April in Film

 As it turns out, I watched about twenty-four films this month. These ranged from the terrible American Pie films to the works of brilliant auteurs. Enjoy. I’ve split them up between first time watches and re-watches. Here they are: Continue reading

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Excellence In Writing #1: Synechdoche, New York

I just watched Synechdoche, New York yesterday and have been steadily writing my review for this magnificent gem. In the mean time I wanted to post this: Excellence in Writing. This is a series that I am going to be doing where I highlight a speech or a scene from a film that truly shows perfection in writing.

This first edition comes from Synechdoche, New York which is written by the legendary Charlie Kaufman. It is a speech delivered by a nameless pastor that essentially sums up not only the life of the main character, but the lives of everyone. It is a remarkable speech that I personally love for the way it encompasses everything:

American Beauty

American Beauty is a familial character study that acts as a fantastic representation of the duality of modern suburban life. This duality is contrasted between the lives of the two neighboring families. You have the two extremes in this situation.

You have the “American life” where the father is in charge, the mother is loyal, and everything is disciplined. It’s like life in the 50′s. The father was in the marines, takes charge of his families life which end up debilitating them at times, and hates homosexuals. The mother who is barely in the film is just a figure that really seems to be there for the sole purpose of completing their “American” image. Their son, Ricky, is the exact opposite of what his family represents and what his father wants him to be. He is a pot-dealing pacifist who is able to see all of the beauty in the world. He also has made a habit of filming all of this “beauty” which includes a plastic bag in the wind, a dead bird, and his neighbor Jane Burnham.

Then you have the opposite extreme which is the Burnhams. They fully recognize that the act that they put on for the rest of the world is just that, an act. Throughout the film the two parents drift further and further away as they each begin to embody the lifestyle that they see best. This continues to the point where the father, Lester, who is brilliantly played by Kevin Spacey, has quit his job after blackmailing his boss and is focusing on a happy life which includes smoking weed, listening to pink floyd, and remaining infatuated with a friend of his daughters. On the other side of that family you have Caroline, played by Annette Benning who is also brilliant in this film. Caroline lives an unfulfilled life that is focused on her going-nowhere career as a real-estate agent. Caroline also has a hand in ruining their family from being the “typical American family” by having an affair with another real estate agent Buddy king. Their daughter, Jane, hates her suburban life because of its synthetic nature and its overall odd nature.

Why is this film fantastic? That comes from the performances by Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, and Wes Bently who plays Ricky. Kevin Spacey is a god of acting who embodies his role of Lester to the point of perfection. His droll monologues and his progressing oddity is fascinating to behold. Then there is Annette Benning whose frustrations and pain are shown so well that they make you feel for her horrible character. Finally there is Wes Bently who gets absolutely no praise for his fantastic role. His character is easily the most fascinating in the film just because of how unique he is. He makes you sense that his character is kind of broken yet has made the most of it by allowing himself not to conform to his fathers life, and to enjoy and take in everything.

This excellent directorial debut from Sam Mendes is engaging and masterfully executed. One of my favorites of all time.

100/100

Taste Of Cherry

Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997 film, Taste Of Cherry is a rather unusual experience. By unusual I mean that the majority of the film is an afghani man driving through the desert in his range-rover. Now, answer me this question: How dull does that sound? The correct answer is very. Despite this, Taste Of Cherry manages to be an enthralling experience that takes you into the mind of a man ready for death.

The film focuses on an elderly afghani man known only as “Mr. Badii”, and Mr. Badii, for no known reason, is ready to leave this world through suicide. The entire plot revolves around what he requires to complete this task which is another man willing to knowingly allow Badii to take sleeping pills and get in a hole, and then come back the next morning to either help him out or bury him with dirt. Obviously this isn’t a task that most people would take on due to the fact that it is essentially assisted suicide. In there lies the plot. This man goes and finds someone who wants a job. Drives them around, gets to know them, finds their weak spot that would allow things to be negotiated, plays off it, gets rejected, repeat. In the time that he is going to these people, the director is building a portrait for the viewer. With every failure and every shut down the character of Mr. Badii gets more and more desperate. This where you get close to the man emotionally. This is only possible through the performance by Homayoun Ershadi.

Homayoun Ershadi manages to deliver a truly excellent performance in this film. In fact, the only reason why this film really manages to land an emotional blow on the viewer is because of his performance. He portrays this tired and withered old man who is ready to go, and steadily changed his character ad the film goes on. He shows more desperation in his eyes, in his mannerisms, the way he speaks. All of it is tunes to perfection to allow us to spend an hour an a half in the life of Mr. Badii. This is an emotionally tense part to play. This character is essentially going through an emotional breakdown, but the thing is that it is never really said. Most of the information about the character has to be inferred based on the acting. This results in the quality of the film relying solely on the acting. This isn’t a bad thing in this case. With most other actors is would be, but not here. Instead of delivering an over-zealous performance or a monotone performance, Ershadi gets it just right.

The acting talents of Ershadi are especially displayed in the final scene where Mr. Badii is lying in his whole, staring at the sky. Following that moment the entire screen goes black. Everything is gone. All of a sudden there is lightning, and for a brief moment you see his emotionally destroyed face. He looks regretful, he looks angry, but most of all he looks entirely unsure. But then the film ends, and all you are left with is the image of his face staring up at the sky and you think to yourself “Did he die? Was it the right thing to do?” That is the genius of films like this. They take you in deep, and when they throw you out you are left with the memory of moments like that.

Very good overall.

90/100

Un Chien Andalou

I am so confused while I am writing this. I just finished up Luis Bunuel and Slvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou and I am entirely unsure regarding my feelings about the film. Honestly who watched this and had a single clue as to what just happened? I certainly don’t.

From what I have read about the film it is supposedly just a series of random surrealist images ranging from the juxtaposition of a sliced eye and a cloud moving through the moon to a man dragging priests and dead donkeys. The strange thing is that this is not what I got out of the film at all.

What I saw was a broken up narrative that told the story of a type of maniacal and evil magic man who had the ability to perform actions that fit in perfectly with the surrealist theme of the film. I really was intrigued with the story of this crazed man who stopped at nothing to hurt the woman who witnessed one of his murders. This woman who used to be his lover became disgusted with him after she saw the true him. This occurred in one of the most memorable scenes to me which was when he was looking out the window at the woman as cars approached, waiting for her to be struck. This was your first insight into the maniac. Of course that was what I got out of it.

Overall the film was very unique and just so surreal, but of course that was the point of it. Through the time it has taken me to write this I have discovered that I really loved the film. It was probably the most unique experience that I have ever had in film and I love that. I love films like these that leave you with that “What the hell?” feeling and films that leave you not knowing exactly what happened. This film will test our intellect and it will cause you to think. If you like films like this then you should watch it. If you hate thinking and you like being spoon-fed your endings then don’t watch it. Me personally, I like staying up till 2 AM thinking about the ending of a film. In my mind that is a wonderful film.

That is why I love this film.

95/100

A Man and His Work: PTA

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. I can say that without a doubt. One of the things that makes that statement true is the mans variety of work and the overall quality of his work. In my opinion PTA has never made a bad film throughout his career. Some may take that as light praise considering that he’s only made five films but it should still send the message that this man knows what he is doing.

With films ranging from pornographic epics to dark tales of love to the Citizen Kane of our time, Paul Thomas Anderson has managed it. In honor of his work I am going to be taking a look at each of his films individually, going from earliest to latest.

Hard Eight (Sydney)

While there are those who believe that this is nothing more than an amateur beginning to PTA’s career, I vastly disagree. Hard Eight has a charm to it whether it be from its characters, its setting, or its plot. There is something about it that makes it watchable, enjoyable, and incredibly well-made. Overall it was a very solid debut.

This film is interesting and intriguing but its true highlight is the acting. Remember when John C. Reily was an awesome actor who didn’t do comedy crap? I certainly do. This is Johns greatest performance. He is a lonely man with no one to turn to, and once he does find that person he begins to screw it up immediately. It may sound simplistic or cliched but trust me, it’s not.

Very good film.

85/100

Boogie Nights

This is where the masterpieces of Paul Thomas Anderson started. With this wonderful, infinitely watchable, well-acted, brilliantly written epic that covers the incredibly interesting porno industry in the late 70’s to early 80’s.

The cast of characters is really what makes this film. Not only are they all unique and well written, but the actors take them to a whole new level of perfection. From Luis Guzman to Mark Whalberg, all of the acting here is some of the finest that you will find. In fact I think that this is Whalberg’s finest performance to date. Not only does he take on the emotional baggage of his character but he also portrays his naive optimism in a way that makes you love Dirk Diggler all the more.

Honestly I wish someone would make a film like this now. Oh yeah, this film also has one of the greatest tracking shots in the history of film that appears in the form of one of the greatest openings in film.

I adore this film. It is one of my favorites and even after eight watches it is still awe-inspiring.

100/100

Magnolia

Where to begin with a film like this. Similar to Boogie Nights, this film takes a large cast of brilliant characters and follows them through a certain point in their lives. In this scenario all of there lives are going to hell very quickly and we get to come along for the ride.

Not only is this film incredibly acted and wonderfully directed but it is also cinematically beautiful. There are shots in this that will just leave you speechless. That is the power of Paul Thomas Anderson.

I would also like to touch on Tom Cruise. What, a, performance. Honestly I don’t like Tom Cruise but that doesn’t stop me from loving Frank T.J. Mackey. I mean come on, who didn’t laugh when he appears on stage in the spotlight and utters those three perfect words?

Respect. The Cock.

100/100

Punch-Drunk Love

Who would’ve thought that Adam Sandler could pull off a performance like this? Honestly the fact that PTA got this performance out of Sandler truly shows how talented and how great he is when it comes to working with actors.

Not only does this film deliver one of his greatest scripts but it does it in a very comical way. The entire film will make you smile. Whether that be out of its humor or the love between the characters is up to you, but either way this film is an interesting and engaging experience.

The plot of this film is interesting to say the least, and that is part of what makes it such a good film. Who else would have thought to make a film about the guy who cheated a food company out of airline miles using pudding but add a love angle to it. The correct answer is Paul Thomas Anderson. The man is a genius.

91/100

There Will Be Blood

Here we are. His Magnum Opus. Everything has been leading up to this point. Although he had made excellent films in the past, none of them can touch There Will Be Blood. This film resides in a level of its own. A level full of all around perfection.

Allow me to go through all of the aspects of this film that are flawless: The cinematography, the acting, the directing, the writing, the plot, the supporting performances, the setting, the feel, the opening scenes, the closing scene, and everything in-between.

In case you haven’t seen in yet, this is my second favorite film of all time, and boy does it deserve that title.

Daniel Day-Lewis delivers what I consider to be one of the greatest male performances of all time as the maniacal and success-centered Daniel Plainview. Daniel Plainview is not a likable man. He hates others and he wishes for them to fail while he succeeds. Who could like a character like that? I could. I love Daniel Plainview for all of his anger and his speeches and his hatred of humanity. He is as interesting a character that you will come across, and you will find yourself inthralled with every second where he is on the screen.

This film is a masterpiece. If only one of PTA’s films could be described as such it would be this.

One last thing. The final scene of this film is quite possibly the greatest scene of all time. Watch the film.

500/100

Night and Fog

The holocaust. It’s a term that essentially everyone is familiar with, and it is the subject of many films. Although these films have been made over the last several decades the greatest one is this, Night and Fog made in 1955. This film chronicles what went on in the concentration camps during World War 2. This is a Polish documentary that gives you a true insight into the horrors that occurred during the war. Although the film is only 30 minutes long it manages to be a moving and powerful piece of history that will leave you speechless.

This films true shining feature is its juxtaposition of the horrific black and white shots of the camps which are shown in between shots of the beautiful landscapes 10 years after the war ended. Not only does it add emphasis to what is happening on-screen but it also adds an indescribable beauty by highlighting hope after a terrible event. Some of the images that you will witness are disturbing and will stay with you, but that it what happens when you show the truth of the holocaust. Warehouses full of women’s hair, lifeless bodies dragged and thrown into trenches, the blank eyes of the dead. All I can say is prepare to look directly into hell.

There is one segment where the film shows SS members bring in bulldozers to push dozens of lifeless bodies into a large trench. In most films you see dead bodies as people with makeup, but here you have the real deal. You see people who are malnourished, pale, and truly lifeless. The impact that this scene had on me is immeasurable. Death is a dark and brooding part of the world that has the ability to horrify unlike anything else. This segment wouldn’t have the same impact if the film wasn’t the length that it is. While you are seeing real black and white shots of dead bodies you also have the lingering memory of beautiful shots of deep and luscious fields filled with life. Hence the drastic juxtaposition.

Another aspect of the documentary that adds to its overall quality is its narration. The descriptions and the writing fit the scenarios and complement the other aspects of the film perfectly. There is one quote that ends the film that particularly resonated with me. That quote was this: “We turn a blind eye to what surrounds us, and a deaf ear to the never-ending cry of humanity.” That quote truly encompasses what occurred during World War 2 and after the war. You have these people who want to ignore it and put it in the past, but that is not where it belongs. That was the purpose of this film. To document and show what happened and to make people aware, and it did. 

What else is there to say about this film? The camera work is incredible, the images are mesmerizing, the narration and writing is top notch, and you will be enthralled with this bleak and realistic depiction of the trials and tribulations that the people in the concentration camps had to suffer through. With all of the masterful traits of the film there are so few things that someone could complain about, and if they chose to complain they would all be incredibly nitpicky at best.

This film is a masterpiece. Not just in the field of documentaries but in the field of overall film. It is an unparalleled look into the world of the jewish prisoner and it will allow you to develop a greater understanding of the holocaust while putting you into a state of shock.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you: The power of film.

Side-note: I am changing my rating system to an out of 100 system rather than out of ten.

Night and Fog: 99/100