Film of the Day: The Tree of Life (2011)

Years of speculation about The Tree of Life, the latest film from reclusive and very slow-working master director Terrence Malick, will finally end in May. We had a very good idea that the film would play the festival, given that Fox Searchlight set a May 27 release date after picking up the film a few months ago. Variety reports that the film will appear at the fest, but says that we likely won’t know if it will play in or out of competition until early or mid April, when the full lineup is announced.

The film is a multi-generational drama starring Brad PittSean Penn and Jessica Chastain that, to some extent, looks at our place in the world and the universe at large. There have been a great many hints about the film suggesting that it covers a timeframe much more broad than a couple of mere human lifetimes — think aeons. Information about the film’s scientific background and the possible presence of dinosaurs has been largely scrubbed from the internet wherever possible. That fact, combined with the lush, very appealing trailer and the simple fact that this is a new Terrence Malick movie, make The Tree of Life one of the highest-profile film debuts of 2011.

From SlashFilm.com

I love all of Terrence Malick´s films because they have that certain something that makes you leave the theater a completely different person than when you arrived. His films are an experience.

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Film of the Day: Goodbye Solo (2008)

‘Goodbye Solo’

Ramin Bahrani’s film, starring Souléymane Sy Savané and Red West, ruminates powerfully on the obligations of friendship.

April 10, 2009|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

“Goodbye Solo” is a deceptive film. Its style is spare, rigorous, almost anti-dramatic, but it deals thoughtfully with some of the most complex elements of the human equation.

For director Ramin Bahrani, surface stylishness is not what’s important. As with his previous independent works, “Man Push Cart” and “Chop Shop,” he’s concerned with echoing reality, with exploring the truth of the lives of the people on society’s margins who populate his films.

So Bahrani doesn’t start “Goodbye Solo” in the conventional way, with establishing shots that let us know where we are. Instead, without any preamble, we are thrown into a taxi in what turns out to be Winston-Salem, N.C. (the director’s birthplace), and into the middle of a conversation between the driver and the passenger, a conversation whose ramifications will play out for the rest of the story.

The driver, a native of Senegal named Solo, is the opposite of his name. As played by Souleymane Sy Savane, an African-born French model, Solo is irrepressible and gregarious, someone whose infectious good spirits mandate hugs and handshakes all around. Yet though he’s ordinarily unflappable and unfazed, Solo is taken aback by something his passenger says.

Though Solo calls him (and almost everyone else) Big Dog, the passenger’s name is William. As played by 72-year-old Red West, once a stuntman and close associate of Elvis Presley, William is crusty, wary and foul-tempered, the kind of man who doesn’t have a good word for anyone. But that’s not what gets Solo’s attention.

That would be an out-of-town trip William is planning, a trip he’s willing to pay the right cabbie $1,000 to handle. In less than two weeks, he wants to be taken to a desolate spot called the Blowing Rock and be left alone there. The implication is clear: William is not planning to take another cab back; this lonely, haunted man is not planning to come back at all.

Solo barely knows William, but something about this unspoken plan disturbs Solo on an instinctive level. Seeing someone so cut off from life and community, someone so friendless and alone, offends Solo’s cultural sense of the way the world should work. Impulsively, without any real plan, he decides to try to change that dynamic.

Film Review from Los Angeles Times

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Film of the Day: Chinatown (1974)

“(…)Similar to a case that he never fully perceived or understood years earlier when he was a cop in LA’s Chinatown [symbolic of the city of Los Angeles], he is doomed to repeat history (“You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but believe me, you don’t”, voiced by the film’s villain played by legendary director John Huston) – as a powerless, hard-boiled detective, he again brings tragedy to a woman he wants to help. [The story continued in a complex, poorly-received sequel many years later –The Two Jakes (1990) – that required considerable knowledge of the earlier film in order to be comprehensible. It also starred Nicholson as the private detective in 1948 Los Angeles (and he also served as the film’s director – in his debut film). The sequel, when viewed with the original film, provides the viewer with a 267-minute film noir epic. A third film to complete a trilogy, named Cloverleaf (a reference to LA’s freeway system and its massive interchanges – with its notorious air pollution), was shelved when The Two Jakes failed at the box-office. Its title was referenced in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as the evil Doom’s giant corporation with a quasi-swastika as its logo.]

The film’s claustrophobic, cyclical, bleak mood surrounding the heroic quest of the detective struck a responsive chord after the scandalous Watergate era of the early 1970s. The film’s two puzzling mysteries and tragedies – family-related and water-related – are beautifully interwoven together. The water-rights scandal at the heart of the film expresses how ecological rape of the land has occurred in outrageous land-development schemes that redirect the water’s flow. It reminds viewers that the days of abundant natural resources (and life-giving water that turns a forbidden wilderness into a plentiful garden) are past – the land has become barren due to the selfish manipulations of rich and powerful businessmen.

There were many accolades for this stunning film, including eleven Academy Award nominations, although only one took the Oscar home, Best Original Screenplay for Robert Towne’s superb work (the losses were partly attributed to the intense competition from Coppola’s The Godfather, Part II (1974)). An uncredited Nicholson wrote his own dialogue, and collaborated on the famous ending with Polanski a few days before the scene was shot. [Chinatown won four of its seven nominations at the 32nd Annual Golden Globes ceremony: it defeated Coppola’s film for the Best Picture-Drama award; Polanski won the Best Director award; Jack Nicholson won the Best Actor in a Leading Role-Drama award; and Robert Towne won the Best Screenplay honor.] (…)

From Film Site


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Film of the Day: Enter the Void (2010)

Gaspar Noe’s ‘Enter the Void,’ a Surrealist Odyssey

By DJ Pangburn Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Gaspar Noe’s “Enter the Void” is one of the most experimental cinematic attempts at projecting the inner state of the mind I’ve ever seen.

It travels above and beyond Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’s efforts with “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Science of Sleep,” and “Synechdoche, New York.” In ambition, only Kaufman’s directorial debut approaches the heights of Noe’s latest film.

“Enter the Void” is perhaps the most direct descendant of Surrealism ever put to film. It is definitely beyond Fellini and even beyond the metaphysics of Tarkvosky’s “Solaris.”  This is provocative, I know, maybe even hyperbolic, but my reading of the film should give dimension to the opinion that Noe’s film is a work of art.

One can almost imagine the Surrealists Andre Breton, Phillipe Souppault and Louis Aragon’s conception of the breakdown or unraveling of temporal-spatial consciousness in “Enter the Void”—the unrestrained ejaculate of the mind’s data and detritus.  The sweet melancholy of life (nobile malinconia) and its attendant and unavoidable nostalgia.  Nostalgia in its forms sublime, both beautiful and shocking.  The continuum of existence, with sex and death its endpoints containing all points in between.  The drifting of beings through the arteries of streets, articulating the city as the recumbent body containing people as cells.  The kaleidoscope of lights and their shades mirrored in the void.  And the Carrollian conceit that life is “but a dream,” which renders the waking life, the dream state, hallucinations and death as equally profound and equally essential to existence.

It is hard to imagine any other film so fully realizing the potential of Surrealism and the mystery of metaphysics, and using the Tibetan Book of the Dead as its vehicle.  And perhaps more surprisingly, it is one of the only examples in all of cinema of a near Joycean vision.  Yes, how James Joyce–the great post-modern author–wrote as if he could deconstruct and rebuild lives onto one projected strip of superimposed films: all of its beatific and terrible colors and penumbral regions on display.  The drift of a narrative consciousness through a cast of characters and location—Noe’s Tokyo here instead of Joyce’s Dublin.

Noe was wise to utilize The Tibetan Book of Dead as a point of entry into the void, because its teachings—long before the genesis of Surrealism—taught essentially the same thing: the illusory nature of all states of existence… How it’s all something of a projection inside a magic lantern.

The film seems to take one of the first few lines of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and apply it to the visual and aural sensations:

“All phenomena are [ultimately] selfless, empty and free from conceptual elaboration.  In their dynamic they resemble an illusion, mirage, dream, or reflected image, A celestial city, an echo, a reflection of the  moon in water, a bubble, an optical illusion, or an intangible emanation.”

The movie’s full weight doesn’t hit the viewer until hours or maybe days later, even if you are familiar with Surrealist and Tibetan texts.  Yes, it’s all a very visceral cinematic experience: it is, after all, very much a Noe film in its graphic depictions and underworld explorations.  On a side note, I would love to explore in a critical essay on “Enter the Void,” the mirror images of the Tokyo underworld and Death’s underworld, and the umbilical cord that connects them.

Perhaps some viewers will be impacted immediately by such ideas, but I believe that the film’s nuances demand absorption, a slow digestion, in the way one might take in a Tarkovksy, a Fellini or a Kubrick film.  Noe made no secret of his desire to create a film that would have the sort of meditative and psychedelic experience of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  Both films are odysseys, just as Joyce’s “Ulysses” is a geographical and psychological odyssey, with its lineage proceeding back to Homer’s epic poems.  Certainly, no one would have suggested that Noe was part of that lineage after “Irreversible,” but it is undeniably the case now with his work on “Enter the Void.”

Repeat viewings of “Enter the Void” will only enhance the impact on one’s ego as well as the idea of ego death, essential to the psychedelic experience, and the in-between period of the Tibetan state of existence known as the Bardo.

It’s all quite dizzying and profound and emotional, and it makes your heart want to explode and your consciousness melt and fuse itself back into the universal network whence it came (and from which it is never truly able to escape).  You will be confronted with the impossible perfection of your own existence, just as the Tibetans suggest we all must when confronted with the varying degrees of hallucinations attending the periods between incarnations.  You will see something familiar in the character Oscar’s journey because, as Plato said, memory is eternal and knowledge need only be remembered because it is embedded in eternity.

And this is just thematically-speaking.  Visually, Noe has done something no other director, writer (except for Joyce) or artist has ever done.  He’s accomplished something that scientists try to arrive at through equations, and religious leaders intimate in their texts and interpretations.  He’s entered the province, the void, that only shaman with their spirit-world visitations and the Tibetans with their mind explorations have arrived at through the millennia:  the quantum breakdown of time and space and memory and all the constructs of human imagination, its implications in science, religion and civilization.

In short, “Enter the Void” is a film that transcends all humanly concerns, arriving precisely at the junction of a soul’s disintegration into the metaphysical aether.  It takes us into that realm—maybe not as completely as many of us would have liked, but certainly in no way any film has done before.

The camera swirls and tilts and drifts, passing through buildings and people, vanishing into lights and fractal patterns, the geometric non-Euclidean skeleton of the tangible world.  All is exposed to the viewer.  This film is, as Werner Herzog conceives of the best storytelling: an ecstatic truth.

It is, in a word, sublime.

From Death and Taxes


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Film of the Day: Caravaggio (1986)

After seeing the film I must say that while I find it to be a little pretentious, it´s vissually stunning and has some really magnificent performances. Sean Bean Stands out for me.

Here is a little extract I found interesting considering the love triangle presented in the movie:

Although, as one might expect from the evidence, there is much scholarly debate over the issue of Caravaggio’s sexual preferences, it appears that two of the most consistently objective scholars, notably Howard Hibbard and Richard Spear, agree that, from a modern perspective, one simply cannot be sure whether Caravaggio was exclusively homosexual, more inclined to bisexuality, or what. (See Richard Spear’s Caravaggio and His Followers, revised edition (Harper and Row, 1971). Whatever the case, as with Benvenuto Cellini, bisexuality was not as unusual during the period as some viewers might imagine. Therefore, to assume that Caravaggio was notoriously and unquestionably homosexual, as Donald Posner has done in “Caravaggio’s Homo-Erotic Early Works” (The Art Quarterly, Vol. 34, Autumn 1971), is perhaps going beyond fact and into speculation. It is precisely this disagreement over Caravaggio’s sexuality which leads one to suspect that his early androgynous boy self-portraits may use the artist’s face merely as a model, and not as subject. Granted, androgyny was commonly equated with homosexuality in the Renaissance, and the paintings are convincingly homo-erotic in themselves. However, there is not enough evidence to prove that the works particularly reflect Caravaggio’s own interests and passions. That they echo Cardinal Del Monte’s inclinations and desires is far more likely.

From Essortment

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Film of the Day: La Haine (1995)

This film looks at the relationship between three young men living in the banlieues of France. La Haine was quite controversial when it was released and caused quite a stir, mainly for the way it was shot and its narrative content.

Many of the films released in France at this time fell into two categories: the heritage film and the cinema du look. The heritage film, as the name suggests concentrated primarily on historical events, and were set in the past similar to the English period dramas. Whereas the cinema du look films were much more concerned with how the film looked, and were visually spectacular. Yet La Haine bought with it a new film genre, that of the cinema du banlieue, which depicted the more poverty stricken side of French city life. Similar to the English Social Realist films, these films concentrated on unemployment, housing estates and riots. Other banlieue films are not readily available, however the first banlieue film was titled Deux Ou Trois Choses Que Je Sais D’Elle’ (d. Jean Luc Goddard, 1967). This film is a dramatised documentary looking at prostitution, unemployment and the lack of emotion towards the Atomic War, and was a banlieue film before the term was even invented. I will refer to key scenes within the film to show how successful Kassovitz has been when representing this way of life.

In La Haine, the banlieue is represented as a bad place to live, the equivalent to the British council estates. As Ardagh writes, “la banlieue’ has today come to evokesocial tensions, delinquency, high jobless rates, frustration, maybe racial conflict” . And as we can see in the film, apart from maybe Hubert and his gym, the other main characters don’t have jobs, and they all, especially Vinz seem to have delinquent behaviour. This is shown to the audience in many ways, and in many key scenes which I shall look into further in the essay. The housing estate where the boys live looks very crowded. When we see Vinz, Hubert and Said walking around amongst the banlieue, there are lots of other youths just standing around, talking to each other. The whole estate looks dirty because of the high volume of graffiti on almost everything. There are lots of high rise flats, which house lots of people, but each flat is small. The banlieue looks very small and claustrophobic, almost prison like. We can see this when we see inside Hubert’s and Vinz’s flats. Vinz shares his room with his sister, and the dining room is very small, as it barely holds a table. This is similar in Hubert’s flat, as the kitchen and dining room are difficult to move around. This suggests the sheer poverty of life in the Banlieue. We hear some dialogue between Hubert and his mother about him wanting to leave the banlieue, and she just humours him because unless things change drastically, he won’t ever be able to get out. We discover that he used to have a gym, which was burned down in the riots, but it was something he was proud of, something he worked for. He had made a positive step in his life to try and get out of where he lives, yet because of where he lives, this was destroyed. The fact the film is shot in black and white adds a lot to its representation of the banlieue. It makes the whole film appear more gritty and real-life, like CCTV or a documentary, it makes the banlieue seem more depressing. It also shows the emphasis on racism with clear cut black and white imagery. The films dialogue is very slang-ish, and shows the audience that this film isn’t high class. It is trying to represent real people, and real situations, so the use of slang allows people to identify with this way of life. There is also a lot of meaningless dialogue. For example, Said’s little brother, talking about Candid Camera seems meaningless, and the point Kassovitz is trying to make is that it IS meaningless. Not everything in everyday life has a point and meaning, and he is trying to represent real life, where pointless conversations occur. Similarly, Said’s jokes seem to have no purpose, as well as some of the other dialogue between characters. But as mentioned, this happens in real life and therefore this film represents real life.

The way families and women are represented in La Haine is very distinct. There is a severe lack of a nuclear family. Vinz lives with his mother, grandmother and sister, and he is scared of his grandmother, which we can see when he goes to collect her peppers. She has authority in that house, yet we only ever see her inside those walls. Hubert lives with his pregnant mother and his sister, and we learn that his brother has gone to jail. When the boys are in Paris, we learn that Said lives with his sister and brother, and that both of his parents are in jail. We see the boys’ families, which are all female, when we are inside the walls of the flats. This suggests that men rule the banlieue, they have the authority, yet women are in charge inside the home. When filming throughout the banlieue, we see males everywhere; the central characters, the police, the youths. When in the gallery at Paris, we see how they react to two girls and it is highly disrespectful as they start an argument with them. This could be because they haven’t seen how men and women interact, because of their broken families. Also, we can see that there is a lack of male role model for each of the boys, which could account for some of their problems. The only character who has something close to a male role model is Said, which is his elder brother, and Said is the only one who seems to escape the situation at the end, as he isn’t killed, nor has he killed, whereas Vinz is shot, and Hubert either shoots, or is shot.

The police are represented in a bad way in La Haine, but if we consider where the film got its idea from then maybe this is a correct representation of police in the banlieue. According to Forbes it is inspired by events in April 1993 when a seventeen year old was brutally beat up by police and then died later in custody. This can easily be seen by the underlying story of Abdel, who is in hospital because of police brutality during the riots. Forbes also suggests that “the unemployment, racial tension and rioting in several large citiesprovide the film’s social backdrop”. This, therefore suggests that the narrative and images we are shown in La Haine do actually represent real life tensions at that time. The police are seen as aggressive in many scenes in the banlieue. The scene on the roof seems a little excessive, as some members of the estate are having a barbeque on one of the roofs of a flat, and there is music, and social interaction between many people. The police go up there, because the youths are being disrespectful to the mayor, to get them all off the roof. The police are very up close to the youths, invading their personal space, and Said’s brother is trying to talk to them calmly but the police are not listening. There is also a scene in the hospital when the boys are trying to visit Abdel, and the police won’t let them see him. Vinz is being aggressive and shouting, and Hubert starts to behave similarly, but Said, like his brother, tries to reason with the police to see their friend. The police them arrest Said, calling him the leader’, whereas it was actually the other two causing a stir. In spite of this, there is one police officer who seems to be on their side. He gets Said out of prison, and says to Hubert that he can get him a grant to rebuild his gym. This policeman seems to see the good in people and tries to help them, as Said did nothing wrong, and the gym was a positive step in Hubert’s life. Yet, Vinz just swears at him and insults him, and he is the one who ultimately suffers at the hands of the police. Obviously the most important scene regarding the police is at the end of the film. The police see Vinz and Said and recognise them from the roof, and one of the policemen holds Vinz at gun point. It is at this moment Hubert runs over with the missing gun and holds it in the direction of the policeman to let Vinz go, yet instead Vinz is accidentally shot by the police officer. This shows the audience how blundering and careless the police can be in the banlieue. After Vinz is shot, the policeman then turns his gun on Hubert, as if to shoot him as well. If this were to happen in Paris, there would no doubt be uproar, but it seems unimportant in the banlieue, as it is such a rough area. In comparison, a brief moment in which we hear of a policeman in Paris, it is when Said is complimenting him, as he says he called me Sir’. This is a complete contrast to the police in the banlieue, which suggests what a bad area these places can be.

Banlieue films very often show Paris from a very different point of view than mainstream French films. Very often Paris is seen with all its landmarks, looking stunning and beautiful, like a postcard. However, in films like La Haine, it is seen from a normal’ point of view. When the boys go to Paris, the only landmark we see is the Eiffel Tower, from a distance when they are stoned on the roof. One of them clicks their fingers to switch off the lights but is told that it only works in the movies’. Even though this is a movie, it doesn’t work, which suggests how this film represents real life in the banlieue, and is not a movie representation of it. There is a scene on the underground in Paris in which we see a beggar, and Said tells her to get a job. This shows that poverty in Paris, difficult as it may be, is just normal everyday life for people in the banlieue.

There are a few strange scenes in this film, such as Vinz’s dream-like state. This sequence is when he has run off in Paris, and sees policemen at what appears to be the scene of a crime, is a good use of cinematography and editing. His friends have got so high they don’t realise he is missing, and when they do they believe it is too late. He is pointing a gun’ at a policeman and just as they arrive, he blows them away. With the use of sound we, the audience, believe this really happens. However, this is just what Vinz is imagining, and in real life it is just his hand. This could suggest that one of the only ways for people in the banlieue to escape the harsh reality of their lives is through the means of drugs. There seem to be lots of references to drugs in this film, and this could be representative of escapism in the banlieue. Another scene similar to this with regards to sound is the Taxi Driver’ sequence in Vinz’s mirror, when he re-enacts the famous “you talkin’ to me” scene. At the end of this, he holds up his hand, as he does in Paris, and shoots’. But again the sound of a gunshot makes this seem like a real event. This could signify that Vinz could become as crazy as Travis Bickle, and trigger happy, yet we discover at the end that he is better than that as he gives the gun to Hubert. Maybe Vinz has reformed throughout this day with the help of his friends, and has realised that if he kills a policeman for Abdel’s death, then he is no better than them.

The film has an unresolved ending, almost like life in the banlieue. However this film is set during one day, and there cannot be resolution in one day, it is just the representation of an average day in the banlieue. There are, however, solutions offered to the main characters, for example, Hubert is offered help to rebuild his gym. He has been in jail but we can see throughout the film with his interaction with Vinz that he has learned from his mistakes. He has been in the marines, and therefore has some education, and he has a strong desire to leave. With the aid of support, his dream may come true. Said seems to be content where he lives, he doesn’t overly complain about his situation, and is often seen telling jokes. He doesn’t get into trouble purposely, he doesn’t act aggressively or violently, and he accepts where he lives and tries to make the best of it. Vinz, however, hates where he lives, he hates the situation and more importantly hates the police. He took part in the riots and is proud of what he has done, it is also suggested that he helped burn down the gym. He is overly aggressive and violent, yet in the end he dies. This may be offering a message to people who live in the banlieue, possibly to follow their dreams and they may be able to get out, or to accept their life and make the best of it. It may be telling the youths not to be aggressive or full of hate because there are consequences. According to Forbes, “hordes of young people from la banlieue’ were swarming into Paris to see themselves represented on screen”. Therefore many people from this way of life went to see the film, and maybe this offered them some advice on how to deal with their lives in such circumstances.

In conclusion, I think Kassovitz has represented life in the banlieue quite well, and I think this way of life can also be seen in certain parts of England too. Especially in the art gallery scene which shows the boys’ complete inability to interact with people in a respectful manner. They go there for shelter and free food and drink, yet end up insulting two girls and shouting abuse at the people inside as they are asked to leave. This kind of behaviour can be seen in England a lot, from the chav’ culture, which can be see a lot in La Haine too with the aggressive behaviour. This is just an observation I made, and if I had more time I might go into this further, but generally it would probably detract from the question at hand. The way in which Kassovitz represented real life was very effective, with the use of black and white documentary’ photography, the pointless dialogue with everyday actions and the fact that he only set out to represent one day in the banlieue. Even the main narrative was based on a real life event. Kassovitz definitely did his research before making this film, and many banlieue youths probably identified with La Haine.

by Adele Chapman (June 18 / 2007)

Taken from Helium.

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Alien Quadrology

Yesterday I acquired the infamous Alien Quadrology pack and I immediately set myself to see the first one. The one that originated everything and the one I still consider the best: Alien (from 1979!). It´s an amazing thriller set in space, an amazing horror film with a monster both scary and gross. And it has one of the most iconic scenes ever put to film: the creature bursting out of John Hurt´s chest. Magnificent. I´ll watch all of them again, eventually, but this one is the film that still, 30 years later, sticks out in my mind. Sorry Cameron.

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