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Tideland – Review

30 Mar

Sometimes after watching a movie, as I watch the credits roll, I think to myself, “Man, I really wish I made that movie.” This is precisely how I felt after watching Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. I also felt a mix of overwhelming sadness for the characters and a longing to relive the past days of childhood innocence where the worst possible thing that could happen to you is getting in trouble with your parents.

Tideland is the strangely gruesome, increasingly surreal adventures of a young girl, Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), in the fields surrounding the house her and her father, Noah (Jeff Bridges), are staying in after her mother (Jennifer Tilly) dies. While there, Jeliza befriends a mentally handicapped man, Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) because both enjoy retreating into their imaginary worlds, Jeliza because of her loneliness and Dickens because of his controlling taxidermist older sister, Dell (Janet McTeer).

So what can be so disturbing about this movie? Could it be that both of Jeliza’s parents die of a graphic drug overdose, and that Jeliza continues to snuggle and talk to her dad long after he has died? Is it maybe that Dell is an obsessive taxidermist who definitely has more secrets than she’s willing to even hint at? Those are certainly part of it, but what disturbs me the most is that the victims of all this are a young child and a severely mentally impaired man, who seems to be just as much a child as Jeliza is. It’s always hard to watch bad things happen to children and the handicapped, but when the entire movie is seen through their eyes, everything seems to have an eerie innocence.

Critics and some audiences have panned this movie for being boring and have complained that nothing really happens. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The entire point of this movie is to see tragedy and chaos as a child would. Most of the film has to do with Jeliza and Dickens playing and imagining different scenarios, but there are instances where both of them, even if for just a second, see the world around them and absorb all of the chaos.

Jeliza has a few doll heads that she puts on her fingers and talks to as if they were her best friends. By the midpoint of the movie, Jeliza isn’t even talking for the heads anymore. They are talking on their own. Each doll can be examined as different layers of Jeliza’s developing mind. The first doll head isn’t afraid of anything and can’t really see the danger in certain situations, much like a child. The next two doll heads she plays with are more cautious and fearful of the unknown, which signifies Jeliza’s realization that the world is in fact a scary place. Finally the last doll head claims to be able to see things that others can’t, which can be interpreted as Jeliza’s development of critical thinking and analyzing skills.

In truth, this is a coming of age tale from hell that presents itself as a nightmarish fairytale. There are films like Ratcatcher that are very difficult coming of age movies, but the trauma that Jeliza must suffer from what happens in Tideland began making me wonder what she could possibly be like when she grows older. Certainly, she will never be able to just have a regular life. What really made the film so memorable aren’t necessarily the specific scenes, but that I really care about the characters. They were so well developed and brought to life.

Gilliam’s signature imaginative style is back, along with his strangely grimy set pieces. Every one of Gilliam’s films seem to have lots of dirt and uncomfortable places. Think of the cramped, gray future of Brazil or the trashed, vomit filled hotel rooms in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The cinematography is beautiful with the bright blue sky working with the yellow wheat fields to create an other-worldly locale that seems like it is straight out of the mind of the child.

If it were up to me, I wouldn’t just recommend this movie, I would require it. Of course that would only be if I were to rule the world one day. All of the citizens of the earth would be movie watchers, or writers, or some type of artist. There would be huge set-like structures all throughout the cities that would make the world look grandiose and beautiful. But this is just my imagination getting ahead of me. Probably one of the side effects of Tideland. This is truly a beautiful, tragic, and disturbing movie. Ignore the critics. I don’t know what movie they were watching because based off of the reviews, it wasn’t Tideland. I really love this movie and can not wait to see it again.

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My Favorite Things – 10 Favorite Villains

28 Mar

So what is it that constitutes a villain? The definition probably differs for everyone. To me, a villain is someone who is just a downright terrible creature who is either amoral or immoral. This person can even act as the anti-hero of a film as you will se in the list, but their actions still give them the description of villain. So this is a list of my 10 favorite villains.

10. Asami Yamakazi – Audition

Director Takashi Miike has a talent for making bad people even worse than we may be first led to believe. The best example of this is Asami, a beautiful, quiet, and seemingly innocent woman who hides an indescribable evil urge. If you didn’t know what you were getting into before watching Audition, I would imagine the viewer would think that Asami is the victim in the movie, although the nerve jangling, endurance testing, nausea inducing finale proves otherwise. This is a girl you do not want to mess with, especially if you value your ligaments.

9. Agent Smith – The Matrix

Hugo Weaving gives a fantastically deadpan performance as the infamous Agent Smith, a program in the Matrix that is implemented by the machines to keep order. His emotionless performance is perfect, but when he does get angry the whole mood of the film goes from being a science fiction action film to a small, short horror film. This is because Weaving can go from a drone to a manifestation of what a computer program could be if it had a strange emotional glitch. It’s a very unsettling performance and memorable on all accounts.

8. John Doe – Se7en

In my personal opinion, Kevin Spacey is one of the finest living actors. He is one of those actors that can put himself into any role wether it’s funny or terrifying, like his performance in David Fincher’s Se7en. John Doe is pretty much your by the book sociopath who has no value for any kinds of life, including his own. What makes it so memorable is how well Spacey pulls it off. He remains calm for his entire screen time even though it really isn’t that much. But the build up to his revelation is part of the intensity of his character. We see everything he is capable of throughout the film, but in the end he looks like just another average guy.

7. Frank Booth – Blue Velvet

Oh boy, we’re really getting into a weird category of villain with this one. What can possibly be said about Frank Booth other than he is probably the most unlikable person to ever grace the movies. Dennis Hopper gives both a great physical and personal performance that only he could do. The gas that Booth carries around with him and inhales at random times throughout the film really makes his character original. He’s a complete asshole to everyone he comes in contact with and incredibly dangerous if you get on his bad side.

6. Tony Montana – Scarface

When I was referring to anti-heros in my introduction, this was the guy I had in mind. Tony Montana may be the main protagonist and person we root for all through Scarface, but that doesn’t make him a good person at all. He is a big time drug dealer and murderer who has a knack for pissing people off. Unlike a lot of the villains on this list, Tony has morals and refuses to kill women and children, a personal rule that ends up getting him into big trouble.

5. Col. Hans Landa – Inglourious Basterds

You guys can disagree with me all you want, but I honestly believe that Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece. Part of the reason that this movie is so good is the character of Hans Lands, nicknamed the Jew Hunter. Christoph Waltz received a much deserved Academy Award for this performance that is both hysterical and evil. He hides a quiet insanity behind his polite and intellectual exterior.

4. Commodus – Gladiator

As much as I think Joaquin Phoenix is a villain in and of himself, his performance as Commodus is out of this world great. But of course, with a grand heroic hero like Maximus, a villain needs to be put in place that we can hate just as much as we love Maximus. Commodus is creepy, conniving, and dirty. Definitely one of the most hated characters in film.

3. Hans Gruber – Die Hard

Here’s another one of those villains whose personality is that of a drone, but behind the boring exterior is a ticking time bomb. Not only is Hans Gruber incredibly brilliant and sneaky, but also willing to do anything and kill anyone without so much as blinking. Unfortunately there are no good videos I can get of Hans Gruber without stupid music being thrown in.

2. Jack Torrance – The Shining

I’ve already made my love for Stanley Kubrick films known with my entire blog series about Kubrick and his films, so it’s inevitable that at least one of his villains would end up on my list. The most memorable for me is Jack Torrance. Jack Nicholson gives one of the best screen performances ever and really established himself as one of the best actors of all time. His facial expressions and voice acting make this character come alive in an absolutely frightening way.

1. Peter and Paul – Funny Games

Finally here we are at number 1 with Peter and Paul. Michael Pitt and Brad Corbet are so disturbingly polite and gentle, making sure the family they are torturing is as comfortable as possible, but is that all just an act to mess with their psyche further? They are, I think, the worst villains ever. Now, I have never seen the original Funny Games, but considering the American one directed by the same person as the Finnish one (Michael Haneke) is a shot for shot remake, Peter and Paul are my favorite international villains. On a side note, Peter and Paul are not their actual names. They even refer to each other as Tom and Jerry.

 

So there you have my favorite villains. Feel free to comment on this either on here or Facebook and tell me who your favorite villains are!

The Kubrick Experience – The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut

28 Mar

With only 3 more movies left, the end of my Stanley Kubrick blogs is finally here.  The beginning of the end starts in 1980 with Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, based off of a Stephen King novel.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a writer who takes a job as a caretaker for the Overlook Hotel while it closes during the winter season thinking that it would be the ideal time to work on his latest book. He brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) along with him. While staying at the Overlook, the family and Jack’s sanity slowly deteriorates until one night Jack is pushed over the limit.

Much like Barry Lyndon, there is so much in this film to talk about that a summary of just a few sentences is very difficult to write. First, there is a plethora of iconic scenes that have been studied, discussed, and long remembered. Even if you haven’t seen the film, I can bet that you know or have at least heard of the terms “REDRUM” and “Here’s Johnny!”

Kubrick’s signature tracking shots are shown in full force in The Shining. There are tons of brilliant tracking shots that last for a very long time, my favorite being the one where Danny is riding his tricycle through the hotel, which is partially shown in the above video. The contrast of the sound between him riding on the hard floor and carpet almost act as a soundtrack for the scene.

The biggest question this film poses is: “Is the Overlook Hotel haunted or has Jack just gone crazy?” There is plenty of evidence for both which makes it very difficult to decide. Jack acts very volatile throughout the movie, but there is a certain picture at the end which points to the hotel being haunted. It’s a horror movie that challenges the viewer to make their own decisions on what has happened and offers little to no closure.

With the combination of its camera work, acting, and soundtrack, The Shining can easily be put at one of the top spots of horror movies. The directing was so meticulous that the famous “give me the bat” scene was shot 125 times. This obsession pays off, however, making The Shining one of the best horror films ever made.

Kubrick combined the horrors of the mind that was evident in The Shining with the horrors of the Vietnam War in his 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket.

This film’s plot can be broken up into 2 acts. The first act deals with boot camp. Gunnery Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) welcomes the new recruits to the United States Marine Corps with insults and warnings. Among these new recruits is Pvts. Joker (Matthew Modine) and Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio). All of the recruits are pushed to their limits, especially Private Pyle, until one night when he is finally pushed too far. Act 2 has a story shift to the actual conflict in Da Nang and Phu Bai, Vietnam. Joker joins up with Lusthog Squad and reunited with his boot camp friend, Cowboy (Arliss Howard). It is here that the two friends and the rest of the squad experience the traumatizing events of war in full force, and come to the realization that none of them may make it out alive.

What makes Full Metal Jacket interesting is that this is a war movie that isn’t about the brotherhood or camaraderie between the soldiers, but more so about the debilitating  psychological and physical effects war has on human beings. The soldiers aren’t even safe at boot camp, where they are verbally and physically humiliated in front of many different people.

Sure, the war scenes may not be as intense or epic as what is seen in films such as Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down, but what this film does offer is the gritty realism of the day to day street battles that were just as dangerous as the massive skirmishes that were seen in World War II. A particularly intense scene towards the end of the movie  pits the entire squad against one sniper that can not be seen. The fact that no one knows where the sniper is or who the sniper can see makes this a memorable scene.

This film leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth after the ending scene. No one knows if Joker is going to live to see another day or the rest of his life. All that is revealed is that war to soldiers is a day to day lifestyle that can not be predicted. It is all very dehumanizing and violent. Full Metal Jacket is one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made that makes everything about conflict seem devilish.

After going for over a decade without releasing a movie, Kubrick finally released the film that would be his swan song and is dubbed as “the film that killed Stanley Kubrick”: Eyes Wide Shut.

Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) used to have the perfect life with a great job, a loving daughter, and a beautiful wife, Alice (Nicole Kidman). But, recently he has found his marriage to be close to being permanently damaged. One night when Alice reveals a secret that she has been keeping hidden for years, Bill sets out on an all night psychosexual escapade that takes him through the New York underground and back. The next day, Bill finds himself in more trouble than he was the day before and realizes he must come to terms with both his and Alice’s separate desires.

Like I said in my last Kubrick blog, his movies were prone to receiving loads of controversy upon their release, and Eyes Wide Shut is no exception. It was threatened with an NC-17 rating upon its release unless it was censored. Stanley believed that the graphic sexual content was necessary to telling the story, but eventually did give in and edit the movie to give it the R-rating it has. There are copies of the original NC-17 rating, but I have not yet seen it.

To touch once again on the topic of his meticulous directing style, this film holds the record for longest constant shoot: 400 days. Even though this proved to be very stressful, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman have both said it was a complete honor to have worked with Stanley Kubrick (unlike most of the other actors in the past).

Sex and its psychology is the most important part of this movie, and it would definitely appear on Freud’s top 10 films list if he were alive today. Never before have I seen sex portrayed in a strangely frightening way (until I saw A Serbian Film, but that’s a review for another day). The sex in this film is shown both as a leisurely and casual activity, but also as an almost ritualistic escape from reality.

Sadly, Kubrick died four days after the final screening of Eyes Wide Shut before its release. Never before, nor since has the world seen a more dedicated and frustratingly meticulous director, obsessed with every little detail. Some say Kubrick may have been autistic. Others say he was simply that brilliant. All I know is that he is my favorite director and one of my main inspirations when it comes to both storytelling and style. It upsets me to think that I will never see a new Stanley Kubrick movie in the theaters. Although he was before my time, I appreciate his work and will always consider him the best of the best.

Pale Flower – Review

26 Mar

I dare anyone who has seen the 1964 Japanese film, Pale Flower, to say that they did not get totally immersed in the dreamlike atmosphere. Never before have I seen a yakuza film that blends together the elements of noir, gangster, romance, and avant-garde to create such a unique experience of sight and sound.

Muraki (Ryo Ikebe in a career saving performance) is a Yakuza hitman who has just been released from prison after serving a murder sentence. Back on the streets, Muraki goes to an illegal gambling den where he meets a mysterious woman named Saeko (Mariko Kaga) who is addicted to thrills wherever she can find them. As Muraki begins taking Saeko to more impressive gambling dens and card games, the more suspicious he gets of who Saeko is and what she is really all about, and that worries Muraki. More complications arise as new gangs threaten the old ones and a man named Yoh (Takashi Fujiki) begins to lure Saeko into the world of drug use.

The story of the new Yakuza gangs becoming more violent towards the old ones is an interesting story, but is far from what this movie is really about. The true essence of this dreamlike gangster tale is a character study and how the life and code of these people effect their lives. Muraki is a killer and the only time he admits to happiness is when he talks of murder. This is a dark kind of happiness, but it is the effect of the Yakuza lifestyle. Muraki effects Saeko’s life by showing her more thrills in the Japanese underworld, until she soon becomes insatiable in her thrill seeking.

The cinematography in Pale Flower is some of the best I have ever seen and should definitely be used as an example in film schools for lessons in lighting. The opening scene in the gambling den is beautifully lit with ceiling light that illuminates the gamblers and casts shadows around the walls of the room, directing the focus totally on the game. The blocking also works along with the lighting to stress importance. Another scene with Muraki chasing a would-be assassin through a labyrinth of back alleys evokes a dark and shadowy atmosphere broken only by the lighted signs of near by shops.

Everyday sounds that would seem unimportant are enhanced to better create a hypersensitive atmosphere. The clacking of the pieces in the gambling scenes, the footsteps echoing on an empty street, and most importantly, the haunting other worldly score composed by Toru Takemitsu. The score occasionally coincides with the images on the screen, but also seems to venture into a haunting and discordant explosion of sound.

Masaru Baba, the writer of the film, was not happy with the end result because he claims that it was not what he had written. The director, Masahiro Shinoda, took Baba’s story and made it into something more dark and artistic. Apparently, the original screenplay had a very direct and simple storyline. I feel like Shinoda’s version is a lot more interesting than the original Baba screenplay. The film was shelved for months because it deviated so much from the first screenplay.

I read nothing but good things about Pale Flower before I saw it, but I was still worried that it wasn’t really going to suit my fancy. Luckily I had absolutely nothing to worry about. This is a gangster film like I had never seen before. It hurls the viewer into a dreamlike underworld that you will not want to leave. The sights and sounds are an audio/visual overload that creates a startlingly beautiful atmosphere that is impossible to resist. This film should be on everyone’s “must watch” list.

The Box – Review

19 Mar

“Hell is other people.” I find it only appropriate to start this review with this extraordinarily cynical quote written by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. I’m using it not only because the play it is from, No Exit, is discussed in the film, but rather, because this statement is one that makes you think and look around at the society we live in and try to decide wether or not we are a hellish species. This is one of the main points in The Box, a sic-fi psychological thriller from the writer/director of Donnie Darko.

In The Box, Norma (Cameron Diaz) and Arthur Lewis (James Marsden) are a happily married couple living in Richmond, Virginia in 1974. They are raising a son named Walter (Sam Oz Stone), and, despite some financial issues, they seem to be living a wonderful life. All of this changes the day that a mysterious box is placed on their doorstep, along with an interesting proposition by the keeper of the box, Arlington Steward (Frank Langella). They are given the opportunity to press the button, and in return be paid a whopping one million dollars in crisp one hundred dollar bills. There is a catch: someone they do not know will die. Norma decides to press the button, and in doing so starts a chain of events that are both extra-terrestrial and morally debilitating.

When this movie first started, and the whole debate on whether the Lewises should press the button was happening, I was really intrigued and curious on what their decision would be. While they were trying to decide on what to do, I was also thinking to myself what I would do. My conclusion was that I wouldn’t  press the button, but that’s easy to say when there isn’t a suitcase with a million dollars in it sitting right next to me.

After this, the story completely changes and dives headfirst into the realm of a strange psychological science fiction. The story also gets almost impossibly confusing at this point with plot points involving being brought back from the dead, salvation and eternal damnation, and other worldly beings who are attempting to conduct some sort of experiment. Some aspects of this change up work, whereas some really don’t. The supernatural figures who are responsible for everything that is happening are never really explained. I thought the idea of humanity being experimented on by them was a really neat idea, but not enough was explained about these entities. There are also scenes where we see people walking around like zombies, which is very unsettling, but ultimately useless and didn’t serve a whole lot of purpose in driving the story forward.

While those ideas didn’t particularly work, there are some that were very chilling and memorable. Many characters in this film get nosebleeds, and the explanation for why is very creative and strangely believable. The scenes surrounding the climax are some of the most intense and frightening I’ve seen in a good while. The actual scenes themselves aren’t particularly intense, but when the viewer begins to put themselves in the position of the characters, the action that we see happening on the screen before us is very disturbing.

That’s where the main enjoyment of this movie is going to gravitate towards: the viewer’s own self reflection. This is one of those movies where you really have to put yourself into the  position of the characters in order to truly enjoy it. The truth is I did not enjoy everything about this movie. The science fiction aspect of the film with its supernatural beings and gateways into salvation or damnation felt way too overbearing and complicated. Chances are, the viewer will lose track of the plot. I was expecting this from The Box because of my past experience with writer/director Richard Kelly’s film Donnie Darko. The difference between these two movies is that Darko is a very complicated and intelligent film that may be confusing, but the characters and science behind the film are interesting and inventive. It is obvious the Richard Kelly is a huge fan of science fiction as seen in this film and its numerous references to space travel and authors such as Arthur C. Clarke.

In the end, I felt a little let down by The Box. I had higher expectations than I probably should have because I felt like Kelly could deliver like he did with his aforementioned film. It starts out and ends strongly. It’s just a shame that the middle portion of the film tries to cram so many different revelations, genres, and gaping plot holes which almost tarnish the whole movie experience. This is never going to be on any lists of classics, nor is it going to go down as one of the worst movies ever made. It is a mediocre film that tries to be more intelligent and worthwhile than it actually is.