually to victory for that specific skirmish. The Omaha Beach scene sets the mood for the rest of the film, and the final battle of the bridge matches it, providing a nice bookend for the rest of the story to play out between. Some death scenes are truly disturbing. They force you to look at your own mortality right in the face. I should mention that the direction is superb. The audience is able to achieve a new perspective on war from Spielberg's outstanding ability to link action and build a sense of omniscience coupled with harsh subjectivity. I didn't detect a false move in the entire film. While the film is a true achievement, its reliance on shock causes its impact to decrease with subsequent viewings (I've seen it thrice), but I still recognize it as a great film. One thing that detracted from Saving Private Ryan, conflicting with the realism, was its sentimentality, driven by John Williams' seemingly ubiquitous score. The sentimentality felt out of place and left a bad taste in my mouth. I could almost call the film cloying at times. Thankfully, during the parts that really matter there is no music and no forced emotion, only what happens right before your eyes which is enough to change you by itself.
War films tend to be very pure. Many times they are almost exclusively about survival, an objective, and the non-romantic relationships between the soldiers. Saving Private Ryan fits into this category. For me this excludes a certain aspect of cinema that I crave. It excludes a sense of culture, artistry, and beauty. The film is too raw for my liking. Whenever the characters come to a new town they find it in a state of wreckage. The once beautiful architecture is reduced to rubble and potential strategic positions. Of course Saving Private Ryan relies a great deal on realism and the decision to maintain its purity as a war film certainly contributes to its realism. Nevertheless my complaint stands.
For what is essentially an existential film, Saving Private Ryan manages to the fill its running time with engaging scenes, one after another. There are many incidental, almost arbitrary, occurrences. The taking of the French girl, the knocking down of a wall to reveal a platoon of enemy soldiers. The list goes on. Yes these scenes are sufficiently engaging even if each one does not contribute to a central story thrust. More than that they add to the sense of mayhem and disarray that surely accompanies soldiers embroiled in such a conflict. Whereas I might be tempted to label this style as fluff or meaningless in other films, the existential mode fits Saving Private Ryan very well.
Saving Private Ryan is a great film. It is an achievement in cinema and also fascinating to watch. While a few issues prevent me from calling it a masterpiece I can confidently say that I will watch it again someday.
The Lion King (1994)
"The Lion King" is a very good movie. It's entertaining and funny. It's moving and overall a very satisfying film. But if I went through this review listing everything that's good about "The Lion King" it would be to long. It does have all of the characteristics and a technically fine movie so I will just go over some of the little things that kept me from giving this film a slightly higher rating.
The story, while completely technically proficient with all beats hit, felt a little thin to me. The story works fine, but it doesn't really explore the world of "The Lion King" and flesh out the atmosphere as I feel it should. It felt like there were missing scenes now and then.
The only other complaint is rather minor. I felt the animation was a little poor at times. While this film is mostly quite beautiful and a joy to behold, at some points the animation just felt limited. Mostly it was because of lack of detail in the environments, and small amount of character environment interaction. However like I said this amounts to be a small complaint.
Overall this is just a really good film. 7.9/10
Great but Overrated
Inception is a great movie. It has a fascinating story and amazing visual effects. The ending is incredibly moving. It is overall a cool movie. However I find it preposterous that it seems to be championed as one of the top ten movies of all time. It's great except for one thing that makes it impossible to be considered among the best ever (in my opinion apparently). The character relationships are poor. In the end as the people who had just had an adventure together filed off the plane smiling at each other, I could tell they really didn't care for each other. They had a cool trip together, but that's about it. Sure there are successful emotional arks, but all of these happen within the one character and deal with their relationship to minor characters. The major characters are more happy to get what they came for and go than to stick around and chat a little bit or even feign a connection. It just felt cold. The great movies all had this. The Dark Knight had so many scenes where people exhibited their passion for another person's life. Tuco and Blondie's relationship was one of distrust and dislike for each other, but at least Tuco gave it some life. The Shawshank Redemption was full of great relationships. Yet Inception seems to still be considered among these movies. It is simply impossible for me to imagine it up there, but whenever I look at the top 250 there it is. I usually find ways to understand others' opinions but here I cannot. Here all of you are just wrong!