Saturday, 14 August 2010

Batman Begins 2005 - directed by Christopher Nolan

It was only a few weeks ago that I found out that Christopher Nolan is English. I was reading about him in anticipation of seeing Inception. I felt a great sense of pride when I found out he was English, I get that with people I really admire, I think, awesome, here's one of my countrymen doing something amazing. The Dark Knight (also directed by Nolan) is one of my favourite movies, and I have a real fondness and intrigue for Batman, always have done, there is something about the idea of Batman that always seemed more plausible than the other superhero comics/movies I read/watched, he wasn't too straightforward or ridiculous, and he was never too good, which made Superman's goodness sometimes hard for me to take in because it was so upsetting when people would be horrible to him.

I remember going to see Batman Begins at the cinema, I wasn't sure what to expect, I love Burton's take on Batman (lets ignore the other Batman movies that came out between then and Batman Begins) and so I remember being sat in the cinema watching Batman Begins and not really being in the right state of mind to really enjoy the film, there was a lot of pressure and expectation, and at the time I felt underwhelmed by what I saw. As I said before, The Dark Knight is one of my favourite movies, and really after seeing that at the cinema - 7 times! you'd think it'd have made me want to watch Batman Begins again, I mean it's the same director for Christ's sake, and a solid cast - but nope, I left it all this time, until last night to rewatch it, and Batman Begins: you are a fantastic movie, really really great, sometimes a movie takes that second watch just to click.

The lonely existence of Bruce Wayne is brilliantly executed by an always very unanimated Christian Bale (I mean this as a good thing, Bale has this smirky acting style which reminds me somewhat of Harrison Ford). We really get a sense of the anguish Bruce Wayne went through in seeing his parents murdered before him as a child, and the disarray and upheavel which this impacted on his life.

Bats! We learn where Bruce's inspiration for Batman as a symbol came from, and it stems from fear (scary child bat encounter - argh) and thematically we understand the importance of Bruce coming face to face with his fears, and learning to mature past wanting revenge, to wanting to retain the good that is still left in Gotham City (a city which Bruce's father helped to make). We understand the burden that Bruce feels he carries, and we believe in his need to feel like a protector of Gotham City, and of the system which failed him.

The movie features lots of excellent dialogue. The training stage of the movie, where we see Bruce Wayne acquiring the strength needed both inward and outward to be able to face his deepest fears, features some excellent exchanges between Bruce and his mentor Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson).

Henri Ducard: Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.
Bruce Wayne: That's why it's so important. It separates us from them.

I also completely adore the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred (Michael Caine). This a a relationship I have always loved, and the pairing of Bale and Caine is brilliant in that the distant and lonely Bruce really finds a sense of family and home with Wayne Manor's resident butler, and subsequent carer for Bruce - Alfred.

I love the repeated exchange between Bruce and Alfred, where Bruce says to Alfred: 'Haven't given up on me yet?' to which Alfred replies with a smile: 'Never!' It's so charming and says a lot about how loyal Alfred is to Bruce, and we understand Bruce's trust in Alfred, as he confides in him about his idea of becoming a protector of the city, his Batman creation.

It's just so cool watching this movie to see how Batman emerges from being an idea, to actually being an actual reality, and one that Bruce Wayne chooses to stick with. We also observe how Bruce struggles to retain his own life and identity alongside this dual identity of his, a factor which proves difficult in entertaining a relationship with childhood friend and now assistant DA Rachel Dawes. 'It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you'

I love Batman. I love this movie. Batman Begins is a perfect beginning to the Batman saga, the key players are set up, Commissioner Gordon is honest and wonderfully played by one of my favourites - Gary Oldman, Gotham itself looks like the cool and imposing city it should be, and Arkham Asylum is crammed full with the city's insane. This is the (almost) perfect prelude to the masterpiece which came next: The Dark Knight.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A Bronx Tale 1993 - directed by Robert De Niro

I'm not sure what to say about this movie other than 'wow'

Firstly have a read of this review by the wonderful film critic Roger Ebert:

A Bronx Tale

A boy comes of age in an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. His father gives him a piece of advice: "Nothing is more tragic than a wasted talent." A street-corner gangster gives him another piece of advice: "Nobody really cares." These pieces of advice seem contradictory, but the boy finds that they make a nice fit.

The movie starts when he is 9. Sitting on his front stoop, he sees Sonny, the gangster, shoot a man in what looks like a fight over a parking space. Then Sonny looks him in the eyes, hard, and the kids gets the message: "Don't squeal!" Sonny (Chazz Palminteri) wants to do something for the kid, and offers a cushy $150 a week paycheck to his father, Lorenzo (Robert De Niro). Lorenzo turns him down. He is a workingman, proud that he supports his family by driving a bus.

He doesn't like the Mafia and doesn't want the money.

The kid, whose name is Calogero but who is called C, idolizes Sonny. He likes the way Sonny exercises a quiet authority, and talks with his hands, and dresses well. When C is 17, he goes to work for Sonny, against his father's wishes. And in the year when most of the film is set, he learns lessons that he will use all of his life.

"A Bronx Tale" was written for the stage by Palminteri, who plays Sonny with a calm grace in the film, but was Calogero in real life. There have been a lot of movies about neighborhood Mafiosos (Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" was the best), but this movie isn't like the others. It doesn't tell some dumb story about how the bus driver and the mobster have to shoot each other, or about how C is the hostage in a tug of war. It's about two men with some experience of life, who love this kid and want to help him out.

Lorenzo, the bus driver, gives sound advice: "You want to see a real hero? Look at a guy who gets up in the morning and goes off to work and supports his family. That's heroism." But Sonny gives sound advice, too. One of the things he tells C is that you cannot live your life on the basis of what other people think you should do, because when the chips are down, nobody really cares. You're giving them a power they don't really have. That sounds like deep thinking for a guy who hangs on the corner and runs a numbers racket, but Sonny, as played by Palminteri, is a complex, lonely character, who might have been a priest or a philosopher had not life called him to the vocation of neighborhood boss.

It is 1968. Blacks are moving into the next neighborhood.

C's friends entertain themselves by beating up on black kids who ride past on their bikes. C has other things on his mind. On his father's bus, he has seen a lovely black girl named Jane (Taral Hicks), and been struck with the thunderbolt of love. From the way she smiles back, she likes him, too. When he discovers that they go to the same school, he knows his fate is to ask her out.

But he is troubled, because in 1968 this is not the thing for a kid from his neighborhood (or hers) to do. He questions both his father and Sonny, posing a hypothetical case, and although neither bursts into liberalspeak about the brotherhood of man, both tell him about the same thing, which is that you have to do what you think is right, or live with the consequences.

C's romance is a sweet subplot of the movie, which is filled with life and memories. There are, for example, the characters in Sonny's crowd, including a guy who is such bad luck he has to go stand in the bathroom when Sonny is rolling the dice. And another guy with a complexion so bad he looks like raisin bread. And strange visitors from outside the neighborhood - bikers and hippies and black people - who remind us that C lives in a closed and insular community.

The climax of the film finds C inside a car he does not want to occupy, going with his friends to do something he doesn't want to do. This part is very true. Peer pressure is a terrible thing among teenage boys. It causes them to do things they desperately wish they could avoid. They're afraid to look chicken, or different. C is no exception. His whole life hinges on the outcome of that ride.

"A Bronx Tale" is a very funny movie sometimes, and very touching at other times. It is filled with life and colorful characters and great lines of dialogue, and De Niro, in his debut as a director, finds the right notes as he moves from laughter to anger to tears. What's important about the film is that it's about values.

About how some boys grow up into men who can look at themselves in the mirror in the morning, and others just go along with the crowd, forgetting after a while that they ever had a choice.

The scene posted above depicts the kind of streetwise and just wise advice that local mobster Sonny gives to Calogero 'C' - he's helping to shape the kid just like Calogero's father Lorenzo is too (captured in the scene below). Both Sonny and Lorenzo are doing what they can to benefit C, from different standpoints but ultimately their intentions are the same, they want the best for C.

Watching this movie and how Calogero admires and respects these two important figures in his life against the backdrop of his teenage years and the turbulance captured in the racial tension between bordering neighbourhoods, is a wonderful thing; A Bronx Tale has a heart, and through so often simply put dialogue, the relationships between the main characters are given such depth to them that we feel as an audience that we have known them all for years.

The Bronx neighbourhood is full of colourful characters who give this movie a real sense of the true vibe and bustle that was the life of an Italian teenager living in the 1960's era Bronx.

The one particular line of dialogue which really struck a chord with me in this movie was a line that De Niro's character Lorenzo says to Calogero at age 9, they're at the last stop of Lorenzo's bus route, and they're having a tender father/son moment, and Lorenzo says to his son, he says: 'The saddest thing in life is wasted talent' - and that meant a lot to me, and I know I'll take that piece of advice with me - the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. I kinda wish someone had said to me when I was 9 years old, but hey, I'm 24 and I can still take a lot from that.

This is one hell of a movie, and Chazz Palminteri, my god you're good (he wrote the script and stars as Sonny). You have to watch this movie. Do it. Now if you can.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Somersault 2004 - directed by Cate Shortland

Somersault is a delicate and beautifully shot film that follows the journey of teenager Heidi (Abbie Cornish) as she stumbles her way through the loneliness that imposes her like a punishment for the mistakes which she's made at home, so taking a trip away from home Heidi moves to the colder climes of Jindabyne where she meets a boy called Joe (Sam Worthington) who she wants to hold hands with, more than anything else, but Joe finds it difficult to be able to form a relationship with Heidi, and so the two form this close bond with each other that is denied to blossom into the love it could aspire to be. Insecurities, mixed emotions, lust and the inexperience of meaningful sexual relationships - arghhh, a nightmare to tackle right? But Somersault deals with all these themes brilliantly, with a light step and well thought out characters - and this is what makes Somersault a brilliant coming of age movie - it is able to keep us on side with the curious and still often childlike Heidi, as she struggles to cope with the frequently painful journey that being a teenage girl can be. Heidi is given warmth and charm through the amazing performance from Abbie Cornish who really captures the fragility of Heidi's state of mind as we watch her do things we know and wish she wouldn't do.

The film is scored by Australian band Decoder Ring, and their dreamy soundscape is a perfect accompaniment for the wide-eyed Heidi as we watch her make self discoveries, both good and bad.

The setting of Jindabyne - a cold Australian ski-resort town - is an excellent choice of location for this movie, as the bite of the atmosphere acts like a reflection of the events happening. The warmth between Heidi and Joe is stalled by the cool attitude that pervades Joe, his inability to give Heidi a real relationship because of his own issues (sexual confusion, discomfort in showing affection, pressure from his peers etc). As an audience we will Heidi and Joe to work, but ultimately we know their relationship is doomed because they just haven't learnt all the lessons they need yet, about themselves, to give their relationship a decent chance of working - another sad but accurate depiction of teenage strife!

In short Somersault is a beautiful piece of cinema, and a brave movie that doesn't pare down the pain and upset that teenage confusion can bring, and it is yet another Australian gem of a movie - bravo Cate Shortland, an excellent debut! (Try Little Fish and Candy too, for more awesome examples of excellent Australian cinema).

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Frantic 1988 - directed by Roman Polanski

Frantic is one of my favourite thrillers. It has the Hitchcock stamp of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time - in foreign surroundings (think North by Northwest/ Foreigh Correspondent - both brilliant movies). It stars the always compelling Harrison Ford as the frantic husband who is searching for his wife after she has gone missing in Paris shortly after they have checked into their hotel room. The setup is great, we see this loving couple settling in to their hotel room, nothing is overly done, this is all very real and brilliantly shot. The movie is perfectly paced and we feel the frustration of Richard Walker's scenario (Ford's character) as he desperately tries to piece together the few clues he has as to where his wife may be. There are also great little bouts of humour in the film which again reflect the reality of a trying situation when sometimes the only emotion left to default to is humour. Richard Walker's befriending of Michelle (played by the beautiful Emmanuelle Seigner) adds warmth to what is on the whole a very isolating movie (we see how Walker struggles in Paris, unable to speak French, and unable to convince anyone that his wife has been kidnapped) past the point of Walker's wife disappearing.

The movie is also kind of strange, as reflected in much of the music chosen, and also in the twists and turns the plot takes. I always remember a certain scene where Walker and Michelle have entered an Arab club, they are here to talk to a lead they have on Walker's wife, and whilst there Michelle asks Walker to dance, and boy what a dance!

Another of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Walker and Michelle are driving in her car, and Michelle asks Walker what kind of music he likes, he replies that he likes old music, and Michelle says she does too, sat in the car they're listening to Grace Jones and Walker says this isn't old music, and Michelle says it is, it's 3 or 4 years old.

Frantic is a Roman Polanski gem and a must for all Harrison Ford fans.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Unforgiven 1992 - directed by Clint Eastwood

Clint talks about westerns and what appealed to him about the Unforgiven screenplay which he purchased in 1980 but rested on until 1992.

The opening visual style of Unforgiven is humble as the camera immerses us in the impoverished life of William Munny (Clint Eastwood) and his two children. Munny used to be different to how he is now, he used to be a cold-hearted killer, but as an audience we see him first as a hog farmer and a father who remains steadfastly faithful to the wife that changed him from his old ways, when he met her 10 years. We are told in an opening script that his wife died from smallpox 3 years ago and this leaves us primed to engage with William Munny's loneliness just like the loneliness of the single tree that stands in the glow of a sunset as the prologue continues to scroll.

Here we see a man trying to reconnect with his old self. Set to undertake a final score so that he can benefit his family (classic western fodda). Munny's children have no idea of the man their father used to be, and at this point in the movie neither do we, but we see something of the character's determination, and we're encouraged to like him for that.

A reward has been set of $1000 to kill two cowboys who attacked a whore called Delilah, they left her face all cut up, meaning that she can no longer can work, and the whores see themselves as more than just whores, they are strong-willed women who stand up for their rights as people, and as a result the whores at the tavern in the town of Big Whiskey put all their money together so that they are able to pay this reward out to whoever kills these men for what they've done to their friend. This sense of loyalty and friendship adds a real depth of emotion to the notion of 'settling a score' - And it is partly the money which drives Munny to assist the lone stranger who came to his home asking for his help (based on his past reputation) but also the nature of what ills the cowboys at stake have done.

Whilst in the town of Big Whiskey Munny has a run in with the power-tripping Sheriff 'Little Bill' as played wonderfully wickedly by Gene Hackman. Little Bill has done little in the line of punishment in regards to the two cowboys who harmed Delilah, instead he ordered the cowboys to bring a number of ponies as a way of paying the tavern owner 'Skinny' for his troubles. Little Bill upholds the law in Big Whiskey with an iron fist, but he is far from fair. Munny suffers under his temper and in his weak state he leaves the town for the outskirts in a state of fever, where it is he is tended to by Delilah. On Munny's awakening from his fever 3 days after the event in town, he awakes to see Delilah taking care of him.

There is a moment of dialogue between the two of them - Munny and Delilah, as they sit on the porch of the hut where Munny is staying, as a sort of safe house - Little Bill is in the knowledge of thinking that he has headed back South.

This moment of dialogue is a confession from Delilah meaning that she cares for Munny, for what he is doing for her, and it is a grateful Munny being sincere to his heart and with whom it still belongs to.

Delilah Fitzgerald: Are you still goin to kill those men?
Will Munny: I reckon so. The moneys still available, aint it?
Delilah Fitzgerald: Yeah. Your two friends have been taking advances
on the money.
Will Munny: What?
Delilah Fitzgerald: You know, free ones. [Will looks confused] Alice
and Silky been givin them free ones. Would you like a free one?
Will Munny: I reckon not.
Delilah Fitzgerald: [Misunderstanding Will] I didnt mean with me.
Alice and Silky would be glad to give you one.
Will Munny: I meant I didnt want a free one with Alice or Silky.
Because of my wife back home. I reckon if I was to want a free one,
it would be with you.

Again we see the loyalty that Munny has to his dead wife, and we also observe the sensitive nature he has to Delilah's looks. From the way they are together you can sense a certain warmth between them. It is tender moments like this throughout this movie which make it a truly brilliant film.

We see an isolated Munny towards the end of the movie, alone and seeking vengence, and we see that old Munny that we keep hearing so much about creep back to the fore, as Munny takes himself back to the town of Big Whiskey, to settle a more personal score.

Unforgiven is a moving western with a badass ending - excellent, excellent casting, and a reminder of why it is that we should adore Clint Eastwood.

Read this great review of Unforgiven by movie critic Roger Ebert

Another excellent review here

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Solaris 2002 - directed by Steven Soderbergh

Chris Kelvin is played by George Clooney, and Rheya by Natascha McElhone. Borrowing heavily from the Tarkovsky film, this version of Solaris is a meditative psychodrama set almost entirely on a space station, adding flashbacks to the previous experiences of its main characters on Earth.

A psychologist still dealing with the loss of his wife, Chris Kelvin receives a disturbing video message from a friend and scientist, Gibarian, asking for Chris' help and that he must come to the enigmatic planet, Solaris. He agrees to go on the mission to Solaris as a last attempt to recover the crew. Kelvin, arriving at the space station, quickly learns that members of the crew have died (or even disappeared) under mysterious circumstances with the only two surviving members reluctant to explain the cause. After shockingly encountering his dead wife alive again, Chris discovers that Solaris has been creating physical replications of people familiar to each crew member. Up until the end, Chris struggles with the questions of Solaris' motivation, his beliefs and memories, and reconciling what was lost with an opportunity for a second chance.

To me the film is one about the emotions that drive us, the ones with the repurcussions that we feel for years and years after we first encountered them. The movie is so delicate, so beautiful, it is sparse and isolating, and this is mirrored so perfectly with the idea of space, and being out there within it, unready to come back to earth because of questions that can't be answered and things that can't be explained. Solaris is given this charge of being both beautiful and tempting, the visuals of the movie are stunning and the soundtrack is perfectly aligned with the emotions experienced throughout the film.

There is a great moment of dialogue between George Clooney's character Chris and his friend Gibarian (who is the friend who has asked Chris to help bring the crew back to earth):

Chris Kelvin: What does Solaris want from us?
Gibarian: Why do you think it has to want something? This is why you have to leave. If you keep thinking there's a solution, you'll die here.
Chris Kelvin: I can't leave her. I'll figure it out.
Gibarian: Do you understand what I'm trying to tell you? There are no answers, only choices.

There is also a really moving moment between Chris and his wife (who is dead on earth but who has come back to him because of Solaris) She has the opportunity to ask her husband how it felt to be on earth without her:

Rheya Kelvin: Were you alone?
Chris Kelvin: Yes.
Rheya Kelvin: Was that difficult?
Chris Kelvin: It was easier than being with someone else.

To me that moment of dialogue sums up how it feels to be in the wake of having loved and been loved.

This is an excellent movie.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

This blog is named from a Blade Runner quote, so it's only right to start with a Blade Runner post

I think of Blade Runner and I think of beauty.

I think it's the most beautiful film I can think of.

I think of true love when I think of Deckard and Rachael, and I think that it's hard because so much acts against it - to test it, and that I can understand.

I think of pain when I think of the Nexus 6 models who experience life for as long as they're allowed to.

I think of the grace that the suffering Batty exhibits when there is no longer any hope left for him.

I see the movie as a beautiful address to the pain that we experience in life; the pain that is caused by the good (ie love) and the bad (ie the cap of our existence).

Sci-fi movies have this wonderful way of detailing humanity in as few words as possible. Watching Blade Runner makes me feel very alive and very conscious of myself and my past, and the ways in which I'd like to move forward in my life. It helps to simplify what matters most.

Blade Runner - one of my favourites!