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Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Tree of Life (2011) – 96/100

The Tree of Life is a beautifully filmed emotionally driven movie that is a must see for all patient viewers who prefer a figurative film over a literal one. Umberto Eco said that a novel is a machine for generating interpretations, I think that it is no stretch at all to apply this saying to this movie, which is so rich in visual material that I can imagine that there are many possible interpretations to this film.

I think that an important part of viewing this film is generating your own interpretation, so I won’t share mine. I think it is a rewarding film though, and for me, though most of it was sad on the surface, it ended in an uplifting note.

This film was hugely pleasing for me, and I plan on seeing it again in theaters, and probably would buy it eventually, because I think its appeal would only increase with more viewings.

What makes it such an incredible visual and auditory experience are the amazing camera movements and perspectives, a clever use of environmental noise to characterize each setting, and a structure to the film that only becomes evident once the film finishes. For me, this is tied with director Terrence Malick’s other film The Thin Red Line, both of which I consider better than Days of Heaven and The New World (and I have yet to see Badlands).

This is a successful modern art house film, and everyone interested should go out of their way to see it. The Tree of Life is both enlightening and full of alluring imagery like every great film I’ve seen.

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Sucker Punch (2011) – 11/100

This movie is total crap. The first teaser trailer made this movie look cool, all the other theatrical trailers made it look like a lame video game. The first 12 minutes are indeed cool. They are well stylized, outline a quick plot, and feature relatively appealing music. The lead actress, though she has no lines in the beginning “setting the scene” bit, even then is a disappointment. She’s just not that likable and it is difficult to sympathize with her despite her horrible circumstances; so, irritatingly terrible casting for the lead. And that is all there is to say about the first 12 minutes, a decent short film.

The problem is that the movie doesn’t stop there, it plunges into hopeless pointless CGI and a terrible framework. The framework of the film is in fact exactly like video games like “Call of Duty” or really any 1st person shooter. There is a short scene where an objective of a level is laid out by your commanding officer, and then you are sent off to run through a maze to the goal, shooting all baddies in between now and the end. This is great as long as you’re the one playing, but as we all know, watching a friend play for several hours can get pretty boring. And so, a very rigid and segmented outline for the film makes for no flow, and since nobody wants to watch someone they don’t know play a very bright colored video game, the “kill baddies” parts of the film are redundant and nauseating.

As for the story. Well, off the bat its a bastardization of the idea of Pan’s Labyrinth where a girl invents situations to calm herself. What’s troubling is that within the imagined world, there are more imagined worlds which act as the “kill baddies” sequences, this scheme just feels stupid.

Without making this review much longer, I want to throw out some things which were really disgraceful. First and foremost, is that director Zach Snyder stole several details from a favorite film of mine, Brazil, directed by Terry Gilliam. The entire samurai fight scene in Sucker Punch is too similar to the powerful one in Brazil, except of course, that it is lame in Sucker Punch. Secondly, is that there is a scene with Nazi Zombies, enough said. Thirdly, that all the women are so revolting in this film even though they’re scantily dressed.

If you’re thinking about seeing this movie, run away quickly. Only the first 12 minutes are okay, the rest is just something to fast forward through. This is the definition of a total piece of garbage of a film. Sucker Punch is an eclectic collection of video game sequences played on level super easy where each fight is a waste of screen time and your life. And if you think all the visual eye candy will be good for children, wrong. Not only is it unethical to poison a child’s eyes with such a debacle of a movie, but there are several disturbing elements to the story that are plain creepy. Don’t see this movie, its neither entertaining nor useful in any sense.

Hangover 2 (2011) – 68/100

Hangover 2 is a surprisingly good sequel. I went in expecting a total dud running off the fumes of Hangover 1 nostalgia, but instead a film strong enough to stand alone emerged. Mind you, I could be tainted by my totally terrible expectations, but I was very pleased with the movie. Once you ignore the fact that it follows the same formula as Hangover 1, it does bring material fresh enough to score laughs to the table.

Although only 1 memorable moment made me laugh out loud, the film was ridden with giggles. You can also feel reassured that the sequel is dirtier and more disgusting than its predecessor, so be prepared for scenes with male genitalia and blood; thankfully the two are separate for now.

This movie is indeed stupid, but I think pleasingly so. There are times when Zack Galifianakis is almost too annoying to bear, but he does redeem himself at other times by leading the best laughs of the entire film. Overall, see this one for an entertaining night, as long as you’re ready for weirdness, grossness, and stupidness. But, then again, don’t feel like you have to, as you’ve probably seen it all before anyway.

Days of Heaven (1978) – 92/100

Days of Heaven is a strong plot driven film about a love triangle, with especially beautiful cinematography to set the scene and give emotional reference to the story. I saw this film to familiarize myself with the director Terrence Malick, whose upcoming film The Tree of Life took Cannes by storm recently. Unlike another two of his films (The Thin Red Line, and The New World), Days of Heaven is short, only an hour and a half, and relies less on a figurative base to communicate its meaning.

This film was incredible for me because of the unbelievable reference shots used to the set the scene for life at the turn of the century in America. I’ve always felt that the plains and barren fields of America have a severe romance to them, and Malick successfully communicates this in every frame of the film.

A young Richard Gear stars as the love interest, and is hugely charming on screen. In fact, all the performances are convincing, and nothing feels out of place in this film. The story itself is interesting and touching, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it. See this film if you are interested in melancholy romances filled with beautiful and touching scenery and rife with emotions.

Marie Antoinette (2006) – 60/100

Marie Antoinette is an unconventional period piece, built around ramifying the popular image of the young queen from a wicked witch to a clueless well-meaning bored child. This was the last film of Director Sofia Coppola’s that I hadn’t seen, and, I can comfortably say that it is her least interesting movie. Better than this is Somewhere, better than that is The Virgin Suicides, and the best so far is Lost in Translation. I would say that this film is quite sedate. It was pretty bland throughout, and had nothing jumped out, I guess that is the root of why I was disappointed with Marie Antoinette considering Coppola’s other much more powerful films.

Sofia Coppola’s touches were present in this film to some degree though. There were some great scenes spotlighting nature, and quietness, and lonesomeness in the typical beautiful Coppola manner. And overall, the communication of a typical girl in unordinary circumstances was clear, it was just that the subject matter wasn’t very alluring. Most period pieces try to prove that action in the Victoria era was very dramatic, but, such drama is not exemplified here. However, the sets and costumes were great eye candy, and I don’t have any critiques on the casting or any particular performances.

The film was weak because it had a very simple message for its length, and wasn’t really an effective mood piece either because that wasn’t its focus. There’s really nothing spectacular about this film, it only reminds of the good qualities which are much more evident in Sofia Coppola’s other films. So, go, watch another Coppola film. There’s just nothing that great about this one.

Barney’s Version (2010) – 90/100

Barney’s Version is an incredible film about a man’s dealings with women, marriage, and eventually, love. Poignant black humor, mixed with sharp heart wrenching moments makes an elaborate, and unique, drama. All performances are perfectly extreme and convincing, and at no point does the film falter. The story itself is intriguing, believable, and entertaining.

Above all what makes this film successful, is the huge likability for lead Paul Giamatti’s character, coupled with the truly engaging story. The lead is a character that is easy to sympathize with. Even in his darkest moments Giamatti is charmingly funny, and who doesn’t like a story about love as long as its not saccharine (which this isn’t, its perfect, if I hadn’t gotten that across already)?

My love of this film comes across because of its authentically touching story. I’d say watch this film no matter what. It’s fresh, modern, funny, gripping, touching.

Contempt (1963) – 84/100

Contempt is a difficult film which explores a marital relationship on much more complex levels than any other film I’ve seen, for that I consider it a depressing masterpiece. There are three parts in the film in which I was overwhelmed with emotion; the film’s ability to relate, to me at least, was exceptional. By no means was this connection continuous though, if it were, then I would consider this film a perfect 100 out of 100. In addition to the three scenes that pulled out of me, memories of some of the most desperate parts of my life, there were some incredibly mentally stimulating parts of the film.

My interpretation stands that this is a film which strives to communicate the incredible mental distance that can grow between two people. For every simple action that is made by a person, there is the perception of another character, which is expanded through their infinite thought, to the point where the simple action becomes evidence for some new imagined perception about the person. Then, this imagined perception is artificially strengthened with other newer real perceptions, and then considered to be a real perception off of which new interpretations are to be made. Through an infinite regress where slowly, fake perceptions start to be considered reliable, because of a tainted eye, a difference between the person and the image of the person starts to materialize (though only visible from an outside perspective). The power of the mind surmounts the power of the senses, and decisions start to be made with consideration to the false image of the person. So, decisions are no longer grounded in reality, and become confusing, painful, and devastating to the loved one.

This entire process is captured in the film, and encapsulates what everyone does everyday, only in a more tragic sense than is usually encountered in ordinary lives. You would think that with such an expansive message (and I am sure there are others as well), the film would need nothing else to succeed. However, I can’t say that I was kept interested the whole time, it was more the case that there were several “Ah-ha!” moments dispersed throughout. There was beautiful cinematography in this film to fill in the gaps in plot, but still, the film felt a little slow. I’d say watch Contempt if you are patient and want something hugely depressing.

Super 8 (2011) – 66/100

Super 8 is a typical blockbuster, and for that I’m disappointed. After the surprising originality of Cloverfield, somehow I expected more from director JJ Abrams.

The plot is strong, and all human involved events play out realistically. The humor, action, special effects are all consistently strong features in the lead kids’ adventures, yet somehow, I feel like there could have been more. From the trailer, it seemed to be much more of an emotional journey, at least, that’s how the strong music buildup made it seem to me. What I wanted out of this film more was a focus on the mystery, and the awe of the people in the small town. The film instead was too focused on the monster, and what the military was doing with the monster. This revealed too much information too fast, and kept audience intrigue quite muted. The charm of Cloverfield was that it was entirely about a small group of people, and how a monster was a trigger for a series of desperate events that were only revealed, not created, by the situation. This made Cloverfield interesting because it showcased relatable emotions. In a similar way, Super 8 did this too, but the relationships were too simply presented to become involving or all that understandable.

The effects are top notch, and nothing is terribly cliché, but the song of an ordinary blockbuster remains the same in Super 8. I’m sure anyone would enjoy the film, but I’m not sure it would change anyone.

La Dolce Vita (1960) – 89/100

Although not particularly engrossing, La Dolce Vita is a stunning film with great aesthetic value. The story plays out like any modernist novel; it shows a troubled central character who navigates through various unconnected episodes of his life, which illuminate his living struggle while also being beautiful within themselves.

La Dolce Vita has several scenes in which the photography is simply incredible; it’s composition is perfect, and hugely emotional. At the same time, the diversity of cinematography that Fellini employs is also impressive. Sometimes, scenes are constructed with huge spaces and a real sadness and sense of isolation is conveyed. Other times, cleverly choreographed camerawork and character motions elaborate a simple scene into many more levels than you could perceive without Fellini’s masterful interpretation. Whatever the message conveyed, Fellini’s powerful visions deliver the emotions straight to the viewer.

Overall though, I value the film for the individual scenes rather than as a whole. The story, though it is evident, is not too engaging. And even though the film is a lengthy 3 hours, I don’t know if it is possible to capture the struggle of lead Marcello in any length of time. There’s no clear beginning or end to such a struggle, there is only a collection of powerful experiences. And like in any treasured collection, there can always be individual pieces of the collection that stand out and are admired by viewers, but a love of the whole collection takes the dedication and careful eye of a collector herself.

From my first viewing of the film, I’m confident that La Dolce Vita is this type of precious collection, that I won’t appreciate it completely until I see the film many more times. Yet even now, I can recommend the film to anyone looking for something aesthetically powerful, but know that the film as a whole won’t strike you until you take more than just a short glance at it.

The 400 Blows (1959) – 100/100

You often hear people saying how magical Paris is when they’ve never been there. Paris is characterized as the epitome of style and aesthetics by many who’ve never experienced it first hand, but are longing to do so. So where do people get these grandiose ideas about something they don’t know? The answer is, from movies like The 400 Blows.

Director Truffaut has masterfully crafted an emotional tale centered around a bildungsroman young boy who lives in the enchanting city of Paris. Every angle, every camera choice truthfully brings out awe inspiring character from the great city. And if Truffaut is this successful at personifying a city constructed of simple matter, he is uniquely skilled in developing the human characters.

The 400 Blows is instant classic French art house film. It is perfect; for me, nothing could have improved it. The plot is engrossing, the art direction is undeniably original, and the emotion is tangible. It is a film that speaks for itself. Rarely is a film created with such skill that it carries all its meaning within itself every frame of the way. Nothing needs to be said more about this movie, just go see it.