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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thor (2011)

Thor                                                                                        April 24th 2011

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Starring: Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), and Tom Hiddleston (Loki)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Chris Hemsworth is Thor

There is no doubt that Thor will be serviceable entertainment to the majority. I can’t help but focus on the inconsistencies of Thor. My ambivalence towards Thor may stem from the fact it overdramatises many scenes yet focuses on satirising its own nature, this combination is not cohesive. The satisfying scenes signify that the film is self-aware, it winks at the audience as it satirizes its own preposterous nature. In one scene Thor drinks a mug of coffee and proclaims “This Drink, I like it! Another!” to evince his enjoyment and request he crushes the mug into his fist and drops it oblivious to what we realise is socially unacceptable behaviour. It is funny because it is a conflict of cultures, as though an oppressive monarch of a bygone era. We as the viewer laugh, as we realise that his complacent communicative methods are not suited to the proprieties of society.

Thor focuses on its eponymous character and his endeavours to vanquish his brother and rival, Loki (Tom Hiddleson). Odin banishes Thor from Asgard out of righteous fury and Thor is left on Earth as a mortal. He meets Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) who decide to assume responsibility for him. He claims he can answer their questions of the Bifrost bridge and other mysteries of the universe. He inevitably will defeat Loki in the third act during a intense battle. Jane is fascinated by his idiosyncratic antics and awkward social ineptitude. He gradually adapts to western society although the majority of humour is derived from his inability to do so. There is an amusing scene in which Thor proclaims formidably “I Need Sustenance!” the physicians raise their eyebrows with contempt for Thor and his transparent methods of being formidable. Such dialogue would often be delivered by professional wrestlers rather than human beings. I find it refreshing to find a popcorn film that subversively criticises the poorly written dialogue of fantasy/action films in which it is commonplace for characters to deliver artificial and pretentious dialogue.

Why Thor is unsatisfying for the most part results from the fact that the characters are paradoxically discharging artificial dialogue of no interest whatsoever which is hypocritical on the film’s part. The dramatic sensibilities are difficult to take seriously, it stubbornly adheres to a familiar action formula consisting of an explanation of a supernatural entity, loud boisterous action and an endeavour to earth. It is as complacent as its protagonist whose jingoistic concern with bloodlust becomes a concern with humanity. If only the film’s had changed as the character did and became more concerned with human characters rather than thin caricatures. Can one comment on the performances in such a film? The Dialogue does preclude any credibility of the actors, but to watch such a film one must suspend their disbelief. Because the material contains little emotion, the actors are not emotive and do not raise the film’s quality.

Perhaps Kenneth Branagh was incorrectly cast as director. Branagh whose previous films include adaptations of Henry V and Hamlet can direct great Shakespeare but his area of expertise does not lie in directing entertainment but drama. Branagh utilises these Shakespearian archetypes and directs a story similar to King Lear in a mythological setting. His use of the Dutch angle becomes nauseating and serves no purpose, he often uses it to introduce a scene when it is not required. The screenplay is as insipid as Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare adaptations are brilliant, its intention is to propel its plot rather than focus on personalities.

There have been three prominent forms of comic book adaptations in recent years: The comic book adaptation that aspires to be entertainment, the ambitious comic adaptation that focuses on the implications of such powers and the comic book adaptation that attempts to focus on character but is ultimately relies on superficial affectations. It sporadically entertains yet it remains cold and distant. I admire its intentions and it can be charming and entertaining but I tire of films that contain action sequences that are loud, boisterous and unpleasant and yearn for the fun lunacy of films that don’t take themselves seriously. Thor may be fun, and I suspect many will believe so, but Thor lacks a soul and that is where the film’s flaws lie.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Classic Films: Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Sunday, Bloody Sunday                                                                     March 4, 2011
MPAA Rating: R
Suggested Rating: R for Adult Themes, Nudity and Sexuality
Distributed by United Artists
Starring: Peter Finch (Dr. Daniel Hirsch), Glenda Jackson (Alex Greville), Murray Head (Bob Elkin)
Directed by John Schlesinger

“When you're at school and you want to quit, people say 'You're going to hate it out in the world.' Well, I didn't believe them and I was right. When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to be grown up, and they said 'Childhood is the best time of your life.' Well, it wasn't. And now, I want his company and they say, 'What's half a loaf? You're well shot of him'; and I say 'I know that... but I miss him, that's all' and they say 'He never made you happy' and I say 'But I am happy, apart from missing him. You might throw me a pill or two for my cough.' All my life, I've been looking for somebody courageous, resourceful. He's not it... but something. We were something. I only came about my cough.” – Dr. Daniel Hirsch.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday exists within a state of stagnancy, it addresses the issues of the end of conservative principles, and the beginning of liberalism, yet these people are indecisive and anxious in whether they should adhere to their older principles of bourgeois culture or whether to embrace their new social identity to the extent of which their identity entails. Paradoxically, it causes the two protagonists on which this film centres to question the radical principles which encouraged individualism and questioning. It is about the inevitability of change and the gradual acceptance of this.
 ‘Can you feel anything?’ Dr. Daniel Hirsch asks a patient of his, by the end of this film he is asking himself this question, I believe this quote addresses the characters and their conflicts. The scene begins as Dr. Daniel Hirsch (Peter Finch) is pushing down on the stomach of his patient in order to detect his area of pain; the exposed human flesh is a key component in this film, it corresponds with the the fallibility, or perhaps the vulnerability of the human condition, particularly that in the characters. Ultimately Sunday always felt like a missed opportunity. One can never do anything on a Sunday except for contemplate and reflect upon their day lamenting what could have been. This is a parallel of the characters depicted in this film, whose lives have ultimately served no purpose, they question why they had invested time into such a lost cause and all they can do to alleviate the pain is reflect upon their lives.
Britain is in the thrall of an economic crisis, during this and their isolation middle-class citizens Daniel Hirsch and Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) find solace in their lover Bob Elkin (Murray Head) whose preoccupation with his bourgeoning career causes a distance between he and his lovers. When he interchanges between them they embrace him and aver their love towards him ‘I love you’ they both say to him. Yet, they are both aware of the existence of the other lover, lest Bob leaves them; they don’t seem to mind because he accommodates them with his presence. Daniel and Alex have personal conflicts, from which they are able to escape when Bob visits them. Bob frequently speaks about the possibility of leaving Britain and moving to New York for the purpose of selling a product, they realise their generational gap and the difference between their principles.
Bob exhibits indifference towards middle-class principles; he cannot stand children and leaves Alex at home to care for their good friend’s children, as they were assuming responsibility for them when their friends were absent, Bob left and decided to spend time with Daniel. Alex and Bob later quarrel over this incident.
“Don’t come to me like a possessive wife!” Bob exclaims, Well, I wouldn't if you hadn't left me with five children and a dog!” Alex responds bitterly. “Look, I know you feel you're not getting enough of me, but you're getting all there is.” Bob explains, Alex responds with “Well, you're spreading yourself a little thin, aren't you?”. Bob had been preoccupied with his bourgeoning career than contact with his lovers, she is bitter due to this. She is educated and possesses a piercing intellect and yet, she is unable to form meaningful relationships with others. In one scene when Bob is not present she sleeps with a man who is a client of hers, for the purpose of making contact with someone, anyone, out of sheer desperation.
John Schlesinger does not condemn these characters, he perceptively observes these characters and their conflicts with a sympathetic eye, their conflicts are caused by being inhabited by a social stigma. Alex is 35 years of age and has not yet married due to her inability to form relationships. Daniel is also middle aged and also not yet married, although this is due to his homosexuality, his attitude towards his sexuality is nonchalant and yet he has not informed his family of this, who pressure him into meeting women regardless of his indifference.
This film depicts the aftermath of the counter culture of the 1960s. These people are uncertain of the direction in which their lives are headed, they question the purpose of their own revolution and why they had invested time into it. What did happen to the children of the sexual revolution? They grew up, and now must decide whether to adhere to their previously established principles or adhere to the new radical principles towards which they were previously confident.
Bob chooses his career over his relationships with these two isolated individuals, why do we choose to be with someone for the remaining years of our lives? Because without human contact and relationships, we’re ultimately an indistinct memory in the minds of others, of as much value as 100 kilograms of meat. These characters were not in love with Bob but the notion of being in love, they yearned for a greater purpose and fulfilling relationship with someone was close. Inevitably, he was a lost cause. Daniel and Alex now exist within a indeterminate state, existing but not living, and they all must re-evaluate their subjective definition of the word ‘love’ and accept the inevitable.
They had planned the weekend with ambition and yet we always seem to land on Sunday, the inevitably unsatisfying.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Classic Films: No Country for Old Men (2007)

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Violence and some language

Distributed by Paramount Vantage, Miramax Films

Starring: Josh Brolin (Llewellyn Moss), Javier Bardem (Anton Chiguah), Tommy Lee Jones (Sherriff Ed Thomas Bell)

Produced, Written and Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

On the tenuous border between America and Mexico lies a tenuous line between order and chaos. The Coen Brothers paint an impeccably gritty and foreboding thriller. The Two Central characters Llewellyn Moss and Anton Chuguah are never captured in the same frame on camera, evidently there is one scene in which they were both present although I won’t divulge the particular scene, for those who have already viewed this film, they can infer from what I have revealed already.

Perhaps I use the term thriller loosely. No Country for Old Men is not a thriller in genre, it is an example of transcending genre conventions and an intricate examination into the nature of human instincts which are analogous to that of animals. Survival is often vital in harsh habitats of prevalent crime as at the border between Mexico and America, the tension between these two parties is often relentless. The land is barren and inhospitable, mountain shadows cast over the land bearing sanctuary from the intensity of the sun’s rays, such an uninhabitable area with very few examples of life present. The decent moral man is now the endangered species at the mercy of other predators.

This Film is narrated by Ed Thomas Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), a Texan Sherriff from a long family line of Sheriffs, he represents a wise observer of this event. He often compares himself to those who preceded him with admiration.

The film’s villain is Anton Chiguah (Javier Bardem), a sociopathic bounty hunter, if the eyes are the windows to the soul, then what do Chiguah’s eyes contain?... Emptyness.
In the beginning in order to locate a means of transport that isn’t conspicuous, in a police car Chiguah has a man pull over and exit his car, ‘Could you hold still please,… sir’, Chiguah’s voice inhabits a calm equanimity, he subsequently shoots the aforementioned with a captive bolt pistol and enters the car using it as a means of transportation. What is astonishing about this character is that he murders casually and without remorse and to the extent of his actions.

The Protagonist, Llewellyn Moss (Josh Brolin), is depicted as the film’s decent man who abides by the law; an everyman, if you will. The first scene in which he is present, he is hunting pronghorn. This demonstrates a similarity between Chiguah and Moss, they’re both meticulous hunters, although Moss treats it as a sport and for Chiguah it is a career. Moss misses the pronghorn however he does wound it severely before it dies of exsanguination. Moss feels remorse for allowing the deer to suffer. He discovers a scene of a drug deal which has resulted violently and decides to seize a briefcase containing Two Million Dollars. What results is a wave of violence that consumes everyone in its wrath; no character emerges unscathed, not physically nor psychologically. The film’s visuals supplement its themes in that it evokes an intense barren atmosphere not evoked since Sam Peckinpah’s violent homage to the Wild West: The Wild Bunch (1969).

There are long intervals without dialogue; this complements such aspects of the film as Chiguah’s character, whose inability to communicate results in violence, his inability to communicate is somewhat ironic as he is one of the very few characters contained in this film who speaks in a manner which is grammatically correct, I could not help but to make that observation. Chiguah’s vacant demeanour and unfathomable nihilistic philosophy propel him to commit acts of unspeakable violence. For instance, when a gas station attendant attempts to initiate a light conversation, Chiguah responds with unwarranted hostility and skepticism, as though he is threatened and thus decides to use relentless defence mechanisms in order to survive. The gas station attendant is an old man past his prime, Chiguah uses this to his advantage and asserts his alpha-male dominance, this scene doesn’t spoon-fed the audience but perceptively observes the character’s conversation as a natural wildlife documentary would perceptively observe the natural instincts of the animals, save the narration. The gas station attendant was seconds before death and the noise of Chiguah releasing the plastic packaging and slowly expanding would be enough to send chills down the most desensitised person’s spine. 

Chiguah’s relentlessness leaves instinct as the only viable means of escape, which all animals rely on when predators are at the pursuit of their prey. Sherriff Bell’s only response to this confluence of unfortunate events is bewilderment and incredulity and the revelation of failure. The Poem from which the film’s title is derived is titled ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ by William Butler Yeats. I have read the poem on Wikipedia, the title is contained in first sentence of the first stanza, the aforementioned excerpt is as follows:

‘There is no country for old men. The young in each other’s arms, birds in the trees ---- Those dying generations---- at their song.’

‘No country for old men’ refers to the natural world, in which the characters in this film inhabit. 

Ultimately Sherriff Bell questions why such a catastrophic event occurred, he questions his principles as a decent moral man and questions the principles, or the lack thereof, instilled in Chiguah. Sometimes we have to accept the bitter truth which is that we can’t stop what’s comin’. 

Classic Films: Up in the Air (2009)

MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Staring: George Clooney (Ryan Bingham), Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), Vera Famiga (Alex Goran)

Directed, Co-written and Produced by Jason Reitman

Editor’s Note: *There Will Be Spoilers*

What a delightful film this is. At last a Hollywood film which doesn’t rely on paper thin caricatures, nor computer generated effects; but human beings, something that Hollywood has forgotten about in recent years. It defines our era because it can be looked at in the context of our current economic state, which is probably why Paramount financed the project. But it will be constantly relevant because of its acute observation of human nature, not only for our generation - during the United States ‘wintery economic climate’ but something that can be reflected on retrospectively without being specifically about our era.

My sister taught me something about human relationships while she lived with me. Our idealogies often conflicted, she is a Chirstian, and I, a secular humanist. Living under the same roof for over two years was often, pardon the pun, a living hell when she and I had tempestuous religious discussions. I viewed this film in early 2010 on a Tuesday night and it had enlightened and filled me with both despair and joy simultainously. Quite ironic considering the contrast between those aforementioned emotions with which this film filled me, and that is the message of this film: Philosophies to which we adhere in life and how they affect our goals and prospects, and most notably, how they affect our relationships.

This film tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), an isolated carefree man whose prospects follow frequent flyer miles as he boards aircrafts in order to carry out his job, a corporate down-sizer. He lives with the philosophy that relationships, and in turn the Amercian Dream, weigh down the personal ability and potential of an individual therefore believing that relationships and families are a liability. He also delivers motivational speeches which encourages and reinforces his philosophy. During the film’s timeline, Bingham begins a casual relationship with Alex (Vera Farmiga). Until Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a young ambitious, albeit naive and quixotic, recently hired graduate arrives Bingham is relaxed in regards to his life choices and takes pleasure in his perpetual travel and lack of relationships. Natalie proposes a revolutionary idea which will reduce flight costs. Downsizing via Videoconference, Bingham finds this insensative means of technolagy threatening to his life style, and argues that Keener does not have the longevity nor the prescience to suggest such an insensative technique. Ryan’s Boss (Jason Bateman) decides to assign Ryan to the task of having her accompany him on his last bout of downsizing. He doesn’t revel in the prospect of firing someone, everybody likes to feel needed. Bingham does and the notion of being serviceable fulfills him. He doesn’t dare to contemplate having a wife nor a family, as that is what any normal person does when they want to feel needed and fulfilled. His job is to warmly console those who he fires into feeling needed. In a scene with J.K. Simmonds (Who protrayed Juno’s father in Jason Reitman’s previous film Juno (2007)) Keener distantly attempts to console him mechanically, stating that children who endure moderate trauma apply themselves academically as a defense mechanisim. After a brutal retort, Ryan attempts to console him by advising him to pursue what satisfiys him, thereby ensuring his fulfillment and happiness. Bingham may distance himself but sinceraly understands human nature, Keener learns to find herself during the peroid with Bingham and becomes carreer-orientated and, as Bingham had suggested, pursues what satisfies her, she also becomes disinlusioned in relationships. Keener could have been Bingham 10 years earlier, before he had realised his prospects.

Up in the air is a contemporary screwball comedy cast with such precision when George Clooney and Vera Farmiga exchange their witticisms you will just want to smile with glee, reminiscent of a contemporary Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Natalie is incredulous when Bingham tells her that he doesn’t wish for a family nor children. Alex, a woman of the feminist generation, when speaking about her ideal man utters the comment ‘I want him to make more than I do.’ She wishes for freedom and independence from the dominance of males and yet she wants a disposable income?

Field containing Spoilers:

These values all differ; the concept of biology is raised, because a mere egg is produced per month, females seem to differ from men biologically and ideologically, sperm is disposable, enabling men to have more freedom and partners, whereas females seem to prefer commitment. I may be generalizing although this is based on the characters in the film and not the general populous opinions. Neither Keener nor Bingham can fathom one another’s ideology. Alex and Bingham are so compatible because they’re identical, and yet as he becomes attached to her and accustomed to the idea of commitment he discovers that she has a family. Bingham is distraught when she delivers the line ‘You’re an escape from reality, a parenthesis’. Bingham realises the futility of his values, as seen from another perspective. His sister is marrying a fool, and yet she seems satisfied, another sister’s marriage has ended and plans to progress through life alone for the remainder of her days.

End of Field containing Spoilers.

Is this the end or the beginning of an era? I believe this film is the Best Film released in 2009. Ask another and they may believe it is the worst. Bingham is reminded why he maintains his life style, and now he is doomed to live ‘Up In The Air’, living in the moment.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Black Swan (2010)


Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures

Starring: Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Winona Ryder (Beth Macintyre)

Duration: 108 Minutes

MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language and some drug use 

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky loves to descend into dark psychological depths in order to tell a compelling and bold story about human suffering. Black Swan is Darren Aronofsky at his most accomplished, transcending its simple storyline and becoming an original, living, breathing entity. It is not a film, but an experience. Aronofsky is only further asserting, as he directs more films, that he is one of the most visceral and personal filmmakers of his generation. Some say pretentious, I say emotional.

Black Swan is an exercise in melodramatic storytelling. This can often be obvious and flawed but works exceptionally in the habitat of show business. It is anything but understanding. The disposition of the dancers is aggressively competitive and Thomas Leroy, (Vincent Cassel), the presumptuous operator the New York Ballet Company, frequently exchanged prestigious roles for affairs with his dancers, for which he is notorious among them. Black Swan is not about Ballet any more than Raging Bull (1980) is about boxing or The Social Network (2010) is about Facebook.
Black Swan is a character study about a woman whose determination compels her to resort to desperate measures to garner what she desires; perfection. These measures are justified in the mind of the protagonist, among other things which are fabricated in the mind of the protagonist.

When I first heard about this film, I could not help but think of The Red Shoes (1948), although in the film’s melodramatic nature, this film resembles All About Eve (1950). Winona Ryder resembles Bette Davis’ Margot Channing as she reluctantly relinquishes her standing, she is made redundant by the dedicated Nina (Natalie Portman), who is required to portray both the Black and White Swan for the production of Swan Lake, which for any actress would be demanding. Like all great artists striving for perfection, Thomas’ audaciously tyrannical nature requires only the most talented and committed actress’, Nina is apt to fill this position as she prepares for the role with relentless devotion regardless of the physical pain it entails. Thomas, advises her to become consumed by the dance, she mustn’t be severely disciplined but elusive and seductive, to not only the Prince but the audience.

Nina is not passionate about ballet, nevertheless she dedicates her life to this art form as she is compelled to dance by her mother, to whom she feels she must oblige. Her mother was also a ballet dancer before she gave birth to Nina. Her mother now dedicates her life to Nina’s career and also lives vicariously through her daughter. This pressure is materialized as a rash on her back and Nina’s mental state consequently dilapidates over the course of the film in depiction of exaggerated hallucinations of paranoia.  Often signifying the paranoia of the protagonist. Ultimately the audience is unable to distinguish the reality nor the fantasy contained in this film.

Fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) is apt for the role as Black Swan due to her mysterious and enticing temperament. She soon becomes both friend and rival of Nina, who is the counter personality of Nina, nevertheless she is a separate being. Thomas anticipates that his giving of the most prestigious role to Nina entails an affair, to which Nina responds with unease. She is not sexually experienced and is unable to portray ‘The Black Swan’ due to this. He encourages Nina to discover her previously unexplored personality. Nina resides with her mother in a claustrophobic apartment in which Nina is at the mercy of her mother. The symbolic parallels to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake are not coincidental, but tragically ironic.

Aronofsky allows the viewer to immerse himself in his film. He directs with such passion, such clarity, he tells such beautiful engrossing tragedies which emotionally resonate with the audience as few films have in recent years. His films are less about plot than they are about arousing emotion. He tells a simple story with the most remarkable techniques. He doesn’t aim for realism nor does he aim for pretentious pseudo-profundity. He aims for the story to unravel itself as the film progresses and for the emotion to intensify until he reaches a tragic emotionally intense climax. He is a master filmmaker with the gift of storytelling.

Pi (1998) was about a mathematician who searches for a number which may unlock mysteries of the natural world. Requiem for a Dream (2000) was about a group of people whose prospects and ambitions are shattered when they descend into drug addiction. The Wrestler (2008), a film about a wrestler whose ambition destroys all chance of having relationships, and after his career is over realizes that he is void of emotional satisfaction. And now Black Swan (2010), a film about a woman’s uncompromising pursuit of perfection and the psychological damage this entails. 

Aronofsky is now 41 years of age, and has directed five films over a course twelve years, one of which I did not mention (The Fountain (2006)). I have seen three of his five films and I believe that makes me qualified to say that Darren Aronofsky is an amazing auter who has accomplished a certain reputation as an artist. His films are not subtle, but they need not be, as they are effective and powerful.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Introductory Blog

I have decided to write my own blog, to share my beliefs and anecdotes and write reviews for recently released films. I may also write reviews of films which have had an impact on me in a separate field titled 'Masterpieces'.

My passion is cinema and my service is writing about cinema as though it was a doctrine to which I adhere. I write to those who are willing to read. And to those who are willing to read, I thank you most sincerely.