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9/10
Terrifyingly Beautiful
29 July 2006
This film is an eye-opening look at Italian life during WWII. It reminds me of the stories my grandfather tells me of his life in 1930s Florence during the war, "We didn't have money for anything, not even water. The rich had it all." This movie shows us the sparseness of their lives, and the things that they still hold dear. There are scenes in which it is almost hard to watch, we are torn apart by the brutality of the war, but we are entranced by the people who are living through it. We meet ruthless fascists, and caring catholic priests and every moment describes to us the terrifying truth, and the hope that lets one continue. I could not imagine a more realistic, and emotional epic on the subject.
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The Matador (2005)
10/10
Absolutely Fantastic
23 July 2006
I believe that this is a classic. It is beautiful and subtle, the viewer is not beat over the head with fish-out-of-water jokes. We see a true reaction to an everyman meeting an assassin. The movie is sufficiently serious to make the humorous moments laugh out loud. There are touching moments between two people who could not be more different, and there is a sense of reality. This is not the story of what could happen in an alternate universe, as the film could have been, but what could actually happen. Pierce Brosnan quips: "Just consider me the best cocktail party story you ever met" and it is perfectly true. This is something a vacationer would love to happen to them, a real adventure. But the life of an assassin is not a story, it is much more than that. The film is very realistic, and the humour is enhanced by this. I would suggest it to anybody who has not seen it.
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7/10
An interesting escape
23 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I rather like this film. It's almost a guilty pleasure since it is so unrecognized. It is a true journey, the viewer follows 'young' David as he encounters struggles that any human being would be baffled by. There is a certain naivete that is both entertaining and endearing among the mechas. It creates a compassion for the various machines we meet, that one would usually reserve for a child or animal. This also explains the beautiful friendship between Joe and David. They are much like two children experimenting in the world, and they treasure each other, though the unity is very tenuous; we can assume that since a machine cannot love the friendship cannot be enduring. So the fact that they seek other people, and acceptance, allows us to see ourselves, and our own wants in the characters.

Some people might say that the ending is contrived or anticlimactic, but I really enjoy it. Kubrick is the antithesis of Shyamalan; his endings are understated rather than exaggerated. When David sits in the submarine for 2000 years he is acting out what William Hurt's character described to the viewer before: hope. It is the everlasting motivation for life. The fact that he can hold this wish for 2000 years as he wastes away under water reminds us that he is not human. We must keep this in mind, the fact that Joe and David are not 'real' brings questions to the viewer's mind and forces us to confront the question of 'what is real?'. To any viewer that has not seen the film I suggest finding a comfortable couch, on a Sunday afternoon, and sitting down to experience it.
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7/10
A Study in Beauty and Decay
12 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In Luchino Visconti's film Death in Venice, it is not only the beauty in the surrounding world that decays, but in the pursuit of beauty itself Gustav von Aschenbach decays into a mere shell of a man. To understand the decay, we must acknowledge the beauty which enchants us, it is best described, and explained in a quote from Socrates found in Thomas Mann's version of Death in Venice, "beauty alone, is lovely and visible at once… it is the sole aspect of the spiritual which we can perceive through our senses… Else what…if the divine, if reason and virtue and truth were to speak to us through the senses? Should we not perish and become consumed by love?" We see in the film this very thing happen, the man becomes enveloped by a longing for beauty, which turns into a longing for the boy, Tadzio. Even though the levelheaded part of his mind tells him that adoration of beauty can lead to sensuousness and abandon, he cannot contain himself.

It would be easy to describe this as a beautiful film; early on we see the extravagance of the parlor, and we are treated to a perfect summarization of turn-of-the century upper class life, all captured on film perfectly by cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis. But Visconti does not indulge in the picturesque aspects of Venice. Instead, the glorious and sensuous artistic achievements of the past are based on materialism and sensuous beauty, and these things are relegated to the past. The city we know to be of incomparable beauty and uniqueness is nothing more than a leisure resort with a nosy hotel staff. The streets become exhausting labyrinths filled with disgusting filth and rot, the city decays in step with the protagonist. Only through the flashbacks are we allowed a glimpse of why this famous composer is a frail and innocuous man. The death of his daughter, and presumably his wife, along with the failure of his music allow us to understand why he is destroying himself.

Alfred, with whom Aschenbach has in depth conversations on the meaning of beauty and who can create it; but Alfred is more than a friend, he is Aschenbach's alter-ego, and what Alfred says articulates the composer's own doubts and fears. The scene in which Aschenbach decides to leave Venice is immediately followed by a clip of Alfred telling him that he is weak, alienated and lacks feelings. In the end we might be able to conclude that these flashbacks are not reality at all. It is a decay of memory, rather than objective renderings of the past, these flashbacks become distorted memories. We can say that these are decayed memories because even Aschenbach alludes to it, he declares, "reality distracts and degrades us;" and, following the scene in the travel agent's office we see Aschenbach confront Tadzio and his family and warn them - leave Venice, but directly after the encounter we see him sitting with the clerk again and realize it was all in his imagination, he employs long scenes without dialogue that are framed by the poignant music of Gustav Mahler. He allows the viewer's mind to wander as we watch Aschenbach's life and respectability decay with the beauty around him.

Slowly the viewer realizes that our hero is overwhelmed by exhaustion that is mixed with a growing awareness that the town is suffocating in filth. The crumbling city sets the stage for the middle aged man's attraction to Tadzio, it is romantic longing for something so idealized and ambiguous that it can never be consumed, even in fantasy. The beauty of this Polish boy kindles a fire in him that, at first, makes him glow, then consumes him. The film concludes with von Aschenbach sitting feebly in a beach chair watching Tadzio fight with his friend, we see the black dye from his hair running down on his cheek and it looks like rotten blood, it is a vision of his life's expiring moments, though before his last breath. The final decay has happened, all around him the city is soiled, and with it he has become what he detests. As Aschenbach dies he has the same painted face as the old man on the ferry at the beginning of the film, a man that had disturbed him. It was the pursuit of beauty that initiated his decay, in the pursuit of artistic beauty he could not sense his own demise, and that of the city around him; his sensuality is indulged in, while constantly kept in check by the presence of death and decay. It is these three themes that tie The Damned and Death in Venice together, beauty, death, and decay, these themes are Visconti's art, the beauty of his work is in the decay of beauty itself.

In this film we are treated to the deliquescence of one great man. We see the honored composer Gustav von Aschenbach in the pursuit of true and pure beauty, and it is in the pursuit of this trait that it decays all around him and leads him to a miserable, lonely death watching the target of his affection. I believe that through these movies Visconti is trying to tell us that what is beautiful cannot last. Decay is intrinsic in the world around us, and when we become distracted, it can destroy the splendor. In Death in Venice, it is because of culture and through the pursuit of beauty that all is deleted. Beauty and deliquescence are woven together like thorns in Visconti's works, at once beautiful and destructive, it is these themes that define his art.
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7/10
A laborious, but fascinating movie
3 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie follows Glauco, an insomniac who entertains himself at night with the small things in life, a newspaper, his dinner, or even his reflection. As the viewer follows his actions it is so slow, and so drawn out, that we actually begin to feel his boredom, and find entertainment in the details of the movie, much as he does in his life. If you're more of a fan of Bruckheimer than Visconti you will not find this movie entertaining enough, but paying close attention to the shots, scenes, and characters you will find this movie intensely interesting. It is through the feelings in the film, the closed in, slow and meaningless life he leads at home, we start to understand and appreciate the way he finds joy. (POSSIBLE SPOILER) Until his meandering ways lead him to the ultimate form of immediate entertainment, immediate and indefinite. It is a window into a new life, which we have to believe he will also grow tired of. And it finishes in the same odd fashion, our strange character riding off into the sunset.
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Il Bidone (1955)
8/10
A Heart Wrenching Comedy
3 February 2006
This movie follows the exploits of Augusto and his team of unscrupulous crooks, they cheat and swindle the poorest, and most helpless, of the Italian countryside stealing what little savings these people have for promises of immense riches. They then return to Rome where everyone seems to be trying to work the other, each character and minor character tries to outwit the other. There are a few very subtly funny hustling scenes that are offset by the tragic everyday life of Augusto. He is no longer a young hustler, but a middle aged crook with nothing to look forward to. That is, until he sees his young, and estranged daughter Patrizia, and he sees her as a way to make his life more meaningful, or maybe, less lonely. (POSSIBLE SPOILERS) And she only needs a small sum of money to help her get on her feet, so Augusto, the working man he is, tries to help her. The viewer gets the feeling that it might actually be one last bidone, or big swindle, and for once he has a legitimate reason. But, in the life of Augusto nothing can be as easy as that. Augusto's character is forlorn and sad, but, if I might add, if the last scene does not leave a lump in your throat you are a stronger man than I.
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