Richard Collier desperately bids for time’s return, his lost love reduced to an anachronistic penny worth only hopeless thoughts. Richard Matheson, better known for his novels I AM LEGEND and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, adapts his own prose into film with French director Jeanott Szwarc: the result is an emotionally powerful yet rather straightforward narrative that dilutes the horrific essence of the source material. But a few dark elements remain, and herein beat the heart of the story because romance and tragedy walk hand in hand, the joy of love contrasted by the eventual death shroud that parts us from our soul mate, as we then fear to walk the world alone.
Matheson redefines his character Richard Collier to accommodate Christopher Reeve’s strengths: he imbues the protagonist with a healthy dose of humor and kindness and removes the obsessive possessiveness and tumorous dread that haunts the novel. He also replaces Mahler with Rachmaninoff, amending the death theme that runs its poisonous course through BID TIME RETURN. Szwarc also replaces the Hotel del Coronado with the Grand Hotel, transposing the clean lines of modern architecture upon the magical towers and gables of the novel’s environment. Jane Seymour as Elise McKenna is a beautifully rendered portrait of perfection, her diminutive stature incongruous with her fiery independence. She is also a victim of The Moirae as her love affair is cut short by Atropos’ fateful shears, her affair dwindling away into the recesses of future time: her only memento a lovely pocket-watch that will be a gift to the future Richard Collier, which will ensure that he will “come back to her”.
Isidore Mankofsky’s lush color photography brings the past to life, making it more “real” by contrast with the modern time-frame which is infused with harsh and oblique lighting. The world of 1912 seems more alive and romantic with the vivid costumes (though Collier’s is at least ten years out-of-date!) and set designs, as Szwarc attempts to keep anachronism out-of-frame and is largely successful if one doesn’t look too closely. For me, suspension of disbelief came easily thanks to the wonderfully nuanced performances by not only Reeves and Seymour but the entire supporting cast! If one takes a darker view of the story that this is all a death-dream, the anachronisms then become keys to understanding Collier’s lack of detailed knowledge of the past his mind resides in.
A flicker of doubt remains: did Richard actually transcend time, or did he starve to death, isolated in his own world of fantasy? The final scene could exist as a death dream, a wish fulfillment as his consciousness fades towards oblivion. But for romantics, it‘s the perfect ending.
Final Grade: (B)
Monday, March 3, 2014
|"Alas poor Nishi, I knew him Itakura!"|
Kurosawa begins the film with an elaborate wedding that serves two purposes: first, it introduces the characters and their status in the Corporation; second, it explains a past crime and every major character’s alleged involvement. This is done by a chorus of reporters; in SCANDAL, Kurosawa decried journalism as a corrupt institution but here, the writers are after the truth and newspapers are the ultimate weapon to fight Corporate Greed. The wedding culminates with a huge cake in the shape a building with a black rose like an accusation, inserted in a window on the seventh floor. The businessmen gasp and sweat profusely, as all becomes quiet as the grave because this is a representation of the past crime, a confectionery accusation.
The story is a bleak parable as Nishi rejects his own nature and becomes a weapon of mass destruction, his fuse ignited by an unquenchable fire. He has married the Vice President’s daughter under an assumed identity just to get inside the organization and murder those responsible for his father’s suicide. He has planned this for five years, willing to sacrifice innocents to see the guilty punished. Nishi is lost in selfishness, convinced that the means justify the ends. He marries the crippled Yoshiko but she and her brother do not share their father’s guilty burden and they become collateral damage. Nishi uses everyone (including his best friend whose identity he traded) for his own purpose: he kidnaps, tortures, steals, and becomes the very thing he despises; the abyss not only peers into him…it devours his soul.
Kurosawa depicts Nishi’s penultimate failure off-screen in bloodstained twisted steel and this narrative blunt force trauma hammers the audience with existential dread. Though the VP loses his son and daughter, he gains a promotion as Big Business continues to sleep well with politics.
Final Grade: (A)
Monday, February 3, 2014
Scientist Zac Hobson’s world ends with a bottle of pills at precisely 6:12 A.M. but he awakens to a new reality: he is seemingly the last man on Earth. Confused, he explores this strange geography not sure if this is some internal dimension or an external result of the failed Project Flashlight, a unilateral experiment involving countries across the globe.
Zac begins to slowly lose his mind to the madness of isolation, becoming god of the empty streets and echoing lifeless cities. The gunmetal taste of suicide brings him back to sanity and he begins to monitor the world around him, taking measurements of the now pulsating sun. He meets Joanne and Api and their base human conflicts threaten to push them apart, to isolate them in a world of silence and create an emotional vacuum filled with the ether of despair. Through dialogue, they discover the reason for their existence; they all died at the moment the Project malfunctioned, preserving them in this empty world. Soon Zac discovers that this electromagnetic pulse is going to reoccur and their only hope for survival is to destroy the facility.
Director Geoff Murphy films in long shots of deserted streets and towns, lending an air of realism to this somewhat trite narrative. As Zac explores an empty house, a torrent of water flows from the kitchen ceiling, homage to Tarkovsky’s masterpiece SOLARIS. A crashed jet plane, abandoned vehicles, burning wreckage, and a still hot coffee pot, inform the audience that everyone just disappeared without a trace and which adds a level of realism for such a small budget film. But it’s the character’s juvenile emotional turmoil that almost unravels the story, which removes us from any sympathetic coherence: the three protagonists aren't very likable. Though we know more about Zac than Joanne and Api, we are still too detached from caring about their dilemma. Finally, Zac disappears in a mushroom cloud but awakens once again to an alien terrain where spidery clouds caress the violent blue surf and a ringed planet rises above the gentle mist.
Final Grade: (C)
Saturday, January 25, 2014
The mathematics of faith reduced to an irreducibly complex equation, where two men become of belief lost in the present tense, yearning for a past once but never was. Andrei Tarkovsky's melancholia is a spiritual melanoma, yearning for a Motherland that drove him away, a place of childhood memories that carry the weight of light and air, like the burden of guilt for loving an abusive parent...but unable to forgive.
Through a dream vapor darkly walks Andrei, a Russian poet who weaves a tapestry of elusive symbols, desperately trying to decipher his own subtext. Andrei's ailing heart beats to its own pentameter, a lonely rhythm without reason or rhyme. He has traveled to Italy to research a 18th century Russian composer, a man who gained his creative freedom in exile only to forfeit his life upon his return to Mother Russia. Here, Andrei meets a mad saint who sacrificed his family to save the world and discovers the volatile Molotov of religious conviction. He drifts casually from his dream world into a shared unreality, confounding identity and purpose, attempting to walk upon water while carrying the hallowed flame. His reflection preaches atop a stone mount, cursing the time when mankind went astray and the need to return to simple values of the past, to return to Eden and replace the forbidden fruit, then expunges himself in hell fire.
Tarkovsky's lens captures the human animal in the garden of earthly delights, surrounded by nature. Images of a statuesque Virgin birthing a flock of birds, discarded wine bottles swallowing drops of water, or a gentle fog crawling upon the landscape evoke memories of things past, where events needn't have happened to be true, a state where borders no longer exist with the convolutions of dreamscape. Water is a prime mover, a fluid thematic element, from a warm pool polluted by refuse hidden within its murky depths to a torrent that beats nervously upon the psyches of drowning men. Tarkovsky siphons Beethoven and Verdi through a nightmare machine, a grinding cacophony, a syncopation of sin where fallen angels dwell. And like Andrei, welcome the past imperfect and remain forever trapped by the stone walls of faith.
Final Grade: (A)
Sunday, December 22, 2013
|Best Film 2012: THE MASTER|
I’m a year behind on my top ten because I was tired of redacting my list a few months into every new year. Since I don’t get a chance to see many of these great films during their theatrical run I have to wait months for them to be released on disc. Sometimes I can see a film (like Haneke’s AMOUR) before its US release thanks to having a region free Blu-ray player but this is rare. Usually it is 4-6 months after release that I watch a film and that pushes it past my end of the year deadline so my Top Ten is always incomplete. So I decided my list would be a year behind which is beneficial to everyone since by this time the films are easily accessible through streaming or disc.
So much for the preamble! This year’s list is the first time a director has won the prestigious KOROVA AWARD for the second time. Paul Thomas Anderson takes home the coveted award for his none-too-subtle critique of the cult of Scientology. Cristian Mungiu once again makes the cut (see 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS) with a brutal and non-judgmental portrayal of an Orthodox convent in his native Romania where a young woman dies during an exorcism. No, this isn't a “period” drama as this archaic practice still takes place in the 21st century. Mungiu’s BEYOND THE HILLS is based upon a true story. Kathryn Bigelow and Michael Haneke are two of my favorite directors and are both represented in 2012 with daring and controversial films concerning morally “justified” murders. From first time directors such as Leos Carax and Nuri Ceylan to make my list to favorites like David Cronenberg and Wes Anderson, I believe every film here is worth at least a small amount of your time to check out.
- THE MASTER (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
- BEYOND THE HILLS (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
- ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow, USA)
- AMOUR (Michael Haneke, France)
- HOLY MOTORS (Leos Carax, France)
- LOVELY MOLLY (Eduardo Sanchez, USA)
- ALPS (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)
- MOONRISE KINGDOM (Wes Anderson, USA)
- ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
- COSMOPOLIS (David Cronenberg, Canada)
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Peter Medak’s militant parody is a scathing attack and indictment of the British noblesse oblige and society’s infantile religious beliefs. Peter O’Toole is the paranoid schizophrenic black sheep of the family who thinks he is Jesus Christ incarnate. When his father dies (in a masturbatory auto-erotic asphyxiation scene) he is left the entire estate…but the extended family has other plans. The uncle comes up with a foolproof plan to have his deluded nephew marry his (the uncle’s own) mistress, father a child, then have “JC” committed to an insane asylum. While in custody, his Psychiatrist attempts to cure him of his god-complex by having him battle another patient who refers to himself as the Electric Messiah. When our protagonist loses this epic battle of faith and miracle, he finally acknowledges his real name Jack. The doctors believe this recognition of self is ultimately the cure for Jack. But he actually becomes Jack the Ripper, then murders his aunt and condemns the butler for the act. Now that Jack is “perfectly normal” he fits right in to the British Elite and joins the House of Lords.
The film plays like some bizarre stream-of-consciousness sermon and much of the dialogue seems improvised, insane, and wildly idiosyncratic. O’Toole hangs from his cross and spouts religious non-sense and non-sequiturs with the invigorating belief of any priest at Sunday Mass. JC is crazy when he teaches peace, love and understanding but Society only accepts him when he becomes Jack the homicidal maniac. The final scene with the decaying corpses in the House of Lords depicts the rotting Patriarchy in which Jack is now accepted. THE RULING CLASS condemns both Religion and Capitalism with Jack as the avatar of a Church and State gone mad, birthing a fanatical elitism from their incestuous Union.
Final Grade: (B+)
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Danny Boyle’s latest film TRANCE is completely underwhelming. The film is wonderfully filmed and edited, the actors quite good but the flaw lies with the story itself: it asks us to change our allegiance to the protagonist in the third act. That is, the moral center is skewed and we’re asked to despise the character who’s POV we've been experiencing from the start. The characters we’re eventually supposed to connect with are not sympathetic once the plot is broken down.
TRANCE is well constructed and paced with the typical Boyle flourish. The soundtrack thrums with energy during the action sequences yet can slow down to evoke a subtle emotional response, or lapse into silence to empower a scene. Boyle’s editing isn't quite as flashy as his past films and he often holds on a scene in medium long shot to allow the actors a larger canvas (so to speak) on which to act. He also eschews shot/reverse shot dialogue and utilizes minimum cuts which allow him to edit the film “in the camera”. He uses a nice transitional scene several times of an overhead shot of cars on a cloverleaf at night: the lights look like neurons following their tenebrous pathways. This fits perfectly with the plot of the film which ultimately asks, what is identity? Elizabeth the Psychotherapist nails it: “We are the totality and consistency of our memories”. And Boyle fucks with memory just not in a believable fashion.
**HERE THERE BE SPOILERS**
The whole idea of Hypnosis is a Deus Ex Machina: it becomes “magic” or whatever the story wants it to be. I just could not suspend my disbelief over the fact that a therapist would become involved with a client, the relationship turn abusive, the therapist would try to hypnotize him and then keep him as a client even after a violent breakup. Sorry folks, I don’t find that credible. It’s also impossible that Simon ‘forgets” his entire relationship with the therapist: it’s just a device for the plot to turn on unexpectedly in the final act. And someone should have told Danny Boyle that a dead body reeks, that it would have been detected within a few days as it decomposes in the trunk of a car. Why this slipped through the writer’s or director’s mind boggles mine.
I guess we’re supposed to find the ending satisfying but I sure don’t. I find it a cheat. The therapist is left with the painting and may reconcile with Frank (Simon’s nemesis throughout the film). But Elizabeth (the therapist) shows no remorse or sadness over the death of a totally innocent woman: she acts as if everything worked out for the best. She is also in possession of another’s stolen property. Elizabeth suffers no consequences for any of her own actions. But the permutations that get us to the ending are just too unbelievable. I’m not buying it…nor should you.
Final Grade: (D+)
Sunday, November 24, 2013
A mother must tear down the wall that imprisons her son while facing the fact that she helped build it in the first place. Director Bong Joon-ho once again focuses upon an unfocused family: like THE HOST, the film’s conceit is a masquerade that conceals the familial trauma boiling underneath.
Hye-ja is an aging widow, her beauty fading beneath the veneer of time who must care for her only son, a mentally handicapped young man incapable (so she believes) of living independently of her crushing attention. Do-joon is physically a man in his mid-twenties (alluding that she had him later in life) but burdened with a mind that ceased growing in grade school. She has taught him to fight, to stand up for himself, but she is always there to bail him out of trouble though he is rarely the cause. She smothers him with love and affection, even sleeping in the same bed together like a baby, never wanting him to grow up and leave the nest. But one day a girl is found murdered and evidence leads to Do-joon’s arrest and conviction.
The film becomes an investigative procedural as Hye-ja avers his innocence because she cannot accept the possibility that her son is a murder. The police quickly close the case and she begins to uncover her own evidence to acquit her son, following the path of least resistance whose convoluted path becomes a journey of self-discovery. The story is literally teaming with red herrings, oblique motives, tortured testimony, and false leads whose conclusion becomes an inexcusable morality, shifting culpability and audience compassion. Hye-ja finally knows the facts but cannot accept the truth, redacting her own guilt and dissecting the corpus delecti, leaving the audience in the position of jury to decide if Justice has been served.
Final Grade: (B+)
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Brendan’s heart sinks like a brick in the runoff from a storm drain: like the bleak river Acheron, he must cross this painful threshold and enter the underworld to discover the deadly truth. The film begins with an arm, its blue bracelets clattering softly amid the gentle current as a young man stands over the discarded blonde-haired corpse. Match Cut: the same blue bracelets upon the same girl, her life not yet expired, as we are taken backwards in time to discover the mysterious and tragic events that led to her demise.
Director Rian Johnson transposes the classic film noir conventions to a modern day high school where the tough but emotionally gentle Brendan must solve the murder of his true love. Our pugnacious protagonist is a master of quick talk and manipulation, but only for the benefit of finding those responsible: he is the moral compass the guides the narrative true north. Though he plays the high school cliques against each other, crashing parties, cars, and faces, he never escapes unscathed. The drama is resplendent with humor, such as the eventual cooperation with aged “The Pin” (like, 27 years old) who deals drugs from his mother’s paneled basement amid the crumbling suburbs. And the mother who serves his “friends” cookies and pours milk from a chicken decanter while talking to them like children! But the tragedy is the dark undercurrent that keeps pulling us under, and Brendan never forgets that his goal is vengeance upon those who murdered his pregnant girlfriend.
Johnson utilizes Godard-like jump cuts to disorient the viewer and the soundtrack adds a transcendently hellish intrigue to the aural mix of slang and violence. Of course, the femme fatale seems to seduce Brendan but his keen observations and dogged determination, homage to Hammett’s Sam Spade, keep him from moral corruption: she may reveal the infernal secret to destroy the last vestiges of his humanity but Brendan has the last word…and it’s as heavy as a brick, cut with savage poison.
Final Grade: (B+)
Sunday, October 6, 2013
A tangible veil of darkness has settled upon the marriage of Giovanni and Lidia like a dying friend, or a long slow descent into the glass labyrinth haunted by the ghosts of love and despair. Lidia has become trapped in a loveless marriage and wanders the lonely echoing streets of Milan, tiny and lost amid the mirrored buildings and crumbling blank walls.
The minimalist soundtrack heightens this angst as the city exhales it noxious fumes, it voice a harsh tremulous curse as Lidia regurgitates her past, hopeless and afraid. Giovanni grasps at the madness of his art, his lust pronounced by the insane embrace of a mental patient, his future invisibly written on the tabula rasa of the hospital room’s wall; a perpetrator of emotional infidelity that goes unpunished. The two drift apart and in that long dreary night of apathy, they both discover these secret truths like a beautiful lost ruby whose value is monetary but remains empty of all worth. Giovanni believes that he still loves his wife but feels the cold vacuum of space separating them, too self-involved to understand while he chases his raven-haired dream, stumbling like a sleepwalker through the slick wet night.
Giovanni is a writer seemingly more in love with the idea of being a writer than in the actual craft. He attends parties and enjoys the attention but is still not successful enough to be able to support himself without Lidia’s wealth. Lidia may not only be Giovanni’s wife and muse but the actual creator of the books that her husband takes credit for. Giovanni’s marital struggles are then more malignant than they seem, a man who wants to possess but is he himself possessed, a castrated fraud in search of inspiration. When Giovanni is offered a high-paying job from the party’s wealthy host, Lidia recognizes this as a potential “out” for him, a way to become independent from her. But Giovanni chooses to fall back into her arms, to be taken care of by Lidia. This frisson works on many different levels as she may love him, trying to support him but eventually becoming slave to his career (not hers) and purged of all respect for what he has become.
Michelangelo Antonioni has created another masterpiece of emotional dissolution and disillusionment; this discomfort is technically sublime, employing stark black and white cinematography, deep focus long takes, and steady tracking shots that diminish the characters amid society’s rigid steel framework. Lidia and Giovanni don’t hate each other; on the contrary, they care very much for one another but she has drifted away and must become herself once again, to redefine her identity as Lidia…not Giovanni’s wife. They are caught in a sand trap, and like victims caught in quicksand grasp at each other for their immediate survival. Antonioni lets the camera float away to a jazz score as the couple disappears, seemingly to sink beneath the weight of their own embrace.
Final Grade: (B+)