Archive for December, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

“Where the Wild Things Are” (2009)

IMDb

portals

Many critics, commentators, or simple serious film goers believe we live in a time of decadence, a decaying time when serious, groundbreaking, ambitious films are harder and harder to find. I disagree. It is possible that in no other time since film exists did we have so many intelligent and sensitive filmmakers working. Among several threads, usually built around cultural roots (the Mexican, the korean), we have a number of contemporary creators who collectively and individually created new solutions, innovated in lasting ways, while producing a highly personal and sincere kind of film. Jonze, Gondry, Kaufman (maybe we can extend this to Medem). I find “Malkovich” and “sunshine” two fundamental milestones of this kind of film. If you consider Medem, a couple more works should be considered fundamental.

What is it about? Links, connections, mind exploration, imagination rooted on how imagination works. Portals, transitions, muddy grounds for uneasy minds. This is essential post modern cinema stuff. As watchers, we become spectators of someone’s mind, visitors of that mind, many times, like here, literally visitors. This film invests that notion with the idea of the creation of a whole complete world (borrowed from a book), filled with perfectly defined characters, each a fraction of the whole self. Self reference. this, we have Jonze, who renews a certain lyric idea of cinema. Carter Burwell helps; a lot. Jonze does not press on the irony key, like Kaufman does, nor does he become cynical, like Gondry does. He is a lyrical, he invests all his creativity on the poetic envisioning of things, of the world itself, of how it unfolds. The structure in his films is perfectly revealed to us, and leaves no doubt. So we concentrate on the textures of the world, on how feelings ache, on how painful it is to be every fraction (character) of the world he proposes. Malkovich out did every thing, and created something unique. This is his next great thing.

Here, the collective effort of a single mind is visually invested in the creation of a structure, an architectural structure, the fort Max builds in his imagination. In how we watch that structure grow, we watch Max develop his imagined connections with his invented selfs. In a way, the structure, and the vision of that structure (the model) is a world within the world Max creates, and it becomes a character by itself. Landscapes: desert, forest, sea; set the needed moods.

This is a highly sensitive world, like the inside of a body, where everything you touch has the highest impact, like the inside of KW, where Max hides. It’s a world of doors, windows, connections. Sex.

My opinion: 4/5

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Avatar (2009)

“Avatar” (2009)

IMDb

expectations

Milestones in cinema can be fabricated products, tailored by huge, complex, and wide spread corporations, fighting for gaining attentions, and selling a product. So, now we have this Avatar, which has been announced as the next big thing, for several months, years perhaps. On those matters alone, that means this is a fabricated groundbreaking product, it is not Citizen Kane, nor even Jazz Singer. It probably is more of a Gone with the Wind.

But there is a film here. And it matters to watch it, beyond the package of marketing and brainless mass opposed opinions.

There are several evident strong things here. One is how Cameron outdid Zemeckis in achieving a certain realism that grows out of real people, abstracted into animation, only to be delivered to us again as realistic animated characters. That game Zemeckis played on Polar Express. This film tops what has been done so far. I don’t know whether this business of emulating reality through purely digital medium will have an interesting future, how much is there to explore with interest? But this is our high point so far.

Another thing is how this film cements what Peter Jackson had done with King Kong, and several action features have worked since: action films are spatial pieces nowadays. That is already and will become more a common place. It will look dated and wobbly any grand scale action/epic/war(?) film which won’t consider space occupation. That is where the 3d will take its place. On my few remarks on 3d cinema, i noted how its biggest possibilities are precisely in how the 3d enhances and creates the space, physical space, built with distances, where the action will happen. So, Pandora, the forest, is built to be spatially explored. Right from the beginning, on the waterfall, the battle to destroy the big tree, and pretty much all the action that takes place there. 3d is an interesting addition to what a concerned mind (or a group of minds) can do. I hope it becomes a usable tool for the beautiful author minds we have around the world (i wish Welles was here to use it).

Risks where brought down to a very minimum here. The story is just as cliché, recognizable, and thus acceptable as it could be without being shouting unbearable. Well, again it follows a Selznick logic of marketing products which are like what has been done and accepted by the audience, only bigger and better sold.

But surrounding this thin good-evil story, there are pieces of reflexivity, self aware or unintended, which make the process of post-reflection over the film delicious. The more visible one, and assumed, is how the film is to us as the avatar is to its owner. We dig into the reality of the film as the 3 avatar users dig into the reality of Pandora. Fake bodies, inner realities, as if moving down each level was the equivalent of climbing up the big tree. One unintended thing is when we consider the commentary in the film (social, ecological, moral) against the contradictions the film itself displays. It turns the wheel of bad guy good guy. At last, it assumes the “american general” as the sadist destruction oriented bad guy, perpetrating the same kind of terrorist crimes he was once commissioned to pursue. But than, the tools the film uses to achieve the desired happy ending, which respects the “alternative” of the native culture are exactly the tools the overthrown terrorists were using. The film itself is a story of good-evil, not a vessel for layered knowledge, like a tree of souls which uploads the lives of every past human being.

take it for the visual experience. It’s not groundbreaking but it is the current status of the best tools we have these days, to explore the emerging worlds of digital animation and 3d cinema. Enjoy the self reference if you appreciate it, but don’t be driven away by the useless safe options.

My opinion: 3/5

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Hwal (2005)

“Hwal” (2005)

IMDb

shouting quietness

You decide where you should support yourself, while you surf across the vastness of films, and art, that you try. Kim Ki Duk is one of most dear ports i seek for shelter, these days. I thought Bin Jip was transcendental in several ways. It was a sketch of love, a beautiful idea of seeing without looking, feeling without touching. It allows us to experiment in our minds, to subtract the noise of ordinary emotional pornography, and lift us to a different world. My personal experimentation of both Bin-Jip and this one was enhanced by the fact that it was a shared experience, with someone very important (bin-jip was even suggested by her).

I suppose this may be a personal question, but to me Bin Jip, having much to do with this film, tops it in every respect. And it shouldn’t. I mean, this one is, in its core, much closer to what it talks about. It should be a step further, regarding the other one. Isolation, the old man and the girl completely separated while sharing the same boat, the same life, the same room! The old man doesn’t touch the girl, but bathes her every night. The disturbances that overcome the quietness of the see. Metaphors, The bow, the rope. This is built out of oppositions, or better still, contradictions. But the outcome works similar to Bin-jip. The couple consummate their love when the old man disappears. The same philosophy of not touching, here achieved through a more spectacular scene, where sex is consummated, after the old man leaves to the sea.

So, this is a safe port, a beautiful journey, and if you expect nothing of it, you will get many good things. Compared to Bin Jip this is even more depurated, and all the imagery is more worked our and developed. So it works out the visual complaints i had with bin-jip. But it is less subtle, less developed, and thus, less challenging.

My opinion: 4/5

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Moon (2009)

“Moon” (2009)

IMDb

mind drilling

I’m convinced that no genre is more connected to the reality of our lives than science fiction. The levels of visual and contextual abstraction demanded by the genre are so high that you can only do good science fiction if you root its essence on what we are, outside the life of the film. You take out the comfort of recognizing places (most of the times), of understanding moods, contexts, ways to live. But you’re still left with people, or beings that stand for people (planet of apes) or better still, moodiness, and context that suggest people’s state of being. That’s our link, that’s our portal to any interesting sci fi built world. Méliès. 2001. Blade Runner. Now this. It is a great addition to the filmography of 2009, and eventually the greatest achievement in sci fi of this finishing decade.

This is a sort of 2001 meets Blade Runner, two threads of science fiction which i hadn’t seen mixed ever, and doubted it could be done. It’s better than that. It doesn’t mix. It just makes you believe it mixes. The film deceives you all the way, puts you in the same sort of unawareness Sam Bell is supposed to feel. So the film is what it is telling.

1 – This is where we start; Minimalistic, 2001 based imagery of the space. Open spaces, emptiness, isolation, meditation. That’s the starting ground. the man and the machine (Sam and GERTY). We’re led into believing we’ll watch the battle for control, who wins, who’s in charge? who deceives who?. What is the machine hiding, Is it hiding anything? The power over narrative control of the story, that’s what it is.

2 – But than, we’re included Sam’s doubles in the story. True or false? are We being deceived? Are the doubles real or a product of Sam’s imagination? Is any of what we see any real depiction of what’s going on, or are we left already into the delusional imagination of a homesick isolated man?

(spoilers here)
3 – the unfolding of the previous point. Yes, the doubles are real, physically real, at least everything indicates so. So, if every clone is Sam Bell, if every clone has the same past, who is Sam Bell? Who is any of those human beings, who can share among them the same emotions, the same feelings, the same remembrances. Here it invades completely Dick/Blade Runner territory. replicants. here we have the reversed story of Blade Runner, the world according to the replicants. Not a dubious depiction of whether Harrison Ford was a replicant himself, instead a hard exploration of what being one means. Invented memory, stuffed emotions. And all that those things mean to us, as human beings.

All the visual work has a coherence to what is being told. There is not a visual reference that outdoes the others, and that’s actually a good thing. We may have a great new filmmaker here. We certainly have a worthy film here.

My opinion: 4/5

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Hard Times (1975)

“Hard Times” (1975)

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what was so hard about it?

This is quite an uninteresting depiction of a fascinating time and context, the depression in the USA. It’s a fully cinematic theme, several things allow that. It has been vastly worked put in films, so it is part of a certain niche of cinematic memory, there a couple of favorite all time classics that exist during the depression (untouchables, purple rose…). So there is a visual picturization of the time, that matters to how people will respond to any film. Also, it is a fully dramatic time, because all the potential characters are ordinary people, covered with extra amounts of difficulties, poverty, lack of opportunities, a living hell. They overcome those difficulties, fight against the mud of desperation, and fight their way into a better life. Conflict, resolution, battles… this is the food to drama. And you can fill anything in that vessel: romance, heroism, sports, fantasy (woody again).

So, the very description of what i think makes depression based films interesting, by a general principle, puts this specific film away from interest. I mean, what was so hard about anything that we see? The guy is strong, he can hit anyone, all the shy shameful attempts to take his superiority outside the ring fail… OK he doesn’t get the girl, but than again, in the very perspective of Bronson, she’s just a girl, he prefers alone. He has a friend, and their friendship is challenged, but easily saved. So, in the end he gets a few punches, a lot of money, and after all the mud of depression is an easy land of opportunities, an el dorado for any Spanish conqueror.

What failed is that they centered the thing around the supposed toughness of Bronson on screen. The hard working, hard boiled guy, an American hero, John Wayne updated to the 70′. Well, it doesn’t work because he is not an interesting guy, at least he wasn’t properly pictured here, and the production didn’t help. Hey, even Rocky is more charming and convincing!

My opinion: 1/5

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Black Rain (1989)

“Black Rain” (1989)

IMDb

(en)vision, and prejudice

There are several things here, that make this a not so interesting film, but yet one that underlines characteristic features of the time it was made, and some of the participants that are in it:

.80’s action: i’ve been watching a good dose of the so called “action films” from the 80’s. I grew up with them, my first model of what action meant was deriving between the hard heroes films (siegel, stallone, van damme, schwarzenegger) and the fantasy adventures of the Spielberg streak (which includes Zemeckis). Rewatching them, i sometimes have to redefine what action means. Mostly because in many of them, we have a couple of actual physical action, and a huge dose of funny dialogues. So, in the 80’s, action and comedy are a suitable mix. Not so much here, of course, but this is still a sub product of the influences audiences were still accepting in those days.

.following the above, it is fundamental to notice how everything is bent to the vision of Ridley Scott. The man is great and envisioning things, at the largest scale the film allows, taking care of the bigger arc that every film should have. Even today, no one working now does this better than him. Here i think he tried to embed the film in a Blade Runner driven decadence. Of course it’s another context, and definitely another script! But watch how every shot is carefully frame, not to be worth (only) on its own as, say, Bertolucci might do. Every sequence is chained to all the others. That’s the big form. That’s the best in this film.

.Douglas is not particularly interesting as an actor, but he is a character in real life, and eventually he could sometimes pass that to his film characters. Garcia’s over the top terrible performance (partially compensated by Scott, who doesn’t allow actors to look so bad) highlights the Douglas’ character, on screen. Well, it’s a limited pleasure to watch, but it goes with what is intended.

.Hollywood, and how their perspective over ethnic or cultural groups outside the American mainstream: i’m glad that, at least to me, this film sounds terribly racist and absolutely uninterested in moving any bit away from common clichés. At least this means that i have moved forward and frankly, i think this is no longer done today. We have other clichés, other preconceptions, which probably i’ll be detecting 20 years from now. But what we have here is sad. So, the bad guys are the Japanese, those from the Yakuza are plain evil, the other well intentioned guys are plain incompetent. So the 2 American buddies have to go there, break every Japanese convention, and show them how to be fair and just. That’s it right? “It’s just a film”, some will say, It reflects dark corners of human stupidity, says i.

My opinion: 3/5

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