Tag Archives: cinema

Hugo – Review

6 Jun

Martin Scorsese has become one of the key names of American film making, and throughout his career which has spanned over 40 years, he has created some of the most well loved films in modern film history. Of course, most of these films’ content are not too appropriate for people under a certain age or with weak hearts, so it came as a surprise that he would be directing Hugo, a film based off of Brian Selznick’s kid’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Well it turns out that my surprise was completely unfounded as the film went on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations and win 5. I’ve finally gotten around to seeing this movie and it has not only reminded me why I love movies so much in the first place, it touched me to the core with a story that went a lot deeper than I ever expected.

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Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy who lives in the walls and clock tower of the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris. Before this, he was a clockmaker with his father (Jude Law), but tragedy takes his father away and forces him to work with his uncle (Ray Winstone) at the train station. His uncle soon disappears leaving him alone to collect different tools and gears to finish fixing an automaton that his father found soon before he was killed. Hugo is caught stealing pieces from a bitter toy maker named Georges (Ben Kingsley) who threatens to turn him over to the station inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen), who prides himself in rounding up stray kids and sending them to the orphanage. Hugo enlists the help of Georges’ god daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and the two kids not only discover the secrets of the mysterious automaton, but also uncover the past of Georges, a past he tried to bury and forget.

It’s hard to give the plot synopsis of Hugo because I’m just so excited about it, but I don’t want to ruin anything for people who haven’t seen it yet. What I can say is that this was not what I expected from this movie. I knew that I was going to really like it and give it a good review, but I wasn’t expecting on completely falling in love with it. This movie could never have worked the way it did if it had any other name attached to it besides Martin Scorsese, and if you really think about it, this makes perfect sense. Martin Scorsese has made it his life’s work to not only make great movies, but also to restore and save movies that have been lost or damaged. This is a man who loves cinema, and Hugo is a movie about his personal love and admiration for the cinematic art and magic.

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Out of the 11 Academy Awards this film was nominated for, it took away 5. While I feel like it could’ve won any of the awards it was nominated for, the ones it did win were for it’s sound, art direction, and cinematography. The visual and auditory aesthetics of this movie are out of this world. The first scene alone which starts in the Parisian sky then travels through the train station took an entire year to design, animate, and render all of the thousands of frames just in that opening seconds of the film. Particles of dust wander throughout the frames and light shines through the windows of the train station making it all seem like a wonderful dream you never want to wake up from. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to.

Why this movie is so special to me, however, is because it is an ode to films that helped lay the foundation for films that would lay the foundation for movies we see today. There are clips of Harold Lloyd hanging high above the crowded city streets in Safety Last!, haunting images of the silent horror masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and constant references to a science fiction film that seemed way ahead of its time in 1902, A Trip to the Moon. Even Sacha Baron Cohen’s character is a tribute to the slapstick comedy of Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton. There is so much a film buff can find in this movie and wonder at.

Hugo very well may be Martin Scorsese’s most personal film to date, but also a film that many years from now will be regarded as a classic. There’s so much to love about this movie, from the references to old movies to the relationships formed between all of the characters. You don’t have to be a complete cinephile (like me) to enjoy and appreciate this movie, although if you are you may get a little something extra out of it. To summarize exactly how I feel about this movie, Hugo is a film about the magic of cinema and the feelings you experience when you are completely lost in one. It is a reminder that movies aren’t just cheap entertainment, but to some very lucky people, a way to immerse yourself in a world unknown and experience imagination that you may never find in normal life. Hugo is that magic.

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Three… Extremes – Review

10 Oct

Asian horror is one of my personal favorite genres and has been creeping more and more into American culture by remakes and just by curious film enthusiasts out to see something new and exciting. Exciting is just what I would call really good Asian horror films. Exciting, and…well, extreme. Three different directors from three different countries band together for Three… Extremes, a collection of horror films that attempt to take the genre to a whole new level.

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The first film in this group of three is Dumplings from the Chinese director Fruit Chan.

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An aging woman (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) is obsessed with finding a way to bring back her youthful look. She finds help with Mei (Bai Ling) and her home made dumplings, which have been known to have a physical rejuvenating quality. What this woman doesn’t know is the secret ingredient that Mei uses for her dumplings, and the means that she goes through in order to please her customers.

Dumplings is one of those movies that actually got to me, and even worse made me lightheaded. This is, without a doubt, one of the most uncomfortable films that I have ever sat through. Fruit Chan isn’t as much of a horror director as the other film makers in this anthology, but he succeeds in such a way that I was actually very surprised. What really helps this segment along is Christopher Doyle’s work as cinematographer. Doyle combines gritty and sophisticated lighting to really show a contrast in the different locations. This is a disturbing trip into a hell that I’m not too excited to go to again any time soon. Unfortunately for me, Dumplings was also released as a feature separate from this anthology and I’m curious enough to check it out.

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The next film in the anthology is by Korean director Park Chan-wook titled Cut.

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A famous director (Byung-hun Lee) is known not only for his talent when it comes to film making, but also for being a very nice and accommodating man. After a day of filming, he comes home to find his house completely empty, save for an intruder who knocks the director unconscious. Waking up on the set, the director finds himself face to face with the intruder (Won-Hie Lim) and his two hostages: the director’s wife (Hye-jeong Kang), whose fingers are glued to the piano, and a small child. He is then forced to play this stranger’s sick game to determine who is walking out of this in one piece.

Out of the three short films, this one if my favorite for a lot of reasons. Park Chan-wook’s use of camera movement and editing really makes this unique. Along with the nice camera and editing work, the set design is really awesome. It’s this off kilter gothic kind of set that just doesn’t seem quite right, and I mean that as a compliment. Finally, despite it being a horror film with a strong element of torture, it is also darkly comedic. This has a lot to do with the editing, but also Won-Hie Lim is also a great vocal and physical actor that we are frightened by his madness, but can’t help laughing at him. Cut stands above the other two and will not be forgotten.

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Finally, from Japan, we have Takashi Miike and his segment, Box.

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Kyoko (Kyoko Hasegawa) has been having a horrifying dream of being buried alive. As if her subconscious torment wasn’t enough, she has been haunted by the ghost of a little girl, thought to be her long lost sister, Shoko, who shows up in her apartment complex. In order to understand these dreams, Kyoko must search deep within her memories to those that have been locked away. The cerebral quest takes her to an all too familiar place where she has to face the demons of her past head on, all the while learning that her night mares aren’t too far from the truth.

Out of all of these short films, I’m really disappointed to say, that this one didn’t really do much for me. I’m upset about this because I really enjoy Takashi Miike as a film maker, and I know that he is capable of horror on a much grander scale than this. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a beautiful movie to look at with really nice contrasts when it comes to the lights and the darks. Unfortunately, the story is told in such a way that it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the shorts. It plays out as sort of a head trip, with very little that is extreme about it. One scene played out like some of Miike’s best work, but I had a hard time not only following this one, but staying interested.

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Three… Extremes is almost a perfect anthology film, with only the final segment really dragging it down. In that way, it really feels uneven because of the high intensity of the first two, and than the slow, cerebral pace of the final one. I almost wish that it was ordered in reverse order. Maybe than the movie wouldn’t feel so sloshy. Still, to any extreme horror fan, Three… Extremes is a must see.

The Passion of Joan of Arc – Review

11 Sep

So, for this review, we are going waywaywayway back to 1928. At this point, film making is still relatively new. Edison’s actuality films have been around for a while, and we are well into the golden age of silent cinema. Film makers like F.W. Murnau have been taking the medium and turning it into a very expressive work of art that can be used for more than just simple entertainment purposes. One of the most important film makers, whose goal seemed to be achieving just this, was Carl Theodor Dreyer. I have already reviewed on of Dreyer’s movies, Vampyr, and can easily call it my personal favorite. In many people’s eyes, however, The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered his masterpiece.

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Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti) stands trial for declaring that she has been sent by God to remove the English from France. The judges try to intimidate her with condemning words, false letters from King Charles VII, and eventually the threat of torture. Her fear of burning at the stake forces her to sign the confession, stating that she was lying the entire time. Later, in her prison, she is rethinking everything that she has done and recants her confession. This leads to an intense scene of her execution by fire and the riot amongst the public that this causes.

When executed properly, silent films can be even more powerful than modern day dramas that implement a lot of dialogue to convey the emotional intensity of a scene. Dreyer didn’t have this luxury and was forced to use other means to show just how straining physically, mentally, and spiritually this whole trial was for Joan. As a starting point, Dreyer had actual transcripts of the trial that had been meticulously recorded. This provided a lot of information that makes the film as good as it is. One outstanding instance of historical accuracy that can now be used as one of the greatest lines of dialogue in the film goes as follows: “Are you in a state of grace,” asks one of Joan’s judges. She replies with, “If I am, may God keep me there; if I am not, may He grant it to me.”

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Dreyer is really good with set design and moving the camera around in these sets. At the time, camera movement was not as fancy as it is today, but somehow Dreyer managed to completely step out of the box and create highly artistic and fluid motion. The sets in The Passion of Joan of Arc are almost completely bare and white. There are occasional shadows that evoke religious imagery, which is nice, but the set design is an excellent example of minimalism. The exterior scenes were also shot in a man made town square that had many of different mechanisms that had to be adjusted so that Dreyer could move the camera about and got the shots that he wanted. One exterior shot that really caught my attention was a extremely low angle shot looking straight up with people sprinting by the camera. It seemed like an incredibly daring shot, but looks fantastic nonetheless. Another great example of camera work is when the camera moves close to Joan and her judges in moments of intensity. That brings us to the close ups.

It is said that the producers of this movie were none to happy with Dreyer and the finished product. They spent a lot of money in making sure that the sets were large and starkly beautiful. Well, viewers don’t get too much time to admire the sets with all of the close ups that Dreyer uses. The amount of close ups was pretty much unheard of at this point. Not only that, but none of the actors were wearing make up.  That leaves a lot of close ups on actors that are completely natural, and lets face it, some of her judges are pretty freaky looking without make up. Dreyer firmly believed that the eyes were the window to the soul, which makes his decision to cast Maria Falconetti as Joan even more perfect. The close ups on Falconetti are mesmerizing, with her eyes seeming to look through the screen and straight into the viewer’s heart. This is one of the best performances ever put to film, and words really can’t do it justice.

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The Passion of Joan of Arc is an essential piece of film history that acts as a major foundation for making film into a legitimate means of artistic expression. For film standards in 1928, this is movie is extremely inventive and progressive. Moving away from what was considered to be a traditional film of the time, Dreyer creates a meticulous spiritual journey that we must travel with Joan. It’s beautiful, haunting, and will completely overwhelm you by the time that the final image burns into your mind.

The Artist – Review

8 Apr

In the beginning of cinema, film makers and the studios that backed them had the distinct challenge of telling a story without the use of dialogue, and relied on the talent of the actors and the use of montage. This was a magical time for movies that serves as the genesis for the films we know and love today. There are people who are turned off by the idea of silent films, and that’s the reason why I feel that Michel Hazanavicius’ Academy Award winning feature The Artist was a bold move that reflects his love of film and successfully captures an important and unique time in film history.

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George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the king of the silver screen. At the premier of his latest picture, a random fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), bumps into him leading to a front page headline. This chance encounter changes Peppy’s life as she begins rising through the Hollywood ranks, and getting bigger and better parts. Soon, the studio that Valentin works decides to start producing only “talkies” leaving Valentin in the dust. As Peppy’s career takes off, Valentin’s plummets to the lowest depths that the actor has ever experienced.

The Artist is a truly remarkable film that just goes to show that silent film still has the same power that it had 80 to 100 years ago. Like I said, this is a very magical time in the history of film, and Hazanavicius has recreated the feeling of the time and the mood of classic Hollywood films. This is a comedy, a drama, and a romance that isn’t just an homage to a simpler time, but also a great stand alone piece that is highly artistic, but never condescending. People with no prior knowledge to the time period will still have a great time, although if you’re a fan of these types of films you will probably better appreciate everything the film has to offer.

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Being a silent actor is not an easy thing to do because you have to rely on how well you can physically convey something. In this respect, every single actor in this movie knocks it out of the park. Dujardin deserves his Academy Award for Best Actor. His character is pompous, yet likable and even though he doesn’t talk, I understand his character very well and got very emotionally attached. I can say the exact same thing about Bejo’s character. While Dujardin’s character communicates to the audience with his over the top body movements, Bejo is very good with her face. What I mean by that is that she has a very broad smile and eyes that can switch the tone to sadness. Let me reiterate, this type of acting is very difficult and these two actors are absolutely superb. Oh, I almost forgot. Keep your eye on the puppy in this movie. Please.

The production design is beautiful. Shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the audience is from the very beginning thrown through time. This certainly is the farthest thing from IMAX. The title screen also completely mimics the titles of the time. I was smiling from ear to ear before the narrative even started. The sets are elegant and occasionally over the top. One great scene in particular shows a stair case from an angle that you don’t usually see in movies. Finally, what would a silent film be without its soundtrack? The soundtrack is more than appropriate. It’s almost eerie how well the music sounds in relation to the film. I loved it.

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The Artist is a magical film. I know, I know. That sounds completely corny, but as a person who has dedicated most of his life to film, it’s really a wonder to watch. In a culture that has become jaded by dialogue driven movies, it was so refreshing to see a silent film sweep all of the major awards, but also deserve every award it got. From the acting to the production design, this is a perfect movie. It’s easy to find faults in movies, but The Artist is absolutely flawless.

Casablanca – Review

14 Sep

It’s pretty exciting to be reviewing one of the greatest films of all time, and one that has been a true inspiration in terms of writing and storytelling, for me. Casablanca is a gem from 1942 that is timeless, but still exposes a slice of dangerous life that was very real in the days of World War II. This is a near perfect film.

Casablanca is constantly welcoming different types of people. People trying to make a living, and people trying to get out as fast as possible. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has no intentions of leaving. He has established a life as head of a saloon where French police, Nazi soldiers, and refugees all flock to for time away from the world. Rick’s life is thrown a curveball when an old flame, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), comes walking into his café with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). The Nazis don’t want them to leave Casablanca, and Rick is left with the decision to help them or turn his back.

From the beginning, the viewer is hooked by a sweeping score and an excellent introduction to the ins and outs of everyday life in Casablanca. On the surface, it seems like an unassuming cit that is  just trying to get along, but underneath is a swirling underworld of black market activities that is expertly revealed throughout the course of the narrative. Anything and anyone can and will be sold in order to get a chance to escape.

Humphrey Bogarts performance feels very real and is absolutely believable. The viewer has no difficulty in seeing the emotional confusion and relentless cynicism that he suffers through over the course of the film. Ingrid Bergman is beautiful and certainly does he best at overacting. Paul Henreid is the perfect balance as the freedom fighter who is at present fighting for his own survival. The supporting cast is excellent support, even though a lot of them aren’t on the screen for very long.

I really enjoyed how most of this movie took place in the café. There were a few other sets that were used, but the majority of the scenes are spent at Rick’s It’s excellent atmosphere with a lot of visual and auditory commotion that completely envelops the viewer in the scene. If this movie accomplishes anything, it’s at making the viewer feel like it is part of the scene, allowing us time with the main plot, but offering glimpses of life outside.

There is also great history to be seen here, not just for cinema, but for world history. Casablanca was made at a time when the future of the war remained uncertain. Watching this knowing the outcome makes me feel more hope for the characters, but at the time it must have been almost like a loose ending. No one knew how long or how bad the war was going to be, so the ending here is almost hopeless.

Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made and for good reason. Everything fits perfectly into place to create a coherent and beautiful narrative that spans love and war.It is a much watch for any cinephile, or for any human being.