La Jetée

What Chris Marker’s short film La Jetée manages to achieve in just 28 minutes of Black & White still photographs with voiceover narration is nothing short of miraculous. This film quite literally bends the ordinary method of storytelling used in film. Rather than utilizing the “moving pictures” aspect of cinema it tells its story with beautifully shot still photographs of the scenes and the characters which is accompanied by one of the most beautiful film scores I’ve ever heard and excellent narration provided by Jean Negroni.

The thing that really drew me into this film was the images used to illustrate the story. Not only are the images in this film beautiful but they are also astoundingly efficient in conveying the story and triggering a reaction in the viewer. The best example of this in my mind was when the main character referred to only as “The Man” is first being experimented on by “The Experimenter” and you see a series of still shots showing his head reeling back in anguish which is accompanied by the constant sound of his heartbeat rising. This scene was just as haunting as any regular scene would be, if not even more haunting due to the score and the Black & White photography.

The story of this film explores the concept of time travel in a post-apocalyptic world. It follows the story of “The Man” as he grows from a boy in the time leading up to World War lll to a man being held in a post-apocalyptic prison led by scientists. In this post-apocalyptic world the only human survivors are referred to as “The Victors” and they live underground in order to avoid the radioactivity above. The scientists in this underground prison are attempting to travel into either into the past or the future in order to find a way to same the human race which they claim is doomed. All of the prisoners they test on either die or go mad. That is, until they test on the main character.

The Man has greater mental images of his past which makes him the more able applicant for such tests. Eventually after great suffering he is sent back with the memory of a woman’s face he saw at the airport just before witnessing a man’s death. He becomes close with “The Woman” who he only sees when he is sent back which ranges many years in time. Their relationship grows even with this oddity in his visits and they explore together. They experience life and they create memories for The Man. Eventually events transpire that am I not going to ruin but it results in an excellent conclusion that ends a beautiful, haunting, heartbreaking, and sometimes terrifying film.

I can not write much about this film considering the fact that I don’t think I truly understood what it meant. This is a perfect film that in my eyes demands repeat viewings. This was my first foray into the world of Chris Marker after hearing about his death about two weeks ago, and it was an astounding journey.

100/100

Boy Wonder

Boy Wonder applies a darker formula to the modern day vigilante superhero trend that has become popular in movies today (Kick-Ass, Super). The thing about those two films is that they were clever, entertaining, and all around quality films. Boy Wonder doesn’t attempt to be like those films. It’s more like Christopher Nolan’s Batman series with its dark and dramatic undertones. The problem with that is that the writing and the performances in this film simply cannot support any type of heavy drama, and end up resulting in a lackluster film.

At a young age Sean Donovan watched his mother get murdered about a foot in front of him, and he has spent all of his life since then in a state of shock which has culminated in psychopathic behaviors. Sean wants justice and, more importantly, vengeance. Vengeance against the scum who have managed to hurt people and get away with it which is, oddly enough, exactly what Sean does throughout the entire film. My first problem.

My second problem comes from the character of Sean and his progression and interactions. Sean kills with no remorse and never feels any grief over his actions thereby solidifying the fact that he must be a psychopath. Right? Well if this is the case then why didn’t the writers embrace the fact that they were creating a highly deranged mentally ill character? Rather than continuing with him being a cold killer they decide to put him in a variety of situations where he “experiences” emotion. There are two that stick out to me the most. The first is when he’s sitting on a bench talking to his new friend Detective Ames (A hotshot new homicide detective) and he’s explaining why he can’t move on about his mother. I don’t know if they wrote it this way or Caleb Steinmeyer was unable to convey this properly but it seemed like he was trying to cry or express sadness in some way. I got that he was trying, but he wasn’t very successful. That is how I would sum up his performance. He never successfully conveyed anything but anger in any part of the film except the ending. This comes to my next problem: the acting.

The acting in this film is terrible, excluding the last twenty minutes of the film. In fact for everything regarding this film you should exclude the last twenty minutes of them film as they are infinitely better than the rest of it. All of the lines are delivered without the smallest bit of conviction. This can be applied to all of the actors excluding Bill Sage as Seans father and Chuck Cooper with a very small part as the leader of the homicide department and Sean’s first real helper, Billy. Allow me to talk about Billy for a moment. Billy was the only one helping Sean, he was his friend, and yet they chose to give him the smallest of parts and make his character an asshole. I still have no idea why they chose to do this as they could have made him the one who attempts to save Sean which would’ve worked much better.

Anyway, the delivery of all of the lines is wooden which can either be attributed to the lack of talent in the actors or the generally stale dialogue. All of these characters are in these huge emotional situations whether they be divorce that the writer just seemed to throw in to add more drama, and then left them all unexplored. This left the film entirely overcomplicated with unnecessary story-lines. There is no better example than that of Detective Ames with her divorce and loss of custody. You see her child once and yet it’s brought up at least five times or more. I feel like it was supposed to add importance and to highlight her sacrifice, but I think I was too distracted attempting to use my decoder ring to figure what emotions the characters were feeling. This shouldn’t be a 90 minute film, it should be a two and a half hour film with ample time to explore the group of supporting characters and their personal stories. Either that or they shouldn’t have mentioned them at all.

At this point I think i have touched on all of the problems I had with the film (Writing, acting) so now let me touch on the positives. The setting and the cinematography is great. It has the very dark gritty feel down correctly it just has nothing to support the aesthetics. Finally comes the one thing that made this film somewhat worth watching: The finale. Without spoiling anything the finale of this film is excellent. The last fifteen minutes are when Sean really snaps and just goes on a type of vengeance-induced psychotic rampage that wraps itself up with a true ending. It doesn’t attempt to fix anything or make it any less depressing. It just happens, and I congratulate the writer for doing that.

Overall it was a mess of a film that I strongly disliked. The worst I’ve seen in a while.

60/100

The Sound of Music #1: I’m Not There

Welcome to The Sound of Music! This is a new series that I’m starting that focuses on my favorite uses of music in film. I love music, and nothing gets me more into a film than  a director using music to enhance the impact of a scene or making a scene that suits its music perfectly. Here’s the first edition of the series:

I’m not there is a film that creates it’s best scenes through the way it utilizes the songs of Bob Dylan, and there is no better example of that then the scene that revolves around “Ballad of a Thin Man”. The origin of the song was that Bob Dylan hated the press and wrote this song about the interviewers who frustrated him so much. At the point in the film where this song is used Cate Blanchett’s character, Jude, is being interviewed by Keenan Jones. The conversation they have accurately portrays word-for-word an interview that Dylan actually had with a reporter from Time magazine. It really highlights the mystery of Dylan as a man and as an artist. The conversation between Jude and Keenan gets to the point where Jude leaves the car out of anger, yells at Keenan, and leaves. It is then that my favorite scene in the movie begins.

What follows is quite possibly my favorite use of music in film. Ever. At some point I plan on analyzing this scene, shot-for-shot and attempt to unveil the meanings of every surreal aspect of this sequence, and that will take a very long amount of time. This is because director Todd Haynes created every shot with a purpose. Not only does the plot relate to the lyrics but also what is happening on screen relates to the lyrics. It’s like a music video interrupts the film but still manages to continue the plot. It may not work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me.

Allow me to present this flawless scene featuring Ballad of a Thin Man performed by Stephen Malkmus & The Million Dollar Bashers:

 

Most Anticipated of 2012

2012 is shaping up to be a huge year for film considering how it has releases from Malick, Haneke, PTA, Tarantino, and……need I say more? I, for one, am extremely excited about what’s coming out in these next several months. These are the five that I cannot wait to see:

To The Wonder: Two years, two films by Terrence Malick. Considering how the shortest length between releases for Malick was the six years between The New World and The Tree of Life these rapid releases have me very excited. So far I have yet to see a Malick film that I haven’t considered fantastic so the reasoning for this being here is pretty clear. In addition to the sheer excitement the words “New Terrence Malick Film” brings to me, the cast has the ability to be great. Rachel McAdams and Weisz are just okay in my opinion, but Ben Affleck and Martin Sheen can make up for any sub-par acting.

Amour: Michael Haneke has created two of my favorite films of all time, one of which won the Palme d’Or. This year after rave reviews Haneke became the seventh filmmaker to win two Palme d’Or awards with his new film: Love. I don’t really know much about the film but I have heard nothing but praise for Haneke’s direction and the lead performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, and Isabelle Huppert. The Plame d’Or win is just another extra reason to go.

The Master: Paul. Thomas. Anderson. This is the first release of his that I am going to get to see in theaters considering how I only discovered him this last year, and it can’t come soon enough. Any PTA film would have me excited but then comes the plot and the cast. Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the finest actors of all time, Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most talented actors of his generation, and Amy Adams proved last year with The Fighter that she can deliver a performance that packs a punch (Boxing puns for life). Take all of that and then fill in the plot piece with Scientology and you have one my most anticipated film of 2012. Here’s the trailer:

Django Unchained: The thing about Inglorious Basterds that really worked for me was how fun the entire experience was. It took a time in history that is usually viewed through a sad lens and made it enjoyable. It looks like he’s doing it again here with Django. Just from the trailers you can already tell how much fun the actors are having in their roles, especially Christoph Waltz and Leo Dicaprio. Who didn’t smile when they heard every line Dicaprio spoke in the trailer? I certainly did. It may not be the best of 2012, but I am thoroughly convinced it will be the most enjoyable. Here’s the trailer:

 

The Iceman: Michael Shannon has proven himself time and time again as one of the most talented actors of his generation with his masterful roles in Take Shelter and Revolutionary Road. It is for that reason, and essentially that reason alone why this film is on this list. Michael Shannon as a contract killer could result in the best performance of his career. Shannon has that cold, calculating presence that made his performance in Revolutionary Road so perfect and it could easily be carried into this film, making it extraordinary. Besides just the incredible talent of Shannon you also have James Franco, Ray Liotta, and Winona Rider to carry the film. I’ve never seen a film by the writer/director so this could very well be a bust, but from just an acting perspective this has the potential for greatness.

There you have it. My five most anticipated films of 2012. What films have you counting down the days to their release?

Raging Bull

In posting this review I admit to one of my greatest mistakes when it comes to film. I put off watching Raging Bull despite having it for almost a year. Well, now I have rectified that mistake and the result was glorious.

Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese’s collaborations together produced what I consider to be the finest film of the seventies, one of the finest films of the 90’s, and now quite possibly the finest film of the eighties as well. Raging Bull, put quite simply, is one hell of a film. It takes you into the mind of the destructive man that was Jake La Motta who is ferociously brought to life by what might be Robert De Niro’s finest performance, and shows you how his struggles both personally and professionally ended up shaping his life.

La Motta was more than just a boxer, he was a force of nature that battered and abused anything he came into contact with. Whether it be his wife at home or his opponent in the ring, either way his anger led him to violent bouts of horrifying violence that simultaneously progressed and destroyed different aspects of his life. This is the definition of the anti-hero. Jake La Motta is a despicable man, a man who makes no attempt to hide his true nature, and yet you almost feel compelled to sympathize with him despite the fact that you’ve witnessed him do terrible things. That’s what makes him so interesting. For me liking a character doesn’t even come into the equation when I look at my favorite characters of all time. Alex DeLarge: murderous psychopath. Henry Hill: drug dealer and woman beater. And now Jake La Motta: animal.

De Niro’s dedication to the craft really shows in this role. Not just because he trained to the point where he won two professional boxing tournaments and then proceeded to gain 60 pounds, a record breaking amount, to play an older La Motta. Even if you disregard all of that, you are left with one of the finest performances of all time. One might dismiss his performance as one of sheer anger, but what they fail to recognize is the great deal of restraint that is applied. At no point in Raging Bull does it feel as if he’s overracting which would be an easy thing to do. The difficult part is making it entirely believable and creating a layered performance that allows the viewer to see La Motta as more than just a monster, but as a man as well. It was a difficult task that was pulled off immaculately.

De Niro’s La Motta is complemented by a variety of perfect supporting performances coming from Joe Pesci as La Motta’s brother Joey, Cathy Moriarty as La Motta’s second wife Vickey, and Frank Vincent as an associate of Joey, Salvy. Nothing more needs to be said about the excellence of these performances as they speak for themselves.

One of this films greatest features lies behind the camera: the genius of Martin Scorsese. Allow me to be the thousandth person to say that it was genius to shoot this film in black & white. It really adds to the feel of the film as it seems grittier and fits the feel of the 40’s and 50’s well, along with resulting in some breathtaking shots. My favorite of which is the opening credits where you see a faceless boxer (Who you can tell is De Niro just by his movements) getting pumped up for a fight in the ring. The camera is unmoving through this entire segment, making De Niro the only moving part in the shot. This is where the black & white comes into play. The contrast of his darker clothes against the foggy white backdrop of the scene results in a beautiful display.

Besides just his use of black & white cinematography, Scorsese also pulled off creating some of the finest boxing sequences of all time. What it is that makes them so special? Scorsese stays close. At no point do the cameras stray away from the action. Instead they are always right up in the action moving with the punches. One of my favorite instances of this comes when (Semi-Spoilers) La Motta is fighting Sugar Ray Robinson and Robinson is just destroying La Motta’s face and the camera switches between Ray swinging and blood shooting out of La Motta’s face and flowing down his legs. It’s a brutal shot and one that I haven’t been able to shake since seeing it.

It took me far too long to finally watch this film and it was a mistake. This is a perfect of example of a master filmmaker at the peak of his craft. Not only is this the finest sports film I’ve ever seen (If you consider it a sports film), but it’s also one of the finest films I’ve ever seen.

This film makes me reevaluate every other film that I have called a masterpiece. This is the definition of a masterpiece.

A well-deserved:

 100/100

Excellence in Direction #2: The Royal Tenenbaums

It took me far too long to discover the wonderful world of Mr. Wes Anderson but once I did I was astonished. Each of his films has emits this radiance that draws you in and allows you to explore this miraculous world that you had never seen before. I’ve seen three of his films: The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Darjeeling Limited. All three of which were wonderful experiences. So when I decided to sit down and find my favorite scene of his I was faced with a challenge. After about a half-hour searching through clips on youtube I found two specific scenes that were examples of perfection, and both of them were from The Royal Tenenbaums.

The first scene that I found was the six minute introduction segment of the film set to the song “Hey Jude”. I love the use of music in films which is one of the many reasons why I love Wes Anderson’s style. The songs that he selects always complement his scenes and almost seem to take them to a new level. This is exactly what occurs at the beginning of The Royal Tenenbaums. Not only do you have Alec Baldwin’s narration, Gene Hackman being Gene Hackman, and Anderson’s signature camerawork but also the melody of “Hey Jude” playing in the background. It all just fits together and results in one of my favorite introductions of all time.

The next scene contains spoilers.

The second scene that I found from The Royal Tenenbaums occurs later in the film and is focused on the performance given by Luke Wilson. Again a lot of my praise for this scene revolves around its expert use of music, but rather than repeating myself I am going to focus on the two other aspects of this scene that make it great: Cinematography and Luke Wilson. Luke Wilson is not an actor that gets a lot, or really any praise, but here as Richie he is immaculate. In this scene Richie is deeply depressed about his love of his sister, Margot, and is preparing to commit suicide. Most of the scene is Richie staring into the mirror (the camera) and shaving off all of his facial hair along with his head. This transformation is shown by a series of cuts in time as he is shaving. During this transformation the entire room he is in is dark and the walls are blue as is to represent his depression. There are two master shots in this sequence. First is when Richie finished shaving and the camera changes angles to see him in the mirror as he turns a flickering light on. The other is images of his memories with Margot that quickly changes to a shot of his hands over the sink where all his hair is and blood just pouring from his arms. It is a very dark turn in the film but it is a brilliant scene none-the-less.