You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2010.

Ah, Metropolis, how I love this film.  And it only took the first time seeing it too.

Yes, my credibility as a film snob has dropped considerably since there are a lot of classics that I’ve yet to see, though there are certainly a few I’ve seen this year.  Citizen Kane (which I still need to write about), Breathless, and now this.  Plus, there’s a new 35-mm print of Orlando due out in August, so I’ll be catching that as well.

But, more importantly now, Metropolis.

I only had a basic understanding of the story over the years, mostly from my viewing of the anime version, which I learned at some point was only a loose adaptation of the original film.  The same underlying premise applied – the elites lived above ground in the city, the workers lived underground – though that being futuristic science fiction, humans lived above ground and robots toiled underneath.  Everything else was suitably changed, though there was a robot girl as well.

In Fritz Lang’s classic, this robot girl was undeniably crazy.  And she’s hardly the central figure in this thing too!

The plot, as I shall get around to at this point, centers around the city Metropolis, thought of by Joh Fredersen, and built and maintained by the working class citizens.  The elites live above and in luxury, while Fredersen and his son Freder (yes, Freder Fredersen is his full name) live in the Tower of Babel, the central structure of Metropolis – and marvelously introduced by Gottfried Huppertz bombastic score.  Freder, while chasing around women in a secluded garden, encounters Maria, a woman from the workers’ city with a host of young children.  He is immediately smitten, and rushes off into the city, where he sees the squalid conditions of the factories and also the deaths of several of the workers as a machine they work on explodes.  Freder, deeply upset by this, decides to try to improve their conditions.  He eventually learns from Maria, whom he encounters later, that he is the chosen mediator, who is destined to bring together the head and the hands by being the heart.

Being the first time I saw this (compared to probably other people who’ve seen it multiple times), I was completely riveted from start to finish, which was honestly a surprise.  My only experience before with a silent film was the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and while I was intrigued by the expressionist art in the film, I quickly grew bored and impatient and wondered when it would end.  The fact that the film was only 70 minutes long made it even worse (thinking now, I’ll probably have to watch it again, just to try and make sure any A.D.D. doesn’t kick in).  Metropolis, at least this cut, was twice as long, being the most complete cut ever found (only two, maybe three sequences, are still missing, guessing by how Kino placed the title cards in the film).

But I was genuinely surprised.  Being a silent film, there has to be a certain degree of over acting and dramatization to get the point across while waiting for the next dialogue exchange to occur, and the music has to be suitable and expansive enough to not get repetitive and boring.  Suffice to say, Metropolis accomplished that task.  Everyone was rather distinctive, with enough personality to care for just about everyone (including Dr. Rotwang, whom is somewhat humanized in his constant insanity).  I may have been on the end of my seat for the final showdown between Freder and Rotwang; I was that much into the film and was hoping that Freder would succeed in the end.

The real treat is the design of the movie.  This is full on German Expressionism (towards the latter end of the period anyway in the 1920s), though Lang apparently was influenced by the Art Deco movement as well with some of the designs.  Look at the Tower of Babel in the trailer (0:13 in).  Actually, check the trailer up until the reveal of the tower.  The look is fantastic, both in a futuristic way and a modernist (at least for that time period) way.  Even the set designs are inspired: the workers’ city is understandably dull (a reflection of their personality), but the factories is something else, being a curious mix of levers, pulleys, buttons, and pendulums all designed to keep the elites above comfortable, and the workers busy.  The clock like machine that Freder uses at one point is perhaps most curious of all: keep the arms on the lights, or else you don’t want to see what happens when that second hand winds up.  Its function doesn’t make sense, but its not supposed to, as even the workers don’t have a clue.  Everything needs to be continually operated.  The point is to make them look like their something important, which is done through the expressionist design.

There’s much more to talk about – the allegories, the multiple plot lines, the music – but I’ll leave it for you to see it all.  It’s not playing in Philadelphia any more (it only played for one week), but Kino is releasing it onto DVD in November.  Check it out, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, whether it’s the first time (like me), or the tenth time.

A

Advertisements

Welcome back Lisbeth Salander.  We sure missed you on your short trip away from the theaters.  I’m sure the trip could be coincided between your assistance in the missing person’s case with Mikael Blomkvist and your random travels around the world.  You haven’t missed much, but I’m sure you could be easily caught up.

But lo, you find yourself in another conundrum, this time being accused of a triple homicide that you may or may not have committed.  Your prints were on the weapon, after all, which was conveniently left in the stairwell for the police to find.  Your on again, off again girlfriend gets kidnapped for answers as well, and that doesn’t sit well with you at all.  Oh, and Blomkvist is trying to be your friend.  Not that you really care, since you can take care of yourself thank you very much.  It’s just a matter of involving people that upsets you and makes you be a one woman wrecking crew.

You remain, by far, the most interesting person in this little adventure, with your photographic memory and the suggestion of Asperger’s Syndrome adding to the enigma that you are.  The best hacker by far, though those skills that were impressive in your investigations last time around take a bit of a back seat.  You still hack, but not as much, since you seemed focused on saving your own neck and clearing your name.

Your adventure is a bit tighter this time around, more or less because you’re the one being chased and, also, doing the chasing.  Unfortunately, the chasers don’t have much of anything to work with personality wise, and the familiar cast don’t come through as much as well, including Blomkvist.  But then, this isn’t Blomkvist’s adventure this time, but yours Miss Salander.  Can’t really fault the guy, can you?

Your adventures are filled well enough, from your beginning escapades in the Caribbean to the mountainous regions of Sweden, which include a car chase, a boxing match show down between your personal boxing partner and a hulking blond giant who doesn’t feel pain, your own beat down of a couple thugs that was quite impressive indeed, and the final showdown between you, the blond giant, and… well, can’t give that secret away, can I?

Your adventures, at least to this viewer, were translated much better to the screen this time around than your previous adaptation.  Granted, the director had to cut out large sections of the story to make this fit in the 130 minute running time, but the argument could have been made that the second book could have stood to lose a hundred pages and it still would have worked.

But this is a movie review, not a book review, so let’s keep it at that.

In conclusion, since I really don’t have much else to say, it’s not as good as the first one, but it’s still serviceable, with a tight enough plot to keep things going and plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.  And, it has a character like Lisbeth Salander, who by far has no comparison to any other character that has come onto the screen this year.

There’s still one more adventure for you too, and I’m looking forward to that one as well.

B

Warning: due to the nature of this film, there may be spoilers.

Now then…

Usually by now I have some sort of idea as to what I can say about a particular movie, especially for the ones that I write a week late.  They’re easy enough to figure out and write about, noting their qualities and their short comings.

Christopher Nolan, sir, you’ve given everyone something to chew on.  Like that overcooked steak that’s impossible to chew, or, for a more vegetarian friendly example for myself, … erm, I really can’t say.

Anyway, this film has its markings in several genres.  It’s definitely science fiction, that’s for sure, but also has the neo-noir influence wrapped in it as well (the sci-fi noir, as some may go on and call this).  It’s a thriller, and one may consider it a heist thriller as well, at least that’s how the most recent trailers tried to play it as (successfully I might add).

There is no time or location setting: this film could take place right now or twenty years in the future.  Everyday architecture is used quite well, with Paris and the chase scene in Mombasa (filmed in Tangiers) being the best used.

But it’s the dreams everyone is wondering about.  The dream within a dream within a dream, and that’s the riddle, the maze.

In essence, that’s the allure of the film, trying to figure out the riddle.  I’m curious as to whether there is one – actually, the last shot is the biggest riddle, which I will refuse to discuss here – as the film is essentially a heist thriller.  The riddle – the dreams and more dreams – give the film its impressive depth.

There are two main plot threads, both involving the concept of “inception”, which involves planting something, primarily an idea or thought, within the dream to make someone believe that it was their own idea or thought.  Dom Cobb is the character central to both plots: he’s hired by Saito to plant an idea into the son and future owner of a rival energy corporation to disband the company before it becomes a true monopoly.  The other involves Dom’s wife, Mal, and I’ll leave that one at that.

For the main plot, Dom creates a team to help infiltrate the mind of Robert Fischer (the son): Arthur, the Point Man for all of his missions; Eames, the Forger, who assumes the identity of a person that the infiltrated knows; Ariande, the Architect, who is required to build the dreams, each one more elaborate than the next; and Yusuf, the Chemist, who has a chemical that allows the dreamers to stay asleep for a much longer period of time, with an unexpected payoff for anyone who “dies” within the dream.

As you can see, this film is filled to the brim with plot, which unfortunately sacrifices a lot of character development.  Everyone has some semblance of a personality, usually to make their required traits or skills.  Dom is the only one who gets a lot of development though, much in part due to the film being as much about him as it is about attempting to infiltrate a man’s dreams.  Because of this, he’s the only one we can really care for, even as we learn stuff about him and his wife, and what he ended up doing along the way.

The lack of character hurts the film only slightly, as this is a plot driven film from beginning to end.  It’s tightly wound as much as it can be, which, given the way the movie is as layered as the dreams are, is truly incredible to behold.  It’s not every day when you go to a movie like this one and be required to think.

Actually, I do it all the time (look at most of the indie movies I’ve seen this year), but it’s rare for a major studio release to give us something this thick and juicy to think about.  That’s probably what the science fiction genre allows for us to do is think, and to think in especially complicated ways, often about the meaning of life.  Inception gives us a little piece of that, throwing us into a world of dreams that may or may not be like ours.

It’s also an exciting action thriller, and as such, you can still switch your brain off enough to not have to think about everything and just enjoy it.  Seriously, this movie is almost impossible to beat: a deep thinking movie and an excellently filmed crime thriller to boot.

In all honesty, keep your brain on.  You’ll find that you’ll enjoy it much more if you allow yourself to ponder everything that the film throws at you.

Especially the last scene.

A-

Note: the score by Hans Zimmer is equally as impressive.  Listen to it at times and you find a hint of sci-fi noir in it as well, almost like the Vangelis score from Blade Runner.

The opening credits, actually, but it works.

The second of our Tuesday night doubleheader (which happened to be the third and final film I saw at QFest) was a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a street poet turned world renowned artist.  By 25 he was the greatest known of the Neo-expressionist art movement that launched in the 70s and 80s.  By 27 he was dead, as the fame he had crushed him under a weight of drugs and personal loss.

Parts of the documentary were culled from an interview conducted by Tamra Davis when Basquiat was 25, around 1986.  A personal friend asked him questions, revolving around his life from when he left home until that point in time, when everyone knew he was taking drugs, but did nothing to try and deter him.  He seemed calmed, collected, even though he hated the presence of the video camera in his face.  He was able to open up, especially when it came to questions about his family and how he was raised.

The rest of the documentary pulls various clips and interviews from varying sources.  Growing up in the late 70s/early 80s, Basquiat lived in the period in which the earliest forms of hip hop and new wave were crashing the scene.  He hung with the likes of Deborah Harry, Madonna (whom he dated at one point), Fab 5 Freddy, and Andy Warhol, whom he collaborated with on an art show that proved critically disastrous.  It was Warhol’s death, actually, that drove Basquiat deeper into drugs.

Of obvious curiosity is the artwork, which at first was a major head tilt.  My reaction early on was that of possibly the museum curators that rejected Basquiat’s artwork while he was still alive.  Where exactly does this fit as art?  As time went on though, the artwork got better, more creative, more personal.  Knowing the artist behind the painting helps to understand why the art takes its shape, and makes the audience more appreciative of the work.  With Basquiat, his artwork was childlike for a reason.  An anatomy book, Gray’s Anatomy, provided further inspiration.  The result became his legend.

The documentary is easy to follow and quite linear (Tamra Davis is a seasoned filmmaker).  As of right now, I’m not sure of any further release for the film, though it did make its debut at Sundance before showing up at QFest.  It’s worth a look whenever it does come around.

http://6140productions.com/

There’s an official trailer on the website.  Check it out.

Actually, here, youtube:

The first of a double bill that Liz and I did on Tuesday evening at QFest, The Four-Faced Liar definitely turned out much better than expected.  It’s a sort of romantic/dramatic comedy, set in the Greenwich Village section of New York City.  A couple, Molly and Greg, just moved into the city (well, the boyfriend did, the girlfriend’s been there for a while it seems), and head off to a bar, which is the title of the film.  There they run into Trip, his girlfriend Chloe, and Trip’s roommate, Bridget.  Both couples seem stable enough, though everyone has their own problems with commitment.  Still, the two couples and the fifth wheel (honestly, Bridget isn’t one, she’s just there to look for someone to sleep with) hit it off well, and they become fast friends.  Bridget and Molly bond over Emily Bronte, and soon find they have sexual tensions between them.  Bridget, never one to fall in love, seems to be doing just that, while Molly is finding herself drawn into Bridget while keeping her attraction a secret from Greg.

The surprising part of this movie is how well it deals with the normal cliches inherent in this genre.  The writing is tight, with snappy dialogue between the characters, and a proper enough build up for each of the characters to grow with each other and out of each other.  Greg, a country type guy, is too tight and controlling in the city, unsure of what to do but not wanting Molly to get away.  Molly is stuck between two worlds and doesn’t know how to tread both of them at once.  Bridget, once she figures out she’s falling in love, wants to reform herself in a way to make herself more appealing to Molly.  Trip has relationship issues of his own: he likes Chloe, but he has an inner urging to not want to be tied down.  He forgets anniversaries, play dates, etc., while also going after other women, often times in full view of Chloe.  Chloe is the only one I don’t seem to get, mainly because she really doesn’t have much to get: she somehow puts up with Trip’s tomfoolery when other women walk away, and she does in fact leave at one point, and for good.  She’s strong and independent, thankfully.

The film is nicely film as well.  Probably the best sequence occurs in the bar during New Year’s Eve.  Everyone is drinking, and the music is full blast.  The camera moves in close repeatedly, stuttering quickly and drifting slowly from one face to another, from one couple to the next.  Molly and Bridget constantly eye each other, avoiding the unknowing gaze of Greg but all too knowing gaze of Trip.  They play a quick game of “Never Have I Ever” (a mainstay throughout the film), and both reveal to each other a deep truth, a carnal urge.  Credit the actors for doing a great job with the sequence, but also Jacob Chase, the director.  This is his first full length feature, and he handled that sequence brilliantly.

After the viewing, the writer of the film, Marja Lewis Ryan (who plays Bridget) came out for a Q&A about the film.  It was rather insightful: four of the five actors (the actress who plays Chloe is the exception) all went to NYU together and graduated in 2006, becoming friends along the way.  Ryan originally wrote this as a one-act play and presented it in Los Angeles.  A producer suggested to her to make this into a feature length film, and that she did, expanding the cast from two central characters to five central characters.  She explained the troubles of getting filming permits and finding places to film for free to reduce costs (the film has an unlisted budget, though I imagine it was extremely small).  The outdoor shots and bar scenes were done in New York City, while the apartment scenes were built on a sound stage in California (Ryan joked: “Do you really think NYC apartments have enough space for what we wanted to do?”).

Luckily, and incredibly, for this film, the producers reached an agreement with several companies for DVD release rights, international release rights, and VOD release rights.  The DVD, Ryan told us, would be coming out in December, with the VOD release coming around the same time.  Take the time to check it out whenever it does.  The movie was a pleasant surprise.