Tuesday, 28 August 2012

MAX - An Artistic Depiction

Menno Meyjes 2002 Max starring John Cusack as Max Rothman a Jewish art dealer and Noah Taylor as the young Austrian artist Adolf Hitler. Max explores Hitler’s juggling career between politics and an art career. We see the unconventional friendship between Hitler and Rothman and how Rothman saw talent in Hitler’s work. Max askes the question what if Hitler was accepted as an artist? rather than turning to politics. Menno Meyjes takes us on a historical journey of what shaped the Nazi regime by artistic architectural designs that Hitler used to memorize the people of Germany under control by the Nazi Third Reich. We all know Hitler as the fascist tyrant that lead the world for Second World War but in Max we see Hitler’s fantastic insight into his artistic career that never was pursued.

Both Rothman and Hitler are WW1 veterans of Third Battle of Ypres. Rothman lost his arm in the war and returned to a respectable family and wealth however Hitler had nothing.  Though Rothman lost his right arm ending his career as an artist he envisioned on the idea of capturing quintessence of war through art by opening art gallery that focuses on modernist art. What I admire about Max is how the film really did portray Hitler’s work as it was in reality. Hitler was a very accurate painter e.g landscapes and portraits but was never creative and for this he didn't get accepted into Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Max really does capture the struggle that Hitler had to endure during his early life as an artist. Rothman believed that Hitler had talent but had to really go deeper into his art and try to find his “authentic voice”.  Rothman didn't want Hitler to show what he saw but what he felt and really capture what they both endured. Watching Hitler try and find his voice we feel very sympathetic for him, which is a great paradox. We know who he is we know what he does in the future but the film really does capture the moment of sadness. At the start of Max we see a very weak, shaken, disgruntled veteran over the Versailles Treaty who is trying to become an artist. As the film progresses we see Hitler slowly turn to politics but use his art as the weapon that help fuel the anti-Semitic propaganda for the national socialist movement known at that time the German Workers' Party.

Max is a brilliant insight into the artistic mind of Hitler and the inner battle to change himself to becoming a better artist. Max is not a Hitler sympathiser film but rather a sympathiser of what could have happened if Hitler pursed art and not politics. Max shows the very origins of the creator that shaped the Nazi ideology. With Rothman we see the early warning signs of the future of Europe with Hitler’s militaristic sketches of what he envision cultural and spiritual rebirth in Germany world but naively Rothman only sees them as a modernist art. Today those militaristic sketches would be seen Fascist architecture which is a combination of modernism and nationalism which greatly resembles that of ancient Rome. Personally watching Max I feel it visually grips and shows you the birth of the Nazi ideology through an artistic depiction. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Single Man – Treasuring Those Moments in Life

Taking place over the course of a one day A Single Man is a beautifully told; romance, isolation and the connection between human beings. A gay university professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) has lost his boyfriend Jim (Matthew Goode) a year ago. Unable to cope with the loneliness and the constant memory of his love he decides to end his life. He is turning from middle age to the elder years of his life. He can’t quite grasp and see his future. The very idea of not knowing his own future drives George to suicide. His last day on earth will be making the preparations to his suicide. However the last day on earth becomes the most day he ever lived since the loss of his love. By encountering different people and speaking to them George reminds himself of previous moments in his life that he treasured. The films core structure is living everyday as if it was your last. In A Single Man we are subjected to a beautifully intense last day of George’s life.

Tom Ford exquisitely shows the moments in George’s life that he treasures by colour. When talking to different people George’s gloomy grey sense of colour becomes illuminated. Watching the cinematography transform gives the illuminated sense to George that the possibilities of being alive and human in the world. This is what draws me to the film so very much. We all have those moments in life we treasure. It can be sitting next to a complete stranger on a train and the smell of their perfume reminds us of someone or a moment in our life we use to be happy and it brightens our day. In Single Man we visually see the colours brighten in the cinematography. We are usually shown a gloomy grey scene become a gorgeously lit up scene. Emotionally we connect to the scene. Being a very melancholy and dramatic film about a man ending his life that we see these moments in his life that he treasures. Watching A Single Man, Ford doesn’t focus on the suicide at all. Tom wants the audience focus on how he lives his last day. Everyone George speaks to will be the last time they ever speak so we see Georges true feelings come out. We don’t need to know what their relationship was like before because this is the last time George will speak to them so we straight away know how he feels for them. He opens up to people telling them things he always wanted to say.

Through George the audience can really connect to him in so many ways and levels; the loss of a loved one and coping is shown in the dream like sequence when we see George drowning underwater trying to swim and find the surface makes the audience feel like their suffocating just like George. How we are reminded of our previous lovers, When George encounters a male Spanish prostitute Carlos (Jon Kortajarena) George is reminded of Jim by Carlos’s; hair, eyes and even how he smokes a cigarette. Being based in the 1960’s the implications of the relationship between Jim and George were very difficult at that time of history, so that makes George a minority. Not being able to be openingly gay during the 60’s and losing Jim makes the audience feel like George is suffering alone. Apart from Charley (Julianne Moore) his closest friend only knows about Jim and Sam, so George as to keep this secret to his co-workers and about his loss. So everyone that talks to him has no idea what’s happening to George.

A Single Man is a beautifully constructed modern masterpiece. What I admire most of this film is the focus the homosexuality at the fact it doesn’t focus on that at all. We are presented with the protagonist being gay and that is it. It doesn’t talk about why or when George is gay we just accept it. Personally I think this a perfect and modern way to look homosexuality. If the protagonist was straight or even lesbian the film would have been the same. The stunning visual and cinematography just takes your breath away. Watching George rediscovered the ability "to feel, rather than think"  and comes to terms with his grief it really does makes one remember the treasured moments in life.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Expendables 2 Action Films & Action Heroes

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a good old fashioned action film, seems like these days action films lack the main ingredient to the genre. I just want to sit back and watch explosion after explosion, guts and arms flying all over the place, hear amazing catch phrases and quotes and see the action hero take on an army.  Growing up with actors like; the Rambo killing machine Sylvester Stallone, the cyborg T-800 terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger and universal solider Jean-Claude Van Damme you can imagine how insane I become when I watched The Expendables 2. To have all three amazing action heroes in one film can only lead to one thing TOTAL DESTRUCTION. There was so much adrenaline in the film I just wanted to rip my shirt off and start trashing the cinema. I wanted to get in a fight with the biggest and nastiest looking guy and start kicking away like Van Damme. Thank goodness though the credits came up, otherwise I would have had to deal with a hefty fine, banned from all UK cinemas and a broken face but don’t worry I used my face to break the big guy’s fist.

Expendable really does stay true to the genre; its jam packed with action, great plot, loads of testosterone, endless army of bad guys that shoots worst then a storm trooper from Star Wars and a fully loaded crash and burn mercenary group. Admittedly I’ve actually never seen Van Damme in the big screen. Though he is my all-time favourite I’ve always watched his movies on the TV or DVD and once upon a time VHS. Van Damme did an amazing job playing the villain named Vilain and seeing him doing his signature kick to Stallone face brought back the 1988 Bloodspot and 1989 Kickboxer. One can only wish Van Damme would kick me in the face. Just like the first Expendable the film starts off with a hostage situation the crew go in guns blazing but this time with makeshift convoys with battering rams and rocket launchers destroying everything and everyone in its path. With all the nonstop action Expendable had great cameo moments with the 72 year old “lone Wolf” Chuck Norris. The film even had a Chuck Norris fact. Watching Expendable it really does seem like a very high budget B movie with really old action heroes but that’s what makes it so great. Awesomely stupid catch phrases or quotes like Commando “Remember Sully when I promised to kill you last? I lied” really is icing on the cake for an action film and Expendable takes the catch phrase to a new level when our beloved action heroes says each other phrases!

Watching Expendable 2 really did take me back to the old days when I watched Van Damme become a Legionnaire, seeing Stallone get cryogenically frozen in Demolition Man and never forgetting Schwarzenegger fly a Harrier jet and literally shoot an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile with the villain stuck to it in True Lies. People can argue that these films are so cheesy, plot less, actors that can barely act and dated. They will never understand the true feeling of Schwarzenegger holding a mini-gun mowing down an army. That’s what makes Expendable such an awesome film, just seeing my childhood action heroes hold massive weapons and just take down the enemy so easily like a turkey shoot. It really did bring back simpler times of childhood and watching explosions. To stay true to the genre I will leave you with a quote from my favourite Stallone film Judge Dredd “I NEVER BROKE THE LAW... I AM THE LAW!”

Monday, 13 August 2012

Drugstore Cowboy & Trainspotting

Gus Van Sant 1989 American crime drama tells the dark story of a group of drug addicts, thieves and dealers who travel across the U.S. Pacific Northwest robbing pharmacies and hospitals to keep their habit at bay. Lead by Matt Dillon (Bob Hughes) an obsessed hunter constantly looking for the next score. With a great compassion for; a life on the run and drugs ultimately comes to a sudden epiphany and try to live a clean life. Determined to break away from the romance of addiction Hughes finds himself living a “straight life” is just as hard as giving up the habit but leaving the lifestyle that suited him best. Gus’s Drugstore Cowboy is somewhat an earlier adaptation and American perspective of Danny Boyle’s 1996 British Black comedy Trainspotting. Both films based on an autobiographical novels; Drugstore by James Fogle and Train by Irvine Welsh. Drugstore Cowboy is a brilliant display of addictions, the lifestyle of an addict on the run and the fight of living a sober life. Trainspotting is very much not so far off. Trainspotting follows a group of Scottish friends who are all addicted to heroin. Boyle takes you on a journey of an individual who tries to make sense of life and live a sober life but then trying to stay sober. Both films are set in within a group of friends and within this friend group tells the typical scenario of mates getting high together.

Drugstore Cowboy Gang
Kelly Lynch, James LeGros, Heather Graham, Matt Dillon 
The idea of Drugstore Cowboy seems like its glorifying the consumption of drugs, on the road with your friends and living a life on the run. In some odd way it seems like the best idea. On the other hand the film displays its self as a warning for drug abuse. I personally saw this film in a different light. Yes of course the films narrative structure is based on drugs and in some way a coming of age film. The protagonist however is twenty six years old so the coming age moment has long passed. In my opinion Drugstore Cowboy is a perfect example of someone with an identity problem and each character in the crew represents any gang of friend’s drug users or not. Kelly Lynch (Dianne) is Hughes girlfriend and is portrayed as the character that will never stop trying to drag Hughes with her. Heather Graham (Nadine) and James LeGros (Rick) are seen as the honeymoon stage couple. Nadine however is the most naïve and inexperienced crew member who overdoses.

Trainspotting gang
Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Mckidf
Trainspotting’s group of friends is very much a similar concept to the friend group of Drugstore. Both films perfectly portray typical friend group on drugs. Ewan McGregor’s character in Trainspotting (Mark Renton) tries to quit drugs but living a sober life Mark becomes depressed, bored with life and feels like he’s missing out. Just like Hughes in Drugstore and Mark in Trainspotting both protagonist have the same epiphany moment to be sober Bob Hughes “I’m going straight” Mark Renton “I choose life”. Both protagonists have their moment of awakening but then their friends or lover try to drag them back. It’s a very typical scene when one friend would want to quit he would see the other getting high and feel like he’s missing out and then fall back into the habit. Just like Drugstore Trainspotting has very similar friends; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is the typical friend that will never change and Tommy (Kevin McKidd) is the athlete naïve friend who decides to take up heroin and dies.

Bob Hughes (Matt Dillon)
Comparing both Drugstore Bob Hughes and Trainspotting Mark Renton these two protagonists are very similar and portrayed the same. Bob and Mark’s character arc have the same turning point when deciding to quit with a loss of friend or near death experience.  Both characters narrate in their films and give their personal soliloquy moments. When they “shoot up” the entire film becomes a dream like sequence of floating and the laws of physics don’t exits. Even both films have a none linear structure with Trainspotting starting off in the middle and Drugstore at end. Even though both films have entirely different plots, both films have a very common ground. Yes the main structure is drugs but it’s the friend group that makes these films beautifully realistic. One can argue the reason why these films are so realistic is because both films are based on real events. However personally I feel it’s the portrayal of the friend group that make Drug films so genuine.

Mark Renton ( Ewan McGregor)

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Let's Get Lost

Bruce Weber’s 1988 academy award nominee and winner of critics’ prize at Venice film festival Let’s Get Lost (1988) is a hauntingly beautiful documentary of the career of the jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. Let’s Get Lost takes us on the journey through Chet Baker’s music career, personal life and the drug addiction that he never could let go of. The entire documentary was shot in black and white to give it that old school smoky neon theme and to blend in more with archive footage of Chet Baker playing in Jazz clubs. Just like his music, the documentary really does have the cool jazz feeling with Chet portrayed as a James Dean -like figure with Elvis’ looks. Let’s Get Lost truly tells the eulogies of the infamous trumpeter’s career and the tragic life of his addiction.
Close friends and family who knew Chet are not asked conventional interview questions but instead asked to talk and reminisce about how they first met Chet and the fun unique times they had with him. Photographer William Claxton recollects on the time he first met and photographed Chet saying how “Attracted I was to him photographically and so was the camera.” The entire documentary seems like a candid portrait gallery of Chet with endless amount of montage photographs of Chet playing and singing. Everything about Chet Baker screamed fame. He had the star quality and he was photogenic and charismatic. It’s almost insane to believe that the two Chet’s; the younger and the beautiful and the old, tired and addicted Chet  are the same person but as soon as you hear him play the trumpet and sing it all just comes back to you. Listening to him talk seems like he has never aged. Despite the drug abuse and beaten look he always seems so cool - an important factor of a jazz performer. As the documentary comes closer to the end Bruce focuses on the addiction side of Chet’s life. An interview with Chet's mother unable to even talk about her own son’s drug addiction and saying despite his success "He failed me as a son". Bruce ends the documentary with the final Interview with Chet trying to come off drugs but Bruce unable to see him in such pain offers him medical help, an exhausted and weak Chet replies "Bruce I’ll level with you, in doing this you create pain in your part because you’re only prolonging my pain". 
Just like his music the documentary is timeless. When listening to Chet it’s not just jazz, there’s something more to him. When listening to him lyrically there is so much romance in his voice, his whole persona is defined in the way he plays the trumpet and sings. Bruce really did capture this in the documentary. The entire documentary feels like you’re in a jazz club. Almost as if Charlie Parker and Ray Charles are in the theatre with you. Watching this documentary not only takes you on a journey of jazz but loses you in it. It’s almost as if you’re getting lost in Chet’s world. The documentary goes back and forward through time and with the past seeming almost like a dream sequence. What I admire most about Bruce’s documentation is how it ranges from vintage candid photography, old archive footage of The Steve Allen TV Show and even Italian films that Chet starred in. The documentary has an unconventional non-linear structure, Bruce begins the documentary at the end of Chet’s life, then going back to the beginning and then carries on in a linear structure through his life.
As a Chet Baker fan I admire how Bruce Weber didn't focus on the drugs and downfall of Chet. The people who truly knew Chet - ex-wives, old friends and even his children, set the main structure of the documentary. The documentary takes you on a journey through the 1950s when Chet played with Charlie Parker and Russ Freeman. When the documentary gets the drug addiction part of his life, Bruce portrays the addiction as if he always had it and that it was never frown upon nor was it accepted. It just focuses on the pain he has to endure and the vicious cycle of a junkie trying to go clean. Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost really does Chet Baker justice both to his musical career and his personal life.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Black & White Cinema

Ever since colour was introduced to cinema, it has always since then been seen as sentimental past of cinema history. In today’s world black and white more than often is seen as art house cinema also known as Art Film. Most often people connect black and white to film noir films however if you want to go deeper into film noir with black and white films we would have to look at German Expressionist cinematography. So black and white isn’t just a label of one category of film genre and style but of many, however today black and white is only seen as pretentiousness of a film maker. It seems now if I use black and white the public tend to think right away that I’m being an artistic pretentious film maker. But I cannot blame them because there are film makers out there that just use black and white because they feel it would add more character to the film. Somehow thinking this would make the film feel more vintage or unique. Its film makers like these that killed black and white cinema using it for the wrong reasons. Black and white is meant to be used for the right reasons. If we look at other black and white films we can see how black and white should really be used.

Manhattan Opening Montage Shots 
Black and white to me is a feeling of nostalgia of the present and personally I see black and white as a perfect canvas of glamour. If we look at Woody Allen’s Manhattan the opening shot of the film is a black and white panoramic shot of New York City with a sentimental music. Watching Manhattan there is so much glamour in every shot and the city being so huge; watching all those people moving around, the street lights, traffic lights and building makes the city look alive. There was so much beauty in every shot that was used in the montage of Manhattan. It was as if every shot of the city was a framed picture in a portrait gallery. After series of shots inside Manhattan the glamour is shown with the wide shots of New York. At first we were subjected to within the city but now we are encountered by beautiful tall buildings both known day and night. At the end of the montage of New York City Woody ends this opening scene with New York City shooting fireworks. The buildings lights almost look like stars and when the fireworks go off they look like exploding stars that fade and fall into New York.

Christopher Nolan's The Following 
Have a look at Christopher Nolan’s The Following, this neo noir film is based on a wannabe writer who suffers from writers block and decides to follow strangers on the streets of London. Not being able to keep his distance his is drawn into the criminal underworld. Even though this film has the typical film noir elements of a low key black and white visual style and the feeling of crime drama genre it has very modern outlook. The themes, style and cinematography is a much updated version of film noir. If we even translate the name from French to English Film noir means “black film” when neo noir means “New black”.

Edward Norton slow motion scene
If we have a look at a more modern film, American History X tells the story of a gruesome drama of two brothers whose fire fighter father dies on duty by been shot at by a local black drug dealer. The oldest brother Derek joins the neo Nazi movement but after been sentenced to prison for manslaughter of two black gang members. The oldest brother now turns his attention to his brother preventing him going down the same path. The black and white used in this film was used as a flash back sequence. The flash back tells the story of the protagonist and his disturbing past as skinhead. I feel that there as more to the black and white then just a flash back sequence. The black and white feature to me is also representing the black and white footage used during the Third Reich days. Almost as if the time has changed but technology of camera stayed in the same. We always saw the Nazism and occultism in black and white. So the scene of the ruthless killing of one of the gang members Edward Norton walking towards the camera in slow motion with the Swastika tattooed on his chest, he really did look like SS soldier back Nazi Germany marching in the Nuremberg Rally.