Tag Archives: historical fiction

Aguirre, the Wrath of God – Review

11 Sep

One of the most iconic professional relationships in the history of film is that of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. Herzog is a brilliant film maker who pushes the boundaries of cinema and has made a name for himself doing it. Kinski, on the other hand, was an absolute madman who threatened people on a daily basis and had manic explosions that makes the Vesuvius eruption seem like nothing. While the two men were constantly at odds with each other, it can’t be denied that they did some excellent work together. The first film they ever collaborated on is the 1972 film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Upon its release, it was a critical success and has been called a masterpiece of cult film making. That’s a lot to live up to, but this minimalist adventure into both the South American jungles and insanity lives up to the hype.

After conquering the Incan Empire, conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés) leads a group of his men and slaves down the Andes Mountains and into the jungle in search of the lost city of El Dorado. As they get deeper and deeper into the jungle, Pizarro decides to send a small party further downriver, led by Don Pedro de Ursúa (Ruy Guerra) and his second in command being the manipulative Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski). When Ursúa recommends going back to Pizarro’s camp after 7 days of searching, Aguirre decides that that this course of action is unacceptable and leads a mutiny against the leader and elects the slovenly nobleman Don Fernando de Guzmán (Peter Berling) to lead the group to El Dorado. Of course, Aguirre knows that Guzmán is a fool and uses this to take power over the party and to build a raft to sail deeper into the jungle that is crawling with native cannibals looking for food. As members of the party start being picked off one by one, Aguirre falls further into madness and becomes hungrier for power, and will stop at nothing to find El Dorado, even when the expedition becomes a hopeless tragedy.

Who better to tell this story than Werner Herzog? Well, I could actually think of a handful of people to make it before I thought of Herzog, but it’s excellent that he was the one to tackle it. The characters in this movie are all based on real people who actually did go looking for the mythical city of El Dorado, but it isn’t known for sure how they all met their demises. Herzog isn’t interested with fact in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Instead, he’s interested in weaving a story full of deception, manipulation, and murder. While this all sounds very theatrical, this movie is anything but. Shot on location in South America, it would’ve been impossible to bring a film crew out that was necessary with the budget Herzog was working with. This made the film maker shoot scenes in whatever way he can which made for a very loose and almost documentary style. It’s a method that makes this film absolutely engrossing and it really worked at making me get immersed in the jungle environment these characters were trying to navigate. It’s a prime example of a low budget miracle.

This was a highly demanding movie for both the actors and the crew, so I imagine it wasn’t always easy getting the performance that was necessary, especially from you know who. Still, the performances in this movie feel very natural and ahead of their times in some ways. Herzog is an auteur film maker and his demand for his vision is evident with the stories that have been recorded from the set and the actual outcome of the movie. I do have to talk about Kinski’s performance since it’s one of the main reasons to even watch this film. He has a fire in his eyes and he captures the madness of Aguirre with perfection. He’s actually not in it as much as I thought he would be, especially since the movie is named after his character. He definitely is the main driving force behind the film, but he often times pulls the strings from offscreen. When he is onscreen, however, his acting is electrifying and you can see why Herzog chose to collaborate with him four more times after this despite the trouble he had.

This movie had the story to be an epic yet tragic adventure tale full of larger than life heroes and villains. Instead, Herzog went the much quieter route and it’s all the better for it. Most of the violence happens within the blink of an eye and most of the dialogue is spoken in a very uncinematic way. Much like everything else, the story doesn’t flow and move like a traditional film. Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a very slow movie that isn’t afraid to completely stop moving for a while and focus on the stability, both mental and physical, of the characters. If you’re looking for a swashbuckling action adventure film, Aguirre is bound to disappoint. This is a film that takes its time and forces you to stick with it.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is an outstanding film through and through. It’s a subtle tale of madness that works so well because the storytelling is so quiet and unconventional. Herzog’s guerrilla style behind the camera also made the film seem all the more authentic. If anything, it’s worth a viewing just to see Kinski’s manic performance come to life before your very eyes. This isn’t a movie for everyone I don’t think, but it is a masterpiece of the cinematic arts and any brave lover of film needs to give it a go.

Final Grade: A

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Atomic Blonde – Review

2 Aug

In 2012, a graphic novel was released called The Coldest City, which tells the story of a spy operating in Germany during the events that lead up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I have to be honest, up until recently, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s now been brought to my attention with its new big screen adaptation titled Atomic Blonde. I’ve been looking forward to this movie for quite a while, but I knew that it could really go either way, so I’d like to say I had my expectations in check. After seeing it, I have to say that I’m pretty surprised at a few things. First off, it’s a better movie than I thought it was going to be, which is pretty cool. Secondly, the marketing for this movie is completely off and it’s really not at all what the trailers make it out to be.

The year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is close to falling which will bring together people on either side for the first time in years. Meanwhile, amidst the government turmoil, MI6 agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB agent and the microfilm containing the names and actions of every agent in operation is stolen from him. This concerns a lot of people and only the best of the best can be trusted to go in and retrieve this information before it is sold to the highest bidder. Enter Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a top level MI6 agent with a very special connection to the deceased. Her mission is to not only retrieve the microfilm, but also hunt down and assassinate a traitor known only as Satchel, who’s been selling information to different sources including a KGB associate and arms dealer named Bremovych (Roland Møller). Upon arriving in Berlin, Broughton meets with another agent, David Percival (James McAvoy) who’s been operating in Berlin for a long time, but as she spends more time with Percival and his associates, it becomes clear that no one can be trusted and people can be bought and sold no matter their previous allegiances.

The trailers for this movie made it seem like Atomic Blonde was going to be a non stop, kinetic thrill ride of a movie that relentlessly jumps off the screen and attacks the senses of the viewer. That’s not really what the movie was and after I adjusted to this realization I started to really enjoy the movie for what it was. Sure, there’s action in it, but this is more of a spy movie than anything else, that just so happens to be infused with the style and sensibilities of a graphic novel. It does feel over the top in terms of its characters and certain plot elements but it also feels down to earth at other moments. This is a really layered story, and covering anything in a paragraph long summary is just impossible. What really is done right with this movie is a sense of blurred motivations and it’s appropriate that this line of work is constantly referred to as “the game” because the film makers have turned this area of Berlin into something resembling a game board. The characters move about in certain areas as clandestine as possible while trying to weed out the actions of the other characters. It’s a web of deceit and lies that holds up until the very last frame of the movie and this tale of suspense and turncoats works just as well as the action sequences.

Over the past few years, Charlize Theron has proven that she can perform just as well as the other modern day action movie titans. She was great in Mad Max: Fury Road, but her performance in Atomic Blonde takes her skills to the next level. When the movie does shift gears into pure action mode, it gets nuts. There’s a few major action sequences throughout the film, and the wait building up to each of them is worth it with the payoff. Theron owns the screen in these sequences and the choreography of each of these scenes are unique and memorable. It’s also all shot very well so the action can be seen in full. A while into the movie, one of these sequences starts and appears to not break action for at least 10 or 15 minutes. This is one of the greatest action sequences I have ever seen, and despite the fact that it is edited together, the illusion is strong and I didn’t have a hard time believing it was one continuous shot. Major kudos goes to director David Leitch. This being his first full feature film, I am really surprised by his skill behind the camera and I can’t wait to see what else he has in store for us.

While Atomic Blonde does very well in most areas, I do have to touch on some problems that I had with the movie. The pacing of this movie does have a hard time at some points. There will be a hard hitting action sequence, but then it will feel like the plot hits a brick wall. This kind of stop and go narrative is jarring and there’s a whole plot line with a certain character that could have been left out all together. The movie is a good length but it would have worked better if the screen time with this particular character was spent building on something else. There’s also a bit of a weird clash of style and story. This is a very stylistic movie, but it also tells a very down to earth and real story. It often felt like the style and the substance were contradicting each other, which shows that Leitch does have some growing to do in how he presents his stories.

Atomic Blonde is not a perfect movie but it is a more than competent action/spy thriller that has a whole lot of style and some really great film making. As a debut feature film, it’s really impressive and I want to see David Leitch grow as a film maker. While he shoots action very well, he needs to work on elements of his story telling and his style before he can create a movie as hard hitting as I think he wanted Atomic Blonde to be. Still, this is a very entertaining movie with a great sense of location and plenty of suspense and action to keep audiences on the edges of their seats.

Final Grade: B

The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

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William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

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Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-