Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Sasom I En Spegel [Through a Glass Darkly] (Ingmar Bergman, 1961)

As I continue my quest through the acclaimed works of Ingmar Bergman, I was recommended this based on the knowledge that Bergman regarded Through a Glass Darkly to be his closest achievement to 'perfection'. As the first installment of what Bergman has tagged The Faith Trilogy, which also includes Winter Light (1962) and The Silence (1963), Through a Glass Darkly is an examination of one young woman's descent into madness and the impact it has on her immediate family. The film opens with four figures emerging from the ocean onto a pier and running along the jetty towards the shore. These are Karin (Harriet Andersson), her husband Martin (Max Von Sydow), her younger brother Minus, and their father David. Karin suffers from schizophrenia and has recently been released from a hospital after shock therapy treatment. Despite the possibility of some mild symptoms returning, the treatment has likely cured her illness. Martin is optimistic that his love for Karin will keep her free from her delusions, however, David is convinced that his daughter's struggle is incurable and that she will have a relapse. As a celebrated second-rate novelist, much of the conflict arises when David reveals he wishes to monitor her recovery as material for a new novel, to both the horror of Martin and eventually Karin, when she finds out too.

In a terrific early sequence when the group settles down to dinner, David presents some last-minute gifts from abroad, but his children give him one also, in the form of a play that Minus has written. Minus and Karin perform what becomes an attack on David's craft as a novelist. He hides his anger, but it is clear that Minus' dislike for his father, which stems from his neglect of his family for the purpose of becoming successful, is a passionate one. The group is actually gathering on holidays to celebrate Karin's release from hospital and the return of David from abroad and each family member has a complex relationship with one another that is examined during this 24 hour period. They often act as mirrors to one another when they encounter one another one on one. David and Martin disagree as to the possibility of Karin being fully cured, Martin extends as much love as he possibly can toward Karin to try and deter her from having a relapse, but while she knows he cares for her, she rejects his sexual advances and instead aggressively pushes them on her younger brother Minus. In a sequence near the conclusion, it hints that they have sex. Minus is estranged from his father and feels like they have never had a real conversation, and is searching for an answer to God's existence to explain why Karin is how she is. He takes the most care of Karin during her breakdown period, but doesn't fully understand what she is going through. 

Through a Glass Darkly, thematically, is incredibly dark. The film slowly grows in intensity, and the drama is tightly woven and ultimately heartbreaking. The climax is a terrifying breakdown, as Karin, believing that God will reveal himself to her though a door in the attic, sees him in the form of a spider that she screams attempted to penetrate her. We never see such a creature, but her horrified reaction is all that we require to grasp what she is experiencing. In the conclusion, Karin is transported to a hospital by helicopter, accompanied by Martin, while David and Minus remain behind and for the first time have an absorbing conversation, discussing the existence of God within love. Through a Glass Darkly is a gripping work of art, where the brevity of the feature works to its advantage. The handful of characters are all effortlessly developed and not a moment is wasted on idle activity. While I didn't find as much  enjoyment in Through a Glass Darkly as in some of Bergman's other established masterpieces like The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries (both 1957), it is the work of a master auteur so assured in his abilities that everything he creates becomes as close to perfection as you can get.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

10 Best Films I have seen in April

I was going to repeat my top five list that I conducted in March, but found that I had seen so many brilliant films in April, I could actually fill a list of ten. Here are ten great films I saw in April:

Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Ladri Di Biciclette [The Bicycle Thief] (Vittorio De Sica, 1949)

Smultronstallet [Wild Strawberries] (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

Det Sjunde Inseglet [The Seventh Seal] (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

Les Quatre Cents Coups [The 400 Blows] (Francois Trufaut, 1959)

Midnight Cowboy (John Schleshinger, 1969)

Aguirre: Der Zorn Gottes [Aguirre: The Wrath of God] (Werner Herzog, 1972)

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1990)

Fa Yeung Nin Wa [In the Mood for Love] (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In the Mood for Love

Just watched In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000), one of the most effortlessly beautiful and moving films I have ever seen. It has been said countless times, but every shot in Wong Kar-Wai's films look like a photograph. Starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, it features stunning cinematography, incredible costumes and a lustful, sensual atmosphere! It's not to be missed!

Here are some screen shots:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Short Review: My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)

I felt like My Own Private Idaho was a somewhat misguided film that lacked an agenda, wasted time on idle and struggled to present motive or cause for action. A heartbreaking tale, it was beautifully shot at times and River Phoenix's performance is a powerhouse as an estranged, narcoleptic youth. I liked a lot about it, but i never really found it engaging. It's a bold achievement and I understand why it made Gus Van Sant notable, but i think it will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. 

Mike (River Phoenix) is essentially living in his own world. Every time his brain chemically reacts to stress and forces him into a deep sleep (often in the middle of the road, or in public places), Mike has visions of country cottages and long open roads, and the shifting clouds that govern this realm are quickened, creating a hypnotic dream/escape from reality. I believe it is these visions that the title refers to. His painful reality is that he was abandoned as a child and raised on the streets. He is a confused young man, in love with his best friend and searching for his true mother and the history of his family. He was trained in the street as a hustler and small-time crook with a small group of misfits, and like his best friend, Scott (Keanu Reeves), taken under the wing of poet and cult leader, Bill.

Mike's life of poverty is open to chance, relying on kind passers-by to take care of him, and often to move him from harm. Scott is the rebellious teen of the Mayor, who is only weeks away from his inheritance. He has chosen to whore himself about town and live on the streets, rejecting his upper-class status and humiliating his father and his political party. Scott and Mike begin a journey from Portland to Idaho and finally to Rome in search of Mike's mother, altering their lives forever and building between the two an unbreakable bond. Overall, I was disappointed by My Own Private Idaho. I expected a little more, but it's certainly memorable for Phoenix's incredible performance.

My Rating: 3 Stars

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)

Duncan Jones' debut film has been lauded by critics after premiering at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, eventually winning Best Independent British Film at the British Independent Film Awards. Sam Rockwell also received a nomination for his terrific solo performance. Moon develops some very interesting ideas about the utilisation of the human race to maintain the health of the Earth and is a thrilling and thought-provoking science fiction adventure.

Nearing the conclusion of a three year contract upon the Moon, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works as an employee of Lunar Industries extracting Helium-3 from the soil on the Moon's surface to supply clean energy for the Earth, diminishing the potentially disastrous energy issues. Cooped up and relying on routine, Sam's lone companion is an intelligent computer system named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) designed to assist him with his role.

Only weeks from returning to his wife and daughter back on Earth, Sam begins to get ill, suffer from hallucinations and have strange dreams, beginning to
quickly lose control and ultimately places his mission in jeopardy. The facility itself becomes another character, as Sam patrols the labyrinth of tunnels alone. While the rooms are very well lit and quite spacious, they always give the illusion that something is hidden, and Jones creates a creepy atmosphere within the base.

During a routine check on the harvester to extract collected deposits of Helium-3, Sam is distracted when he believes he sees a figure standing on the surface of the Moon and crashes the vehicle, losing consciousness and turning to a life-support system. These sequences where Sam ventures out onto the surface of the Moon are visually stunning - almost dream-like.

The visual effects in this film are used cleverly and are never over-the-top, as the harvester cultivates the soil and sends it flying out into space, and we see the huge mechanisms at work. Jones has transformed the Moon into a spectacle of incredible beauty. Following this crash, which we believe will surely result in Sam's death, the film becomes very interesting indeed. Revealing too much more will surely ruin the experience.

One of the great features of Moon is the claustrophobic, contained nature of its setting. There are no aliens or guns, just a man facing the reality of his existence, violently struggling both physically with his injuries and with his declining sanity. It lacks the massive scope of the big action blockbusters that offer brain numbing special effects and few characters to care for. Drawing influence from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Solaris (1972), Moon is a character-driven drama that deals with some pretty interesting scientific possibilities.

Sam Rockwell's performance is fantastic as he undergoes a series of physical transformations and must play dual roles, each with very different personalities. I was really moved by this film, and for once was actually impressed that a science fiction film could make me think. Moon is the best film about space exploration since Danny Boyle's Sunshine was released back in 2007, and was one of 2009's finest indie releases.

My Rating: 4 Stars

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Kick Ass (2010)

Kick Ass has had some pretty intense marketing and internet circulation, and lots of hype begin to surround it as the excellent reviews came flooding in. I was intrigued, because I have a love/hate relationship with most superhero films, and it looked like an outstanding premise, both eliminating any outrageous characteristics normally assigned to superheroes and working as a teen-angst attack on the villains of society, and also working as a satire on a genre that has dominated and mostly tarnished the screen over the last decade. While I thought it was often-hilarious, and featured a guilty dose of stylish ultra-violence, I couldn't help but feel slightly disappointed that it didn't fully complement the moments of brilliance with an engaging plot, leaving me underwhelmed overall.
Kick Ass is a progression of one action sequence after another with very little substance or heart in between. It does try to present some character depth and a rejection by Dave (Aaron Johnson) of Kick Ass' escapes, but it's obvious that Matthew Vaughn, responsible for the nearly incomprehensible Layer Cake (2004), has struggled to put the pieces together. Seemingly the team has thought that some scenes looked cool, or would be fun to try out, but have thought little about the motivation behind these sequences or their plausibility. Many people will argue that it is a film that doesn't take itself seriously and should be enjoyed for its laughs and homage to superhero films. But it does examine some very serious crime waves and most notably in Kick Ass' near death situation at the beginning of the film and the brutal live torture sequence , it presents some pretty horrific moments. It tries to tiptoe around these brutal scenes by separating them with explicit comic violence and inventive methods of killing, and some outrageous stunts performed by children, with the intention of creating a laugh or a surprise.
The motives of Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) are very briefly examined during an animated sequence appearing like an illustrated comic. It seems that his obsession for revenge on Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong) for planting false evidence that led to five years behind bars has led him to sickly raise his 10-year-old daughter, Mindy (Chloe Moretz), into a cussing killing machine and adorn his house with machine guns and high powered weapons. Mindy, who has a sweet relationship with her father, takes on the character of Hit Girl where all of her innocence is forgotten. Her destruction of multiple groups of armed hit men are the most exciting parts of the film and are superbly edited, but also become tiresome by the conclusion. We open with Big Daddy firing a gun at Mindy as an exercise to demonstrate the impact a bullet can have on her body. She is wearing a bulletproof jacket, and he promises that after three rounds facing the gun, she can go bowling and have a hot fudge sundae. It is this tongue-in-cheek stuff that I really liked. But the film's idea is that you don't have to have super powers to be a superhero, seems a bit ridiculous when this pair has the money to afford high powered weapons that gives them a major advantage, whether they are blessed with powers or not.
I thought it was also a brilliant coincidence that one of D'Amico's associates also happened to be the man Kick Ass' love interest was having issues with, and who he decides to confront, linking the interests of Kick Ass to Big Daddy and Hit Girl.

Kick Ass is stylish and visually stunning, the action sequences are edited as quickly as bullet-fire and capture every punch or moment of impact. It is comically violent and at times also sickening. The introduction to Hit Girl, where she massacres the room of drug dealers with a machete is brilliant, and when she rescues her father and Kick Ass during the live torture is beautifully captured. People have their legs chopped off, are blown out of high rise buildings by a bazooka and are pummeled by chopping knives in true Tarantino fashion. Other highlights were D'Amico's minions' misuse of a giant microwave, and Big Daddy's single assault on the warehouse. The memorable soundtrack featuring The Prodigy and Primal Scream is also absolutely fantastic throughout. As for the performances, Aaron Johnson was relatively well cast in the title role and gave a solid performance that was appropriately reflective of Peter Parker in Spiderman, although the strange gay plot line was included and had no impact whatsoever. Nicholas Cage, disappointingly added very little, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin from Superbad) gave an awful performance as Red Mist. Granted, his character was easily the worst in the film and had very little role other than to provide a rival superhero for the public to worship, and so that the filmmakers had more to fuel their ideas of ordinary people working as superheroes. Neither a hero or a villain, he unfortunately seems to be a major player in the inevitable sequel. But most of the praise must go to Chloe Moretz for her controversial performance as Hit Girl. Having previously appeared in 500 Days of Summer, where she provided relationship advise to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, her scene-stealing performance in Kick Ass has her ready for stardom. She is both cute and incredibly frightening, and while the extremity of her skill is unbelievable for such a young girl, it makes it no less exhilarating. As one of the most entertaining films currently released in 2010, I certainly recommend Kick Ass. Most will find it a guilty pleasure, but be aware that it has potential to offend.

Rating: 3 Stars

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Films I Need to See

- Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)

- The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, 1925)

- The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)

- The General (Buster Keaton, 1927)

- Oktyabr [October] (Sergei Eisenstein, 1927)

- All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, 1930)

- Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)

- City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)

- Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)

- It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)

- A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood, 1935)

- The 39 Steps (Alfred Hitchcock, 1935)

- Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

- Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)

- Mr Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939)

- Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)

- La Regle Du Jeu [The Rules of the Game, 1939)

- The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940)

- The Grapes of Wrath (Tom Ford, 1940)

- The Bank Dick (Edward F. Cline, 1940)

- The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)

- Ivan the Terrible, Parts One and Two (Sergei Eisenstein, 1944)

- The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)

- Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)

- The Treasure of Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)

- All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

- Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

- A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)

- Ikiru [To Live] (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)

- High Noon (Fred Zinnermann, 1952)

- From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnermann, 1953)

- Tokyo Story (Yashujiro Ozu, 1953)

- On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)

- La Strada [The Road] (Federico Fellino, 1954)

- Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

- The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

- The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

- The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. Demille, 1956)

- 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)

- Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)

- Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959)

- Peeping Tom (Michael Powel, 1960)

- Jules et Jim (Francois Truffaut, 1961)

- The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961)

- West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, 1961)

- The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer, 1962)

- Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)

- Dr Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)

- Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)

- Blowup (Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

- Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967)

- Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968)

- If…(Lindsay Anderson, 1968)

- Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969)

- The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)

- La Strategia Del Rango [The Spider’s Stratagem] (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970)

- Patton (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)

- M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970)

- Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971)

- Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971)

- The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)

- Shaft (Gordon Parks, 1971)

- Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971)

- Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972)

- Solyaris [Solaris] (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972)

- Badlands (Terrence Mallick, 1973)

- American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973)

- Papillon (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1973)

- Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)

- Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973)

- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

- Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Pier Paulo Pasolini, 1975)

- Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)

- Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)

- Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)

- Novocento [1900] (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1976)

- The Hills Have Eyes (Wes Craven, 1977)

- Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

- Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)

- Die Blechtrommel [The Tin Drum] (Volker Schlonodorff, 1979)

- Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)

- Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980)

- The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980)

- Das Boot [The Boat] (Wolfgang Petersen, 1981)

- Poltergeist (Steven Spielberg, 1982)

- The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1982)

- Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982)

- Diner (Barry Levinson, 1982)

- Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982)

- Ghandi (Richard Attenborough, 1982)

- Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)

- Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983)

- The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)

- The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1983)

- Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1983)

- Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)

- Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)

- A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)

- Stranger than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984)

- The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe, 1984)

- The Natural (Barry Levinson, 1984)

- The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985)

- Out of Africa (Sydney Pollack, 1985)

- The Color Purple (Steven Spielberg, 1985)

- The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)

- Down by Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986)

- Salvador (Oliver Stone, 1986)

- Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986)

- Der Himmel Uber Berlin [Wings of Desire] (Wim Wenders, 1987)

- Raising Arizona (Joel Coen, 1987)

- Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)

- Good Morning, Vietnam (Barry Levinson, 1987)

- Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987)

- Spoorloos [The Vanishing] (George Sluizer, 1988)

- Bull Durham (Ron Shelton, 1988)

- The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)

- Big (1988)

- Rainman (Barry Levinson, 1988)

- Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)

- My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 1989)

- Sex, Lies and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989)

- Jacob’s Ladder (Adrian Lyne, 1990)

- Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, 1990)

- Boyz ‘N the Hood (John Singleton, 1991)

- Raise the Red Lantern (Yimou Zhang, 1991)

- Naked Lunch (David Cronenberg, 1991)

- Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)

- The Player (Robert Altman, 1992)

- The Crying Game (Neil Jordan, 1992)

- C’est Arrive Pres De Chez Vou [Man Bites Dog] (Remy Belvaux, 1992)

- Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993)

- The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese, 1993)

- The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

- Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994)

- Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994)

- Riget [The Kingdom] (Lars Von Trier, 1994)

- Safe (Todd Haynes, 1995)

- Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996)

- Cheun Gwong Tsa Sit [Happy Together] (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)

- The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997)

- Kundun (Martin Scorsese, 1997)

- Ta’m E Guilass [Taste of Cherry] (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

- Abre Los Ojos [Open Your Eyes] (Alejandro Amenabar, 1997)

- Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)

- Pi (Darren Aronofsky, 1998)

- Todo Sombre Mi Madre [All About my Mother] (Pedro Almodovar, 1998)

- Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

- Yi Yi [A One and a Two] (Edward Yang, 2000)

- Hable Con Ella [Talk to Her] (Pedro Almodovar, 2002)

- Les Invasions Barbares [The Barbarian Invasions] (Denys Arcand, 2003)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)

Midnight Cowboy, upon it's release in 1969, was originally received as a shocking and unsettling masterpiece and garnered enough controversy to be given an X Rating (equivalent of an R-Rating in Australia). It went on to become the first X-rated film to win the Best Picture Academy Award, also taking home Best Director for John Schlesinger, and Adapted Screenplay from the novel by James Leo Herlihy. Midnight Cowboy is the story of a naive Texas dishwasher, Joe Buck (in a breakthrough performance by Jon Voight), convinced that he has the looks and skills to be a working stud/hustler in New York. The film opens with him dressing in a cowboy get-up, packing a suitcase, leaving his job, and catching a bus direct to New York City. Joe believes that New York is home to wealthy women willing to pay for a good time, and that he is the answer to all their desires. In a series of flashbacks throughout the film, we are revealed that Joe once loved a young woman named Annie, and that she had assured him that he was 'the only one who had loved her right' and 'better than all of 'em'. With this motivation, Joe believes his path is set. It's on the bus to New York where he finds a channel interviewing New York women about the characteristics they attribute to the perfect man. Already anxious to arrive, Joe is overjoyed by what he hears, and soon hits the streets costumed as a cowboy to meet the women so desperate for his charms. Midnight Cowboy is perhaps most memorable for Harry Nilsson's 'Everybody's Talkin' which plays during a montage where Joe wanders wide-eyed through New York's streets and nervously approaches a series of women, and also returns during later sequences. Joe is invited to the apartment of a wealthy socialite for sex and then is conned into paying for the sexual favors after he brings up the nature of his business interests. Ignorant to the ways of street hustling and feeling sorry for her when she breaks down and screams at his request, she takes twenty dollars to cover her cab. He becomes disillusioned and retires to a bar, where he meets Rico 'Ratso' Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). Ratso is a sickly, greasy, unshaven bum who was also an adept pickpocket and conman. After discovering the nature of Joe's interests in New York, he decides to represent him as his street-smart manager. Once Joe's money has run dry and he is evicted from his hotel room, Ratso welcomes him to stay at his place, and the two form a close bond and struggle to survive through the Winter.
Some of the sequences are unforgettable. With Joe desperate for money, and with no place to go, he picks up a young homosexual teenager and they go to a cinema. The pained expression on Voight's face during that film as the boy holds him is heartbreaking. When the boy reveals he has no money for the favors, Joe threatens to steal his watch, but ultimately lets him go. Distraught, Joe sleeps in the theatre. The Warhol-esque club party that Joe is invited to is also a highlight. Greeted admiringly Joe sweeps the party looking at the women. He unknowingly puffs on a joint and then takes an ecstasy pill, sending him into a hallucinogenic state. He leaves with a woman, where he is unable to perform, likely due to the drugs. When she teases him about being gay, he angrily pushes her onto the bed and they have wild, passionate sex. The next morning, she calls a friend and arranges another date for Joe, finally starting the career he has struggled with for so long. But his friendship with Ratso and his swift requirement of medical treatment force Joe to abandon his career, and the pair head for Florida at the conclusion of the film. On the way, Joe disposes of his costume and buy both of them some Hawaiian themed shirts. But nearing Miami, Ratso dies of his illness, and the film ends with Joe holding him compassionately staring out the window at the passing palm trees. It is an unforgettable conclusion and the end of a very sad tale of two men living at the margins of society filled with the hope of living their dreams, which are ultimately abolished due to societal shunning and it becomes a struggle for them to survive.

Another buddy film, a fun, comedic on-the-run drama, also released in 1969, was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman). George Roy Hill's film has since received equal commendation, and like Midnight Cowboy, is considered a revolutionary classic. It is interesting to see a film like Butch Cassidy, normally the obvious choice for the Academy, beaten by Midnight Cowboy that was originally banned and then edited to eliminate certain graphic sequences that slowed its circulation. Nonetheless, both are fantastic films, and I guess what separates the two are the outstanding performances of Hoffman and Voight. Voight is likable and charismatic as Joe Buck, a man in love with himself yet always expressing the appropriate naivety and ignorance for a man with his dreams. His reactions to his failures are incredibly heartbreaking. Hoffman's second career performance is brilliant. Sickly, and crippled with polio, Ratso hobbles, sweats profusely and coughs uncontrollably throughout the entire film. His greasy, unshaven appearance, a polar opposite to his clean-cut performance in The Graduate (1967), garnered him a second Oscar nomination. Buck's tall, lean, cowboy attired appearance and Ratso's hunched limp and nervous mannerisms are flawlessly relayed by both performers.
Midnight Cowboy presents a gritty underbelly of New York City. Ratso's slum dwelling, which has his own private entrance (a broken wire fence), doesn't have a refrigerator and their beds are mattresses on the floor and dirty blankets. Joe and Ratso are pushed to the limits to survive. It also offers an insight to 60's popular culture at the party and some brief references to homophobia and it's reception in society. But for a late 1960's film, the sexual and drug content is very explicit, and it is never restricted by censorship, which makes it a very daring achievement. Fueled by an excellent adapted screenplay, fine direction, impressive montage editing and a pair of moving performances, Midnight Cowboy is captivating, groundbreaking cinema.

Overall: 4 1/2 Stars

Sunday, April 18, 2010

1001 Movies to See Before You Die

In my 2004 edition of 1001 Movies to See Before You Die, I have currently seen 235. This isn't a bad effort, but I have lots of work to do!

Friday, April 16, 2010

10 Best Horror Films of the 00's

Honorable Mentions: Cabin Fever, The Devil's Rejects, Shaun of the Dead (which i view more as a comedy)

10. El Orfanto [The Orphanage] (2007)

9. The Descent (2006)

8. The Mist (2007)

7. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

6. Let the Right One In (2009)

5. Antichrist (2009)

4. Saw (2004)

3. The Audition (2000)

2. 28 Days Later (2002)

1. American Psycho (2000)

20 Best Working Directors

1. Paul Thomas Anderson - Magnolia (1999), Punch Drunk Love (2002), There Will be Blood (2007) In my opinion P. T Anderson is the best working director today, breached all previous limits with There Will be Blood in 2007. The greatest film of the decade and one of the greatest films ever made!

2. Joel and Ethan Coen - O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), The Man Who Wasn't There (2001), No Country for Old Men (2007), Burn After Reading (2008), A Serious Man (2009). Still as consistent as ever, but shamefully only gathered their third Best Picture nomination in 09.

3. Martin Scorsese - Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Shutter Island (2010). While his best days are behind him, The Departed and Shutter Island are fantastic films.

4. Wes Anderson - The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Fantastic Mr Fox (2009). Boasts probably the most impressive recent resume. Has never made a mediocre film, in fact, all his films are magical.

5. David Fincher - Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2009). While his best film remains to be Se7en (1995), Zodiac displayed some brilliance, and even Benjamin Button was a step in a different direction, despite being slightly disappointing.

6. Darren Aronofsky - Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008). Requiem and The Wrestler are two of the best films of the decade. I would love to work with this guy.

7. Quentin Tarantino - Kill Bill (Vol I and II) (2003, 2004), Deathproof (2007), Inglourious Basterds (2009). Following the horrendous Deathproof, Tarantino returns to form with Basterds, his greatest film since Pulp Fiction.

8. Alfonso Cuaron - Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Children of Men (2006). A personal favorite of mine, Cuaron created a masterpiece in the road film Y Tu Mama Tambien, made easily the best Harry Potter adaptation currently in the series, and didn't get enough love for the exceptional Children of Men, starring Clive Owen.

9. Shane Meadows - Dead Man's Shoes (2004), This is England (2006). Meadows has created a pair of incredible films that are already hailed as cult favorites.

10. Fernando Meirelles - City of God (2002), The Constant Gardner (2005), Blindness (2008). A fine resume. His energetic hand-held guerrilla film making style is very impressive. City of God is heralded as one of the decades best, and The Constant Gardner was a clever conspiracy thriller featuring great performances from Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz.

11. Steven Spielberg - Minority Report (2002), Munich (2005), War of the Worlds (2005), Indiana Jones and the Kongdom of the Krystal Skull (2008). One of the most popular and most successful filmmakers in history. Remains on this list because of Munich, which is one of his greatest films, but threatens to slide off for everything else made this decade.

12. Clint Eastwood - Mystic River (2003), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Changeling (2008) and Gran Torino (2008). Has been working very hard, and has directed a lot of recent films. However, his best remain Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, although his pair of 2008 films were powerful dramas.

13. Jason Reitman - Thank You for Smoking (2006), Juno (2007) and Up in the Air (2009). A young director that hasn't put a foot wrong. Juno is a cute, likable film but Up in the Air is a masterpiece and one of the finest films of 2009.

14. Danny Boyle - 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Received worldwide acclaim for this work on Slumdog Millionaire, but what is equally impressive is his work on 28 Days later, one of the best horror films of the decade, and the very underrated Sunshine.

15. Edgar Wright - Shaun of the dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007). This man has directed two of the best comedies of the decade. Kudos!

16. Christopher Nolan - Memento (2000), Insomnia (2002), Batman Begins (2005), The Prestige (2006), The Dark Knight (2008). Became a recognizable star after Memento in 2000, and then was given the reigns to the new Batman franchise. Apart from a few wayward moments to conclude The Dark Knight, he has remained relatively solid.

17. David Cronenberg - A History of Violence (2005), Eastern Promises (2007). Both collaborations with Viggo Mortenses have resulted in outstanding films. But makes very few films, so his next installment could be long-awaited.

18. Woody Allen - Match Point (2005), Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008) and Whatever Works (2009). Loved Match Point, and I thought Whatever Works was a brilliant rant about life, delivered by Larry David mind you. Woody still has the skills.

19. Hayao Miyazaki - Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008). Has been one of the only directors to stand up to the might of Pixar this decade. Princess Mononoke (1997) introduced him to foreign audiences, but Spirited Away reaped him reward. It is amazing.

20. Alexander Payne - Sideways (2004). A fantastic director that has made very few films. One of those films is Sideways, which is one of the decades best films, and a personal favorite of mine.

Honorable Mentions: Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott. Stone has been one of my favorite directors for years, but his best work is well behind him and his last great film was 1999's Any Given Sunday. As for Scott, who boasts Alien and Blade Runner on his resume, he has been pumping out too many films and has not hit brilliance since 2000's Gladiator, despite Matchstick Men and American Gangster proving to be quality films. The new Robin Hood looks like a disaster also.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes [Aguirre: The Wrath of God] (Werner Herzog, 1972)

Aguirre: The Wrath of God is one of the most intriguing and lusciously captured films I have ever witnessed. Werner Herzog, a renowned guerrilla filmmaker, sure knew how to make the process a struggle and the harsh Peruvian Andes and Amazon River used throughout this decent into madness would have proven to be a nightmare. Shot on an incredibly low budget, it follows the tale of an impossible mission by Spanish conquistadors to search the Peruvian Rainforest for the lost city of El Dorado. After striking trouble in the fierce rapids of the Amazon and losing an entire raft, the crippled hierarchy is slowly overthrown by Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) who, despite the endless setbacks, is committed to continuing the mission and reaping the riches promised by the discovery. Faced with unseen enemies that silently shoot down his men from the banks, hunger, dehydration and disease, and mutiny at every corner, Aguirre's gradual wallow into madness is a mesmerizing experience. 

Herzog's hand-held camera is at their side the entire way, weaving in and out of the characters, and tracking the rafts as though it is floating along the water. It feels like a documentary, and is certainly influential on many films that portray confrontation with nature, most notably one of my favorite films, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979). The haunting score was also beautiful. There really is minimal action or plot; but there are key episodes that directly influence the mission. But where it is most effective is through it's atmosphere, and the sense of unrest and rising mutiny thoughout. 

The wonderful opening sequence tracks the entire congregation of the journey snaking their way down a steep and narrow mountain path, amidst the surrounding fog. They not only have to navigate the route themselves, but carry cannons and supplies over the dangerous terrain and through the thick, humid jungles. The final sequence, where a now lonesome Aguirre stalks around the raft accompanied by hundreds of little monkeys, is also one of the most memorable. Klaus Kinski's Aguirre is a scowling madman who fantasizes about exploring the Atlantic and overthrowing all previous rulers. Even by the end, when he stands alone on the raft, he narrates: "I, the wrath of God, will marry my own daughter and together we would rule the purest dynasty known to man." Drained by hunger and fear, and suffering from hallucination, he is blind to the downfall of his mission. It certainly takes multiple viewings to appreciate the work that has gone into this film and grasp its themes, but it is certainly a rewarding experience and essential viewing for lovers of pure cinema.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Micmacs (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2010)

Micmacs is the new film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the acclaimed director of Delicatessen, Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, and true to his tradition of wildly inventive filmmaking with visual flair, Micmacs is a very cute film that doesn't disappoint.

I liked that almost all the characters were given a chance to shine and show their worth in the team. Danny Boon's Bazil was an extremely likable lead that was often found at the centre of all the action, with everyone framed around him. After he learns that his father was killed by a mine distributed by one major arms dealer, and that the stray bullet from a street shoot-out that had became lodged in his brain and could cause his death at an any moment, was branded by a rival dealer, he vows revenge on both companies.

Bazil, thought to have been killed by the bullet, is locked out of his apartment and replaced at his job. Down on luck, he turns to street vending to grab some quick cash before he is approached by an elderly gentleman called Slammer and invited into a troupe of misfits, whose base is located at the centre of a junkyard. Each member of the troupe has a distinct odd ability, and each proves to be useful for Bazil's plans. Set on revenge for those responsible for his run of luck, and discovering that the rivals hate one another, he works with his new friends to ruin them. Included in the troupe are a contortionist called Elastic Girl (Julie Ferrier), an Ethnographer from Congo (Omar Sy) and Buster (Dominique Pinon, a Jeunet regular), a man convinced he set the world record for furthest human cannonball.

The surveillance techniques range from the ethnographer posing as an interested buyer of armed weapons for an African nation, to members of the team posing as window cleaners and janitors to infiltrate company, to Bazil lowering a microphone into the fireplaces of the executives to eavesdrop on conversations. Elastic Girl, whose gift of advanced flexibility proved useful in many set-ups, hid in delivery boxes and collected evidence from inside their houses. It really is great entertainment, if a little too juvenile to accept without questioning how outrageous it really is. Some of the jokes and the situations are pushed a bit too far, and we almost have no time to breathe, as the film turns into a circus, almost totally absent of drama but with one thrilling sequence after another.

The title Micmacs may also refer to the term 'nic-nacs' which are random collected items for purposes of keepsake or memorabilia. The main base for the team is situated in a rubbish disposal site, with easy access to salvaged items. The existence outside this world feels real, but the interior is adorned with contraptions and odd inventions and a familial hierarchy. Jeunet succeeds in creating an otherworldy illusion, salvaging together quirky traits of his imagination to create a clever exploration of a world run by dual overbearing arms dealers. Like in Delicatessen, and especially Amelie, one of the more impressive features of Jeunet's films is his incredible use of warm colors. The image is rich in orange/sepia pastels and seems to glow. Colors like red, yellow, brown and green are dominant. They function as a welcoming invite to his bizarre world, complementing the odd characters and locations and succeeding in leaving you feeling happy and inspired by the imagery.

One major concern about Micmacs is the sheer ridiculousness of some of the elaborate contraptions they create and the traps they set. The excuse that they are salvaged goods is used often, but it just seems completely unbelievable that most of their set-ups are constructed almost immediately. The films' structure is also wayward at times and the rhythm almost too hyperactive. But Jean-Pierre never really works in the real world, and to view this film from a perspective that mirrors the real world, you will find it difficult to enjoy this film.

He creates a world that appears to be a glowing alternative reality that allows all these incredible events to take place. It's a venue controlled by the imagination, and as the title suggests, the plot is layered with moments of 'non-stop madness' that normally would seem out of place or make very little sense. In the worlds of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it's totally normal. Dany Boon is really likable in the title role, and the support of heroes and villains are equally effective. The upbeat score and the energetic cinematography are also used to great effect. Overall, I had a great time and was impressed, and Jean-Peire's filmmography remains relatively untainted.

My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Review: Clash of the Titans 3D (Louis Leterrier, 2010)

It is hard to know where to start when describing just how much of a waste of time this film was to sit through. To say it is possibly one of the worst films ever made is not an overstatement. The screenplay was a multiple re-write disaster and the last minute switch to 3D results in the irritating feeling that you are in the cinema with sunglasses on. Directed by Louis Letterier (whose previous work included The Incredible Hulk), Clash of the Titans is a re-make of the 1981 classic of the same name, and stars Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes. The diabolically empty plot, which moves swiftly, offers nothing for the characters and seems to not to care about them at all, is merely a series of training sequences followed by motivational speeches and then the action, which is either extended too much (the battle with the scorpion monsters) or disappointingly short (the climactic destruction of the Kraken).

Clash of the Titans is the story of the myth of Perseus, the estranged demigod who settles a struggle between men and the Gods. The film begins with a fisherman, Spyros (Pete Postelthwaite) finding a large chest housing a dead woman and her surviving son. He raises the boy, named Perseus (Sam Worthington), into a strong and talented fisherman like himself. He declares that even though he doesn't know his real parents he has all that he needs right here on the boat. After an unusually unsuccessful day which leaves his fishing net empty, his father (Spyros) curses the Gods and declares that someday "someone is going to have to make a stand". This day comes when the innocent boat sails into a bay and the group witness the destruction of an enormous statue of Zeus by soldiers from Argos, which summons Hades to exert revenge. He destroys the boat and Perseus' family is killed, with Perseus rescued and taken to the grand palace at Argos. It is revealed that war has been pronounced on the Gods and Hades will unleash the Kraken upon Argos unless the King's daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is offered as a sacrifice. Perseus is held captive, declaring revenge on Hades and the Gods for killing his family.

He is visited by Io (Gemma Arterton), his guardian, who informs him that he is the son of Zeus and that he must use his demigod powers to defeat the Kraken as requested by the King. Proving successful will leave Hades vulnerable and victory for man possible. The plot then jumps from event to event, proceeding with minimal character development, and absolutely no emotional substance. Just in case we were interested there is a flashback moment, narrated by Io, identifying the origins of Perseus, and Zeus's rape of Acresius' wife to impregnate her with a son. A barely surviving Acresius is visited by Hades and asked to hunt down and kill Perseus, as he possesses the only threat to the Gods' successful punishment of man. Perseus' morality is that he chooses to reject the godly powers he is capable of unleashing, willing to complete the quest as a mortal. After his parents are killed by the power of the Gods, and since his hatred extends even to Zeus, his refusal to cooperate with him becomes a theme that is moderately developed. But his decision has a cost, as the men in his party are killed off easily by their foes and yet he still continues to reject his abilities. It is not until the final confrontation with Acresius, where Perseus' life is challenged, that he uses his gifts to wield the cursed sword and overpower him.

The screenwriters have ticked all the boxes (or myths) that are associated with the story, and all is included in a messy collaboration that present a cause/effect for the next part of the story. After leaving Argos the party treks through the desert and are attacked by giant scorpion creatures and eventually befriend a tribe of Djinn, who form an alliance with the humans. They travel to the lair of the Stygian Witches where they reveal the secret to destroying the Kraken, by passing into the underworld and surviving Medusa by removing her head. In all of its ridiculousness the story is true to the myth of how Medusa was killed, with Perseus using his shield as a mirror to locate and destroy her. This battle sequence is one of the few highlights of the film, although, like the rest of the battles, it seemed just too quick and easy. The arrival of the Kraken is visually spectacular, and worthy of the only praise I can muster.

The performances are uniformly dreadful, and the dialogue awful. Sam Worthington, after his average performance at the heart of Avatar, still seems to struggle with any sort of accent. His protagonist is neither likable nor inspiring. It is never understood what his motivation is. It seems he wants to kill Hades out of revenge for his dead family and while he rejects anything beyond humanity, he falls for Io, his immortal guardian. It doesn't help when the lines he are given are gut-achingly bad. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes would love to remove their credits from this mess.

Most of the characters are so poorly developed that they exist solely for the purpose of filling time. One such example is the character of Andromeda, whom the people of Argos decide to offer as a sacrifice to Hades to halt the wrath of the Kraken. She is set up to be the female character Perseus is destined to save and marry - but this is not the case. She allows her body to be taken by the angry mob to utilize as a sacrifice, which is a completely unnecessary plot point, other than to give Perseus something else to do during the final confrontation. Pegasus is thrown in there whenever Perseus needs assistance and all is resolved neatly and 'quickly'. The final sequences are also atrocious, setting up an inevitable sequel, which promises the return of Hades for revenge. Yawn! There is really nothing good to say about Clash of the Titans. It is an early favorite for worst film of the year!

My Rating: 1/2 Star

Thursday, April 8, 2010

50 Greatest Films of the 1990's Remastered

50. Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990)

49. Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead (Tom Stoppard, 1990)

48. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993)

47. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

46. The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994)

45. The Insider (Michael Mann, 1999)

44. 12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)

43.Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant, 1997)

42. La Haine [Hate] (Matthieu Kassovitz, 1995)

41. Three Colors: Red (Krzyzstof Kieslowski, 1994)

40. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (John McNaughton, 1990)

39. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)

38. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)

37. The Fugitive (Andrew Davis, 1993)

36. Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

35. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch, 1999)

34. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (Guy Ritchie, 1998)

33. The Sixth Sense (M Night Shyamalan, 1999)

32. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994)

31. Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)

30. Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

29. The Lion King (Roger Allers, 1994)

28. The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, 1998)

27. Glengarry Glen Ross (James Foley, 1992)

26. The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992)

25. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)

24. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)

23. The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)

22. Malcolm X (Spike Lee, 1992)

21. Miller's Crossing (Joel Coen, 1990)

20. Reservoir Dogs Quentin Tarantino, 1992)

19. Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)

18. Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)

17. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

16. Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

15. JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

14. Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997)

13. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998)

12. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Mallick, 1998)

11. L.A Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

10. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991)

9. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

8. Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

7. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)

6. Fargo (Joel Coen, 1996)

5. The Usual Supsects (Bryan Singer, 1995)

4. The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994)

3. American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

2. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

1. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)