Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reqiuem for a Dream (2000)

Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem for a Dream, every so often you just come across a movie that blows you away, just gets you completely off guard and leaves you speechless. At first I sat there briskly, looking at this film seeing only a pretentious mess, but the ending just blew me away, and then I managed to read a message of love from the girl I love, only problem it was to another guy. It was then I realised how powerful this film is, although it has nothing to do with my situation, it has just hit me so hard. Requiem for a Dream is just a tragic story, so horrible to see the effects of drugs on the group of people it follows, although at the same time it is a complete misfire. Requiem for a Dream is riddled with faults that I was willing to pass this as pretentious and prepare for some controversy, but it gave me a feeling like no other. I have been left with such a fulfilling feeling, not sadness, nor was I euphoric.
The lovers

The plot follows a mother, her son, his girlfriend and his friend. The mother, Sarah Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a sad lonely old woman who watches this show – I am not exactly sure what it is game show/self -help programme – anyhow she is addicted to the show.   Her life seems dull as she gets the odd visit from her junkie son Harry (Jared Leto) and his visits are not usually pleasant. Although she gets a call saying that she will be a contestant for the show she loves so dearly, and her life is revitalised and she suddenly has meaning to her life. So apart from having an extra motivation, she tries to fit in her old red dress of great sentimental value, only to see she does not fit in her proudest moment. That red dress is what she’s going to wear on TV, so a friend suggests these pills a doctor prescribes to help her fit in the dress, the problem is she starts to get addicted, and cannot stop.
The other story follows Harry, his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). They are all Heroin addicts and enter the life of the drug trade attempting to get the good life. Unfortunately, they manage to overlook some grim events by dreaming of their happy future together.  The group only go from worse to worse after their string of luck, just ending in tragedy.
There was something odd about this movie. I was about to throw this away into the bin of over-rated trite like I have done with a few others. The plot was very cloudy, the one of Sarah was well made, but the one following Harry was confusing and never caught your attention. I could not go into to a great detail of what happened, because it never seemed to be effective in the parts it needed to be, or never gave you a clear picture on what was happening. Although Harry’s story is filled with such effective tragedy, I could sit here telling you how it is unbalanced and sketchily executed it all is, yet in the end I was given a feeling like no other film. Requiem for a Dream is the closest I have gotten to the feeling of when I first watched Donnie Darko, which is the single best movie experience I have ever had.
The story Sarah on the other hand was excellently executed. I think with more development her story itself could have made whole movie, although Requiem for a Dream goes for a broader look upon the consequences of drug abuse, instead of restricting itself to the one instance.   

It of course can look lovely
The acting on a whole was odd. With the exception of Ellen Burstyn, the acting is mediocre; they never seem to rise above anything great, due to low character development. Although it is seemingly bad acting at the beginning, as you grow attached to the characters, they seem to get better and they never do particularly bad. One of the main problems I found with the story of Harry is there is a lack of empathy. You know they are going through difficult times, but due to the confusion, you never feel for them until the ending, where the empathy-meter goes through the roof. I think probably my main problem with the film stopping it from becoming one of my favourites is the characters never get grounded and focused until the ending, which is why I have grown so fond of it in the last thirty-odd minutes.
Ellen Burstyn’s performance on the other hand is something that keeps you going through the whole film. Her performance at first is placid; you picture her as just the old woman who cannot really act. To a degree, it is true; she has a strange demeanour about herself that makes her realistic. As the movie progresses she deals with the difficult material she is given well and perhaps her only problem is giving the senile act too early in the film, but when the senile is needed, she perfects it.

Darren Aronofsky’s direction is highly experimental. He is a fan of the “Hip Hop Montage”, which is fast editing and shot cuts. While the average movie has about 600-700 cuts, Requiem for a Dream, being a reasonably short movie has over 2000. Darren at sometimes can be pretentious, but the direction is without a doubt the most powerful tool Requiem for a Dream has; it is also has some of the most distinctive direction I have ever seen. He also uses a double screen technique where the screen would show two separate things happening, often from different perspectives of one occurrence. While the direction can be off-putting at times, being perhaps too complex for the common audience viewer, it is effective, as you will get in a film. The tight editing also keeps your mind stimulated, keeping you interested in boring moments, but helps this tragic story come to life. Unfortunately, due to the low-budget and odd direction, Requiem does miss out on great visual, while myself am not a visual junkie, movies like this really can add an extra punch with great visuals. So at times, you could say we have highly experimental and interesting cinemaphotography, opposed to attractive cinema photography. In the end, though all this rustic work Aronofsky loves to do can be a visual letdown, Requiem manages to pays off as one of the most effective films I have ever seen.

Some direction oddities
Overall, I could sit here all day listing the problems with this movie, Requiem for a Dream itself is as much as a tragedy as the story is portrays. Yet to be left speechless, getting a similar feeling to which I got from my first viewing of Donnie Darko, you know this film matters. The acting is not perfect, the plot is cloudy and it can be an eye sore; although it has such a powerful ending, moral and direction like no other movie, you can easily overlook all these problems. Requiem for a Dream successfully demonizes addiction, but also gives a powerful and realistic tale to send a chill down a spine.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Rocky II (1979)

Rocky II (1979)

Rocky Two, although this not the classic likes its predecessor, rarely do sequels come close to ever doing so, and I believe Rocky Two is an under-rated film. If you are a Rocky sequel, you tend to get quite a lot of bad reputation, not such as the sequels themselves being bad, but just by the amount sequels there are. Although the Rocky franchise has a feeble amount of sequels too say the Godzilla franchise, which is currently holding twenty-eight and counting sequels. When it comes to mainstream audiences, they are not used to this many sequels, well with the exception of horrors. Therefore, Rocky Two is a solid film, although it does not branch-out too far away from its predecessor story, it keeps you entertained and you should be satisfied with your viewing. There is not much new, but improves on entertainment value, it remains as a welcomed sequel to the masterpiece Rocky.

The film opens up with the last boxing match of Rocky, although it may seem like filler, I think it refreshes your memory on the last movie. You could just come back to any movie just for some entertainment, and this would help us just remember the story. After it shows the last boxing match, it follows Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) as they go to the hospital after the bout in Rocky. Later in private Apollo tells Rocky he tried his hardest, the story changes when the press come-out, the story changes to him not even trying, and calls for a rematch. Rocky says he is retired, and marries Adrian (Talia Shire). Therefore, Rocky tries to move on with his life, going on a spending spree after the fight, he starts to get short on cash, and he does not get the office job he intended. Guess what, Adrian gets pregnant, so Rocky starts to struggle when his advertising career does not go to plan. Predictably, Rocky decides to back to boxing, but it is not as easy as he intended.
Rocky Two is a lot more predictable than Rocky; this is not always a problem though. The story is handled well, the way it deals of the life after the fairytale story, which in itself becomes another fairytale story. There is something about watching Rocky trying his hardest, but struggling outside the world of boxing, it surprisingly succeeds in empathy. Empathy is the reason why so many sequels fail, but this sequel just feels right, and not out of place. Rocky Two is basically Rocky, but more inflated, but not too ridiculous. For example the famous running up the stairs scene, this time is joined by about fifty or more children, which is a little ridiculous when you see it, they just happen to be on the streets and run with him. Also Rocky Two manages to fill the whole stadium, a common sign of high budget when they can get large crowds, opposed to Rocky where they darken out the back seats.
The acting has not changed much. The characters are the same, perhaps more developed to some degree, although others like Paulie are left in the dark and do not shine like they do in the original. Stallone brings perhaps a more broader performance, but not as good. Stallone's constant ramblings, idioms and 'jokes' seem a lot more contrived and tedious. Although Stallone gains more control than ever, he seems to be in less control of his performance, although his broader performance stretches to father, worker and underdog. His character does not change, but grows a lot more, without yanking at the heart string, although it does try for sympathy, it's not quite in your face yet.
The support cast are the same story as Stallone really. They all got broader parts, although I think Burt Young was a more neglected. Mickey on the other hand is a lot more interesting a stereotype in this film, which I enjoyed.

This time Stallone was put behind the camera, which already shouts danger everywhere. Stallone plays a dimwit, and he is so good at it because he is a dimwit in real life, maybe he can be lucky with an act, but direction is something really important. The thing is, you do not really notice much of a difference, sure it is not the clever direction as Rocky, but it is not too different, and there's always deterioration with a sequel in direction quality. Rocky Two is a lot sloppier, but Stallone brings all the emotion intended. The boxing matches are more exhilarating and entertaining. The emotional parts are more cliché though, similar too Rocky, Stallone seems to get more common dilemmas, like pregnancy. Therefore, it is not as original or as effective, but it avoids reading like an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, it is still a great movie with great emotional aspects.
The more epic fight
Overall, Rocky Two is a bigger, inflated Rocky, yet never diverts too far, keeping its quality. It is a lot more predictable and cliché. Rocky Two though continues the great story, grows on it and is more inspirational than ever following yet again the underdog, although the ending is almost certainly known before the movie pasts the ten-minute mark. Yet the ride we are given is an entertaining fallout, but solemn as well. The workout scenes are also perhaps more of a reason to get down and do push-ups.

Rocky (1976)

Rocky (1976)
Rocky, without a doubt it is the height of inspiration in our cinema history. Rocky has asserted itself so well into our essential viewing collection, its spawned many parodies and memorable scenes. A tall order to call for Stallone who both wrote and acted as the main character, to create a decent drama, when he's given himself the reputation as a bad acting action star. Truth be told, Stallone has never been close to matching the Rocky series, although he has made a few actions, which the average rev-head would love. So you start to ask yourself, how can someone like Stallone make a masterpiece about boxing? The whole story was written in three days, it has a miniscule budget and of course, we got a big meathead with the lead role; all that Rocky gives us is quite easily a recipe for disaster, somewhat like The Room, a low-budget drama with an all-rounder on and off stage. Yet Rocky excels past your average low-budget independent film, it just has that extra little spice, which truly inspires you. I do not know about you, but I found myself trying a few push-ups during the work out scene.

The plot is quite a pleasant tale, although very simple. A washed-up amateur boxer lives a slow easy life. Just making his way by, earning an odd forty dollars a fight, doing a few little side jobs for the neighbourhood crook. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) also has a female conquest, where he tries and fails out of her shy nature. Meanwhile, in the evil headquarters - Apollo Creed's (Carl Weathers, the current heavyweight champion) manager's office - Apollo and his managers/trainers and whatever else a boxer needs discuss the recent boxer drought, them all being too scared to fight him, as he has never lost before. Therefore, with no professionals left, he gets an amateur at random, it happens to be Rocky, or the Italian Stallion. Apollo makes it out as an 'opportunity' for the average America, but really, it is just self-promotion. Rocky reluctantly accepts, and he gets ready for the fight. The problem is Rocky Balboa does not know it is a show.
The plot is simplistic, but most of it is Rocky sorting out his life. In hindsight Rocky is three-quarters of solid talking, which too many would be unappealing. Yet Rocky uses very realistic and humble story telling. The whole movie is about one man, but it does not seem like self-indulgence, Stallone always manages to seem like the underdog and highly likable, opposed to other pretentious Wiseau's. As well as surprisingly entertaining and emotionally moving slow-paced story telling, you will be rewarded with a fantastic boxing match. The Rocky series always creates a great fight, always interesting and well-made fights, well maybe with the exception of Rocky V.
Rocky Vs Apollo
The acting is probably one of the biggest points of criticism. Stallone is not a good actor, his actions lack the egotistical steroid madness, which he really needs, but Rocky is different. Stallone does a really lazy performance, it's as if he's not even trying, and when he does it's not very good. That is exactly why Rocky is so great though, Stallone and the support cast all bring a sense of realism to the film, the conversations at times are pointless, but that makes them all the better. The acting is probably the highlight of Rocky, Stallone brings such a strange act to the screen, and it is really just interesting to watch. Stallone has this trait, he rambles on screen, so you cannot really hear him too well and it seems to have nothing to do with the story sometimes, but when put in context, well all tend to ramble when we are trying to talk to a girl who is so shy she can hardly look at you. Therefore, all this nonsensical ramblings of Stallone start to make sense, agree?
Therefore, Stallone does a fantastic job, probably by accident, but it still is a great performances, he is just not a good actor. The support cast on the other hand, are a little more refined than Stallone; in fact, I do not think there is anyone else who could have pulled-off Rocky. Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith, all do fantastic jobs. They all create a great character, and they do not fall into cliché too much, although Apollo is a little under-developed, he becomes a well-known character as the series continues.

Rocky did not win Best Director for nothing. John Avildsen uses the million-dollar budget, and creates a really well made film. As I said such a boring idea is made entertaining. He gets a lower levelled poor feeling around Rocky, but still gives us rustically pristine shots. Probably the most famous parts of Rocky would be the running up the stairs, very inspirational, and throughout out the whole time the camera and music all follow his workout, and creates such an inspiring image.
There are always the boxing matches. Rocky brings us some of the most beautiful use of boxing matches in cinema, while Raging Bull concentrated more on the mental state of Jake LaMotta in the ring, Rocky concentrates on the actual fight. This will always hinder Rocky from being better than Raging Bull, but they really are vast in comparison. In conclusion, Rocky maybe a little slow for some, but there are always entertaining and well-made fights that are always guaranteed to spark the inspiration-o-meter.
Training methods

I have already explained the criticism for Rocky on acting, so what else do people whine about? Probably the worst aspect of Rocky would be how predictable it is, for some people it just reads too easily. Yet I feel that we have enough tragedy in the boxing movies of pre-1970. It also is not as predictable as many claim it to be, in fact, the ending was quite a surprise. This is no Eraserhead, but Rocky has too many great attributes to let the predictable nature destroy it. Let us not forget we all need the occasional predictable masterpiece, otherwise the twists and surprise would be the new predictable, sometimes we need a tale of inspiration to be successful, but is it really with Rocky?

Overall, Rocky is a truly inspiring movie. It is such a calm relaxing masterpiece, and Stallone remains humble in all the possible self-promotion opportunities. Rocky cements itself as a masterpiece into our cinema with great acting, great story telling, and the ability to get the most lethargic of people and have them doing push-ups.