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"Give a man a mask, and he will tell you the truth." - Oscar Wilde
5 November 2018
Here's a movie that's alive. Made over 40 years ago, only finished recently, and finally released now is the final film of Orson Welles, the great director and ego whose career is filled with botched visions, diamonds in the ruff, and a few masterpieces as well. It's impossible to watch this film without thinking of its making. Restless, vérité, essayist, energetic, and utterly incomparable to his other great films, despite the greatness of this one, because what is left is purely raw filmmaking. Not many films have observed this rare style, which results in films of jarring power; an uncooked slab of meat whose incompletion either repulses or exhilarates. It's a film without a backbone, without a style, without any real composition, yet says so much about film as an art form, especially in its fundamentally voyeuristic incarnation. This is best seen in just looking at its approach. It's shot like a documentary, a type of film that directly intrudes on real life (as narrative cinema does, just nobody thinks about it because the re-enactment of drama they are watching is so immersive it feels real within the context of the story), and time seems to move like real life, without the dull moments. It's almost exhaustingly fast paced. This is not a detriment to the film, although it does induce some sort of fatigue, because it takes hostage those who love cinema as much as I do, as Welles clearly does. If you care, no matter if the film is too fast paced, you won't walk away. Firstly, it must not be looked at in the context of Welles's other art as much as in the context of Welles, the artist. F For Fake, his essayist masterpiece that for the longest time seemed his last, was about the implication of the director's role as both a magician and craftsman. The Other Side of the Wind isn't about the director's essence, but about that director, a human mess with an ego larger than the moon and a mind only concerned with the satisfaction of his own soul. He's the man and everybody else is his just one of his dogs. And they must serve him. The man is Jake Hannaford and he's obviously a great artist with poor taste and tortured sense of being. For nearly half or at least a quarter of the film we only catch glimpses of him, so for much of the time it's less about Hannaford and more the idea of Hannaford. But later we find a silhouette unmistakably belonging to Welles, or at least a poorly veiled, fictionalized caricature of him, with a soul misunderstood, a mind held by his fans in the company of God, and a body that should be condemned to purgatory. Yet we are told very little about this man's creative conscience. He always avoids pretentious questions with unrelated remarks like "get me a drink," only interested in other people who perhaps represent a piece of him. I find it impossible just how Welles might have written this film. It's a nonstop party with overlapping channels of sounds and voices (for instance, early on in the background we can subtly hear a partygoer ask "what's the difference between a dolly in and a zoom?", a question asked later in the film to Hannaford's disciple and loyal servant Otterlake, who replies "that only matters to another dolly."), relentless camera movement, and athletic blocking that is honestly indistinguishable from real life. Yet it's purely cinematic, inquiring into the form's nature armed with questions, only returning with more. And because so rarely can we ever expect to ever find lost films, we should commit more time to seeking them out. Because there are so many masterpieces already out there waiting to be found, and they might just contribute even more to explaining cinema, more than any modern reasoning ever could.
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Existential Paralysis
15 August 2017
I can opaquely identify the microscopic flaws of the perfect film "Army of Shadows" in meditation, but I can see why it moved me so enormously and thrilled me so intensely, and how it virtually paralyzed me with endless moments of pure soul. It was made by a filmmaker, Jean-Pierre Melville, whose movies are so flawed it's strange that he could produce a film this staggeringly great. I could spot several, whole entire scenes that are massively improvable in his other works, but with this film, not a single glitch is found. The film is about French underground resistance fighters who are not only facing the inhumanity of Nazis, but their own inhumanity. They've been forced to do unthinkably painful things, all out of pure love for their country. Having been a resistance fighter himself, I think Melville was attempting to show how they all thought and felt. He succeeded; you feel the raw emotional intensity in every scene. Ultimately, I sense the true reason it brought me to tears was its consummate depiction of the always sensitive human psyche. These characters are people we understand from the first time they are on screen. Lonely, every-day men predominate the dramatis personae of the film. I relate to Lino Ventura's character without having done an even marginal percentage of what his character has. It's almost like watching yourself in the mirror, without the romanticized self-depiction and vain. And through it all it's still startling how aesthetically alluring the whole affair is. The film's color palate consists of a primarily marble-like blue, with occasional touches of a warmer hue for a subconsciously apprehensive punch. All the shots are arresting and poetic in their abstract austerity, and the movement of actors and objects is so fluid that it never excites solely by nerve-wracking camera motion, but by situational suspense and facial expression. Melville often extends moments to unusual length, instead of condensing shots, which in turn heightens the intensity of scenes to often unbearable proportions. It really is strange that a director so obviously influenced by American cinema would make a movie so quintessentially French, and yet never let instances of tension and sorrow escape its clutches. Even though it's clear where Melville borrowed from his earlier works it's all for the sake of a magnum opus, and it pays off. Army of Shadows is art, and the peak of filmmaking. It's the greatest film I've ever seen.
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Sad, Moving, and Frustratingly Authentic
27 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Rocco and His Brothers, one of the greatest emotional experiences of all time, is a film of overwhelming ferocity and love. Luchino Visconti, the Italian director who helmed this masterwork, lays down the most naked essentials of the family drama, and stretches the potentially stagy narrative to a sprawling 3 hours of visceral understanding. The movie follows the silent rivalry of siblings in their transition to adulthood, taking time to carefully dissect the moral crises of each. Innocence is counterweighted by passion and love by jealousy. Visconti moves his camera in numerous long takes to, without monologue or melodramatic whines, detail the tragedy of a family fighting poverty, repression, and a loyalty to each other enforced by their protective and religious mother. The soundtrack by Nino Rota, which evokes his later masterwork The Godfather, underscores each moment of heartwrenching sincerity with organic passion and Italian prominence. The music never excesses and always excels, and never does it interrupt powerful moments; silence is used on numerous occasions to great impact. The actors Delon and Salvatori, at their undeniable best, are completely believable in their respective roles and are totally effective. Overall, this film is essentially every aspect of film extended to its highest possible quality. See it, prepare for a 3 hour runtime but don't expect to be disappointed.
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The Apartment (1960)
Touching and Hilarious
23 July 2017
What a wonderful, touching film this is, a movie that deserves the roaring laughs and glassy eyes that it inspires. It's amazing that after 57 years "The Apartment" still holds up as one of the most authentic depictions of the every-man. Our lead character, portrayed excellently by Jack Lemmon, is one of the most likable protagonists ever conceived. Created by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, he truly relates to the audience on a purely human level, allowing us to reflect on our personal psychology and memories. MacLaine's character is like a periscope into the complexity of our homosapian counterparts. She works off Lemmon beautifully, but on her own she's a tragic character, occupying a world which doesn't give back to her. And then there's MacMurray, the most distant character of the film. He tries to make things right, but ultimately fails due to his social inadequacy and marital insecurity. I strongly believe that these three characters occupy all of us, even in scattered proportions. They all represent our dark sides, kindness, and constant anxieties. Having been put in this high esteem I wouldn't find it strange to declare this an ultimate character study. It has one of the best screenplays of all time, and is quite possibly the best dramady ever made. No one ever said life was all sweet.
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Neruda (2016)
A Modern Classic
7 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
You have your conventional biopics, movies like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, which have a self-inflated poignance that makes dumb, popcorn-shoving moviegoers feel like intellectuals. On the other hand, you have your other kind of biopics, like Patton and Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, that not only tell the story of the man but also analyze his motives, psyche, and humanistic qualities. Neruda is the most recent in this prestigious canon of unconventional biographies; a well versed exercise in classic filmmaking with a modern spin. It succeeds at being auteuristic, old-fashioned, and naturalistically moving. The lead characters (expertly brought back to life by Bernal and Gnecco), connect to each other in ghostly, figurative telekinesis, as if the spirit of the human soul binds them metaphysically. Pablo Larrain, the film's director, treats the plot with superior surveillance, making sure each detail is at its maximum clarity. The script, which unavoidably brings to mind Costa-Gavras's earliest work, breaks many of the genre's clichés without losing sight of its poetically haunting story. And, lastly, I must call kudos to the film's composer, who has written a soundtrack in the tradition of Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith. See this film. Experience it.
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The Human Essence.
9 May 2017
The first time I saw "The Firemen's Ball" I found myself bored in the last quarter of the movie. But something drew me back. Nevertheless I still loved it, and knew I had experienced an incomparable piece of cinema. The second time I loved it even more, but still found a portion, albeit much less, of the movie tedious. This is the charm of "The Firemen's Ball," famously banned "forever" and Milos Forman's swan song to Czech filmmaking. It is not, in the sense of the word, a riotous comedy. There are a lot of clever sight gags and funny dialogue, but it is a matter of preference whether you prefer endless little laughs or limited big laughs. I've seen the film multiple times, and each time I see it I love it even more. It's like a cake that gets better with more and more birthdays, or rather a lovely painting that improves with touch-ups. The source for why I love this movie becomes increasingly evident with these viewings. For one, Forman structures a comedy like you should: Disperse laughs (don't aim for just the big ones and then put in boring filler as an excuse for narrative), don't leave certain parts silent so you can hear the next joke (some people might see it more than once and often what made them roll on the floor initially might later lose its edge), and lastly make sure the humor is versatile (it can appeal to both smart people and admittedly dumb people). Forman captures, as he does with all of his films, the essence of human nature. Essentially, it is a parody of the ordinary life of an everyman. There is nothing funny about this life in first person. But in third person, life is a hilarious charade of nonsense. Fans of the genre might remember the tagline on the poster of Blake Edwards' The Party: "If you've ever been to a wilder party — you're under arrest!" The party in this movie is absolutely crazy. But, seriously, all the stuff in this movie usually happens at every party, it's just how Forman chooses to adapt the camera to real life is what makes it funny. Through this cinematic filter, the ultimate joke of life is revealed. The firemen are numbskulls, the ball is out of control, the attendees are psychotic, and the 86 year old man (who his colleagues treat like a lobotomized dog) is the ultimate expression of honesty. If the Czechs had been a little less shallow, they might have realized this movie puts everybody on the same, unsinkable boat.
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A Fuller Life (2013)
1 April 2017
Samuel Fuller is one of the best. He was largely an avant-garde filmmaker, which results in the quality of his films increasing over time. White Dog, for instance, is an unmitigated masterpiece that was actually shelved when it was released. Its anti-racist message was considered "racist" before anyone actually saw the film. "A Fuller Life," a documentary about Samuel Fuller, is one of the most ingeniously crafted documentaries in a long time. The film is by Fuller's daughter Samantha, who employs the help of several people to read from his autobiography (every word of the film was written by Samuel Fuller), and utilizes footage from his films to tell the story. Samuel Fuller's overbearing presence is felt throughout the film, to the extent that when each person reads from the book, the spirit they knew leaps off the pages and their voice, and into your unsuspecting brain, which decrypts it as Fuller's voice, his words, his presence. Most of the film, maybe somewhat disappointingly, is about Fuller's time before making films. What is left is actually better than you might anticipate; it traces his sources of interest for making films. This all assists in painting a portrait of Fuller that's almost like a movie camera. But perhaps Fuller should be remembered for being a great storyteller than anything else.
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An Interesting Failure
21 March 2017
This recent spin-off of the often hilarious "The Lego Movie" is a terrifically mediocre hodgepodge of jokes and episodic, uninteresting action. I found myself bored with the assembly line-constructed script. The action is so overextended you lose interest. The audience might laugh incessantly at the Joker/Batman subplot and the now famous "Dick" joke, but it just proves that the world is becoming one big mass of brainless organisms. We go to the movies to be involved and emotionally satisfied, not to see humor-laden Michael Bay explosions. On a storytelling level, it's similar to Airplane II. It recycles what worked before and coats it with fan service. The only real difference between the two films is that Airplane II is a good movie, The Lego Batman Movie is almost, but not quite a good movie. Visually, The Lego Batman Movie is some sort of eye candy. The landscapes and characters look so tangible. On the less positive side, this is further proof that we've focused less on story and more on how we can appease uneducated idiots. If you must see this movie because your family forced you (or you're a Lego fanatic or DC enthusiast), go in with the lowest of expectations, and you might come out with mildly positive results.
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21 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH is not your typical western. It does not lapse into the clichés THE BIG TRAIL and STAGECOACH plagued upon its genre. Our heroes don't walk into a saloon and order a whiskey. It does not have a duel at high noon, nor a shootout at midnight. What we do have is a gritty, gutsy film set in the old west, where the word old is an understatement. It is 1913, the world war is about to begin. Our heroes struggle to live in a time they don't belong. The characters aren't restrained to fighting with old-fashioned colts, they have machine guns, in fact some of the cowboys carry weapons similar looking to James Bond's Walther PPK.

The story begins proper. Five cowboys ride into town. They rob a bank, and have a bloody battle with authorities. You are immediately told that this is not your standard, sprawling epic western. People fall off buildings, blood splatters out when someone gets shot. Do you hear the Magnificent Seven theme playing? I certainly don't.

Our characters are not virtuous like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. They are not necessarily good men, but by no means bad men. They are flawed. Holden is old, and has seen a lot. Betrayed far too many good people. Been responsible for the deaths of innocent citizens. Borgnine is a follower. He's tough as nails but rational and refuses to give up on his friends. Oates and Johnson only care about the dames, Sánchez just wants a thrill.

In finality I classify The Wild Bunch as the Sunset Boulevard of it genre, a tribute to the old west, rather than to the silent era. 10/10.
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