Monday, March 25, 2013

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, 2011)

This will be a very brief review because Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film whose plot cannot really be discussed at length as it most certainly ruins the experience. All I knew prior to seeing is that it involved a girl who escapes some sort of cult and returns home. Yet, her past continues to haunt her. The girl in question is called Martha. She disappeared two years ago and now shows up at a diner where she hysterically phones her sister. Lucy, Martha's sister, picks her up and brings her to her and her husband Ted's home. Martha refuses to discuss what happened to her. All Lucy knows is that Martha went to live with her boyfriend in the Catskill Mountains. Through flashbacks, we see Martha being initiated into a cult led by the deceptive Patrick, where women remain subservient to the men and the men are in turn subservient to Patrick. Martha's past is correlated with her present as her behavior at her sister's home comes to mirror some of the abnormal habits she picked up in the Catskill cult. Tension rises between the increasingly-paranoid Martha and the couple. And that's all you need to know.
    I was riveted by this movie. I was very interested to see where it was headed. However, 10 minutes past the one hour mark, they pretty much lost some of my previous interest. I suppose the plot could be compared to a wheel. As it completes its first cycle, everything else that follows feels like a rehashing of the same thing. With every act of Marcy's that diverges from the norm, we get a complimentary flashback that explains why and how she picked up that behavior. This technique does become exhausting after a while, especially as it is used all throughout the damn movie. Thankfully, the ambiguous ending sets everything right.

While googling about the ending, I found that a lot of people were dissatisfied with how the film ended. They said that it was a gimmick. If anything, the flashbacks are the gimmick. I could not see the film ending any differently and actually working. If everything had been resolved or found some sort of solace, it would have taken away from the authenticity of the film, an authenticity already hampered by the gimmicky flashbacks. Some films require an ending that makes you think and sets the stage for events that will continue after the screen turns black. With the disjointedness of Martha's memory exhibited through constant flashbacks and psychotic episodes, the film ending at this very point ties in perfectly with the theme of paranoia so prominently featured. We are not sure of what happens after the credits. It's as if Martha has shut down completely, trying to repress her tormented past and to forget. The film is unforgiving in that we, however, are unable to forget, not with the things we've witnessed from the Catskill cult. We in turn are left disjointed. Besides the ending, the acting and cinematography in the film are amazing. Elizabeth Olsen nails her role. I guess while the Olsen twins were in the limelight hobo chic-ing it up, homegirl was cultivating her acting shops (hopefully not in the Catskill). Martha feels so real and so human. Olsen has to show her starting off as a naive girl, turn into a submissive and culpable figure in the cult, and then become a troubled young woman after her escape. Her range is really quite amazing. She is rivaled by John Hawkes who portrays the cult leader Patrick to chilling perfection. And, as mentioned for the cinematography, it's a thing of beauty, especially the shots outdoors on the boat.
   Overall, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film I was rooting for, but I ended up a wee bit disappointed by. Nonetheless, it's still a good film and well worth checking out. The story stays with you, as do Elizabeth Olsen's truthful performance. Well, this wasn't so brief after all.

Ludovico Rating

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Rust And Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012)

 Y'all, I'm scared of whales. That is my only phobia, though moreso blue whales than orcas, which are somewhat prominently featured in Rust And Bone. It took a lot for me to finally give this title a chance, despite the lovely Marion Cotillard being in it as a killer whale trainer named Stephanie. Stephanie gets in a brawl at a club and is escorted home by one of the club's bouncer, Alain. Alain arrived in France along with his newly-obtained five-year-old son Sam and is staying with his sister and her husband. At the beginning of the movie, he is seen rummaging through a train wagon for discarded food for his hungry son while the two are on their way to France. He also steals from a store to buy a McDonald's meal for the pair. Despite that, Alain is unable to relate to his young son, whom he took from Sam's mother for unexplained reasons. He remains distant to all those around him. However, the night when he rescues Stephanie from the club brawl, Alain yet again shows the soft side of him highlighted at the beginning of the film, however gritty. The two are brutally honest with each other and Alain leaves his contact information for Stephanie, who seems disenchanted with her love life. Later, during one of her shows at the tourist park she works at, Stephanie becomes involved in a freak accident with the killer whales (yikes! I had to move back a couple of feet away from my screen when the attack began). Stephanie wakes up to find both of her legs amputated. She finds herself in a slump and becomes depressed with her condition, refusing to go out. In her state, she contacts Alain, who pays her a visit. He helps her leave the confines of her new home and encourages her to swim in the ocean.

He supports her on his back, carrying to and fro into the ocean. Their bond grows. Stephanie invites herself over to Alain's first match in a kickboxing ring he was enlisted in by his now-manager. To Stephanie's objections, Alain explains that he fights because he loves it. Stephanie obtains artificial limbs and becomes more mobile. She and Alain's relationship becomes sexual in nature, though Alain is honest about his other side dalliances. When Alain's manager becomes indisposed to do his job, Stephanie takes over the reigns of his matches and manages him. Their relationship deepens. Stephanie starts finding meaning in her life through Alain and Alain starts to open up more to the world around him. Yet, their past ways threaten to shatter the new world they've created for themselves.
   Rust And Bone is already one of my favorite pictures from last year. And that's quite an accomplishment because I consider 2012 to be the best year for films since 2001 (my ultimate favorite movie year of all time). 2007 comes close. I would rank it right behind Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables and The Master. Because Rust And Bone bears unaccustomed-to beauty in every single frame of its 2-hour run time. The cinematography is rich and detailed, showcasing both the beauty and the ugliness in our surroundings. The scenes where Alain forages for food for example are so crisp in their visuals that everything becomes maximized, showing their perfect imperfections. The scene of a man sitting on a beach with his son, after having stolen to provide food, becomes something of beauty in the scenery and the light captured. This is a recurring motif in the movie. The scene where Stephanie falls into the aquarium and she floats peacefully as if she were ascending to the sky, is inter-cut with brief, flashing images of the whales' teeth as they(it?) attack. And also in a scene where a Stephanie is bathed in gorgeous blue neon light in a club and watches rotating hips around hers with the short dresses adorning their gyrating bodies. The scene is beautiful, peaceful due to the color and vibrant due to the dancing people/blaring music, yet saddening as Stephanie covers her artificial legs with her jacket.

Speaking of the music, most of the music featured  is playing in real-time, giving a sense of authenticity to the film. The song 'Fireworks' by Katy Perry blasts over the PA system as Stephanie guides her troupe of whales into dance. Not a big fan of Perry, but the song fits into the movie. It's real and feels as if the moments have been lived and continue to live on in our memories, separate from the characters. Alex over at And So It Begins... made mention of the same fact in his fantastic review of Rust And Bone.
   Matthias Schoenaerts deserved far more praise than he received during awards season. His work in this film, though my first time hearing of him and seeing him in action, is quite outstanding. Alain is a character that is hard to relate to or root for. He does not seem to be trying to improve on his shortcomings. He seems to accept what life has handed him. He is a man who has been conditioned to the harshness of the world around him and is just going through the motions, trying to survive. Many of his decisions, while aligning with the character's persona, do leave one unable to care much for him. Yet, Matthias manages to add layer to his performance, showing Alain as a man who does not set out to better himself but is bettered through his meeting with Stephanie. Perhaps it is his acceptance of his surroundings that help better him through Stephanie. He, at first, accepts their relationship for what it is, mostly carnal in nature. He then begins to find more out of it as their aiding each other extends beyond their relationship and starts to affect other aspects of their individual lives. This all culminates in a heart-wrenching scene where the changes in Alain take center stage when he finally lets his inner self seep out into the world around him. He is finally able to show love, but not in the way that is commonplace for most movies. Rust And Bone is not just a romantic drama. It shows love for a man, a woman, a son, one's profession. Rust And Bone tackles love in a way never before seen by cinema, I believe. It shows all its shortcomings and all of its possibilities.
   Yet, with all the praise for Matthias, it really is Marion Cotillard who almost steals the film, were it not for the solid performances from Matthias and his onscreen sister Corinne Masiero. Cotillard is an actress whom my love for continues to grow with each successive films of hers. I loved her in Inception, my first movie of hers, and feel she was the best performer in the entire film. She again was the best performer in Midnight In Paris, though her role here does somehow mirror her role in the previously mentioned movie. I finally recognized her pure brilliance in La Vie En Rose.  Her role in Rust And Bone is on par with her performance in La Vie En Rose. How she was not nominated for a Best Actress Oscar is beyond me. She starts the movie as a woman very different and still somewhat similar from/to Matthias. She is disenchanted with the present state of her life (does the first picture not tell you why?) and unlike Matthias recognizes her disenchantment. But, similar to Matthias, she accepts it for what it is and continues with the motions, until the freak accident amputates her two legs. A heart-wrenching scene in the hospital follows. I was nearly in tears as Marion withered on the ground, crying about her missing legs. Marion seems to accept her fate yet again and becomes depressed and a recluse. Matthias brings a much-needed support in her life and she begins to challenge her old notions about the world.

  The scene where I finally broke down in the film is the scene where Stephanie visits the park she used to work at and guides one of the whales into one of their routines. I should have been afraid of that scene given my phobia. But I think it truly is the most beautiful moment in the film. Just look at the image to the left. Stephanie looks through the glass at the whale, simultaneously staring into her past. Look at her reflection in the glass. It's almost as if she's looking into her old self and is making peace with her past. Stephanie has finally forgiven herself and is now able to move on. Only after losing part of herself does she become whole. Not only were the whale's antics cute, the way this moment was captured on film and Marion's acting skills also add to its mystical beauty. I cried and replayed this scene several more times. It really is the climax of the movie. In her role, Marion manages to make subtlety her bitch. She conveys a gamut of emotions that are amazingly affecting in their approach and ultimate execution. Cotillard usually plays the sad woman, however accomplished and fleshed out the roles do become. But here, she gives even more  facets to that woman, like one of those tri-color pens. Yeah, best metaphor I could come up with. Just know it means that Cotillard is pretty much one of the best actresses around now. It's set in stone. Which is why my main and only complaint about the film is that she becomes underused in the ending quarter of the film.
   Rust And Bone is just not a movie I expected to love to this extent or to even watch in the first place. But there it is, probably my fourth favorite from last year and tied with J-Law and Hathaway as my favorite female performance of last year. I seriously hope more of you check this movie out. It may not seem to be your style, but I feel there really is a gem there. Not conspicuous and not manifest. It's a treasure that like the characters in their personal lives we have to uncover for ourselves.

Ludovico Rating

Friday, March 15, 2013

Up In The Air (Jason Reitman, 2009)

"Ryan Bingham: And they put your name on the side of a plane. 
 Natalie Keener: Men get such hardons from putting their names on things. You guys don't grow up. It's like you need to pee on everything."

  The dialogue in Up In The Air, y'all! Probably some of my favorite exchanges in film. The three lead actors have such chemistry with each other that all of the other actors become insignificant, which does become one of the film's faults. George Clooney carries the film as Ryan Bingham, a man who is hired by companies to fire their employees and talk to them about the employment package offered by the company. His job   requires him to travel a lot to businesses across the nation, wherein he states that last year he only spent some 40 days home. Bingham, however, enjoys his life on the road as it keeps him away from the desolation he finds at home. He has never been married, has no children, and refuses any sort of commitment, even from his two sisters. He loves being recognized by airport employees, going to hotels, and his main goal is to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles. If he manages to achieve his goal, he will earn lifetime executive status, get to meet the chief pilot, and his name will appear on the side of a plane. On one of his travels, Ryan meets Alex (Vera Farmiga), a frequent traveler much like himself. The two recognize their palpable chemistry, hook up, and coordinate their schedules to meet again. Upon his return to Omaha, where his company is located, Ryan is enraged to find new recruit Natalie (Anna Kendrick) f*cking shit up for him by proposing to their boss that instead of spending so much money on traveling cross country, they should instead fire people via video chat. Ryan strongly opposes the idea, leading to his boss Craig (Jason Bateman) suggesting that he takes Natalie with him on his next travel to show her the ropes. Begrudgingly he does so. The unlikely pair soon find a mutual respect growing between them, when Ryan recognizes Natalie's fear to fire people face to face. Ryan accepts his fate to remain grounded in Omaha and starts to rekindle his relationship with his sisters, one of which is getting married soon. Nonetheless, he pursues a relationship with Alex and begins seeing in himself the first signs of falling in love.

  I placed this DVD in my laptop on a whim. A dormmate mentioned that he had it, I love Clooney, so I didn't see why not. I was taken by the film by the opening sequence, which did not even feature people. The cinematography is gorgeous, changing the mood from shot to shot but retaining cohesiveness throughout. Clooney, Farmiga, Kendrick and to a lesser extent Bateman (more so due to screen time) are excellent in their roles. Clooney is really one of the most natural actors to have ever graced the screen. He often gets accused of just playing himself, over and over again. Yet, I think this is an effect of his natural acting style. Perhaps, the roles he picks do indeed match his real-life persona. That he manages to infuse them with life and his innate charm are due for praise. Anna Kendrick is as annoying, cute, adorable as ever. Vera Farmiga has never been sexier and more alluring than here; but trust me, there is more under her character's facade than one originally thinks. It is this duality of the film that does become its demise. When Ryan stops being on the road around the halfway mark, the film loses much of its appeal and falls into charted territory. In this way, we come to echo Ryan's yearning to be set free once again from the limitations of the genre. What begins as a movie exploring themes of existentialism soon turns into the usual romantic drama fare. Furthermore, no other actor besides the three leads manages to shine, other than Bateman and Tamala Jones in her minor role as a fired employee who takes the news calmly and threatens suicide. After the three leads share the screen together and are then separated, the film feels like it is missing something as nobody else is able to sustain the chemistry. Thankfully, the ending is wholly satisfying, however sad it may be. It is the three lead performances, the first half and the ending that make this film so appealing and so successful. One of my most unexpected love affairs (well, more like one night stands) with cinema.

Ludovico Rating

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002)

  Starting with the main character/narrator (who is never seen in the film as his eyes are the window through which we see the film) announcing his death due to some unexplained accident, Russian Ark then opens up to a scene of a group of men and women, garbed in 18th century attire, exiting a horse-drawn carriage and entering a palace. The narrator/camera follows the group inside and is set upon a fantastical journey through the Winter Palace of Russia's Hermitage Museum. The camera flows through several different rooms of the museum in an unbroken, long take. Each room features a different time period in Russia's vast history, though not in the proper chronological order. The narrator sees several historical figures such as Catherine The Great, Peter The Great, and Princess Anastasia, to name a few. He also meets several other colorful characters who'd once lived at some point during Russia's history. To some of those characters, he appears invisible, while others manage to apprehend him, though the cause for this is never explained. On his journey, the narrator meets the acquaintance of the European, a foreigner and staunch critic of Russian culture who appears to be as much of an outsider as the narrator himself. The two decide to travel through the palace together, with the European negatively commenting on the paintings and other art featured in the gallery (at one point, when Russian music begins to play, he says that it gives him hives. The nerve!). 
The European also proves to be quite a flirt, hitting on a blind woman, another woman from Russia's modern era, and several other women from the Renaissance era. The narrator and the European continue their travels which culminate in one of the most beautiful sequences ever committed to celluloid:  a ballroom scene where the camera weaves and dances itself amongst the exuberant dancers. This then leads to the separation of the two travelers in what is the film's only truly sad moment and then the narrator looking out of the building onto the surrounding ocean, thus giving further meaning to the film's title as it can be interpreted that everybody who dies in Russia continues living on this ark that sails through the sea of time (hey, if Wikipedia says it, then it's good enough for me). This film could have easily turned into a documentary of sorts with the camera/narrator/the European assuming the role of a tour guide in a museum. But this becomes impossible given the stunning cinematography: the lights bathing the high windows, the sculptures, the paintings, the colorful characters in their flowy garbs re-living what is perhaps one of their happiest moments or what became for them a routine, us the viewers becoming one with the camera's steady and elegant movement through long halls. This film is mostly about the visuals. It truly is a major accomplishment in the cinematic field. One single take throughout the entirety of the film and not one of the many actors messed up or, if they did, they managed to conceal it masterfully. Everybody is at their A game obviously. None of the scenes come across as prepared, making us live in the moment with these people. 

   Russian Ark truly is a passage through time, rendering the final moments of the film that much more powerful. We really feel it as the last sands of time pass through the hourglass and we are awakened from our reverie. And I say awakened because in all its stunning glory, there is no denying that Russian Ark can at times become tedious and perhaps numb one's mind. But I think it's a great effect because the dialogue, scarce, does not really require an active mind. Instead, the visuals play upon the passive mind, imprinting their beauty into it. There is really no acting that can be singled out as amazing in the film, although I loved the character of the European. He is actually based on the nineteenth-century traveler, Marquis de Custine, who was not fond of Russia and refused to accept it as part of Europe. In the film, he died in Russia but finds himself on the ark now able to speak perfect Russian. He displays such arrogance that my finding him an appealing character worries me. The man is simply comical and quirky. Over time, you warm up to him, much like the narrator, making their eventual separation a really sad moment. Russian Ark features no conventional plot, no major character, no affecting acting, is at times boring and is all the more magnificent for all of it. The gimmick of the single, long unbroken  take proves to be less of a gimmick after all and adds more to the visual charm of the movie. It contributes to its atmosphere of representing the passage and co-existence of time. A true masterpiece.

Ludovico Rating

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)

The Way Of The Future. If you don't get this reference then you want to watch the world burn
    Watching a film like The Magnificent Ambersons, as with most of Orson Welles' films post-Citizen Kane, incurs palpable sadness. Because the promise of what could potentially have been is so present in every frame that the entirety of the film becomes a specter of genius. I was hooked by the first few minutes of the film and my expectations soared as to what the remainder of the film had in store. The film though took a noticeable dive about halfway through and never managed to recuperate some of its former brilliance. Flaws and all, I loved The Magnificent Ambersons and appreciated it both for what it was and what it could have been.
    Welles' second feature film effort is adapted from the novel of the same name by Booth Tarkington. Young Isabel, of the revered Ambersons clan, rejects her beau Eugene Morgan due to his wild, crazy and embarrassing antics. She does so in favor of Wilbur Minafer. Isabel and Wilbur soon get married and bear one child, the spoiled and out-of-control George. Many years later, George returns home from college and a reception is held in his honor. At the party, he immediately falls for the new girl in town: the beguiling Lucy Morgan, who is none other than Eugene's daughter. Eugene has returned to Indianapolis after several years away as an inventor. He is currently working on automobiles, or horseless carriages as they are called in the film. George immediately disapproves of this, saying that he prefers things the way they are. He immediately grows a disliking for Eugene. From his aunt Fanny, Wilbur's sister, he discovers that his mother and Eugene have history together. When Wilbur dies, leaving the family no money in the process, Eugene begins to spend more and more time with Isabel, to both George and love-struck Fanny's disapproval. George is tested when he has to choose between protecting his mother's reputation and denying her her happiness with Eugene, and making peace and marrying lovely Lucy.

   This film features an amazing cast. Even Tim Holt in the unlikable role of George shows some admirable acting chops. The best of the best for me are Agnes Moorehead as Fanny Minafer, Ray Collins as Uncle Jack Amberson and surprisingly Anne Baxter as Lucy Morgan. Agnes plays the shrill Fanny to perfection, even going so far in territory that could have been categorized as overacting. Yet, she manages to ground her character in truth, making the viewer sympathize with Fanny's shortcomings. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is towards the end when the Ambersons have lost the financial security they once took for granted and Fanny loses her shit. I mean, she goes from sobbing to lamenting then to laughing maniacally and then back to crying. It's a heart palpitating moment when Agnes Moorehead reveals just how versatile she is as an actress. This is the same woman that played the wooden and long-suffering Mother Citizen Kane. Ray Collins provides a welcoming warmth in his role as Uncle Jack. And, though Agnes gave hands down the best performance in the film, it is Anne Baxter that manages to surprise me. What she does here is nothing extraordinary, but it is so different from her role as the backstabbing Eve in All About Eve; a performance I loathe to this day. But in The Magnificent Ambersons, Anne is natural and gives depth to her character who could be read as either a bland femme fatale or a dense high society girl. But, she manages to show us the complexities behind her Lucy, grinding down to the very bone to do so.
   The cinematography is a key component of the film as it most certainly sets the mood. In this way, The Magnificent Ambersons can be seen as Citizen Kane Jr. That is true for other aspects of the film such as the subtle soundtrack and the familiar performers. This film does differ from its predecessor in that Welles himself narrates the story. The man had a voice! And, as I mentioned, I loved the first half of the film because it felt so fresh and innovative. You had the townspeople commenting on the story and the characters as well, almost as if they were pointedly telling the camera.

Welles' short-lived snow motif
   As I said before, the film took a major dive after the first half. The rest becomes a disjointed mess. The editing is painful to watch, with several scenes abruptly cutting off into other scenes. It's not that those scenes do not add anything to the overarching story, because they do. It's that I feel that the story moves at too fast a pace in the second half. It's as if everybody involved in the production of the film were on payroll and would not be paid overtime so they tried to hightail the heck out of there. Everything feels so rushed that it becomes hard to ponder over the developing themes or find the characters grounded in reality. Of course, we all know the true story. RKO, the film's studio, decided to edit down the film from Welles' original version. More than 40 minutes of footage was removed. Welles was unable to intervene in time because he was all the way in Brazil working on another film prospect for RKO (this is a recurring pattern it seems for Welles). The footage of the excised scenes was destroyed, though a rough cut was sent to Welles. However, its whereabouts remain unknown to this day. To add pain to the injury, RKO made the assistant director film extra scenes for the movie, resulting in a "happy" and tacked-on ending. Another minor complaint that I had with the film is the small cast. I do understand that this couldn't be helped because it is after all an adaptation, but having such a small amount of characters makes the film feel too contained. I think the themes, especially that of incoming social change and loss of status, would have fared better with a bigger cast. After all, the title alludes to a bigger cast and more focus on the Ambersons' change of fortune. Instead, the romance aspect of the story gets more attention. But that's something that could understandably not be helped, so I won't hold it against the film.
  What The Magnificent Ambersons has is promise. The first half is brilliant and deserving of a 5-star rating. But the second half is just disappointing. It's like the film died halfway through and became a ghost for the remaining 40 minutes, floating whichever way with no concrete purpose or direction. Thus far, this to me is the worst Welles film and, even then, I still love it. I love it solely for those first 40 minutes. If you're a fan of Welles or Citizen Kane, then this film is a must-see.

Ludovico Rating

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

   I finally did it! I watched my very first Daniel Day-Lewis film and I was not disappointed. I get it now. I understand all of the praise he receives now. I understand why he stands as the only actor with three Best Actor Oscars under his belt. In There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis delivers one of the most powerful acting performances of all time. My main goal in watching the film was to at last see Daniel Day-Lewis act and I completely forgot said purpose once the film began rolling. Once in a while, my subconscious would kick in and shout that this was Day-Lewis onscreen, but its voice was drowned out by Day-Lewis' performance.
   In the film, Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, an oil driller who opens up his own oil drilling company after a lucky discovery in the mountains -- or hills. Onsite, one of his workers dies in a freak accident. Plainview then adopts the man's son and raises him as his own. During business prospects, Plainview cleverly presents the now 10-year old as his business partner. One day, Daniel Plainview is visited by a Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) who tells him that he knows of a place where Plainview could find oil. Plainview and his business associate (not his son) try to outwit the young man, but Paul is far too cunning and demands money before he reveals the location of the oil mines. After receiving the money, Paul Sunday reveals that the oil is located on his family's property. Plainview and his business partner (his son this time) travel to the property and ask the Sunday family to lodge there with their tents, under the pretense of hunting quail. An exploration of the field does reveal that there may be oil and Plainview offers to buy the plot from the Sunday family. However, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano again), Paul's twin brother, can see that Plainview is looking for oil and demands more money...for his church. What follows is a story that is nothing short of extraordinary. A man's greed and lust for success begin to eclipse his relationships with those around him and those who are closest to him and those who may even wish to know the true man within. He becomes more and more disconnected from the world around him, his entire being dedicated to finding oil and making a profit. A rivalry also erupts between him and the religious zealot Eli Sunday, culminating in one of the biggest showdowns in the history of anything ever.
    I cannot give enough praise to Day-Lewis' performance, but the film in its entirety also warrants just as much praise. The cinematography is simply gorgeous. The men covered in oil and mud, the explosions, the oil seeping through the ground, the light shafting down to the oil wells; all the visuals perfectly showcase the hard work and uncertainty involved in drilling oil, which makes Plainview's motivation that much more fascinating to the public. The other main performers also do a great job. Paul Dano, who usually annoys me, is ten times more annoying in this film. Yet, it works. You are supposed to loathe his character. In some strange way, it makes it easier for you to relate or root for Daniel Plainview, even though he's just as rotten as Eli Sunday. I think Paul Dano should have received more attention from this film because his performance is amazing. For that, I must give props to Paul Thomas Anderson's flawless direction. Anderson also gets a great performance out of Plainview's adopted son, H.W., played by Dillon Freasier. Russell Harvard plays the adult H.W. in what is to me the most heartbreaking scene in the film. The script is also a driving force in the film. With mediocre talents, the dialogue could have easily come across as over-the-top. The actors give their all to the script and become the characters. Their motivation is not to deliver great performances or to get award notice; but to drill oil and make a lot of dough; to understand their father and rise from his shadow; to become a respected leader and hide their true motives.
   Admittedly, at first, I did not like or maybe just did not get the ending of the film. Yet, after a night's sleep and some time to ponder the film over, I have to say that it was the best way to end the film. It's a way to show how a man has reached his final point of deterioration. Everything in the film was leading up to that moment and it is really one of the film's best and most iconic scenes. There Will Be Blood has confirmed for me that both Day-Lewis and Anderson are deserving of the praise showered upon them. I cannot wait to obtain some of their other titles. Oh, one final point. People often compare There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men. I can see the similarities in their themes and while I do love No Country more, the fact remains that these two films are two of the best that I have ever seen. They're probably pretty close now in my ranking. They are both films that I can see myself falling in love with more and more after rewatches. There is more to be discovered in both films, more treasures to be unlocked, more oil to be brought to the surface.

Ludovico Rating

Oh and this scene:
Day-Lewis is having none of your shit Dano
reminded me of this:
Batman is having none of your shit Robin

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944)


    I'm willing to admit that for somebody who loves movies as much as I do, I suffer from an unfortunate bout of attention deficiency. The catalogue for how many movies I haven't purposefully finished or fell asleep through is ever-growing. It is a flaw that I am still working on. Yet, I was able to recently sit through Ingmar Bergman's 5-hour long Fanny And Alexander.  So, sometimes I am not to blame, right? Sometimes, it just so happens that a film fails to captivate my mind. That is the case with Laura, seriously one of the most boring films I've ever come across. 
  I wished that Laura was just plainly a bad film, then I could have something to latch onto. But it is not so simple. I recognize its achievements. Its cinematography is impeccable and  it does boast one of the most beautiful sirens to ever grace the silver screen: Gene Tierney. However, for a film classified as a noir, nothing much really happens in Laura. The film opens up with a detective, Mark, making his rounds to question the suspects in the murder of Laura, a successful advertising exec. The suspects include Waldo, a famous newspaper columnist who took Laura under his wing; Laura's dallying fiance, Shelly; Laura's aunt Ann, who herself is involved with Shelly; and Bessie, Laura's housekeeper. Over time (really just two days), Detective Mark falls in love with Laura. He stays in her apartment one night, where he is greeted by the figure of Laura. Laura is revealed to be alive and well. She was not dead but away in the country to think over her upcoming marriage. Now, Mark has to figure out who the murder victim really is and who committed the heinous crime.
  I dozed off several times during the film, and only in the second half. I would be jolted awake and rewind to the last checkpoint. This film is a snooze-fest. Everything falls too neatly into place. The dialogue is crappy and too predictable. Furthermore, I didn't buy Mark falling in love with the supposedly-dead Laura for one goddamn second. Originally, this is what attracted me to the film as I found that aspect of the story fascinating. Falling in love with a dead woman? Movie gold! But Mark is played by the wooden Dana Andrews and his growing love for Laura is never properly registered. Heck, another character had to state that Mark was falling in love with a dead woman. Is this not a perfect example of a film telling but not showing? Plus, the twist happens about halfway through the film and nothing else following is able to top it or live up to it. For a noir film, there is no suspense, not even the ending which so desperately gives a feeble attempt at doing so. But Andrews is not the only lifeless character in the film. The villain is possibly one of the most obvious and laughable ones I've encountered in the noir realm. Thankfully, Gene Tierney brings a sweet warmth to Laura and Vincent Price provides some comic undertones to his character of Shelly. Even so, their characters are very one-dimensional. Yet, what frustrates me more in the film is how a detective, a man of the law would allow suspects in the case to wander around freely in the murder victim's apartment. And why the heck would you let it be revealed that Laura is alive and well to all of the suspects?It's absurd, really.
   I think fans of the noir genre will actually enjoy Laura. It has all the necessary noir archetypes. But I found neither humor, suspense, drama,  or romance in the film. Even the mystery aspect of the story is too shabby. Ultimately, I think Laura is an overrated film and I have no idea what makes it so revered even to this day. Laura, what are u doin'? Laura, stahp~

Ludovico Rating

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)

I loved von Trier's Melancholia, but had some reticence in checking out the rest of his films due to their renowned controversial subject matters. I'm not a fan of directors who try to challenge their audience just for the hell of it -- looking at you Godard. One of my friends lent me Dogville a few months ago (Sorry Trisha, I promise I'll return it soon) and I was hesitant to play it because it has so often been labelled as anti-American. What I have to say after viewing the film is that Dogville is simply put one of cinema's greatest treasures: a true diamond in the rough.
   The cast is pretty varied and hails from several different countries (ok fine, mainly the U.S. and Sweden). It also features some of my favorite actors: Nicole Kidman in the lead role, Stellan Skarsgard, Lauren Bacall, Harriet Andersson (my fave of them all), Zeljko Ivanek and Patricia Clarkson. Nicole Kidman stars as Grace, a woman on the run from the mob who, one night, ends up in the tiny village of Dogville. Tom, a writer in the village, proposes to help her hide, an offer she gladly takes. The next day, at a town hall meeting, Tom argues the case for the citizens of Dogville to hide Grace and allow her to remain at Dogville. She is given a two-week trial period. She tries to offer her help in order to get the people of Dogville to like her. Though initially unsuccessful, Grace soon feels welcome as the people of Dogville begin to accept her as one of their own. She even obtains her own house, a renovated mill, and continues to help everybody around town. But when the police continues to inquire about Grace's whereabouts and place posters asking for her return, the people of Dogville start to feel uneasy about lying to the police. This starts a chain of actions where several people use Grace's situation to their advantage. She, as do we, soon realizes that Dogville is far different from the humble small town she first thought and that evil lurks at every corner.
The set
   What is most outstanding about Dogville is the acting. Nicole Kidman delivers what, to me, is the best performance of her career and that's saying a lot since I think she gave one of the best acting performances of all time in Moulin Rouge.  Everybody else embodies their character and give great performances, including Paul Bettany as Tom and even Harriet Andersson in her small role as Gloria. It should be noted that the acting is given a lot of room due to the minimalist set. And by minimalist I mean the film is bare. There are no doors, the ground is chalked with indications of Dogville's building structures, and only a few erections here and there exist. It's as if we the audience are walking through an ongoing play.
   As far as the film being anti-American, most people focus on the closing credits which feature pictures of impoverished Americans of years past set to the David Bowie song Young Americans. Most of the negative criticisms state that von Trier had no right to give such a negative portrayal of America without having set foot there in the first place. Fair enough. But, as von Trier points out, Americans have been doing the same thing to other countries for decades (read: Casablanca). In my case, I can see the anti-American undertones, yet I don't think that is the main aim of the film. Dogville is an exploration of human nature and its revelation in the face of unwelcome change. It features an international cast, perhaps for that same purpose, to show that evil can form anywhere. The minimalist set is further testament to that. Heck, von Trier even manages to show us that evil can form in the audience, and I'm sure the audience is not solely American. I say that because as the film comes to a close, a strange part of yourself roots for the demise of the citizens of Dogville. Doesn't an eye for an eye make the whole world blind? Who cares? I have no shame to admit that I wanted to see these fuckers pay by the end. Revenge is part of human nature.
   von Trier has already delivered two of my favorite films of all time. Dogville is more than what any review can manage to say about it. As soon as I return the DVD to Trisha, I'll borrow some of her other von Trier titles. The man is a genius.

Ludovico Rating

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)

   Richard Linklater has now become one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. Dazed And Confused and Before Sunrise are both two of my most cherished films of all time. Before Sunset has certainly joined them in that very elite group. And I mean it is a group that features such gems as the widely-hated Marie Antoinette.
  The film picks up 9 years from where its prequel Before Sunrise left off. Jesse has been touring Europe promoting his best-selling novel, which is a recounting of the night he spent with Celine 9 years ago in Vienna. On the last leg of his tour, he finds himself in a Parisian bookstore when he runs into the woman that has haunted him for all those years. The two decide to grab a cup of coffee together and begin discussing the events of years past. They leave the cafe and explore Paris. Through both lies and soul bearing, Jesse and Celine realize how unhappy they are without each other, even with all of their professional success. They try not to focus on why they never met 6 months after their initial meeting as promised. Instead, they try to make the most of the little time Jesse has left before catching a flight back to the U.S.
   Admittedly, I loved this film a little less than the original. It took me longer to dive into Before Sunset as I felt it was becoming just a rehash of the first film, kind of like The Hangover and The Hangover 2. Yet, I found myself blinking in amazement when the credits began to roll. I have no idea when I became totally immersed into the film. It was involving. I feel like I've known these two characters all of my life. In the film, Jesse stated that he believes people don't really change as much as they would like to believe. I feel that this is especially true in regards to how the characters retain some of their original attributes despite their loss of hope and romanticism -- or perhaps their attempt to repress both emotions. The ending is just as ambiguous as the first's. Thus, I cannot wait to check out the related film Waking Life and this year's follow-up Before Midnight.
  Before Sunset is shorter and less fresh than Before Sunrise. Still, I maintain that this is one of the best sequels of all time in that it manages to live up to the standards set by the first film. Another fantastic film from Linklater.

Ludovico Rating

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cinematic Shame

 So, yeah, I failed to watch the necessary amount of films for February's installment of the 21 Years...21 Stars series. I watched Eastern Promises and La Vie En Rose (so only 2 films out of a necessary 8 films). Out of those 2 films, I only bothered to review one film: Eastern Promises (I can say though that La Vie En Rose is just a nice film but, much like Eastern Promises, it has a strong, central performance). The reason for this mediocrity is due to midterms, my school having early spring break (it starts next week, would you believe) and a lack of inspiration to actually blog about anything. Much of it I realize is because I prefer commenting on people's blogs rather than generating my own content. It's much funner, ok!
I think that instead of making the series a monthly thing where I have a limited amount of time to watch the featured stars' films, I'd rather make it a yearly thing where I have to watch ALL of the listed films for each star. Plus, I will then have the chance to add more stars to the list since there are several actors/actresses that could not make the cut before. I will be listing all of the films that I have to watch throughout the year from my favorite stars. Further announcements will come after spring break.
In the meantime, since I failed the series, I have to announce my biggest Cinematic Shame. 

I don't get all the praise, I didn't want him to be the first one to win a third Oscar for Best Actor, I know diddly squat about the man. Except that he's married to Arthur Miller's daughter and is an intense method actor. But seeing his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes and at the Oscars really warmed my heart. He's a charming fella, so it is a shame that I intend on rectifying. I plan on watching There Will Be Blood in the coming week, after my snowboarding trip of course.