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Gritty prison social drama
So begins the gritty prison drama, or at least an early incarnation of the genre. Paul Muni stars as James Allen, a young man freshly back from WWI who wants to make a name for himself. Instead of returning to his job at a factory, he hits the road looking for an engineering job. He soon arrives in New Orleans, where he is falsely accused of stealing $5 and change. He is sentenced to work on a chain gang. The inhuman conditions eventually drive him to make a daring (and painful) escape. He moves to Chicago where he finally gets a job as an engineer. He works hard for several years, continually being promoted. He ends up being one of the most respected members of Chicago society. Along the way he meets a girl who discovers his past. She uses this blackmail him. He finally calls her bluff when he wants to marry the girl he loves. The blackmailer turns him in to the police, who want to send him back to the chain gang. The city of Chicago does not want him to go. They feel he had paid his debt to society. The prosecutors from Louisiana promise him that if he willingly returns, he will be pardoned after 90 days. He agrees, as he merely wants to move on with his life. Once back on the chain gang, the prison system soon recants on their promise. He escapes once again, this time doomed to spend the rest of his life on the run.
It is imminently clear that this film has a social message. The story is based on the true memoirs of Robert E. Burns. He had hoped to expose the cruelty of the chain gangs. One scene in particular that is highly effective is where Allen his plotting his escape. The prisoners are working on removing railroad tracks. He asks a fellow prisoner to hit the shackles on his ankles so that they will bend. He will then be able to slip out of them. This means that his ankle is being hit with a sledge hammer. His desire to be free and the escape the torment of the guards is so strong that he is willing to endure this. In the end it is implied that the injustice of the system has turned him into a fearful, desperate criminal. He is willing to do almost anything to stay alive and free.
One particular movie that is of the same vein is The Shawshank Redemption. Both are about a man wrongly accused. Both are about a corrupt system. Both involve escapes. Shawshank is much more about the people and their friendships. IAAFFACG is more socially aware. It is effective at making us empathize with the convict. Paul Muni does an effective job in his role. He has almost a boyish quality about him. In this movie it makes him seem like an innocent everyman. Muni was also in Howard Hawks' Scarface. In that film, Muni's boyish quality makes seem a childish truant, which is what his character essentially is–a heartless, sadistic one at that.
LeRoy's direction is very good. His visual style is not overly complicated, but it is nicely creative at times, and far from mundane. There is a scene where footage of the chain gang working is overlapped with the picture of a calender. The men are singing and swinging their hammers in time with the music. The pages of the calender turn with each strike of the hammers. I thought this was an interesting touch. The final scene is also very memorable, as James Allen gradually faces into darkness. Very effective.
Are we happy, or do we only think we are?
Charlie Kaufman writes movies with uniquely bizarre premises and utterly human themes. In Being John Malkovich, he deals with identity, aspirations, and the hard reality of existence. Adaptation is about the creative struggle and the need to adapt and evolve with the circumstances. In Synecdoche, New York he presents us with a stylized look at our perception of life and other people. In Eternal Sunshine he searches through the meaning of love and memory. All of these descriptions are trite, insufficient, and probably inaccurate. They are, however, what I recall learning from and seeing in the films.
I just re-viewed Eternal Sunshine. I think it is his best script, and one of the best scripts of the 00′s. In all his films, Kaufman is able to create a bizarre world filled with eccentric characters that are surprisingly like each of us. I have not had to deal with the rise and fall of a relationship like Joel and Clementine do in the movie. I have had to deal with the peaks and valleys of ones. I can most certainly understand the place memory holds in our value system.
I recently saw a lecture on the meaning of happiness. The speaker noted that there are two main types of happiness: that which comes from experiencing and that which comes from remembering. This movie very effectively illustrates that there is a disconnect between the two. The lecturer noted that people who moved from Ohio to California would say that they are happier. They aren't. They remember the hard winters and are comparing their present experience to their memories. We tend to filter our memories to extremes, either very good or very bad. We tend to not place emphasis on the middle.
One of the many problems with Joel and Clementine in the movie is that they place more emphasis on present experience rather than memory. In the end, Joel comes to realize the importance of memory, and its supremacy to the present. Even though he knows his relationship with Clementine will probably fail, he is will to move ahead, if only for the pleasant memories of pleasant times.
The themes of this movie are similar to the themes of Dark City, another very good movie. The two might make an interesting double-feature, even though the forms of the movies are very different.
Pure visual humor
Playtime is as unique a movie as I have ever seen. It is a film that defies description. As Roger Ebert says, it "is one of a kind, complete in itself, a species already extinct at the moment of its birth." It was directed by Jacques Tati, hardly well-known today. He is the direct predecessor of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Tati's alter ego, M. Hulot, is very similar to those comedy stars of the silent era.
Playtime essentially has no plot. Rather, it has a series of themes and incidents. M. Hulot is a character in it, at least on the periphery. He has traveled to Paris (an ultra-modernized Paris completely of Tati's imagination) for some sort of business meeting. What type of meeting it is is rather unclear, and totally irrelevant. Hulot is just one of many recurring characters in the film. We are not supposed to know much about them. They are just part of the landscape that Tati paints.
The comedy that Tati employs throughout the film is far from the physical comedy of the aforementioned filmmakers. The film is full of sight gags, many of which are readily apparent. At one point, an American tourist wanders in a building and looks at a travel poster advertising London. In the picture we see a large, rectangular building with a London-ish double-decker bus in front. She then walks outside and sees the exact same scene, a large, rectangular building (identical to the one in the building) and a bus (this time a green Paris-ish bus) in front. At a restaurant, a glass door breaks. The doorman quickly picks up the handle and pretends to open the door for the customers, even takes tips from them. Toward the end of the movie, a number of cars travel around a traffic circle while carnival music plays. All the cars stop. After a man places a coin in a parking meter, all the cars start moving again.
I really enjoyed this film, though it isn't easily accessible. It is pure cinema, to use Hitchcock's phrase. That is, it relies solely on images to tell the story, or in this case, stories. There is almost no dialog. What dialog there is is completely superfluous. Someone compared it to 2001, though Playtime has actually less dialog than that. Most of the scenes are shot from a distance. There are no close-ups, and very few medium shots. You are able to see far too much in each scene. This technique requires you to be observant, as we are not told what to look at. Many critics have noted that you need to watch this film several times in order to contemplate all there is to contemplate.
One of the main themes is the affect that modern technology has on man, vice-versa. I was reminded of the writings of Neil Postman, who spoke often of how technology changes the way we view the world. In Playtime, technology, specifically architecture, determines much about how the characters act. It is a Huxleyan future, one where people are lulled into ambivalence.
There are many aspects of this film that cause you to think. There are also many aspects that cause you to smile. Often, the same part of the film accomplishes both. That is one mark of a great film, one that entertains while it enlightens. If you are willing to give it your time, it can reward you greatly.
Tôkyô monogatari (1953)
What can film do for you?
Some people say some films change the way they think about life. That has never happened to me. This film, however, did incite me to think about my life. It made me think about the relationship I have with my parents. It made me think about the relationship I have with my kids. It made me think about where those relationships will be in 20 years. One of the reasons this film is so great is that, like all great films, it touches on aspects of humanity we encounter everyday. And this film does it as well as any other. Ozu's direction is nearly perfect. Every aspect of the film is profoundly effective. I thought the cinematography was simple, yet intricate. The acting was superb. Every actor hit every note dead on. I especially found the parent's to be very compelling. The dialog was direct and very honest. So many times, we say one thing in order to not say the main thing. This film affected me more than most others I have seen.
Jules et Jim (1962)
Memories, of the way we were
One of the hallmarks of a great filmmaker is the ability to unite style with substance. Truffaut does this in this film with amazing dexterity. One of the main themes of the film is they way in which we idealize our youth. The earlier scenes in the film are extremely light, energetic, and carefree. That is the way the narrator, Jules, remembers them. Even though there are sad moments, and moments of foreboding, he, and we, still see them through a pleasant lens. The later scenes in the film, though less flamboyant, still have a sense of optimism and joy. This is a film that was exciting to watch. Jules and Jim are the center of the film. It is their enduring friendship and the conflict that Catherine brings to it that makes the film. They both know that Catherine is not good for them. They do everything they can to convince themselves that maybe she will change, or that possibly everything will work out well for them. Like so many people in their youth, they are overly optimistic. Yet their bond never falters. We feel sorry for them, and yet we get frustrated with them, as we see Catherine is never going to change. Rather, she is not going to stop changing from each moment. She reinvents herself every moment, while Jules and Jim are trying to establish themselves. Much like The 400 Blows, the ending is very poignant without being sentimental. It was inevitable that the film would end the way it did.
This film is about the lengths wrestlers take to loose weight and the pressure parents put on their kids to be successful. So what. These are important issues, and their are some good films that deal with these topics (Dead Poets Society and Death of a Salesman deal somewhat with the latter--I am not familiar with any other wrestling movies), but this movie is not compelling in the least bit. This movie is poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted. The dialog is a fake as John Kerry. The movies strives to be witty, but it fails. The direction is not very good. I am sure wrestlers would enjoy seeing a five minute match, but those of us not familiar with wrestling could care less. Many times the movie will cut to a reaction shot of an actor who is not giving a reaction. Which brings me to the acting, or the lack thereof. The people who are striving to be actors really aren't acting. They are barely saying their lines. Some actors can be convincing as athletes (try Hillary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, a great "sports" film), but few athletes, if any, can be convincing as anything else. This is an after school movie with aspirations of being a Lifetime movie.
Scener ur ett äktenskap (1973)
There are few other films that have the direct authenticity of this one. It is very frank, honest, tender, and heartbreaking. The performances of the two primary actors are amazing. Never once did I doubt their sincerity. In every single scene they overwhelmingly conveyed the intense and nuanced emotions of the couple. I use the word "overwhelmingly" because that is exactly what it is. At times it is hard to watch. Especially the scene in which Johan admits his infidelity. I could feel Marainne's hurt/anger/confusion. There are moments of intense tenderness, as in the last scene where Johan comforts Marianne after her nightmare. To be sure, the actors had some incredible material with which to work. Bergman knows human nature as much as any of modern writer. His dialog is poetic at times, and achingly authentic at others. They way the couple eviscerates and dissects each other is alarmingly, yet honest. Rarely is a character saying what they actually feel. Rarely do the characters know what they feel. They, like many people, really are "emotional illiterates." Bergman's direction is minimal, and that is what makes it so effective. The emphasis is completely on the characters and their existences. This is a powerful, evocative film. And I have seen only the theatrical version. I can imagine the full TV version is even more detailed.
A burgeoning director
I see the makings of a great director in this film. It is very funny. I like the line from when the CIA is about to help out the revolution:
"Which side are we on this time? "The CIA isn't taking any chances. We sending men to both sides."
There is some good physical comedy and sight gags. His dream is pretty funny. Overall this is a good film, though there isn't much thematic unity. I can see Allen really mature as a director in his late 70s and 80s film, most notably "Manhattan" "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Hannah and Her Sisters." Many people don't like Allen's almost constant homages to his favorite directors, primarily Bergman. I like them. I think that most of them work. I like the homage to "The Battleship Potemkin" in this one. I was looking for a silly, witty film, and this one fit the bill.
The New World (2005)
The best at what he does
Terrence Malick is one of those directors that has created a genre of film-making, and he is best at it. Many indie filmmakers today attempt to imitate his style, but are unsuccessful (I am thinking in particular of David Gordon Green and "Undertow", a film produced by Malick). He is a master of visual poetry. Nearly every person that liked this film mentions the astonishing visuals, and they are perfectly justified. This film is lovely. I don't think that each scene is as tightly constructed as in a Hitchcock film. For Malick the Gestalt is more important that the individual scene. This film is very impressionistic. I cannot note any specific scene that stood out to me. The compilation of scenes is what gives the film substance. Malick is a very naturalistic filmmaker. He is more interested in how his characters interact with nature and how nature interacts with the characters. The narrative is not the main objective, that is why the narrative is highly corrugated. One of the aspects of the film I liked the best was the voice over narration. That is something that has stuck me about all of his films. It is not tightly connected to the narrative. It is on another level, and yet it has everything to do with the narrative. Sometimes it seems superfluous and pretentious, but most of the time it is very provocative. You have to think about it since it is perpendicular to the narrative. This is not Malick's best film. That honor goes to "Badlands", his first. But this film is very good.
His Girl Friday (1940)
Parody at its best
There is way too much dialogue for this film. That is certainly not a bad thing. There is enough dialog for films 4 times as long, and yet all of it fits perfectly into this film because of Hawks' precision direction and the fabulous acting. Hawks finds a way to include all the dialog without making it confusing or tedious. He establishes a very tight flow for all that is going on. I almost felt out of breath at the conclusion. The actors do a superb job of not merely reciting their lines, but reacting to each other, vocally and physically. One could almost watch this movie without sound and still follow the interplay. The subtle body language and facial expressions are as perfectly timed and choreography as anything else. I really enjoyed that this wasn't just a wacky comedy. Underneath the flashy surface is a very direct satirical commentary. This film makes a strong statement on the cutthroat mentality of the press and their skewed method of reporting the "facts". The reporters don't actually deal with facts; they spew out opinions disguised as facts. The state of the press is not much different today. None of the characters are very appealing. They are either jackals or pansies. It is easy to forget that with all the witty banter. I think this is a highly entertaining, very insightful film. Top notch.
The Great Escape (1963)
One throughly entertaining film
This is as entertaining as a POW film can be. It is primary a lighthearted film, though it does have its serious moments. The characters are all very colorful. They are not overly stereotyped since this film helped to created the stereotypes. I enjoy that facts the prisoners get to work on escape before their feet hit ground. It is the thing that prisoners must do. The actors are all very good. Steve McQueen is my favorite--not because he is the best actor, but because he is so cool. Nobody makes riding a bike into a barbed wire fence more imitable than he. James Garner is perfect as the "Scrounger". I like the scenes where he is working on the German soldier. I really enjoy all the scenes where we get to see the soldiers working, and all the creative ways in which they get the job done. Though this doesn't have the psychological complexity of "Bridge on the River Kwai", it is one of my favorite war movies.
The Apartment (1960)
A precise satire
Billy Wilder has made some tremendous satires. "Sunset Boulevard" is one of the greatest satires on film. "The Apartment", though not as cynical, is a very good one as well. I like that the satire is a backdrop for the main love story, and yet an integral part of it. The film shows just how much people are will to prostitute themselves in order to get what they want, whether that be a family or an executive office. Wilder handles some very serious and bawdy themes with a precise touch. This film could have easily turned into a wacky comedy of errors, but he is much to talented and sympathetic for that. He gives Baxter's character some sincere emotional depth. I could almost feel his loneliness and longing in many scenes. He is never really sure what he wants and how he can get it. He is a man searching for something, and he doesn't quite know it. Lemon plays this role to perfection. He doesn't go overboard. He gives the character the right amount of silliness and charm. McClaine is very strong. Her character is not stereotyped. She is a wounded soul that is looking for respite in the absolutely wrong place. I found her very charming and lovable. Some much of the film is in the wonderful cinematography. Wilder uses the widescreen to its fullest capability. The framing is so precise. You get a feeling of utter separation and distance. I really like the nearly infinite succession of desks in the office.
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Raptors with walkie-talkies
A film can be fun and purely entertaining without being serious. This is not that film. There are many good special effects, though nothing that we haven't seen before. The plot is very predictable and silly by any standards. It is all pretty standard, and that means it is absurd. The filmmakers don't have the guts to go completely over the top, i.e. "Tremors", and what we get is pretty ridiculous. Sometimes it is funny accidentally, but not often. I would have been happy with even a few more incidental laughs. The acting is sub par. With all the good actors, you would think they could do something with the plot, but they don't. Not even a genius could sculpt a David out of a pile of crap. I don't expect JPIV to be much different.
Lola rennt (1998)
More than just action
This is an action film that is much more than an action film. I was entirely engrossed in the plot. I didn't find anything in it that was contrived or unrealistic. Even as I write that, I realize that there are some elements toward the end that are a bit fantastic. Yet they didn't seem to me to be absurd. It fit in so well with the overall theme of the film that I didn't even think about it being a bit crazy. It was sincerely exciting. You are seeing the same basic plot three times, yet you do not have any idea what is coming. One of the elements of the film I like the best are the dialog scenes between Lola and Manni. There are two of them--one for each of their perspectives. The dialog is simple yet meaningful. They talk about everything while talking about ostensibly nothing. It reminds of some scenes from Goddard's "Breathless". This is a very good film
Red Eye (2005)
This movie doesn't do anything. The plot is incomplete (who are the villains who want to kill the one homeland security guy and why exactly do they want to do it), unrealistic (why would these high-tech assassins base their plans on one woman being able to change the room, and why would the homeland security guy trust in a twenty-something hotel manager and not check into the room switch any further), and predictable. We knew that Lisa would a some point turn into Superwoman, and cleverly escape the clutches of the evil Jack. We knew that there would be a showdown between Lisa and Jack, ending with Lisa's victory, and Jack's violent demise. We could assume that the family of the homeland security guy would be safe. We knew that in the midst of severe trauma the ordinary people would come up with "witty" remarks. There were no surprises in this movie. The characters are as deep as a pool of rain water. The actors do a decent job. They just have nothing with which to work. The action is predictable and ridiculous. I am not sure why this movie was made. It did nothing.
La strada (1954)
In this movie, Felini shows he understands human nature. We all desire to be loved, to be needed, to be significant. We all do the things we do, and seldom stop doing them, often unaware why we do them. This movie deals with those human universals in a ostensibly simple and touching matter. Not many filmmakers have a touch delicate enough to handle such matters without sentimentality or cliché'. He is very honest and sincere. Anthony Quinn is terrific as Zampano. Guilietta Masina is adorable as Gelsomina. Richard Baseheart is very convincing as the Fool who can't help but be a fool. Felini is very sympathetic towards his characters. He is able to draw us in so that we sympathize as well. This is a tremendous film.
Inherit the Wind (1960)
A rhetorical masterpiece
I read one review that called this film a "fictionized" account of the Scopes "Monkey Trial." That is not entirely accurate. It is more of an editorialized account of the trial. The names of the principal players have been altered, William Jennings Bryan becomes Matthew Harrison Brady, yet the story is the same. This is an opinion piece. This film is designed to argue a specific viewpoint, and it does it rather successfully. I do not agree with the conclusions of the film. I do not agree with the beliefs of the filmmakers, yet I think the film is very effective. One of the primary rhetorical devices of the film is to marginalize the "Religionists". Each of them, whether it is the townsfolk, Brady, or Reverened Jeremiah Brown, are made to be buffoons--ignorant and hateful. One review said the character of Brady was overblown. I think that is the point. He is supposed to be a pompous, arrogant, loud-mouthed moron. I like the fact that you almost always see him stuffing his face with food. This strengthens the image of him as a gluttonous simpleton. This type of rhetorical device is very effective. The sanest, most logical, most humane people in the film are the ones in support of Cates and in opposition of the Creation-only viewpoint. The Reverend is willing to sacrifice his own daughter for his supposed fanatical beliefs. This is one of the most powerful aspects of the film. It portrays Christians as heartless, blind followers. I don't think this is always true, but the film makes it seems as though it is. Even without the rhetorical aspects of the film it is very good. The courtroom scenes are a paradigm for conveying claustrophobia and paranoia. The people are trapped in this hot, confined space. It becomes a tremendous metaphor for the town's belief system. The acting is superb. Each actor hits each scene with just the right note. I think one of the greatest dialog scenes in all of cinema is the final courtroom battle, which is taken almost verbatim from the actual trial. The two actors are at the top of the game as engage in a titanic verbal spar. The cinematography effectively portrays the collapse of Brady's arguments, and eventually his whole life. The dialog in this scene, and throughout the entire movie, is some of the best there has ever been. This is an excellent film. Even for one who doesn't agree with the philosophy of the film, I can appreciate the artistry of this great film.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Greatest "American" Film
If there is a better film about America and American ideals, I have yet to see it, or even hear of it. Frank Capra is the quintessential American director. He was obsessed with optimism and an unequaled faith in the American spirit, and it really shows in this film. I personally don't care if the story is a bit far-fetched or if the characters are a bit exaggerated. This is not so much a film about Washington politics as it is about the power of right ideas. I feel he adroitly accomplishes his goal, which is to show that good can prevail. James Stewart is one of America's greatest actors. He was as hard-working and talented as anyone else. The role of Jefferson Smith could have easily been a caricature. A typical actor could have overplayed his bunglingness. Stewart, however, gives him a humanity and a naive sincerity that makes you really sympathize with him. This is one great performance. All of the supporting roles are very good. Claude Rains is perfect as the corrupted senior senator. He gives his character a interior goodness. I never really believed that he was totally evil. Jean Athur is witty and cynical as Saunders. She is one of the many innocents caught in the machinery of Washington. This is a really good movie. As a history teacher, I would like all my students to see this movie. This is more than fantasy. It is a positive view of America. It is a belief that the good should fight for the good until the end.
The Age of Innocence (1993)
Goodfellas, in lavender and lace
As many have pointed out, it wouldn't seem as though Scorsese would be interested in an 19th century period piece. Yet, I see this film as very similar to "Goodfellas". Each catalogue the lives of people who live by a very strict code of conduct. Each has their particular sense of honor and loyalty. Each have methods of dealing with those who step outside the box. In "Goodfellas" it is guns and fists (or kitchen knives); in "The Age of Innocence" it is gossip and dinner invitations. Both films are rich, elaborate representations of a specific way of life. Scorsese is a filmmaker completely in control of his craft. Every aspect of this film adds an integral part to it. Nothing is incidental or superfluous. The production design in this film is as good as it gets. There is so much detail in every scene. The houses these people live in a founded on the principle of appearances, much like their lives. Everything in them is designed to disguise or distort the truth. I love that fact that the walls are covered, floor to ceiling, with pictures. These people strive to be living portraits, perfect in every visible detail. The music and sound is perfectly suited. There is a bitter loveliness to the score. The classical movement that Scorsese uses is lovely and meaningful. The acting is fantastic. Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest current actors. He gives a very deep and complete performance. I could feel his despair and claustrophobia. Michelle Pieffer is very ironic and cynical. She, like Lewis' character, is a real being trapped in a world of contrived illusion. Ryder's performance is one of the key performances in the film. She is sly and cunning, completely in control of her surroundings. Yet she is able to mask her devilish manipulation as a sweet, shy exterior. I love the narration of the film. It would not have made sense in this film for one of the main characters to narrate, as in "Goodfellas". The world in this film is determined by what other people think and say. So it is apropos to have a exterior commentator. Woodward does fine work as the cynical, satirical commentator, exposing the rotten underbelly of this world, and doing it with wily delight. The cinematography is some of the best I have ever seen. Scorsese never moves his camera without purpose. Each shot is executed for the maximum emotional and cognitive effect. The scenes are edited masterfully. Many times he will cut away right in the middle of a shot to an image that perfectly metaphors the mood and context of the scene. This is one of the most tightly composed films of Scorsese I have seen. I need to watch this film more times. It is very complex. It is a great film.
Le procès (1962)
An Interpretation, not an adaptation
The line between the two maybe somewhat blurred. All adaptations are subject to the filmmaker's interpretation. I think the difference is the filmmaker's attempt to visualize the author's original intent, as opposed to expressing what the novel meant to him. I think Welles did the later in this movie. Kafka's brilliant novel is extremely surrealistic and subjective. It is a parable, and the meaning of the novel will depend on the perspective the reader. That is what makes it so great. You castrate the story when you universalize your interpretation. That is the mistake Welles makes in the film. I have only watched the film once. As I plan to watch it again my opinion may change. I feel he took away much of the ambiguity of the novel. Much of the broad symbolism Kafka placed in his novel was missing from the film. It was too much of a definite vision. Much of the religious symbolism was absent in the film. For instance, in the book, Joseph K. is "sacrificed" by way of a knife. This has profound religious implications. In the film, Welles decides to end Joseph's life with a quite literal bang. I didn't like this alteration. It greatly sterilized the ending. I did enjoy the look of the film. The set pieces are amazing. I cannot remember a straight line in the whole film. Everything is disjointed and disorienting. None of the locations make sense. I could never determine where anyone was, where they were going, or how they got to where they were. This was very effective in conveying the hopelessness of Joseph's situation. The acting was decent. Perkins had the difficult task of putting what Joseph thinks in the novel into words. At times I felt him annoying, but overall he was effective. I really enjoyed Akim Tamiroff's performance. He was much better in "Touch of Evil", but he was very good in this. I hope that a couple more viewings will clarify my opinion on the film, or not.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
Some almost get it
I read through several reviews of this film. It seems that many of the people who didn't like this film where upset that the film "lied" to us. They say that movies are not supposed to do that. They got that right. Film is not supposed to do that. Maybe that is one of the reasons why this film does that. Many of the reviewers said they were drawn into to the story, only to have their hopes and aspirations smashed at the end. They couldn't understand why the filmmakers would do this. Is it possible that they "got" the film without really getting it? To be correct, the film doesn't lie. The character telling the story lies. The camera is simply showing us what the narrator is telling us. We are so accustomed to believing what the camera shows us, that we accept without reserve. We forget that the "camera" is actually the filmmaker, a human being (in most cases), telling us a story. People lie. We cannot always trust people. We cannot always trust what seems to be objective reality. This film does the same thing that "Rashomon" and "Persona" do, although I consider those films deeper and more profound. We the audience are Dave Kujan, Chazz Palminteri's character. We are falling for the lie being fed to us. Though what we are being told is not totally a lie. Many of the things said and told are true. A lie is not a lie unless it contains much truth. Most of what we see actually happened. The fact that not all of it did is what makes the film so interesting. We are left scratching our heads trying to figure out what actually happened. What we thought we knew we no longer know that we know. I think that is one of the marks of a great film. It stays with you, for good or bad. It challenges your idea about film.
À bout de souffle (1960)
To become immortal, and then die
So says the novelist in response to Patricia's question, "What do you hope to attain out of life?" That response is the philosophy of the film and of every character in the film. All want to be in control of their destiny. All want to be something that they are not. None are able to do any of these things. They are all contradictions. How can you die as an immortal? How can Patricia be free and independent is so many other things determine what she can do? How can this film transcend the screen while existing on the screen? This is an amazing film to watch. Goddard fills every scene with ingenuity and energy. He puts his actors in a beautiful environment and lets them do their thing. And they do it extremely well. The actors are beautiful. Not just cosmetically, but spiritually and psychologically. I am not sure that I liked either of the two main characters. I am sure I could not keep my eyes off them. I could not take my eyes off the screen. Techniques that novices today use for no substantial purpose are utilized by Goddard to amazing effect. The greatest filmmakers are the great editors. Goddard makes the editing a character itself. It is the nervous narrator hurrying the film along. It breathlessly awaits the next scene, and leads us to do the same. I like the way Goddard spends prodigious time simply watching his characters. The conversation scene at the center of the film is amazingly long and drawn out, yet I did not find it boring. I found it fascinating. People are fascinating. Everyone is trying to be something. It takes tremendous talent to indulge in the minutiae of existence. A great film.
Not a wasted shot
I haven't watched this film many times. Yet, I think I can safely say that there is not a wasted shot in the whole film. Leone is able to use each scene to perfection. He uses wide shots at the right time. He uses close-ups when he needs to. He puts in long shots for the perfect effect. This is such a well constructed movie. Many people might consider it sloppy and rough. I think it is amazing. There are many shots in which Leone isolates the characters. I don't remember many shots where more than one character are in the frame at the same time. When they are, there is almost always space between them. His characters are out for themselves, and for no one else. Their connection with other characters exist only in their desire and drive for gold. There are many shots in which a character stands surrounded by vast nothingness. Leone's characters are in control of their own wills, but they are not in control of their destinies. Consider the scene where Tuco is about to kill Blondie in the hotel. A canon hits the room before he can accomplish this. Blondie seems to be the only person who controls his fate, and he doesn't have ultimate control. The acting is superb. Eastwood doesn't little enough to give his character tremendous depth and mystery. He isn't merely stoic and squinting. He is a true character with many levels. Wallach is extreme and not other the top. It would be very easy for the character to be cartoonish. Yet Leone and Wallach are able to give him many different facets. Angel Eyes is truly evil. I like the hat that van Cleef wears. It makes his face seem very slim and his eyes very narrow, very snake-like. The music is good as well. This is a masterpiece.
An American in Paris (1951)
Pure, lovely entertainment
I enjoyed this film. It was lighthearted, delightful, and very colorful. You can see that MGM was showing off Technicolor. There are hardly any colors that do not appear in this film. Every scene is packed full. The choreography was great. Gene Kelly is a wonder. He is so talented. The dance numbers in this film are all perfectly executed, and perfectly designed. He understands that the dances can tell the story as much as anything else. The last section of the film, the grand dance sequence, is very impressive. What makes this film very special is Gershwin's music. Few American composers have had a better gift for melody. I very much enjoy Gershwin's music. It is enchanting. Ira Gershwin is definitely one of the greatest lyric writers. He is so witty and charming. This was a highly entertaining film.
How shall we than live?
I suppose it isn't truly a spoiler to say the main character, Watanabe, dies of cancer at the end of the film. For most directors, this probably would have been a overly sentimental death drama. Kurosawa is far to talented and sophisticated for such triteness. This is a rich, meaningful, touching story of a man's attempt to live. The themes of this film are so universal, we can access it even 50 years after its release. Several good films have been made along similar themes. "Wild Strawberries" is one of the best. I have not seen "Umberto D.", but I understand it is very similar. Bergman and Kirusawa are very similar filmmakers. Bergman seems to me to be more metaphorical and Kirusawa is more aesthetic. They are both superb writers/directors. "Ikiru" is a heavy layered film. After listening to the commentary on the Criterion Edition, you learn that this film makes many significant social comments on Japanese life. At the same time, as I said earlier, the emotions and themes of this film are ubiquitous. You don't have to possess a knowledge of 1950s Japanese politics to understand it. You simply have to be human and possess a desire to live a meaningful life. There are many images from the film that linger with you. Kirusawa, like Bergman and Hitchcock, was so good a composition. His films are so visually active that you can know everything you need to know without the dialogue. However, the dialogue is simple and very effective. The characters talk the way normal people talk, yet the say things normal people don't say. That to me is great dialogue. I was disappointed in the film stock from which the DVD came. It was not in good condition. That is a real shame. I am not sure why that is. Criterion does great work with the classics. They must not have been able to obtain anywhere near pristine stock. This is such a beautiful film. It would great to see it from the original negatives.