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Call it a required bit of man-hood or necessary part of the American life-style, but at some time in his life, every man desires to ride the prairie with no worries but what kind of beans are for dinner and where the next saloon is.  Short of stealing a horse and shooting a cowardly sheriff, the best way to satisfy this dream is to grab the nearest Clint Eastwood film, settle in, and enjoy every moment.  Having just finished the “Man With No Name” trilogy, I had to watch more Eastwood (much, much more).

I would have loved to have written about Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly… but enough wonderful things have been said about these classic pieces of cinema… and I have very little to add.  So I took it upon myself to write about Clint Eastwood’s 1973 film High Plains Drifter.

High Plains Drifter, Eastwood’s first self-direcrted Western is a gritty portrayal of a story you’ve seen a million times before… from Blazing Saddles, to Bug Bunny…A stranger wanders into town and saves the timid town-folk from a wiley gang of hoodlums.

Does that make this film a tired re-telling of a worn-out story?  Not in the least bit.

This film stands out among Eastwood’s other films in more ways than one.  While many characters and heroes in Westerns are cardboard cutouts of good and evil (with intentions as clear as day), High Plains Drifter leaves you guessing at every second about “The Stranger’s” intentions and what he will do next.

High Plains Drifteris  a story of a corrupt mining town that hires an un-named drifter to protect them from a gang of gun-fighters.  The film begins with a haunting score and images of Eastwood’s character riding into the small desolate town looking for a drink of whiskey and a hot bath.  Quickly we see the dark nature of the towns-folk and “The Stranger’s” ability to swiftly deal with them. Without a moment’s notice, we have three dead-bodies in a film that has only begun.

I will stop giving away the finer plot-points here, because you should go into this film knowing as little as possible and enjoy the ride.  I applaud this movie for always keeping me guessing, exploiting curruption and cowardice, and even thorowing in elements of the supernatural. Not to mention you’ll see where the term “paint the town red” originated.
So put High Plains Drifter at the top of your list of films to see, and thank me later.

8 ½ : Fellini Exposes Fellini


In his film 8 ½ Federico Fellini shows us a detailed image of a troubled director, one who constantly battles with self-doubt and public criticism; this character in reality, is Fellini himself.  Fellini did not know how to finish many of the projects he had been writing, so as a form of self-therapy, he made a film about not being able to complete a movie.  In doing so, Fellini made one of his most honest and powerful films and one of the most honest accounts of the tribulations faced by directors and fellow creatives. “The result was the story of a director who must begin a film but cannot remember the plot and continues to oscillate between two planes; reality and imagination.” This film, in its essence is “a film within a film described by another film.”  8 ½ is a dramatic entwinement of multiple parts of Fellini’s own life, his “professional life[…] his personal life […] and his inner life of dreams and fantasies.”

Fellini, through his statements and autobiographical vision of 8 ½ shaped the way scholars analyze the film.  From the name alone, 8 ½ leaves much to the viewer’s imagination as to what this film is about.  In truth, the name serves as “an unpretentious title that is almost an archival reference” said Federico Fellini.  Before making 8 ½ Fellini had directed six full-length films and three short films, which Fellini said would make this move his “8 ½ endeavor.” “This film will be the ultimate in autobiography: it will be a kind of purifying flame.” said Fellini.  Fellini crafted the main character of the film, Guido Anselmi, to hold much of the same characteristics and flaws held by himself.   Much like Fellini felt at this time, “Guido is fully preoccupied with his inability to move ahead on his film and to put his personal relationships in order.” Guido is bombarded by those around him, they are constantly coming to him for answers and truths while he is unable to provide any of this to their satisfaction.  In an attempt to avoid his tormentors, the director simply dances among them and hides his face.

Through meetings with the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, Fellini was convinced that there was “no dividing line between imagination and reality” and that through these dreams, he would be able to “communicate on a subliminal level with his audience by means of films expressing a symbolic world rather than representations of reality might be possible.”  If Fellini tapped into his own dreams, he could establish a better representation of himself as both an artist and a person. The director did exactly this within 8 ½. From the sets, the characters and the dreams, all of the elements had their start in Fellini’s own life.  Everything in this film is bigger, bolder, and more dramatic than everyday life, but such was the life of Federico Fellini. By jumping from past, present, dreams, and back, 8 ½ “destroys any sense of time” and the film’s editing “further disorients and dislocates our conventional perspectives.”  Many of the sequences and storylines throughout the film are tangled and told in tandem, the viewer becomes lost in the chaos, much like Guido in his own world.  Fellini wasn’t trying to hide his flaws, he was trying to reveal them in their most honest form and ask for acceptance. The dreams in the film, which mimic many of Fellini’s personal dreams, bring a heightened element of the director’s life into the film.  The opening scene establishes a “blueprint for the rest of 8 ½”  by providing a sense of claustrophobia and self-doubt.  In his book, The Cinema of Federico Fellini Stuart Rosenthal establishes Fellini as a troubled director who loved his work more than anyone around him.  The director, feeling the pressure for success and a constant bombardment from critics, poured his thoughts into the character, who feels that “everything has come to a standstill for him […] he is hemmed in on all sides by the demands that so many people are making of him.”  In much the same way that Fellini would ignore producers, staff, and personal acquaintances, Guido is “not at all sure of what to do, so he bluffs and procrastinates, hoping to buy time.”

Throughout the film, Fellini uses dramatic juxtaposition between black and white to demonstrate good and evil, truths and lies, as well as innocence and a lack thereof.  Angelo Solmi provides excellent examples of this in his book Fellini.  In Guido’s memory of his punishment in a Catholic church, “The geometrical compositions of the black confessionals against the bare white background of a room that has no well-defined limits exactly conveys a sense of guilt that identifies us all with the young boy.” When we visit the mineral springs, the sheer brightness of the scene nearly causes the viewer to look away in amazement and must become used to all the white in the scene.  This is contrasted by many of the sinful patrons heavily draped in black.   The springs are striking, the surroundings awe-inspiring and the sight “heightens our sensitivity to his feelings, while the enormity of his vision of everything around him enlarges him for us.”  The film ends on Guido as a child, wearing all white.  We have grown accustomed to seeing the hero persistently dressed in black, so seeing him in white provides the viewer with a sense of hope and rebirth, “Guido the child, the last image of a purity that had been lost, yet perhaps found again.”

The film’s finale, in which Guido reveals his deepest feelings and doubts to his wife is a sincere message from Fellini himself.  This scene “contains the most striking theme of  8 ½: that we cannot change other people and that every attempt to do so is fruitless.”  “Accept me as I am” says Guido, “Accept me with my faults, my complexes, my genuine qualities, but don’t try to change me.  In exchange, I will give you the best of myself.” One can see Fellini begging this of his audiences, his critics and his loved ones at the very same time Guido does.   Most critics agree this film was Fellini’s way of expressing his love for the creative process, and through this piece he worked out his own doubts and accepted who he was as an artist. Fellini seems to have finally justified his natural tendencies and has learned to accept himself for who he is and not who is wants to be. “At the end […] we have seen a very tightly organized film about a film, which IS the film.” “All the confusion of my life… has been a reflection of myself!  Myself as I am, not as I’d like to be,” says Guido in the final scenes.  Guido, like the director he mimics, has learned to live in a harmony with the art he is destined to create.

Rik’s Top 10 of the 2000’s
1.  Memento
2.  Children of Men
3.  Requiem for a Dream
4.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5.  Fellowship of the Ring
6.  The Dark Knight
7.  Kill Bill Vol.1
8.  Amores Perros
9.  In the Bedroom
10.Royal Tenebaums

Honorable mentions:

  • The Bourne Identity/Casino Royale
  • Michael Clayton
  • Serenity
  • Let the Right One In
  • OSS 117

Evan’s Top 10 of the 2000’s
1.  There Will Be Blood
2.  Kill Bill
3.  Children of Men
4.  Wet Hot American Summer
5.  Wall-E
6.  The Dark Knight/Batman Begins
7.  The Incredibles
8.  Inglourios Basterds
9.  OSS 117
10. Friday Night Lights

Honorable mentions:

  • Tell No One
  • Almost Famous
  • 28 Days Later
  • Casino Royale
  • Crazy Heart
Rik:
1. Winter’s Bone
2. Inception
3. Toy Story 3
4. Social Network / Tron: Legacy
5. Black Swan

Evan:
1.  Winter’s Bone
2.  True Grit
3.  Tron: Legacy
4.  Toy Story 3
5.  A Prophet

Patience:
1. Winter’s Bone
2. Tron: Legacy
3. Please Give
4. Social Network
5. The Kids Are Alright

Ryan:
1. Kick-Ass
2. The Social Network
3.  A Prophet
4. Greenberg
5. Exit Through the Gift Shop




Rik…

Best Actor: Jimmy Stewart – “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

Best Supporting Actor:    Gilles Lellouche – “Tell No One”

Best Actress: Doris Day – “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

Best Scene: Jimmy Stewart gets a phone call. “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

Best Film:  “Tell No One”

Evan…

Best Actor: François Cluzet – “Tell No One”

Best Supporting Actor: Gilles Lellouche – “Tell No One”

Best Actress – Emmanuelle Seigner – “Frantic”

Best Scene: Jimmy’s phone call “The Man Who Knew Too Much”

Best Film:  “Tell No One”

full5Let me start off by saying if we had an image of an over-flowing coffee mug, I would have used it here.  I was beyond impressed by “Tell No One”, and after two viewings and a deep investigation into the plot I feel confident in pushing this as one of the best movies I have seen this year.  From the plot, the acting, the production, and all the twists and turns in between… “Tell No One” is not to be missed.

As soon as this movies ends,  it is already begging to be re-watched.  On second viewing, I was able to follow the story much more intently.  I picked up on subtleties that only added to the already fantastic movie. And what first seemed like plot holes, actually ended up being masterfully written twists.  Every scene in this movie holds a purpose and has its own arc…thus following one of the most important aspects of a great story.  In the words of the author Paul Auster, “Since everything seen or said, even the slightest, most trivial thing, can bear a connection to the outcome of the story, nothing must be over looked.”  This quote is especially true with “Tell No One”.  Every character, every scene, and every word weigh heavily on Alex and on the story.

François Cluzet’s performance of Alex was fantastic.  His character was subtle, natural, and believable.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if this movie was made in America, it would star Denzel Washington and towards the middle of the movie, Alex would suddenly become an action star.  This never happens with “Tell No One”, for all that happens to Alex, the only reason he succeeds relies on his determination to see his wife and on help from those who believe in him.

I could go on and on talking about this film, but the more I talk, the less time you have to watch “Tell No One”.

full5

“A single crash of cymbals and how it rocked the lives of an American family.” So begins a fantastic Hitchcock thriller, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

It’s hard to know what approach an older movie like this will take when addressing a kidnapping plot-line… Will they tread too lightly? Will they soften the harsh elements?  Will the suspense hold up to today’s graphic stories?  Well, with Hitch behind the camera, you can be sure the story will have enough suspense to stretch from here to Marrakech… and the thrills will hold up to (and surpass) today’s standards.

At the beginning of the movie there is a light happy feel, the family is together and cheery and Dr. Ben is very… well, he’s very Jimmy Stewart.  The wife is immediately cautious, which leads us to feel the same way.  But as soon Ben gets the mysterious phone call in the police station, the whole feel of the movie changes.  This change is a switch from older Hollywood films to later films of the 70s… suddenly the charm and cheer are gone and we are met with fear and the possibilities of lives being lost.

The feeling we get in the detective’s office is disturbingly real.  The detective is quiet, cold, and threatening.  We are just as confused as the main characters and as fearful as well.  Soon, we see why this movie has been titled “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Ben really does know more than he cares to know, though he surely wishes he didn’t know a thing.  The faceless enemy is using threats so Ben will keep his secret, while the police are using threats so he will tell them everything.  Ben and Jo simply want to find their child (by force or with money), they do not want to stop any murder or help either side… until they gain the upper-hand.

As the story unfolds, the tides begin to shift.  In the church scene, Ben and Jo suddenly have the power over their adversaries.  The kidnappers are suddenly fearful of what will happen to THEM.  I won’t go into any more detail as to what happens next, but the infamous opera scene is not to be missed… and the very last scene of the film (the final 15 seconds) is an unforgettably stylistic wrap to the whole film.

“The Man Who Knew Too Much” definitely deserves a full cup and does a great job of displaying all the chaos and turmoil a kidnapping holds… all while throwing in a classic Hitchcock style.

I must admit, hearing Cillian Murphy say, “Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. Welcome to the Icarus Two” had me hooked immediately, and I was eagerly anticipating whatever came next.  For once, this film used the narrative intro correctly… telling us what we needed to know, without wasting any of our time or the movie’s time. Unfortunately, as Rik said, this film just fell into the same old Sci-Fi trappings.

  I enjoyed the rational arguments at the beginning of this film, and I too hoped this film would stand on its own and go against a tired storyline but it quickly became a movie we’ve seen time and time again.  The crew strayed from the mission, mechanical failures ensued, a mysterious figure began killing the crew one by one… and so on, and so on.  If Boyle had made a creative decision to make this film go against all others, perhaps it would have gone from good to great.

         There were some positives to this film of course. The effects and cinematography did a fantastic job of showing the vast beauty of space.   The feeling of claustrophobia we feel on the ship, and in the suits really helps to pull the viewer into the dangers of this mission.  As one might gather from the title, the sun plays its own part as a character in the story… the crew has an obsession, bordering on fetishism with the sun, and its beauty adds to their desire to reach it. 

         As Rik has said, this movie is worth seeing for some its fantastic production qualities…but it simply does not stand up to the other films of our sci-fi fest.

full5  The composition and appearance of “Children of Men” is immediately noticed and not soon forgotten… from its gritty realism, to its mind-blowing long takes with their flawless precision. “Children of Men” has a gritty and subtle tone that just plain WORKS.  The film starts with a BANG and never lets up.  The director, Alfonso Cuarón has found a way to tell a great story with a wonderful formula. Characters of all kinds are put on display, from zealous Christians, and mindless workers…to art lovers, and pot smoking rebels.  All kinds of characters are introduced and we the viewers are allowed to connect with whomever we choose.

         This movie doesn’t waste its time with a narrated intro or in-depth text explaining what has happened to this world and why its inhabitants are living in such squalor.  Instead, it throws you right into the society and makes you one of its inhabitants.  We watch the story unfold from the same down-to-earth realism as Theo.  We are just as scared, unsure, and surprised by all of the occurrences as the characters in the movie…in fact, our ears even ring along with Theo for many scenes.  This is one of the best parts of “Children of Men”, its ability to make us feel as if we are a part of this broken world.  The back-story is not spoon-fed to us. Instead, it is slowly uncovered by subtle hints from characters, newspaper clippings, and even jokes.  The hints are subtle… but they are there.  Because of this, the movie can be enjoyed on many levels…whether the viewer takes time to examine the history and politics of the society, or simply for its visually stunning appearance.

         The long shots in this movie are stunning to say the least, and deserve numerous viewings. The long shots are not merely used to gain attention by film buffs… they add a sense of the unrehearsed spontaneity of real life.  They add tension and suspense to the movie… while never giving the audience a chance to catch our breaths.  Even Theo hardly has an opportunity to relax and reflect… he is only given a few fleeting seconds now and again to accept what is happening, then quickly has to dive right back into the action.

            Theo is doing all of these because he realizes the power he has to change history…  Theo needs the money, but it quickly becomes much much more than that.  This adventure takes everything he has… and gives back nothing. Once Theo has lost everything and everyone, he finally breaks and asks “Tell me the reasoning now…”  This is when reality hits Theo, he may be destroyed by this quest, but he needs to do all he can to save the future of mankind. In his talk with Nigel the art collector, Theo asks, “A hundred years from now, there won’t be one sad fuck to look at any of this… What keeps you going?”  To which, Nigel responds,  “You know what it is… I just don’t think about it.”  Thankfully for humanity, Theo doesn’t share the same view.

         Even under all the pressure,  Theo quickly realizes the story isn’t about him… it has always been about this young child who will hold the world in her hands.  As soon as the child makes her way into the world, people take notice.  The landscape becomes quiet, soldiers and rebels hold their fire, the wounded and scared reach to touch the child, and crowds part to let Theo and Kee pass.  This is the hope the world has been waiting for.  We are left with what everyone else in the world is left with…hope. The last sounds of the movie answer all the questions and doubts we had… listen hard, the world has been saved.

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