Monday, 25 June 2012

The Gripping Visual of Terrence Malick

With last week’s article about Terrence Malick and Levent Semerci I thought I’d just make an article about Malick.  Not many people can grasp the characteristic of Terrence Malick’s work. At times people say his work is very pretentious, plot-less but I see his work as a documentary of life through different events and time. In these events of war, discovery and self-reflection Terrence’s films are somewhat of a spiritual experience. If we have look at “Tree Of Life" it’s a visually stunning and beautiful film of evolution and religion entwined with family values and loss of innocence. Watching “The Thin Red Line” you see the horrors of war but through the perspective of Privet Witt. Recollecting on the times of being missing, living deep in the forest with a tribe reconciling himself with nature. Looking at other films like “A New World” nature has always been a key connection to religion and the world. One can even say the universe after watching Tree Of Life. There’s always a spiritual figure in his films almost God like but depends on viewers perception. I personally see his films as a mixture of; nature, life, spiritually and a reconciliation of one’s inner self.

The Tree of Life
In all Malick’s films there’s always an element of love shown in an unconventional way. In The Tree of Life we see Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) battle origins of the meaning of life based on the childhood memories of living with his family in the 50s, growing up in a religious house hold with an austere farther and a very emotionally connected mother. Malick uses Jacks parents as a guide to love and hate; love being his mother and hate his father. We also see a battle of belief and questioning higher powers when Jacks friend drowns in a pool and another is burned in a house fire. In The Tree of Life we are constantly reminded of divine grace but Malick somehow mixes grace and nature and with them there seems to be a realistic view of humankind and nature being bone together. Just like his other films there always seems to be connection with life and the protagonists. Each character is tied to certain events of the film and at that moment they seem to be so connected with it that time goes by. This is most often shown with a time lapse sequence of; days, months and even years gone by.  Time is always a figure in Malick’s films. In The Thin Red Line we are constantly reminded of the past with Witt and his wife. As the war goes on we see privet Witt yearn to return to his wife but later learn she has found someone else and want a divorce. Tree of Life we are sent back and forth through Jacks present life working as an architect to his childhood.  

The Thin Red Line
I feel that watching Malick’s films I have some connection with him on a human level and I have that with no other director. Each film to me seems like an autobiography of his life; him going to war; being the first white man to encounter the natives and Tree of life being his actual biography. Jack and Malick have very similar connections; Malick has lost a brother at a young age just like Jacks older brother, a feeling of loss of innocence in both their life, the film was shot in the same town they both grew up in Waco, Texas. His artistic imagery and directorial style never cease to amaze me and even after re-watch his films the gripping visual that he creates makes watching his films somewhat of a religious experience.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Politics & Cinema

Nefes is one of the first films in Turkish cinema history to tackle the long on going war battle between the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party, known simply as the PKK and the Turkish Armed Forces. This film however has sparked quite a stir discussion being that everyone sees the film in a different light.  Some see this film as pro-military, nationalist with hints of propaganda and others see this film as anti- militaristic. With all this discussion of what this film is and what it means everyone seems to have neglected art of the film. I personally believe that politics should just stay in politics. Yes this film does touch on very taboo subject and even more it’s still an on-going battle so the wounds haven’t even started to heal. We have to remember that cinema is an art form but even in the beginning of cinema politics has always squeezed its way into cinema. In 1915 a ground breaking film that helped pave the way of the medium of film was “The Birth of a Nation”. Yes this film is blatantly a racist silent movie but it helped lay down the foundations of cinema. Even in today’s films it is heavily influenced by the liner-structure, the use of soundtrack and cinematography but should we as film lovers forget about this film and burry it? No we shouldn’t! It’s sad to think that the first ever film was a racist one but times has changed and we now understand what racism is and we as people are more tolerant.

The Thin Red Line
Nefes Vatan Sagolsun (Breath Long Live The Homeland)
Before watching Nefes I read so many articles about people comparing Nefes to “Full Metal Jacket” however after watching it I saw no resemblance. Personally while watching and re-watching Nefes it just reminded of “The Thin Red Line”. The more I watched the more it seemed like the director Levent Semerci had an entire archive of Terrence Malik’s films. Levent uses the same cinematography of wide screen shots and nature shots like Terrence Malik in The Thin Red Line and other films that he’s done. Comparing both Nefes and The Thin Red Line  they are very similar being that both have widescreen images of nature, magnificent cinematography entwined with beautiful natural light and the deep emotional voiceovers of soldiers talking about their loves back home and a soundtrack so striking it gives you goose bumps. The dialogue used in Nefes gives a feeling of such sadness being that the soldiers are not actually professional full time soldiers but young men doing their national service.  There is a sense of deep connection between the audience and the characters as of every man in Turkey have to do their national service and they too have to go a fight. Just like Malik, Semerci uses a great deal of symbolism towards; death and isolation. The use of endless depressing landscape with the soldiers camping at the mountainous terrain and the camera staying still but the skies moving so fast giving a feeling of passing time. What looks to be blood but actually red paint drips on newspaper articles of soldiers dying on the front line. The endless scenes of stillness give us the feeling of waiting for military engagement but never coming which gives the sense of a meaninglessness of war. A realistic view of what war really is.

Nefes Vatan Sagolsun (Breath Long Live The Homeland)
The Thin Red Line
By comparing the two films both film makers have a clear understanding of deep responsiveness which create a profound connection of soldiers in the line of battle. Nefes is not a film about soldiers fending off an endless army, it’s about young men whose national service as come up and now have to enlist and fight. Nefes doesn’t focus on the fighting the enemy but centres on emotional and psychological struggling within. Living and coping with the day to day life of being in the Turkish Armed Forces. To say that this film promotes militarism and nationalism is only half right because that’s what the Turkish military is and Nefes shows you what it’s like and what it is to be a soldier in the armed forces. It’s sad to think that a beautifully craft film like this is subjected to such negativity because of the politics behind the film.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Welcome To Gattaca

Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca is one of the unique insights into the not too distant future. Niccol’s narrative structure gives a Film Noir with a feeling of a Sci-Fi genre, combine both genres and you get Tech Noir. Having this genre as the main structure of the film you get both elements of Film Noir with; silhouetted figures, somewhat a feeling of the 1940’s to 60’s and a visual style of a low key black and white theme but in colour. The Sci-Fi element is the technology that is used in the film but not too distant in the future. The futuristic cars look like there from the 1960’s but with a 2011 hybrid electric engine. Niccol’s design of the world is having a 1960’s black and white film transformed into colour and replacing same technology with future technology but still having the 1960’s theme. Niccol’s theme juxtapositions both the past and future and combining them into the Gattaca world with futuristic buildings that look like architecture from the 1950’s.

Gattaca is a perfect example of character development between the “Valid” Jerome (Jude Law) and the “In-Valid” Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke). Vincent the “In-Valid” protagonist achieves his goals in the perfect “Valid” world of Gattaca. Niccol’s genetically perfect world of Gattaca is illustrated by every citizen’s perfect genetics, where a citizen gene is discriminated and that; nationality, colour or social status is no longer a problem “I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the colour of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science”. Gattaca explores the very idea of wanting to be born perfect or being engineered to perfection. The film juggles between the human spirit and will to succeed against the idea of what makes the perfect human. If we want to get deeper into this one can say this film is perfect example of “Science VS God”.  Science being that we as human have created a better way of generating humans then God does. We as humans have the option to choose the best of our selves “Remember this child is still you, simply the best of you”. Through God we don’t have the option to choose. All we have is chance and hope the offspring gets the best DNA.

The protagonist Vincent is classified as a “faith birth” or a “God child” that is conceived without the aid of technology making him an “In-Valid” in a world where everything is formed around the human perfection. Vincent’s character is seemed as an outcast but his development through the story shows that he is the only seeming character that achieves the most. This is most seen with other characters that’s classified as a “Valid”; Vincent’s brother Anton and his friend Jerome. Anton the genetically formed brother is seen as the golden child “A son my father considered worthy of his name” always won the game of chicken. Vincent beats his brother one day showing a step forward to his dream and allowing the protagonist to embark on his journey of success. Jerome’s character is seen as the perfect example of human perfection “The guy is practically going to live forever, got an IQ off the register and got a heart of an ox. He can run through a wall”. Though Jerome’s character is the perfect genetic human he is seen as the unfortunate character that suffers the most. Winning only a silver medal and becoming deeply depressed “Jerome Morrow was never meant to be one step down on the podium. For all I had going for me I was still second best.” His character is juxtapositioning itself by being a genetically flawless but being paralyzed from the wise down by trying to commit suicide “I stepped right in front of it, I’ve never been more sober in my life but I couldn’t even get that right could I”. By comparing Vincent and the rest of the “Valid Characters” yes Jerome and his brother Anton are all genetically perfect however their emotional and spirituality somewhat destroyed in the process of become perfect. Jerome became deeply depressed and tried to commit suicide, Anton never could let down that his genetically un-engineered brother beat and saved him. Even Director Josef (Gore Vidal) committed a murder something that not every human can do but yet a perfect born human has committed a brutal murder. At the start of film when we are introduced to Vincent we see the commissioner beaten to death and we are lead to believe that Vincent did it because of how he was born.

The last scene sums up the final character development of both Vincent and Jerome. When Vincent heads towards his launch site he is stopped by a last unexpected urine test. When he has to gives his own urine test the results comes as his true identity as an “In-Valid”. Lamar (The physician who always conducted Vincent’s test) always knew since the first day he came in “For future reference, right handed men don't hold it with their left”, changing the urine result from “In-Valid” to “Valid”. This is a final reminder to the viewers that Vincent the; genetically imperfect, unwanted and had no future succeeded when the other genetically perfect humans like Jerome or Anton were somewhat outdone by Vincent. Anton was saved by Vincent from drowning and Jerome in the end committed suicide, leaving Vincent only a lock of his hair. To some degree even though Vincent never felt like he was meant for this world he will miss it “for someone that was never meant for this world I must confess I’m having hard time leaving it”. With this end result we see that the imperfect Vincent succeeds when the perfect Jerome doesn’t. Looking back at the start how “Science VS God” looking at the outcome of the film we see that with all the perfections it never could stand a chance against a genetically inferior man and his dream.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Unconventional Western of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

To grow up watching cowboys have shootouts in saloons, have Clint Eastwood have his final stand with “The Bad” and see the sheriff finally take down the outlaw riding away into the sunset. Andrew Dominik takes the western genre to a whole new level. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford shows the skin deep, psychological battle of within, fame and infamy of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and Robert Ford (Casey Affleck). Instead of making this classic tale of the last train robbery by the James gang into a simple shoot’em up western, Andrew goes farther into the mind frame of Jesse James and Robert Ford. Andrew centres the narrative of the film and shows the audience the psychological impact on Jesse’s mind during the era of facing the end of his outlaw career, the constant paranoia of being turned in by other gang members and the embracing of his own death that he himself foresees in the near future. We are shown this world through eyes of Robert Ford who idolized James all his life and always wanted to join the James gang but in the end to become as famous as his hero he betrays Jesse. Personally I feel that Andrew touches every emotion in this film, with the; plot, cast, narration and spectacular cinematography. 

The aberrationed edges, that gives these shots a old photograph look
At the very first scene I straight away knew this was going to be no other western that I have ever seen. At the very opening scene we are introduced to a time lapse sequences with a Hugh Ross as the narrator, verbally describing of Jesse and his legend. These time lapse scenes that Andrew uses throughout the film are the key core of what helps create a melancholic feeling. We are shown a sense of time has gone by which creates a climax of unease and tension as the film goes on. The footage that Andrew uses looks like; grainy, unfocused aberration edges that help create a nostalgic feeling of old photographs. These time lapse scenes feel like a dream with the narrators firm yet peaceful voice narrating the story as if reading towards the audience. The magnificent widescreen shots that capture cold winter day help create an eerie feeling and isolated atmosphere of loneliness. Roger Deakin visually helps grasp the atmosphere in every scene and I every shot. Deakin plays with the colour contrast to enhance other colours to create an even heavier atmosphere. Even the use of natural light gave the film such beauty making film feel more genuine and less artificial.

Affleck does a remarkable job playing an uncomfortable Ford who always teased and cajoled. He always in visions himself with “great grit and intelligence” luring for fame and immortality. Never more the fact that Ford tries to befriend everyone but his awkwardness always fills the room and the James family always seem to notice this. Jesse’s wife Zee (Mary Louse Parker) always seems to be unease with Ford’s presences. Even when Ford spoke with Frank James (Sam Shepard) there first encounter Frank felt awkward with Ford “, the more you talk, the more you give me the willies”. His childhood hero Jesse becomes an obsessing constantly tries to please him; pretending to smoke but can’t, regularly giving facts about his looks and habits and even comparing similarities between them but this only disturbs Jesse. Affleck and Brad show great connection with their characters with Affleck first seen as the “obsessed fan” but slowly realising that the hero in the magazines he collected as child was not really the same man but the obsession becomes love. This is seen when Jesse humiliates Ford at the dinner table and Ford shows a violet fit. In the end for fame and glory Ford kills Jesse but his life takes a turn for the worst from then on being labelled as a coward. The title labels Ford as a coward but in this film we see him obsessed young man that grows to love his hero and the love and desire to be  him, it becomes so strong it becomes murderous.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Don’t Make Me Ang Lee! You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Ang Lee!

After Watching Marvel Avengers Assemble It seems now that everyone is Hulk fan. Some are Hulk fans after they watched the movie and others seem to say “I’ve always been a Hulk fan” even though they really never were.  You know when character is popular when everyone is planning to dress up as him for the upcoming Halloween. Just like the 1994 Brandon Lee The Crow and let’s not forget The Dark Knight 2008 Heath Ledger’s The Joker. So don’t be surprised if you see about eight or nine Hulks in one party. So with the rise of Hulk’s popularity increasing and everyone seems to be itching to slag off the 2003 Hulk starring Eric Bana and rave about Edward Norton’s 2008 The Incredible Hulk.

As a Hulk fan from childhood, spending my entire pocket on Hulk toys, comic books and always picking Hulk in Marvel VS Capcom 2. It annoys me when people watch one or two Hulk films and seem to act like they know who the Hulk is. When in actual fact to understand Hulk you first have to understand who is Bruce Banner, which is why I prefer the Eric Bana Hulk rather from the Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk. You can tell from both films that the directors focused on two characters Ang Lee focused on Bruce Banner and Louis Leterrier fixated on Hulk. Of course everyone wants to see Bruce freak out and turn into the Hulk and destroy everything in his path but you have to realise that the core strength of the Hulk comes from Bruce Banner’s past. The film that portrayed that most was the Ang Lee’s Hulk. The Lee’s Hulk had more of a melancholy theme with Eric portraying Banner as a psychologically complex protagonist with his character constantly touching on anger and fear.
Why I prefer Lee’s Hulk to Leterrier Hulk is that Stan actually took part as a writer for Lee’s film rather than just being an executive producer in Leterrier Hulk. It’s obvious in Lee’s Hulk that Stan had more control and help Ang Lee to portray Bruce in the way Stan wanted, which is why Eric Bana did a much better job portraying Bruce rather than Edward Norton did. Stan was involved in the production more and helped Eric get into the mind set of Bruce. On an emotional level you can see Eric doing a fantastic job showing an emotionally multifaceted character with an uncertain history. Eric really does come to grips of who is Bruce Banner and it shows. The scene when Eric describes the feeling of losing control Betty “The feeling of boom boom . . . boom”. Eric portray Bruce fighting the demon within. When watching Leterrier’s Hulk it just felt like Edward was filling in the scenes and everyone just waiting to see Edward turn into the Hulk and smash everything. Edward did great job acting in the movie but I felt that he couldn’t portray Bruce like Eric did. Watching Eric not turn into the Hulk and emotionally fighting within reminded me of Dr Jekyll not turn into Mr Hyde and this is was Stan wanted in this film. Stan Lee was inspired to create the Hulk after reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. It shows in Ang Lee’s Hulk it’s not just about “Hulk smash!” but watching a man to keep all emotional feelings to at a minimum.

Lee’s film explores the origins of the Hulk and Leterrier’s Hulk is a loose sequel set in a late future. I personally feel that the Lee’s portraying of Bruce and Hulk was spot on and he had all the ammunition he needed with a fantastic lead man and a writer who created the whole plot years ago. In the end it’s the sad fact that people wanted action and smash. It’s also sad that Eric gets all the negativity when in fact he did a better portrayal of Bruce than Edward but Edward gets better credit because he was in a more popular film.