Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gummo (1997)

Gummo (1997)
“Life is beautiful. Really, it is. Full of beauty and illusions. Life is great. Without it, you'd be dead.”

“Although it has failed whatever it had tried to do, at least the attempt was made. 2001: A Space Odyssey made a hugely ambitious jump in the style of narrative in film, and its hailed as a classic to this day, and one of my favourites. Would I have liked 2001 if I hadn’t heard the praise? Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it, but it’s almost impossible to avoid prerequisite opinion.”
I’m not sure what Gummo is trying to tell me, but what’s most important is I don’t care. Doesn’t matter how anit-feline you are, or how much arm wrestling you have, I still don’t care about Gummo. Don’t get me wrong, I love weird movies, they really add an extra dynamic to the often-deprived industry, but ever so often there comes a movie so weird and pointless, it just defeats the purpose of making the film. However, this film has gotten a lot of praise from a small group of people, like most semi-experimental independent films, you either hate or love them, especially if they are ‘weird’. I say weird very loosely, since people think Donnie Darko is weird. However, it isn’t really, it’s just a complex narrative, but it’s still conventional as far as structure is concerned, weird is when you start to change narrative structure and reasoning. Gummo is a perfect example of this, sometimes it can be brilliant i.e. Eraserhead, and sometimes it’s a disaster i.e. this movie. However, to be fair, it’s like flipping a coin, you tend to go either way, how often does a coin land on its side? Well for some it was a life changing experience, for me it was an experience causing me to slam my head into the wall until the pretty colours kept me entertained.

So you’re probably asking yourself, what is this about exactly? Well the best I could make of it was a bunch of random nothingness, cat genocide, taped nipples and a bunch of rednecks arm wrestling. According to my friend Rotten Tomatoes, the teens of tornado-scarred Xenia, OH, kill cats, tape their boobies, arm-wrestle, bathe, cross-dress, huff glue, avoid perverts, pay to have sex with retarded girls, lift makeshift dumbbells to the strains of Madonna's "Like a Prayer," fight, cuss, shave their eyebrows, undergo cancer treatment, euthanize senior citizens, and pee on passing cars.” I guess that’s how you describe the whole affair, a bunch of random stuff, piled on top of each other.
Don't ask...
Gummo’s major problem is it succeeds in exactly what it’s trying to do, which is not always a good thing. Gummo is like a toilet, sure you can scrub it till its shiny, and you can add things on the side to make it smell pleasant, but it’s still a toilet, a clean toilet and a dirty one doesn’t make either more innovative or exciting, just the cleaner toilet is more tolerable. That is exactly Gummo’s problem, its story is nonsensical and boring, you can explain how its suppose to be like that, or that Gummo does this well, but in either case, it’s doing bad well. Gummo despite some promising scenes and interesting prospects, loses its novelty, and becomes boring and vile. 

The performances are portrayed mainly by redneck friends of the Harmony (that’s the director’s name), and yes they are as bad as you would expect a bunch of random rednecks acting to be. There are a lot of child actors, and anyone who knows me, knows that I absolutely hate child actors, hate them, hate them, hate them! More than often Gummo suffers from actors looking at the camera, despite this though; acting is not as bad as it could be. Since the actors have to only portray random people, they don’t need much depth to any degree.  And the main character Solomon, doesn’t do a bad job. Sure, maybe I like him mainly because of his quirky appearance, which would make him brilliant in any good movie; he was actually an actor with potential.

To Gummo’s credit, it’s quite a good looking movie. But of course so is Avatar, but unlike most independent films and exploitation films, Gummo doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out, and for those reason Gummo does have some great disturbing scenes, it’s a shame it was all put together as good as the Troll sequels, but at least the ideas are there, somewhere... What Gummo succeeds in though, is its rare scenes of brilliance, as it can be very disturbing at times. What Gummo doesn’t realise is shaving your eyebrows may be disturbing, but not when it’s just someone randomly shaving her eyebrows for no apparent reason. Gummo for me often has a bit of Charles Manson, which really is appealing, but again, it doesn’t fit.
However, before I lock the keys and throw them away, Gummo must be given some praise. Although it has failed whatever it had tried to do, at least the attempt was made. 2001: A Space Odyssey made a hugely ambitious jump in the style of narrative in film, and its hailed as a classic to this day, and one of my favourites. Would I have liked 2001 if I hadn’t heard the praise? Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it, but it’s almost impossible to avoid prerequisite opinion. As much as we try to be truthful and unbiased, to watch an old, or even new release movie usually has a stamp of approval (or disapproval) before you can make you decision. Therefore, it can be said Gummo challenges these issues, although I would say its deeper message is a lot shallower, or shrouded than 2001’s overall premise and theme, at least Gummo challenged the convention to begin with.  

Overall, Gummo is polishing shit, in a weird boring way.Gummo’s message remains shrouded and unknown, that’s to assume there is one to begin with. It would perhaps be acceptable if the stories had some relevance to one another, but they have none, and in the end, we just waste our time watching people abuse and kill cats, which is fun for about 5 minutes, but we still have an hour and 20 minutes to go. 


Basic Instinct (1992)

Basic Instinct (1992)
"What did Manny Vasquez call you?"
"'Bitch' mostly, but he meant it affectionately."

"All we get is a thriller flogging a dead horse with the delusion of high grandeur, a horny sadistic teen playing out his fantasies."
Spoilers-ahoy: The biggest problem I face is the overall predictability. Basic Instinct's biggest mistake is revealing our bad girl (wink, wink) within the first few minutes. Granted you don't see her face, but we see everything else, and when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. It isn't long before we see her again naked as she is treated as a suspect where you can assure yourself she is the killer - my keen teenage eye pays high attention to the dynamic details of a nude female. Here I am, no more than thirty minutes in and I have the whole plot figured out. So you're probably asking, what's the twist? Well sorry to burst your bubble but there's nothing! That's right nothing! All we get is a thriller flogging a dead horse with the delusion of high grandeur, a horny sadistic teen playing out his fantasies. There's not a whole lot new added to the genre expect Stone's delightful inability to wear underwear. Ding, ding we have an answer for the hyperbole - explicit nudity for a mainstream audience trying to get their rocks off with the excuse of essential viewing; I'm not complaining though... 

The story follows Michael Douglas, a sobering cop whom grows attached to a murder in his latest homicide case - the illustrious Sharon Stone. Then we go on a bunch of try hard plot spooks to attempt to have us confused when we already know the answer - with all the cliché scenes you expect from the most basic of thrillers. 

Oddly, Verhoeven's direction works quite well. It's flawed and often lacks any ambitious style to a genre heavily open to experimentation - much like Showgirls, often fun to watch, yet a technical bore. Basic Instinct, although mediocre in almost all its fields has an unusually powerful entertainment value, perhaps if it were devoid of sexuality it would be a different story. Even the performances sit at a steady banality, except the two leads having the occasional spark, especially Stone. However, support roles are satisfactory at best. 

Only reason the film is so popular.

Overall, Basic Instinct rides the success of the bold nudity of Stone, which has perhaps created a landmark in cinematic sexuality, but nothing more. However, despite all its goofiness and predictability, Verhoeven's surprisingly entertaining direction and gracious nudity of Sharon Stone makes quite an enjoyable guilty pleasure. Basic Instincts is one of those films that despite all its problems can support multiple viewings - that's just not the teenage hormones talking either. Moreover, answers to any blows directed to the heavy sexual content, I think it's a great part of the film, unless your parents watch it with you.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood (1994)
"Honey, what if I'm wrong? What if I just don't got it?"
"Ed, it was only one review."
"Orson Welles was only 26 when he made Citizen Kane. I'm already 30."
"Ed, you're still young. This is the time in your life when you're supposed to be struggling."
"I know. But I'm scared it's not going to get any better than this."

"Burton's faithfulness and Depp's striking performance makes this biography a terribly sad film, for success that's never met, with a side of hatred and mockery as a legacy."

I've never had a film that told me to kick myself in the balls before, until I saw Tim Burton's Ed Wood. I, like many people watched Citizen Kane for the first time, and after feeling underwhelmed at 'the best' film ever, I decided to go the other way and watch 'the worst'. With my endeavour I watched Plan 9 From Outer Space and whole bunch of films from the infamous Edward D. Wood Jr. Of course, like most the world, we all laughed and enjoyed the absurdity of his films - full of countless mistakes so obvious I'm not sure how post-production didn't die of laughter, and pretty much anything else that could go wrong with a movie, did. Although I don't believe Ed Wood's films are 'the worst', and he didn't merit the Golden Turkey for 'Worst Director of All Time', he certainly fits a template of public demand, ridiculously entertaining. Anyway, back to the kicking of my balls, which I intrigued you with earlier, Ed Wood is sad! I wouldn't compare Ed Wood to the likes of Kramer vs. Kramer- in the sense of tear jerking. However, Ed Wood may not bring you to tears, it does make you question your own self-worth, especially if your aspiring into the film industry like little naive me. What this film tells is the unfortunate tale of a director (which we can all relate in some degree) just never making it, and leaving a terribly humiliating legacy, and to see Johnny Depp's smile after the biggest rejection of what he tried so hard, I just want to kick my own balls for ever mocking his films. 

Full of Carey-like energy!

It's a fairly truthful biography, although not perfectly accurate, it follows the general idea. Edward D. Wood Jr. - a man born with one of the coolest names ever, continues his life ambitions to become a director, following the footsteps of his idol, Orson Welles. Through pristine black and white, we are served a comical and often strikingly accurate portrayal of the infamous director. Although much of the details are fiction, you get a very satisfying feeling while the film 'nit-picks' the mistakes of Plan 9 (among others), and even re-enact them perfectly. With that said, I never had the urge to wander off and play Tetris like I usually do, there I was, three in the morning, thoroughly entertained and laughing. 

The performances and plot are made for each other, the relationship between the two are best describable as covering your body in butter, then sliding down a giant pile of butter - smooth. What makes Ed Wood such a fun and enjoyable film is the entertaining, yet faithful plot, and the comical performances. Johnny Depp is perhaps one of the most enjoyable actors ever; with every role, he emits an energetic burst of excitement. In this particular role, he has a painful optimism, which makes me just want to drown him with money in the hope he can make something good! Depp fills the shows of a legend in filmmaking, and adds dynamic of sympathy, which previously never occurred to people, but now Plan 9 brings me closer to weeping than laughing. 

Cameos, cameos and cameos!
Let the towns people celebrate in Tim's latest contribution to the world. Burton, directing or not, has always brought a gothic aesthetic to all his works. Burton has always had what I would call reliable work, and to some degree always making entertaining films, despite their quality. Although Burton never seemed to quite make his masterpiece, he's perhaps been close (not necessarily directing), and Ed Wood is his success, however, I do feel he could maybe make a larger impact. As far asEd Wood goes, its brilliantly directed, and adds to its overall, likeableness. 

Overall, like butter on butter, with some extra butter, Ed Wood is smooth, it's a film of extreme likability and quality. Burton's faithfulness and Depp's striking performances makes this biography a terribly sad film, for success that's never met, with a side of hatred and mockery as a legacy. I think Ed Wood's greatest achievement is to not only tell a quality story, but to send a fear into any aspiring filmmaker, that you may one day fail, go into porn and be known as 'the worst'.


Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane (1941)

"Welles's accidental semi-autobiographical film stops trying to tell a good story, but tells a story perfectly." 

Is this the greatest film of all time? Well to answer this question we have to understand the type of person who watches this film. When someone out of the blue decides to become a film critic, of course they rummage through various critic's lists and polls', searching to see what 'the best' is. And of course it results in Citizen Kane, a towering figure in film. From here our young critical prodigy will watch the movie, and have two attitudes as the credits role, they will either chant, "I have no idea what was going on, but that was brilliant!". This is the predominant attention seeker of the critical world, going for 'the best' and going with the crowd, lying to themselves, for Citizen Kane is extremely dull for a first time viewer, and in all honesty, I did the same as many; I smiled and gave the full thumbs and waved, taking the glory of being smart. And of course, there is the other type of reaction, the "There wasn't a single gun in that whole movie! I'm gonna tell everyone how wrong they are and violently attack how boring this movie is, and tomorrow, oh and I gotta host my Avatar appreciation party tomorrow..."
It's a real shame that this common reactions of a first time reviewer, they either fall into a state of denial and lie to themselves, or become a massive cock, to which will result in the stroking of his ego till the grave. Luckily after two years experience I thought I'd tackle this colossal film once again, and I was overwhelmed. Citizen Kane is really quite intimidating in all manner for up and coming filmmakers. Many call this film influential, I on the other hand see it as a dream crusher, especially when you realise Orson Welles made a movie about himself and was just given the award for best of the business, leaving us wannabes to cower in our rooms, crying yourself to sleep as unworthy, and thereby settle for being an egotistical prick, hence my writing this. When you look at this film closely, there is so much method into every single shot being done, every shot is trying to say something, or trying to convey a point, then pull out your magnifier and look even closer and your sure to see even more to the point of bring you to tears, because it reminded you of the bully teasing you about his superior muscles. The mere idea of writing an essay on this film puts my brains into shambles. 

Mesmerizing imagery.  
The film is a story of a newspaper tycoon (based upon William Randolph Hearst), brought up in an adopted family of huge wealth. For reasons I never quite grasped from the film (feel free to explain below), Charles Foster Kane is taken from his family, at their will for some pay, and then taken into the world of privilege, where he takes whatever he wants, and he chooses a small newspaper. It opens with a news reel, telling all there was to know, then follows a reporter trying to learn the meaning behind his final word, "Rosebud".
Within all fairness, the film's story is a rather dull one, certainly understandably causing criticism amongst any modern audience, untrained in appreciating film. Yet in its entire plot, were told in such ingenious ways, brilliantly breaking conventions of the era in which it was made, and giving modern films a run for its money. What Welles does is effectively casting away the whole story of the film, but tells of a man, Charles Foster Kane. Often [i]Citizen Kane[i/] seems to be well aware of itself being a movie, the viewer is constantly aware that it is in fact a movie being watched, and Welles plays with this. Welles's accidental semi-autobiographical film stops trying to tell a good story, but tells a story perfectly.

Now in a film I believe to be as close as you get to perfect, the weakest part of the film is its performances. The acting is shockingly mediocre, of course Welles tried to bring many newcomers to the industry, and for many it's their first. Now that's all well and good for a small independent film, a mere launch pad for future talents, but Citizen Kane IS film. It is perhaps the most important and powerful film to ever be made, and its unfortunate that the acting lacks any dynamic aspects, not to say its bad, but its small actors in a huge film.
However, Welles's performance, although not exactly a great one, is certainly a powerful performance, fitting the grandeur of the film. In a sense the second-rate performances are a part of Kane's success, as I had said the film is much like a documentary, or template on a perfect film, than it is an actual film. Once this is established, mediocrity is acceptable to keep the spotlight in the correct place. 

More genius.

Oh dear me, now to try explaining the genius in Welles's direction would be nothing but an understatement. It's as if every shot of this film was telling a story of its own, pushing boundaries on how something could be shown. Ultimately, the direction is perhaps the best to ever be contributed to the cinema, and it's Welles's direction, which carries the film to a completely different style of film, where it is more or less a handbook, than a film. Ironically direction will be my short coming of my review, since to even begin o explain the direction would result in an essay I neither have the time nor ability to complete.

Overall, Citizen Kane is quite possibly the greatest film ever made. Although film is far too subjective to ever draw a conclusion to this title, Kane has won enough lists and polls to fill the shoes of an invisible film, an enigma. However, to call this film flawless would be completely wrong, for it has many problems, especially in its performances, yet perhaps all intended. It would be wrong to say the film is flawless, but it would be quite accurate to say Citizen Kane has the most control and awareness of any other film. The only real problem I had with this film is it lacks an emotional touch, which perhaps is the reasoning for many disliking this film; as brilliant this film might be, I can hardly find myself visiting it again anytime soon. Welles has effectively made a documentary of film, and how to do it, which was all achieved at the young age of 26. It was from then on Welles proved that he had perhaps told his own future, making Kane a chilling autobiography.


The Seven Samurai (1954)

The Seven Samurai (1954)
"What's the use of worrying about your beard when your head's about to be taken?" 

"Japan in 207 minutes."

Is it just me or does Akira Kurosawa always manage to have some blundering loud mouth fool? Don't get me wrong I love the guy, I've grown quite fond of his character in the limited films I have seen of him - two (Rashomon and now The Seven Samurai). Oh wait, thanks to the lovely invention of the internet I found out he's the same guy, well in that case what an extraordinary actor. Sure, Toshiro is no emotionally deep Gregory Peck, but he certainly has mastered the laughing outcast. Anyway, not straining too far away, I watched highly acclaimed, The Seven Samurai, and before I watched this so-called Japanese masterpiece, I learnt a new plural! And yes, my second film of Kurosawa lives to its legend, I know this because it kept me glued to the screen till 2am - and inspired a late night review.

Our story is of a rural Japanese village, one villager conveniently hears the plans of local bandits, and cries fear to the villagers. Their decided option is to travel to what I assume is a city or large town, and try to hire samurai for a pittance. Eventually after the impressively detailed section hiring the samurai, they return to the helpless village and prepare for a huge amount of bandits, out numbering the seven greatly - although I'd class only five, since one was our colourful Toshiro, again playing the crazy buffoon, who in this case just follows them, and a younger samurai who is effectively 'cock blocked', because of his lack of action...
Now to get this clear and off the tip of your tongues', I would not class this as the best action film. Yes, this movie has a considerable amount of 'action' - specifically meaning one hurting another, which most films feel most inclined to exaggerate. I guess as far as classics go, The Seven Samurai has quite a lot of violence, which is brilliantly directed, yet I just don't see the connection, since the vast majority is void of any 'action'. With this said, I'm not sure exactly which genre I could cast this film into, I'd like to say adventure, but all the adventure is effectively cut-out of the story, skipping the travel itself to the destination. Therefore, I guess the best place for this grand gem is a mix of action, drama and some sly comedy, or I may even be class this in the 'epic' genre, terminology I'm not so fond of, but alas that's all I can clearly place The Seven Samurai.

The performances are rather strong. Characters never really have what a modern film would constitute strong emotional development; many are more of an icon than the deep philosopher. However, I think this works to an advantage, this film had me convinced. There were times when a samurai would simply join the men, and immediately seem comfortable of the new men, and ask very little questions of his life-threatening mission, and I loved it because it feels real. Many of the easily accustomed characters just feels organic for its time, and it's rather nice to see a time when we weren't full of whinging Prozac addicts, the only complaining I saw was from the villagers about to lose their lives! In addition, that Toshiro Milfune is a delicious absurdity, brilliance in his ridiculously enjoyable performances, definitely one of my favourite actors.

I think what benefits our tale most is Kurosawa's genius. Often the direction uses different narratives and symbols; I could fill an essay with the little subtleties. One of the most notable forms of story telling was the parchment, which willingly compelled me. As the bandits were slowly killed, circles representing each man would be crossed out to symbolise the death - almost like a death clock. Kurosawa constantly uses little perspectives as a timer, for the survival angst throughout the film.
One of the most beautiful aspects is how simple and easily understandable the hectic battles can be, in fact, they can be often clearer then the stretches of dialogue. It is for these reasons (among others) I found myself absolutely in awe of the whole production. Although the white saturation is shocking, whites are really white, that in itself is probably a good thing for a black and white film, yet it's unfortunate the subtitles had to be bright white as well. It wasn't long before my eyes in were pain from straining to see what these people were saying; too bad, I'm restricted to the English language.

Overall, I'm dribbling at The Seven Samurai's feet. Everything about this movie is powerful and brilliant, and I can't seem to find an issue beyond superficial ones (being an ignorant English speaking person and having invisible subtitiles). Not only are we told a story, but also we are told a story of a nation, Japan and all its culture is picked upon, including honour, traditions and even sexual freedom. As any great movie is so often labelled, The Seven Samurai portrays the folly of man, not on a broad spectrum as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the confines of Japanese (and similar cultures) society. My best summary is of the famous Godard, 'Japan in 207 minutes'.