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Why do you seek death? You have not lived.

Posted : 7 years, 9 months ago on 1 August 2010 04:31 (A review of Faust)

''Wretched Faust, why do you seek death? You have not yet lived!''

God and Satan war over earth; to settle things, they wager on the soul of Faust, a learned and prayerful alchemist...

Gösta Ekman: Faust

Emil Jannings: Mephisto

Faust(German title: Faust - Eine deutsche Volkssage) is a silent film produced in 1926 by UFA, directed by F.W. Murnau, starring Gösta Ekman as Faust, Emil Jannings as Mephisto, Camilla Horn as Gretchen/Marguerite, Frida Richard as her mother, Wilhelm Dieterle as her brother and Yvette Guilbert as Marthe Schwerdtlein, her aunt. Murnau's film draws on older traditions of the legendary tale of Faust as well as on Goethe's classic version. UFA wanted Ludwig Berger to direct Faust, as Murnau was engaged with Variety; Murnau pressured the producer and, backed by Jannings, eventually persuaded Erich Pommer to let him direct the movie.

Director F.W. Murnau is best known for Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, his chilling 1922 vampire film, inspired by Bram Stoker's famous novel.
However, his equally impressive Faust is often overlooked, despite some remarkable visuals, solid acting, a truly sinister villain, and an epic tale of love, loss, good and evil. The story concerns Faust (Gösta Ekman), an old and disheartened alchemist who forms a pact with Satan's evil demon, Mephisto (Emil Jannings). As God and the Devil wage a war over Earth, the two opposing powers reach a tentative agreement: The entire fate of Mankind will rest upon the soul of Faust, who must redeem himself from his selfish deeds before the story is complete.

''Death sets all men free!''

The film contains many memorable images and special effects, intricately woven shades of transparency and darkness. Particularly striking is the sequence in which the giant, horned and black-winged figure of Mephisto (Jannings) hovers over a town sowing the seeds of plague amongst the human inhabitants.
A variation of advanced optical trickery and vibrant wondrous costumes, as well as sets, makes this film an absolute marvel to behold, with Murnau employing every known element – fire, wind, smoke, lightning – to help capture the film's sinister, themes of darkness and desperation. Double exposure, in which a piece of film is exposed twice to two different images, is used extremely effectively, being an integral component in many of the visual effect sequences.

It's often difficult to judge performances in a silent film, but I've certainly revelled in a particularly positive aptitude towards the acting talent presiding over Faust.
It must be stated that the glorious adaptability and layered performance by Gösta Ekman, whose incarnation, given limitless evil control, is transformed from a withered old man to a handsome youth. Despite my impression that two different actors had been used, it seems that Ekman convincingly portrayed both the old and young man, which is a credit to both the actor and Murnau's make-up department (chiefly, Waldemar Jabs). Emil Jannings plays Mephisto with a sort of mysterious slyness, always thinking ahead of the game and always upto michief and menacing interference. The young actress Camilla Horn as Gretchen – the woman with whom Faust falls in love – truly is the picturesque example of tenderness and beauty; Her acting is energetically mirrored by her afixiated innocence and graceful poise.
She certainly shows audiences changeability with some very raw emotions in the scene's final act, when her forbidden romance with Faust sends her life in a downward spiral.

Faust was F.W. Murnau's final film in Germany, his next project being the famous, loved American romance, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans(1927).
At the time, the film was the most expensive ever made by the German studio, UFA (Universum Film AG), though it would be surpassed the following year by Fritz Lang's classic science-fiction epic, Metropolis. Notably, there were five substantially different versions of Faust produced, several of these by the director himself: these include a German original version, a French version, a late German version, a bilingual version for European audiences, and an American cut compiled by Murnau especially for MGM in July 1926. Each of these altered particular scenes and camera angles, and often included material that would be more relevant to the target cultural audience (for example, the US version reportedly contains a joke about the American Prohibition era).

At the beating core of Faust is a tragic romance between Faust and Gretchen. I felt that the scenes when Faust is trying to coax Gretchen into loving him were the more subtle, detailed instances of the story and workings the film had to offer. In fact, Faust at times juggles within itself multiple genres and ways of evolving storytelling to new heights of betterment and wonderment. F.W. Murnau's Faust really is one of the jewels of the 1920s silent horror movement, and surely ahead of it's time.
In fact not many other films or stories following on to present day have managed to capture something so entwined with both film and telling a story.
We probably won't see anything like this again, after the golden age of silent cinema,and it's artistic vein of conveying emotion, titles and moving images. This is unprecedented and unrivalled, withstanding eternity and standing the test of time.

''The Word that wings joyfully throughout the Universe, The Word that appeases every pain and grief, The Word that expiates all human guilt, The Eternal Word...Dost thou not know it?''

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Dreams within dreams...

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 17 July 2010 01:35 (A review of Inception)

''Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.''

In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a single idea within one's mind can be the most dangerous weapon or the most valuable asset.

Leonardo DiCaprio: Cobb

Inception is a 2010 science fiction action film written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, with a supporting cast that includes Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Dileep Rao and Michael Caine.

Dreams have always been brought forth via films, the subconscious mind has been a vocal point and inspiration for many master film makers. Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and presently Christopher Nolan has been inspired by the greatest and best masters before him.
So for his latest, Nolan brings to our attention Inception; A classy, thrilling sphere of complexity. Nolan has looked at memory, magic, deception and the human psyche and here again he delves even deeper into our imagination.
The story and film is beautifully complex; We have Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb the Extractor - a man who specializes in subconscious security, but steals his clients' ideas. Supporting and members of his team:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, the Point Man - the person responsible for researching the team's targets.
Ellen Page as Ariadne, the Architect - a college graduate student who constructs the world of the dream.
Tom Hardy as Eames, the Forger - a sharp-tongued team member who impersonates the target within the dream world and forge an identity in a physical form.
Marion Cotillard as Mallorie "Mal" Cobb, the Shade - Cobb's deceased wife, who manifests in the dreamscape beyond Cobb's control.
Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer, Jr., the Mark - the heir to a business empire and Dom's latest client and target.
Ken Watanabe as Saito, the Tourist - a businessman who employs Cobb.
Tom Berenger as Peter Browning, Robert's godfather.
Dileep Rao as Yusuf, the Chemist - the team member who formulates the drugs needed to enter the dream world.
Pete Postlethwaite as Maurice Fischer, Robert's dying father.
Lukas Haas as Nash, Dom's previous Architect.
Michael Caine as Miles, Cobb's mentor, teacher, and father-in-law, and Ariadne's college professor. Miles is also the guardian of Cobb's children.

Eames: They come here every day to sleep?
Elderly Bald Man: [towards Cobb] No. They come to be woken up. The dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise, son?

Inception shouldn't be classed as being a new age Matrix because it features and divulges intricate originality and ideas in it's own right. The dream within a dream within a dream and the sense of time in dreams becoming increasingly longer than the short span via conscious reality.
A few scenes, including the ending are truly clever in the way that captures ambiguity; Letting us the audience draw our own conclusion. When you finally finish the film your mind has plenty to feed upon.
Who can forget the scene where the unconscious team is in a van while within a 2nd dream?
While the van is in a state of spinning, the corridor is equally spinning in a dizzying array of awe inspiring deftness...This is simply unforgettable. Inception displays a genius spark not often seen in today's regurgitated film stream; Christopher Nolan has yet again proved he is one of the best Directors of this age as he sends forth his dreamy masterpiece.
Leonardo DiCaprio also replicates his success he had with Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island which also had an underlining dream/psychological context. With Inception Leo proves equally adept with Nolan, and undoubtedly has been churning out layered performances which have moulded him into a seasoned actor who retains resonance and poise.

Inception was everything I expected it to be and in some circumstances exceeded expectations intricately.
Witty exchanges of dialogue between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy produce sly grins - ''You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.'' - while the serious issues covered by Leo, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard elevate the story and acting to higher spheres via implicity.
This is one of the best films this year and I can't see anything rivalling it later. This is one of those films where they will still be talking about it a hundred years later, where people will discuss and debate about what is real and what is dream.
The beauty of Inception is the deception and intelligence of how important an idea is yet the relevance of said idea is not. I could quite happily watch this over and over and still pick up new ideas and see new threads emerge from the puzzling maze that is presented to us.
What else makes Inception glorious as well as the imaginative visuals and story? Hans Zimmer's score. It is one of his best yet and it sends shivers up my spine everytime.
Christopher Nolan is the best at what he does, Inception proves it. The sharp suits, gravity defying antics and twists all combine in a sort of signature move regarding Nolan. This is his baby. No doubt about it.
This will have you pondering, wondering and thinking...Is this real? Is this a dream? Most importantly what is reality? The only answer I believe is one that is open to interpretation. Cleverly, Nolan leaves answers ambiguous while the theme of dreams is defined effortlessly. Our minds are spinning just like the spinning top that closes the film...Is this a dream or real? Be your own person and make your own choices.

''What's the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.''

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You're destroying me. You're good for me.

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 16 July 2010 12:45 (A review of Hiroshima Mon Amour)

''You're destroying me. You're good for me.''

A French young woman has spent the night with a japanese man, at Hiroshima where she went for the shooting of a film about peace. He reminds her of the first man she loved. It was during World War II, and he was a German soldier. The main themes of this film are memory and oblivion.

Emmanuelle Riva: Elle

Hiroshima mon amour is an acclaimed 1959 drama film directed by French film director Alain Resnais, with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras. It is the documentation of an endless conversation between a French-Japanese interracial couple about memory and forgetfulness. It was a major catalyst for the Nouvelle Vague (French New Wave), making highly innovative use of miniature flashbacks, a deflated sense of time, and omniscient narration from multiple characters.
The title literally translates from French to English as Hiroshima, My Love, though the film is almost always referred to by its original French title.

This is an exceptional film, marking Alain Resnais’ debut as a film director, eclipsing a decade where he produced eye-opening short documentaries. Indeed, Hiroshima mon amour started out as a documentary about the reconstruction of Hiroshima, and the first fifteen minutes of the film uses documentary footage to great effect playing upon the audiences empathic nature.
As in many of his subsequent films, Resnais uses his unique approach of weaving memories and actual events, establishing an illusion of ethereal timelessness. Phrases are repeated again and again, to the point they brain wash our own memory banks, to the point the camera pans listlessly along lifeless scenery, and dialogue is played over documentary footage of the rebuilding of Hiroshima. The overall effect leaves a profound impression of regret and self-inflected torment, perfectly captured by Emmanuelle Riva’s emotionally charged performance.
The film's simplicity is belied by the fact that it compares and contrasts the tragedy of Hiroshima with the tragedy of young love. On the surface, the idea that the suffering of a young woman whose lover has died can be compared to the tragedy of 200,000 deaths is a bit of a stretch, to be sure. Although Resnais and screenwriter Marguerite Duras never explicitly compare the two or intersect them. Instead they explore the nature of forgetting and remembering regarding human emotions and memory.
A central theme of the film is the necessity to come to terms with the horrors of the past. Both characters in the film (the actress and the architect) have painful memories of the war, and their liaison seems to represent some kind of rapprochement between East and West. "You are Hiroshima. You are Nevers" is how the film concludes, suggesting that the torment of the Hiroshima disaster, like the painful love affair, will one day be forgotten.
You are the East. I am the West. We are together now.

The beauty and power of the film is driven primarily from the editing, which from the film's first cut, is both brilliant and evocative. In the first 15 minutes Resnais uses a poetic, elliptical editing structure that shuffles black and white images of amorous close-ups, newsreel footage, and reconstructed war footage together to draw us into the theme of memory. After that the editing slows a bit and draws us into the budding romance while still juxtaposing the past and the present in fascinating ways.
The film poses the very simple question, 'How can we forget tragedy?'... Yet it never directly answers that question instead fluttering around the issue with careful precision; It lets the audience decide for themselves the beauty, horror, and reflection regarding memory.
Hiroshima mon amour also deals with contrasts and opposites, such as love and death, war and peace, living and remembering, as well as dealing with two people from different parts of the world: One from France and one from Japan (both of whom in a post-WWII world would have been viewed differently than today). The title too - Hiroshima mon amour - is an oxymoron. It refers duly to the most atrocious bombing of the 20th century and to that of the nature regarding personal love.

Both of the characters in the film have been described by many critics as being symbolic characters who fit into the film's bigger message. However Emmanuelle Riva, in her first starring role, gives such an amazing performance with such delicate and compelling moments that to label her as being merely symbolic is at best unfair. Eiji Okada too gives an effective performance albeit as a strong, brooding, silent type.
Few films leave such a lasting impression as Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. The stunning photography of contemporary Hiroshima, blended with bleak images of war-time France, is pure art, brought to life by a moving musical score. Whilst lacking the structure of the conventional film form, this film offers an experience that is supremely more satisfying and profoundly moving compared to anything else. Undoubtedly a masterpiece of memory, war, love and most importantly; The importance of a film conveying art and interpretation via the audience's imagination.

''All these years I've been looking for an impossible love.''

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A face that you could fall in love with...

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 14 July 2010 12:42 (A review of Onibaba)

''You want to see a face that you could fall in love with?''

During the Nanboku-chō period, a woman (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) live in a small hut in a susuki grass swamp.

Nobuko Otowa: Kichi's Mother

Onibaba (鬼婆, literally Demon Woman) (1964) is a Japanese horror film based on a Buddhist parable. Directed by Kaneto Shindō, the film is set in rural Japan in the fourteenth century and features Nobuko Otowa and Jitsuko Yoshimura as a woman and her daughter-in-law who attack and kill passing samurai, strip them of their valuable armour and possessions, and dispose of the bodies in a deep pit.

Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba is the sort of challenging, hypnotic work to awaken spurges of inspiration and splatterings of horror. Until its Criterion DVD in the US, not many people had heard of Onibaba, this is simply an outright shame: Onibaba is a horrifyingly visual masterpiece with depth.
As well as being a visual masterpiece, Onibaba is also the sort of story that contains questions poised at morality and principles driving the desperation, lusts and hunger humanity is spurned with.
It is the sort of story made for contemplation; Mysterious and so blissfully unconcerned with self gratification, driven by a primally raw score from
Hikaru Hayashi.
The mask to the face story concerns a woman and her daughter-in-law as they muster and lead a brutal existence amidst tall, wind swept grass and lost wandering samurai. Having no real source of income or sustenance, the two hide among the swaying reeds and kill the unsuspecting samurai, selling their clothes and armour for food. After the bodies are stripped, they are tossed into a hole where, we learn eventually, is littered with previous victims. The women kill, strip, and sell without emotion or even the hint of a troubled conscience, as they are, in the final equation, driven to murdering by the necessity to survive. Their lives appear to be nothing more than eating, retrieving water, retaining patience, and bargaining with their stolen goods. Suddenly, a strange man appears, revealing himself to be a friend of the young woman’s husband, whom we learn has been killed in battle. The friend is now looking for food and quite possibly, a little more...

''You turned into a demon! Now stay that way.''

Entrance of the man sends the story into a decidedly erotic spin, exposing the buried desires of each woman, as well as their competitive and lustful instincts. The mother, now past her prime, demands that the young girl stay away from the stranger, but naked lust dictates other behaviours from her. Each evening, while the mother pretends to sleep, the young girl slips away and runs — in an almost insane frenzy — to the man’s hut. She is insatiable to be sure, and the sexual escapades are quite graphic for the time. Not only do we see exposed breasts, but the coupling reveals an often ignored element of human sexuality — pure, inescapable need void of morality and grace. An interview with the director addresses the central importance of sex, for at this time and even today, what else is there? Perhaps when the trappings of civilization are laid bare, that is all we have to remind us of our temporary physical existence.
This is not a spiritual journey in the conventional sense, as the characters reveal their beliefs in an indifferent cosmos on several occasions. As a character shouts, "I am a human being, not a demon..." (context is vital here, however), revealing the essential humanism of the director’s vision. Who we are and what we become as we face the essence of survival become the only vital questions worth asking.

The imagery and cinematography, from Kiyomi Kuroda, is among the best I have seen, for if cinema is anything, it is the combination of the visual and the aural to create an overall sensation with audiences. Thus here we have a distinct world, impartial from any other seen, and despite its unfamiliarity in terms of experience, it retains comfortability and reassurance with the viewer. Whether one takes the film as an allegory or even literally, these characters are fascinating to behold; As they make moral and ethical decisions that do not reduce the world to rigid dichotomies.
Onibaba, for numerous reasons, sparked personal emotions as well as any intellectual appreciation regarding metaphors and symbolism. Therefore, it is increasingly exceeding admiration, releasing this high level of entrancement; This piece is gloriously visceral. Onibaba is cinema, then, in the best sense — moving, striking, honest, and devoid of pre-tense. The film aspires to be more than escapism, but it achieves its fundamental deadlines, avoiding the pitfalls of so many that strive to be self-consciously artsy. Love, sex, desire, death, superstition, and the perils of age — perhaps all, perhaps none. Onibaba is so important because it lingers on in the mind, leaves us enthralled and thinking, which is exactly what film lovers expect from a layered work of art. This is one of the best horror films not just in Japanese Cinema but in World Cinema and rivals anything to come out of the East or West since.

''I'm not a demon! I'm a human being!''

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This love of ours...

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 10 July 2010 11:38 (A review of Ugetsu)

''This love...This love of ours...Has driven me to madness.''

In 16th Century Japan Potter Genjurô and Tobei set out with their wives in search of wealth and military glory. Two parallel tales ensue when the men are lured from their wives: Genjurô by the ghostly charm of Lady Wakasa and Tobei by the dream of being a famed great Samurai.

Masayuki Mori: Genjurô

Ugetsu is a 1953 Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Set in 16th century Japan, it stars Masayuki Mori and Machiko Kyō, and is inspired by short stories by Ueda Akinari and Guy de Maupassant. It is one of Mizoguchi's most celebrated films, regarded by critics as a masterwork of Japanese cinema, a definitive piece during Japan's Golden Age of Film.
The film's original Japanese title is Ugetsu monogatari(雨月物語), which means Tales of the Moon and Rain, sometimes translated as Tales of Moonlight and Rain or Tales Of The Pale And Silvery Moon After The Rain.

Similarly to Akira's Rashomon(1951), Kenji's Ugetsu monogatari released 1953 is one of the rarities among Japanese films to gain international recognition. However, upon its release, didn't savour such a positive response as garnered later in time. In Japan upon release, for instance, attracted little attention from audiences. A year before Mizoguchi's Saikaku Ichidai Onna released 1952, which I will be seeing very soon, was being claimed as a masterpiece.
We can only blame the climate of the film Industry of Japan during this period...Because quite frankly Ugetsu monogatari is the definitive masterpiece with it's timeless storytelling and chilling vision. This is perhaps the pinnacle of perfection from a bygone age of beautiful film making, inspiring many psychological supernatural stories to follow in Western and Asian cinema.
So why is Ugetsu monogatari a masterpiece? Well, like Rashomon and Tora no O its starting point is a period of civil war and the experiences and mishaps of individuals living in a state of violence and upheaval, although at the same time combining pure folklore with this reality. The result is a strange and beautiful work, where ghosts, friendly and vengeful, mystical signs and enigmatic rituals, co-exist in a material world. Ugetsu monogatari is a treasure house of richly adorning imagery, energetic heightened performances with effective development, all woven and kept together by the presence of acting sublimity via Kyo Machiko and Mori Masayuki.

The theme of the individual's confrontation with a chaotic feudal society set in 16th Century Japan might be expected to yield a glossy historical rendering or perhaps realism laced with political implications, with near documentary resonance, yet pleasingly Mizoguchi's approach is totally different here.
He connects with his material on several levels; Realistic, aesthetic, religious, and mystical. He successfully and uniquely weaves together a hefty palette of styles and themes.
To begin with, there are two realities: The natural World comprising of War and chaos; Then there is this Supernatural World thriving with ghosts and pale apparitions. This duality calls forth a range of expressive devices in similar contrast, moving back and forth between unvarnished realism and highly stylised lyricism. Some of the resulting scenes could stand by themselves as proof of Director Mizoguchi's mastery in this difficult art of shifting and intersecting perspectives.
It's fairly obvious he is richest and at his best using crucial techniques; The long take, for which is work is famous; The long shot; The pan; The dissolve; and low-key photography. To these might be added a special felicity of camera movement, the fluid glide from one segment to the next, resulting in a pleasing control of the effects regarding pictorial composition.

Many would characterize Ugetsu as a work of visual poetry. While Genjuro's tale is what I would call the main underlining light, the film is enriched and complimented by another aspect. This aspect is about Tobei and his wife, who are Genjuro's neighbours in the hamlet. Craving military glory, Tobei resorts to ignominious behaviour in his pursuit of it.
Circumstances do not bode well for any of the main characters, thus I believe that surely the film should be seen as a timeless fable of the folly of War and giving into the lustful natures that pollute and overrun our fantasies.
The wives are the ones who suffer most when their husbands are seduced by wealth, lust and glory. The story is suffused with Buddhist notions: Existence is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, everything is transient.
Perhaps the film's serene ending suggests transcendence, peaceful acceptance or possible enlightenment. It is open to interpretation and discussion from audiences.
Genjuro's story in the film is inspired by two of the nine short stories in Akinari Ueda's 1776 book Ugetsu monogatari, translated as "Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Tobei's story in the movie is inspired by a short story by Guy de Maupassant.
The box set includes a 64 page booklet, featuring writing by Keiko I. McDonald (author of Mizoguchi and editor of Ugetsu) and award-winning translations of Ueda Akinari’s The Reed-Choked House and A Serpent’s Lust, tales adapted by Mizoguchi in Ugetsu Monogatari. Video lectures on Ugetsu Monogatari and Oyu-sama given by Tony Rayns, an expert on the cinema of the Far East, are included in this edition.

Overall, Ugetsu Monogatari is a story which teaches us the futility of war, of harbouring illusions or aspirations upon becoming something we are not. It shows how our dreams and material lusts can be the downfall of men and the women in our lives are left to pick up the broken pieces when things go wrong. Ghosts are as real as me or you, and the film strives to blend the two Worlds together, which in turn become a compliment. The material and immaterial relate in a way that transcends any realm our physical senses can perceive. In this World, aspects such as love, ghosts, belief and the mystery of our hearts and dreams cannot fully be explained by science or words. Kenji Mizoguchi captures upon film something that has not been recorded or seen in art, writing or other mediums for a long stretch of time.
In this regard, he has created a masterpiece, Ugetsu Monogatari is a ghostly reminder of how haunting poetry and storytelling can be when adapted into film. This is real yet mysterious and otherworldly. A triumph.

''I am at your side. Your delusion has come to an end.''

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Stop seeing them the way they weren

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 7 July 2010 05:40 (A review of The Baader Meinhof Complex)

''Stop seeing them the way they weren't.''

A look at Germany's revolutionary group, The Red Army Faction (RAF), which organized bombings, robberies, kidnappings and assassinations in the late 1960s and '70s.

Martina Gedeck: Ulrike Meinhof

Moritz Bleibtreu: Andreas Baader

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex(English title: The Baader Meinhof Complex) is a 2008 German film by Uli Edel; written and produced by Bernd Eichinger. It stars Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck and Johanna Wokalek. The film is based on the 1985 German best selling non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust. It retells the story of the early years of the West German militant group the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction, or RAF).

The contemporary media like to paint a picture of terrorists as ‘other’, a picture designed to make us feel safer in our middle class suburban homes. These others somehow differentiate from us. In the comfort of middle-class Germany via the late 1960s, an organisation sprang up from the suburbs, an army consisting of the educated children from the middle classes. Uli Edel’s uncompromising film examines how this was possible. Beginning with newsreel and television clips that place us in the era; Grim footage being fed back from Vietnam, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X, Edel evokes the spirit of the age. Working from Stefan Aust’s book, his screenplay opens on the Shah of Iran’s 1967 visit to Berlin where well-fed and fashionably dressed students, smug in their political correctness, are protesting over the Shah’s treatment of his population.
Suddenly, those sympathetic to the Shah turn on the protesters, turning their placards into clubs and brutally beating them. Rather than helping the students, the police assist in beating, and in one instance killing, the students.
As a viewer you are enticed, even to a point provoked, you want justice, and in this is the success of Edel’s terrific film.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex plays with your emotions carefully, meticulously painting a wide and elaborate canvas with an array of perspectives, whereupon you understand from an emotional level how these people might be provoked into action. From this incident springs a movement. We meet Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) and boyfriend Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) who begin a series of retaliations against the state, thus surrounding themselves with other young idealists. Only when respected journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedek) begins collaborating with them do they become a serious movement who will reign terror on the German state for a decade, and whose army will continue to fight even after the leaders are imprisoned and martyred.
The cast is impressive, featuring a fair few actors and actresses from Der Untergang, Bruno Ganz prominently features as the Police Forces Chief in charge of defeating the RAF. Echoes of Der Untergang anyone?
Alexandra Maria Lara and Heino Ferch also feature in supporting roles.
Martina Gedeck from The Lives of Others also shines as Ulrike Meinhof, while Moritz Bleibtreu as Andreas Baader provides another electric performance. His performance is one where you either love him or hate him. In fact the RAF as a whole, mirrors certain freedom fighting organisations, one where extremism and propaganda fuel a constant volley of violence towards the oppressive might of the Government.

The violence in Edel’s film serves a purpose, building in us the understanding that these people have a radical grip and determination regarding their idealism through action, determination and resolution; They are morally empowered.
I think this film would be a great place for parents to start a conversation with their children about necessity and doing what is necessary. Establishing specific strengths, values and roots while nudging the next generation towards a certain, clear path and destiny.
Edel uses a variety of film stocks to match the patchiness of the vintage footage he weaves into his narrative, adding to the authenticity. If he meanders off track at times, it is because there is alot of storytelling and facts to display for audiences. This could easily have been a long and riveting mini-series. The performances he draws from his entire cast are terrific, but especially from his three leads, who are just mesmerising, and the cast are sumptuously costumed – a telling indicator that these urban warriors might be more intrigued by the romance blossoming from various antics regarding their lifestyle and ideology.

Jörg Schleyer, the son of the assassinated manager and then president of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, Hanns Martin Schleyer, states and I will mention it while commenting myself to close my review, that the film was great in the sense this piece finally portrays the RAF as what it actually was, "a merciless, ruthless gang of murderers". Commenting on the blatant depiction of violence he said, "Only a film like this can show young people how brutal and bloodthirsty the RAF's actions were at that time."
Perhaps for some a necessary response and reaction from a group such as the RAF, a group and younger generation, shaped by the past which created and allowed oppression and corruption possible in the present. A frustration from a youth attempting to re-establish a voice thus a place in the world. A world constantly changing and heading towards decadence, decay and the unknown. 

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How beautiful life is...

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 2 July 2010 08:10 (A review of Ikiru)

''How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death.''

Kanji Watanabe is a longtime bureaucrat in a city office who, along with the rest of the office, spends his entire working life doing nothing...

Takashi Shimura: Kanji Watanabe

Ikiru(生きる, "To Live") is a 1952 Japanese film co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film examines the struggles of a minor Tokyo bureaucrat and his final quest for meaning. The film stars Takashi Shimura as Kanji Watanabe.
Ikiru is emotionally effecting and intellectually engaging, and indeed deserves its reputation as a masterpiece regarding world cinema and should be included in any reasonable list of the one hundred greatest films ever made.

Ikiru is about a man who discovers he has a terminal illness, but the movie glosses over his physical suffering, instead focusing on the philosophical implications of his situation. The Japanese word ikiru translates into English as “to live,” and I see the film as being a thought-provoking meditation on what that verb should mean for a human being.
It is addressing life or the purpose of living: Kanji Watanabe, an aging man who works as a section chief at the incredibly bureaucratic Tokyo City Hall. For 30 years he has done little on the job except be present and shuffle papers. He is a lonely widower who is not close to anyone. A narrator tells us in voice-over that Watanabe is "simply passing time without actually living his life." But he soon realizes he has an illness that will kill him within a few months.
One of the things that impresses concerning Ikiru is its unconventional narrative structure. The first hour and a half takes us in a relatively normal encompassing through the Kafkaesque environment at City Hall, a night of debauchery in Tokyo’s vibrant amusement district, and a painful relationship between the dying Watanabe and a vivacious young woman. The film then surprisingly propels five months ahead to Watanabe’s wake, where the rest of the story unfolds like a mystery. We learn in flashbacks what Watanabe did during his last five months and some intriguing details revolving around his demise.

''I have less than a year to live. When I found that out... somehow I was drawn to you. Once when I was a child, I almost drowned. It's just like that feeling. Darkness everywhere, and nothing for me to hold onto, no matter how hard I try. There's just you.''

In the role of Kanji Watanabe, Takashi Shimura gives one of the most memorable performances by an actor in any film seen. Here Shimura plays an everyday man, and his expressive face and body language perfectly capture the terminally ill bureaucrat. Although to see why they call it acting, watch Seven Samurai, where Shimura portrays Sambei, a powerful warrior who leads the band of heroes that gives the film its title. The roles is a contrast and example on how wonderfully Shimura can change himself into any role.
Kurosawa is famous for his visual style, and it’s the images in Ikiru that remain: A jammed dance floor in a nightclub filled with a sea of dancers swaying to Latin music; Watanabe watching a toy bunny hop across a tea-room table; the face of a City Hall bureaucrat disappearing behind stacks of paperwork. Indeed, one of the most moving scenes in all of cinema is the one near the film’s end where Watanabe, alone in a small playground, swings to and fro amidst gently falling snow, softly singing “Life Is Brief.”

One of the film's best qualities is the superb direction by Akira Kurosawa. It is mesmerising that Kurosawa was able to make the character of Kanji, a bureaucratic paper-pusher the most well developed, interesting character in the story. That is not to say that all of the other characters in the movie are underdeveloped. Every role in this movie is expertly defined. Also, Kurosawa's revolutionary pacing makes the 140 minute runtime fly by, leaving the audience begging for more.
The cinematography by Asakazu Nakai is outstanding. Every shot in this movie is so well composed that any one of them could very easily be framed and displayed in a museum. Nakai's usage of lighting techniques and deep focus as methods of foreshadowing is unparalleled.
There is a strong anti-bureaucracy message in the film's underlining storytelling. In fact, this subtext later became the basis for one of the themes in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. In Ikiru, this sentiment is tragic as the poor people of Kuroe's petition for a park gets passed around from department to department after each employee decides that it is not their problem. Kanji is easily assimilated into the role of the hero when he makes the plight of the residents of Kuroe his personal mission and stops at nothing to see that the park is built.
Ikiru is one of the greatest films ever made. This is one of those experiences where there is not a single wasted moment or scene. Ikiru is as life-affirming, and equally as memorable as Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. This film also shows that, while he is most popular for his masterful samurai epics, Kurosawa's entire body of work demands attention. Ikiru is one of his best achievements in film and an affirmed favourite for me.

Even upon first viewing Ikiru is easy to understand and yet it is not easy to understand; It is simply open to more than one interpretation. The ending is in some ways bleak: It looks as though Watanabe had no lasting impact on City Hall and before long he will be forgotten. Yet on the other hand, one poor Tokyo neighbourhood is given hope and a new lease of life because of his efforts.
The most important idea in the film is that Watanabe did manage to do something meaningful after his mortality's end is known, and it was only during this time that he could actually be said to live. He is alive. Watanabe has finally lived.

''Life is so short...Fall in love, dear maiden...While your lips are still red...And before you are cold...For there will be no tomorrow.''

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Immovable as the mountain.

Posted : 7 years, 10 months ago on 1 July 2010 05:00 (A review of Kagemusha (1980))

''The shadow of a man can never desert that man. I was my brother's shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing.''

When a powerful warlord in medieval Japan dies, a poor thief recruited to impersonate him finds difficulty...

Tatsuya Nakadai: Shingen Takeda / Kagemusha

Kagemusha(影武者) is a 1980 film by Akira Kurosawa. The title (which literally translates to "Shadow Warrior" in Japanese) is a term used for an impersonator. It is set in the Warring States era of Japanese history and tells the story of a lower-class criminal who is taught to impersonate a dying warlord in order to dissuade opposing lords from attacking the newly vulnerable clan. The warlord whom the Kagemusha impersonates is based on daimyo Takeda Shingen and the climactic 1575 Battle of Nagashino.

The first time I watched Kagemusha I was enthralled by the visuals, and hypnotised by being transported to 16th Century Japan; A captivating Era retaining precise honour and orderly constraints.
The central story of Kagemusha, the double, the shadow warrior, whom is chosen by the late Lord Shingen's advisers to be the Lord himself, to fool his enemies and even his own clan, is storytelling worthy of Akira Kurosawa.
It is indeed a three-hour epic (Kurosawa's second longest film, disregarding the unseen cut of The Idiot), however resulting in a not necessarily condensed experience.
Every scene has enough nuance, perspective and irony to pierce the impending tragedy that looms over the Takeda clan.

It's been said, most of all by Kurosawa himself, that this film was a "dress rehearsal" for his last epic masterpiece RAN.
RAN is the more artistically overwhelming and incredible superior, although Kagemusha is still a staggering achievement for any director and Akira blasts this point across with this layered piece.
This being his third colour film, after his 70s period, you see the work divulged by the impressive storyboards he created (you can see the reprints in the Criterion DVD package), creating scene after scene where colours are heightened, returned and made precisely for specific moods and settings required.
Akira and Bergman are the first directors who were able to move from expressive black and white films into the World of colour yet still make the personal renderings regarding certain scenes meaningful with powerful imagery.
The scene in which Kagemusha is dreaming, a colourful landscape with snow, mountains, and water, whereupon the armoured original Lord pursues him.
This imaginative rendering is his subconscious coming to a conclusion via this dream. It is a premonition of the impending doom which presents itself to the Takeda Clan; The overconfidence and temporary affiliation that Kagemusha has with them...Yet the reality is still to be concluded.
It perhaps also perceives the eclipsing demise of their irrationality by moving the mountain representation, which is the Lord. The answer is open to interpretation yet Akira has given many clues throughout the film for audiences to analyse and reflect upon. The reality, echoes and dream all symbolise the circle of power man is fighting himself for.
Even Nobunaga Oda, an enemy of the Takeda Clan, utilizes acquisitions and ambitions perhaps representing the future of Japan. He is the representation of Western civilisation mixing with Eastern superiority and mentality.

The final climactic battle-turned-slaughter also is on par with Akira's action acculturation. It has a scope and vastness later echoed in his RAN, and it also echoes the point that warfare has changed with the arrival of arquebuses; Guns.
In the aftermath, the horses in slow motion represent the last gushing of life, and bodies strewn with blood hopelessness. Following this with Kagemusha's final stand as he runs madly through the field towards his end, it all marks as one of the supreme set-pieces ever done depicting the horror of sacrifice and futility of war. It's not one of the easier Kurosawa films to watch due to its pacing and length, although it does contain effortless performances and imagery unrivalled, thus it stands as a fine interpretation of history via artistic means.
Kagemusha shows its main character double, redeem and ultimately beguiles moral implications from his actions: In a final show of loyalty, he takes up a lance and makes a futile charge against Oda's fortifications, ultimately dying for the Takeda clan. The final image kagemusha's bullet-riddled body being washed away down a river, next to the flag of the Takeda clan. This is quite possibly among Akira's most personal, intriguing endings that capture loyalty and horror. He is a ghost that has become a shadow.

''Swift as the wind, silent as the forest, fierce as the fire, immovable as the mountain.''

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Seeing one Disney means you've seen them all.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 29 June 2010 06:00 (A review of The Princess and the Frog)

''There is no way I'm kissing a frog and eating a bug in the same day.''

A fairy tale set in Jazz Age-era New Orleans and centered on a young girl named Tiana and her fateful kiss with a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again.

Anika Noni Rose: Tiana

The Princess and the Frog is a 2009 American animated family film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, inspired in part by E. D. Baker's novel The Frog Princess, which was in turn inspired by the Grimm brothers' fairy tale The Frog Prince.

It is the 49th animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics line, and the first of these films to be traditionally (2D) animated since 2004's Home on the Range. The film was directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, directors of The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and Treasure Planet, with songs and score composed by Randy Newman and featuring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, and John Goodman. Tiana, the main character, is also notable as Disney's first black princess.

When I first heard about this film back in 2009 I felt somewhat nostalgic. Having seen the Directors had worked on some Disney offerings from my childhood; Aladdin & The Little Mermaid.
I was willing to give the film a chance, I was however not excited enough at the time, to rush down to the Cinema and see it.
Thank God I didn't. Disney's latest has the same tired formula that the 49 films previously have all touched upon; The fact remains the pacing is slow, the depth and meaning relatively non-existent, and the characters are hardly easy to understand or warm affection upon.
The Princess and the Frog certainly proves that if you have seen one Disney film you have seen them all. Girl and guy argue, they fall in love, and then the flat villains are defeated by the good guys. Everything wraps up nicely, to the extent, one feels sick with intrepidation.
Running to the defence, the film does have some gorgeously drawn frames and animation. Unfortunately the unmemorable songs negate the charm and charisma that is necessary to propel the story and characters into the memory. It is simply forgettable, dull and somewhat pointless in it's pretentious self righteousness.

The visual effects and backgrounds for the film were created digitally using Cintiq tablet displays. Perhaps the best aspect of the film and the smooth animation rates.
The backgrounds were painted digitally using Adobe Photoshop, and many of the architectural elements were based upon 3D models built in Autodesk Maya. Nicely done.
The former trend in Disney's hand-drawn features where the characters and cinematography were influenced by a CGI-look has been abandoned. Andreas Deja, a veteran Disney animator who supervised the character of Mama Odie in Princess and the Frog, says "I always thought that maybe we should distinguish ourselves to go back to what 2D is good at, which is focusing on what the line can do rather than volume, which is a CG kind of thing. So we are doing less extravagant Treasure Planet kind of treatments...''
Deja also mentions that Lasseter was aiming for the Disney sculptural and dimensional look of the 1950s: "All those things that were non-graphic, which means go easy on the straight lines and have one volume flow into the other – an organic feel to the drawing." Lets save these people time explaining because the finalised piece is a disappointing slog. A 2D farce with no proper storytelling elements to back its style. The substance is lacking.

Overall, The Princess and the Frog feels a waste. It also has the good and evil themes concerning black and white. Voodoo is unjustly labelled as devilry while doctrines are sadly stereotypical.
Woefully sad the experience becomes because I had some high expectations from Disney as always. It doesn't retain the former glory of previous instalments. The Little Mermaid had charm, Aladdin had charisma, even Beauty and the Beast had heart and passion...So why on earth does The Princess and the Frog have none of these elements?
I'm actually still in a state of flux and fuming rage due to the lack of provocative the Picture takes with it's A to B simplicity. Mindless children and witless adults may indeed lap this rustic affair up, but I energetically see the charade for what it is...A complete travesty only saved by luscious animation and drawings. Seeing past the surface, The Princess and the Frog neither pleases musically or with the unoriginal storytelling it divulges.

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A watered down version of Totoro

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 27 June 2010 10:13 (A review of Ponyo)

''Ponyo loves Sosuke! I will be a human, too!''

An animated adventure centered on a 5-year-old boy and his relationship with a goldfish princess who longs to become human.

Noah Lindsey Cyrus: Pony

Ponyo is a 2008 Japanese animated film by Studio Ghibli, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is Miyazaki's eighth film for Ghibli, and his tenth overall. The plot revolves around a goldfish named Ponyo who befriends a five-year-old human boy, Sōsuke, and wants to become a human girl.

Studio Ghibli has always retained a special place in my heart for it's imaginative animation and luscious drawings yet the magic, like most other studios today, begins to lose some of it's original glow, this being the 8th film to be released. Spirited Away achieved the pinnacle asphyxiation with audiences levitating inspiration and creativity hand in hand. Totoro was fun, while Grave of the Fireflies had an emotional resonance and truthful acculturation regarding suffering in life.
So what new narrative and wayward path does Ponyo follow? The answer is indeed nothing new. This is simply a regurgitation of previous works with the same moral happiness fibre that accelerates them all. 7 of the titles that followed, 5 of which, exceed in excelling philosophical proportions, as well as fun and imaginative meanderings.
Don't get me wrong Ponyo is a lovely film. It's detailed and has a slow pacing which captures detail and the gorgeously drawn animation; The Sea creatures and frame rate are vibrant and perfect.
The characters all have the qualities that others had previously, but I guess who cares when Ponyo is this cute right? The untrained eye and ear will find nothing to fault with this latest offering, long term fans will perhaps know otherwise.

Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey and Liam Neeson to name an exceptional few, voice the characters in the Western voice-over version. While Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Tomoko Yamaguchi, George Tokoro and Kazushige Nagashima of Japanese renown voice the Original voice-overs.
Anime Diet cited the quality of the translation, noting, "The story and the core of the film was communicated more than adequately through the professional dub and it did not get in the way of the sheer delight and joy that Miyazaki wanted to convey." Citing "slight pacing problems," it gave Ponyo a rating of 88%. The pronunciation of Japanese names in the English cinema version varied between characters, however.
The film was written, directed, and animated by the main man; Hayao Miyazaki, whom said his inspiration was the Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Little Mermaid".
Miyazaki was intimately involved with the hand-drawn animation that Ponyo has. He preferred to draw the sea and waves himself, and enjoyed experimenting with how to express this important part of the film. This level of detailed drawing resulted in 170,000 separate images—a record for a Miyazaki film.
Ponyo's name is an onomatopoeia, based on Miyazaki's idea of what a "soft, squishy softness" sounds like when touched.
The seaside village where the story takes place is inspired by Tomonoura, a real town in Setonaikai National Park in Japan, where Miyazaki stayed in 2005. Some of the setting and story was affected by Richard Wagner's opera Die Walküre. The music also makes reference to Wagner's opera. The character of Sōsuke is interestingly based on Miyazaki's son Gorō Miyazaki when he was five. Sōsuke's name is also derived from the hero in the famous novel The Gate.

Overall, it is a very simplistic story with the usual quality, enjoyable and with rich textures. Ponyo will please any simple minded individual who enjoys seeing the World from a Child's vantage point. However, Miyazaki fails to imitate his glory achieved by numerous past projects, which is predictable and yet disappointing. Ponyo in fact feels like a watered downed version reminiscent to Totoro, which was innocent and realistic. Yet with Ponyo the story doesn't transition as smoothly as it should. The beginning seems disjointed, while the later segments begin to flag and become pretentious conclusions.
The lovely sea creatures and action segments of the storm make me forgive and forget most qualms. Ponyo is imaginative 2D art which eclipses and adds a needed change from the PIXAR monopoly constantly hypnotising little boys and girls.

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