There is no such thing as a “perfect” film. Any individual viewer will have his own expectations about what a movie should be, and they will never mesh perfectly with what is actually on screen. This being said, “A Man for All Seasons” is the closest thing I have ever seen to a “perfect” movie. The dialogue is witty, deep, believable, informative, layered, and meaningful. The plot is superb, and the subject is an excellent one. Any historical film will have inaccuracies, to be sure, and this one does, but Robert Bolt managed to minimize them by using the actual words of many of the historical figures depicted. The plot is both very complex and very simple, providing philosophical depth to fill hours of discussion, but still intuitive enough that anyone can understand the basics. The acting is magnificent. Paul Scofield’s depiction of a moderate, reserved, unassuming man of great character bring to mind Plato’s conception of a perfect Philosopher, just as Robert Shaw’s portrayal of Henry VIII as an intemperate, vain, arrogant man with drastic mood swings is a great representation of Plato’s Tyrant. Indeed, all the characters in this film seem to represent elements of the struggle between these opposing types. The other thing that fascinates me about “A Man for All Seasons” is the way it manages to be completely riveting without any “action” scenes. This movie is so well constructed that it does not need any such scenes. I wish more filmmakers today could learn how to do this.
Posted: May 16, 2013 in Drama, Horror, Noir
The psychological threads of the film are so complex as to be nearly inexhaustible; this feature alone contributes to its place in film history as one of the great celluloid efforts of all time. Like any genuine work of true genius, it may be enjoyed on more than one level. Alfred Hitchcock forced film-goers to confront head-on just a few of the shadowy corners of the human psyche: the Oedipus/Elektra complexes, jealousy about sexual or perceived sexual rights, guilt, and self-hatred as in Norman’s cross-dressing, to cite just a few examples of neurotic behavior. Perhaps the most frightening interpretation of the film is that one is responsible for one’s actions and cannot, ever, alter the designated course a particular act has set in motion. Here, it is Marion Crane’s decision to steal the $40 dollars from her employer in order to race to Fairvale to be with her illicit lover, Sam Loomis. The opening vista, a bleak mountain and desert landscape over Phoenix (note the metaphor for both the geographical location and the town’s name), is replete with the futility of the lovers ever forging a permanent bond with one another. The film is a terrific essay of human desperation and its stray threads: the hunger for sex, for a safe haven, for an ascendant place in one’s tiny universe. The barrenness of the emotional landscape is mirrored in Bernard Herrmann’s shrill, spiky score, which speaks of the desolation of all humankind. Both murders are violent acts of mutilation and hatred, one thinks, not only for the victims, but also for the perpetrator. Fittingly, the killer’s “cleansing” ritual takes place in a swamp, the normal repository for all kinds of secrets and unclean, dangerous organisms lurking beneath the stagnant surface. Finally, I found most interesting the title on the record label on the turntable in Norman’s room: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. This majestic, noble work bears no resemblance to the music one would justly associate with the tormented mind of young Bates. One can only guess that the boy’s impressionable mind was at one time quite normal and receptive to elevated experiences such as a hearing of this great work of Beethoven’s, but that jealousy, perhaps having been spurred by an intimacy with his mother, drove the boy to madness. Guilt, one of the human being’s great purgatives, finds no outlet here, as we see in Norman’s feral smile at the film’s end. Hitchcock’s use of mirrors works wonderful psychological tricks upon us, forcing us to wonder if what we see in our real and fancied mirrors is real.
Posted: May 9, 2013 in Action, Sci-Fi
Tags: Chris Pine
Now, this is how you make a summer blockbuster. A great example that a sci- fi action film doesn’t have to be two hours of mind-numbing, cacophonous dross. J.J.Abrams has brought us a film that is fresh, relentlessly exciting and overflowing with white-knuckle action and none of this at the expense of a compelling story or well-drawn characters. From the very first minute, you’re yanked right into this fantastical world. Abrams all but announces “buckle up, because it’s going to be one hell of a ride” – and what a ride Star Trek Into Darkness is. The Star Trek series has a magnificent legacy and has had an immeasurable impact on the genre, and to chuck all that away for all flash and no substance would be something of a crime. That’s not the case here. Yes, there seems to be barely a minute to stop and catch one’s breath, but that’s probably preferable to a film that drags on and on any day of the week. The film has no shortage of pizzazz in the form of stunning visual effects work, witty banter and edge-of-your seat near misses galore. Despite having “darkness” in its title, this flick is far from dour or depressing. References, homage’s and geek-outs are skillfully weaved into the fabric of the story and some may disagree, but this reviewer feels this iteration of Trek actually is very respectful of what went before – just not slavishly so. In this movie, Captain Kirk truly comes into his own as leader of a starship crew and father to his men, Pine further proving there’s more to him than just his handsome mug. Sure, Kirk’s still the brash, womanizing guy we all love (we catch him in bed with two be-tailed alien sisters) but there is character growth to be had. The ever-uneasy friendship between Kirk and Spock also gets a fair amount of play, and there are some great moments between the two, ranging from casual brickbats to a pretty dramatic bit near the end of the film. Quinto conveys Spock’s struggle to get in touch with his human side, his resistance to emotion driving a wedge between him and Uhura, but never hits us over the head with this. Just as in the earlier film, everyone gets a chance to strut his or her stuff – for example, Sulu even gets to be acting captain. Simon Pegg as Scotty and Karl Urban as Bones in particular stand out in this one, both bringing different brands of comic relief to the proceedings while functioning as far more than merely “the funny guys”. Of course, the attention is square on Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain of the piece. Suffice it to say that his fan girls or “ CumberBitches” will not be disappointed. The guy is a riveting actor, one who knows when to chew just the right amount of scenery in order to not come off as silly. There has been a spate of more “intellectual” villains in blockbuster movies as of late, but Cumberbatch does enough to differentiate himself from the bunch and Harrison isn’t just all brains and no brawn – he single-handedly takes on a Klingon patrol in one action sequence. I left the cinema pumped afterwards and that is a rare feat these days, a fantastic fun movie and if Abrams can be this brilliant with Star Trek he’s really rekindled my hope that the new Star Wars in which he’s directing can be awesome to!
Posted: May 7, 2013 in Drama, Epic, Horror, Violent
Seven Samurai is unlike any other grand classic ever produced. Its basic plot can be summed up in a single easy sentence, yet its refinement and execution rival any movie you’ve ever seen. The premise: in chaotic 16th century Japan, as marauders threaten raid villages, one village hires samurai to defend it from a group of bandits. Yet Kurosawa (also co-writer) developed these characters in a way unheard of for what might pass as an epic action film. To its astonishing credit, through all of its 207 minutes running time, Seven Samurai never falters or bores. And if the script is a marvel in itself, the acting and production design than derive from it are nothing short of superlative. It is said that Kurosawa forced the villagers (from supporting role to mere extra) to live together as a community during production and be their characters, each and every one of which he had drawn out specifically. This unusual technique gave Seven Samurai a feel of authenticity unparalleled in film history. The samurai themselves are so richly given life to in the screenplay that little more would have been needed to make them memorable characters, yet the main cast pay off at every turn, and though every one of the seven main actors give in perfect performances (never as I had feared before watching it do you confuse them, even in the chaotic battle scenes), two immortal roles have a particularly resounding effect: Takashi Shimura (Kambei Shimada), who plays the leader of the ragged band of samurai, gives his sage and venerable warrior a god-like intensity that makes the magnetic charisma of his character unquestionable. One of the easiest leaders to root for in all the history of film-making. Stealing the show however, albeit by a very thin margin, is longtime Kurosawa favorite coworker Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo) as the rogue seventh, the black sheep of the herd, giving the bravura ultimate performance of a lifetime paved throughout with great roles. The story follows them and the villagers, equally nuanced and developed, through their encounter, training, eventual bonding and the big inevitable fight for survival. Unlike subsequent very successful remakes (i.e. Magnificent Seven), seven Samurai transcended excellency by having many layers (nothing or no one is white or black: everything exists in shades of gray) and thus being very real and human. Even without the menace, its interpersonal dynamics would have made it perfect human drama, subtle, balancing comedy, intensity, realism, drama and a deep philosophy with astonishing ease, yet the menace does materialize and thus Seven Samurai unleashes its violence in a series of action scenes crafted with such vision and ingenuity as has ever reached an action film (the frenetic battle scenes at the end rather evoke Saving Private Ryan in their relentlessness). In the end, what made this into solid gold was, at the core, Akira Kurosawa, who would, despite directing many further masterpieces (Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, Red Beard, Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha, Ran), would never top this one. Throughout his life, Kurosawa kept confirming his status as perhaps the greatest director ever. If so, Seven Samurai is the ultimate proof of that truth. One of the very best.
Posted: May 4, 2013 in Fantasy, short
Cool little avant garde short on the Alice story.
I think this film is as excellent as it is for one good reason, showing the effects of war. True, we see the films where men are shaped by war, what events make them who they are, and how the events of war transform them. It is mainly about what the war has done to them. The Deer Hunter takes a bigger step back from that and shows the entire character transformation. It does not just show the transformation of a soldier, but also the transformation as a civilian. You spend a good 40 minutes in the Deer Hunter getting to know the main characters and getting a feel for their personalities. The first 40 minutes is about character development and almost getting an attachment to those characters. This makes their transformation more effective for the viewer and they almost feel for the character and what they are going through. Than those characters get thrown into war and you see the events that change them. The things they had to experience as a soldier. And than, most importantly, we see the changes in their characters after the war. And we do not just see the changes in the soldiers, we see the changes that their friends and lovers undergo as a result of the war. We are not just looking at one soldier, we are looking at a network of friends and how they are changed due to the war. Even those who did not go to war are still effected. And the fact all the characters are from a small town makes it that much more powerful. The Deer Hunter is a powerful film about how war effects everybody, not just the soldiers involved in it. The cast is terrific! Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryll Streep, and Christopher Walken. Need I say more. Christopher Walken won an Oscar for best supporting actor in this film. The script is beautifully written and the movie is filmed perfectly. I can find nothing wrong with anything about this movie, it won 5 Oscars in 1978 including Best Picture and Best Director for Michael Cimino. This movie is incredibly emotionally powerful, of course I can not say this film is accurate about war, I can only give my opinion but any jingoist war loving idiot must be forced to watch this….brilliant.
Taxi Driver, starts off with a beautiful and perfectly fitting score from composer, Bernard Hermann, as we see the blurred city of New York as the fast paced lights from cars and signs are distorted and put into slow motion. “Taxi Driver” is one of Martin Scorsese’ finest achievements as he teams up with Robert De Niro. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is the title character and this film really is all about the performance of Robert De Niro. The acting as a whole is exceptional. Harvey Keitel has an extremely small part as a pimp named Sport, and he brings a forgettable character to center stage as he and Travis have some quick and excellent scenes together. Keitel is so good in this you wish you would get to see more from his character. Jodie Foster plays the prostitute under Sports rule. Iris, is 12 years old, and for a 14 year old actress (at the time), Foster deals with some heavy and extremely adult material and handles it very well. Keitel and Foster have a scene together where Sport holds her and slowly dances with her as he whispers into her ear about how lucky he is to have a woman like her. It’s an utterly repulsive scene. The look on his face mixed with the calm and safe look on the face of Iris, is pretty terrifying. It’s extremely well acted even though it’s a pretty quick and minor scene. In this one scene we see the type of control Sport has over the young, impressionable child that he abuses and takes advantage of. These are the kinds of things that sets Travis Bickle off. The film is a classic that dissects the fallout of one man’s loneliness and his thirst for acceptance, recognition, and notice. The editing is very good, the direction is great, but it’s carried by a magnificent script from Paul Schrader and a great lead performance. Travis Bickle is the self proclaimed, “God’s lonely man.” Bickle walks amongst the people on the filthy, crowded streets of New York City. Wherever he goes, he goes unnoticed; like a ghost meandering through life’s morbid boredom of repetitiveness as each day endlessly runs into the next. Bickle suffers from an inability to sleep so he goes to the porno theaters after 12 hour shifts and still can’t sleep. His mind is constantly racing as he takes various forms of pills and abuses alcohol. The former Vietnam Veteran has a damaged psyche that continues to get worse and worse as the disgust for the lowlifes of New York eat away at his consciences. The first act of the films starts with a normal looking man, with a regular hair cut and regular job in an irregular city. We watch Bickle go through everyday routines and his work habit is the main focus to derive attention away from his bloodlust. We don’t see much wrong with him other than some signs of frustration. He decides that his body needs some fine tuning as he reverts back to his days as a Marine and trains for battle. He meets up with a gun dealer and buys three pistols and a .44 magnum. He’s ready for war as the table is set. There are some classic scenes throughout the course of Bickle’ decent into madness that make the film so special. Taxi Driver’s ending cannot be resolved further more than conjecture and opinion. Scorsese himself says on the DVD making-of documentary that he believes the ending is open for analysis. Did Travis live? Did he die? Are the demons on the street still haunting him? Are we meant to sympathize with him and believe he is a hero, or are we meant to refuse him as one?