Tuesday, April 29, 2008
"Kiss Me Deadly" is one of the most messed up movies I have ever seen. It involves a very dark protagonist, who gets entangled in the middle of a nuclear holocaust. This movie is pretty much as dark as they get - all the main characters are very selfishly driven, and it features the end of the world.
The protagonist is Mike Hammer, a private eye who works on divorce cases by providing evidence of a spouse's infidelity, mostly sleeping with the wife or having his assistant sleep with the husband. Clearly this line of work is itself very disreputable, and combined with his manipulation of his assistant by taking advantage of the fact that she has feelings for him, it is clearly established that Mike is even darker than your average Noir protagonist. Even when it seems like Mike is trying to redeem himself by investigating further into the death of Christina, we learn that he is doing it almost entirely in the hopes that there will be "something big".
Even the femme fatal is not your conventional type. In this movie, she seems far more deadly, especially since the audience has no idea of the extent of her evil until the last few scenes. The shift in characterization is so dramatic and extreme, which seems to amplify Velda's evil nature. I found it very disturbing how she could be mask her true self behind such an innocent and helpless facade.
And finally, the ending is the darkest part of the movie. Velda opens a box of radioactive material, which triggers a nuclear holocaust. It seems to be in response to the tensions of the cold war, as well as a reminder of what happened in the second world war. This very surreal and over the top ending makes "kiss me deadly" stand out among Film Noir titles, because the resulting effect has far worse implications.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
This unit really has opened my eyes. I had initially thought that romantic comedies were all lame cutesy chick flicks starring the shirtless Matthew Mcconaughey, which always resulted in the male and female lead happily together, only to really end up adding to the increasing divorce rate . But, after watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, I now have more respect or at least appreciation for the genre. In fact, I actually Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind quite meaningful. Those Matthew Mcconaughey should be ashamed for tarnishing the genre!
I think that the film questions whether we should just try to forget old mistakes, and just live in an artificial bliss-like world created within our minds that is oblivious of reality. I really like the film, because I think it poses such a direct question: if you had a memory erasing machine, would you use it? Obviously the most instinctive answer would be "no". However, personally, after I thought "no" in my mind, I started to question my instinct. We all have some humiliating experiences, and sometimes, you feel that life would just be better without them. The procedure in the movies would make life become dream-like and surreal, which in some cases would be akin to a state of intense joy (after all, isn't that why people drink alcohol, and take drugs?). The very notion of myself actually considering something like this seemed quite scary to me, but it's also why I think it is a good movie - it actually questioned the concept enough to make even consider it.
So, to me, the movie is very clearly against the idea of living in this false sense of reality. This is shown directly through Joel's actions. Although he opts to undergo the procedure, halfway through he ends up regretting it. This is when Joel is going through the good memories he has with Clementine that he realizes that he doesn't want to let go of the most intimate moments of his relationship with Clem. Also, at the end of the movie, Joel asks Clem to stay with him and weather the relationship regardless of their supposedly inevitable falling out later. I think the movie does imply that they will work the problems in the relationship, due to the desire to regain and actually keep the "good memories" from their previous relationships.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The movie Unforgiven, although featuring all of Clint Eastwoods insane amounts of rugged handsomeness, has a rather unconventional protagonist. throughout the film, Will is never has the certainty and conviction to get his bounty. He constantly has reluctance haunting him in the form of his dead wife, who he claims has healed him of his old problems. The movie doesn't establish that Will is undoubtedly justified. Throughout the movie, Will even constantly questions himself as to whether he should kill the two "criminals". The movie questions the old mythical and overly glorified conceptions of heroism in the West. Both of the "criminal's" deaths are not glorified at all. Eastwood portrays them both very realistically: dying in fear.
In fact, the showdown at the very end isn't even between Will and the criminals. The main antagonist is actually Bill, who spends most of the movie not even knowing about Will. It's only at the end of the movie, when Will has the showdown with Bill that they meet. And the funny thing is, Bill is actually the one that society views as respectable, and Will is the disreputable outlaw and killer. After the showdown, Will is undoubtedly shown to be the wrongdoer, but the audience doesn't sympathize at all with Bill; I was actually cheering Will on. I mean, the final showdown ultimately comes down to a battle of ruggedness and Bill honestly had nothing compared to Clint Eastwood.
Monday, March 10, 2008
It seems that every series spanning over more than two films in lengths suffers the same problem of just getting subsequently worse, with a few exceptions. The Alien saga is a prime example of this case, and perfectly exemplifies the studio's desire to squeeze as much money out of the business as possible - with an astounding five sequels made after the first Alien movie. However, by following that logic, one can draw the conclusion that Alien must be very good, which it is.
I admire the film as being one of the film to make science fiction a legitimate and respected film genre. The movie ties together the classic hardcore features from science fiction movies and the suspenseful and gruesome features from horror movies to form a very commercially and critically successful end product. Obviously, Alien is most remembered for its horrific depiction of a monstrous alien species (hence its name) which infests a crew member of the commercial space cruiser Nostromo. The alien then proceeds to kill the rest of the crew save one. Even after almost thirty years, I’m still surprised that the film was able to still seem so suspenseful and surprising at points. I will admit that there was a lot of the surprise was taken out due to some more obvious predictions, but that’s only due to the numerous films that follow Alien’s success formula. And, despite this, I was still very surprised and shocked at some moments.
But, I also think the longs shots of the ship’s interior and exterior in the beginning should get special mention. Although they were probably ignored by most people, I think the scenery shots really set in place the lonesome and isolated nature of the entire movie. The opening title credits, featuring a long pan out into the dead of space also does a great job of this. I found the long establishing shots very useful in orienting the viewer, and really putting the audience in place of the crew. This proved very useful in the later suspenseful scenes, when the alien slowly devoured each crew member of the Nostromo.
Although the idea of a killer slowly isolating and picking off a group of people one by one is not very original, Alien adds a fresh angle to the style through the use of an otherworldly alien that actually doesn’t seem that distant. The alien’s very unconventional birth is pioneering. It emphasizes the loneliness portrayed throughout the movie. Even though all the crew members were supposedly very close, alien’s ability to “fertilize” them made them very distant. As humans, we all try to be with the group, and stay away from isolation. But, the alien’s contamination of the crew shows that we are all very much alone, and not as secure as we might like to think. This also fits with the movie’s tag: “In space no one can hear you scream."
When compared to the sequels, I think Alien succeeds the most because it didn’t just focus on recreating the most popular aspects. I enjoyed the emphasis of the setting, especially since it was of a place so foreign to us, and I think that everyone should consider getting Alienated.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Pan's Labyrinth, by Guillermo del Toro, is a critique of fascism during the period after
The film is set in a remote district of Spain, where a force of Franco’s soldiers has been deployed to kill the rebels hiding in the district. It follows the exploits of a very imaginative Ofelia, who meets a faun in the middle of a labyrinth. She finds out from the faun that she is actually the daughter of the lord of the underworld, and that she must complete three tasks to be reunited with her father. These tasks supposedly take place in a fantasy world that only Ofelia can see, but the resulting outcomes of this fantasy world can be felt by anyone and everyone. The swipe transition of Ofelia crawling in the tree’s roots to soldiers riding in the forest shows in a technical manner that these parallel worlds are intertwined. And it is through these tasks that Ofelia rebels against the commander.
In the first task, Ofelia has to retrieve a key from a giant toad by feeding it three specific rocks. This toad living under the root of an old tree, and is the tree to slowly wither and die. The toad in this case could be symbolic of the fascists, and their infestation of another country. It symbolizes the slow decay of an economy and society.
The second task is to save her mother from being killed in child-birth by using a mandrake root. However, this is foiled by the commander, who views Ofelia’s mother purely as a way to give him a son and otherwise finds his wife expendable.
Even the third task, which is actually a test of Ofelia’s self sacrifice, shows that she would rather give up her chances of being “immortal” than hurt her brother, the act of which would essentially make her like the very person whom she abhors. Ofelia's very moral choice turns out to be the right one, and in her death , she is immortalized. The shot of Ofelia's death is especially interesting, because it is also the first shot. However, the first shot is Ofelia's death, but rewound at normal speed. The first shot is similar to the opening of Citizen Kane. The opening shot of Pan's labyrinth matches the character of the princess in the story told just after we see Ofelia's death in backwards motion. But, other than that, I don't see the reasoning in putting the last thing to chronologically happen as the opening of the movie - at least in Citizen Kane, it emphasized the enigma of Charles Foster Kane, and the difficult task of finding out about Rosebud.
Although Pan's Labyrinth shares some qualities of the classic fairy tale, the movie seems to more closely resemble a nightmare. The menacing nature of the faun and even the fairies is not at all reminiscent of the cutesy magical creatures embedded in our minds from numerous Disney movies. Additionally, each of the three tasks required of Ofelia had some grotesque aspect about it. But, this departure from traditional fairy-tale trends suits the film's serious message and keeps it seeming original. The nightmarish fantasy aspect of the film from the perspective of a little girl even emphasizes the purity and justness of the rebels’ cause.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I think the combination of fascist critique and creepy fairy-tale gives the movie a very new and fresh look. However, at some points, it was frustrating to see Ofelia make some bad decisions. An example is when she places the piece of “magic” chalk on the commander's desk. Not only does this make the commander suspicious, but it also destroys her fastest and most undetectable means of escape. If this hadn't have happened, Ofelia most like wouldn't have died. But, then again, if she had used the chalk to escape from the commander's room, he wouldn't have followed her and she wouldn't have fulfilled the "self sacrifice" part of her third task. So, I guess it did have some literary value, but it was still just frustrating to watch her just throw her magic chalk away.
Monday, February 11, 2008
When I first saw the trailer of Juno, my immediate intuition told me that it would just be some meaningless chick flick comedy. However, after learning of its nomination in the Best Picture category for the Oscars, my curiosity was immediately sparked. From the little knowledge I possessed of movies - since I only ever watched mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, and some anime films - I found it surprising for a comedy starring "Shadowcat" from X-men and Evan from Superbad to be nominated for the Best Picture award. But, since it had been nominated, I gullibly assumed that it must be a good movie, and I decided to see it.
It turns out that I was right. Juno was definitely not the kind of movie I expected to see.
So, for this assignment, I had to critique a critic. I don't really know any critics at all, so I chose the only source that I recognized to be "credible" on Metacritic, which comes in the form of A. O. Scott from the New York Times, which can be found here.
In the first fifteen minutes of the movie, I was becoming ever more convinced that the academy awards may have made a mistake about Juno. The jokes and sarcasm seemed very crude and full of innuendos - not that I have anything against that, but it just didn't seem Oscar material.
At first her sarcasm is bracing and also a bit jarring — “Hello, I’d like to procure a hasty abortion,” she says when she calls a women’s health clinic — but as “Juno” follows her from pregnancy test to delivery room (and hastily retreats from the prospect of abortion), it takes on surprising delicacy and emotional depth.But, this opinion started to change after Juno ran out of the abortion clinic. I felt that it portrayed a kind of seriousness and maturity that was different from the first ten minutes.
I then started to see how:
“Juno” ... respects the idiosyncrasies of its characters rather than exaggerating them or holding them up for ridicule. And like Juno herself, the film outgrows its own mannerisms and defenses.As the movie progressed, I noticed a dip in the sarcasm as the plot became more oriented towards Juno's emotions about having the baby and her feelings towards Paulie Bleaker. The initial heavy use of sarcasm from Juno seems to act as a kind of barrier, which is replaced, by a:
naïveté that peeks through her flippant, wised-up facade is essential, since part of the movie’s point is that Juno is not quite as smart or as capable as she thinks she is.But, although the humor and sarcasm may have initially seemed rather distracting, I do feel that it was a necessary part of the film.
The snappy one-liners are a brilliant distraction, Ms. Cody’s way of clearing your throat for the lump you’re likely to find there in the movie’s last scenes.
The contrast between serious and comedic aspects of the film is what made Juno entertaining as well as a touching. Juno's progression from being overly sarcastic to one of her final scenes lying on the hospital bed with Bleaker is a very unpredictable but also welcoming change.
So, in conclusion - stated by Scott, which I totally agree with - the underlying them is:
not anti-abortion but rather pro-adulthood. It follows its heroine — and by the end she has earned that title — on a twisty path toward responsibility and greater self-understanding.Although I didn't really critique the critic, I don't really think I could have very much anyway. I agree with what Scott has to say about "Juno", and I do believe it was a very good movie - enough to be Oscar worthy.