Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934)

  Often cited as one of the main prototypes of the successful screwball comedy genre, It Happened One Night failed to find the same audience in me.

 Claudette Colbert plays a banker's daughter who escapes from her father's hold in a bid to make it to New York. She wants to reunite with Westley, an aviator whom her father disapproves of and with whom she eloped. She goes incognito on a bus to New York. On her bus travel, she meets a stranger played by Clark Gable who soon realizes who she is through newspaper ads offering a lump sum for her return. He decides to help both her and himself, plainly revealing to Claudette that he is a journalist who wants to report her story. Through a series of misadventures, the pair find themselves cashless and a long way from New York, with her dad's hound dogs at her tails. They also find themselves falling in love. Gable begins to question his motives behind his involvement with her, and Colbert questions her marriage to Westley.
   It's a nice enough film, but no the masterpiece that it is touted as. I found the film to be inconsistent. The film does a lot of telling and not enough showing. First, everybody tells Colbert that Westley is wrong for her. At the end of the film, Colbert's father nearly begs Gable to express his love to Colbert after she is reunited with Westley. Gable, himself, disses Westley at one point in the movie. Yet, Westley receives barely any screen time. From the little we do see, we never get a sense as to what is so bad about him. We never get to know who he really is. We don't get to see what the characters see, a crucial flaw in the film. Thus, we are to take the characters' words as to why Gable is a much better suit for Colbert than Westley. I have nothing against marriage between two people of differing social classes. However, it seems to me that Westley was more well-off and more sophisticated than Gable. Heck, Colbert jumped from a yatch into the ocean to reach Westley. Am I really supposed to believe a three-day trip with a temperamental reporter is going to change her feelings? A friend pointed out to me that she only eloped with Westley to rebel against her father; that the implications are there in the film. Well, it may very well be true, but the film fails to properly handle such implications. And don't give me any of that "but they had chemistry" BS. I certainly didn't see any sparks.
The long-suffering Westley
   Second, the ending annoyed me to no end. The last we see of Gable is of him receiving from the father a check for his expenses throughout the trip. He tells Colbert off and then storms off. The last we see of Colbert is of her running from the altar. The main characters are not seen again. The very last scene is of two innkeepers commenting about a couple that just checked in. Apparently, the couple is newly hitched. Inside the cabin of the couple, we see a sheet fall to the ground. Bow Chicka Wow Wow. Really? No reunion scene between the two leads? Ok, Capra.
   The film feels really inconsistent. Overall, it's really slow and I was eager for it to end already. Several times throughout the movie, it felt like the pace was picking up, only to die down once again. I could not relate to any of the characters. Or the plot. As I said previously, It Happened One Night is a nice enough film, but don't expect too much out of it because, for me, it didn't really happen tonight.

Ludovico Rating:

3/5. Eh, I wouldn't watch this again. Too boring for my tastes, despite some sharp dialogue here and there.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

I suggest this review only for those who have already seen the movie. No exception!

   I was expecting for this to be the usual romantic melodramatic fare. I was, however, attracted to the plot and gave it a chance. It does follow the same formulas of the romantic melodrama genre, but somehow it is elevated above the limitations of the genre to deliver a truly earnest story about two souls adrift and their attempts to re-connect with the world around them.

  The opening shots of the film are of incoming and outgoing trains at a railway station. Truly beautiful stuff. We are then led to a cafe in the railway station where a ticket collector, Albert, is shamelessly flirting with the nonplussed cafe owner, Myrtle. This recurs several more times throughout the film. While this sub-plot (though originally the film cleverly presents it as the main plot) does not really serve much of a purpose to advance the main storyline, I find that it still very much fits the film's atmosphere. Anyways, a customer walks in and familiarizes herself with a couple sitting at a table in the cafe. The new customer, Dolly, is an acquaintance of the female half of the couple, named Laura. Dolly immediately orders the man, named Alec, to get her some coffee. He does so, and Laura presents him as somebody she's just met briefly at the cafe. Alec announces that he is a doctor and will soon be relocating to Africa. Alec's train arrives and he leaves, bidding the two women farewell and lightly touching Laura's shoulder in his departure. Now, keep this scene in my mind because it's an integral part of the story and serves as a framing device.
   Dolly continues to chatter, while Laura runs out of the cafe only to return complaining of feeling faint. Laura arrives home to her husband Fred and her two children. She complains of feeling blue. The husband and wife go into the study room where Laura breaks down in tears. She brushes her outburst off as a result of her persisting fainting spells. After being consoled by Fred, she watches him and begins to drift off into her memories; the main storyline of the film is then narrated by Laura telling Fred about the nature of her relationship with Alec, though in her thoughts.
Four weeks before, during one of her usual Thursday runs into town, , Laura met Alec at the station cafe, when he helped her remove something from her eye. They meet about town a few days later by coincidence, then again in the cafe. They begin to see each other regularly and soon begin to develop feelings for each other. They go out to movies, to botanic gardens and on boat rides together. They confess their love for each other, but their relationship is ultimately doomed from the outset.
  Laura seems to be the most guilt-ridden of the pair, especially after her son is hit by a car. She blames her behavior as the reason for such misfortune. Nonetheless, the two secretly continue to meet up, sneaking kisses here and there. They come close to being caught on two separate occasions (once by an acquaintance of Laura at a restaurant and the next in the apartment of one of Alec's colleagues). The two become increasingly frustrated by life's constant interruptions of their affair.When Alec is offered a job in Africa, he informs Laura of his decision to take it because he is sorry for having caused her so much distress and knows that it is impossible for them to ever be truly happy with each other. They agree that this is the beginning of the end and go on one last outing prior to Alec leaving. They visit some of the same places they went to during their short romance, culminating in their tete-a-tete at the railway cafe.
    We come back to the very first scene where Dolly interrupted their conversation. The lovebirds are denied a proper goodbye. Alec can only squeeze Laura's shoulder before leaving. While Dolly continues to chatter, Laura holds hope that Alec will turn around and come back. However, her hope is shattered when she hears his train depart. She then hears another train arriving and runs outside the cafe. She comes close to Anna Karenina-ing herself up outta there, but stops herself. We are now back in the study where in her head she is confessing her affair to her husband Fred. Recognizing how distant his wife has been over the past few weeks, he kneels at her feet and tells her he is glad to have her back.
    While the film's ending reads like an attempt to create a happy ending for the story, I actually love the conclusion. Fred is really a nice guy and a good husband, however dull. I am glad that Laura chooses to remain with him. I think the novelty of her relationship with Alec would have worn off pretty soon. At the time, I did feel sad at his departure, and it is only afterwards that I am able to realize how wrong he was for Laura. I'm quite sure in due time Laura will reach that same epiphany and realize how much love cloaked her mind. Love is indeed blind. After all, the affair is told through the eyes of Laura. She sees Alec as being in a compromising position much like her, but there are undercurrents of Alec not being what he appears to be. Alec is very forward and pretty much encourages Laura into the affair. He invites her to his friend's flat, barely avoiding possible humiliation when the friend suddenly returns. He takes her out to a restaurant in plain public view. Also, when the two describe their spouses to each other, Laura does seem fond of her husband (though a bit resigned), while Alec does not seem to care much for his wife. It is Alec who first suggests they go out to a movie together. Laura originally balked at that idea. Who knows whether Alec has done something like that before? To me, he came across as too at-ease in their affair. It is important to note though  that I did not reach such conclusions until after the movie was over. Much like Laura, I was under the spell of her and Alec's relationship. I'm still fond of Alec's character, despite my doubting his sincerity.
    The cinematography for the film is major! I was sold by the opening scene with the plumes of smoke from the trains wafting down near the railway platforms. It's mostly set in the train station/cafe, but other exterior locations (such as the couple's boat outing) are well used. The setting really helped transfuse the film with a befitting sense of melancholy. The actors are also great in their roles, making their characters feel real. Celia Johnson, who played Laura, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for this film.
    I loved this film way more than I expected and, after the last film I reviewed, Brief Encounter was a more than welcome addition to my encyclopedia of watched films.

Ludovico Rating:

4/5. I would definitely watch this film again. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Delicatessen (Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1991)

   Delicatessen is an oddball film. The story is set in a "post-apocalyptic" world where grain is used as currency (due to the fact that hardly anything grows from the earth anymore). A butcher is the owner of an apartment building where he proceeds to butcher some of his tenants to provide food for the remaining tenants. The only way for him to refrain from massacring his tenants is to place ads in the newspapers asking for a repairman for the building. The hired repairman then becomes fodder for the tenants, helping them survive a little while longer. At the beginning of the film, one such repairman (who in my opinion resembles Salvador Dali) attempts to escape, with no success.

A new repairman, Louison (a former clown) is hired, despite his small stature and skinny frame. Some of the tenants (particularly the butcher's lover) do grow to be fond of his clown-esque charm. However, most root for his demise, especially after a relationship forms between Louison and the butcher's daughter, Julie. Julie hates her father's methods and does not eat eat, much like Louison. A quirky romance blossoms between the two, driving Julie to seek help from the Troglodistes. The Troglodistes are underground, vegetarian rebels. They promise to help Julie save Louison after she informs them of her father's huge bags of currency (see: grains) in the building's basement. The process does not prove to be easy with the involvement of the eccentric tenants.
  Sprinkled throughout the surreal plot are a colorful bunch of characters. My favorite is Aurore, one of the tenants who is pushed by voices to attempt suicide in very comical and complex situations (what do a lamp, a bathtub, red satin, and a doorbell have in common?)
Delicatessen's batshit crazy Aurore
  There are, though, several more eccentric characters, ranging from a man who keeps snails and frogs in his apartment, refusing to revert to cannibalism; to a man who sells out his mother-in-law to the butcher (guess who's coming to dinner?). The film's cinematography is decidedly macabre, yet possesses a sort of zaniness to it much like a circus. I think that Delicatessen is in fact a big circus of a film, what with the presence of a clown amongst the cast after all. It's been labelled as a dark comedy, something which I consider a circus to be.
   Still, It's not a film that I exactly loved. I felt at some points that it slowed down quite a bit. I also think the directors could have done much more with the fantastic material. Some characters should have been explored more thoroughly and some plots hung loose (such as the one where Julie catches Louison dancing with the butcher's lover and disappointedly storms off, only to have her return a few minutes later with the previous scenario completely abandoned. Or the one where the butcher has a sort of epiphany about his actions and then, next we see him, attacks Louison with no explanation as to why he switched again). In the end, I liked the concept of Delicatessen and some of its characters moreso than I liked the film as a whole.

Ludovico Rating:

3/5. I would watch this again as I really liked the atmosphere of the film, but I don't expect it will grow on me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shoot The Piano Player (Francois Truffaut, 1960)

  My experience with Truffaut so far has been underwhelming. Shoot The Piano Player has not done much to change my opinion. I do need to revisit Truffaut's The 400 Blows since I saw it  years ago (Ok, I was 11) and vaguely remember liking it. My second Truffaut was Jules And Jim, with Shoot The Piano Player being my third Truffaut. I was highly disappointed in Jules And Jim. I liked it, but did not find it to be the masterpiece that it was touted as. With Shoot The Piano Player, my expectations were much lower and, even then, the film still failed to strike a chord with me.

 I can't even describe what was wrong with the film. One, because I'm not that good at in-depth analysis. I either get an emotional reaction from a film or not at all. This film would fall in the latter category. Two, there really weren't any technical issues with the film.
  The plot was great, perhaps the best part of the film. It concerns Charlie, a pianist with a dubious past. Charlie is trying to go incognito at a bar when his life is interrupted by the arrival of one of his older brothers, Chico. Chico is being chased by two men because he and Charlie's other older brother duped the men out of a large sum of cash from some criminal activity. Though at first reluctant to help his brother, Charlie ends up doing so. The men then begin tailing Charlie and Lena, a waitress at the bar where Charlie works. A relationship blooms between Charlie and Lena, ultimately ending in tragedy. Charlie's past is revealed in a glorious flashback sequence and, by the end of the story, he ends up in a place much like the one he was in at the beginning of the film. The final shot of the film, showing an expressionless Charlie playing the piano, is quite moving.

   I think one flaw of the film was making us like the two men chasing Charlie (let's call them the kidnappers), whereas we are made to loathe Charlie's brothers. The scenes with the two kidnappers were hilarious, especially when they managed to get their victims in a car (Charlie and Lena in one scene; Fido, Charlie's younger brother, in another). The dialogue in those scenes is priceless. It almost makes us sympathize with the two men. Meanwhile, we have Charlie's brothers who celebrate Charlie coming down to their level after Charlie commits murder. I understand why we are meant to dislike the brothers. It shows the lack of control that Charlie has over his life. It shows his powerful restraint in trying so hard to distance himself from his ne'er-do-well brothers and from his past, yet failing most tragically. But, making the two kidnappers likable made the film feel unbalanced, as did the rush ending. And what a frustrating ending it is. I love a film where, even though you don't know what is going to happen next, when it does happen you feel like it fits; you feel like you saw it coming, even though you actually did not. The ending in Shoot The Piano Player feels like a cop-out. While we never expected it to end in such a deplorable way until the scene started unfolding, when it happens the scene sticks out as a sore thumb in the film. It is exactly  that I was unprepared for the ending; I wasn't prepared for the film to start going in such a great direction after the flashback sequence, but then veering into safe territory. That being said, the cinematography in the film is fantastic. The jump cuts, the camera angles, the tracking shots are all fantastic and help set the desolate mood. The performances are nothing outstanding. It is the plot that fleshes out the characters, not the actors.
   Overall, a nice film, but a disappointment given how much praise Truffaut receives. Am I the only one who, so far, does not care for his films?

Ludovico Rating:

3/5. I wouldn't exactly bother seeing this again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sita Sings The Blues (Nina Paley, 2008)

      I'm sure you have heard about the controversy surrounding this film's supposed derogatory portrayal of Hindu culture. I urge that you watch it for yourself to make a proper assessment; I'll wager that much like myself you'll find yourself so caught up in the magic of the film that your assessment will soon be discarded. And if you don't, I'm sorry to inform you that there is no therapy or medication for growing a heart or cultivating a soul. And, heart and soul this film has. I am baffled with myself for not seeing it sooner and, after doing so, I recommend you get on it right this instance. I mean, why wouldn't you? The creator, Nina Paley, is giving it away for free online. Go see it right here, right now! It's only 81 minutes.

 So? What'd I tell you? Sita Sings The Blues is a masterpiece, right? It's a mesh of several different sorts of music, animation styles, and storytelling. Where everything not handled so masterfully, this film could have been a disaster of epic proportion. But it all works, beautifully.
    Sita Sings The Blues is a modern retelling of the Ramayana and goes through several different animation styles to portray the story through the tragic character of Sita, who is rescued, rejected and banished by her husband Rama. Intersecting with Sita's story is Nina Paley's own comic version of the disintegration of her marriage. Paley uses these themes of unconditional love and rejection in a way that transcends time and place, thus connecting Paley's own tragic tale with that of Sita's. All the while, most of the soundtrack is sung by a 20s jazz singer named Annette Hanshaw, songs which are rendered through Sita's singing about being dejectedly in love. The film's themes are universal, yet Paley does not shy away from using satire to showcase the irony contained in those universal feelings.

  For example, you have three Indian shadow puppets that, throughout the tale of Sita, comment on the story with biting humor and hilarious inability to correctly recall the facts. And, you guys, this is what makes the film so successful for me. The shadow puppets carry on conversations about the story as you would if you were watching it with friends and commenting all the while. They sometimes talk at the same time and apologize for doing so; they point out certain plot holes and inconsistencies; they give their anecdotes on Sita's poor decisions and her apparent blindness for putting up with Rama's crap. Paley is poking fun at herself! 
Rama's stepmother taking care of Rama's ill father. The shadow puppets comment on it and supersede her outfit with a sexy nurse one to explain the father's subsequent devotion to her. Classic!
   This is the reason why I don't agree with people who view the film as being offensive because it satirizes Hindu culture. I think most of those critics view Paley's humor as being ethnocentric, especially given its views on Sita and her poor decisions. That is not it at all because Nina Paley is Sita, hence why she creates a parallel between her modern story and Sita's historically fictional one (or is it fictionally historical? Or neither?). The feelings contained in the film are ultimately universal; feelings that Paley herself felt in her marriage. She's poking fun at herself for being so blind and allowing love to trample her. She's poking fun at those God-forsaken feelings that affect all of us in ways that blind us to the beauty contained in the world around us.
    Even though I was vaguely familiar with the story of the Ramayana, I more than enjoyed the film. The fantastic mixture created between the 20s jazz and Indian music, the eclectic visuals, the satire, the stories, and the shadow puppets' relatable commentary all make this film cinema at its most superb.

Ludovico Rating:

5/5! This is a must-re-watch!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

21 Years...21 Stars Series

   21 Years...21 Stars will be an ongoing series that will last for the rest of the year. It's based off AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars segment, but with a twist. Given that I am turning 21 this year (although all the way in December), I've decided to highlight my 21 favorite actors and my 21 favorite actresses. Starting February, each month, I will countdown my favorite actors/actresses per groups of 4 (2 guys and 2 gals each month). I will reflect on the life/career/movies I've seen from each star. On top of that, I have to watch two as-of-yet unseen movies from each of the four stars of any particular month. If I fail to do that, I have to do a Cinematic Shame segment where I will reveal something embarrassing related to me and movies. If you are unable to tell who my favorites are from the crappy poster, then here they are:

Coffee And Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch, 2003)

   After reading Alex over at And So It Begins...'s review of this film, I finally decided to check it out. Besides, I'd only seen Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise up until then and wanted to see if the rest of his filmography held up as strong as Paradise. Does it? So far, I'll have to say no. This is not to say that Coffee And Cigarettes is in any way a flop. It's a good film overall, though some of the segments are extremely lacking.

Friday, January 18, 2013

My Favorite Movies: Top Ten

   And this concludes my list of my favorite movies of all time. Leave your thoughts as to which films you're shocked made the cut or did not make the cut. For one, I'll say right now that I need to rewatch Goodfellas because I did love it, but not as much as any of the top 100 films. This may be because I watched it seven years ago; in the case of Goodfellas and a slew of other films, perhaps a revisit will make me appreciate them more. But, I really do love each and every film in my top 100 (101 really because both Kill Bill volumes tied, but whatevs, right?). Even after some films are taken out in a future update, it in no way signifies that my appreciation for those films went down. Au contraire, I'm going to create a Hall Of Fame where movies that are taken out of the top 100 are retired into the Hall Of Fame. Anyhow, let's reveal my top 10!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Favorite Movies: #30-21

Just three more rankings and my favorite movie of all time will be revealed to the world.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012)

Late as usual, but I finally got around to seeing this and I'm now completely in love with this movie. I'm not doing any jump breaks here, because this film has to be seen without any prior knowledge of its plot. While the plot is fantastic (no, seriously, it keeps rolling for 2 whole hours), the performances by the actors are so earnest that the movie material takes a wonderfully different turn than it would have had it been handled by different actors. You can tell that the cast has amazing chemistry. Some of the best performances I've seen committed to celluloid, at the same time comical, touching and real. The dialogue is brilliant and never dies during the film's run time. The ending fit the story and felt authentic, not just a lame ploy to please the viewers or settle for mediocrity. I loved all of the characters: Cooper's, Lawrence's, De Niro's, Weaver's, Tucker's, Stiles', Kher's, Whigham's, Ortiz's, Herman's, Mihok's, and Principal Lady Harrassed By Cooper On The School Steps'. I went into this film knowing very little and I am now leaving wanting to know even more about those wonderful characters and this beautiful world created by Russell. It's a bit The Royal Tenenbaums, but with less neuroses and more centered in its approach (I still love the Tenenbaums to pieces, it's just those two films are like two sides of the same coin). Come time for me to update my movie list in 3 or so months, I can definitely assure you that Silver Linings Playbook will have a place on it. Ugh, I love this film! So uplifting.

Ludovico Rating:

5/5! I would watch this right now if I did not have classes tomorrow.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Favorite Movies: #55-50

And now we've reached all the films that I rate as 5-star masterpieces.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012)

    So, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. It took me long enough, but I finally got around to seeing it. One of the best movies of last year hands down. It's so real for lack of a better word. I had high expectations going into this since the film has been getting such positive feedback; and Perks definitely lived up to those expectations, and then some.

The performances by the three leads were solid. Logan Lerman, who I've heard of but never actually seen in a film before, was fantastic in his role as the socially awkward Charlie. His character's journey is a roller-coaster and Lerman does a fine job of holding on. We continue to discover new things about Charlie throughout the movie, just as the character itself is doing. I don't know what your high school experience was but ,no matter if you were a popular kid or a nerd, you will find this film extremely relatable. Stepping into the film through the eyes of Charlie will either give clarity to your own high school experience or have you see the cruel and beautiful world of adolescence through a different set of eyes.
    People love classifying each other into different boxes. The same applies to The Perks Of Being A Wallflower where several high school stereotypes are highlighted (Emma Watson as the girl with the reputation, Ezra Miller as the class clown goofball, Logan Lerman as the book-loving geek, for example). Yet, the film is willing to explore each character in-depth. It is interested not in breaking the stereotypes but in exposing the factors that lie just beneath the surface and make each character very much their own being.
    I was able to relate to all of the three leads, although I mostly shared the same experiences as Lerman's Charlie in high school. By my senior year of high school, I did possess some of Miller's Patrick's clowning traits. Yet now, in college, I associate myself more with Watson's Sam. People constantly change, perhaps in a bid to keep up with the world around them. This is beautifully rendered in the film where, like I said before, we continue to discover new things about the lead character, just as he himself is undergoing that change.
    I could continue raving about the heartfelt performances in this film and how real the film feels (the blatant use of homophobic slurs, the party scenes, nerd shaming, repression, conformity or lack thereof, basically high school),  but there are other factors that make this film so successful. There is the gorgeous cinematography:

There is the flawless soundtrack:

There is the dialogue. As someone who has never read the book, I was fully taken with that final quote, which I'd never heard before. "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite". Ugh, beautiful!

    The Perks Of Being A Wallflower contains lessons that not only apply to high school life, but life beyond that and into infinity.

Ludovico Rating:

4.5/5. I would definitely watch this film again. One of the best films I've ever seen.

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Favorite Movies: #65-56

     This is the hardest batch by far because I really wanted to switch some of these around, and they very well could have been. But, I decided to remain true to how the list was prior to my starting the countdown.

The Bitter Tears Of Petra von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinber, 1972)

   I don't think I've ever seen a film like this before. No, actually, I haven't. It includes an all-female cast (6 women to be exact, of which one remains silent throughout the duration of the film), is set entirely inside one of the women's apartment and does not follow a conventional plot. Any would-be-conventional plot that occurred before/during/after the film is only mentioned in conversation, inside the luxuriously furnished apartment. All these things work together to make The Bitter Tears Of Petra von Kant an oddly great film. Now, I am excited to discover the rest of Fassbinder's filmography.

The aforementioned unconventional plot follows a fashion designer, Petra von Kant, who is assisted by the silent Marlene in her designs. Petra is visited by her cousin Sidonie, whereupon the two women discuss the dissolution of Petra's last marriage and the inner-workings of relationships. Sidonie brings along with her a friend by the name of Karin. Petra is immediately smitten by Karin and invites her back to her apartment the next day under the pretense that Karin will be working for her as a model. Karin arrives as instructed and the two women discuss their childhoods and their motivations. Petra offers to take Karin under her wings. In the next scene, set a few months later, Petra confronts Karin about her infidelity and her disloyalty. Karin leaves Petra to join her husband, leaving the previously-hardened Petra to beg for her love. A few months later, Petra is visited by her daughter, Sidonie and her mother on her birthday. She lashes out at them and breaks down over Karin's abandonment. Petra's mother is shocked to find that her daughter is in love with a woman. The last scene has Petra receiving a call from Karin. Afterwards, Petra approaches her assistant Marlene and apologizes for her past behavior towards her. Marlene finally cracks a smile, kisses Petra's hand and leaves Petra.
The silent Marlene
   Fassbinder's camera movements are so intriguing. He sometimes puts some of his subjects out of focus or closes in on mannequins while a conversation is underway. The way the camera moves around the lush apartment almost seems as if Fassbinder, like a child, is discovering the world of Petra von Kant for the first time. The camera is an additional character in the film, sometimes diverting its attention to objects instead of the people talking, all the while remaining silent like Marlene. It gives a sense of realness to the film since this often occurs in real-life conversations. Besides the gorgeous visuals, the discussions between the characters are quite profound, such as when Petra states that relationships fail because people try to be happy together instead of trying to be happy individually. It also shows how Petra is full of contradictions when she turns around and vilifies Karin. The material, based on a play written by Fassbinder himself, could have easily come across as pretentious and melodramatic. But Fassbinder handles it in such an understated way that the film does not come across as trying hard to force its message down one's throat.
I also love the characters, my favorites being the three major players Petra, Karin and most definitely Marlene. I have a thing for silent characters since they're usually the ones who have the most to say. Marlene, for example, is so interesting. Every time Petra spoke about her relationship with her ex-husband, the camera would highlight Marlene in the background, snooping in with a stunned face. And throughout the film, she is mistreated by Petra yet stays with her throughout the ordeal. Yet, when in the end Petra offers her repentance, Marlene packs her bags and leaves. Many have compared this to a sadomasochistic relationship. When Petra is no longer her sadistic self towards Marlene, homegirl high-tails out of there, perhaps to find another place where she can fulfill her masochistic tendencies. Lovely.

Ludovico Rating:

4/5. I would definitely watch this again.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)

   Quentin Tarantino's glowing salute to the spaghetti Westerns of old, Django Unchained continues the undying saga of Tarantino films being every bit as daring, entertaining and wildly controversial. This was my most anticipated movie of last year and, after finally seeing it, I feel that the wait was well worth it. This is another brilliant star in the director's pantheon.

    This film explores several themes from past Tarantino films: exploitation, revenge, and violence. And violence it has. Particularly in the penultimate shoot out where a pristine plantation manor's white walls are soon painted an orangey-red. Or the scene where DiCaprio's sadistic character, Calvin Candie, unleashes a pack of dogs onto a runaway slave. Or a castration scene. Or several more shoot outs. Let it be said, though, that the film is more than just a bloodbath. After all, it's Tarantino. There are bound to be more facets to the story than originally expected. There is a love story (which admittedly I felt was not handled like I wanted it to. More on that later). There is a man who would nobly do anything for his wife. There is a solid friendship formed between Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz, and Jamie Foxx's enslaved Django. And that relationship is the best handled relationship in the whole movie, something I consider a minor flaw given that the driving force of the story is Django's quest to free his wife.

Foxx and Waltz, as has been mentioned in several reviews, have strong chemistry together. Their scenes together are heart-warming. However, Django and his wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, are not given the chance to truly show their chemistry. That to me is the only flaw in the film. I did not see much spark in their relationship. I did not see anything that would plausibly give away Django and Dr. Schultz's plans to Broomhilda's captors when we the viewers did not get any glimpse into their relationship, their connection, or their emotions for each other. What are the captors seeing that I am not? This is an instance where the film tells instead of shows. What we do get are flashbacks to the reason for their separation and Django occasionally hallucinating about Broomhilda. A man willing to go that far for a woman must really love her. Risking your life for the woman you love must signify a strong and loving relationship. Those emotional aspects of Django and Broomhilda's relationship are, unfortunately, left largely unexplored. Thankfully, Kerry Washington does a formidable job of making Broomhilda as relatable and as tragic of a character as her given material would otherwise not have allowed her; she cloaks my issue with the film with what is flawless acting. And trust me, it's a very minor issue (do not let this paragraph deter you from seeing this film). The actors all help Tarantino hoist the film up to new heights. Thank Victoria Thomas for perfectly casting the actors.

And what an outstanding cast it is indeed. Leonardo DiCaprio nails his role of the sadistic plantation owner, with polite manners covering an excitable temper and manic personality. His performance is unpredictable and leaves one on edge; but it also possesses a sort of comical approach. Samuel L. Jackson is simply disgusting and vile as Stephen, an "Uncle Tom" sort of character. Jamie Foxx is given a role that is admittedly one-note. He is out for revenge. In a way, I rooted for Django more because of circumstances than because I was able to relate to him as a person. This does not, however, constitute a flaw. Foxx makes the most of his character and delivers just what is needed of him. He is the core of the film and he lets the better-fleshed-out characters do their thing. The entire cast nails their roles, from James Remar as the lurking bodyguard to Miriam F. Glover as a slave with a Southern brawl. Franco Nero, the original Django from the original spaghetti Western, also makes an appearance where he asks Django his name and whether he knows how to spell it. That's Tarantino for you. Somebody had to have made background research on the film to get the underlying meaning of that scene. But, as a lot of people did not, that Frank Nero scene mad me realize that it is pure Tarantino genius. He's a man who does not make movies only for the masses; he also makes them for himself. Tarantino remains a cinephile at heart, taking pieces of cinema here and there, stitching them together and weaving them into a new fabric reminiscent of the originals but standing all on its own. And that's what Django Unchained is. It's a mixture of different film genres, a blend that works extraordinarily well.
Just the major players in a stellar cast (Source: Just Jared)
Django Unchained makes us take a look at the abominations of slavery. But, it neither preaches nor melodramatizes the facts. Rather, in his usual way, Tarantino has fun with the material without treating it too light-heartedly. This is most evident in a KKK attack scene. Trust me, when you get to that section of the film, you will be laughing your heart. In true Tarantino fashion, he then seamlessly reels the scene back onto the main mood of the film. The film is not without its detractors over what they deem as the overusage of the "n" word and Tarantino covering up a dark part of our history with humor. I will not reject their arguments, but still encourage anybody to first see the film before making any snap judgement. I'm very much still aboard the Tarantino train and would rank this film amongst his very best, which pretty much includes all of his movies thus far. The man has yet to have a misstep. Django Unchained is further testament to that legacy.

Ludovico Rating:

4 1/2 out of 5 stars. This movie is very near perfect and already due for a rewatch!

My Favorite Movies: #80-76


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)


    Best known as the film that effectively put a damper in Michael Powell’s directing career (though I find that debatable), the recent re-evaluation of Peeping Tom has been much more favorable than the harsh reviews it received upon its release in 1960. This film has long been compared with Hitchcock’s Psycho, incidentally released the same year; this review is not going to excuse itself from jumping aboard that train. Compared to Peeping Tom, Psycho is much tamer. However, I find Psycho to be the better and more successful film.

     The film’s titular peeping tom is Mark Lewis whose first appearance does not reveal his actual physical appearance; rather, we the viewers are treated to a view of a prostitute roaming the streets at night from the point of view of Mark’s concealed camera. The prostitute beckons him to her house (shared by some other tenants). Once in her room, still from the point of view of Mark’s camera, we see the woman disrobe. She begins to panic once Mark approaches her and the scene cuts off with an extreme close-up of her tormented face. 

    We are immediately led to assume that she is murdered, though the exact methods used are not known to us until a bit later in the film. This film differs from Psycho in that we know very early on what we are being treated to. We know who the killer is by the second scene when Mark, again with his camera, is taping police officers removing the prostitute’s body from the house the next morning. Thus, the mystery of the film does not lie in figuring who killed the girl(s), but in what Mark is going to do next and what drives him to these vile acts. In Hitchcock’s Psycho, we do not arrive at these denouements until much later in the film and in a successive order that creates suspense. Psycho explores several facets at once and does so masterfully, whereas Peeping Tom focuses on only two (the why and the how, as in how in the hell is he going to get caught). But soon, Peeping Tom solves the why during the first half of the film and it becomes another generic thriller. The film’s soundtrack is also a tad bit distracting, attempting to create suspense during scenes that would have been better off without it. It almost feels that Powell is trying to shove the movie down our throats due to the repetitiveness of said track. "Hey, you, this is a scary part! Pay attention and cower in your seat", or lack thereof. 
As far as the acting is concerned, Psycho also trumps Peeping Tom in that respect. Nobody can top Anthony Perkins' performance as Norman Bates. Nobody. That being said, I actually loved Karlheinz Böhm's portrayal of Mark. Many critics have keyed in on certain of the over-the-top performances. I don’t see it as being necessary to nitpick because the acting styles are very much a part of the film and its era. They fit in with the mood of the film. As I was was saying, I liked Böhm’s portrayal of Mark. Well, up until the very end that is, where the mystery of how he kills the unlucky ladies is revealed (he attaches a sort of weapon to his camera and stabs his victims with it as they helplessly watch their fate through the lens of his camera.).
I didn't even care about how the murders were carried out by this point. Knowing the victims were murdered sufficed.
     In the end, in some sort of “symbolic” move, Mark commits suicide the same way he executed his “leading ladies”. I found the ending to be a lame cop out. It could have been handled better, even if it took the same route. This is in parts due to the character of Helen, Mark’s downstairs neighbor and love interest in the film. Last I checked, when somebody confesses to being a serial killer to you, you run the fuck out of there. You don’t cry on their shoulders and ask them to show you how they carried out their crime to “help me feel less frightened, Mark”. Girl, what? You should feel frightened about who he just revealed himself as and the fact that you’re still IN HIS APARTMENT, IN HIS DARK ROOM WHERE HE PLAYS HIS TAPED MURDERS. My favorite subplot of the film involved some really good characters and I ended up caring more about them than the film itself. Those characters are a demanding director and a diva actress on the set where Mark works as the focus guy. Those two are downright hilarious. Here's an actual quote from the director when the actress uncovers one of the dead bodies Mark's left behind "The silly bitch. She's fainted in the wrong scene." after she struggled to faint in a previous scene. Now, that's hilarious!
   The only thing better about Peeping Tom in regards to Psycho is the reasons for Mark’s conduct. His father was a biologist, specializing in how fear affected the nervous system. He used his son as his guinea pig, waking him up in the middle of the night by throwing lizards on his bed, wiring every room in the house and taping his every moment (including one where he visits his mom as she lays dead on her bed) all in order to gauge his reaction. I found that part of the story fascinating and did love the way it was handled. It would explain why Mark became a deeply disturbed voyeur and sexual deviant (besides his film work, he is an on-the-down-low photographer of soft-core pin-up pictures). 
A hard day's work back in 1960. Literally.
    It would explain his ability to shift from a socially awkward boy one second to a menacing predator the next. Nevertheless, an interesting facet and Böhm's effective portrayal of a serial killer are not enough to carry the film. I liked the concept more so than the execution. I did like it and was never bored by it, but I failed to really gain much out of the experience. I'll stick with Black Narcissus (another Powell product) over Peeping Tom any day. And I'll most definitely stick with Psycho over this any minute.


Ludovico Rating: 

2 1/2 out of 5. Would not go out of my way to watch it again.