John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
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When we think of a biopic, we usually think of a film that captures a triumphant moment in history when an individual has had a significant influence. Although David Fincher's The Social Network captures a significant moment in history when Mark Zuckerberg created one of the most influential and popular entities of the 21st century, this film is anything but a celebration. For Fincher, it seems the creation of Facebook shouldn't be documented as an account of a brilliant genius but rather a egotistical genius who created the famous social media from the most shallowest motivations.
From the opening five minutes, Aaron Sorkin's script does an incredible job at revealing the psyche of Zuckerberg. The brilliance of this opening scene is that perfectly captures the fundamentals of this character within the space of five minutes. In having a conversation with his girlfriend, Zuckerberg's condescending nature, egotism and awkward social skills are painfully apparent. Essentially, he's highly narcissistic and wants to be recognized or considered significant; however, Zuckerberg's crucial flaw is that he believes that being significant will make girls more interested in him but ironically, it's this emphasis on being significant/narcissistic that will lead to only more loneliness. Evident from the way that Sorkin has created Zuckerberg, this is anything but a celebration of brilliance, but rather a study in the traits of toxic masculinity such as narcissism, pride and misogyny.
In one of the most disturbing scenes of the film, Zuckerberg is dumped by his girlfriend when it becomes obviously apparent that he is a grade A asshole and of course, Zuckerberg reacts in a way that seems logical for a male who shares parallels to the traits of toxic masculinity; he reacts by demeaning the female who has taken a shot at his pride. Basically, he creates a humiliating blog post about his ex and a website that compares the 'hotness' of women to farm animals as some weird, misogynist revenge tactic for his girlfriend breaking up with him. Not only is this disturbing because it shows the demeaning power of social media but also that one of the most important tools of the 21st century was born out of a night of misogyny. It's also raising the important point of how we view these so called 'brilliant' men. Yes, Zuckerberg is intellectually brilliant but his motivations are misogynistic and shallow. In typical Fincher fashion, The Social Network isn't your typical celebratory biopic, it's a film that rather investigate character qualities that are dark, subversive and unlikable.
From a technical standpoint, there's so much to marvel about The Social Network. It could be the most perfect synchronization between script, editing and music. The fast cut editing utilized by Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall is perfect for handling Sorkin's typical rapid-fire dialogue. in the scene mentioned above when Zuckerberg is creating a site that eventually crashes the Harvard system, the use of internal monologue provides the audience with insight to frantic and chaotic mind of a genius. As the frantic dialogue is moving at a rapid pace to capture the quickness of Zuckerberg's intelligence, the editing is just as frantic as the internal dialogue; constantly switching between Zuckerberg's monitor, various dorms rooms and a fraternity party while all being synced to Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross' "In Motion." Despite being heavy on dialogue, the movie is never boring due to the editing as Sorkin's script constantly switches between three different timelines. As the title of Renzor and Ross' track suggests, everything in this film is constantly in motion. Its also refreshing see the use of fast cut editing utilized in an intelligent manner rather than how its typically used in generic action films.
In a majority of Fincher films, the director is always subversive, challenging genre conventions and The Social Network is no exception. When we think of films that involve American colleges and fraternities, we usually think of feel good superficial comedies that romanticize college life and its clear Fincher is deconstructing these genre conventions by uses his dark aesthetic in a genre that is traditionally optimistic and romanticized. Fincher, a director known for his disturbing thrillers such as Seven and Zodiac, uses the exact same aesthetic he would in those thrillers for The Social Network. Virtually every shot -- from the dorms, to the toilets, to basically any internal shot within the college -- is covered within a gloomy and disturbing palette. The aesthetic choice makes perfect sense as Fincher isn't representing college life as a positive and romanticized notion but rather a disturbing area riddled with toxic masculinity, narcissism and misogyny. Besides the aesthetics, the use of music from Trent Renzor and Atticus Ross greatly contributes to the overall atmosphere. Not only do they somehow translate through music the process of programming and the feeling of an idea coming to fruition ("Intriguing Possibilities") but also create a sound that is subtly disturbing and music that perfectly matches the visual aesthetic.
From the script, to the characters, actors, music, editing and direction, virtually all aspects of The Social Network are brilliant. Despite this, the fundamental thing that makes The Social Network live on as a classic is that at the heart of the narrative is a story of greed. In many ways, it's a 21st century adaptation of Citizen Kane as just like Charles Kane, Mark Zuckerberg rises to fame and fortune but loses everything along the way, including the only friend that cared for him. In the end, Zuckerberg doesn't have many redeeming features besides a minimal sense of remorse and Fincher ends on an ambiguous note. As we see during the final scene, Zuckerberg sends a friend request to his previous girlfriend but the film ends before we see if the friend request is accepted. As the credits roll, the audience are left to ponder whether or not Zuckerberg deserves another chance to rectify his past relationship. I feel like Fincher would take the cynical route but for a more optimistic person like myself, hopefully Zuckerberg can put his ego and pride aside and attempt to be a decent person.
In 1975, Laura Mulvey released her famous/infamous paper on the male gaze in cinema. In essence, Mulvey suggested that cinema relates to the Freudian concept of scopophilia, which is the act of gaining sexual pleasure by looking upon someone. For Mulvey, since the film business is largely dominated by men, the act of cinema relates to closely to this Freudian concept as movies, especially during the classical period, presented women as nothing but sexual objects under the male gaze. Thus, cinema for Mulvey was a medium for men to experience scopophilia as women were represented simply for the pleasure of males. Although the inception of this idea was in the 1970s, Mulvey's theory still has relevance as we are still constantly seeing how females are presented in this manner. However, would what happen if this concept was imagined in a different way? What would happen if the male gaze was turned into a disconcerting nightmare? What would happen if these desirable women actually lead to unimaginable fears? Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin answers all these questions by flipping the traditional idea of the male gaze on it heads and turning it into a frightening, unforgettable cinematic vision.
In subverting Mulvey's idea, the casting of Scarlett Johansson was genius. When you think of the history of cinema, especially from the 90s to recent blockbusters, the way that Scarlett Johansson has been presented over the years epitomizes Mulvey's notion of women and their relationship to the male gaze. For instance, in the famous opening shot of Lost in Translation, the very first thing that we see is Johansson's behind through invisible panties. Despite not being intentionally sexual, it wouldn't be a hyperbole to say that this individual frame would of featured in the sexual fantasies of many older and younger men. Moreover, who could forget the "money shot" of the first Avengers where a low angle is clearly used to show off Johnasson's ass-sets in black tights. Given the examples, the genius of Glazer's film is that it takes the way that Johansson has been historically represented under the male gaze and turns into something completely sinister.
Glazer's experiment with this classical concept is largely contributed from the plot. Even though a lot of the narrative details are open for viewer interpretation, it's apparent that an alien life form (Johansson), which uses human bodies as a host to cover its alien features, has been sent from another planet to murder young, single males. As the narrative progresses, the alien lures its victims, by using the attractiveness of its human exterior, to its other-worldly 'house' and banishes them to what seems to be a black void. Through these passages, the male gaze is well and truly present as we watch Johansson get undressed for our scopophilia pleasure; however, the fundamental difference here in comparison to the previous ways that Johansson has been viewed under the male gaze is that what was once pleasure, is now horrific. Rather than the female body simply existing for scopophilia reasons, the very thing we once desired, at least from a heterosexual point of view, has been turned to something terrifying; something that can lead to our own demise. This is the genius of Under the Skin is that it takes a body that the world has fantasied about. A body that has undeniably been the subject of many sexual fantasies and taints it, turning what was once somebody that we associate with sexual pleasure into a unsettling vision of how desire and death are explicitly linked.
Considering that Under the Skin shares many connections to Mulvey's theory and that one of Mulvey's key examples was Alfred Hitchcock, then it is not surprising that Glazer's sci-fi is very similar to Hitchcock directional style. In particular, the way that Hitchcock could create an unnerving atmosphere with the use of voyeurism. Time and time again, Hitchcock would take places that we associate with safety such as schools, public areas, the bathroom and place them under the voyeuristic gaze of the villain. By doing this, Hitchcock instantly associates fear with places that we usually think of as being safe havens. This was the creative power of Hitchcock's horror because as an audience, we associate fear with these relatable contexts in our own life, thinking that they are under the watchful eyes of a voyeuristic murderer. For instance, after watching Psycho, there's no way that you can possibly have a shower without thinking someone is watching. Just like Hitchcock's films, Glazer continuously positions the camera from the perspective of the alien in public places; places where we should feel safe but due to the voyeuristic gaze of the villain, the atmosphere is unbearable and riddled with anxiety. Apart from the voyeuristic gaze, Mica Levi score is a masterpiece of disconcerting anxiety; the musical equivalent of an axe screeching against a cold, hard metal sheet. With slow drum patterns and overpowering violins that would break any glass surface, Levi's score achieves it's purpose. And when the voyeuristic elements combine with Levi's music, Under the Skin truly lives up to its title.
Like all sci-fi, the setting and location is essential to the subject matter. Since the content of the Under the Skin is highly disturbing, brutal and just an overall feeling of coldness, the choice of the Scotland's urban areas and beautiful coastlines perfectly matches the brutality of the films content. Even though some of these locations are astonishing and Glazer captures some beautiful natural moments, the overall atmosphere that these images create is the feeling of something that is bone-chilling; a coldness so brutal that it'll cut through any warmth. As suggested, this scenery matches the internal state of the alien during the first half of the film. Before she goes on her journey of self-discovery, she has no empathy or sympathy for humans, just a cold, mute being that will kill humans without any hesitation. For example, this relationship between the natural landscape and the being is captured in one of the most dour scenes ever committed to the celluloid.
From the distance, the alien watches what is both a human folly/human tragedy as it witnesses both the drowning of a dog and a mother after they are caught in a rip. As the father desperately tries to swim out to save both of them while their child lays on the beach screaming, an onlooker swims out to save the father who will also drown if he has no assistance. After saving the father, the onlooker lays on the beach, desperately attempting to get his breath back. While this is all going on, the being picks up a rock and violently bashes the onlookers head in, seemingly murdering him just after he saved the father. Concurrently, the father begins swimming back out to sea in some desperate bid to bring back his wife and although his fate may never be shown, it's a certainty that he died along with the rest of his family. If this wasn't depressing enough, the final shot of this passage is the baby on the beach. Left alone, screaming and stranded as the tide slowly comes up, obviously eluding to its eventual death. Essentially, this whole passage serves as a metaphor for the beings apathy; it's emotional mute state and the natural location, which is the the cold, brutal coastline of Scotland, flawlessly matches the otherness and coldness of the central antagonist.
There might not be any explicit violence or any potential, devastating worldly outcomes that we may see in other sci-fi films; nevertheless, Under the Skin may be one of the most disturbing sci-fi's ever created which it is achieves through all the things that make great horror: intelligent direction, unforgettable imagery and a unrelenting, nerve-racking score.
Yes, "Lawrence of Arabia" epitomizes cinema's ability to transcend the screen, but the main reason that you will keep revisiting David Lean's classic will not be solely contributed from the beautiful imagery, but rather from the enigmatic protagonist; a character that is highly flawed and represents the collective and misconceived celebration of historical figures.
Unique in its study of sexuality, Kubrick's cautionary tale and exploration of the subversion of true human intimacy from sexual desires is fascinating and disturbing.
With the combination of a hilarious script and the auteurs usual stylistic flare, Scorsese's tale of a computer programmers slow descent into madness perfectly captures the absurd nature of New York's nightlife. A truly bizarre odyssey and one of Scorsese's best.
After consecutively watching Christopher Nolan's films, it seems that one of the fundamental reasons why Nolan has gained such a legion of followers is that he always contains a balance of separate tastes required for a wider audience. From providing the great spectacle that the big-profit films require while still maintaining and never sacrificing an intellectual depth, it's no wonder that the directors fan-demographic reflects not only the general audience, but also critics, film scholars and cinephiles alike. And while most of his movies contain this balance of action and interesting subject matter, "Inception" is undeniably Nolan's opus.
Using the mechanics of a heist narrative, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief that performs the art of extraction: the stealing of information from an individuals subconscious. However, after being offered the chance to return to his family, Cobb agrees to perform the difficult task of Inception: the planting of an idea within someone's dream-state (oppose to extracting it). While this is a relatively simple explanation of the plot, the execution of the narrative (like most Nolan films) is extremely complex. Not only does Nolan employ the usual interchange between the past and present, but also a continues cycle between reality, dreams and memories. Moreover, during these various interchanges are quantities of plot details that explain the many separate mechanics that revolve around the dream-state. Although this sense of complexity is daunting, it really is one of the essential reasons why "Inception" has that everlasting quality - its labyrinth structure is riddled with concealed secrets, even after repeated viewings.
In terms of genre, "Inception" is a beautiful amalgamation of the directors inspirations. The 'L.A aesthetic' influenced from Mann's "Heat" is still present from "The Dark Knight" with breathtaking city imagery and also some action sequences that are clearly constructed from Nolan's Bond influence ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"). Furthermore, there are many of the surrealist conventions that are associated with the visual representation of dreams in cinema. Although the amalgamation of these various genres could have been messy, "Inception" strucks an interesting balance between the elements of reality and the surreal. In one of the best action set-pieces that I have ever seen, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets into a tussle with a henchmen (subconscious projection) in a hallway that continually rotates and eventually loses gravity. With this set-piece actually being authentically built (Nolan has said that this particular influence came from the internal designs of Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey") and without any contribution from CGI, the dichotomy between the surrealist characteristics and the reality constructions of dreams are reflected brilliantly.
While the layers to "Inception's" narrative could of possibly short-changed the leads, many of the characters - possibly - turn out to be Nolan's best. Cobb is the directors typical unreliable narrator that once again reflects a sense of misdirection through the questioning of his perception of 'reality' (drawing many similarities to Leonard in "Memento"). With a fantastic performance provided by DiCaprio, Cobb is undeniably the emotional anchor. Along with DiCaprio, the chemistry between Arthur and Eames (Tom Hardy) adds the humour (both reflecting the classic tension between science and imagination). However, Mal (Marion Cotillard) possibly steals the show. A personification of Cobb's repressed guilt, Cotillard creates the perfect balance between demanding sympathy and being frighteningly scary.
Above all, the most astonishing achievement of "Inception" is Nolan's craftsmanship. Balancing the interchange between the conception of dreams and reality would of obviously been a daunting task; however, the director makes it seem easy. On full display during the final forty minutes, Nolan guides the audience through four separate action sequences that are occurring simultaneously which eventuate in perfect synchronization. Essentially, even when there is action you have to pay attention. Adding to the scope and quality of the film is Hans Zimmer's amazing score. Opening with the thunderous "The Dream is Collapsing" that accompanies an action sequence that cuts between three levels of dreams and reality sets the tone perfectly. And of course there's the beautiful melody "Time"; a musical piece that greatly adds the emotional significance to the end of Cobb's character arc.
Fundamentally, containing all of Nolan's traits on the grandest scale, there are many things to appreciate about "Inception."
"Insomnia" is undeniably a more intimate film within comparison Nolan's other features. It does not feature the usual cerebral narrative structure that the director continually endorses (and therefore, much of the everlasting quality found in his other films is diminished here) but still reflects many of the interesting narrative devices that have become integral to Nolan's stories.
Using the premise of a psychological thriller, the story depicts a tale of two Los Angles detectives that are sent to Alaska to investigate a homicide. While the narrative structure is the most 'straightforward' out of Nolan's work, there are still various little touches that are employed to greatly elevate this archetypal crime story. Like the central characters of "Memento," "Inception" and "The Prestige," Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is another unreliable protagonist. With great use of the natural landscape and some sharp editing, Nolan's representation of Dormer's internal state from a lack of sleep continually puts his judgment, reliability and even 'reality' into question. Moreover, with Al Pacino's performance contributing greatly to this sense of unreliability, the psychological atmosphere of the films habitat is greatly elevated.
In many ways (and probably one the most refreshing aspects about this film), "Insomnia" subverts the typical conventions associated with the crime genre by blurring moral distinctions and destabilizing the generic character dynamic shared between the 'hero' and 'villain.' As in "The Prestige" where both main characters actions are morally questionable (even in "The Dark Knight" - I know the Joker is nihilistic, but he does at times speak a twisted sense of truth and by the end of that film, Batman's actions are also contentious), "Insomnia" endorses a similar interchange. While in the conclusion Dormer seems to gain a sense of resolution by confronting his guilt, for most of the film the character is hanging under of cloud of moral ambiguity (symbolically represented by the gray Alaskan landscape). Adding to these psychological complications is the murderer Walter Finch (played brilliantly by Robin Williams) who constantly attempts to non-differentiate the distinctions between himself and Dormer (or in other words, the lines that define the differences between the cop and murderer are constantly put into to question). Although by the end of the film this sense of moral ambiguity is diminished, the compelling elements of this narrative undeniably come from the playing with these hero/villain conventions.
Essentially, "Insomnia" subversive nature is compelling and features brilliant character direction, but within comparison to Nolan's other films, it just doesn't contain that usual everlasting effect.
"Are you watching closely?" A quote that could possibly epitomize most of Nolan's work, "The Prestige" follows the directors investment in narratives that are continually challenging and demand attention. After my second viewing, the magician seems the perfect metaphor for Nolan's intentions behind the camera: a man who creates misdirection through various illusions. And just like the interest invested in the mysterious nature of the magicians tricks, "The Prestige" is a film that will be continually revisited in an attempt to find the truth behind the directors apparitions.
Moving from blockbuster territory to a period piece about two magicians rivalry that is warped into a tale of spite and revenge, "The Prestige" still reflects (as previously mentioned) Nolan's typical execution of a difficult narrative structure. Essentially, the narrative begins moments before the eventual conclusion of the film. From this position, one of the central protagonists Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) takes the audience back into the past through his rivals journal, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). However, when the narrative integrates back into the past, Nolan adds further difficulties to this narrative by switching the narrators from Borden to Angier. When Angier takes over the narration - and like most Nolan films - the story gains layers of complexity. As mentioned in my previous view of "Memento," Nolan's continual investment in a difficult narrative structure is undeniably one of the fundamental reason why his film are so riveting - he forces you to pay attention. Moreover (similar to "Memento" and "Inception"), these complex narrative structures are not only a stylistic feature, but rather a further contribution to the substance of the film. And with a story that focuses of lies, deceit and illusion, the difficult narrative not only reflects the subject matter, but also the characters motives.
In various interviews, Nolan has stated that "The Prestige" represented a "self-conscious" reflection of his film-making. Considering his body of work (and as I previously mentioned), it is quite obvious to see how this period piece represents Nolan's style. Filled with constant turns and twists, Nolan seems to thrive on misdirecting the audience. And while much of the criticism for "The Prestige" is focused on these supposedly cheap twist and tricks, once again (and just like the narrative structure), these twist and turns are not merely thrown in for attempted shock value, but rather contribute to the fundamental concern of the films subject matter. After watching the film for the second time, there are continues clues that Nolan hints at (if you're watching carefully) that clearly indicate these eventual outcomes.
Similar to his previous body of work, "The Prestige" deals with an essential theme for the director: obsession. Like most of his characters, this obsession has great consequences as the narrative bends through a rivalry of various sacrifices that two human beings make for the purpose of revenge. Furthermore, what makes this interchange extremely compelling is that the distinction between 'hero' and 'villain' is continually being destabilized (a constant trait of Nolan, especially in "Memento" and "Insomnia"). At times we are on Angier's side, and at times we are on Borden's side. Essentially, Nolan is reflecting that morality is redundant when people are obsessed for a particular outcome as they are willing to do anything to achieve it.
If "Memento" was Nolan's visual adaption of the postmodern condition, then "The Prestige" is his visual - and rich - adaptation of the romantic novel. From sublime landscapes, the dichotomy between imagination and science and of course the central concern being obsession (a central thematic for the Romantics), it is quite evident to see the literary influence on Nolan period piece. And I know these particular themes are not an interest for certain casual viewers, however, these certain themes add a level of interests for people (like me) that love to dissect films.
Currently being in a stage of watching Nolan films consecutively ("The Prestige" being the third), it seems Nolan's is undeniably one of the great storytellers of modern cinema and "The Prestige" - while lacking the complexity of "Memento" - still delivers a more refreshing narrative and character dynamics than most.
While there are many things to appreciate about the films made by Christopher Nolan, the directors continues ambition towards the methods of storytelling would have to be his most profounding achievement. From tightly constructed avant-grade thrillers to cerebral blockbusters, Nolan creativity has undeniably contributed to his idealization. And while now the auteur is reaching many heights, his second feature, "Memento," is still one of the directors most brilliant films. And after viewing it for the third time, it still feels just as fresh.
The narrative follows Leonard (Guy Pearce), a man who suffers from short-term memory loss and uses pictures and tattoos in an attempt to uncover the murder of his wife. In terms of genre, "Memento" reflects characteristics of the revenge thriller and neo-noir, however (and just like "Following") Nolan's execution of the narrative structure elevates these genre archetypes into a cerebral challenge. Fundamentally, the narrative develops through a juxtaposition of two separate time periods. For differentiation, one of these timelines is reflected through normal colour imagery and begins at the conclusion of the film and directs the narrative in a backward manner through short segments (reflecting the internal position of the protagonist inability to create new memories). The other time period is reflected through black and white imagery and moves in a chronological order until both narratives (one moving back and one moving forward) eventually meet. As previously mentioned, it is Nolan's execution of this extremely difficult narrative that makes "Memento" extremely riveting because the director demands the audience attention (you literally can't look away for one second). Moreover, the narrative style - arguably - represents one of the heights of modern films in terms of creativity and innovation.
Like his other films, it is quite evident that the director focuses on making an experience that demands repeated viewings. And after recently finishing "The Prestige," it seems by the end of each Nolan film (including "Memento") previous information is always subverted. For "Memento," it seems by the end of the film that the morality of the protagonist is jeopardized. Initially, the story of Leonard and his slow reveal to be a man who is being exploited by his disability and his final memory being the death of his wife (his lasting connection to the past) suggests that the protagonist is a compelling tragic figure. However, once we reach the conclusion of the film, the motivations of the 'hero' are destabilized. A distinct trait of Nolan's films is misdirection - and "Memento" could possibly epitomize one of directors favourite techniques. Although this indulgence of misinformation could be annoying for some viewers, it is undeniably one of fundamental reason for revisiting Nolan's films.
Being adopted from a short story created by his brother Jonathan Nolan, "Memento" contains many literary ideas to chew on - in fact, the movie very much reflects many of characteristics associated with the postmodern condition: existential crisis, an unreliable narrator (a device the director would turn to time and time again), skepticism towards facts and memories or the past (which of course applies to the historical discipline and is metaphorically represented with the opening shot of the fading Polaroid image) and of the course the concept of fragmentation being overtly represented through the narrative structure. And while these ideas will not necessarily excite the casual viewer, the layers of themes simply reflect Nolan's ability at balancing a refreshing thriller that many in the public domain can enjoy while still containing an extremely interesting subtext for critics, film scholars and devoted cinephiles.
While the director is now reaching extravagant heights, "Memento" is still quite possibly his most innovative film - and for Nolan, that's saying something.
Although Nolan's first feature portrays the dangers of obsession with brutal cynicism, it really is the directors execution of the narrative structure and his capability as a storyteller that makes "Following" such a riveting seventy minutes.
Despite gaining less interest than the directors other films, "The Trouble With Harry" is among Hitchcock's best. A black comedy that not only pushes the envelope through Hitchcock's daring sexual innuendos, but also through its audacious attempt to display the benefits of having a dead body (especially when you consider the films historical context).
With the introduction of political elements and some extremely interesting themes in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" that greatly elevated the previous tiresome Marvel blue-print, it was always going to be interesting to see whether or not "Guardians of the Galaxy" would continue to expand on the more creative approach to Marvels films. Although Gunn's recent effort is tonally different to the Russo brothers, "Guardians" greatly expands Marvel's universe and displays a sense of creativity you could only hope Marvel continue to implore for future features.
The plot is one we've have seen time and time again: a bunch misfits (or "A-holes") eventually come together to save the universe. Although the narrative is simple, the introduction to the films premise is at times chaotic. And while the narrative direction and the overload of information may be difficult for some viewers initially (especially individuals who are not tuned to the comic book lore), it's understandable where Gunn's focus is: establishing five new and relatively unknown characters to the MCU. In this respect, it was no secret that the odds were against Gunn. Attempting to introduce a whole new universe and then having to balance five separate leads within the space of two hours (a process that took "The Avengers" four years and four separate films). While the odds were most certainly not in his favour, Gunn succeeds in many respects - especially in balancing the five separate protagonists. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) or "Star-Lord" is the charismatic and brilliantly sardonic lead. Gamora (Zoe Zalanda) is sexy the assassin who shares some great chemistry with Quill. Drax (Dave Bautista) is the killing machine who has perfect comedic timing and hilarious deadpan wit. Groot (Vin Diesel), a walking tree who only has a four word vocabulary and turns out to be one of the best characters. And of course there's Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the wisecracking but undeniably loveable Racoon. While the chemistry shared between all five is great, it's surprising when I came to the end of the film how much I cared about these characters. Thankfully, this is due to Gunn's focus: while there is plenty of action, the director never forgets the poignant moments and slight touches to characterization that make you fall in love with these misfits - when your nearly tearing up from a killing machine comforting a Racoon, well, Gunn you've done a brilliant job.
While I'm all for the serious tone adopted for other comic book films, it was so refreshing to see a blockbuster that does not take itself too seriously. With a self-deprecating and satirical script (which at times feel like a parody of "The Avengers"), "Guardians" is not afraid to subvert many of the generic conventions associated with blockbusters and comic book films. Through one brilliant sequence, we have the typical triumphant moment when the heroes come together to make a stand, while Rocket brilliantly undercuts this defying moment with his hilarious "bunch of jackasses standing in a circle" comment. And when the film moves into the horrendous romantic territory, the egotistic Quill thankfully disallows and subverts the cringeworthy moments. There are also other great comedic touches, especially the use of pop-cultural references that lend to some truly hilarious sequences (an inclusion of Kevin Bacon and "Footloose" which had me in hysterics). Moreover, while the use of the 80s soundtrack looks 'cool' against a sci-fi backdrop, the style actually gains substance with its importance addition to Quill's characterization (with the great use of Marvin Gaye "Ain't no Mountain high enough" in culminating his character-arc).
One of my main quibbles with "Guardians" (and similar to most Marvel films besides "The Avengers" and "Winter Soldier") is the villain, who, like so many villains before him, wants and searches for more power. And while the argument can be made that villain was worth being short-changed for the development of the leads, it still would have been nice to see some sense of characterization besides the rather one dimensional Rohan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Hopefully Kevin Spader's "Ultron" can add to a better Marvel rogue gallery. Furthermore, while I loved the subversion of typical conventions, there were, at times, some obvious jarring tonal shifts (especially Quill's dance off during the climax).
All in all, these are only minor problems because I left "Guardians" with one of the biggest smiles I've gained from the cinema in a long time.
While "Psycho" is celebrated for many reasons, one of the most interesting aspects about Hitchcock's highly influential horror film is its narrative structure (to say that the story fluctuates would be a colossal understatement). Beginning with contextual information an a opening shot that sets on the initial protagonist (once again Hitchcock attempting to set the following events in the 'real' world and corresponding to the source material). The money ('Macguffin') that sets the narrative in motion. A police officer that seems to be an important character; a motel and then suddenly a shower sequence that kills off the main protagonist in the first forty-five minutes. While this infamous sequence has been diminished by constant parodies and references in pop-culture, the unpredictability of Hitchcock's narrative is what makes "Psycho" extremely refreshing in an age of generics (especially within the horror genre).
Revisiting "Psycho" (and other Hitchcock films for that matter), the director seemed to always create the perfect balance between the audiences experience and subtext. For sheer viewing pleasure, "Psycho" could quite possibly be Hitchcock's most tantalizing film. Solidifying his title of the 'Master of Suspense,' the dramatic irony within "Psycho" is simply brutal. To listen to the melodic sounds of running water while the dark shadow of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) slowly emerges from behind the shower curtain could possibly be Hitchcock's most suspenseful sequence. And while this passage is the most celebrated from "Psycho," the stylistic execution of Arbogast (Martin Balsam) and the interchange of omnipresent and Lila Crane's (Vera Miles) POV position while she slowly descends upon Bates' house are other brilliant suspenseful set-pieces.
Also contributing to the overall disturbing atmosphere is Hitchcock's artistic representation of death. After finishing his extravagant blockbuster "North by Northwest," the decision to film "Psycho" on a shoe-string budget with the use of the black and white colour contrast contributes greatly to the atmospheric tension. Quite noticeable after Marion Crane's murder (Janet Leigh), the black and white images are beautifully harrowing. From the composition of Crane within each frame to reflect the alienation of her death; the camera staring into the abyss of the bath and then the slow descent from Crane's motionless eyes - all these artistic qualities in Hitchcock's representation of death grants the films everlasting appeal.
While displaying the usual stylistic flare, "Psycho" is the directors most audacious effort. The killing of the main protagonist forty-five minutes into the film (Hitchcock clearly defying the generic Hollywood passage of redemption) and then switching between three possible protagonist is bold enough, but forcing the audience to identify with Anthony Perkins is even bolder. Using the usual motif of POV position to invite the viewer into a characters psyche, Hitchcock is evidently more diabolical here because he is not making the audience identify with his typical 'ordinary man,' but rather a psychopathic killer. As displayed before Crane's murder, Hitchcock invites the audience into Perkins' voyeuristic position (similar to Jefferies within "Rear Window") and forces the audience to navigate the narrative from Perkins visuals. Furthermore, when the main character is killed without any possible supplement protagonist, the devilish Hitchcock only gives the audience one person to turn to: Norman Bates. Moreover, the characterization of Bates is undeniably sympathetic. Once again (and especially within the 1960s) Hitchcock is greatly blurring Hollywood's moral distinctions. I believe this identification and sympathy on characters previously considered immoral could of possibly been a fundamental catalyst for the 'New Hollywood' period where we would have a constant identification with psychopathic individuals (think Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and Carpenter's "Halloween").
One of the fundamental reasons for watching films (I believe) is to understand and share empathy for characters that we would not want to see or meet within reality, but due to its safety, we are not afraid to meet these characters within the fictional world. And this is why "Psycho" will be constantly revisited because it is a movie that makes us identify and understand the complicated state of immoral individuals.
Curtains draw back as a camera slowly moves towards a window to display a courtyard. Into a panning shot, the camera then slowly reveals the characters world that they inhabit and eventuates on the protagonist L.B Jefferies (James Stewart). If there is any shot that could possibly epitomize Hitchcock's storytelling style, it would have to be this opening to "Rear Window." A shot that contains no dialogue (one again drawing upon the mechanics of silent cinema), but uses visuals to introduce the magnificent set-location, atmosphere (a hot summer day; the reason why the windows are open), the main, impotent protagonist and one of the films central thematic: voyeurism (all in the space of two minutes). As suggested by many (and while there is dialogue for much of the film), "Rear Window" reflects Hitchcock's notion of 'Pure Cinema': telling a tale through the visual image oppose to a quantity of dialogue.
After being injured and now wheelchair bound, the protagonist L.B Jefferies begins spying on his neighbors and becomes convinced that one has committed murder. In terms of the directors characters, L.B Jefferies is the typical Hitchcock male archetype: the 'ordinary man' that stumbles upon a possible extraordinary situation. As frequently mentioned, Hitchcock believed that the power of a story depended on the audiences investment and the narrative device of the 'ordinary man' was essential to achieving the directors expectations because the general public could identify with a character that had distinctive traits. "Rear Window" continues this motif of identification, but to a greater extreme as the majority of the film is shot from the protagonist position. And while the dialogue from the interaction of characters within Jefferies apartment provides the bones of the narrative, much of the storytelling is navigated through the visual image (the previously mentioned concept of 'Pure Cinema') and POV camera positions. Not only does this reflect Hitchcock's ability in allowing the audience to transcend the fourth wall, but also greatly elevates the "Master of Suspense" set pieces - when Jefferies screams "Lisa!" (Grace Kelly) in desperation to no affect, we are just as desperate because Hitchcock has masterfully made the audience impotent, just like the main protagonist.
Although much of the enjoyment in "Rear Window" comes from Hitchcock's directing abilities, there is also an interesting (possible political) and audacious subtext. The most obvious theme Hitch seems to be concerned with is marriage (or human relations). While at times this is forced (especially in the opening segments), after watching "Rear Window" directly after "Vertigo," it is evident that Hitchcock had a huge skepticism towards idealized romanticism. There's "Miss Lonelyhearts," a woman who continues (and miserable fails) to establish a decent relationship. A musician who is obviously lonely. A marriage that eventuates in murder. A beautiful ballet dancer "Miss Torso" who has to deal with "juggling wolves" and of the course the protagonist who initially couldn't care less about the majestic Lisa (Grace Kelly is truly stunning). In typical Hitchcock fashion, the director seems to be subtly displaying an audacious criticism of the dominant cultural (and political) ideology of human relations within America during the 1950s (he would take this to a new extreme with "Vertigo").
While the subject matter of "Rear Window" is at times morbid, there's a continual injection of hilarious black humour. Stella (portrayed brilliantly by Thelma Ritter) is the comedic relief. And while her screen time is limited, her performance is absolutely crucial for the audiences enjoyment of a fairly disturbing tale. The interaction between her, Lisa and Jefferies and their imagination continually running wild on the possibility of murder shows how devilish Hitchcock could be by finding the humour in murder (even within the context of the 1950s).
Above all, Hitchcock said he made movies for the audience and "Rear Window" clearly reflects these motivations. Although the film contains interesting and audacious themes, "Rear Window" is a great film because it is extremely enjoyable and features the best quintessential elements of Hitchcock: dark humour, great characters, great directing and suspenseful set pieces that are truly riveting from start to finish.
The 50's to the 60's was arguably Hitchcock's most daring period. Hinting at suppressed homosexuality ("Strangers on a Train"), finding the darkly comic situation of the inability to keep a corpse buried ("The Trouble with Harry") and focusing on humans voyeuristic instincts ("Rear Window" and "Psycho"), it seems Hitchcock was fascinated by making audience identify with their repressed desires. And while these previous mentioned films were all Hitchcock classics, "Vertigo" still remains the autuers most mysterious and possibly, most complex.
The narrative primarily focuses on detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson (James Stewart) who comes out of retirement to help investigate the mysterious activities surrounding an old friends wife. While this may sound conventional thriller territory, there is a sense of mystery (and elements that borderline the supernatural) that add a great sense of intrigue to the narrative. Furthermore, Hitchcock's direction perfectly contributes to films mysterious nature. In a much celebrated passage (evoking the directors notion of 'Pure Cinema'), Hitchcock substitutes dialogue and lets the narrative unfold through visual imagery and Bernard Herrmann's score. However, most importantly during this sequence, Hitchcock situates us in Scottie's voyeuristic position so just like the detective himself, the audience also become obsessed and intrigued with the enigmatic Madeline Elster (Kim Novak). And while this sequence is often the most referenced, throughout "Vertigo" there are continues reminders of Hitchcock's virtuoso capabilities with a camera: from the beautiful imagery of San Francisco, perfect frame compositions, hyper-stylized visuals and of course the birth of the 'Vertigo Shot.'
In relation to character dynamics, "Vertigo" would have be Hitchcock's most - in terms of emotion - significant. In many of his films, Hitchcock usually has characters that represent idealized constructions of gender that usually have a charming and playful chemistry. Although we see this Hitchcock archetype initially (the relationship between Scottie and Midge [Barbara Bell Geddes]), the dynamic that eventually follows is the directors most melancholic and tragic. To watch Scottie, after losing his idealized vision of love (a women who does not exist) attempting to recreate elements of the past demands all sympathy from the audience. More importantly, while Scottie is the essential victim, Hitchcock makes Scottie's conflict so much more interesting by blurring the distinctions between perpetrator (Judy) and victim (Scottie) which in turn allows the audience to not only feel sympathy for Scottie, but also for Judy's internal torment. By the time we reach the final conclusion, the audience is torn between sympathizing for both fragmented figures.
Although "Vertigo" undeniably represents Hitchcock as a director at the top of his game and some of his most powerful character dynamics, it really is the subject matter that makes the narrative such a complex tale. Released directly before the 'New Hollywood' period, it is astonishing how much the film, thematically, focuses on morbid notions. As suggested with the characterization of Madeline, there are times where her character reflects the inevitability of death. Considering that the film was made during the late 50s, in a time of paranoia and the possibility of nuclear extinction, it is quite obvious to see how the subject matter is audacious (and possibly why it failed at the box-office). If these concepts were not disturbing enough, the second half of the tale and the depiction of Scottie's obsession and idealism and attempts to recreate past desires through Judy Barton (Kim Novak) with a complete disregard to her internal conflicts is simultaneously tragic and disturbing (James Stewart's acting abilities in conveying this fine line is truly amazing). And beyond all this, Hitchcock continually manipulates the visuals, implores certain lighting techniques and interesting interchanges between omnipresent and POV positions that all contribute to the dream-like quality of the film (to the point where Scottie's 'reality' is put into question). Considering all these notions (and there are many I have not mentioned such as identity politics, masculine romanticism, the impotency of masculine stereotypes and the interchange between the past and the present), "Vertigo" could quite possibly be Hitchcock's most richest film.
Many say that Hitchcock, when making movies, always considered the audiences expectations. For his other films, this is undeniably true. However, as many have noted (even the director himself), "Vertigo" is the autuers most personal effort. And while initially critics critiqued Hitchcock for being self-indulgent, this indulgence created the layers upon layers within film that add to its everlasting intrigue and like Scottie himself, after repeating viewings it is hard to not become obsessed with "Vertigo" mysterious nature.
Despite recently moving into a more experimental stage, the superhero genre has suffered at times due to an unwillingness to tinker with the conventions and mythologies of popular superheroes. Thankfully, the animation world is not afraid to take a much more creativity approach towards various superhero conventions and is willing to make some audacious changes. With Batman being one the most beloved comic-book characters in popular culture, it is always refreshing to see a different take on the caped crusader. And while at times "Gotham Knight" explores similar (and tiresome) themes that are associated with the iconic figure, the creative approach to storytelling and the visual image compensate for these various shortcomings.
The narrative is dispersed as a collection of short stories that explore various notions and characters associated with Batman. The first, "Have I Got A Story For You" features the tales of four punk kids and their different perceptions of the hero. As suggested with the number of the narrators, the most refreshing aspect about this opener is the creators approach to storytelling. Rather than the usual deliverance of the narrative coming from a sole character or a third-person perception often associated with the DC animation realm, the opening tale rather tells its story through four conflicting narrators and their encounter with Batman (each providing different depictions). Furthermore, not only does this narration style display a more a creative approach, but also plays with the notion of the mythical qualities that surround heroes. And in the conclusion of this tale, the mythical element that surrounds most superheroes is suggested to be subverted with Batman.
While in the opening tale - both creative and thematically - there are some really interesting and refreshing approaches to exploring the mythology that surrounds Batman, the second short story unfortunately lacks the spark of the first. "Crossfire," the second tale, explores the tiresome notion associated with most heroes: how can you trust a vigilante? Despite exploring this somewhat generic theme, the amount of atmosphere created in this second tale is astonishing. From the blend of horrific images (with some great editing) and a disturbing score that all contribute to reflect beautifully the dark, cynical world of Gotham City. However, while these opening segments displays the great things about the DC animation world, the other short stories (as previously mentioned) are lackluster at times. Narrative devices become repetitive (especially the use of the Russian and Falcone twice as the villains), and while "Working Through Pain" is brutal, watching this short in a post-"Dark Knight Rises" context and Nolan's use of climbing metaphor to represent Bruce's external and internal conflict cannot compare. The final episode with Deadshot seems to be hinting at some interesting stuff but eventually gets shortchanged for a superfluous action sequence.
Nonetheless, while "Gotham Knight" has certain shortcomings, this DC animation display a sense of creativity that most superheroes films lack and also contains some great visual and atmospheric tension.
"Panic Room" has a simply enough plot: home invaders break into a house to steal money to find that their plans go astray due to the arrival of the new house owners. Despite this simplistic narrative, with the inclusion of Fincher's vision and his ability as a craftsman, this simply plot - with very little subject matter - is greatly elevated. From tracking shots that epitomize the potential of modern filmmaking to perfectly paced set pieces that keep a possibly dull narrative refreshing - one has to admire Fincher's technicalities. And while the script may lack subject matter, there are still nice little touches that elevate it above the normal Hollywood fare (especially the humanizing of Burnham [Forest Whitaker] which in turn disjoints the generic conflicts of morality between the hero and 'villain').
Alfonso Cuaron's "Children Of Men" contains such a strong potency because it shares a resonance to the present. Whether it be the parallels of paranoia towards government dictatorships, refugee camps and foreign prejudices or the internal conflicts that echo the images of the recently occurring Israel/Palestinian clash, Cuaron's sci-fi becomes continually disturbing with each passing year. And while many of these themes have been explored before ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" being the latest), "Children of Men" contains such a stronger punch simply due to the look of the film. Set in the futuristic London (and with half the budget of most blockbusters), Cuaron has ditched the CGI effects usually associated with the sci-fi genre for a desolate and harrowing set design that seems utterly real. The substitution of such special effects is crucial, not only does it enhance the viewing experience, but also contributes the scary reality of Cuaron's vision not merely being a work of fiction, but rather a possible prophecy.
While all this sounds rather pessimistic (which it is), the narrative arc of Theo (Clive Owen) provides the emotional core. A cynical man in a cynical world, the combination of such elements could of made this feature a drag. But nevertheless, with the help of a brilliant low-key performance by Michael Caine, there is great chemistry shared between both actors and some much needed humour. And while Theo is a character surrounded by violence and desolation, the film never forgets the poignant moments that provide a crucial connection for the audience (his final gesture is simultaneously melancholic and uplifting).
Furthermore, the main contribution to the realness of the film is Cuaron's direction and his ability to situate the audiences within the action. Opening with a riveting explosion that sets the tone for internal conflict and paranoia that the world inhabits; a great panning shot within a car that perfectly reflects the disarray of a harrowing attack by savages and a memorable tracking shot that echoes Kubrick's direction in "Full Metal Jacket" to represent the fine line between life and death in combat, Cuaron continually proves his ability as a director of action. And most importantly, the director does not self-indulge in this visual trickery, but rather only uses such directing techniques when needed to enhance the viewing experience. Essentially, "Children of Men" offers all the best qualities of the sci-fi genre and displays Cuaron's amazing capabilities as a director.
"Searching for Sugar Man" is not only a documentary, but also a timeless inspirational tale for artist alike. The beauty of this tale comes from its master storytelling: a mixture of primary sources infested with the mechanics of a mystery narrative that all add up to one riveting experience.
Essentially, "Serenity" displays Joss Whedon's uncanny ability in embracing pop-culture conventions while critiquing them simultaneously. And for this reason alone, the material of this space-opera is greatly elevated and simply more refreshing within comparison to other blockbusters.