The Phantom of Liberty!

Director: Luis Bunuel

Stars out of 10: 9.0

Luis Bunuel’s films are among the most difficult to understand. Watch An Andalusian Dog, and if you manage to understand more than 2 minutes of it, then you have made it more than I ever could. Same goes for Belle De Jour, although it is pretty much straightforward – It is the ending that has left a-many baffled. This film, however, is beyond anything I’ve seen. The Phantom of Liberty is an absurd, but delicious surreal film that has amusing little scenes here and there. Characters are not given enough screen time to form a personality and associate themselves with the backdrop, and being a surreal film, many events are left unexplained and a large body of them cover taboo topics. Unusual traits for a movie, but then again Bunuel was no usual, everyday director. The scenes don’t make sense, and instead of a cut-scene or fade away, the minor character of that said scene becomes the major character of the next scene with a little help from the major character from the previous scene. Sort of like the Hotswap feature from Battlefield; When you’re thrown in battle, every soldier is just a soldier, but when you Hotswap to a certain soldier, he becomes something much more, he immediately becomes the main character, even though he is not. Same thing with this film. The scenes, like I said before, don’t make sense but that’s just the surface. I believe there to be rational explanations behind it and, whether it was his aim or not, satirical under-tones. The film opens with the French executing the Spanish and then raiding a church, where one of the best surreal scene happens. Then it cuts to a park where two girls are cycling. A man watches them with fascination, hinting at pedophilia, and proceeds to show them pictures, to which the audience thinks are dirty pictures. When they arrive home, and when the girl shows her parents the pictures, they turn to be picture postcards of buildings. Over here Bunuel plays with our fixed mindset that whatever a stranger shows to little girls / boys has to be pornographic. It kinda slaps us in the face, really. When the adults are shown to be quite turned-on – and turned-off – by the buildings, was Bunuel in any way hinting at object sexuality, a.k.a Objektophilia? Then whatever follows after that till the point where the husband meets the doctor, I’m afraid I could not make heads or tails out of it, but it remained a colourful watch.

Then we see the nurse, the minor character in the above mentioned scene, become the major character in this scene. She takes refuge in a motel from the storm. There she meets some monks (from the early church scene, perhaps?). When the nurse tells them of her father’s sickness, they agree to pray for her father in her room. Time passes and the monks are shown, alongside the nurse and the motel manager, to be playing poker and drinking alcohol. Whatever point Bunuel wanted to make here I don’t think I got it but I believe he was playing on the characteristics of motels, or small run-down hotels, but they’re practically the same thing with little differences. These places are a great place to hide-out and unleash the dark, sexual side of your nature and it has an aggressive, sexual personality to it. Things are done almost freely there, as evidenced by the young man who brings his aunt for an incestuous relationship and the BDSM relationship between the businessman and his assistant.

The main highlight, and understanding, of the film lies in the police academy classroom with the professor talking about laws, morality, customs and taboo. I believe if the viewer can understand that scene or bring himself to connect 2 & 2 together, then I believe the viewer can make sense out of the film, tie all the knots. The professor uses an example of a dinner party which he attended with his wife. They sit around a dinner table but not on chairs, but rather toilets. They talk about defecation and any mention of food is considered rude or impolite. Then one of them retires to a little room to eat. In short, the rules and attitudes of a dinner table and bathroom have been switched. I guess if you look at it from the modern point of view, retiring to a little room to eat makes sense. When we eat, we retreat into a private box of our own and any disturbance comes off as irritating – of course this is all metamorphical. But when we’re on the toilet, our mind wanders far off and starts wondering about the mysteries of life and/or the current situation of the world. I wish I could make my point a little clear but I think you get the picture.

Then the class is dismissed and we get a shot of a speeding driver, who is promptly given a ticket. It turns out he was on his way to visiting his doctor. The doctor says the driver has cancer and offers him a cigarette (did I notice sarcasm there?) and receives a slap on the face. The whole chapter concerning Mr. Legrande – the driver – is absurd at its best. But it is absurd in a reeling and positive manner that provokes a lot of WTF? moments and unintentional laughs. Once he reaches home, they receive a call from the school informing that their daughter is missing. They race to the school only to find that the daughter is sitting in the classroom, yet the adults act as if she’s not there and report to the police, despite the fact they acknowledge her presence. The police-station scene is a riot. Like I said, absurd all right. I think what Bunuel did here was he switched the roles and bought everything – that would’ve been behind the curtains in other films – forward, and silly it may sound, it alluded to many real life situations. I can’t exactly pinpoint it out but I guess I’ll have to see the film again.

After this, we follow a man with a briefcase to the top of a building. The briefcase is opened and reveals a sniper, to which the man uses it to shoot random people on the streets. He is eventually caught and sentenced to death but leaves the courtroom as a hero, even signing autographs. There’s no deciphering here. Personalities like him are recognized as heroes and or admirable figures in our twisted world of today, so I guess Bunuel saw it coming. Then the rest of the film follows in a psychological manner, and I only “understood” 1/5 of it, but I guess it might get cleared up in the second viewing. Or maybe not!

The ending of the film takes place in a zoo. Could the ending be the opening of the film? After all the shout that was heard at the end was also heard at the starting. The camera suddenly starts spinning in a blurry motion, making things confusing… also, what was the significance of the ostrich?

I believe the normal approach – the way you approach other “normal” films – should not be adopted here. If possible, try to find out the logic behind the scenes in as parallel-manner as possible, and try to understand it from a psychological and/or metamorphical view-point. Remember, this is a surreal film directed Luis Bunuel, and it is no easy to decipher than the Zodiac Killer’s “farewell” note.

I like watching films like these because no matter what conclusion you – or anyone else – come to, no-one is right or wrong!

Sky Captain & the World Of Tomorrow!

Director: Kerry Conran

Stars out of 10: 7.5

The correct title for the film should be Sky Captain & the World of where lipstick never runs out, heroes are heroes, villains are dead and where 1 minute equals to 5. Anyway, visual-wise it is impressive. It is set in an imaginary 1939 and has a pulpy feel to it. Sky Captain is a retro-future film, so that means a lot of CGI and Blue Screen was put into it, and while some age correctly, even impressively, there are some which don’t, and Sky Captain is the latter. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an entertaining flick. It remained an impressive, authentic feature and really gave you that 30’s feel and, believe it or not, is times better than Captain America: First Avenger, despite the fact that 7 years separate these two movies.

Just like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen gathered all famous literature characters and bought them to one universe, Sky Captain did the same with different genres. You get action, sci-fi, drama, romance, old Indy--style moments, Lone Ranger moments and several influences from cyberpunk and steampunk. It is not unusual if you’re reminded of H.G. Welles, H.P. Lovecraft, Rocketeer, Star Wars, Star Trek, Iron Giant and even War of the Worlds and Bioshock. I’m sure you can add to the list but you can’t deny the fact that Sky Captain is a fascinating film. The presentation is actually more believable than most of the sci-fi films of its time and of the past 5 years.

Changing tracks, story-wise the film was good. Nothing extraordinary, but it did have an interesting twist at the end, though. The script-writing was good, too. They managed to make authoritative dialogues authoritative and not circus-like or anything. Most of the time it was believable and it was also filled with quite-few pop-culture references; Who else loved the “Is it safe?” part?

Unfortunately, the bulb was flickering in the performance department. Jude Law is an actor who I see less but what I see I don’t feel the urge to complain / rant. He has that cool-as-a-cucumber attitude to him and can play heroes almost flawlessly. He was great as usual but it was Gwyneth Paltrow that had me worried. As much as I like her, this was her most wooden, flat-as-a-hedgehog-run-over-by-a-Reliant performance she has ever given. He line delivery was so off and so forced that it felt as if she were talking in a TV commercial. In short, this is how Megan Fox would’ve acted had she been in Sky Captain. Harsh? Yes! The truth? Unfortunately, also yes. Giovanni Ribisi was a good surprise, though. He is an actor to whom I never connected. Whenever I see him on-screen I go like, “Well, there’s Giovanni. Now I’m gonna get distracted by another actor / actress”, and 100% of the time I’m right. Not to say he is a bad actor, far from it, but he never really made a strong impression on me. Anyway, I liked his performance, it was in league with the film. If Paltrow was a missed arrow, then Angelina Jolie was a disaster, akin to someone who photobombs. Nobody likes a photobomber, they’re highly unwelcome. Same case here. Jolie was almost a joke. She was totally mis-cast. Not one of my favourite performances from her I must say.

In conclusion, visual-wise the film is impressive, an achievement that will be called in as a great example in the near future. Performance-wise, however, not enough strong shoulders were bought in but it is still going in my greatest movies list despite the quite-bearable setbacks. It would be like chucking a Lamborghini because of a broken radio. Oh, no!

Edward Scissorhands!

Director: Tim Burton

Stars out of 10: 8.5

http://www.listal.com/viewimage/4005273

The titular character resides in an old, decrepitude mansion that lies at the end of a cheery, colourful late 50’s / early 60’s-themed suburban. The residents are stereotypical, but interesting, and are largely female dominated, which was the usual norm. It also has a crazy, religious lady who is, of course, ignored by all. The main family, the protagonists, are a likable, comfortable, quite-dysfunctional family of four. Peg, – brilliantly and lovingly played by Dianne West – the matriarch of the family, is a door-to-door saleswoman who finds herself in the mansion where Edward lives, and after looking at his poor state, takes him under her wings. From here a classic modern fairy-tale snowballs, which ends on a dark tone, a transition I thoroughly enjoyed. The character of Edward was so perfectly created that it’s no surprise how archetypal he became; He personified the monster of the darkness – although he is not – when he was shown for the first time in the mansion. When Peg brings him to her home, he personifies the spirit that roams about your home, a Djinn if you will, that comes in every shape, size & attitude you can imagine. The narrow hallways, the colourful atmosphere, the tall doors all increased Edwards haunting character, while the mansion made him feel at home. In short, since the majority of the film sets place in small suburban, and since all the residents are stereotypical – adults and kids – Edward is an old-wives tale come true.

All this makes Edward sound a villain, a feared monster, which he is not I can assure you that, you who hasn’t still seen this film. He is a modern Frankenstein, a modern Joseph Merrick. A freak of nature, a.k.a not like you or I, who means good but ends up being misunderstood, thus causing an outrage among the people and the law. Tim Burton apparently knew all of this and made sure that we knew that he knew. What Burton did was he combined all the major factors of a fantasy tale and coated it with extra sugar. Don’t be surprised if some things feel disillusioned, this is Burton’s imagining of how a Disney cartoon would look like if they had the guts to show a little blood and a touch of darkness. Again, don’t be surprised by the overly sympathetic (to some, just pathetic) portrayal of Edward, his relationship with Kim and of the film’s ending. An average fairy-tale starts and ends like this, so why should this film be treated any different? Burton did indeed coat the story with sugar but also added a little bit of pepper to remind us that not every monster can truly be loved.

The score by Danny Elfman is his second-best, after Batman. It is dark, beautiful and something that can only and only belong in a Tim Burton flick.

From the performances, Johnny Depp was truly iconic in his role, and it would be his first collaboration with Tim Burton that would go on to last 8 films in a span of 20 years. He played Edward so understandably  as if he was honoring an age old friend. Even though he has played more eccentric, more well-known characters – most notably Jack Sparrow – this character will always remain as his most best played. Dianne West, on the other hand, truly won me over by her portrayal of Peg. She made an everyday, I’ve-seen-this-in-every-other-movie character a very loving and wonderful character who has just become my favourite heroine. I do believe she should’ve been nominated for an Award. Alan Arkin was a good surprise. When did I last see him? Oh yes, Catch-22. Low-key film, but a fun performance. Over here he plays Bill, husband of Peg, an equally great performance and a likable character. Anthony Michael Hall never really made an impression on me and you can bet your boots I was relieved when his character was killed off. Burton doesn’t like jocks, nor do I + his performance was just OK. The film’s precious little item was Winona Ryder as Kim. When she is first introduced, there is a hint that she might fall under the cliche category but Burton gently picks her up and away from that place. The building of her character is slow but Ryder manages to achieve wonders in her slow pace, making Kim the Belle of this film. She had the potential of making her character times better, she really did, but Kim really wasn’t written in an exaggerated sense so she wasn’t given a large amount of elbow room to move about. In all, a very satisfactory performance!

In conclusion, I’ve come to acknowledge Edward Scissorhands as Tim Burton’s magnum opus. Even though Batman is Burton-esque, this film has what Batman was lacking in; Johnny Depp, and that in itself is saying something!

Captain America: First Avenger!

Director: Joe Johnston

Stars out of 10: 6.5

Captain America: The First Avenger

Since I was in the mood for something light and fresh, Captain America proved to be a good surprise. It gave exactly what I wanted but frankly speaking, could’ve done much, much better. The thing about Marvel movies are that they’re hardly violent, dark or gritty and are all about one-liners, colourful display and a wide array of characters. The three very ingredients this film is made up of. Since I got nothing much to write on this film, I’ll skip to the best part: performances!

Chris Evans is one of the top 10 best actors to ever portray a superhero (seriously, Human Torch was pretty decent) and Captain America is probably his second-best effort to date, performance-wise, the first being Sunshine. Uptill to the point where he gets injected by the Super Soldier Serum, he pretty much had his character in check but kinda lost focus after the injection. He became the script, not the character but I really enjoyed it. A new surprise was Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. She reminded me some of the female cast from Schindler’s List. Very eye-friendly and a great performance. After what seemed like a long time, Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci were very interesting to watch and very likable in their performances and their characters and they both shared good chemistry. Full of interesting small scenes here and there, I still like watching the whole scene where Colonel Chester Philips (Lee Jones) is introduced. Great line delivery. Then we have Hugo Weaving who, in my opinion, ruled the film by his mastery. He is flawlessly talented and has a knack for playing great, almost classic, characters and Red Skull is his latest, and one of his damn greatest, effort to date. He held the film in his shoulders to the point where he and Captain America first meet near the end of the film. After that it was like he lost interest in his character but managed to pack solid punches. If there’s just one reason to watch this film, then it has to be Hugo Weaving!

So basically I wanted a light, cartoonish film and this really is one. I wasn’t expecting much but it had nice surprises here and there. So, overall, my verdict: A pretty good film, could’ve done better, suitable for watching it one time only!

 

 

 

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Director: Peter Weir

Stars out of 10: 9.3

Picnic at Hanging Rock

My third Peter Weir film and his best so far. I’ve rated all three films, The Truman Show, Dead Poets Society and Picnic at Hanging Rock more than 9.0 stars and this one is the highest rated, so far.

There’s cinema, then there’s beautiful cinema and then there’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, a movie so tantalizing, so ethereal, so sublime, that you may scream out IMPOSSIBLE because no-other film has quite reached this level. There are others, yes, and I’ve seen many, but this one is a true eye-candy. The innocence and sweetness is in the beautiful ladies and the excellent cinematography but they start and stop there. You see, Picnic is not a sweet movie, far from it, it’s a haunting, surreal movie with a violent atmosphere to it. Students of Appleyard College go on a picnic trip to Hanging Rock. Once there, three students and one teacher end up missing and the rest of the film is about searching for them. The teacher is implied to have been raped and as for the students, no-one has the foggiest. One of the students, Irma, is found one week later, badly scratched and dehydrated but are unsuccessful on the others.

Beautiful the movie may be, it left me disturbed in a way no other movie ever did. I mean, anything explicitly violent could’ve happened to them. Attacked by a wild animal? Brutal kidnapping? Falling down a deep hole? OK, seriously, stop thinking, don’t make it worse! I think I actually cried when the film finished because they’re still out there… that’s it!

I’ve noticed one thing that music has always been a great part of Peter Weir’s movies and boy ‘o boy! Is the music the greatest ever? To me the most beautiful music score was the one in Blade Runner but this one, called Diona, beats it by miles. It’s powerful, haunting and seriously attention grabbing. Perfect way to start off a film and to fuel it. Excellent job!

So far I haven’t written about the performances and yet that is the reason why I write reviews. Now, it has a host of relatively-unknown Australian/Welsh actors that you may or may-not have seen in other movies. The only two that kinda impressed me were by Dominic Guard as Michael and Wyn Roberts as Sgt. Bumpher. Both were good in their respective characters but that’s all. To some extend, I said some, Magaret Nelson as Sara. She had a classic dark quality to her that had me mesmerized!

So, Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of Australian Cinema’s finest works and one of the most, most beautiful piece of work I’ve ever seen. If it doesn’t leave you haunted, then go play Limbo… at-least that will, if not anything else!

 

 

 

Toy Story

Director: John Lasseter

Stars out of 10: 9.4

Toy Story

The arrival of Toy Story announced two things: That Pixar is the new creative kid in town and that it is putting Disney out of business. Seriously, has Disney, before it took over Pixar, ever produced a great cartoon after 1999’s Tarzan? One-or-two maybe but not to the level of their previous classics. Now, the 90’s was a cool decade and I’m glad I’m one of those 90’s kids because I grew up with the franchise. Instead of tackling dragons, monsters, anthropomorphic animals or flying elephants, the team of Pixar tackled the life of toys and bought forward some of the greatest cartoon characters in the history of cartoons. The animation is mind-blowing still but the 90’s kids will know exactly how it felt watching it for the first time, as if Toy Story was the very-first cartoon ever produced. It still to this day remains a perennial classic and, apart from Tom & Jerry and Disney’s earliest classics, can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike.

I like the sharp, witty writing and cynical, sarcastic characteristics of Hamm and Mr. Potato Head, the latter, in my opinion, the break-through character of the first film. The pop-culture references and quirky personalities also did the trick, making the toys more believable and near-human. I don’t know why but I’ve always found the humans in Pixar productions to be very weirdly shaped, either big jaws or high-foreheads or big eyes or small head and big body and I don’t even know why I’m complaining. Anyway, the human characters Sid and Andy get 10/10 stars from me because of their realism. I should know because I was both of them when I was young and now that I’ve grown up, have witnessed it numerous times while watching my sisters and cousins. Not only they associated themselves with Andy but their imaginations grew and became more protective of their toys, so that’s a good thing, right?

The scene where Buzz finds out that he is a toy and Woody was right all along is just heart-breaking and even though Pixar has created more touching moments, this one will always be in the top 3.

In all, if you still haven’t seen this and if you’re planning on watching a feel-good cartoon with your kids, Toy Story should be up your alley!

 

 

 

Dead Poets Society

Director: Peter Weir

Stars out of 10: 9.0

Dead Poets Society

DPS is as warm a film as an electric blanket, as rich as history and as likable as any wise old man with inspiring words. First off, I’m a sucker for inspiring movies and since I have recently taken an interest in poetry, connected with John Keating because we kinda share almost the same views on life. Now, DPS is either a really great flick with scenes that you just wanna rewind over and over or an unnecessarily over-rated one. Finally, for once, a decent, mature, flawed yes, movie comes from Hollywood that not only breaks certain stereotypes, like, for example, boys mulling over poetry more than girls, but also makes you come out of your shell and associate yourself with at-least one character. I mean, whether we’re verbal about it or not, aren’t we all really like them, if just a little? If you wanna talk about plausibility, then DPS is a whole lot more plausible than those rebel flicks, any John Hughes one and those 80’s action movies that we’ve come to love. Dead Poets Society is a thinker’s film. No IQ drop here.

The only qualm I have is why didn’t they use English actors, (I’m talking about the boys), giving the English atmosphere of the film. Not to say the American actors were miscast or anything, its just that it could’ve been times better with English actors, because most of the seniors talk in an English accent.

Anyway, Robin Williams has one of those careers that can be divided as hits and misses. Great performances they may be, he has a-lot of misses but DPS is certainly not one of them. It’s a hit, in fact more than that. After watching him in countless comedy roles, it certainly was surprising to see him do a dramatic one. Something that I did not see coming. Although his performance as the charismatic and utterly likable John Keating is of no match to his own performance asSean Maguire, it certainly is one of his damn greatest. He is one of those cool teachers that you wish you had in school, high-school, university whatever. Robin Williams almost perfectly combines comedy and drama, as noted when he gives an inspiring speech and then does an imitation of Marlon Brando and John Wayne. Now that’s class, something you don’t see everyday and something not everyone has the power to do, except maybe, I said maybe, Tom Hanks.

From the others, Robert Sean Leonard was truly excellent and he was the king of all sans-Williams scenes. Nearly all were excellent in their respective roles but Leonard was a rung above than everybody else. The closest was Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson, a character with whom I quite-associated myself with. I swear, that was me up there, you know. When Keating drags Anderson to the middle of the class and encourages him to say aloud his poetry was something that happened to me, almost similar, but, instead of poetry, it was reading an essay I’d written. That moment won me over and I rewinded that oh-so many times. I may not be exactly like Todd Anderson but we share common characteristics.

In a time where the more CGI the more better your film will be and idiotic high-school movies with unbearable airheads as the lead, Dead Poets Society was a good surprise and certainly one of the films that requires a revisit. 10 times!