One Man’s Sins

One Man’s Sins

As the news reports keep popping up on our phones, tablets and TV screens, we can’t help but wonder: “What if something really bad happens? What then? What will the world look like? Will we be the same as now?”
Most of the time the answer is ‘NO’, and film has been known as a medium used to search for answers that we cannot seem to find in the present world. Think about the Mad Max Trilogy and the latest installment by George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a wild, twisted ride into pure hellfire madness. It’s a vision of a world that has crumbled under the weight of mankind and unleashed creatures similar to beasts and demons. It is a comic book vision that represented the mindset of the late 1970s early 1980s; death, injustice and filth. However, the thing that always seemed to bother me about that series of movies is how fictional it is. Its focus is clearly pointed at the action setpieces shot in the Australian desert. We don’t treat it as a film; we treat it as a piece of entertainment.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was soon adapted into a movie back in 2009 and that to me was a game-changer. It brought up real, authentic, current day issues and spat them right into our faces. And as much as I’d like to write about The Road, I’m not going to, because I think there is a little Australian movie that did it even better and went by unnoticed by the general public. The movie I want to talk about is David Michod’s 2014 sleeper, The Rover. It’s an important one, trust me.

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Eric.
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Rey.

I’ve been trying to get people to watch The Rover because I strongly believe it’s a landmark in present day independent cinema. When it first came out in Cannes in 2014 it received terribly mixed reviews: there was the side that hated it and the side that loved it. Personally, it took me four sittings to really be able to grasp the genius of this movie. This is by no means an easy watch. It’s an engrossing slow-burner that features a maximum of two pages of dialogue. Let me get to the point. The Rover is a tale of morality and humanity that takes place as the title cards in the opening scene read: AUSTRALIA. TEN YEARS AFTER THE COLLAPSE. Like most post-apocalyptic films it doesn’t quite reveal what happened, what triggered the situation we find ourselves in. The film opens with a wide shot of the Australian wasteland. Silence. We’re in someone’s car and we’re looking at the owner of it, sitting in the driver’s seat, thinking, waiting. This is Eric (a phenomenal Guy Pearce), and he’s our leading man; a wiry, bearded, dirty middle-aged man who’s dressed in khaki shorts and a stained shirt. The world around him is a world of misery and desperation. The only people he meets are male prostitutes and old men sitting in empty bar rooms, hoping for a customer to come in and buy something.

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Loneliness.

As playwright David Mamet said: “The secret to any play or film is to have a character that wants something at all costs”, and that is exactly who Eric is. As he sits at the bar counter, three armed men steal his car. We can see in Eric’s eyes that nothing means more to him than that car of his. That’s all he wants. That’s all he cares about. He gets into a rusty truck and starts chasing the three men into the deep Australian wilderness. As the chase progresses, Eric encounters the younger brother of one of the three men. His name is Rey (Robert Pattinson at his finest, yes you heard me) and he’s “an idiot halfwit.” Eric uses Rey in order to find out where Rey’s brother is headed to. Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t a movie about friendship and enemies who become comrades. There is none of that in the desolate world of The Rover.

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It is all about who will draw first.

As the film progresses, the viewer witnesses a moral tale about the fragility of humanity. The world Eric and Rey live in is realistic, unlike the comic book world of Mad Max and the dystopian, horror-like world of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The secret of this movie lies in the way it unfolds like a religious parable. The rare spurts of violence are extremely brutal and bloody but at the same time quick and unfocused. The absence of long, deep and meaningful conversations helps build the heavy tone this movie carries throughout its entire runtime.
There is no reason in this world. Random strangers attack our two protagonists without any purpose. The only thing that rules this world is money. US dollars. Worthless paper. Its false value looms over the lives of the scattered survivors of the collapse. It seems as if Eric and Rey are the only individuals untouched by money. What does this tell us about them? They look like everybody else. They behave like everybody else, and yet they seem to be indifferent to any kind of material distraction. Their whole mission is to chase someone who stole Eric’s car. But the mission is not about the car. It’s about what is IN the car. It is something that drives Eric forward, that keeps him from falling into the pit everyone else has already fallen into a long time ago.

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Nothing is more terrifying than an empty world.

What makes The Rover such a compelling film is its complete indifference toward the viewer. The film unfolds without the participation of the viewer, almost as if David Michod, the director, didn’t want us to feel forced to watch it. To me, The Rover is a warning. Eric’s past can be interpreted as the past of a number of people. His incoming personal downfall would mean the downfall of the entire world. Because believe it or not, Eric still believes in something.
There is a scene, when Eric brings wounded Rey to a doctor’s clinic, where Eric enters a neon-lit room situated in the back of the clinic and finds a pyramid of cages containing stray dogs. He sits down, with tears in his eyes, and gazes at the poor animals. There is an understanding between man and beast here, and it shows a side to Eric which he tries to suppress as often as possible because he knows; once you let the world know you got a heart, everyone’s going to jump you and try to tear it out of your chest.

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Man’s best friend… trapped.

As they sit around a campfire, waiting to fall asleep, Rey recalls a little girl he killed by accident, and says: “I can’t stop thinking about her.” Now, think about it. In most Hollywood movies this scene would have ended up with Eric telling Rey not to worry about it, try to forget it, move on. The two would grow closer to one another and the movie would suddenly switch tones. But writer-director Michod plays his cards much more realistically, without the blink of an eye he lets Eric spit out the truth: “You shouldn’t. You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it.” After saying this, Eric walks off into the darkness to find a good place to sleep. The irony of this scene lies in the fact that we see Eric kill over half a dozen people without even acknowledging it. He shoots to kill. His act of killing is cold, ruthless and lacking any kind of second thought. His hand is rock steady unlike the hand of young Rey, the hand of an insecure boy who’s yet to see what the world is all about.

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Emptiness.

Michod’s camera captures the ruin of both the physical world as well as the psychological one. The slow tracking shots that follow Eric and Rey on their journey are there to shine a light on the scope of the destruction humans are capable of bringing on themselves. It is a slow dive into pure insanity where no laws are met and respected. To me, that’s much scarier than any horror movie out there; the sense of helplessness, despair and decay. The unnerving study of the dark side of humanity is something cinema has contemplated for a long time now. However, filmmakers tend to forget that in order to convey a message you need to show both sides of the conflict. In this case, The Rover deepens the cut by depicting glimpses of hope in Eric’s tired eyes. That’s the key to the lock. Once we learn to understand Eric, we learn to understand how The Rover works. One man’s sins are everybody’s.

That is why I think The Rover can be interpreted as a modern day parable about human vulnerability. It’s a simple story that lacks glamor and fantasy. It rides on grit, toughness… and weakness. The apocalypse of moral values. Emotions are all we’ve got, so what will happen when we lose those too?

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Even the hardest man will fall.

Bond Flop

Bond Flop

There is something that I cannot stop thinking about and that is:

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH SPECTRE?

The anticipation for this one was huge.  At first, it was announced as the last Bond film of the epic saga that started all the way back in the 60s with Sean Connery.  After having revolutionized the franchise with a more serious approach to the series in 2006’s Casino Royale, Bond was supposedly reborn.  Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and finally Spectre are the films that all gave a new feeling to the name, Bond.  Big time directors like Sam Mendes stepped up to the task and delivered. But not this time. Something about Spectre is incredibly off. It feels cartoonish, tired, pointless and utterly uninspired.

Some main points from my part;

  1. NO CHARACTER ARCH
    – what made Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (in its mediocrity) and Skyfall special is that with the ‘reinvention’ of James Bond as a meaty, grown character was his development. Casino Royale made Bond lose everything he had, everything he loved. Quantum of Solace made him gain his strengths, while Skyfall made him come back to life, fight for what’s his and yes, lose something too.  People became fans of these ‘serious’ Bond films precisely because Bond developed and wasn’t the usual handsome ladies man that cracks a joke and kills the bad guys.  He was vulnerable, he experienced pain and loss. He was one of us.  In Spectre, yes, Bond loves, has memories, has a past, but you don’t feel it pulsating in every frame. In Casino Royale you could feel the threat of losing Vesper at all times.  In Skyfall you could sense the slow passing of M. Here, you have nothing. It’s just Bond solving what should be considered as ‘the ultimate case’, the last riddle, the last piece of the puzzle. It’s what we’ve seen a thousand times before. Same formula, over and over and over.
  2. WOODEN ACTING
    – when James Bond was getting his balls crushed with a rope in Casino Royale we suffered. When M was bleeding to death, we suffered. When Silva was aiming a flintlock pistol at an innocent woman in Skyfall, we felt the tension. What about Spectre? You can feel the actors just not giving a single crap about the movie.  It feels like a side project. You have Craig who publicly announced that he wanted to stop playing Bond after Skyfall was wrapped up, you have Monica Bellucci who probably had nothing better to do, since she is in the movie for what, 6-7 minutes? There is also Ralph Fiennes, who plays the new M this time around. After giving some great, great performances in Grand Budapest Hotel, Hail, Casesar! and A Bigger Splash I don’t blame the man for taking some time off and playing this over-used role of the boss who at first doesn’t trust his agent and then discovers that he should have trusted him from the very beginning. Then you have Christoph Waltz, who as of late has me feeling very unimpressed. It’s always the same sarcastic, sneaky character just with a different name. The only bright spot is the always reliable Léa Seydoux, who is a gem of an actress, who unfortunately is forced to play the cliché character of a Bond chick.  At least she tries to give it some depth, which leads me to….
  3. THE ATROCIOUS SCREENPLAY
    – do I really need to go over this? Look, even the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies had better screen-writing than this movie. At least they had some really funny, sarcastic lines that worked whenever they were given a try, but here… you have FOUR screenwriters working on this project. FOUR. There is no sense of time, there is no link between certain key characters, questions are left unanswered, ending is predictable and uneventful, the whole story is quite simply forced out in order to presumably end this series. It feels like it all leads up to what the writers probably considered the apex of their writing capabilities and that is: “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.”
  4. NO ARTISTIC FREEDOM
      – I give a big thumbs up to Sam Mendes and Hoyte van Hoytema (the cinematographer) for making that first opening sequence in Mexico City work like it does. It looks absolutely brilliant; a tracking shot that pans across a mass of people, follows characters around into elevators, passes through doorways, exits through balconies and finally reveals to us what Bond is up to.  It’s great. It’s ambitious and I wish it set the tone for the rest of the movie. It shows who is in charge of the movie. Unfortunately the directorial and cinematographic brilliance doesn’t last very long and you can almost feel the studio’s influence crawling into every frame of it.  No wonder that Mendes announced he won’t be coming back to direct Bond25, if there will ever be one. Mendes’ experimental direction and van Hoytema’s clean, neat images seem too big of a gamble for such a massive Hollywood project that cost around $250 mln. The viewer can easily see when the director is in charge and when the producers are.  Mendes directs from various interesting angles. He moves the camera step by step, he likes silences instead of cheesy soundtracks, he prefers panning rather than cutting. But then again, it’s not his movie. And we know it. The way the story is visually told is the same procedural crap we see on a daily basis.
  5. THE MOST UNUSED BOND VILLAIN
      – Okay, you cast Christoph Waltz as a Bond villain, who is supposed to incarnate the ultimate evil of the franchise. He is the man who’s taken everything from Bond. He’s the one responsible for every tragedy in Bond’s life; M, Vesper, his childhood. He is the devil in a man’s skin. He is the reason for Bond’s thirst to kill. HE IS EVIL. And what do we get? We get this guy who has no real reason for doing all the things he’s done. He had a bad childhood, that’s it. That’s his big motif. The screenwriters think that’s what they can offer us to wrap up this series. Waltz, as I said before, doesn’t do anything special. He is just Waltz playing Waltz, but come on, give this villain something to hang on. We see him for a couple of minutes at the beginning and for another few minutes at the very end. He is supposed to be this ghost who has always loomed over Bond’s life but his presence is incredibly shallow and all in all, he’s extremely uninteresting. Not that Silva in Skyfall was great, or Greene in Quantum of Solace had a haunting presence, but a guy like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale had indeed some backbone. Here, the big antagonist is nothing special. It’s just another guy who wishes to blow everything to hell. Wow.

    After finally having seen Spectre, I can honestly say: this franchise should end right now. There is nothing more to offer other than an assured box office hit. But again, you people want this, right? You’ll pay for whatever has loud explosions and characters getting their heads split wide open. Okay, then. have it your way.

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    Cuckoo.

The Unexpected

The Unexpected

Think of cinema. The cinema we know nowadays, the cinema that has always prevailed in theaters, the cinema that makes the most money in the film industry is American cinema. Now, what would you say if I told you that in my opinion, South Korean cinema is equally good if not better in quality than the American one? Think about it. Is an industry that produces hundreds of movies per year really better than one that chooses wisely and spends its money responsibly? South Korean cinema has blessed us with movies like the following thrillers such as Oldboy, The Man from Nowhere, I Saw the Devil but also incredible war stories told from the Korean point of view; Taegukgi, The Front Line and 71: Into Fire. As you can see most subject matters are dark at first sight but as you begin to watch the movies I just listed you’ll notice there is more to it. There is family, brotherly love, sacrifice, humor, friendship, betrayal, anger, happiness. I like to think of it as the cinema of the unexpected. It can  make you cry and it make you laugh, but one thing is for sure: once it hits you, it’ll never leave you. And the prime example of this is the cop thriller, Memories of Murder from 2003, a story of obsession with beauty and innocence wrapped in a slimy, disturbing world of violence.

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The opening shot. Innocence. Instinct.

The movie at first glance is your typical detective story of two detectives assigned to a double murder investigation in a South Korean province in 1986. It is in fact, a true story. Brace yourselves. It is the story of the first serial killer in the history of South Korea, who on every rainy night murders an innocent woman dressed in red, whistling an unpopular love song. He murders his victims with the use of their clothes; strangling them with their underwear, their bras, etc. The deaths are violent, cruel, brutal and meaningless. And yet, Bong Joon-ho, the director (also known for 2014’s Snowpiercer), manages to make it a beautiful experience, during which the viewer learns of the humanity hidden behind the killings and the people involved in the investigation. The two detectives,  Park (played by an outstanding and always reliable Song Kang-Ho) and Cho, are two very different men. Different values, different methods. Cho is an acclaimed detective from Seoul. He is a big shot in Park’s eyes, but doesn’t act like one. As the investigation progresses the two begin to behave similarly. Their actions become blunt and irresponsible, their methods of interrogation become ruthless, their goal starts fading.

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Two men from two different worlds. One goal.

Heavy stuff, huh? Well, you’ll find humor in it, because life, as hard as it can be, is sarcastic, goofy and funny. Bong Joon-ho keeps getting back to an important element of the story: the gag of a character being literally kicked off the screen. Whenever there is a suspect for interrogation, he gets kicked off by a policeman wearing army boots. The irony is that the policemen later on has his leg amputated, but that’s as far as I’ll go into the story. Park, the more physical detective, likes to beat on his suspects. But he also knows when someone is guilty. Maybe not by looking at record sheets, or at evidence, but by looking straight into the suspect’s soul. Meanwhile, Cho is reasonable. He likes to think. But does it pay off? That’s the question the viewer should pose himself. Does sitting in the back, watching, studying, help at all? Sometimes you shouldn’t hold back. Eventually no one in the movie does.

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One of the most chilling scenes in the movie. It’s raining.

 

The shots are steady. The only time the camera tracks a character from behind and does it all in one long take is when the environment is too big for us to discover on our own. Bong Joon-ho captures the countryside landscapes adding great warmth to the image. However, the images begin to look colder once the two detectives begin to get closer to the possible murderer. That is what we usually say, right? Cold hard facts.

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An example of cold cinematography.

The whole film is a dark poem, kind of like last year’s Sicario, where men fight men without knowing why. Without knowing what is good and what is bad. Without realizing that they are monsters on their own. Because essentially, Memories of Murder is about good men covered by the skin of a monster. They try to get out of it. Break free. Catch the real monster who keeps killing innocent women. Everything is unexpected. Everything comes and goes and you have to be there to catch it in time. But even if you break free, you’ll be caught in a maze of terror. And the murderer? The real monster? He’ll be out there. Waiting. Hiding. Watching.

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No caption.

 

Black Mess

Black Mess

Today’s topic: what went wrong with this year’s Johnny Depp gangster drama, Black Mass. I’ve been thinking about tackling the subject of a wasted movie’s potential for a long time, sniffing around the negativity, trying to think of a nice way of putting all my thoughts into one single post. I waited for the right movie, a movie so fresh that people are still paying for the theater tickets. I got it. No other film has left me this disappointed this year. I’m talking about the highly anticipated, rumored as Johnny Depp’s comeback, the still-hot Scott Cooper vehicle, Black Mass. 

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Meet James ‘Whitey’ Bulger. Get used to this face.

It’s a terrible feeling when you wait, and you wait some more, thinking to yourself that what you’re about to see is something special, and then after all the waiting, you are punched in the nose for your high hopes. Thousands, even millions saw the first trailer for this movie and their jaws dropped at the sight of the ice cold, make-up covered, brutally tough Johnny Depp as real life Boston crime lord, Jimmy ‘Whitey’ Bulger. Having read a lot about this intriguing ex- FBI most wanted list gangster, who in 2011 was finally caught in a parking lot in Santa Monica, California, after 16 years at large, made me thirsty for a movie adaptation. And it happened. But something went wrong. Something prevented this movie from being good. Not even great, but at least good. Not in this case. For wasting a highly interesting topic just look up this movie and you’ll see and know why. Scott Cooper has always had the wrong eye in directing his movies. In Crazy Heart (the performance that got Jeff Bridges the highly deserved Oscar) he sat back and let the music flow through the movie’s veins, losing control of what he was creating and making it a tiring almost two-hour watch. In the 2013 mediocre Out of the Furnace Cooper wasted an A-list cast to create, with his blessing, a lousy dark version of the American rural steelworker towns. And here again, Cooper’s direction looking almost intimidated by gangster epics like the darker Godfather series and the lighter-rocking Goodfellas, fails at delivering what could have been the tastiest dish of all year.

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Biblical? Nah.

Violence. We love it. On screen it looks great. The bloodier, the merrier. The more violent character deaths, the more excited the viewer gets. Well, if there is something like repetitive, exhaustive, meaningless violence this film has it. Whatever the problem is (and there is a few) Whitey kills. Yes, the feared gangster was a feared murderer but he didn’t spend every single day shooting up possible ‘snitches’, strangling prostitutes, executing friends who got too drunk for his tastes (why even?) and beating strangers to a pulp leaving them in the middle of nowhere. No matter what happens, Bulger stands his ground by commiting violent crimes. And I have no doubt that it was really the case as he got charged with (at least) 19 murder cases, but there sure must have been more to him than that. Cooper and the writers seem to be fascinated by the cruel nature of Bulger, this way ignoring what could have been a different side to him. Yes, he was a loving father who lost his little son when the boy was six years old, but do we witness enough of that fatherly love? What we get is a scene where Bulger explains to the boy basically how to get away with a crime, and then a few scenes during which the mobster sits at the hospital and yells “fuck, fuck, fuck” at the news of his son’s death, insults his wife, threatens her and kicks a chair down. Is that all? Is that everything they have on him?

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Bang, bang and the movie’s over.

It feels poor. And it’s a shame because James ‘Whitey’ Bulger has been the second most wanted person on the face of the earth right after Osama Bin Laden for almost twenty years. The world is full of books, scripts, recordings, photographs that provide us a detailed description of this man’s character and the way he saw and walked the earth. And yet, in Black Mass it feels as if we’re watching a Wikipedia page, with the highlighted murders he committed and the way he stared at certain people. That’s why there is basically no plot: the writers feel intimidated by this towering figure of a born criminal and to spice things up, begin to concentrate more on Bulger’s FBI contact (since he was a federal informant, yes), John Connolly. Connolly is the lost sense of humanity and emotion that is squashed into the narrative to somehow try and carry the movie. As good as Joel Edgerton is, you can’t sell a convincing Boston accent when you’re Australian (and neither can you when you’re British, like Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Whitey’s brother). After some time, we realize we’re focusing more on Connolly than on the so-called protagonist. That’s because Johnny Deep comes on screen only to make a slight grin, look at the camera with his fake blue eyes and get dirty. It’s difficult and painful not to make a review out of this, because we got all the right ingredients.

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And the FBI sequences keep on dragging…

Let’s compare styles: Scorsese in Goodfellas introduces mobster Henry Hill by having some fun at it, by pushing in with the camera and adding some fast paced editing and Tony Bennett’s Rags to Riches, this way already telling us the kind of person Henry is: unpredictable, childish, fun, dangerous and a dreamer. What does Cooper do? He takes it slow, almost as if he was shooting a documentary. He presents us with a brooding cinematography that captures a dimly lit bar where Bulger sits and listens. Nothing wrong with a conversation but when for over forty seconds we get nothing more than “Hey, Sammy. Fuck you.” – “No, fuck you.” – “Ah, shut the fuck up.” – “What the fuck?” – “Yeah, fuck you.” It’s fine we get it, we’re in Boston’s underworld but don’t overwork it. Bulger is the one (as always) that keeps quiet and watches a man eat peanuts. He’s evidently disgusted and makes a (again, vulgar) remark to the man eating peanuts that he shouldn’t eat peanuts with his fat hands because if he eats those peanuts with his “fat fucking hands” he’s going  to put all his germs into the bowl of fucking peanuts. What do we learn from this? Better yet, who are we even watching? A man who likes to pick on the details? No, later on there is no underlining of that. No highlight. No flashback. Nothing. We’re watching what is supposed to be understood as: a monster.

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As scary as Bulger is, he’s also boring.

Bulger does sit-ups, dresses in black, likes steaks and… what? That’s it you ask? Yes, that’s it. It’s all we get from the movie. Remember how in Goodfellas I talked about how great and yet twisted was the fact that the viewer grows fond of the gang, the family to which Henry Hill belongs to? In Black Mass we’re introduced to characters, middle men, dirty-hand workers who make no difference, they have no spirit, no personality. One minute they appear, the second they vanish. We wait for something tasty to bite on and well, we’re left feeling hungry and we stay that way until the very last credit rolls.

What The Departed managed to achieve in telling the story of South Boston’s mob by being a simple loose adaptation of a Hong Kong movie set in the US, is far superior than what we get from a movie that was supposed to tell us the story of the most notorious gangster in US history. And even Depp, as terrifying as he is, there is nothing natural about his performance, an iceberg of a character that is too primitive to watch. Wasted material. It’s a disappointing topic in the world of cinema, and a painful experience for every film buff around the globe.

Not even the Titanic could crash this iceberg.

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You guessed it: another execution…

Messiah

Messiah

Today’s topic: the analysis of what is to me the greatest thriller ever made; David Fincher’s Se7en (1995). 

{As a WARNING, anyone who hasn’t seen the film or finds its subject matter (violence and gore) too difficult to bear with, please stop reading since spoilers and violent descriptions/pictures are to follow.}

David Fincher’s opinion on people is well known to film enthusiasts and his fellow collaborators, his view on who we are is a very crude, straightforward yet brave one: “People are perverts, that’s the foundation of my career.” If we have a look at Fincher’s work, his films always tackle the subject of evil, perversion and dishonesty. His movies very often revolve around who has the ultimate power, who is in a position to set the rules, who is in charge of a specific situation. And like the themes of his movies, Fincher’s direction is very unique. A rare, revolutionary voice in today’s cinema: “People will say, “There are a million ways to shoot a scene”, but I don’t think so. I think there’re two, maybe. And the other one is wrong.” He always aims for the perfect, most suitable vision for the right moment. That’s why his rigorous shooting technique (shooting a car parking in front of a hotel over twenty times) is well known as a symbol of the ultimate effort in a day when movies are shot in a few weeks thanks to CGI and sound stages. Yes, I’m referring to you, Avengers. My point is, Fincher may be brutal as a filmmaker but within that brutality there’s beauty, pure beauty that no one can steal from him.

The hopeless bloody countdown.
The hopeless bloody countdown.

Aside from his crowning Oscar winning work in The Social Network, and the legendary craftsmanship of the classic Fight Club, Fincher has been known to most viewers as the man behind the 1995 thriller, Se7en. It’s a jarring film, its brooding tone will never leave you, right? But why is that? After all, it was Fincher’s only second feature after the studio-forced disaster of 1992, Alien 3. He was a young newcomer with a few films under his belt as an assistant cameraman and photography assistant in the early 80s, and a lot to say. But the competition’s always tough. So what is so outstanding about his second film? Se7en is not only a mystery, detective story. It’s a study of the forgotten parts of our society. The seven deadly sins represent the worst of the worst, yet all the victims can be considered innocent. Innocent because of the world they live in. Detective Mills and Somerset, played respectively by a young Brad Pitt, and Morgan Freeman, aren’t exactly the heroes we expect them to be. Why should they; they live in a city where it always rains, in a country where murders are a daily routine, bread and butter for the public. In fact, Somerset is growing old and the city is kicking him down, he doesn’t even have the courage to look outside the window anymore. He cringes in disgust. Sighs in desperation. It’s filthy, rainy and blood flows in the sewers. The city remains nameless, and slowly becomes a closed trap, a place with no escape route. You live and you die there. It rains. There is no hope. Embrace it.

There is always a start to an end.
There is always a start to an end.

Mills and Somerset’s relationship represents every attempt of every human being to bond with another within this particular world. I may sound as if I’m repeating myself, but take a close look and pay attention to the details. When the movie starts out, the two don’t like each other, in fact, Fincher underlines it to this point that in some scenes he sets Mills on the far end of a room from Somerset. As the investigation progresses the two get closer, literally. The camera doesn’t cut away between the two anymore. It frames them both at the same time. They grow fond of each other, they feel responsible for one and other, and they know what drives both of them to do what they do.  And by the time they are regular partners, buddy cops really, the ending hits them. The cruel, gruesome ending strikes both of them and sets the two apart, depicting this way a very realistic relationship that most of us can relate to. Because the world we live in is not only beautiful, joyous and inspiring, it is also raw and devastating. It’s the things that we don’t pay attention to that drive this world to the legendary apocalypse. It’s what we pass by every single day and don’t mind looking at. Maybe we don’t want to look. We don’t want to know. After all, truth is often merciless.

A friendship that is about to be shattered to pieces.
A friendship that is about to be shattered to pieces.

John Doe, the mysterious serial killer, played by Kevin Spacey in his prime (delivering a monumental performance yet again), calls himself the messiah of this generation. It may sound as the words of a madman, which he is. But really, what was Doe’s objective, his ultimate goal? He wanted the world to wake up, shake it to its core and shake people’s minds while at it. Force feeding an obese man until his stomach burst, torturing a well respected lawyer, keeping a drug dealer alive for a whole year strapped to his bed with few drops of water and the minimal amount of food, forcing a pill popping girl to commit suicide, cutting up a prostitute with the help of a sharp bondage toy, and finally going into Mills’ house and cutting his pregnant wife’s head, is the proof that for someone to notice something in today’s world there needs to be a gruesome crime. For Doe, it wasn’t a crime. It was sweeping the floor, clearing the useless dust and dirt off the streets. And to just quote the character: “We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it’s common, it’s trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I’m setting the example. What I’ve done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed… forever.” In a very twisted, sick, dark way it’s the truth. We tolerate all the wars, all the drug trade, the bombings, the fanatics, the pedophiles, the rapists. We see all the world’s filth on the news and our sole reaction is to shake our head, shrug and stand up and go make some tea. We brush our teeth and we’re off to bed. John Doe took the matter into his own hands, setting the example by even sacrificing himself: “Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.”

The walking conclusion.
The walking conclusion.

Mills, after hearing about the gory murder of his pregnant wife, loses his wits. He’s a human being after all, but Fincher manages to add something more to it. Whenever the camera focuses on the detectives, it’s shaky. But when it comes to a close-up of John Doe down on his knees, waiting for the big finale, the camera is set on a tripod demonstrating that Doe’s in charge. Steady as a rock. Believe what you want to believe, but the madman has power over the men of the law. Madman? At the very end is John Doe the real psychopath? Mills, knowing that by killing Doe the case will be dropped and he’ll lose everything he’s fought for, ignores it and guns down the prisoner. Food for thought.

Somerset ends the movie with the famous quote, which in my opinion, tells the whole hidden story not only behind the movie itself, but our reality as well: “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.” And that’s it. Fight for the better.

Losing every bit of humanity.
Losing every bit of humanity.

Hunter’s Maze

Hunter’s Maze

Today’s topic: sizzling energy and on-screen entertainment. When you think of entertaining, fun movies to watch, what comes to your head? Star Wars, because of the galaxy battles? Die Hard, because of the flying bullets? Something along the lines of Hellboy or even Rocky? Entertainment is the reason why so many people watch movies nowadays. In fact, the “blockbusters”, the highest grossing films of the year, are mostly action packed fantasy films, where the audience can easily sit back and enjoy a 3-dimensional CGI show that at home, well, you just can’t. We want to be entertained, but do we even care about how good the material is? An entertaining movie doesn’t have to be good. Those are called guilty-pleasures, which we watch just for the pure fun of it, ignoring the plot and characters. Personally, when it comes to entertaining movies I choose the Red series or the Ocean’s Trilogy. WhyBecause they have funny lines, likeable characters and they’re overall a simple popcorn watch. However, if I had to choose serious filmmaking entertainment, one during which the viewer must pay attention to details and actually have an eye for fine direction, then I’d say look at Michael Mann’s filmography.

One of the rare, but golden,
One of the rare, but golden, “time out” moments in Mann’s Heat.

Mann (Miami Vice, Public Enemies, Ali) can be unknown to a lot of you. He’s not a celebrity and he has the reputation of an exhausting director to work with. He was Oscar nominated for his fine work in The Insider and for co-producing The Aviator. That was a long time ago. Now, most movie critics blame him for switching from celluloid to digital filmmaking and yes, his recent movies haven’t been a success. Yet, in my mind, he stays as one of the most visually creative directors alive. His films are often centered around criminals, policemen, detectives, agents, gangsters. The streets are Mann’s territory. When writing his own screenplays, Mann – having gathered tons of research notes on law enforcement – uses police codes and street slang. His dialogue is fast and brutal, yet, somehow he manages to pack philosophical knowledge into his projects and still make it a fun ride for the viewer. Mann’s starting point was Thief  (1981), a story centered around a highly skilled jewel thief who wants out of the business at all costs. It’s an impressive first feature, and if one’s familiar with Mann’s filmography, one can immediately catch the signature details. Mann loves filming during the night, it adds to the story and action. The shadows. The darkness. The neon lights. It’s a jungle of unpredictability, a maze of dangers and surprises. By night, life is a chess game. Take a wrong turn and you’re out of the game. Make a step forward and you’re busted. That’s the truth on the streets. That’s what the thief has to deal with every night, and Mann makes the picture vibrate every time there is a glimpse of action. City lights, fire, explosions. Mann fades the viewer’s point of view to disorientate him, to make him feel insecure and put him on the spot, right in the middle of the chase. Right onto the race track, on foot.

Explosions can look beautiful.
Explosions can look beautiful.

With Mann it’s the details that count. Details sometimes might be associated with boring, unnecessary additional “stuff”, but Mann uses details to create action. Details are the basis for the ultimate climax. The first twenty minutes of Thief is just James Caan’s character drilling a precise hole into a safe vault. Mann captures every movement, every little sound, which later on makes an impact on what will follow. It all matters, so don’t blink. Mann went on and tackled the subject of criminality in a more mature, adrenaline pumping way later on in 1995, with his magnum opus – Heat. Not only does the film star the impressive duo of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, it also contains one particular scene that will go into history as one of the most memorable action scenes in cinema. I’m talking about the heist scene, where the gang led by De Niro’s character gets caught after a nearly picture perfect bank robbery. That’s when Mann, out of what could have been a simple chase sequence, makes a spectacle for the viewer’s eye. We move from the gang’s car onto the main street, into the back of a supermarket, into a car again. All of this while switching from the police’s perspective to the gang’s. Both sides fighting for survival. One running away, the other trying to bite the other’s tail. It’s not cat and mouse. It’s more complex. It’s survival of the fittest. Bullets whistle and rattle against the car’s’ windshields. People scream in panic. Policemen fall to the ground, calling for back-up. The gang finds its way to the safety zone. Some members don’t. It’s a whole maze of brilliant ideas: Mann’s staging is a plan for the ages. Everything follows something. Every part matches. That’s entertainment.

Who's the hunter?
Who’s the hunter?

Mann didn’t stop after Heat. He made a particular comeback (after the mediocre Ali) with the exciting Collateral; the story about a cab driver (Jamie Foxx, convincing), who realizes his current fare is a hit man (Tom Cruise, untouchable) that has been having him drive around from mark to mark until the last witness to a crime is dead. What’s so revolutionary about this movie? The amazing proper (very important) use of digital cameras. Mann catches the LA nightlife just like in a documentary adding a realistic feel to the whole setting. It seems as if we’re driving along Foxx and Cruise, with Cruise’s gun pointed at the back of our head. It feels like we’re running short of ideas, trying to figure out what to do to stop the hitman’s killing spree. And again, Mann with the use of complex camera work creates a visceral storytelling action scene set in a LA nightclub. The music’s loud, the hitman is on the hunt for his next target, meanwhile the cab driver is trying to alert the police. The crowd, the heavy bumping music, the pulsating lights, yet again are all part of a maze. It all comes down to who is the first one to press the button. Who is the definitive hunter.

Thought provoking entertainment. So rare in today’s cinema, yet we learn to appreciate it more and more as the time goes by. It’s not always about packing the highest amount of action or sexuality. It’s about building up a mood, an exciting setting , a plot that actually goes places and teaches us a new way of looking at what surrounds us. A new way of grasping energy and life. Mann drives us into thinking about what amazes us, what leaves us, the common public, in awe.

If we know the answer, we shall be entertained by the right material. That’s it. No more superheroes.

A hitman that can save your life, is he still considered a hitman?
A hitman that can save your life, is he still considered a hitman?

Land of Wolves

Land of Wolves

Today’s topic: the darkness of Sicario. What an experience, sitting in an empty theater, gazing at the pulse pounding images of the recent arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s new thriller – Sicario. Villeneuve is by definition a master of depicting ominous, claustrophobic atmospheres with acclaimed previous efforts like Incendies, Enemy and the 2013 hit, Prisoners. To say that Sicario is the best movie of  the year is an understatement. It’s a film, so dark, so powerful that it will stay on as one of the finest directorial efforts, ever. But, I’m not here to make a review out of it. It’s not my job. What I intend to do, without spoiling too much, is try to go in deep and analyse the impenetrable darkness of this exquisite thriller.

Sheep can sometimes turn into wolves.
Sheep can sometimes turn into wolves.

Kate Macer (a brilliant Emily Blunt), one of the few female FBI agents in Arizona receives a top assignment and  joins a task force for the escalating war against drugs led by  government official Matt Graver (a knockout Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Colombian, Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro giving his best performance in years). The plot is all an excuse for an in-depth study of humanity and morality in today’s world: a world devastated every single minute by relentless wars. That’s why you can watch this film without the sound on and still be punched in the gut. It’s not about dialogue, it’s about images. Images flaring in front of your eyes. The task force is sent out to Juárez, possibly the most dangerous place on earth. A hornet’s nest. A sewer filled with all the earth’s rotting scum. A pit where lambs are thrown for sacrifice. A city so deeply buried in crime and violence that everyone’s already given up. No one’s fighting the real problem. Kate is optimistic. She thinks she’s out there to try and do some good for her colleagues, her friends, her nation. It’s not about that. “Welcome to Juárez” says Alejandro in a very peaceful manner while they drive by a police crime scene: mutilated corpses hanging naked from a bridge.

It is what it is. It’s no fantasy. Things happen all the time. Yet, since most of us live far, far away from all the “evil countries” we think we’re safe. We’re not. Kate’s drug war is not the same war politicians fight in Washington. It’s not about rules, treaties, agreements. It’s not about shaking hands and smiling to the camera. It’s not about giving out environmental speeches. That’s a different story. What Kate’s fighting is personal. There is no class to what happens in the border cities. There are no speeches. There are no photographers. It’s personal. It’s eye for an eye, tooth for tooth. It’s about getting so dirty, so filthy that no matter what you’ll do with your life in the future, you will always carry the past with you. The past will always be the haunting present. There’s no way to cut off the links. The connections will always stay. Blood will always be blood.

A shower won't wash away what Kate has just witnessed.
A shower won’t wash away what Kate has just witnessed.

Kate starts smoking, and she continues digging deeper and deeper into what seems to be a never ending pit. The never ending river of mysteries. She discovers things she shouldn’t have dared even to look at. A police officer tries to shoot her. That’s what it all comes to. There are no limits. Values don’t mean a thing. There is no government, there are no laws. Laws don’t apply to ganglands. Laws don’t apply to this world. At a certain point in the film, all of a sudden we switch perspectives. From Kate we move on to Del Toro’s Alejandro. A man of few words. He’s someone they call in when there is an interrogation. He’s ruthless. No mercy for anyone. When he asks questions, you better give it to him. Because he’ll ask again, in a very painful way. And never point a gun at him. You don’t to bite Alejandro because he’s got more teeth than you. He’s had a dark past that we only discover at the very end. He’s got reasons to be who he is, and do what he does. No one objects. Alejandro acts, because he has to. And now a fundamental question, which you’ll probably ask yourself: does he fight for the right side or the wrong one? Well, neither. There is no line. If there ever was one it was crossed a long time ago. By the wrong people. Now, even the right ones don’t know the difference anymore.

The man in the suit, Alejandro.
The man in the suit, Alejandro.

Even the veterans like Alejandro or Graver have lost sight of the real objective. Maybe there was one, once upon a time when people still believed in honor and justice. In a war for the common good. Not anymore. Now everyone’s covered in mud. Soldiers, officers of the law, special agents, all shoot to shoot. They shoot to kill. Kill because they’re angry, because they saw their colleagues blown to pieces by a booby trap, because they saw their mothers in a pool of blood, because they saw their homes burning, because they forgot where it all started. One of the last, mind-blowing action sequences takes place in a tunnel. Shots are fired, people are killed. But the main thing that I caught from that scene is the tunnel itself. The tunnel that for the most part of the task force operatives is nothing scary. It’s nothing new. They’ve seen worse. They go in, shoot to kill, throw in a grenade, come out smiling. But for newcomers, like Kate, there is a whole different side to it. You go in and come out a whole different person, a beast. A beast with claws and blood thirsty teeth. You lose yourself and you become something else. You step on the wrong mystery, the wrong case, and you face consequences. Consequences that will trouble you forever. Sicario means hitman. Anybody can kill for money. Anybody can hit the bottom.

Because that’s what Sicario, in my opinion, is about: a world that is considered an underworld but in fact, is much larger than what we all imagine. It’s a world that once you step inside of it, there is no coming back. You can’t spin around and leave. You stay there, screaming, but nobody can hear you. Even if you scream at the top of your lungs. Nobody can hear.

Because that’s what darkness is. The land of wolves.

Take a breath. The storm is coming.
Take a breath. The storm is coming.