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Rating History

Tekkon kinkurīto (Tekkonkinkreet)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Tekkonkinkreet is a swirling, dazzling, kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, ideas, stories, and characters. Set in the fictionally splendid Treasure Town, a world that wholly embraces the instinctual fascination of urban mythology, with it's pop-ruritanian extravagance, it is populated with a host of interesting characters and ideas. It is a testament to the fantastical creativity and intellect of Japanese animation as it fills the screen with it's imagination, kinetic levity, vivid pallette and deep meditations. Treasure Town is a character unto itself, with it's own personality, majestic in it's conceptual invention and stunning in it's realization, the splendor of this city is reason enough to see the film. Like much of Japanamation (Paprika comes to mind), Tekkonkinkreet is a bold, evocative film that uses boundless visual expressions to encompass deep psychological drama.
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Watchmen
Watchmen (2009)
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Based on the classic graphic novel of the same name by Alan Moore, Watchmen is an interesting film but it's appeal is largely dependent on whether or not you've read the book. It's appeal diminishes significantly if you have. I have.

Considered by many as the greatest graphic novel ever written Watchmen is a brilliant work of fiction to say the least. Masterfully composed both in terms of it's writing and the striking arrangement of it's images and parallel storytelling, the book is a work of extraordinary beauty and intellect. Brimming with astute social commentary and overarching philosophical statements, it's spectrum of thought encompasses no less than the nature of humanity and conversely that of the universe. It is a modern human study, disguised as a super hero comic. The film is faithful to the comic in terms of it's story but fails to achieve the heights of it's lofty meditations. A stylishly synthetic paraphrase of a much deeper work the film assumes the visual appeal of the book but only as a superficial repetition.

It's hard to know what to say about the Watchmen film. The only thing that really comes to mind is the question I asked before. Why? What I expect from the film is an answer to that question, and while the film is by no means a bad one it is only a simplified reconstruction of the novel. I will say this about it. When it comes down to it I was not bored and did enjoy it for the most part. I think most of what I liked about the film though was residual from the book. Rorschach for instance, cast and played brilliantly by Jackie Earle Haley.

Unlike my thorough examination of The Dark Knight and it's themes I'm not going to delve deeply into the film since it would only revert to an analysis on the far superior work of fiction on which it is based. There's little point in musing over the film's themes instead of the book from which they are drawn, when exploring the latter would be far more rewarding. Instead I just want to make a few comments about the film as a translation a work of it's own.

It's hard for me to review it without making direct comparisons to the novel that only diminish a careful, literal, yet vapid adaptation. Zach Snyder does an admirable job maintaining the continuity of the book but fails to make the film lucid as an individual work. I'm not sure how someone who hasn't read the novel will perceive it but even at 2hrs and 40 min Snyder fails to imbue his film with the intellectual substance contained in Moore's work, retain in it's parallel, it's gravity, meaning or significance. As a result the film is a visually impressive but fundamentally shallow effort that entertains on the merits of a glamorous presentation but accomplishes little else. This is maybe an unfair assessment but again, as someone who's read the book that informed it, I cannot help but make comparisons. The problem is that in doing so Snyder does not provide sufficient justification for the film or answer to my query: why?

I'm not sure what someone unfamiliar with the original will make of the film as a stand alone superhero movie because it's such an original storyline. Snyder does his best to make it work but I think there is just too much information to convey in one film, which may be the problem. Even at an extended duration the film still only manages the most expedient retelling. A proper foundation is never laid for such a bold and immense story. Brief conversational fragments and an early montage cannot fully depict the breadth of Moore's accomplishment nor does the compressed reiteration properly express the audacity of his vision. It may be difficult for those unfamiliar with the back story to adequately grasp the nature of the world they are experiencing or properly digest it's meaning.

It's ironic that the film adheres so faithfully to the novel as though it had been a screenplay yet retains little of it's power. The adaptation works quite literally as Snyder seems to have lifted the story almost page for page and I while I applaud this attentive respect to the original I can't help but be disappointed as well. Egregious deviations from the source material would have been condemned as sacrilege by devoted fans yet a plastic replica doesn't serve any purpose either. To spite the dutiful imitation of the novel the film's superficial appraisal of it's characters betrays it's fundamental attribute. The Watchmen novel is an exploration of human beings and social and moral archetypes. The depth and psychology of it's characters comprise an elaborate ideological tapestry woven with astounding visual and literary prowess. When I consider the story arc or read a few pages at random I am always amazed at the remarkable craftsmanship and artistic symmetry Moore displayed in his modern parable, little of which translates in the screen version.

What surprises me most was Snyder's unwillingness to harmonize his cinematography with the same sense of comparative progression Moore was so fond of. The design of the novel, the paced, rhythmic choreography of words and frames flow as a kind of poetry, like the measured stanzas of a song, patiently, steadily, building to crescendo; always accumulating, drawing ever closer to the end. The whole novel is slanted towards it's destination in this way. The clock motif itself enforces this notion of imminence. The pseudo kinetic use of inter-cutting and transitions reinforced the books sense of self analysis and share such an affinity with the nature of film it seems directly informed by it. It's as though the novel had been adapted from the screen rather than the other way around. Snyder has lifted the story directly from the novel's pages yet it's brilliant style of progression is, for the most part, inexplicably absent, almost deliberately so.

Consider the scene between the psychologist and Rorschach, when he, in a passage exemplifying the books extraordinary sense of ironic symmetry, examines the eponymous ink blots. In the novel Moore visually links the shapes on the card with the memories they invoke in Rorschach, using associated images as a bridge into another scenario. By so doing the transition is aided. This is not a new trick. It is not unique to Watchmen and Moore did not invent it. He simply uses it appropriately to great effect. The correlation of images and ideas, the orchestration of visual and figurative, is common in the novel but almost completely avoided in the film. I say avoided because they are impossible to miss in the novel and supremely suited to film. The scene with Rorschach is an obvious example of many and I can't understand why Snyder discarded the technique.

Perhaps he thought it would appear too trite and cheapen the intelligence of the film. I don't really believe that though considering Snyder's previous film 300, was an ingloriously belligerent spectacle, saturated in CGI and drunk on hyperbolic bravado. Deliberate aesthetic restraint didn't define that film and I don't think it had much to do with this one. Snyder is not one to hold back. He respects the sources from which his bold cinematic extravaganzas are derived and this is one of the few demonstrated qualities I respect about the director and his work but he has yet to prove he is capable of truly great things beyond the emotional resplendance of his computer generated worlds. Also great art can be obvious as long as it's honest. There is nothing wrong with aesthetic indulgence as long as it's without pretentiousness.

For what it is though, the film is fun, mostly intriguing and very pretty to look at. The style and design of this film is impeccable and like 300, is marketable on this level alone. It works on a simpler plane than that of the book but there is still a lot you can get out of it. Snyder is dedicated to the original plot and adheres to it rigidly with minimal departures. He does however make a significant choice concerning the ending that doesn't actually alter the course of anything but is a smart way to streamline the narrative, eliminating superfluous plot lines, too unwieldy for the film to manage. At the same time the implications of the plot remain the same. It was an interesting alternative to the original.

For it's insufficiency, the film is still an intriguing and entertaining experience. Worth renting, more so than seeing in a theater, however. It's not bad, just not great and for it's length there are more gratifying ways to spend your time; reading a good book for instance.

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Baraka
Baraka (1993)
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

[center][i]What you see depends on what you're looking for.[/i]
-Unknown
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An ethnic documentary Ron Fricke's "Baraka" eschews traditional narrative, speaking instead in the language of the sounds and images of the many cultures it observes. Using various techniques including some very evocative time-lapse tracking shots, the film's cinematography gently traverses the planet in a river of images. The humble embrace of it's subject matter is a trancendance from the subjectivity of most films. Even those which strive to naturalism "Baraka" surpasses with it's simple non objectivity. It is concerned only with observance and is satisfied in doing so, visual, aural, textural, color, tone, and rhythm. Observing both the organisms of nature and that of human society it's scenery gracefully flows from one region to another without discretion or prejudice.

In the encompassing silence of it's eye "Baraka" reminded me, particularily in it's frenetic passages, of "Man with the Movie Camera." Indeed it's aspirations are similar to the silent classic though more enobled by the expanse of it's vision and diversity of cultures. It probably has more in common with Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" (on which Fricke worked as cinematographer) though unburdened by the imperative themes which accompanied Reggio's "Qatsi" Trilogy.

One of the outstanding features of this film, however, beyond it's contemplative meditations, and one of the greatest triumphs of it's vision is the vivid clarity with which it is apprehended. Captured using a 70mm camera and fully remastered on Blu-Ray, the stunning clarity of it's images is simply astonishing and the majestic beauty of it's landscapes are breathtaking both for their natural splendor and technical brilliance. The visually resplendent fidelity of it's picture is remarkable considering it was filmed in 1994, and to spite the advantage of the large format, denies modern film transfers any excuse of not being perfect.

I have never seen a clearer picture or more detailed imagery. As the images transitioned around the globe I found myself in rapt attention simply at the realism on screen. It was a novel experience to enjoy a film simply because it's pretty to look at but at times it was almost as if you were gazing straight into the places themselves and that in itself is pretty powerful, even more so when it's a face your staring into.

The two-fold splendor of a film like this is a rare treat for a cinephile or videophile but particularly so for someone who's both.

There where moments when I was simply astonished at the beauty of the images, the intensity of color, the clarity of water drops, or the fact that I could see the pores on someones face.

Though "Baraka" is decidedly objective Fricke's artistic influence is none the less present in the shooting style and choice of music (including a passage accompanied by Dead Can Dance's "Host of Seraphim") but his most significant impression may simply be the ambiguity of the composition and the oneness the sequences inhabit. It's not really necessary to attempt to extrapolate themes however. "Baraka" is more like a piece of music, fluent, beautiful, haunting, elusive. We can append particular meaning to it's various movements but in some ways doing so belittles the granduer of it's entirity.

It owes much of it's effect to the quality of the transfer and I wonder if it would be as impressive in standard definition, though such considerations are irrelivant since it is not. Still it's important to note that this is indeed a movie that is worth watching for the same reason the places it features are worth visiting. The simple, yet inspirational experience of witnessing something beautiful has been translated through this medium closer to the real thing then it ever has before.

The immaculate fidelity of the footage is a testament to what the Blu-Ray format is capable of. The film is a masterpiece but it is also the only one I would buy simply based on how good it looks. If you own a Blu-Ray player, you owe it to yourself to see "Baraka."

The Man with the Golden Gun
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

[size=2]Having remarked on the underwhelming [i]Live and Let Die[/i] I thought it would be appropriate to follow it up with a review of the film that did so for the series. [i]The Man With the Golden Gun[/i] is a noticeably improved, largely entertaining film, featuring an enjoyably unconventional approach to the standard Bond plot and a noticeably more accomplished performance as James by Roger Moore.

Since the series established itself as a reoccurring phenomenon, the adventures of 007 have been comprised of a familiar story arc. I say "a" story arc, because it is essentially the same one told again and again. The redundant course of events these films follow is so reliably predictable I'm surprised James hasn't tried saving the world blindfolded just to make it more challenging. The appeal of these films is not the plot though, it's in seeing it reinvigorated with new gadgets, girls, and outlandish villains with each installment. If the tried and true ingredients are exotic and inspired the films manage to work but are far more interesting when they are manifested with more than just refurbished glamour. Outside of the first few Connery entries and the Daniel Craig reboot, the series has remained entertaining yet been almost entirely lacking in originality. It's interesting, for this reason, when one of the films takes the initiative, delivering the expected in unexpected ways.

Such is the case with [i]The Man With The Golden Gun[/i]. It faithfully carries out the beloved traditions of the series but does so as though it was conceived from a fresh perspective. Everything does what it's supposed to when it's supposed to but how it does so is what makes this one engaging. Most of what transpires is stock 'Bond.' Everything we have come to expect is present, all the famous paraphernalia accounted for, but the material approaches it creatively. The plot fixtures of these movies are seldom considered for their individual qualities, which is why it's so striking when they are here.

The film opens as most Bond films do with a scenario that is a setup for the films underlining crisis. Establishing the primary antagonist, it portrays him as a man of sophistication, prowess and a sporting sense of self discipline. Out of the qualities it attributes to him the most notable is his tremendous marksmanship by which we are also introduced to his ostentatiously defining characterization as the Man with the Golden Gun.

The man is Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) who, along with his pint sized henchman (Herve Villechaize) aptly referred to as Knick Knak and mistress Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), respects the traditions that informed his character as a Bond villain, residing at a secret facility in an exotic and isolated location. The early moments of the film illustrate this and serve not only to demonstrate his skill as an assassin but his character as the kind of villain whose abilities are matched, perhaps exceeded, by his acute awareness of them and the code of honor that maintains an attitude just shy of arrogance. He is the best. He knows it. But his sense of manners restrains him from flaunting this fact with anything more than appreciative observation.

His composure and precision is not limited merely to his talent for killing but extends to his ability to balance sinister villainy with pleasant charisma. As with many of Bond's foes he possesses a cultivated sense of etiquette, ruthless ambition, and overconfidence; a man who follows an exacting plan of world domination with carefully planned procedure, routinely killing defenseless victims to achieve his ends yet hosts his most capable adversary James Bond at dinner, partially out of respect, partially out of civility, and partially out sheer stupidity.

In this way he resembles his predecessors most. The routines he goes through right up to the glaring carelessness of his final encounter with Bond, bely his intellect and suggest the archetypal formalities of a villain required to provide Bond with the opportunity to escape or kill him. When he cannot help but give lengthy dissertation about himself and his plans as he eagerly conducts bond through a tour of his facility, we are reminded of almost every megalomaniac that stood and died in his shoes before him. Still as he proudly expounds upon his accomplishments to the only man capable of stopping him, Still there is a kind of idiotic logic in his careless disregard. Since we can assume he intends to eventually kill Bond, it does not matter what he tells him. This is logical. However given the liberties he heedlessly affords his rival it is possible Bond may kill him. This is idiotic. Ah, well...you can't think of everything. Bond villains never do.

His introduction early on is the platform upon which the rest of the film is constructed, establishing his character as one that will pose a threat to Bond as a fellow professional. It says nothing about the danger that will threaten the world nor does it involve Bond himself but resembles From Russia with Love in the way it creates a nemesis for Bond that is physically his equal, establishing his awareness of the superspy and preoccupation with him as a worthy opponent. The plot functions around this theme which is indirectly driven by "the energy crisis" and the small solar energy device that could "solve it." This Mcguffin acts as the requisite global emergency that looms over the story and conveniently threads together the confrontation of James and the Man with the Golden Gun.

Of course what would a golden gun be without golden bullets. When one is sent to MI6 with 007 engraved on it James is relieved of his current mission, which ironically concerned our Mcguffin, to which he'll later return, and sets about finding his adversary. The first act is remarkably disconnected from a sense of direction, unlike previous Bond films which typically present some compact scheme of world domination as the films simple motivation. Here Bond embarks on a personal mission, reflecting the more intimate nature of the story.

So begins the first half of the film in which we find Roger Moore a far more confident, self possessed Bond. There is a hint of cynical indifference behind the usual sarcasm of his character that was absent before. In [i]Live and Let Die[/i], Moore seemed a little behind on some of the dialogue. There was a vaguely tentative connotation to his performance as though he was playing up to the role. There is no such hesitancy here. Unlike Live and Let Die, Moore isn't playing Bond. He is Bond. This is a correction of the paramount flaw of that earlier film and represents a part of the healthy sense of humor and self awareness that elevates this film over it's direct predecessor.

Here, the villain is not simply a tyrannical madman out to rule or destroy the world. In fact his regard for the banal specifics of his overarching plan is somewhat passive. He has more introspective motivations which carry us through familiar developments but do so by a unique and compelling route. The threat he poses globally is less dramatic and is not used as the films primary source of initiative but instead backdrops the more personal dynamic of his confrontation with Bond. Even the astonishing inefficiency of the method with which he intends to dispose of Bond, typically the quintessential flaw of Bond villains, actually makes sense as a logical extension of his character. The film's lacking sense of crisis may make it seem to some a little lazy by comparison to it's predecessors but it offers an interesting consideration for the human dramatic of the villain character seldom explored.

There is also a kind of running joke concerning the capricious unpredictability of Bond as a lover, as demonstrated by a humorously on off relationship with a fellow agent. There is a clever scene that neatly summarizes his level of commitment to his duty and relationships when he stashes her in the closet to hide her from another woman, from whom he hopes to acquire information. It's a tongue and cheek reference, remarkable in the wit of it's self parody and irony.

As far as the action goes, it takes place mainly in China and features a speedboat chase down a crowded canal that is an improvement over the longer less exciting one in than LLD (Though how James is forced to resort to the canal as an escape is a little clumsy). This sequence also includes a dopey but amusing cameo by the podunk sherif who added local color and humorous character commentary to the previous film's bayou chase.

The story begins narrowly and gradually expands to encompass the political threat that is part of Scaramanga's plot but it is never as important as the confrontation between him and Bond. The way the film gradually unfolds, taking on greater significance later on, allows this confrontation to develop as the film's key theme as James attempts to track down the assassin, before it introduces his grand design. This approach is somewhat refreshing in it's unconventional pace and focus and reflects the film's originality.

This [i]Bond[/i] is still not one of the very best and will disappoint some with it's less climactic scope but it still stands as an improvement over the previous in almost all areas. Roger Moore found his stride as one of the better Bonds with sharper wit and more confident swagger. This could be said as well for the film itself. After a tentative 007, boring and ridiculous plot and dull locations in the previous film it was good to see the franchise return to form. It edges out the dismissable [i]Live and Let Die [/i]as an exceptable entry in the series.

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[center]Golden Gun Vs. Walther PPK[/center]
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Das Boot
Das Boot (1981)
8 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

An opera of faces. Wolfgang Petersen's 3 hour WWII epic resides primarily in the claustrophobic confinement of a German U-boat (Submarine) and finds significance in the earnest hopes and fears of it's crew. At the end of the film I couldn't tell you a single name but I knew very well those onboard, not by rank or position except the captain (Jürgen Prochnow) but the personality and meaning in their faces. The eyes betray what words alone can never convince us of. Petersen has not crafted a war film of action and bravado but one that finds the human element essential to it's universal importance. It's grandeur is not visual but psychological. The men aboard cannot see beyond their metal undersea prison into the murky depths and must rely on their own instincts to ascertain what is happening during hostile confrontations. The speculative nature of these battles is where the film draws it's greatest strength. The fear of the unknown and the terrible possibilities of what could be happening on the other side of the hull create a war thriller of powerful drama and suspense. The focus is not so much on the action but the crews' reaction to it. We do not see them with historical prejudices because the film wisely omits most the national specifics of it's conflict, generalizing politics and hostile encounters. It is viewed not with the deceit and corruption of the German hierarchy but through the eyes of young men forced to shoulder the duties of their nation. The war has made them "the enemy" but fear makes them simply human beings and the resulting film avoids the negative stigma of Nazism by demonstrating and relying, not on the flags or politics which separate us, but on the humanity that unites us.
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