Tag Archives: society

I Stand Alone – Review

4 Sep

Gaspar Noé is a film makers who is known for making movies that shock and otherwise make people relatively uncomfortable. Noé’s film making should not be misunderstood, however, as his filmography is comprised of movies that are shocking, yes, but certainly not stupid nor trashy. My previous experience with this director can pretty much be described as mind melting, with his 2009 film Enter the Void. Before taking a look at his first feature film, I Stand Alone, I had to also watch his short film that starts the story, Carne. As I expected, these two movies shocked the hell out of me, but they also made me think… a lot.

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A man only known as the Butcher (Philippe Nahon) lives in Paris making a living selling horse meat, and in the mean time, taking care of his autistic daughter, Cynthia (Blandine Lenoir). The relationship with his daughter is creepy and complicated, but is pushed to the limit after he severely injures someone that he believes raped her. After being thrown in prison and losing his shop, the Butcher begins dating a barista (Frankye Pain) who soon becomes pregnant and takes him to live with her mother (Martine Audrain) in northern France. Life for the Butcher soon becomes one big and continuous disappointment which leads him to violently leave again for Paris to start life once again. This seems next to impossible when he is faced with constant rejection from friends and employers leading the Butcher to sink deeper and deeper into his own twisted psychology.

The parts of that summary that involve the Butcher injuring the man and getting thrown in prison only to marry the barista is actually mainly told in Noé’s short film from 1991, Carne. To briefly talk about that film, it left me feeling very strange. The way that it’s shot, including the no nonsense scenes of a horse being killed in a slaughterhouse to seeing a child being born in all of its icky glory, really make you feel like you’re watching the work of someone who has a vision and will not let it be compromised. Other than those scenes, which mainly only happen in the beginning, this isn’t a disturbing film in the way you would think. The way the characters behave and the way that they live is uncomfortable enough. This is a great short film that has a worthy successor in I Stand Alone.

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So take everything that was great in Carne, and make it a little bit longer, and you’ve got I Stand Alone. This isn’t saying that watching this film was too similar to his previous short film. What I’m saying is that Noé maintained the style and strange intensity that made his short film so good. This is probably one of the most cynical movies I have ever seen, and although it can be overbearing at times, it’s such an interesting trip inside the head of a quiet psycho who you could easily pass yourself walking down the street one day. I’ve seen a few critics compare this movie to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and I can understand why. It has that kind of wandering feeling that’s also very French, which makes sense, this being a French production. It also has that same feeling of imminent danger, that this person can crack at any second and the outcome could very well be deadly.

The style also holds up in the transition from short film to feature film. The way this film is shot and edited is very unique and made me all giddy watching how strange it was. My favorite trick that Noé would do to make sure we’re really paying attention is a crazy kinetic dolly or pan movement accompanied by an obnoxiously loud noise. While it’s cool, it also is a cool way to visualize the instability of the Butcher’s mind. There’s also moments where the image will black out or jump cut with a low note cuing the action. This actually was kind of funny and an interesting way to edit the movie. Finally, there’s actually a 30 second warning before the gut wrenching climax warning the viewer that if they feel like they can’t sit through it, now would be a good time to stop watching the movie. This feels a little gimmicky since I was watching it on DVD, but it must have been odd to see sitting in a theater watching the movie. I’ve never seen something like that in any other movie. Like I said, I Stand Alone has a very unique style.

Speaking for both Carne and I Stand Alone, I was really affected by them. Both of these films are difficult to sit through and stomaching the content may not happen too easily (or at all), but these are movies that will leave you wondering about the characters and might even get you thinking about the truth of the world. I don’t believe that Gaspar Noé was trying to say anything with the heavy handed political and societal thoughts of the Butcher, which are made clear in long monologues throughout the films. I believe these thoughts are to allow us to sink deeper into the Butcher’s twisted mind. This is a movie about a man trapped in society and the loneliness and betrayal that he may wrongfully feel. These films are sick, stylish, and are going to stay in my mind for quite some time… which is a little unsettling.

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Elysium – Review

2 Jan

Neil Blomkamp crash landed on the sci-fi radar in 2009 with his contemporary masterpiece District 9. In my opinion, this is the most important science fiction film of the past twenty years, so when his second film, Elysium, was released in 2013, the film had a lot to live up to. It’s true that Elysium doesn’t quite reach the same heights as District 9, but I wasn’t really expecting it to. Once you stop comparing to Blomkamp’s first film, you can see that Elysium is a really good movie that, unfortunately, gets a little heavy handed at times.

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In 2154, the Earth is an absolute wreck after problems such as overpopulation have completely destroyed the environment and crippled society. This is just a problem for your average everyday citizen. The more wealthy, upper class citizen can live a life of luxury that can span as many lifetimes as they desire on a huge Stanford-torus space station called Elysium. Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has always dreamed of making it to Elysium, but never actually expected to. One day at work, he is exposed to lethal amounts of radiation and only has five days to live, with his only chance of life being a medical pod on Elysium. To get up there he meets with his old associate Spider (Wagner Moura), who attaches a powerful mechanical exoskeleton to Max and begin a mission that will ultimately end on Elysium. Max has caught the eye of the Elysium Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who aims to prevent them from getting to Elysium, so she hires her man on the ground, Kruger (Sharlto Copely), to stop them.

As with District 9Elysium is more than just a science fiction story that you can shut your brain off for and just enjoy the ride. Sure, if you want to you’re allowed to, but you’d be missing a lot of the movie’s appeal. The message here is just about as obvious as a movie can get, and Blomkamp doesn’t seem to care if he lays it on as heavy as he can. In my opinion, that is the movie’s main weakness. Just looking at the plot summary I just wrote, you can probably figure out what the message of the movie is, even if you had no prior knowledge. The movie just feels a little bit preachy. Still there are a lot more themes that aren’t as heavy handed, such as themes of transhumanism.

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The design of Elysium is really something to behold. The space station itself is a Stanford-torus design that was thought up at Stanford University by NASA in 1975. This makes the movie even more believable than it would be. But, this movie is very believable. The problems on Earth can already be seen here and now, so the time period of 2154 makes the Earth in this movie seem possible. Also, the weaponry and set design all seem like a very realistic depiction of a possible future. I’m no expert of what can be expected in terms of technology within the next hundred to two hundred years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it looks very much like it does in Elysium, hopefully not as dystopic. The only piece of technology that I don’t really buy is essential to the story. That is the medical pods on Elysium that heal you, no matter what the ailment. While it is a really cool idea, I just can’t see that happening any time soon, although it is a necessary piece of the story.

Now I don’t normally spend an entire section on just one person, but I feel like I need to. The performances are fine in this movie, other than Foster, whose performance is awkward at best. Who not only steals every scene he’s in, but runs off with the entire movie is Sharlto Copely. Wow. Having worked with Blomkamp before in District 9, it isn’t really surprising to see him again in Elysium. His performance as the sleeper agent Kruger is horrifying. He’s one of those characters that make you uncomfortable every time he’s on screen because, for one, he just looks gross, but also you never quite know what he’s going to do next or what he’s capable of. Copely plays this psycho spot on, and I firmly believe that no one else could have played this part and done it the justice that Copely did. It may be one of my new favorite screen performances.

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So, as I expected, Elysium is another success by a new science fiction titan, Neil Blomkamp. If you’re expecting it to be the next District 9, it isn’t, but it is a step above a lot of the movies that come out nowadays, especially in terms of science fiction. It’s a powerful blockbuster with an important, if not heavy handed message. Plus a lot of people explode in this movie, so expect a lot of that. But hey, I’m not complaining about that! I’d strongly recommend Elysium. It’s a fun blockbuster that makes me excited to see what Blomkamp will do in the future.

Waking Life – Review

22 Nov

Richard Linklater has an interesting way of story telling. From movies like Dazed and Confused and A Scanner Darkly, it is evident that he has a knack for setting up a film’s narrative using supposed randomness shown in a very true to life kind of way. Waking Life is much like that, except broken up in such a way as to mimic a dream. Also like A Scanner DarklyWaking Life uses real actors but is completely animated afterwards via rotoscope. The result is a very wordy philosophical journey through a man’s dream as he begins to dig deeper into themes such as existentialism, follies of society, and philosophies of art.

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An  unnamed man (Wiley Wiggins) is asleep, but what’s going on inside his head seems all too unreal for it to be his actual life. He begins wandering the dreamscape, meeting different people and hearing their thoughts on life and philosophy. This man’s dream takes a strange turn when he realizes that he is dreaming and is having a hard time waking up. As he begins dealing with his lucid dreaming, he also starts interacting more with these dream characters and learning more about what it means to dream, how it relates to life, and how to get out.

This is a very bizarre film, which is a very high compliment. There is almost no narrative at all, with the exception of the later conflict of the main character trying to get out of his dream. All up until that point, all we get is a series of random meetings between the main character and other people, or between two completely unknown characters without having Wiggins present at all. This makes it a very difficult movie to watch if you aren’t interested in the subject matter, but luckily if you aren’t quite into philosophy, you can at least look at the beautiful rotoscope animation that, at the time (in terms of live action films), was very new and still equally as remarkable.

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Bob Sabiston, a computer scientist and animator at the MIT media lab, came up with a computer assisted rotoscoping process that was used for this film. In fact, Waking Life, is the first feature film to use this rotoscoping technique, and the result is mind blowing. The scene of this movie is a dreamscape, which is perfect for this psychedelic rotoscoping. While the different philosophers and other characters are talking, there are occasional triply animated effects that happen that match their words or ideas. Also their distorting facial features and bodies look really weird and cool. I absolutely love it and worship the grounds these animators walk on after spending three years alone rotoscoping this film.

Everything else about this movie is pretty debatable. The ideas and topics brought up are of a wide variety and some are really interesting, while others are of no interest to me whatsoever. Scenes about existentialism and film theory are all really cool, but then there are topics about social change and how the government is an evil tyranny that we need to rise against comes off as sophomoric and reminds me of discussion I had in high school.

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Waking Life is an odd film that is not for people who are expecting mindless entertainment. It’s a lot of talking and sitting and thinking, not a lot of action. The whole movie was made for us to tap into a deeper part of our brains and accept different ideas from many different people who are very passionate for what they believe in. Their passion helps drive this movie. The rotoscoping is beautiful and the discussions are thought provoking, but it’s certainly not an easy ride.

Romero’s “Dead” Series – Dawn of the Dead

9 Aug

The surprise success that was Night of the Living Dead kick started Romero’s horror career, but he didn’t return to the zombie scene again until 1978 with his release of Dawn of the Dead. This film is many things: horrific, satirical, and darkly humorous. It also happens to be the ultimate zombie film that still hasn’t been topped.

 

Three weeks after the events of the previous film, the undead epidemic is getting worse and society is rapidly crumbling out of stress and sheer panic. Four survivors decide to escape Philadelphia and make their own way. These people are: traffic reporter Stephen (David Emge) and his executive producer girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross), and SWAT members Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree). These four survivors take refuge in a shopping mall where they not only have to deal with the undead onslaught, but also a group of violent bikers and their own sanity.

If one were to show this to people today who have been jaded by films like 28 Days Later and Zombieland (both of which are very good movies, in my opinion) may find this film boring. Sure there is a lot of violence and gore, but it’s nothing too over the top or shocking compared with what is shown today. For the time, however, seeing blood spray all over the wall and limbs being torn off was new and jaw dropping.

 

It’s been debated what this movie is truly about. The racial commentary is still here and arguably more overt than last time. A major theory is that this is about the brainwashing effects of consumerism. The zombies come to the mall in the movie because it is a strong remnant memory of a place that they love and have a desire to be. There are even great scenes of zombies walking around and looking at stuff, which reminds me of how some people look while they are shopping. It’s funny and true at the same time. Other people say that this is looking way too deeply into the movie, and it’s just about zombies. I guess that’s up to you to decide.

This movie is a big step up from Night of the Living Dead in all aspect. The action, acting, script, and pacing all have made great leaps forward. Gone is the choppy editing as well which is a real joy. The make up and gore effects by Tom Savini look fantastic, and I love how the blood has a bright red look to it. Savini wasn’t a fan of it, but Romero said that he liked it because of the “comic book” style of it.

 

Dawn of the Dead is the epitome of zombie films and it’s not going to be very easy to top it. I should mention that i did see Zack Snyder’s remake, and while i did enjoy it for what it was I’m still going to have to stick with Romero’s original. It’s funny, gory, and scary when it comes to the zombies and to society. If you love zombie movies, chances are you’ve seen this, but if not give it a watch.

I’ll be continuing my Romero “Dead” series review with his 1985 film Day of the Dead.