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I was really looking forward to Salvatore Giuliano; it has an amazing Criterion case and it looks like just the type of movie I'd love. Sort of reminded me a lot of my beloved [i]Battle of Algiers[/i]. However, by the time I was half way through I realized this was not what I had hoped it to be.
What I did like about it was the way it was shot, newsreel style, and the actual story. It's the true tale of a revolutionary/bandit (depends who is speaking) who is eventually found shot in the streets. It begins with showing the police finding his body, then goes back from the beginning and tells his story up until he is murdered, at which time the movie shows what [i]really[/i] happened to him.
This sounds very good, yes, but the way it was put together destroys the potential. Many of the scenes felt randomly placed, and often I was confused as to why certain things were happening. At times there would be a scene placed which apparently had nothing to do with the film, and I'm still bewildered their meaning. It's too bad, because this could have been a brilliant film, but it's dragged down by being poorly cut.
There were a few scenes I loved however, such as the court trail. They really held me attention and had me wondering what was going to happen next. Unfortunately, most of the time this is not the case and I struggled just to keep up with what was happening instead of being enthralled or engaged. It was actually quite tiresome.
It really is disappointing that it had to turn out like it did; I think it really could have been as great as [i]The Battle of Algiers[/i]. Despite certain aspects which were good, such as the way it was shot and a few select scenes, everything else weights it down and the editing basically ruined what had so, so much potential.
[size=3]Harakiri [/size][/b][/size] Lately I?ve been discovering amazing Japanese films, nearly one every week. It all started with [i]Sword of Doom[/i] and I?ve just adored virtually every one of them. There is something about Japanese films from the 50?s and 60?s the just clicks with me. However, I can safely say [i]Harakiri[/i] has been one of the best of what I?ve seen thus far.
Right from the opening shot of [i]Harakiri[/i] I sensed the film was something special. The way the camera slowly leaned in and panned around the mysterious set of armour felt so uneasy and puzzling. It is almost as if this opening shot was a foreshadowing of things to come, as much of [i]Harakiri [/i]has to do with mystery and puzzlement. [i]Harakiri[/i] actually reminded me a lot of [i]Rashomon[/i] when it comes to the way the story was told, but the difference is I was disappointed with [i]Rashomon[/i] ? I absolutely loved [i]Harakiri[/i].
Going back to the opening shot, it was also a great indicator of the way [i]Harakiri?s [/i]cinematography[color=darkgreen][u][/u][/color] was going to be like. It is usually quite still, with slow tracks, pans and generally very careful, smooth movement. However, there are often times quick yet controlled zooms on faces to indicate shock, and when there are sword fights the camera starts to really move. It follows the duelists, careful to capture their every movement, and then will turn on its side of [i]The Third Man[/i] esque slanted shots, which looked gorgeous. Overall, as I?ve said, the cinematography was beautiful. It has a perfect balance between letting the viewer focus on what is happening and having pure visual flair. I?d put this in a top list of cinematography for sure; it was that expert!
Hand in hand with the cinematography was the editing, which was to say the least very interesting. The way [i]Harakiri?s[/i] narrative was structured (which I will get to), it required very carefully cutting. Thankfully it was edited flawlessly, and held all the films parts together spotlessly. The cuts between shots and the way the editing held the flow of the cinematography was impeccable, and better yet was the way it was paced.
To explain why it was paced so well and why the editing worked so well with the story is hard to describe without getting into the actual plot however. The way it is structured is [i]Rashomon[/i] style; stories within stories. In this case, it is about a scruffy looking Samurai who shows up at a clan?s fortress asking to be allowed to kill himself. The clan is suspicious about this, and this is where the stories within stories begin to be told. Through various[color=darkgreen][u][/u][/color] narrators back story, major plot points, turning points and even grin enticing twists are flushed out. It is really quite complex, but it works so perfectly because I never knew what was going to happen next. The entire time I had no idea what the scuffy looking samurai?s true intentions were, and it was so involving and absorbing to watch it all fold out. The story for [i]Harakiri[/i] was defiantly one of the main highlights of the film, as it was just brilliant.
Man on man, I don?t know how to fit everything else in. I mean, the performances for example. They all were so refined and expertly given, particularly from Tatsuya Nakadai. They took the wonderful script and characters and breathed energetic life into them. How about the fight chorography? Albeit, there were not actually many sword fights, but when there were the cinematography coupled with the carefully planed chorography made for excellent sword play, particularly in the final fight scene which I thought was simply a classic sword battle. It reminded me a lot of the final scene of [i]Sword of Doom[/i], which was incredible.
I am probably missing some things about [i]Harakiri[/i] which deserve to be mentioned, but I think it is safe to say you get the point; [i]Harakiri [/i]was a masterpiece. No mater what component of the film you look at, whether it be the complex, layered and overall stunning story, or the astonishing cinematography and direction, everything was just virtually perfect. Not only is this one of the best Japanese films I?ve seen so far (which I saying a lot, but it is also simply one of the best films I?ve seen regardless of genere. I highly recommend you see this, and if you happen to be a fan of foreign movies[color=darkgreen][u][/u][/color]you are [i]required[/i] to see this.
[/i][i]Le Notti Bianche[/i] is one of those black and white classic romance films from the forties or fifties ? except it is measurably better than most of them. Many of the older romance films fall into deadly cliché traps which really restrain the said films from becoming anything memorable. To be fair, [i]Le Notti Bianche[/i] does fall into a few of them, such as a terrible use of soundtrack, but it thankfully avoids many of them. Weather I should attribute this to Dostoevsky, who wrote the book which is the basis for the movie, or direction, I do not know.
Maybe it was both, because I loved both the story, and the characters as well as the construction of the itself movie. The characters seem carefully crafted and real, and I actually really found myself relating to the lead man of the story. His character and mentalities mirrored me in certain respects. I saw myself in him, which is always something I really like to see a movie be able to do. The story itself ? the chance encounter and love at first sight - may seem clichéd, but some how it works. Maybe it?s because throughout the movie nothing ever seems certain, as if the audience[i] knows[/i] they will get together again. In [i]Le Notti Bianche[/i], everything seems to be hanging in the air, and you are never quite sure how everything will land. I did think the final leg of the movie was a bit overdone, and went against how the main character acted during the rest of the movie, but the way the movie resolves was very nicely done, and felt very sincere. It avoids what most other movies would have done to wrap up the movie, which I am very grateful for. The ending actually was very tragic and sad, without giving anything away ? I really felt sorry for one of the characters.
From a technical perspective, [i]Le Notti Bianche[/i] is incredible. The cinematography actually reminded me of [i]The Third Man [/i]on many occasions. The graceful movement and the brilliant lighting of the wet cobble stone really lent a lot to creating a thick atmosphere for the movie. It?s too bad the music was terrible, or else it could have worked with the cinematography to create a fully incredible visual/aural experience. At least the music was used sparingly, and the photography was marvelous enough for me to disregard any other technical misgivings.
Overall, I really did adore [i]Le Notti Bianche[/i]. The story was very compelling and I loved the characters ? it was a very well done romance from a narrative perspective. It wasn?t perfect, as I mentioned, especially at the final ten minutes which were too ecstatic, but in the end it all worked very well. The cinematography is what really helps this movie set itself apart from other romantics from a technical perspective though ? it really is very beautiful, enough even to warrant seeing this movie even if you don?t like romances. However, I don?t think that should be a problem. [i]Le Notti Bianche[/i] does a great job at creating genuine characters and in the end the I really cared about the, and what was going to happen to them. The movie was all at once enjoyable, depressing, thoughtful and was careful to avoid clichés. Very much recommended.
?Revenge is a dish best served cold.? An old Klingon proverb, we are told at the beginning of revenge epic [i]Kill Bill[/i]. And who doesn?t like being served a nice, chilled dish of a revenge movie from time to time? The latest is the vigilante justice movie [i]Death Sentence[/i] by James Wan of [i]?Saw? [/i]fame and starting Kevin Bacon. If you are familiar with the [i]Death Wish[/i] movies, you?ll be familiar with [i]Death Sentence[/i], as they are both based on the same book.
Basically, a man?s son is killed in what appears to be a convenience store robbery (but actually turns out to have been a gang initiation killing), and while they killer is caught, he slips through the fingers of the justice system and is let free. Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) is of course outraged that the man who killed his son isn?t getting at least life in prison, and you can see where the movie goes from there. Hume basically starts a one man gang war with the thugs and they in turn go after the rest of his family. It is fairly simplistic, but then again, what revenge movie isn?t? It?s about a guy just trying to avenge his son?s death, and that?s what you should expect going into it. Now I won?t reveal anymore of the plot, so you can feel safe reading on if you haven?t seen it.
[i]Death Sentence[/i] actually works better than I expected, especially with the terrible reviews it got. However, the problem is it could have worked [i]a lot[/i] better, and after about half way through the movie a lot of things happen that almost make you scratch your head, wondering just what exactly the screenwriter was thinking (or smoking) when he wrote this movie. The driving force of the movie is basically Kevin Bacon. If it wasn?t for him, this ship would have sunk - and fast. But he delivers an extremely effective performance, both as a man who just lost his son and also as a man who is out for justice. I don?t know who thought of casting Kevin Bacon, but it was a great decision and he delivers.
And of course, being a revenge movie you are going to have some action revenge scenes, and I was kind of surprised that they delivered in this. They are pretty intense and you can really feel the blows and see the hits. This is defiantly not a pg-13 affair ? and it doesn?t feel over stylized or manically edited (like the director?s previous [i]Saw [/i]movies), either. There is even a really great tracking shot that went on for quite a few minutes about a third of the way through. After a while I realized what I was watching hadn?t been cut for a while, and it was actually a very well constructed sequence, I was impressed. The second half of the movie is decidedly over the top, and sometimes goes too far, but I still think if you are just sitting there to see a revenge movie, then you?ll generally be happy with the revengin?.
But despite a very strong Kevin Bacon and some action scenes that deliver, [i]Death Sentence [/i]is far from perfect. There are a lot of really poorly set up sub plots (i.e. the one with the police detective, or the one with the fat guy in the Bubbles glasses) which didn?t serve to accomplish anything other than...well I?m not sure what they were going for with those at all. In addition to this, there are some pretty big plot holes... maybe I wouldn?t call them [i]plot holes[/i], but I would say there are defiantly some instances where you find yourself wondering, ?after all this shooting in the middle of the busy city, you?d think there would [i]at least[/i] be some police sirens,? and things like that. In addition to this there are a lot of sequences which would have been fairly strong on their own legs, but the filmmakers seemed to always jump in and have a character come from nowhere to explain the obvious or cue emotional music in a scene that didn?t need it. Instead of just letting the audience watch the scene unfold and support itself, they seemed to always seemed to interrupt the flow to explain things to the lowest common denominator. ?Hey, maybe they won?t know they are supposed to feel sad now. Put some sad music in there.? It comes off as lazy screenwriting and a lack of respect for the audience.
But the biggest problem of all with [i]Death Sentence[/i] is how it seems to justify everything Bacon?s character does. While we do sympathize with him, and we do [i]want [/i]him to succeed and avenge his son?s death, I feel that the movie was doing one thing but saying another. It was [i]showing[/i] how revenge ultimately doesn?t fix the problem. He doesn?t get his son back and he actually makes things a lot worse for him and his family. Sure, he gets to have some revenge, but at what cost? This is what[i] Death Sentence [/i]seemed to be [i]doing, [/i]it?s what we [i]saw,[/i] and in that respect I actually think it was thematically strong. But what it seemed to be [i]saying[/i] was that Bacon?s character was doing the ?right? thing and that in the end it all ?comes out in the wash? type thing. But that makes no sense because we just [i]saw[/i] Bacon?s character have his life torn apart in pursuit of revenge and we [i]saw[/i] him loose everything ? so why did the movie seem to always want to say otherwise? We clearly just saw Bacon?s character ruin his family?s lives, so why try to make it look like he did the right thing?
So [i]Death Sentence[/i] does have a lot of flaws ? giant, gaping, nearly fatal flaws ? but it does seem to somehow stay afloat. It?s a boat that has a giant hole in its hull but just doesn?t quite seem to want to sink. What?s keeping it from going under is the exceptional Kevin Bacon who turns in a performance that basically [i]makes[/i] the movie, and a series of serviceable action sequences which are generally intense and satisfying, if over the top. It?s unfortunate that the movie sunk a bit lower during the second half due to some bizarre plot twists and ?what just happened?!? moments, and the fact that the movie does one thing and says another is a huge, inescapable flaw. [i]Death Sentence[/i] would otherwise have been a much stronger revenge film ? one that has some fairly well done action scenes but one that also tries to actually [i]say [/i]something about the nature of revenge. As it is, it?s a movie that has some fairly well done action scenes but one that doesn?t quite know which way it is going thematically and one that treats the audience like they are a flock of goats. But if you were interested in this movie in the first place, you should still give it a shot, even if you just wait for DVD.[/font]