Tag Archives: tragedy

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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La Vie en Rose – Review

6 Oct

If someone were to make a list of iconic singers from around the world, I can guarantee that Édith Piaf would be close to the top. Piaf’s unique voice and graceful stage presence made her an international success until her untimely death at the age of just 47. Even today, her music can be found in movies, television, and commercials which shows that even though she’s no longer with us, her musical legacy is still strong. Something that reinforced this was the 2007 film by Olivier Dahan, La Vie en Rose. This film tells the life story of Édith Piaf, which includes incredible joy and overwhelming tragedy. It’s definitely a story that had to be told.

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The film begins with a sick looking Édith Piaf (Marion Cotillard) taking the stage for a concert, and quickly fainting during a song in front of a large audience. The film then cuts back to 1918 when Piaf was just a young child who is left by her parents to live with her grandmother in a brothel in Normandy. As the years go on, Piaf makes a meager living singing on the street, but is soon found by Louis Leplée (Gérard Depardieu) and invited to sing at his club where she quickly becomes something of a local celebrity. As time goes on, her fame increases and travels around the world, including New York City, where tragedy hits hard when she loses the love of her life, Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), in a plane crash. Finally, back in France towards the end of her life, it’s clear that Piaf’s abuse of prescription drugs and alcohol have taken a huge toll on her health, and the devastating realization that soon she will no longer be able to sing anymore.

This is a hard movie to summarize because it tells so much of a person’s life. This is a pretty long movie, clocking in with a run time of almost two and a half hours, but even then I feel like there may have been more to be told. That works to the film’s credit since I was intrigued by the subject and the handling of Piaf by making the icon into exactly what she was: a human being. While I love the way Piaf is depicted in this movie, I wasn’t really a huge fan of how the story was told. The film starts towards the end and then jumps back to the beginning for a while, and naturally progresses from there. That’s all fine, but as the movie goes on it jumps back and forth and then introduces an even later timeline, and then starts jumping around even more rapidly. Towards the end of the movie, I jumped around so much that I was sometimes confused with where and when I was in the story. I understand that this was a way for the film makers to get in as much of the story as they could, and I’m ok with a cut up timeline, but this was just way overdone.

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It’s impossible to talk about La Vie en Rose and not talk about Marion Cotillard. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest screen performances of all time. When you’re watching the movie and getting more engaged in the story, you forget that you’re watching Cotillard playing Édith Piaf and are actually watching Piaf herself. I know that’s how I felt. It’s a complete transformation from one person into another, and it’s truly incredible. Not only does she nail Piaf’s voice (although the singing was dubbed), but also the way she stood, small mannerisms that she had, and even small changes to her face that made all the difference. With a movie like this where the character was a real person whose life was filled with such success and tragedy, it’s important to believe what’s happening. Cotillard’s performances made this a very easy film to believe and get lost in. She is a marvel to watch, and earned the Academy Award for her performance, which is one of the few times someone has won this award for an entire foreign language role.

La Vie en Rose also is just a beautiful looking movie, even in the beginning when a young Piaf is living a life on the streets in Belleville to the more upscale life that she led in New York. The set design is all fantastic and the costumes work great with the different decades that Piaf lived through. There’s just so much wonderful stuff to look at, and I have to give a lot of credit to Olivier Dahan and his direction for adding something more to the design. At first, I thought the directing was nothing special, but that’s not the case. It’s understated and controlled and never takes the style too far. One of my favorite scenes in the movie happens during a devastating moment in Piaf’s life, and instead of cutting, the scene follows Piaf through her entire apartment and catches the entire range of emotion in her performance and the atmosphere surrounding the incident.

La Vie en Rose is not without it’s faults, but it’s a movie that truly captures the tumultuous life of an icon of music. This is a frustrating movie to sit through, at times, because how the story keeps jumping from the past to the present to the future to the past then who knows where. If that was just toned down a bit, the movie would have been improved. Still, Cotillard’s performance, the production design, and Dahan’s skilled directing make this an above average biopic.

Final Grade: B+

Deepwater Horizon – Review

2 Oct

On April 20, 2010, the offshore Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded which caused the worst oil spill in American history. I remember hearing all about it on the news and in school and watching the aftermath that almost destroyed an entire habitat of life. A lot of people don’t seem to be on board with making a movie about this tragedy so soon after it happened, but I’m on the side that it’s a good way to honor the people who lost their lives while also raising more attention for the people responsible and showing the viewer the terror of what happened on that rig. I wasn’t too thrilled with the trailers for Deepwater Horizon, so I had no intention of really liking this movie, and now after seeing it I have to say that it’s a stand out film of 2016.

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Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) seems to have it all. He has a loving wife, Felicia (Kate Hudson), a daughter, and a good, respectable job on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. At the start of one of his 3 week shifts on the rig, there’s some tension between his boss, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), and BP representative Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) over how fast they can get started extracting the oil. What Harrell and the rest of the crew are trying to get Vidrine to understand is the unsafe level of pressure in the tubing that can’t exist when they start excavating. Vidrine finds the tests run to be acceptable and pushes the job to start. This leads to a massive oil eruption which leads to an explosion that engulfs the entire oil rig. With time running out, Williams and the rest of the crew begin fighting for their lives to get to the life boats and help anyone on the rig that they possibly can.

Using words to summarize this movie really does no justice to how intense and thrilling Deepwater Horizon actually is. This is an expertly made film in so many different ways. Peter Berg’s directing style gives the film a very personal feeling and the intelligent use of handheld camerawork often gives the illusion that you’re walking with these characters on the Deepwater Horizon. What really puts this movie over the edge and turns it into a technical wonder is the sound design and visual effects. When the rig finally explodes the combination of the special effects and booming sound made my jaw drop. It was a wonder to look at, but never is anything over done. The goal of this movie obviously wasn’t to wow the audience with its technical achievements, but to create a realistic environment of terror and destruction to illustrate the danger these workers faced around ever corner. When Oscar season rolls around, I expect to see this film nominated for special effects and sound because it’s just outstanding work.

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One of the strengths of Deepwater Horizon is the realistic portrayal of the characters and how they succeed at getting the audience to relate to them easily. Mark Wahlberg gives a good performance as Mike Williams, and I’ll go on record saying that these types of roles are basically meant for him at this point. He’s great as playing a sort of everyman family guy that is thrown into situations he may be unprepared for. I also have to give major props to Kurt Russell, who I believe gives the best performance of this movie. I felt like I knew this guy, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to say about the characters being relatable. Finally, John Malkovich steals every scene he’s in as the BP executive that is just so easy to hate. Anyone who’s worked in a corporate company knows how off putting “corporate” folks can be, and seeing him manipulate and and put unreasonable pressure on the workers in this movie was infuriating. It’s hard to call him a villain in this movie, but a lot of his action and motivations can only be described as villainous.

The only possible fault I can give this movie is its pushing of a certain agenda. I understand that movies exist partially so film makers can have a voice and express their thoughts and beliefs, but when a movie has an agenda that is so clear and pushed so hard, it can become annoying. That’s mainly why I can’t really get into the work of Oliver Stone. This film is nowhere near as guilty as something like American Sniper, but it does have its moments where I felt like Berg was preaching to me and laying his beliefs on pretty strong in that obnoxious kind of way. The strange thing is that I agree with a lot of what this movie is trying to say, but some of it didn’t have to be done in such a heavy handed way. These are just a few instances, and overall I think it was handled pretty well.

I really wasn’t to keen on seeing this movie, but I’m so happy I did. Deepwater Horizon is an extremely intense movie that is a technical marvel and bolsters some pretty good performances. While it does push certain ideas pretty hard, it rarely gets bogged down in what it’s trying to say and it works best as a testament to the bravery and strength that can be latent in everyday human beings. This is an exhausting movie that will make you feel that you just got whacked with a sledgehammer, but it’s a film that shouldn’t be missed.

Final Grade: A-

Carrie (1976 & 2013) – Review

30 Jul

With 54 novels and almost 200 short stories, along with over 100 film adaptations of these works, Stephen King is one of the most prominent writers to walk the face of our Earth. Incidentally, the first novel he ever published was the first of his works to be adapted. This, as the title of the review may suggest, is Carrie. The first film to be released in 1976 became a horror classic as the years went on, which spawned a little known sequel in 1999 and a TV movie in 2002. Along with these was a remake from 2013, which despite what I originally expected, isn’t half bad.

Let’s start with Brian DePalma’s 1976 classic.

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High school can be tough for just about anyone, but it’s especially tough for Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). Having grown up under the roof of her Christian zealot mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), she hasn’t been exposed to close to anything that kids her age have been, making her a social outcast and victim of extreme bullying. One day, the humiliation gets so bad that Carrie discovers latent telekinetic powers, which her mom claims to be the work of the devil. When Carrie is asked to prom by track superstar Tommy Ross (William Katt), after his girlfriend Sue (Amy Irving) demands it to atone for her bullying Carrie, it seems like her world is about to open up to new possibilities. Unfortunately for Carrie, school bully Chris (Nancy Allen) and her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta) stage a prank at the prom that unleashes not only more of Carrie’s telekinetic powers, but also years worth of rage and a violent desire for revenge.

Anyone who knows the story of Carrie should be able to understand why it’s actually so important, and also an iconic staple of the horror genre. It’s a devastating story of a young girl who is pushed too far by bullies, and she just so happens to have supernatural powers to get back at them. While this is a horror film, it can also be looked at as a drama, especially since the horror that it is known for happens during the last twenty minutes of the film. The other horror is also just watching her get tormented by the students and teachers at school, but also finding no solace at home with her mother who abuses her in a different kind of way. Carrie is a horror movie with a moral, and that’s to respect everyone, no matter how strange they may be… especially if they’re also gifted with murderous supernatural powers.

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Everything about the original Carrie just fits so perfectly. Brian DePalma’s highly stylized use of split diopter lenses and split screen editing makes for a unique experience, especially for a movie like this. The performances by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie are also something to take note of, and they were both nominated for Academy Awards for their work in Carrie. Isn’t that odd? Two actors being nominated for a horror movie? What I’m getting at is that this is more than just a run of the mill horror movie. It’s a cautionary tale told by one of the world’s greatest storytellers, and it deserves its spot as one of the greatest horror movies ever made.

So, when another Hollywood remake was released 37 years later, I kept finding myself wondering why it had to happen. Do we really need another remake of a classic horror movie? Well, like it or not, we got one so I did my best to approach it with an open mind.

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There really isn’t a whole lot of difference between this film and the original, aside from the casting and the use of technology. This time, Carrie is played by Chloë Grace Moretz and her insane mother is played by Julianne Moore. Of course all of the other kids are recast, but they aren’t really worth mentioning. What this movie does, however, is add the use of social media to heighten the level and stretch the reach of the bullying done to Carrie. The most complaints I’ve heard about the original Carrie, even given by Stephen King, himself, who loved the movie, is that it’s outdated. Kimberly Pierce, most famous for her critically praised film Boys Don’t Cry, updates the movie for today’s audience who might not have seen the original. In that way, this film still succeeds just as much as the original with a message that is universal and timeless.

This being a remake, there’s no way that I could look at this movie and not compare it to the original. One thing that I think actually did improve was Julianne Moore’s portrayal of Margaret. This may be completely sacrilegious to cinephiles everywhere, but I just think that out of every actress ever, she was the perfect choice for this part. She just does creepy and insane very well. The same can’t really be said for Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular character, however. She does a fine job, but doesn’t have the power that Sissy Spacek had. Just look at the iconic scene from the prom in the original. Spacek is genuinely terrifying in that scene, which is something that Moretz unfortunately couldn’t capture.

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Most people say that this remake, along with may others, didn’t need to happen. The original has become such a classic that that’s the one people should be watching. The reality of the situation is that a lot of younger people don’t have an interest in older movies. This version of Carrie is actually a good way for younger audiences to experience the story and hopefully learn a little something about how they treat people because of it. It definitely doesn’t reach the high standards set by the original film, but it’s a worthy remake that is actually worth checking out, if anything just for the fun of comparing.

The story of Carrie has become known to pretty much everyone, even to the people who have never seen the movie. It’s pretty cool to think that a story originally written in 1974 is still relevant today and probably will be years from now. It truly is a sad story that ultimately ends in tragedy, but it works great as a horror film as well. For purists, it may be best to stick with the 1976 classic, but (and I really can’t believe I’m saying this) the remake really isn’t bad at all.

Ran – Review

5 Aug

Akira Kurosawa is a cinema god. I say that without any hesitation. Seven SamuraiYojimbo, and Drunken Angel are just a few of his outstanding films that make up his filmography. Many consider his last masterpiece to be his last historic epic, Ran. Set during the 1600s and based partially on William Shakespeare’s King Lear and legends of the daimyō Mori Motonari, Ran is a spectacle to look at and also stands strong as a powerful and deep family drama.

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Hidetora Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an old, powerful warlord who used excessive violence and brutality to achieve his position. At age 70, he decides to step down and give all of his power and castles to his three sons: Taro (Akira Terao), Jiro (Jinpachi Nezu), and Saburo (Daisuke Ryû). Saburo declines the offer and warns his father of the mistake he is making, but is banished by Hidetora. Saburo’s prediction come true, however, and the two remaining sons betray Hidetora and fight for power over the entire kingdom which drives Hidetora to insanity. While all of this is happening, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada), whose family was slaughtered by Hidetora, is quietly pulling strings to ensure the collapse of the Ichimonji clan.

As you can see from this summary, the story and characters are very reminiscent of a Shakespearean tragedy. There is much family turmoil and violence, which results in a much larger scale of bloodshed. That’s really what this movie is about, in my opinion: the personal and the chaotic. This family is so powerful, and their warriors so loyal, that they will march into battle and kill who they have to in order for the person they serve under can achieve whatever selfish gain they desire. This begs the question: How far should loyalty really go? This is answered by some characters in this movie who let their moral compass really guide them in the right direction.

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Color is a very important part of Ran, and definitely gives the film the look of some sort of moving Expressionist painting. Interestingly enough, Kurowsawa spent two years storyboarding exactly how he wanted scenes to look. By storyboarding, I mean that he painted scenes, complete with vibrant colors, just so he could get the look of the film exactly right. Amongst other huge problems that he faced during the shooting of the movie, one being the death of his wife, he was also losing his eye sight and had to have people frame the shots based exactly on what he had painted. Anything to get the film done the way he needed it to be done.

The acting in this movie is just as interesting as the visuals. Tatsuya Nakadai is brilliant as Hidetora. Absolutely brilliant. His facial expressions and exceptional physical acting really sells the decline of his mental health over the course of the film. The other actor who really stands out to me is Meiko Harada and her performance as Lady Kaede. While you can’t call her a “villain”, per se, she does act as the main antagonist to the Ichimonji clan. She is beautiful, yet the lack of eye brows makes her look odd. Underneath this odd beauty is a thunderstorm of restless determination that really breaks through in certain scenes. She is a blast to watch.

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Ran is an iconic masterpiece of Kurosawa’s that has proved that he is a master, especially at the age he made the film (well into his 70s). Death of loved ones and poor eyesight were not going to stop him from getting his vision made, and thank your lucky stars it did. This is not only visually beautiful, but soulfully, even though it shows the heinous side of humanity, their thrust for power, and the chaos that comes with it. To anyone who doesn’t mind a lengthy movie, owe it to yourself not to miss Ran.