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A dark yet beautiful yesterday.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 27 June 2010 01:14 (A review of The White Ribbon)

''After so many years, a lot of it has become obscure, and many questions remain unanswered. But I feel I must talk about the strange events that occurred in our village. They could perhaps clarify certain things that happened to this Country. It all began, I think, with the Doctor's riding accident...''

Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.

Christian Friedel: The School Teacher

The White Ribbon(German: Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) is a 2009 black and white drama written and directed by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. The story darkly depicts society and family in a northern German village just before World War I. According to Haneke, the film is about "the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of political or religious nature."

Set in a German village manifested by acts of malice and violence in the months leading up to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Michael Haneke's latest offering The White Ribbon is a creation defined by images dually effecting and deeply insightful.
A gentle, sinless romance that builds at the center of The White Ribbon between a school teacher and a young woman named Eva (Leonie Benesch) balances the other circumstances which arise. It is from a later time and with the pangs of wisdom and helplessness that the nameless school teacher (Christian Friedel) narrates the happenings in his home village preceding the Great War.
The choice to make the film in black and white was based partly on the resemblance to photographs of the era, but also to create a distancing effect.
All scenes were originally shot in colour and then altered to black and white. Christian Berger, Haneke's usual director of photography, shot the film on Super 35 using a Moviecam Compact. Before filming started, Berger studied the black and white films Ingmar Bergman made with Sven Nykvist as cinematographer. Haneke wanted the environments to be very dark, so many indoor scenes used only practical light sources such as oil lamps and candles. In some of the darkest scenes, where the crew had been forced to add artificial lighting, extra shadows could be removed in the digital post-production which allowed for extensive retouching.
In Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, a German paper, Julia Evers called the film "an oppressive and impressive moral painting, in which neither the audience nor the people in the village find an escape and a valve from the web of authority, hierarchy and violence. Everything in The White Ribbon is true. And that is why it is so difficult to bear." Markus Keuschnigg of Die Presse praised the sober cinematography along with the pacing of the narrative. Keuschnigg opposed any claims about the director being cold and cynical, instead hailing him as uncompromising and sincerely humanistic.
Die Welt's Peter Zander compared The White Ribbon to Haneke's previous films Benny's Video and Funny Games, both centering around the theme of violence. Zander concluded that while the violence in the previous films had seemed distant and constructed, The White Ribbon demonstrates how it is a part of our reality. Zander also applauded the "perfectly cast children", whom he held as the real stars of this film.
"Mighty, monolithic and fearsome it stands in the cinema landscape. A horror drama, free from horror images", Christian Buß wrote in Der Spiegel, and expressed delight in how the film deviates from the conventions of contemporary German cinema: "Director Michael Haneke forces us to learn how to see again". Buß suggested references in the name of the fictitious village, Eichwald, to the Nazi Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann and the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Eichwald is however a common German place name, meaning the "Oak Forest", thus it is open to interpretation to its meaning, if any.

''Will you set it free once it's healed?''

Reactions and effectual repercussions: The village pastor punishes his children and makes his two eldest wear the titular woven band. It is a symbol of innocence and throughout his film captures devastating cultural and historical implications; Haneke's more fervent fascination is with how innocence and sin are both entwined regarding childhood. The children all possess the basic indicators of innocence but their demeanours akin to their faces, say otherwise. What they are taught -- a strict reading of God's laws -- and what they see are dissimilar and their allegiances become first-and-foremost to God. Their imposing of His wrath takes the form of punishing not only their elders but of a rich boy and a young handicapped child.
These children would grow up and support -- if not birth -- the National Socialist movement but Haneke is careful not to corner his film or let it stand as pure symbolism. The White Ribbon is richly drawn and complexly layered in crisp and perfectly calibrated black-and-white landscapes which emphasizes shadowy house interiors and beautiful, light-drenched exteriors; A picture of immense negativity upon a foundation on a doomed community rather than a smattering of barking ideologies. The school teacher's courtship and a poor, widowed farmer's family may not be implicit in the children's surreptitious punishments but they are likewise troubled and affected by the bedlam.
Only in the film's last quarter does someone start suspecting that the children are those responsible but the viewer is meant to feel like the moral crimes perpetrated by the adults are more substantial than the atrocities committed by the children throughout. Haneke, in fact, is elliptical when it comes to acts of degrading innocence: The attacks on two boys, the murder of a cherished pet, a child's molestation and the caning of two siblings are all conveyed through their early stirrings and their ultimate effects, with interpretation and discussion adding symbolic referendum. The violence, bred from idealized indoctrination, exudes an eerie, poignant resonance retaining déjà vu and indeed, the film's pristine aesthetic, bleak with a thematic palate which help shape The White Ribbon.

The White Ribbon is simply this: Mysterious things happen. The setting of the fictitious Protestant village of Eichwald, Germany between July 1913 and August 1914, captures the feel, history and time more than any other film preceding it. It is not merely confined to being a master work of cinematography but one where storytelling and history merge together.

''There was a feeling of expectation and departure in the air. Everything was about to change.''

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G.I. Joe does not exist...If only.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 20 June 2010 02:59 (A review of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra)

''Technically, G.I. Joe does not exist, but if it did, it'd be comprised of the top men and women from the top military units in the world, the alpha dog's. When all else fails, we don't.''

An elite military unit comprised of special operatives known as G.I. Joe, operating out of The Pit, takes on an evil organization led by a notorious arms dealer.

Dennis Quaid: General Abernathy / Hawk

The man behind The Mummy series and Van Helsing explodes his latest project G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra upon audiences.
Although knowing Director Stephen Sommers you instantly assume CGI, effects and colourful meanderings will take precedence over any substantial material or dialogue. So what is the result? Well, it is an overblown fest of nonsense with no defining plot.

Sommers never truly develops his characters thus we can never relate to them. By all means you could argue he tries, by using flashbacks, used at the strangest possible interludes. The acting doesn't help matters either because performances range from dastardly villainy to macho good guys cracking lame jokes.
Going back to the flashbacks, which merely include a few of the main members of G.I. Joe and Cobra, the rest of the cast, which is many do not have the necessary fleshing out to define them.
Needless to say, Joseph Gordon-Levitt impressed me the most, if I had to choose a defining, stand out actor. He plays the nefarious evil Doctor whom is also the brother to Sienna Miller's Baroness, although supposedly recognizable to the untrained eye he instantly was spotted by me. He gives a chilling, over the top, twisted definition to bring to life his character. What else? He's clearly having fun and I guiltily admit watching him.
The rest of the cast range from the eye candy females there to drawn in the mindless male audiences whom don't know any better, and the strong, buff men used to draw the females. Yet, this is a very boyish film much like the Hasbro toys the film is based upon.

''They feel no fear. Cortical nerve clusters showed complete inactivity. They feel no pain. Concepts of morality are disengaged. They feel no regrets. No remorse.''

Sienna Miller utilizes the advantages of the push up bra and a sexy exotic black costume while red headed Rachel Nichols does exactly the same thing with her shaped body suit. G.I. Joe clearly is style over substance in a dizzying array of CGI mayhem.
Villain arms dealer Christopher Eccleston has a Scottish accent that quite honestly makes milk curdle with it's comical tones of stereotypicalist provocation. Whereas Dennis Quaid's Hawk expects us to believe he's an American General leading an Elite Unit of technologically blessed block heads.
Ray Park reprises a silent role from his days of The Phantom Menace, Marlon Wayans is the black guy cracking jokes, and Arnold Voosloo pops into this Sommers outing to whistle. Speaking of Voosloo, G.I Joe is littered with The Mummy old cast churning out odd cameos which essentially back fire because the film becomes a ''Spot The Mummy cast member!'' outing instead of just a contorted mess. I'm actually puzzled as to whether Brendan Fraser and Kevin J. O'Connor appearing randomly in scenes is good or bad.
As for Jonathan Pryce being cast as the US president someone is clearly having a lovely laugh at our expense.
Channing Tatum as duke, the so called lead man, shows not everyone in this World has the ability to act or say lines correctly. He's essentally a walking, talking bloke whom just found his way out of the gym.
He does succeed in being more wooden than a cemented lama which one night became fossilized by non-movement.

What's funny is that little kids, young teenagers and handfuls of geeks or fans of the toys will love this chaotic, colourful rainbow of action and CGI.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra for me, was at times fun yet mostly a confusing experience. I mean, they actually fooled me into for a moment indulging a thought that the film may have a story to back itself up. The beginning has a period flashback in Scotland reminiscent of The Man In the Iron Mask yet the illusion is dispelled with the jump back to modern reality and G.I. Joe prominently shows it's true colours. A hyper actioned affair with no defining plot. Gigantic set pieces and CGI over-kill may impress the simple minded film junkies who need a quick fix but alas for those more intelligent viewers, like I, I can boldly say we're not fooled. Try again Sommers. Reading books might help Stephen discover what substance and story means.

''The time has come for the cobra to rise up and reveal himself. You will call me Commander.''

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Fortune favours the Grape of film.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 14 June 2010 11:07 (A review of Alexander (2004))

''In the end, when it's over, all that matters is what you've done.''

Alexander, the King of Macedonia and one of the greatest military leaders in the history of warfare, conquers much of the known world.

Colin Farrell: Alexander

Everyone may remember Colin Farrell taking a moment to urinate upon a religious tree in Jerusalem. It comes to mind generally because Olive Stone, director of Alexander happens to create controversy by effectively taking his own urination session upon History.
Irish accents, shifty wigs, and a perception of Macedonia that would make a grown man cry like a baby.
Who may you ask is to play Alexander the Great? Oliver Stone seems to shock audiences by choosing the ill-cast Colin Farrell into a role he cannot hope to conquer.

Alexander ironically has the likes of talented Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony Hopkins, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson and even Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Yet Oliver Stone manages to turn the epic into a abysmal waste of celluloid thus creating a travesty and in essence an Irish sounding mockery of History.
Angelina Jolie speaks similar to a Romanian Gypsy with chaotic tones to her lines, while actually asking audiences to believe she is Alexander's Mother Olympias, when in fact she looks more like a sibling sister.
Val Kilmer fails to portray King Philip as anything more than a over weight slob, Anthony Hopkins hobbles around narrating the story in the future while oozing self pretentious offal.
As for the homosexual relationship between Leto's Hephaistion and Alexander, what more can audiences ask for to make them uncomfortable? Oh yes, don't forget that blonde gay wig that Farrell wears. I'm still squirming and writhing in pain doth the agony inflicted upon the very eyes.

In its defence Alexander does indeed feature battle sequences and aerial shots that defy expectations and the appalling dramatics. It also features a couple of cameos that shine a light upon a greatness that could of been; Brian Blessed pops up as a Wrestling trainer and Christopher Plummer makes an appearance as Aristotle.
A sex scene prominently is used half way between Farrell and the newly famed Rosario Dawson, which in turn, wakes one up as the film flags. This is the scene to watch and indeed the pause button was invented primarily for such a joyous occasion. Unfortunately the joy is short-lived, the film's incessant jumping and flashbacks irritate and confuse spiralling audiences into madness and frustration.
I kept asking myself why? Then correspondently looking at my watch for the time, sweating, wondering if this film would be the death of me, before asking myself why again? Why has Oliver Stone made Alexander the Grape? A bisexual hippy whom believes in uniting Asia with Greece and Macedonia. Alexander was ahead of his time yes. But does Oliver Stone capture this fact with bad boy Farrell? The answer is a solid no.

Ultimately, Alexander ironically is a showcase for Persian art, Babylon, and showing off beautiful exotic Asian locations, it could be quite possible to watch the entire film muted. In fact Vangelis whom did the music probably are the victors here, the one constant Oliver Stone does not tarnish with his inadequate film-making sinisterness.
A small decision to watch the 1958 Alexander the Great by Robert Rossen may be a better alternative, or better yet, a Documentary on the History Channel. Books, pictures and films done correctly can tell the story of Alexander, unfortunately Oliver Stone failed and as a consequence wasted time, film, and an ineffective selection for a cast. It had a great assemble, yes, but the right choices? No. Fortune does not favour Mr Stone.

''I've lived... I've lived long life, Cadmos, but the glory and the memory of men will always belong to the ones who follow their great visions. The greatest of these is the one they now call Megas Alexandros. The greatest of them all.''

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Lambs become lions.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 13 June 2010 11:47 (A review of Robin Hood)

''Rise, and rise again. Until lambs become lions.''

The story of an archer in the army of Richard Coeur de Lion who fights against the Norman invaders and becomes the legendary hero known as Robin Hood.

Russell Crowe: Robin Longstride

Cate Blanchett: Marion Loxley

Ridley Scott is a master when it comes to film making and visionary realization. Just look at his sci-fi legacies Blade Runner and Alien as a beginning to a long resume of fine creations. Ridley over time moved away from Science Fiction to sate lavish interest with history and real time, capturing epic grandeur with artistic means.
His best work would have to be Gladiator, while Black Hawk Down, Body of Lies and the robotic Kingdom Of Heaven show Ridley can still make a good film, although perhaps consistency remains in question.
Robin Hood proves what a charismatic cast can achieve and a solid screenplay that equals cleverness can conjure.
Ridley weaves the whole picture majestically well, essentially bringing to life a legendary character in a light never seen before in any previous films or literal manifestations.

What would I say I find most rewarding from Robin Hood? For a start, it has a believable humour and resonance about it. The cast have a sombre English feel, with accents that match, Russel Crowe & Cate Blanchett are essentially not Oscar Winners for nothing. They embody their roles with believability and credibility that has us rooting for them, feeling in a sense what they experience. It's very clever of Ridley Scott to choose such wonderful actresses and actors and bring the best out of them.
Max von Sydow, William Hurt, Mark Strong, Oscar Isaac and a short appearance from Danny Huston all grace the screen and add performances with the valour, battles and drama that ensues.
Who can also forget Robin's friends? Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck. They definitely add laughs, empathy and sensuality audiences can warm to. If Kingdom of Heaven lacked one thing, it lacked this, soul and depth. This is not robotic, this is very human thus we have fun and enjoy the ride.

Robin Hood is perhaps not what mainstream viewers would predict envisioning. This isn't a story about Robin Hood hiding out in the forest, helping the poor and fighting the Sheriff of Nottingham; This is an origin tale, a sort of prequel.
Robin is returning from the crusades with a king whom has followed his ambitions and religious conquests in Jerusalem. The Country thus has been bled dry by the expenses of such a campaign. When Robin ends up accidentally taking the identity of another, after the Lionheart King is killed by a French cook's arrow, we see a chain of events unfold that are fantastical and vast.
Is Robin Hood historically accurate? Not quite. Is it the closest, grittiest envisioning ever to grace the screen? I'd say it comes very close. What the film results in being is an artful epic that has the battle scenes, it has the character interactions, the costumes, the locations, and the setting up for another great successor; A sequel.

Ultimately, the film has it's strengths and weaknesses. The constant location jumping at times defies belief and perhaps the lengthy time the film endures will not be appreciated with mass audiences.
Robin Hood owes a great deal not just to Ridley but to Brian Helgeland's screenplay and story set up, which works wonders when put into effect.
The last battle scene however does have me raising questions over whether Ridley has been watching Saving Private Ryan, with French Boats opening in a way that I never recollected for that day and age. The more puzzling realizations are whether Nottingham and the distance to Mid-Lands coasts are essentially where the French attacked, are also confounding. Why attack in these distant regions?
Puzzlement aside, Robin Hood was admittedly very enjoyable, very different, and extremely lavish. It takes a brave film maker to pull of such a task and to even tackle a legendary character such as Robin Hood but Ridley Scott does it. He makes his own brand and mark upon this legend, and the research, sweat and tears that went into this film's making shows. It's a labour of love from Ridley; A man whom sometimes mixes artistic license with his own vision and scope regarding history.

Thanks Ridley, we are entertained yet again. Now, can you be a good boy and get on with adapting Brave New World for the big screen please?

''If you're building for the future, you need to keep your foundations strong, laws of the land enslave the people to a king who demands loyalty but offers nothing in return, I've been to the South of France, Palestine and back, you build a kingdom the same way you build a cathedral from the ground up!''

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I'm the Zodiac.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 12 June 2010 09:28 (A review of Zodiac (2007))

''I am not the Zodiac. And if I were, I certainly wouldn't tell you.''

Based on the Robert Graysmith books about the real life notorious Zodiac, a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco with a string of seemingly random murders during the 1960s and 1970s.

Jake Gyllenhaal: Robert Graysmith

Mark Ruffalo: Inspector David Toschi

Robert Downey Jr.: Paul Avery

Zodiac is a layered, impressive thriller covering the true events of the serial killer Zodiac, brought to screen by esteemed David Fincher.
Ultimately this is a thinking man's film, and an in-depth study about obsession. Not merely concerned with the mystery killer's impulsive desires but also one regarding the men whom are obsessed by him, by revealing his identity and solving the puzzle which in turn haunts their lives.

The film does a pivotal job of asking the question; At what stage does intrigue evolve into obsession?
Although it doesn't appear to be as flashy and as stylised as Fincher's previous films, the clever use of CGI and editing techniques are masterfully crisp, clean and technically immaculate. There is one mesmerizing slick and styled scene where we follow a cab through the streets of San Francisco, pre-murder, from the birds-eye view.
It's a wonderful, original story and perspective which sets Zodiac in a firm spot for a number of reasons; It's in a way a historical lesson, and then in another a masterful example of casting and superb acting, while also resulting in a cleverly realized thriller.

''Before I kill you, I'm going to throw your baby out the window.''

The three leads Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal are all exceptional churning out perfect performances, adding to the already compelling story that spans over 30 years of murky mystery.
You really feel the period of the time and one must love how it transitions, as the clothes and fashions alter as the film and plot progresses.
It’s a truism that serial killers are media creations, but Zodiac whom may have taken his name and symbol from a watch advert, was perhaps inspired by the 1932 movie The Most Dangerous Game, and wanted a lawyer who had guest-starred in a Star Trek episode to represent him.
Zodiac remains a phantom of the tube and newsprint. Murderers who are caught get shown up as pathetic human beings rather than Lecter-like masterminds, but Zodiac was either clever or lucky, and remains a phantom. Fincher offers us his creepy, misspelled letters in voice-over and brings a hooded form on for one of the killings, but the film’s most unsettling moments come when the possible Zodiacs are around: convicted paedophile Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) or repertory cinema programmer Bob Vaughn (Charles Fleischer). As in Se7en and Fight Club, Fincher boasts an unparalleled ability to present ostensibly friendly, deeply twisted people credibly — one of Zodiac’s few melodramatic moments, as Vaughn spooks Graysmith so much he flees the suspect’s house, works entirely because of the unnerving performances.

While this isn’t as straightforward as Panic Room, Fincher’s previous film, it lacks the highly wrought style of Seven and Fight Club. Wonderfully acted as it may result in being, there’s still a sense that Fincher(who is evidently as obsessed over Zodiac similarly to James Cameron regarding Titanic)is working perhaps a notch or two below his capacity entails.
Audiences will need patience with the film’s layered approach, which follows its main characters via poring over details, and be prepared to put up with a couple of rote family arguments and wearily divulging conversations, but this gripping character study becomes increasingly, agonisingly suspenseful as it gets closer to a conclusion concerning a mystery perhaps only the imagination can rectify.

''I... I Need to know who he is. I... I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it's him.''

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Your precious blood!

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 7 June 2010 12:38 (A review of Nosferatu)

''Blood! Your precious blood!''

Vampire Count Orlok expresses interest in a new residence and real estate agent Hutter's wife. Silent classic based on the story "Dracula."

Max Schreck: Graf Orlok

Made in 1922, Nosferatu is the first big screen adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it is by far the best.
A free adaptation of the famous book, in the hands of director F.W. Murnau the film becomes a multi-dimensional and personal work that diverts from the original. This appropriation by Murnau explains why the title of the film is Nosferatu and not Dracula: Stoker’s widow saw the plagiarism of her husband’s work and brought court action against the production. Though she obtained the destruction of the film negatives, luckily some copies survived this destructive tempest.

Moreover, a beneficial name change preserved the reputation of Murnau’s vampire. While Dracula, the object of many mostly mediocre adaptations, sounds like a grotesque and overused cliche, Nosferatu still resonates with a certain terror. The film has guarded a certain troubling aura, and its only true remake, Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, is a majestic tribute to its master. The possessed interpretations of Count Orlok by Max Shreck and later Klaus Kinski only reinforce the myth.
However, what many people ignore is the potency of the political message of the film. 1922 was at the height of hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic which ruled over Germany from 1919 to 1933. The public were used to frequent, violent political confrontation between factions on the extreme left and extreme right.
What we see in Nosferatu is a theme typical of early Weimar cinema: the omnipresent, omni-potent tyrant in the form of Nosferatu (also Caligari, Dr. Mabuse etc.). The tyrant comes from the east (it is unsure what this represents, though I would argue that, given the political situation and the recent communist uprising in Russia, it is the Bolshevists) and we see by comparing the first shot of a quiet, tranquil traditional German town and the last shot of a dilapidated, ruined castle, the progress from the bourgeois ideal into anarchy, chaos and destruction during the film.

''It will cost you sweat and tears, and perhaps... a little blood.''

The film shows that no-one was able to stop Nosferatu in his tracks before he arrived to ruin Wisborg, the town where the film is set. Only Ellen, by sacrificing herself and giving her life, can stop the tyrant. So soon after WWI, it is clear that such a sacrifice is not portrayed as desirable. The film removes Van Helsing, the policeman in the Dracula novel, from the plot, meaning that there is no strong force in traditional Germany; The power is held by Hutter, a middle-class estate agent. The middle classes in power at the time in Germany were the liberals of the Weimar Republic. Hutter is portrayed as weak, easily overcome and without much of a clue as to what's going on. This is clearly a call for a strong leader to fill the evident void in Germany, to come in and rescue society from the threat of being taken over by Bolshevism.
When we look at Murnau's later films, such as Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler, it becomes clear that the right-wing (not Nazi) anti-authoritarian message of the film was not limited to this piece.

Nosferatu marks the transition between Romanticism and Expressionism. The affiliation of Murnau's work to the Romantic movement is evident. Themes like ambivalence (subjectivity and the unconscious, mystery and imagination) as well as the idea of a double, the ambiguous, Gothic, and the communion between the artist and nature are omnipresent in the film. The ambivalence principally affects the characters, from Orlok (count/vampire) to Knock (prominent/crazy) and Hutter (heterosexual husband/homosexual lover) as well as the parallel between the vampire and human worlds (in particular the use of the negative while the coach passes from the normal world to Orlok's). The unconscious, characterized by the Count's constant fear, materializes in nature when he is not onscreen.

For the Romantics, portraits, reflections, and shadows blend into a single entity. The shadow, particularly important (as in the scene as he climbs the stairs), anticipates an imminent danger, embodies a sexual desire, and always betrays the killer in German cinema. Gothic qualities are manifested in the physical characteristics of the vampire and in the architecture. Noseferatu’s bald oval head reflects the Gothic archways of his château, while his twisted body responds to the curves of the gate. His long nails symbolize the East’s despotism and correspond to the elongated lines of Gothic architecture. Finally, nature has a preponderant role, as important as a character. The stretches of land are the mental projections of the characters while the waves of the sea announce the imminent arrival of the count. The mountains have a supernatural side.

A visionary cinematic masterpiece, Nosferatu, is all the more topical as it shows the unequalled potential regarding cinema reduced to its most purified form and, by the same token, is the cruel report initiating the self-exhaustion that lies with modern cinema. If the end of the 90s marked the climax of commercial cinematic exploitation, the 21st century seems to be beginning with a uniquely purposeful horizon. Thus Nosferatu is definitely a timeless masterpiece which any film-maker or lover of film must see, the film which inspired many films and stories to follow.

''Is this your wife? What a lovely throat.''

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This is reality. Watch it all turn psychological.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 6 June 2010 11:22 (A review of Das Boot (1981))

"I asked for it. 'To be heading into the inexorable... where no mother will care for us... no woman crosses our path... where only reality reigns... with cruelty and grandeur.' I was drunk with those words. Well, this is reality."

The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth, and sheer terror.
This is the story of 42 raw recruits caught up in a war they didn't fully understand, and the Captain who must lead them in their struggle to survive.

Jürgen Prochnow: Capt.-Lt. Henrich Lehmann-Willenbrock - Der Alte

1981 hailed a victorious, historical triumph in film that would achieve iconic proportions upon and after it's conception. Director Wolfgang Petersen adapts Lothar G. Buchheim's novel and creates a story inspired by true events, a story and film which shows life aboard a submarine like no other. Das Boot is uniquely telling history in a truthful aspiring way which has yet to be echoed.
The premise: A German U-Boat with a crew as real as me or you. A time during WW2 where out of 30,000 German U-Boats only 10,000 survived.

Das Boot is as claustrophobic and as real as it gets, as one is watching it's the realest feeling audiences are given to actually being on a U-Boat Submarine. What other surprises does Das Boot throw into our laps? Of course, the lashings of humour, the sheer terror of red alert scenarios, and what it is like to be among men inebriating bestiality.
The Directors Cut was the version I was most impressed with, mainly due to the vast detail and length it attains. Wolfgan Petersen fully captures the mood and nature of what it would be like to be aboard one of these legendary vessels. As the crew waits, so do we. As explosions from Destroyers shower down from the surface, and planes let loose hails of bombing, we feel the pain the crew feels, and indeed the U-Boat itself, we feel for her.

''Now it all turns psychological, gentlemen.''

Das Boot's great achievement is its pacing. Petersen's an adept action movie director, and he brought that to bear in making his epic. The first half of the picture explores the paradox of the tortured boredom the sailors feel while awaiting the arrival of orders from headquarters, even though getting those orders will lead to certain terror and possible death. The crew's restlessness is palpable, yet never bores us as an audience. The men regale each other with dirty jokes and erotic anecdotes. One officer asks another for help with a crossword puzzle and the answers end up being "bath" and "love," the two things each man desperately wants more than anything. Slowly, we learn a little about the men on the boat, background information that humanizes them without flattening them into a collection of dramatic motivations. We don't get to know them intimately but learn their preoccupations, the sorts of details we'd discover if we were members of the crew.

The cast indeed equal a rough, sea faring, scruffy bunch...However this is realistic. Crews of these particular vessels weren't valued for their appearance or swave looks but for their skills and knowledge regarding mechanics and sea-faring.
Jürgen Prochnow as the captain, is the main character and protagonist, thus of a personal note, the only cast member famous enough for me to know, whom landed success in Hollywood after this film.
Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch, and Uwe Ochsenknecht among many others churn out heralded performances which all give the crew a bravado totality, missing one would not be the same. This is in a sense a family unit whom audiences and I grew to love and became attached to.

Das Boot is a very long film, so if you can't handle that fact, this is perhaps not going to be the film for you. It's also from a time many people do not understand, the Second World War, thus this story is uniquely told from Germany's perspective in a very honest fashion.
My own reflection upon Das Boot is that it's undoubtedly a masterpiece oozing with qualities that transcend Awards and conventionality. It received 6 Oscar Nominations but no wins...Why? I can only guess the Academy voters are afraid to acknowledge masterpieces unless they fit biased criterias.
I just know Das Boot has the flawless cinematography, effects, realism, sound, writing and Screenplay that virtually has no rival since it was released, indeed 30 years later it still retains uniqueness.
Thus, Das Boot is the best submarine film, the best U-Boat educational and psychological assessment ever created upon film. Wolfgang Petersen deserves your respect, and indeed audiences. This is truly something to be admired and treasured.

''You have to have good men. Good men, all of them.''

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One word can't describe a man's life.

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 2 June 2010 04:27 (A review of Citizen Kane (1941))

''I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle...a missing piece.''

Following the death of a publishing tycoon, news reporters scramble to discover the meaning of his final utterance.

Orson Welles: Charles Foster Kane

Citizen Kane from 1941, has been lauded as the greatest motion picture to come out of America during the black-and-white era (or any era, for that matter). It also represents the pinnacle of Orson Welles' film making career. For, although Welles lived for more than forty years following the release of Kane, he never succeeded in recapturing the brilliance or fulfilling the promise of his first feature.

Some perhaps boast that his effort The Magnificent Ambersons was powerful, but the studio took the film away from him, slashing more than 40 minutes of footage. Thus, while Welles' Shakespeare movies and A Touch of Evil contain elements of brilliance, they are not on the same level as Kane aspires. It has been argued, most forcefully in Thomas Lennon and Michael Epstein's 1996 documentary, The Battle Over Citizen Kane, that Kane not only started Welles' directorial career, but nearly ended it.
The movie opens with an unforgettable image of a distant, fog-shrouded castle on a hill. It's a classic Gothic shot, and goes a long way towards establishing Citizen Kane's mood. We quickly learn that this place, called Xanadu, is the dwelling of America's Kubla Khan, Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a one-time newspaper magnate who could have become President if not for an ill-advised extramarital affair. Xanadu, in the words of the faux newsreel that gives a brief history of Kane's life, is the "costliest monument of a man to himself." Any resemblance to The Ranch, William Randolph Hearst's real-life San Simeon abode, is not coincidental.

''I can remember everything. That's my curse, young man. It's the greatest curse that's ever been inflicted on the human race: memory.''

Within moments of the film's eerie, visually-stunning opening, Kane is dead, uttering the word "Rosebud" as he hunches over. His death, like his life, is a big news event, and the paper he owned, the New York Inquirer, is desperate to unearth the meaning regarding his cryptic last word. Is it a woman he bedded? A horse he bet on? A beloved pet? Some long-lost, unrequited love? The truth, which isn't revealed until the closing scene, represents one of the all-time greatest motion picture ironies, and leads us to believe that, on some level, Kane regretted not having led a simple, quiet life. It is easily one of the simplest yet cleverest twists divulged by film and a complexly written story.

The script for Citizen Kane, written by Herman J. Mankiewicz (with an assist from Welles), is a thinly-disguised fictional biography of publishing king William Randolph Hearst, who was 76 years old when the movie came out in 1941. And, while Hearst was offended by Welles' characterization of him, he was supposedly more angered by Kane's unflattering portrayal of his beloved mistress, Marion Davies (who is represented in the film by Susan Alexander). To add insult to injury, "Rosebud" was allegedly Hearst's pet name for Marion's private parts.
Kane is not, however, all Hearst. There's more than a little Welles in the character, and, when one examines the direction the film maker's life took after Kane, the similarities become more obvious. After peaking with Kane, Welles began an slow-but-inevitable descent into isolation, eventually dying of a heart attack in 1985. Like Kane, he was a vital, passionate figure in youth, but a sad, pathetic one at the end. (Who can forget the Paul Masson commercials?) In retrospect, Kane can be viewed as being as much a representation of Welles as of Hearst.

Back in 1941, Hearst exerted his considerable power and influence to destroy Citizen Kane before it opened. He failed, but, even though Kane saw the light of day, Welles' young career (he was only 25 at the time) did not escape unscathed. A smear campaign in Hearts' papers branded him as a communist. Kane, nominated for nine Oscars, emerged with only one (best screenplay), and "boos" could be heard whenever the film was mentioned during the ceremony. And, before Welles had completed post-production, RKO wrested control of his next picture, The Magnificent Ambersons, from him.
As a film, Citizen Kane is a powerful dramatic tale about the uses and abuses of wealth and power. It's a classic American tragedy about a man of great passion, vision, and greed, who pushes himself until he brings ruins to himself and all around him. Of course, the production aspect that makes Citizen Kane so memorable is Greg Toland's landmark cinematography. In fact, it's impossible to have a serious discussion about this film without mentioning this element.

The movie is a visual masterpiece, a kaleidoscope of daring angles and breathtaking images that had never been attempted before, and has never been equaled since. Toland perfected a deep-focus technique that allowed him to photograph backgrounds with as much clarity as foregrounds (note the scene where Kane's parents discuss his future while, as seen through the window, the child plays outside in the snow). There's also an extremely effective low-angle shot late in the film where Kane trashes Susan's room. The cinematography documentary, Visions of Light, devoted an entire section to Citizen Kane. If any other film has come close to the nearly-perfect artistry of this one, I haven't seen it. Anyone foolishly wondering how black-and-white images could be superior to colour needs only to watch the first few frames of Citizen Kane to understand. Not only is it impossible to envision this picture in colour, the very thought is blasphemous.

There's no doubt that Citizen Kane was far ahead of its time. Uncompromising, unsentimental drama of this sort was not in vogue during an era that was better known for titles like The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and How Green Was My Valley(which beat out Kane for best picture). In challenging Hearst, Welles forced a clash of egos that had wide-ranging repercussions. Yet, out of the conflict, Citizen Kane emerged stronger than ever. Would the film be as compelling if we didn't know how close it came to never being released? Or if we didn't recognize the parallels between the life of the main character and that of the director?
Is Citizen Kane the best movie ever made? Many critics would argue "yes" without pause, but my enthusiasm is more restrained. While I acknowledge that Kane is a seminal masterpiece, it is perhaps not the Best Motion Picture but definitely to be considered among them. There is no denying the debt that the movie industry owes to Welles and his debut feature. Motion picture archives and collections across the world would be poorer without copies of this film, which will forever be recognized as a defining example of American cinema.

''I don't think there's one word that can describe a mans life.''

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How long shall I live?

Posted : 7 years, 11 months ago on 2 June 2010 03:05 (A review of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

''I must know everything. I must penetrate the heart of his secret! I must become Caligari!''

A horror film that surpasses all others. Alan relates the story of traveling magician Dr Caligari and Cesare. Their arrival in a town coincides with savage killings.

Werner Krauss: Dr. Caligari

A 1920 silent film, directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is one of the most influential German Expressionist films, thus often considered one of the greatest psychological horror movies of all time. The film introduces and birthed the twist ending in cinema history.

The beauty of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. is the puzzle, the art and the silent medium the piece follows.
When anything is displayed delicately upon each frame it is not without reason. The storytelling transcends art and becomes a combination of genres that border upon thrilling, horror, art and dramatic acting using ones gestures and movements alone.
Narration nicely knits together sequences and draws audiences in, with it's whimsical tide of tremendous marvelling.
Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari, embodies the part down to the last drop of Methodism acting.
Famed Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Jane Olsen, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, and Rudolf Lettinger gather together to make an impressive cast which compliments the stylish locations and black and white uniqueness.

''Spirits surround us on every side... they have driven me from hearth and home, from wife and child.''

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari impresses upon every note it plays. Whether it's the accompanying music provided by Alfredo Antonini and Giuseppe Becce, or whether it's the expressionist visuals birthing twisting paths, contorted shapes, eerie darkly formed architecture or the spooky macabre characters, it's fairly obvious The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is a timeless classic equalling mystery and suspense. In fact, it rivals and is mirrored in practically every, in many films and stories which followed the 1920s and even today in modern cinema, so much is borrowed and recycled from this origin of originality.
As for German Expressionism featured, it is meant to use its bizarre forms, dramatic lines and strange angles to give physical shape to the artists' emotions.
The Expressionist style in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari creates a world of madness and disorder. However, its effectiveness doesn’t make it any less strange and trying to watch, especially for those not familiar with the movement. The world is disorienting, at times distracting and impossible for the scientific mind to reconcile. And then comes the framework. Suddenly the irrational, visceral Expressionist world is explained in a rational, logical way, making the film more versatile and accessible to most anyone, regardless of the political, scientific and spiritual movements of the era.

At 71 minutes, Caligari’s story is perhaps considered straightforward, almost mundane by today’s standards. The story opens with our hero, Francis (Friedrich Feher) speaking to a stranger in a garden. As the tale begins, the garden scene fades out, and we enter what appears to be a flashback. As events unfold, we discover that a stranger has come to town, a man by the name of Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and with him Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a somnambulist (for these purposes, a person whom is in a death-like trance). Shortly after their arrival, people around the village begin to die, including Francis’s close friend. As Francis, suspecting Caligari, begins to investigate the strange somnambulist, the danger only grows. When Francis's love interest, Jane (Lil Dagover) is threatened, the film rushes towards a haunting climactic conclusion.

Overall, the plot seems almost enigmatic, as if it has nothing new to offer yet has everything to hide. It seems obvious from early stages in the film that Caligari is controlling Cesare in order to commit these murders. It’s hardly a surprise when Cesare attacks Jane, the only pretty woman on the screen available for damsel-in-distress duty, and the shocking twist ending is so predictable you’re almost surprised they actually follow through with it. However, while Caligari may seem mundane, it’s imperative that we remember this was made in 1919. Every cliché has to start somewhere, and this one? It started right here. This is the real deal, and it would do any film aficionado a favour to concentrate when viewing. Caligari is invaluably educational and untouchable. How can you expect to appreciate modern film if you cannot understand where it came from?
Caligari is indeed one of the parents responsible for paving the way forward for future projects.

It should be noted that this framework, was ground-breaking at the time. It laid the foundation for later films, such as Psycho, in which the reality we see is, in fact, nothing more than a madman’s delirium. The whole psychoanalyst explanation segment at the end, also, was a first, and something that would be used by later films across genres. However, while the implementation complimenting this twist, itself, is responsible for great things in cinema, it was a decision that was both detrimental and beneficial to Caligari’s long-term success.

''How long shall I live?''

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Evil is everywhere.

Posted : 7 years, 12 months ago on 1 June 2010 01:53 (A review of Andrei Rublev)

''Evil is everywhere. Someone will always sell you for thirty pieces of silver. New misfortunes constantly befall the peasant... either Tatars, or famine, or plague... and he still keeps on working... meekly bearing his cross. He does not despair. He is silent and patient. He only prays to God for enough strength. How could God not forgive him his ignorance?''

Andreiv Rublev charts the life of the great icon painter through a turbulent period of 15th Century Russian history...

Anatoli Solonitsyn: Andrei Rublyov

Putting Andrei Rublev into words, is no mere feat. This is a film that goes above and beyond anything any film-maker future, present or past has ever achieved. Andrei Rublev is a film that loses it's conventionality and transcends into pure, asphyxiated art.
Andrei Rublev offers what every film-maker strives for: A look at why art exists?
A story told in a medium that the majority will fail to comprehend, even some artists will be confused or fail to grasp the answers it delivers, but to those whom understand reap the rewards thus becoming moved by the unimaginable. The film captures not only the essence regarding the artist's purpose, but it captures truth regarding our personal existence.

The film begins with a short scene thus showing us a man attempting flight, failing and crashing back to Earth witnessed only by a horse.
This scene alone shows us symbolism immediately if we choose to see it, the man representing the fall of all men or our need to become above other creatures, the horse representing life or loneliness and the barren countryside representing a world that is unfriendly to all men. This scene alone is up for multiple interpretations, many upon which, would be equally or essentially right. The film never tells you how to look at it, but allows you to bring your own philosophy, your own thoughts and of course your own justifications. Ultimately its basic themes are vivid, but many meanings remain as ambiguous as ever, countless viewings will bring more and more to the film's richness, and in truth it is perhaps impossible to fully fathom the meaning driving proceedings. As with all great art it must be experienced and made to relate to one personally to find its meaning, it cannot just be simply viewed and admired.

Rublev's personal artistic development is at best a secondary concern at times; the main concern is dealing with a world in which the exercise of power, whether by God or man, is unjust and arbitrary. Again and again, Tarkovsky presents the viewer with scenes of people being punished. Sometimes we know why: a jester is arrested for singing an obscene song about a boyar (and dropping his pants). Sometimes, we have no idea: the second act opens with a monk walking across a city square as a man in the background is tied to a rack. He protests his innocence, but we never know what he's innocent of.
Tarkovsky has an eye for the way cruelty and power are exercised. You can see it in the bored faces of the guards in the first act as they smash the jester's face into a tree, or the false bonhomie a Tartar warlord maintains as he marches toward a city he will utterly destroy. Tarkovsky is also keenly aware of the ways the powerless console themselves, from Theophanes the Greek's nihilistic wish for apocalypse ("We'll burn like candles") to Rublev's withdrawal into asceticism. But then, growing up under Stalin would give anyone an unusually strong grasp of the way the powerful use cruelty, terror, and pain.

''In much wisdom, there is much sorrow.''

The vivid themes of the film blossom forth from ideas surrounding art, man's need for art and the artists scattered upon the pages of history.
Andrei Rublev is a film that deals with both the futility of being a Christian artist in a Godless world, and with the impact art can have to bring God to a more personal level. These themes are developed in seven stages, each one differing immensely from the other, with the core ideas and the artist Rublev being shared in every one. Though these themes seem to centre around and deal exclusively with suffering, violence, religion, and routine, they are very implicit to every human being's lifestyle. Expressing Art can be used as an allegory for our gifts, the idea that we should not hide what we can offer the world, just as the artist should not hide his gift. Our gifts and talents can be used to glorify God and bring hope, even if the world shies away, despite the often felt futility of doing what we are gifted in, we bring goodness into the world simply by existing and our actions.

Ultimately the film offers this at its underlying core, however there are many more ideas, meanings and political paths the viewer may make.
Through patience and connections the viewer can make the film into a personal venture and in doing so may become moved deeper than ever before. After all isn't this every artists wish? To capture the World, as well as being captured and enthralled by its beauty.

''...Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. "Vanity of vanities," saith the preacher; "All is vanity."''

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