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Interesting and often haunting documentary of an incomplete Nazi propaganda film, called the Ghetto, which sought to emphasize the difference between the rich Jew and the poor Jew.  An unknown fourth reel was discovered, filled with various outtakes of particular situations (a funeral procession, a diner scene, etc) that proved that the film was fake.  Apparently this was used as actual truth for a long time.  Survivors of the Warsaw ghetto were brought in to watch this film, showing their various reactions of seeing people they knew, but also their reactions of the Jews slowly deteriorating away into nothing, often just dying on the streets – with the Nazi film makers telling the people to just walk by without acknowledging the dead.  The final reel shows a mass burial grave, with both Jews and the Nazi film makers getting into the graves to pull the bodies down and to film everything that’s happening.  All of it is very disturbing, and just adds to the overall effect of the Nazi propaganda machine.

B+

The other day I wrote a blog about finding a sort of meaning in our existence with dogs. I do a little too much rambling, but essentially get to the point that the movie makes: companionship, in a way, helps define meaning in a meaningless life.  Dogs, in their strange and often but not quite innocent way, provide a sort of companionship.

I only highlight that because of a tiny bit I wrote about the film, which I’ll insert here (saving you from the aforementioned rambling):

I saw a movie the other day in the city, My Dog Tulip, which was about the author of the book with the same name, J.R. Ackerley, and the fifteen years he spent with his dog Tulip. It was fascinating to watch, primarily with the animation that brought to life a lot of the exploits of Ackerley and Tulip. It was often times humorous, but also touching and heartwarming at times. The narration was taken directly from the book, so it gives us a hint as to how Ackerley wrote.

I subsequently added the non-fiction work to my Amazon wish list.

The trailer shows the animation used.  The style – paperless hand drawn animation – will obviously turn people off.  I enjoyed it a lot, especially when the animation breaks down into sequences that explain Tulip’s certain “charms”, like when she goes to the bathroom, what she goes to the bathroom on, and her various sexual escapades.  It’s adult humor, pure and simple, and it’s a riot at times.

There was another dog movie that came out a couple years back that I never got the chance to see (the one with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) that I can make a comparison to.  I remember a lot of the reviews stating that there really is no plot, or no conflict, but rather just what happens when you have a dog and watch one grow (and eventually die).  I think you can get away without having a conflict in this movie.  Actually, I digress, as there is a continual conflict between Ackerley and Tulip, as one tries to understand the other, and the misadventures a dog can cause to an old man who doesn’t understand just what a dog thinks.  The Wilson/Aniston movie probably does the same thing (I remember a part in the trailer where the dog decides to walk himself while the couple is driving the car).

I will admit, I’ve never been much of a dog person.  In the last year though, that’s somehow changed.  My dad owns two dogs: Tonka, an Akita, and Tyco, an Elk Hound.  Tyco is the one that gets to you quicker.  He has this perpetual smile that never leaves his face, and he listens to you.  Tonka is sort of grumpy and never listens (and I mean never listens), but that is the nature of Akitas.  I think what I’ve discovered the past year is how they’ve grown on me, and I on them.

It makes me appreciate this movie a little bit more, understand the trials one has to go through in trying to understand a dog, and sometimes never really knowing what it is until you just stare into their eyes and say “Oh, is that what you wanted all along?”

Then again, that never does happen.  Dogs are a pain in the butt, but at least they provide unwavering companionship.

A

Despite being the cinemaphile that I am, up until this point, I had never seen a movie that blurred the line between art and porn (or, for that matter, artsy and pretentious). For what it’s worth, this is a legit film, with a distinct plot line that supersedes the more shady elements of the film.

The film itself presents a contemplation of our existence when we die, something that the director, Gasper Noe, has wanted to tackle for years. He bases this story around the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an actual book (Wikipedia says it is, so I have to trust them on that). The short form of the book goes like this: when we die, we’re left to contemplate life as ghosts, both our whole life and the life that continues without us until such a time in which we become reincarnated in a new life, of which we do not know if it’s a new one or the same one all over again. It sounds depressing, and the main character, Oscar, remarks as such. This is, of course, what he says before he dies and becomes just that: a ghost that relives his life and the lives of those around him.

Just to note, both the trailer and the opening 30 minutes of the film explains the plot of the entire movie. I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything here when everything else has already done so.

Carrying on. Oscar, a drug dealer and recreational user of the same drugs, goes to the bar called The Void (there’s a neon light across from his Tokyo apartment which reads “Enter”, hence completing the title and adding emphasis to the plot), where he meets with a fellow drug dealer Victor. He mutters “Sorry” before cops come busting in. Oscar escapes to the bathroom, claims he has a gun to buy himself some time, but is shot and killed. From there he becomes a ghost, flying around the immediate aftermath of his death before entering into the past and reliving his life until his point of death.

Visually, the movie is incredible.  Tokyo, both the actual city and the various model sets they used to help in creating the city during some of the ghost sequences, is appropriately – and overly – bright and alive, with neon signs, tall modern buildings, and crowded streets during the night.  The city is as alive as the film is, and credit to the film makers for making Tokyo look that way.  Some of the special effects are good, given the small budget.  The CGI used in the beginning drug sequence works in creating the illusion of being stoned or high.

Story wise, the film is generally hit or miss.  The best part is during the flashback, when Oscar’s ghost goes back in time to when he was young and giving depth to all of the characters.  His parents died when he was young, with all four of them being part of a car accident.  Oscar and Linda were split up after that, sent to different foster homes, and not reunited again until she arrives in Tokyo after he pays for her ticket.  This was after he began his downward spiral into drug dealing and drug taking, and he eventually brings his sister into that world as well, introducing her to ecstasy and getting her completely bombed during one evening.  She works as a stripper after that night, and brother and sister go at each other over their respective lives (she hates his dealing, he hates her boss and boyfriend).  Oscar is trying to be the protective brother (they made a pact when they were young), but is confounded by some of the decisions he makes, one of which involves sleeping with Victor’s mother, and the fall out from that leads to Oscar’s death.

The final third of the film, after the flashback, is exceedingly boring.  The ghost flies around everywhere, visiting people as they move on from his death.  Everything is apparently vital to the movie, but it just drags, almost to the point where I started wondering what the point was (which I realized occurred at the end).  Two or three people walked out during this last third of the film (about a third of the people who showed up for the daytime showing), and I was close to joining them as well (and this was the closest I came to walking out of a movie since Greenberg earlier this year), especially in the last 10-15 minutes, which included a continual flyby of un-simulated sex acts and general debauchery, all wrapping up with a computerized orgasm.

This made me wonder about the dilemma introduced above.  The movie walks the line very finely, especially at the very end, but for the most part, it tries to present itself as art and does so successfully.  The camera work is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Oscar is only seen twice really: when he looks at himself in the mirror and when he’s dead, and his ghost just stares at him before he goes off into the word.  The opening thirty minutes is actually a view from his eyes, complete with realistic eye blinking.  Nothing filmed is nauseating though, which is a plus.  The flashbacks, which has the ghost behind Oscar’s head, creates a sort of detachment, somehow emphasizing the ghost’s dilemma.  All in all, the camera work is great.

But those last fifteen minutes are definitely pretentious.  I don’t think Noe is out to shock people (apparently he’s done that before with previous movies), but he wants to tell his story, and he wants the freedom to do so, without anyone prohibiting him from doing so.  He succeeds for the most part.  I applaud him for the work.

B-

There’s something exhilarating about Mark Zuckenburg, or at least how Jesse Eisenberg, and how he goes about his everyday life.  The first twenty-odd minutes of the film is everything you would expect in a damn near perfect movie: fast paced, snappy dialogue, and a edge of your seat thrill ride, which is all the more amazing since that last part actually takes place mainly in the dormitories of Harvard University.  Mark discusses life with Erica, his soon to be ex-girlfriend, and the subsequent breakup results in Mark creating a online program called FaceMash, which allows the users to pick the “hotter” of two faces that are flashed on the screen.  He creates this program in only a few hours – drunk – blogs about everything that night while writing this program – mostly about Erica and his thoughts on her family – and crashes the Harvard network because of the amount of traffic generated by this website.  He comes off as a gifted genius and an asshole, though both may or may not be attributed to a suggestion of Asperger’s Syndrome, given his specialty in computer coding and his inability to effectively engage in basic human interaction.

After the fallout of FaceMash, he’s introduced to the Winklevoss twins, who wants to launch a social network within Harvard but needs a computer programmer to assist.  Zuckenberg agrees, then meets with Eduardo (who provided the algorithm needed for for FaceMash) to create their own social networking website called The Facebook.  It launches and expands, while the Winklevoss’ fume quietly (they eventually sue when Facebook reaches Britain, which happens to arrive at the same time they’re there for a rowing competition).

Eduardo wants advertising to help pay for the website, but Mark wants to keep it “cool”, and finds an unexpected ally in Sean Parker (the creator of Napster, played by Justin Timberlake, excellent), who introduces Mark to the high life on the West Coast: parties, women, drugs and lots of money.  Mark seems unaffected by it: we’re repeatedly told that he has no interest in money, and that he would rather spend time just writing code for the website.  That may be part of the reason why he doesn’t seem to understand that it was Parker who got himself a greater share of Facebook while reducing Eduardo to almost nothing (Eduardo is the other party the sues).

Much of the narrative is driven by the two court proceedings, which helps clarify the movie and brings order to the madness of the launch of Facebook.  Nothing is boring though, especially the meetings between opposing parties: the dialogue just flows, with one witticism after another.  Not everyone necessarily talks that fast or that snappy – it may just be a result of the current generation and the speed at which it moves through life – but it works, and it’s a joy to see such interplays happen that marvelously.

A great movie, one that actually lives up to the hype and should be viewed by everyone, or at least everyone of the 18-34 generation.

Or, well, just everyone.

A-

Wow, the Americans didn’t screw up for once!

But first, a public service announcement.  I really didn’t see this as a “remake” (and won’t characterize it as such).  They didn’t remake the original film, from what I’ve read.  Rather, and according to the ending credits, it was adapted from both the novel Let the Right One In and the screenplay for the movie.  Now, if they instead had “adapted from the film”, then we’d be more into remake territory.

Now, I won’t repeat much here, since a lot of stuff I covered was already discussed in the previous review, for Let The Right One In.  Once again it’s up to the lead actors to pull off the isolation of their respective characters (changed from Oskar and Eli to Owen and Abby, respectively), and they manage it quite well.  Kodi Smit-McPhee is becoming quite a good actor, both from this and what I saw of him in The Road late last year (which I think I’ll rent and write about in full length).  Chloe Moretz (she dropped the “Grace” apparently, but I’m sticking with the full name for tagging purposes) is proving to be a dominant child actor, given this role and her brilliant performance from Kick Ass earlier this year.  Richard Jenkins plays the father figure for Abby exactly as it should be played: a tired old man nearing the end of his life, pondering his existence as a caregiver for a vampire.  His role is quite haunting.

There are some changes that do work out for the film: the setting was moved to a snow covered 1980s New Mexico.  Some of the backing characters are removed or muted, with a police detective playing a central role in investigating the death of a former high school student.  The creepiness is still there – the film is beautifully shot, and the music adds to the atmosphere.  Probably the best sequence is during the second botched attempt of the father trying to get blood for Abby: he escapes with a victim in a stolen car, driving backwards and twisting around before being hit and careened off the side of a highway.  It lasts about 40 seconds or so, but the seemingly single take of this sequence – all from the back seat of the car – was very impressive.  That said, some of the special effects are downright horrible, mostly involving two of Abby’s kills (almost reaching the unintentional hilarity of the cat scene in Let The Right One In).

In the end, it comes down to whether the film needed an American version.  Probably not – the overall message of isolation, bullying and anti-bullying, and issues of existence doesn’t change – but it is made competently, and hopefully will let Americans to go out and search the sources of this movie, mainly the book and the Swedish film.

B+