Monday, February 25, 2013

Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)

As part of the 21 Years...21 Stars Series
Highlighted Star: Viggo Mortensen

   Eastern Promises is the sum of all of its parts and nothing more. It is marketed as a crime thriller, and provides the tropes of its genre most delectably. Crime is what pushes the film and the thrills throughout serve as a means to flesh out the film. Neither the acting nor the cinematography do anything to really help the story. In certain films that can be an advantage. But with this film, I felt that more could have been added to the material. In the end, Eastern Promises does not break any grounds or elevate itself above the constraints of its genre.

There is a romance aspect to it as befitting every movie featuring a criminal as one of the leads. There is a normal character that gets sucked into the criminal underworld. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the film. Actually, I was definitely entertained throughout. It features two of my favorite actors: Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts (Can I just do a shameless plug here of how sad I felt for Watts at the Oscars last night? I was rooting for Jennifer Lawrence, but it hurt me to see the resignation in Watts' face. She just knew she didn't stand a chance). Watts plays a nurse who helps deliver the baby of a young, Russian teenager who dies during childbirth. Watts finds the teenager's diary and, in an attempt to prevent the baby girl from going into the foster care system, she tries to get it translated. She finds the card of a Russian restaurant establishment amongst the dead teen's possessions and decides to pay a visit. She makes the acquaintance of Mortensen, the driver to the family that owns the restaurant, and of the older owner of the restaurant; the owner offers to help translate the diary. Soon, however, Watts begins to realize that the old man knows more about the young teen than he pretends. By the time she realizes that the Russian owners are members of the Russian mafia, she is in too deep. Her family begins receiving threats and the only person she may or may not have on her side from the other side is none other than Mortensen's character.
   The film definitely did not feature Watts at her best. Don't get me wrong, she is solid. She's a great actress and, in lesser hands, her character could have come across as too foolhardy. But Watts manages to humanize her. Still, her character lacks the usual multi-dimensional aspects of her other roles. Besides Watts and Mortensen and Vincent Cassel, no other actor really shines in the film, not even Watts' crazy, racist Russian uncle. But more than that, as cold-hearted as I may come across by saying this, I didn't really feel for the dead teen or her baby. I don't think enough background story was provided for the former to really pack an emotional punch for the viewer. The acclaimed fighting sequence is also tame. I don't see what everybody was going goo-goo-ga-ga over. Viggo's peen perhaps.
   Overall, I think Eastern Promises was definitely a nice film. I would recommend it to anybody. I think it has wide appeal. And maybe by doing that it did stretch itself too thin. But, I guarantee you that you'll have a swell time watching it. I was certainly entertained.

Ludovico Rating

Viggo's Role In The Film:

Viggo Mortensen is undoubtedly the best part of the film. He really is an amazing actor. His character kept you guessing throughout the entire movie until the very end. Speaking of the ending, I loved it. Prior to seeing this film, everywhere I looked, people were bashing the ending. Yet, I found it satisfying. During the final scene, Viggo managed to perfectly portray a man on the verge of a transformation. As the credits roll, you continue guessing as to what Viggo's next move will be. That is the sign of great acting. The character becomes crystallized in your mind and you still wonder about him as if he were a real person. It is also testament to Naomi' talent that Viggo's superior acting in this particular film did not completely overshadow her. She seems to be his anchor throughout the film, helping keep his character grounded and real. This man is incredible.

Viggo's Acting Ludovico Rating

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)

  I just watched this film on a whim with a friend who's been recommending it for years. I can't begin to describe how happy I am right now. This movie gives me feels.

  Jesse and Celine meet on a train. Celine is a French woman making her way back to Paris after visiting her grandmother. Jesse is an American man going to Vienna to catch a plane back to the United States. The two form a strong bond throughout the short train ride. When the train arrives in Vienna, Jesse suggests to Celine that she gets off in Vienna with him and visit the city with him before his departure the next day. She agrees and the two begin their trek through Vienna. They travel to Viennese landmarks, cafes, pubs, yachts, and even a church and cemetery. They discuss life, religion, love, past relationships and heartaches,  and gender roles. Jesse's real reason for traveling across Europe is further expounded upon. Jesse and Celine encounter several other people in their journey, from a pair of playwrights/actors to a homeless poet. As the night wanes, the two begin to despair as to whether they will ever see each other again. They entered their agreement with the understanding that their being together would only be for one night. But now, the couple seeks to break their vows, culminating in a satisfyingly ambiguous ending.

   This film hooked me by the 5 minute mark, a rare feat for any movies. I can simply describe this film as magical. I absolutely loved the script. It's fresh. The dialogue scintillates. Some of the highlights include Jesse convincing Celine to get off the train with him because she might be time travelling into her past right now to give all of her missed connections a chance; Celine saying that her life right now is but the memories of an old woman, herself; Jesse and Celine visit a cemetery populated with bodies that have been retrieved from a river bank - the two wonder whether those people committed suicide and Celine points to the tomb of a 13-year-old girl, the same age she was when she first discovered the cemetery. The movie feels real. You are able to connect to the characters and, for 110 minutes, forget that you are watching a movie. You are watching real people going through the pains that come with past relationships. Real people who forgive their past hurt to allow a new relationship to bloom. There is no unnecessary melodramatic elements to the film. It feels authentic in the questions that it poses and the answers it refuses to spoon feed.
   Overall, Before Sunrise was a fantastic experience and yet another film I can add to my pantheon of favorite movies. I cannot wait until I update my favorite movies list in two and a half months. Till then, I'm going to rent Before Sunset (the sequel) and watch Before Midnight (completing a trilogy) when it comes out in theaters this year! I will also be checking out Waking Life, a stand-alone film that ties in to the trilogy. I cannot have enough of Jesse and Celine.

Ludovico Rating:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935)

 My first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, and it could very well be my last from the famed pair. I can recognize why Top Hat remains so revered of a musical film, but it did not do anything for me.

 American dancer Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire) arrives in London to star in a show produced by his friend Horace. Horace informs him that after the show, they will travel to Italy to meet up with Horace's wife, Madge. Horace also informs Jerry that Madge is trying to set Jerry up with a friend of hers. Jerry begins to dance in Horace's apartment, awakening his below neighbor Dale (Ginger Rogers) who complains to the building management. After a fumble with the building management, Dale takes matters into her own hand and visits her noisy upstairs neighbor. Jerry is immediately smitten with Dale and begins to pursue her. However, another fumble occurs when Dale mistakes Jerry for Horace, her friend Madge's husband. After the show, they all travel to Italy to visit Madge. There, put off by who she presumes is her friend's husband, Dale decides to marry a fashion designer and resists Jerry's advances. The story is one of mistaken identity and has all of the necessary prototypes of a good screwball comedy.
This film did not resonate with me due to its feeling dated and due to the sub-par acting. What the film does have going for it is a fantastic screenplay. The dialogue is quick, sharp and witty. However, Astaire fails to effectively deliver the punch necessary to carry the script of the film. What he lacks in acting skills, he more than makes up in charm and dancing skills. Still, I found the musical numbers boring. I don't feel that Astaire got the chance to properly showcase his dancing prowess. The famous Cheek To Cheek sequence is the highlight of the numbers. Yet, by my standards, that too I found sub-par. Another problem I had with the film was Rogers' character. I could not sympathize with her and found her quite grating and arrogant. I'm not a big fan of musicals. I find the sudden outbursts into song unnatural. Some musicals manage to make such transitions seamless (Singin' In The Rain and Moulin Rouge) for example. Top Hat is less successful in that regard.
  Overall, Top Hat is an ok film. I was bored during certain parts surely; but I wouldn't label the film a complete waste of time. I don't think it has aged well. It feels like the film was holding back the entire runtime.

Ludovico Rating:

2.5/5. I would not watch this film again. For me, once was enough. I also am laying away from musicals for a while.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

La Jetee (Chris Marker, 1962)

  I've never before seen a movie like La Jetee. I also don't believe I ever will without checking out the rest of Chris Marker's filmography.

 I've often heard about 12 Monkeys (released in 1995) being influenced by La Jetee. Some consider the latter superior, and others diverge from that school of thought. Either way, I'm glad to have first seen the original. 12 Monkeys has a lot to live up to.
  La Jetee's plot is simply fantastic. In a post-apocalyptic present, mankind has fled underground. A group of people try to make contact with the past and the future in order to help their bleak present. To make contact, they experiment on their prisoners. However, their attempts to make contact are never successful due to the test subjects going insane or even dying; until, they find a prisoner whose obsession with a childhood memory prove to be a great match for time travel's focus on the memory and imagination. Several tests are conducted and the new prisoner frequently travels to the past. There, a romance blooms between him and a woman. Due to the success of these experiments, the captors send the man to the future and he is able to make contact. He soon realizes that his captors, having accomplished their goal, no longer require his help and will soon dispose of him.

  What is more fantastic about La Jetee is its cinematography and its visuals. Marker, unable to afford a motion-picture camera, then decided to convey the film through stills. During the 28 minutes run time, photographs play across the screen and relate the story in a way that is visually enriching, intriguing and different. Only one brief scene is shot by a moving camera. There is no dialogue, save for the narrator's voice recounting the story. The stills actually strengthen the bond that is felt between the prisoner and the woman from the past. The fluidity of the shots showcasing their blooming romance is more than effective. The romantic aspect of the story is relayed in a way that moving images would have been unable to capture.

 Yet, what I most love about the film is how everything ties in together in the end. Though I realized where it was going 10 minutes prior to the ending, I still felt a rush as the final scene was unfolding. I recognize this as another effect of the stills. In a movie about time travel, still photographs help give a sense of time being captured bit by bit as it is streaming. It gives one time to reflect on the film's themes and the implications behind each shot. It feels like time has slowed down for a bit, giving one ample time for speculation. The story, which I cannot praise enough, ties its themes beautifully well. The past, the present and the future work together to deliver the perfect ending, however tragic.
  La Jetee is one of the best films I've ever seen and a sure way to hook me in to see the rest of Chris Marker's films.

Ludovico Rating:

5/5! I am going to rewatch this right now.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

21 Years...21 Stars: #21 & 20

   Kicking off the series and announcing the four stars for the month of February. The main rule of the series is that I have to watch at least 2 as-of-yet unseen movies from each of the stars. So, in effect, I will be watching at least 8 movies per month pertaining to this list.

                Viggo Mortensen                                                Kerry Washington

Viggo Films I've Seen: The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, G.I. Jane, The Portrait Of A Lady, The Road
Viggo Films I Want To See This Month: A History Of Violence, A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises

Kerry Films I've Seen: The Fantastic Four series, Ray, Lakeview Terrace, I Think I Love My Wife, Django Unchained
Kerry Films I Want To See This Month: Night Catches Us, Mother And Child, The Last King Of Scotland

      Marion Cotillard                                          Kevin Spacey

Marion Films I've Seen: Big Fish, Public Enemies, Inception, Midnight In Paris, The Dark Knight Rises
Marion Films I Want To See This Month: Rust And Bone (despite my fear of whales), Contagion, La Vie En Rose, Innocence, Taxi

Kevin Films I've Seen: Pay It Forward, American Beauty, Horrible Bosses, Superman Returns, A Bug's Life, LA Confidential
Kevin Films I Want To See This Month: The Usual Suspects, The Men Who Stare At Goats (I know it got bad reviews, but the premise sounds awesome), Moon, Seven, Margin Call

Of course, I only pick the movies I want to see based on plot description, reviews, ratings and recommendation. There may be more that I should see from the actors that are not on my radar. If that is the case, please feel free to give me any suggestion.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

21 Years...21 Stars List Fine-Tuning

  Since my last post about this upcoming series, I've made a few changes to my list of favorite actors and actresses. Here is the final list. It's set in stone and cannot be touched, no matter if I discover and grow to love an actor/actress over the course of the year (or in this case two weeks).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mini-Review: The Possession (Ole Bornedal, 2012) / The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

Roger Ebert, who I often side with, actually gave The Possession a rating of 3 1/2 out of 4 stars, while only giving The Master 2 1/2 stars. I really don't understand his reasoning behind this. I understand it's an opinion, but my what a shitty one.

The Possession

  If you've seen any of the horror films pertaining to possession that have come out in the last decades, then don't bother seeing The Possession. It's full of cliches. The youngest daughter of a divorced couple comes into possession of a strange box and her body in turn becomes the possession of the spirit that inhabits the box. Several horror trope stuff goes down, which leads to the divorced dad being suspected of abusing his daughter. He then realizes what is going on and seeks the help of Jewish religious figures to help rid his daughter of the spirit. An expected showdown culminates in an exorcism ritual and a very expected "it's not over yet" ending. Cliches upon cliches with this film. The usual "Take me instead" and bodily contortions. Overall, the film felt lazy. Perhaps, it wasn't attempting to be anything more than its defined genre, but even then it fails to provide the least bit of entertainment or shock factor. I kept waving my mouse to check the time. I seriously feel like I've already seen this film.

Ludovico Rating:

The Master (Re-Watch)
   After Silver Linings Playbook, this to me is the second best film of last year. Heck, I could even say it's a tie. . It's also only my second and a half Paul Thomas Anderson (after Boogie Nights and some of Magnolia). Freddie Quell is a World War II veteran who abandoned what is perhaps the love of his life for a job at sea. He is sex-obsessed and unable to retain a job, either due to his crazy antics or his mixing of various dangerous ingredients into alcoholic beverages. This all promises to change when he stumbles upon a yacht carrying a group of people who belong to a philosophical movement named The Cause. The leader of the movement, Lancaster Dodd, takes Freddie under his wings and attempts to reform him. This is pretty much the plot of the film, though a lot more happens. It's hard to explain. The film is impossibly complex whilst posing as a straightforward tale. Much like The Cause, the film pretends to be something that it is not. Much like Dodd's leadership, it is not known whether Anderson's direction possesses malicious intent. In any case, the film is a masterpiece. It could be argued that this film is about nothing given the ending or the plot, but it still carries meaning. It explores human nature, especially when faced with a cult mentality. The surface has to be scratched for the gem underneath to truly shine. Joaquin Phoenix's Freddie is already one of the film characters I most identify with or sympathize with. The cinematography is rich; there are many poignant scenes as well as some humorous ones; and the performances are mind-blowing. Given that I did not really like Boogie Nights and the mixed reviews The Master  has been receiving, I fully expected not to love this film all that much. But, I do. It's already one of my favorites. I felt so much throughout its entirety.

Ludovico Rating:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000)

   So, I watched Battle Royale last night; on a whim mostly as I sifted through my movie list and realized just how long this praised flick has remained there. Besides, my friend had brought the DVD back from her house after the winter break, so why not? Often compared to The Hunger Games, this film most closely resembles The Raid: Redemption in its brutality and shock factor. Much like Raid, I enjoyed and squirmed through nearly every single minute of this film.

Spoilers Ahead:

   Adapted from the 1999 novel of the same name by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale is about a class of students on a bus driving to their field trip; they are chloroformed and wake up in a class setting. There, they are informed that they have been chosen for this film's Battle Royale by none other than their 7th grade teacher, Kitano. The film features several flashbacks throughout that procure necessary back story. In 7th grade, one of the students (Kuninobu) stabbed Kitano and then decided to leave school permanently. Kitano decided to resign shortly afterwards. Kuninobu was meanwhile convinced to return to school by his best friends Shuya and Noriko. Kitano informs the students that the Battle Royale is a law/program passed by the Japanese government to reform the country after thousands of students walked out of school. The students are placed on an island where they are required to kill each other until only one remains. However, they must do so within a 3-day period or the collars placed around their necks will detonate; in such a case, there would be no winner. Every 6 hours, Kitano and his army of soldiers on the island will broadcast news of who died, how many students are left, how much time remains and which areas of the island have been declared danger zones. If a student lingers in a danger zone, his or her collar will automatically detonate. Two students are killed by Kitano before they have a chance to receive a backpack (which contains certain survival equipments and a different weapon per student) and be sent outside onto the island; one of them is none other than Kuninobu. Before all of the students are outside, some already start killing each other. Others decide to commit suicide together. Shuya and Noriko decide to protect each other and refuse to participate in the bloodshed. Nonetheless, it seems to follow them wherever they go, sometimes through misunderstanding and other times by some of the students' sheer blood-thirst.
Homegirl was whispering during Kitano's presentation. She had to go.
  As far as acting goes, The Hunger Games is superior than Battle Royale. The cinematography and sountrack of  the former are also better. Yet, I would give both films the same rating because, while they do share the same themes (government oppression, survival of the fittest, yadda, yadda), they go in completely different directions. Battle Royale does not attempt to go in depth into exploring its most political themes. It is most interested in showcasing the interpersonal relationships between the characters and their subsequent deterioration in the face of adversity. It accomplishes this through carnage and brilliant death sequences. The acting is not necessary to carry the film; the visuals and the soundtrack do aid in making the film as successful as it is, but they are secondary to the plot. The story and one's subsequent analysis of their ability to relate to it are the charms of this film. What would I do if I were on this island? Would I commit suicide in a bid to remain clean or would I revert to barbarism? Would I actually help Shuya and Noriko's whiny, pathetic asses survive? What I would I do if my weapon was a friggin' binocular?! Rarely do action or death sequences pose such profound questions.The film perfectly demonstrates how survival instincts may perhaps be stronger than friendship. The students' sudden awareness of their mortality forces them to shun not only their sense of ethics, but also the stereotypes/roles placed upon them by society. Three nerds nearly survive till the end of the game. An upper middle class student abandons his learned morals and brandishes his crossbow. One of the most savage characters and my personal favorite, Mitsuko, is a beautiful girl who uses her charms to ruthlessly deceit and kill.
  The film's final act is nevertheless disappointing. This is due to the fact that some of the characters who fought the hardest to survive are bypassed by Shuya and Noriko. This does not mean you should cross to the other side of a street if you ever met me in real life; I'm really a nice guy. But if I were to die on this island (trust me, I would have fought tooth and nails and binoculars) and there had to be a winner after such a huge loss to mankind, then I would rather it be somebody who strived to survive. Not two people who stumbled into the arms of somebody who decided to help them for the remainder of the game. With such profound themes, the ending felt like a let down. I am not saying that Shuya and Noriko should have killed. I just would have preferred the winner(s) to have shown some sort of humanity. There is no way so much bloodbath would not change somebody. There is no way witnessing the deaths of your classmates or their turning on each other would leave you in the same state from when the film began. Shuya and Noriko are never shown to question their new surroundings. There is no doubt, no confusion, no yearning for answers in their eyes. I could not relate to them because they came across as robots programmed to an unsatisfying victory. As such, I found the final act considerably weaker than the genius showcased in the previous segments.

Ludovico Rating:

3.5/5. I would definitely watch this film again. It's already one of my favorites.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lumiere (David Lynch, 1995)

  Lumiere And Company is a 1995 collaboration between 41 film directors  in which each director's film was required to be under 1 minute and be shot using the original camera invented by the Lumiere Brothers. Some of the directors include Liv Ullmann, Michael Haneke, David Lynch, Theo Angelopoulos, Spike Lee, Jacques Rivette and Wim Wenders. Featured today is David Lynch's short. Suffice to say, another master turn. I'll be checking out the remaining shorts from the other directors in the upcoming days.