To Be a Perro

Cruelty. Today’s subject matter will be cruelty portrayed in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s debut — Amores Perros. For some this movie can be tough as hell. Who doesn’t cringe at scenes that consist of bloody dog fighting? Who doesn’t cringe expecting the worst after the movie’s opening title: Life’s a Bitch?  No dogs were harmed in the making of this picture is the first disclaimer that appears on screen. Deal with that. Iñárritu, before entering the world of Hollywood and becoming one of the only three directors to win back-to-back Oscars for best directing, did at first make his small debut in Mexico. Small but effective, and considered to be one of the best directing debuts in the history of cinema and one of the best foreign language movies ever made. Ladies and gentlemen, this movie opened up doors that no one dared to open. To blend cruelty with love and despair? Art. Amores Perros has a heart and a razor sharp machete.

amo
The punisher and the punished.

Mexico City. A place where anything can happen. A place where you either wear a gun or make money off your dog’s death. A place where dreams are kept in a cage and all you can do is ceiling gazing. The lives of three people will collide after a horrendous car accident. There is blood involved. But no matter how deep we delve into the depths of physical pain and loneliness, Iñárritu will always observe the omnipresence of love. The cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto (Biutiful, The Wolf of Wall Street), enhances the light, the grain of the picture, the bright colors that highlight the life on the filthy streets. The music goes from heavy Mexican rap to the delicate chord strumming songs composed by the great Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, Babel) because that’s the essence of life: it is a bitch that can either bite or caress. You don’t get to choose. The characters sure don’t. Octavio, El Chivo and Valeria sure don’t. They know cruelty more than anyone.

amoresperrosm720p-1
Octavio and his love. A love worth fighting for.

Octavio, played by the up and coming Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También, Motorcycle Diaries) is a young man who wants to get out of this hell hole. His older brother is a punk and a robber, and Octavio is in love with the brother’s wife, Susana. It is only a matter of time before Octavio finds out how to make money for his escape as quick as he can: dog fights. Life forces this young man to rely on the pain of his pet in order to get away from all this evil around him. He’ll take Susana and the baby with him. Plain and simple. Or maybe not. You see, Octavio’s young man’s dreams are immediately crushed by the ruthless force of life. Octavio embodies innocence, immaturity, inexperience. These are all qualities that make life difficult, that make of life an almost impossible task. Octavio will be forced to crawl into the dark world of drug dealers, gangsters and dog fighters. As the film progresses and Octavio’s story begins to go down along with all the bloody events, Iñárritu slowly unravels the boy’s helplessness. The camera starts to feel detached from the young man. It is not a comforting presence anymore. We feel dirty, involved, touched by Octavio’s struggles.

amoresperros1
Ceiling gazing.

Valeria, on the other hand, is a super model who gets involved with a married man. The two start living together and everything seems possible. Everything seems achievable. Love gives life a shape and form, doesn’t it? Valeria embodies beauty and success. Her whole career has consisted of posing in front of a camera and walking down the stage and accepting beauty awards. That’s all there is to her. But life’s cruel actions will mess this up. Valeria will be victim of the terrible car accident. Valeria won’t be the woman she once was. Her dog, Richie, will jump into a hole in the floor in order to find a lost toy, but he won’t come back. Richie will whimper and scratch against the wooden ceiling that is the floor. Daniel, Valeria’s boyfriend, will go crazy trying to free the dog and get him out to make his girlfriend happy. Richie is a symbol of humanity. Iñárritu won’t let him out until Daniel and Valeria have gone through the painful part of their relationship. It’s a test. And humanity doesn’t give up. It’s always there. Fighting off rats and surviving in the dark. It’s only a matter of time until humanity crawls out, breathing, alive.

66694966
The model – Valeria.

And then there is El Chivo, one of the most impressive characters ever put on screen, played to perfection by Emilio Echevarria. This is a man who has seen it all. He embodies the fading past, the painful weight of memory. El Chivo is a man of experience, once a guerilla fighter, now a paid assassin. He lives the live of a homeless man, surrounded by dogs, his only friends. Whatever happened to him in the past it’s for you to discover. He is father time and his presence feels almost holy and spiritual in some twisted way. He will take care of a dying dog and help the poor beast recover. He will square off and try to make peace between two business men, brothers, at war with each other. He is a force that is mostly felt rather than seen. When he walks down the street he is invisible to the people passing by. And yet, his actions count. Not only to strangers but his long lost family as well. He can take any physical shape or form. He can sport a Marxist beard or walk clean shaven dressed in a smart suit, but he will always be felt. He will always have a say. He will confront life and at the same time he will be life’s servant. That is all i can say about El Chivo. The rest is yours.

vague-visages-eye-on-inarritu-amores-perros-three
Trying to fix the past is not easy.

Amores Perros is certainly similar to the later Brazilian film City of God. Both are ruthless depictions of life on the street. However, City of God, as brilliant as it is, works much better as a documentary. It serves cold facts and chews on a plot that has not much to offer in terms of analyzing the bigger picture. It is as bloody as Amores Perros but it does not work as well as the latter does. Iñárritu paints with blood and emotions. For him life is a bitch because we are not powerful enough. We will never be. We want to be but that is highly unlikely to happen. The three intersecting stories of Octavio, Valeria and El Chivo offer the viewer the essence of life. Love, anger, revenge and the bitter taste of past mistakes make of life a cruel bitch. A bitch that will always prevail. Only El Chivo will walk this earth forever.

amores-perros-2000
The omnipresent guardian.

Why Take a Chance

Today’s topic: rewatch value. How many times can we watch a certain movie? Is enough, enough? Some people like to watch a movie only once and then they’re done with it. Boom. It’s over. Others can watch the same one time after time and still be entertained. Me? Well, let’s say that when a movie is a favorite of mine, I tend to watch it on special occasions. Sometimes I’m afraid it might get worse, it might get boring, I might find some flaws to it. A movie like There Will Be Blood, what I call my top movie, is something I’ve probably watched only five times in my life. It’s so perfect and so rich in its intensity that I wish it wouldn’t change. Hopefully it never will. Then what kind of movie do I like to watch every now and then and still find it refreshing, thought provoking and above else, entertaining? For me it’s none other than Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995). A lot of viewers tend to call it a Goodfellas spinoff, a simple minded sequel. Well, let me tell you. It’s not. And that’s its secret; it’s a whole other animal.

facd8b560ecb6730315e42c3bc2968d6
Boom! Right from the start.

The debaucheries of East Coast mobsters, Hollywood divas and Mid West con men that would take place in Las Vegas in the late 1970s and early 80s are known to the world. In fact, the Las Vegas of those times doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s a family place, a Disneyland for adults  and a paradise for plastic surgery freaks. But back then, oh boy. It was the capital of money. Everything moved from it and through it, creating money links across the globe. Foreigners would fly in rich and fly out dry poor in the matter of hours. People were willing to lose it all. Because why not? It’s Vegas. Scorsese, after partnering up for the second time with Goodfellas author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, decided to make his last ride (until 2002’s Gangs of New York) in the depths of violence. Believe it or not, even old man Marty decided he needed a break from all that blood, all that beating, stabbing, baseball-bat clubbing. But was it worth it. You see it’s one thing to say “I’m going to direct a movie about excess and glamour” and another really do it. Many have tried and many have failed, the one that comes to mind is Baz Luhrmann and his constant need of excessive production design in fairy tale movies like Romeo + Juliet and The Great Gatsby with a mediocre result. Making the viewer feel the incredible amounts of money, the smoke filled casino lounges, the wind blowing from the sands, it’s an art. An who better than the one and only Martin Scorsese?

Casino-0006
What more do you want? Lights, smoke, money, excess, violence. It has it all.

The thing is: it’s not a perfect film. It’s flawed. There are minor issues with the editing, some of the sound mixing, and even some of the special effects look dated. But — the way it’s made, that outdated feeling it carries, it’s what makes it stand out. In it’s structure it’s a very simple movie: a voice-over, a flashback in its entirety, a lot of inserts and music. Because that’s what makes it a Scorsese picture. It’s simple, small but at the same time it’s larger than life. Every time i watch I pick on something that I’d never noticed before; Joe Pesci’s character chewing on the cuticle of his right thumb (the real life gangster he plays reportedly really did that out of habit), the constant overlapping of a never ending soundtrack (Scorsese goes from Bach to The Rolling Stones), the eye-popping cinematography (where every dominant character in a particular scene is marked with a streak of sunlight), and above all – the comedic touch. Because every gangster movie we see nowadays is plain serious, dreadful, wanting to prove to the audience how cruel and merciless those ugly gangsters really are. What these movie directors forget, and Scorsese doesn’t it – is that everything in life has a comedic side to it. Gangsters will quarrel over anything, they’ll spit into a club sandwich that goes straight to a local policeman, they’ll have genuine fun torturing a guy, they’ll stick ice-picks in his testicles if they feel like it. Forget about rules.

Casino Joe Pesci
Wise guys in town.

The secret of this movie lies in the way Scorsese connects with the viewer– the long panning and tracking shots, the extreme close-ups and wipe-outs make it feel closer, more relatable , almost as if we were reading a comic book and following with our eyes every single vignette. Because if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that Casino is an ensemble of quick shots, quick dialogue, therefore quick scenes. The main characters, Ace and Nicky, played respectively by De Niro and Pesci, narrate the story for us like a comic book artist narrates the story by writing clouds of voice-over in the corner of every vignette. It’s engaging, energetic and exciting to watch. It’s one of those movies that makes me feel right at home for an odd reason (there are no gangsters at my place) and still manages to leave me in awe by the ending credits. It’s also the way the characters are portrayed as simple minded fuckos with nothing to give but everything to lose. And they do. From the start, Nicky (Joe Pesci) says: “We fucked it all up.

casino-robert-de-niro-sharon-stone
Love always comes at a price.

I say this because now gangsters are usually glorified and portrayed as untouchable creatures-gods. With Scorsese, it’s different. He likes mortality, he enjoys that vulnerability, the possibility that you take out a brick from the tower and the tower falls down. The constant pressure and heat these dirty individuals carry with them. It comes to the point that Nicky’s banned from all casinos in town and has to move out to the desert, 60 miles away from Vegas, and still finds himself under constant surveillance by the Federal sons of bitches. We don’t see him go guns blazing in the middle of the day. No, we see him the way he was. A small tough guy, walking around the desert covering his mouth so that the FBI lip-readers can’t tell what he’s saying. It’s that “the world watches you” feeling that makes Scorsese’s gangster movies stand out. They are not epics and they will never be because they do not romanticize that kind of lifestyle, they don’t show clean getaways like The Godfather, they are dirty pieces of art that will stay forever with those particular viewers, that have the guts for it.

So as usual, hats off Mr. Scorsese. You will always be the only one who can make a cup of coffee look interesting.

027-casino-theredlist
The light of truth – the bosses have the final say.

The Creator’s Hands

Today’s topic: the world of The Revenant. When I think about it, I come to the conclusion that cinema is divided into two categories: movies and films. Movies can be manipulated, changed, edited, cut and re-shot. Films, on the other hand, are made out of stone; once they’re done, they’re done, they’re rock solid and they stay forever. Nothing can change them, nothing can touch them. They are confessions, tales of truth, parables that will guide future generations in hopefully the right direction. The Revenant is a film. You look at it and you are fully aware that you’re not reading a comic book, you’re not playing a video game, you are watching a film. Why is that? What makes it so colossal and epic? Its immense, cruel, beautiful world.

The-Cinematography-of-The-Revenant-2
Looking for answers.

Man vs Nature has been the topic of many directors’ filmographies such as Werner Herzog’s (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre the Wrath of God), Andrei Tarkovsky’s (Andrei Rublev), and Akira Kurosawa’s (Dersu Uzala). Their works were epic in form yet intimate in scope. Their protagonists fought fear, greed and most of all they tried to prevail against nature. Same thing goes for The Revenant? Not quite. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the master behind such revolutionary works like Amores Perros, Babel and Birdman, has crafted an epic tale of survival based on the true story of frontiersman Hugh Glass who in 1823, in the Rocky Mountains territory, was brutally attacked by a Grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions. This stubborn son of a bitch battled his way through waterfalls, frozen lakes, forests and mountains, crawling for 300 miles in order to find and kill the men who betrayed him. As many viewers noted, in most cases sounding rather disappointed, the film has a very simple plot. Sometimes, we tend to forget that our world is not that complicated. We’re not masters of the universe. We’re just tiny creatures who happen to live in a big world. Everything we do is rather simple; what we call ambition is usually nothing but instinct. We set ourselves a goal, and slowly, slowly we go for it. The Revenant is about that.

THE REVENANT
Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald, murderer, thief and a man with a broken heart.

The setting: Rocky Mountains (although shot in Alberta, Canada, and Argentina), near the Missouri River, Indian Territory, 1823. The protagonists: fur trappers working for a fur trading company, Arikara tribesmen, Pawnee tribesmen, French renegades… and nature. We’re presented with a very primitive world; a world where everything comes at a price, be it a scalp or a buffalo skin.  Every man works for himself. No one sees the bigger picture. Everything is driven by hatred, anger, and yes, revenge. Why shouldn’t it be so simple? All of this still applies to this day and age. We haven’t made such incredible progress; wars are still fought over who has more money, more oil, more power. Kidnappings still happen in the name of ransom and revenge. Corruption still exists because of our primitive instincts. So why complain? The world of Hugh Glass at least doesn’t have skyscrapers, tanks, war missiles and drug cartels. It’s a world where you can still smell the morning grass, where you can hear the wolves howl, where you can walk through the wildest of all places and not be disturbed by poachers and tourists.  Iñárritu and cinematographer  Emmanuel Lubezki (Tree of Life, Gravity, Birdman) make this world seem closer to us. The viewer can almost touch it. And that’s the beauty of it.

12604809_1282214018471019_5736030016494621510_o
Everything we do is driven by eternal questions.

Hugh Glass was abandoned, buried alive,  his personal items stolen and his favorite rifle taken. That is what the book (by Michael Punke) recounts and what the true story says, but  Iñárritu found it to be missing something. He said; yes, sure, he probably did it to get back his rifle and fight for his honor, but I want to add something to it. That’s how Hugh Glass becomes a father. A father of a Pawnee boy, his half-breed son, named Hawk. Because fatherly love is also a basic human instinct. A mother and a father are willing to sacrifice themselves, to walk through hellfire, to fight the devil if that’s what it takes to save their child. Hugh Glass’ son is killed by a man called Fitzgerald (played by a superb Tom Hardy who creates one of the most human and vulnerable villains of all time). And that’s when Glass loses everything he had, everything he lived for. Everything he ever wanted. It’s a wake-up call that whispers into his ear “keep breathing, crawl out of your grave and fight”. That’s what he does. His heart painted black with hatred and thirst for revenge pushes him to face the brutality of nature, the mercilessness of a world where man has no say over who gets to live and who gets to die.

12658044_1282214105137677_4824131336745333724_o
You’re my son…

The world of Glass is simple, yes but it’s also emotional. There is love, friendship, sacrifice. The flashbacks that recall his Pawnee wife, a better life, a peaceful tepee, times when everything seemed so magical, tell us that there is more to this character than what we see. In these dream sequences we see Glass contemplate the unexpected. He studies the beautiful, majestic nature. Nature that makes it possible for him to breathe and walk, love, desire. He understands that in nature, there is no enemy, only an ally, a mother that watches over him at all times. Perhaps we don’t see a God, but we sense that out there, in the blue sky, there is something that makes the rain so wet, that makes the snow so cold, that makes the rays of sunlight so warm. There is a force that rules this brutal jungle of animals, this world that we find so savage and inhuman. This world that we try to tame. Why tame it if we can respect it? Why cut off a branch when we can water it? Why trap a butterfly when we can watch it fly in our garden? Why kill a forest when we can admire its magnificence? The Revenant, with its beautiful use of natural lighting and on-location production, is a reminder that everything we have we owe it to something much bigger than money. Much larger than our own ambitions. Something invisible that we can only feel once we submerge ourselves like Hugh Glass. Once we start to crawl in the dirt. Only then.

Only then we will find that ‘something’ we’ve all been looking for.

the-revenant
Once you start breathing, you just can’t stop.

 

 

King of Independence

Today’s topic: the man who keeps independent filmmaking alive.  In an era where Hollywood blockbusters have taken over every big cinema theater in every country, independent cinema is starting to take a new turn and progress with time. Think about it, back in the day some of the biggest names were making movies for themselves instead of making them for big time producers. Quentin Tarantino himself started off by directing Reservoir Dogs with initially a budget of a mere $30.000 and then raised it with the help of actor Harvey Keitel to a more impressive but still low $1.5mln, this way creating what is hailed today as “the greatest independent film of all time”. The Coen Brothers made their first few movies – Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing – with a just few bucks using either at the time unknown actors (Nicolas Cage, John Turturro)  or washed up stars like Gabriel Byrne. Sure, other directors like veteran Michael Haneke, newcomer JC Chandor, Lisa Chodolenko, David Gordon Green, Lynne Ramsay are all skillful players of the same trade, but it seems like there is one voice that has done nothing but serve cinematic gems in a day where movies are usually overstuffed or overcooked with  clichés and banalities. His tiny filmography gives us a glimpse of a man whose name someday will resonate across all audiences and whose signature will be visible in every book that belongs to film literature. His name is Jeff Nichols.

Jeff-Nichols
No fancy suit and tie, no director’s chair, plain T-shirt. This is Jeff Nichols.

The boy from Little Rock, Arkansas, grew up to become a true master at his craft, a young mind who sees what other choose to ignore. His filmography of just three films (other two coming out in 2016) has had a huge impact on movie buffs and the way we think about independent filmmaking. Nichols chooses topics that are easy to relate to and makes them much more profound than what we’d expect. His debut, the 2007 Shotgun Stories, about family members fighting each other, gave critics such as the late mighty Roger Ebert a reason to take an eye off Hollywood for a moment and focus on something smaller, more delicate but just as dynamic. Nichols’ choice of settings is very particular and probably very personal to the director: the American countryside. Again, what other directors choose not to look at, Nichols prefers to study under a microscope. Cornfields, abandoned farms, ruined backyards, outdated cars, conservative communities, it’s all there. The environment his movies are wrapped in is unpredictable, hostile, presenting a tough life for any age and gender. It’s the poverty and the thirst for a better life in a better place that is unreachable, which make the viewer swallow every bite of his tasty food with great difficulty. It’s the raw images that Nichols throws in the audience’s face. However, it’s not a grim vision. There is also a lot of good in his movies; fatherly love, friendship, parents’ devotion, sacrifice. There is always something worth fighting for.

Shotgun_Stories
A family on the edge of destruction – Shotgun Stories.

Nichols’ camerawork is steady. The movements are controlled, there is no rush in them, no shaking, the images he captures are almost a photo album filled with beautifully composed photographs. In his, in my opinion, best movie – 2011 Take Shelter – Nichols tells the story of a blue collar worker, a loving family man (played by Nichols’ friend and regular collaborator, the great Michael Shannon) who starts to have nightmares about an apocalypse, which to him becomes a reality. His goal? To save his family; his sweet wife (Jessica Chastain in top form) and his hearing-impaired daughter. Nichols manages to turn family love into a vehicle of danger and conflict. The man begins to build a storm shelter in the backyard, hurried by the dark visions that slowly start to take over his mind, making him a victim of his own fears and fantasies. It’s a small idea that takes over the screen, and turns into a giant, menacing vision of a society, which can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. The scenes where the husband, Curtis, sits down at the dinner table with his beautiful wife, Samantha and his daughter, Hannah, are the centerpiece of the action. Nichols chooses not to let the outside world creep into the plot, but rather mask a possible danger with the help of a loving unit – the family. What Curtis sees, hears and says at the dinner table, is what motivates him to drive further into the direction of insanity. Yes, it’s what it is. A brilliant example of minimalistic cinema bashing our heads in.

Take-Shelter_film-still_02
Your family is worth making you lose your mind – Take Shelter.

Nichols as a writer. Not only can he direct a tense scene with great ease and impressive simplicity but he can write too. Every character he creates is someone that feels so close to us, and yet so distant. A scary familiarity. That’s the case for his third and up until now, last movie – 2012 Mud. This time the writer/director explores the ruined villages located on the edge of the Mississippi. A merciless land where you either you make your living out of the river, you drown in it along with your debts. The titular Mud, is played by Matthew McConaughey (before the “McConaughey age” started, in some way Nichols introduced him to Oscar success), a square jawed, dirty man whose past is as mysterious as the fact that he lives on a boat trapped on top of a tree located on a river island. Mud is friendly and smokes a lot, and the only people he trusts to form a friendship with are teenage boys Ellis and Neckbone. Mud’s slurred speech and short sentences make of him a ghost, someone who may be there or may not, someone who isn’t entirely real. But Mud is, trust me. Nichols writes a friendship for the ages, three different individuals working on the same objective: take the boat off the tree and then… go on an adventure. It’s almost a romantic ballad, because Mud is looking for his old love that’s gone missing. As Nichols unwraps Mud’s past in front of our eyes we can’t help but ask for more.  And in the end, it’s all worth asking.

Mud-banner-e1365261041835
Three lives connected by a river – Mud.

Nichols may be someone who prefers to stay low-key, work on small productions and shoot on a limited budget, but his stories are bigger than life and filled to the brim with raw truth. He’s an artist whose work is unique and very personal, both qualities that are very rare and precious in a world of mindless Marvel movies and cheap television. One day, his name will be cited in film classics. Maybe not. Nichols doesn’t make movies for that. He makes them to put a smile on his own face. That’s admirable.

still-of-matthew-mcconaughey-and-jeff-nichols-in-mud-(2012)-large-picture
He’ll keep doing what he’s doing, ride on.

Coyote

Today’s topic: the scariest film I’ve ever seen. Nope, don’t count on hearing anything related to the Horror genre. Of course early Horror movies were revolutionary in the way they managed to effectively stun the audience with their complex visual effects, at the time they were impressive filmmaking achievements. Movies like Psycho, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween gave birth and later on inspired hundreds of flat sequels and hideous follow-ups, losing their magical scary touch. They feel outdated. And yes, as an avid cinephile I waited for a scary non-Horror to appear on screen. I waited. And I waited. Finally, last year, it hit the mark. I found it – Nightcrawler. 

4-nightcrawler-learning-from-other-photographer
Every man has to learn. Lou’s a fast learner.

Not only my favorite film of last year but also a film that has become one of my top personal favorites. What’s so scary about it? Nothing, besides the main story, that of a petty thief who discovers night-crime journalism as a way of making money. With the help of a camcorder and a police scanner he goes anywhere where blood is spilled. Ain’t that a kick in the head? His name is Louis Bloom, he prefers Lou, and he’s a sociopath. Now, now, he’s not a psycho. He doesn’t take baths in a tub filled with blood and doesn’t go around shooting presidents. He’s a sociopath with a camera, and he’s ready to sell whatever he catches, be it a bloody stabbing or a home invasion, it doesn’t matter. That’s what’s so scary.

824A1334.CR2
You just need to be ready. Fasten your seat belt, please.

I know I’m not here to make a review out of this movie, but for those who haven’t seen it I have two words: Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake is a coyote, fit and skinny, his eyes haunting, his veins pulsating. He is Lou Bloom and he is a sociopath. Lou’s fascinated with his new job, first a bit untrained and unprofessional, with a banged up car and a cheap camcorder with no microphone. But it’s Los Angeles, right? Anything’s possible for people like Lou. What am I getting at? Lou learns police codes by heart, finds a naive assistant (a great Riz Ahmed) who’ll do anything for a few bucks, buys modern equipment, a new car and above all, he forms a business relationship with a worn out local news director (Rene Russo you got it) who is ready to pay any price just to keep her name alive in the news industry. For some the setting alone might seem scary: night-time Los Angeles, no Hollywood Boulevard, no sunny avenues and great looking palm trees; instead, a dark, claustrophobic polluted bloody machine that is the land of gold for hungry coyotes who wish to feast on rotten cadavers. Unlike the overcrowded streets in  Taxi Driver’s New York,  here the streets of Los Angeles are almost empty, the wind free to blow wherever it wants to. A perfect place for nocturnal animals.

K72A6170.CR2
Making business is always a pleasure.

The music. The music by James Newton Howard is for a fact, creepy. You may ask why. It depicts Lou’s state of mind. Whenever he’s angry, the music changes. Whenever he’s onto something, the music changes. Whenever he goes crazy, the music changes. The unnerving feeling that we’re inside a sick individual’s mind will give anybody some proper goose bumps. And why not? Lou smiles when he records a victim. Blood makes him excited up to the point where he starts treating the material he’s shooting as a form of art. A car accident is a set for him, a dead body the actor. Lou’s the director, and a hell of a one too. We witness as Lou, with great exhilaration, notices that the police cars haven’t yet arrived, and decides to ‘modify’ the accident scene for artistic purposes, moving a cadaver from one side to another, adjusting the lifeless’ hands, straightening the cold legs, and finally getting to the top of a curb and filming it, adrenaline pumping through his eyeballs. That’s what crime-journalism is about. That’s what this movie is about – people who become animals and yet go unnoticed, hiding in the dark, away from the light.

1280x720-t94
He’ll do anything in the name of professionalism.

Dan Gilroy’s first attempt at directing is spot on. It’s simplistic but effective, because again, it impersonates Lou’s persona: unpredictable. Floating across the neon lights of LA at night, switching to postcard views and cutting to fast paced car chases, Gilroy encapsulates the essence of a blood soaked world that we see every single day in the news, and almost every single time we ignore it. A world where anything and everything can be made up from a ‘carjacking crime wave’  to a ‘stabbing pollution’. A world where advertisements are taken too seriously. A world where only with the help of a camcorder and a police scanner can we succeed in making a name for ourselves.

maxresdefault
When Lou smiles, you better smile along.

The scariest part? The irony. The script is filled with past faced dialogue, machine gun comebacks and tasty ideas, painting a grim picture with a cherry on top – irony. The whole movie pokes fun in a very cruel way at who we are and how we deal with things. It pokes fun at a society that believes too many theories and disregards the truth. Coyotes like Lou go unnoticed and end up with a full belly. It’s  the raw truth that scares me, personally. It’s the thought that people like Lou walk the streets like the rest of us. Lou Bloom is a monster but a monster you learn to root for. Yes, that’s right. Every time I watch it, by the end of the film I find myself cheering for Lou because he’s got everything planned out, he’s always compact, neat and precise. He never blinks, never sweats over anything. That’s what makes him so haunting – the fact that  we don’t see him break aside from a riveting few seconds, when after a flop of a night without any headline material, the man confronts his reflection in the mirror, yelling and shattering the glass to pieces. No worries. He’s got everything under control, that’s the thing. Can we call him a criminal? No. He doesn’t kill anyone. He doesn’t lift a finger nor hurt anyone. Lou is simply at the right time, at the right place, with the right ideas. He’s the man.

 

“Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”

nc
I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. Goodnight.

 

 

A Cold Day in Los Angeles

Today’s topic: grief. In a world where technology is prevailing, online communities are winning, face-to-face interaction is fading, surprisingly we’re still able to mourn, and better yet talk about grief. It’s a hard process, a long one. Sometimes it takes a year or two, sometimes a whole lifetime. In film, grief has been used as a subject for deep character studies in movies like The Three Colors: Blue, Ordinary People and even the action packed The Gladiator, where the main character becomes a bloodthirsty fighter in order to avenge his family’s death. As depressing as it is, grief is also one of the most fascinating subject matters, because only by talking about it do we realize what’s really inside of us. Tom Ford’s A Single Man  is what I consider a film driven by incredible subtlety and real emotions, a film that speaks for us all in a very quiet, distinct way.

The story of George (Colin Firth at his best), a middle-aged English college professor who struggles at coping with his lover’s death and facing the daily routine of Los Angeles in the 1960s, may seem as a simple one. That’s the point. It’s simple but beautiful. George’s lover, Jim, died in a car accident eight months prior to the day we witness. Now George has to learn to live without Jim. Live in his big mansion, all by himself. Live in Los Angeles all by himself. Since Jim passed away, George hates waking up because every time he does so, he’s reminded of the fact that he’s still here. He’s still breathing, and why? If every breath is painful then why breath at all. On the day we meet George, George decides to kill himself. Either he discovers the real reason for living or he commits suicide. It’s one or the other. Living in someone else’s skin is pure torture, real pain that has gotten more and more familiar with George. In fact, ‘George’ is a cover-up: it’s someone who doesn’t exist, it’s the person people want to look at when they look at George. It’s what the world expects from him: clean, neat, intelligent, well-mannered. Gentleman. Good looking guy. Elegant intellectual. Enough of that.

A single man in a single world.
A single man in a single world.

The daily routine of our protagonist: wake up, try to defrost the frozen bread, go to the bathroom and spy on neighbors from the bathroom window, go to school, talk about inspiration and motivating young students to aim higher, smoke a pack of cigarettes, go home. That is what usually happens in George’s life, over and over again. Yet, the day of his planned suicide turns out to be oddly different. His neighbors seem happier than usual. George finally sees a family that doesn’t act like a family, but is a family. The mother smiles to her daughter not because she wants to pretend she’s happy, but because she is happy. The husband and wife kiss not because the whole neighborhood is watching, but because they are in love in a place  where finding real love is almost impossible. It’s an unexpected moment of truth and clarity for the college professor sitting on the toilet, spying. It’s a reminder of all the good that still does exist in this world. We may not see it on a daily basis, but sometimes all there is to do is to spy more accurately, like George. Then he goes on to school and for the first time he doesn’t talk about literature, he doesn’t bore his students by talking about Byron or Hawthorne, he finally talks about something that really matters: the unnoticed minorities. The poor and weak. The ones we do not care about. The ones who do not carry ‘etiquettes’ around. It’s something George has had in mind since the day Jim died. It’s something he had to put out there, for someone to listen and understand, and care.

An unexpected connection is made later on in the day, nearby a liquor store, when George accidentally stumbles into a handsome Spanish man, Carlos. Carlos is young, handsome and smart, everything George used to be before age kicked in. Carlos is the symbol of innocence. A young immigrant who finds himself cornered in a metropolis like Los Angeles. A man who finds answers in self prostitution. A child who’s not ready for this big world yet. They both understand each other. Carlos understands George’s grief as they share a cigarette and look into each other’s eyes. They talk about home, their parents, the scary future and the even more terrifying past. “Lovers are like buses. You just have to wait a little while and another one comes along.” says Carlos. George chuckles, but he damn well knows that Jim was one of a kind. Carlos understands. They leave but what they’ve created in those few minutes of conversation is what most of us will never achieve in a lifetime. An instant bond that ends like it began.

When the city shines at its brightest, that's when you should shine too.
When the city shines at its brightest, that’s when you should shine too.

Many of you may wonder, Tom Ford? Isn’t he that huge fashion designer whose perfumes I buy? Well, Ford is indeed that. But he’s much more than a simple fashion designer. He’s a gay director with an incredible eye for human emotions. Why do I mention he’s gay? Because in all honesty, I think that only a gay director could have captured the troubled emotions of the mourning homosexual Englishman as well as he did. There needs to be a connection between the director and what’s on screen and here you can feel it. Feel it in your bones. The lighting, the camera work, the subtle movements and cold cinematography. Like Chodolenko’s The Kids Are All Right, in which the story of a lesbian couple is unraveled by a lesbian director, here the story of a gay man living his last few hours trying to find out more about himself is perfectly told by a gay director that actually knows how to make an impact with simple moments of silence, delicate kisses and innocent looks. It’s the vibrating emotions that are all over the screen because the man who directed it, knew what he was talking about. Ford gives us a glimpse at what it feels to be someone who doesn’t want to be himself anymore. Someone who wants to escape.

George does escape. On a cold day in Los Angeles.

A long awaited goodbye.
A long awaited goodbye.

Stanley’s Bastards

Today’s topic: the controversial Kubrick. Whenever you wonder about the great figures of cinema, there is always one name that keeps coming up in many different departments; from directing and writing credits, to sound and visual effects, to cinematography and camera work. The name is always the same: Stanley Kubrick. His contribution to film is immaculate, and as Scorsese himself has said it: ” One of his films… is equivalent to ten of somebody else’s. Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountain top. You look up and wonder, “How could anyone have climbed that high?”. He’s the mountain everyone aims for but no one can achieve. Is it the perfect structure and shot composition? Is it his great vision? Is it the movement on screen? Is it the pulsating cinematography and production design? Many have asked themselves these questions, and the answer will remain forever unknown. However, for me there’s always been something else that stood out in Kubrick’s pictures: the courage. It takes a lot of it to direct movies like Lolita, A Clockwork Orange or The Shining. In my opinion, every movie of his was too ahead of its time and most of them still are to this day. He often spoke out against our common beliefs, traditions, laws, and still managed to let this protest be beautiful and impactful. No matter what was on screen it was always somehow fascinating to watch like the violent rape scene in The Clockwork Orange or the obscene cult sequences in Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick’s frames always speak to the viewer and most importantly; they make him feel. That’s why I think Kubrick has made an impact on how we view cinema: he introduced controversy.

It's no glory,glory, hallelujah.
It’s no glory, glory, hallelujah.

While analyzing this particular topic, I decided to pick one of the director’s most controversial and yet, lesser known films; Full Metal Jacket. Sure, it’s probably quoted in many  best war movies’ lists, but most people today don’t know what’s so special about it other than the perfectly depicted gore and violence. Kubrick introduced a new way of approaching documentary-like filmmaking by tackling the subject of the Vietnam War when the wound was still fresh. 1987, the Cold War is slowly coming to an end, and people can definitely feel it, not only in the US but all across the world. Change is coming, and hopefully for the better. However, Kubrick doesn’t like the idea of people getting on a high horse. Full Metal Jacket is a painful reminder of what happened when the world started to believe in fairy tales. It’s a warning. That’s why it looks so real, like a documentary, because Kubrick wants us to experience the useless pain and suffering of every soldier that goes fighting a no man’s war. There is no idealization, no glory in this film. There are no medals, no speeches. There is no honor. It comes to the point where a US Marine plays with the corpse of a dead Vietcong operative. He plays with the dead man’s hands, laughing. Laugh at the horror, says Kubrick. Cry later.

No man's land.
No man’s land.

It’s all about the way the director presents the material, that’s when the movie acquires a voice. Here, Kubrick chooses to use the television-box-like aspect ratio instead of the typical widescreen because this way he creates an atmosphere that creeps into every home, emphasizing the role of television in transmitting the images of the Vietnam War to the American public. It’s called portraying the truth rather than fiction. We don’t have main characters in this movie. Yes, we have some that stay with us until the very end, but we never focus on any of them. We focus on the whole concept of a military squad. We can’t tell who dies and who doesn’t. When a character is too “visible” for us, Kubrick eliminates him. From boot camp to the destroyed cement jungle of Hue City, we follow these guys until the very end, until the moment when even we, the viewers, can’t tell the difference between what’s right and wrong anymore. With Kubrick not even boot camp is a safe place. Like many documentaries filmed in the 1980s (Anybody’s Son Will Do), Kubrick’s opening scenes are first of all meant to show us the tough environment and the cold welcoming recruits usually get. But Kubrick takes it to a whole other level when he depicts the real damage boot camp can inflict on a recruit’s mental state; that of getting to the point where one of the many jarheads shoots the drill Sergeant and then proceeds to shoot himself right in front of his only friend (or enemy?). That scene was something out of the ordinary when first shown to audiences: aren’t boot caps supposed to make men out of hippie crazed teenagers? No, you’re all blind and deaf, says Kubrick. See evil. Hear evil.

You thought you could make a change? Forget about change.
You thought you could make a change? Forget about change.

Are there friendly faces among the Marines we follow? Kubrick writes the way he directs: straightforward, harsh but all wrapped up in a blanket of beauty. He says, stop believing in characters that don’t exist. The soldiers who came down with an objective, lost sight of it after a few days. Joker, who was supposed to be the squad’s reporter doesn’t care anymore if he takes the right photograph of a mass grave and the right description or not. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. Violence creates violent people. Marines and other fellow soldiers become animals with no compassion, no empathy, no dreams, no feelings. They shoot for the fun of it. They fight ghosts in a ghost town, that of a post-bombing Hue City. They chase what can’t be chased. And ultimately they play out a battle against one single enemy – an entire squad of Marines against one sniper, hidden in one of the many abandoned buildings. What’s the twist? The sniper is a little girl. Now, the controversy (if not yet visible) is this: in movies like Sands of Iwo Jima  or Lawrence of Arabia we witnessed epic battles that always showed two equally strong sides fighting over a piece of land, usually a mountain, a forest, a hill, or even the desert. Here, an entire squad is shooting up a set of ruined buildings just to smoke out one small mouse: in this case, a twelve year old  holding a sniper rifle. And when finally, after many unnecessary casualties, the Marines manage to kill the girl, they walk over to her and stand, gazing at the child’s blood. They can’t feel anything. They’re animals gazing at their prey.

Lions scouting a rabbit.
Lions scouting a rabbit.

Maybe now, that we live in an era filled with extravaganza, obscenities and everything “going viral”, this may not seem like anything exceptionally controversial. But Kubrick was a master at defining each decade with one single film. And I’m sure that if he was still alive, he would sum up our present reality with a major eye-popper.

When Kubrick does it, it hurts. Beautifully.

By the end, it's all flames.
By the end, it’s all flames.

Time Bomb

Today’s topic: the hidden anger in The Social Network. Upon my third viewing of the Oscar winning (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Editing) picture directed by (again) mastermind David Fincher, I realized it was more than just the story of how Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, became who he is today and all the people he hurt and betrayed on his way to the top. Sure, it’s a shivering achievement that will always rank among the best character studies of all time, but the real spirit, what drives this film is the presence of a feeling we all know – anger. What motivates the beeping score, the steady camera work and the dynamite characters is not solely Fincher directing the scenes, not even screenwriter Aaron Sorkin with his fist-fight-like screenplay, but the feeling of anger, buried under layers and layers of excellent filmmaking.

It all comes down to a simple conversation.
It all comes down to a simple conversation.

If we look closer, we sense it every second of the running time because without  it there wouldn’t be no Social Network. During the very same opening scene, Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) and Erica (Rooney Mara) are sitting in a bar, drinking. She’s there knowing she’s only doing it out of pity for a 19 year old genius who spends his days in front of his laptop doing God knows what. It’s a simple set up. In every movie there is the typical face-to-face conversation at some point. Here we have it at the beginning, because the whole dialogue and the setting is a huge establishing shot for what will follow for the rest of the film. The two start arguing about final clubs, since Mark wants to enter one and become part of the most prestigious class of people in Harvard, and Fincher quick cuts the explosive comebacks with fast shots that start to make our heads hurt. Don’t gag. It’s just a warm-up. The conversation ends with Mark making fun of Erica’s level of education and causing her to leave. There he is alone. Angry. Furious. Sitting in the dark corner of a bar. Maybe he didn’t want to insult her, maybe it’s just the way Mark knows how to  talk to people, especially to girls. And what comes next? A peaceful but very meaningful title sequence of Mark walking to his dorm through Harvard campus. Now, it’s not just a simple title sequence. It shows who we are following as the main character. Who is leading us into this discovery. He’s larger than what we think of him. He’s larger than Harvard. He’s larger than the US. But not in the way we think. He walks with his head lowered, unnoticed, wearing flip-flops and jeans, he doesn’t smile nor does he exchange looks with anyone. He’s one of a kind, and during that very moment the world can’t touch him because of how angry he is. A walking dynamite. What we first think of as a peaceful scene turns out to be the definition of anger: quiet, insecure, kept in a small cage, but when it finally gets out, oh boy. It’s Zuckerberg time. Hacking and other obscenities will follow.

This is Mark.
This is Mark.

Why did this movie win for Best Editing? Because with the use of extremely fast paced cuts, inserts and supertitles it creates the atmosphere that only a pulsating fire-ball could create. Tension. Tension, therefore anger. Mark screams in exasperation but no one can hear him, because he doesn’t want to let it out, he’s too afraid. In fact, that’s why Facebook was founded for those who still believe in fairy tales. It was founded because a computer genius at the age of 19  couldn’t make friends. It was founded as a way of telling the whole world how he felt about people: primitive, simple minded, ignorant and naive. It’s not about entering final clubs and prestigious societies anymore, it’s not about feeling appreciated or achieving something grand in the name of Harvard. For Mark that’s “elementary bullshit”. Facebook is for him. It’s a website with his name on every header of every page. It’s a signature ‘screw all of you, I don’t need you.’ But deep down he does. Eduardo (a powerhouse Andrew Garfield)  is Mark’s only friend and co-founder of Facebook. It’s also the one who rightfully files a lawsuit against Mark for depriving him of Facebook rights. Because that’s what Zuckerberg did. He cut off the only real friendship he ever had in his entire life. That’s when Fincher’s directing skills kick in. What’s the best way to show someone’s loss? Cut right in the middle of a conversation to a shot of an empty chair, a chair in which Eduardo sat a few seconds before. No more. It’s empty now. Just like Mark’s life in that very same instant. It’s too late for apologies, the chair will stay empty.

Even a genius can feel cornered.
Even a genius can feel cornered.

Anger is the silent betrayer. It sneaks up on not only Mark’s friends and enemies, it sneaks up on him too. When Mark lies to Eduardo about Facebook’s future, Eduardo freezes all the bank accounts, cutting off the website’s funds. It’s deadly. It hurts. And it’s also when Mark decides to eliminate Eduardo from the team. Eye for an eye. A conflict between friends that is much stronger and much more exhausting than the one Mark leads with his enemies. That’s when the score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross comes into play, especially the theme song Hands Cover Bruise. The skipping, consistent, distorted violins and a few piano notes build up the enormous pumping energy that grows inside of every character, but mainly Mark. It focuses on his loneliness, originality and the gift of his indisputable genius. It’s a score that separates him from the rest of the world, alienating his ideas and motivations, and the scarred feelings he’s always kept to himself. It’s a score that ticks like a time bomb, waiting for the the final ‘tick’. It’s a fuming volcano that someday will have to erupt and nobody will be able to stop it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is anger in its purest form. Capturing it is like  riding a bull, you hold on for a few seconds and then you just let go.

A young woman tells Mark at very end of the movie: “You’re not an asshole, Mark. You’re just trying so hard to be.”

A rare moment of joy. Soon to be gone.
A rare moment of joy. Soon to be gone.

Middle Man

Today’s topic: the raw realism of Goodfellas. The gangster genre is one that has been popular since the early 1930s, with the original Scarface and Public Enemy, and it went on to be recognized as one of the most well received genres of cinema. In the early 70s, the world and history met the grandeur of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, two films that are today known as the finest filmmaking achievements of all time. Then we had Scarface (1983), Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables, A Bronx Tale and Donnie Brasco. In the last decade or so we’ve met other contributions such as Road To Perdition and The Departed. It seems as if the lifestyle led by gangsters and no-do-gooders is something that appeals to audiences and sucks them right in. And we always hear people saying: “The Godfather is the best film ever made”  or “Scarface is so cool and so violent”, and of course they are great examples of a Hollywood way of making films that is slowly vanishing. However, I feel like we tend to get stuck in time. We love these movies because they show a world of gangsters that are noble, know how to respect the rules, murders are clean, and where there is no such thing as “get dirty”. It was back when the idea of the American dream was it its most powerful, most visible. What I intend to do is try and look at what is so mind blowing and refreshing about Martin Scorsese’s epic, Goodfellas. 

It all starts out with a bang!
It all starts out with a bang!

Wait, not epic. It’s not. Epic would mean that it’s a colossal hit that everyone knows and loves, just like The Godfather. It’s impossible not to like it, right? That’s why I prefer Goodfellas. I love it because it’s thought provoking and still is more innovative than what comes out of Hollywood these days. It’s a shocking portrayal of what seemed to many as the perfect way to live – money, women, cars, easy life – well no. Goodfellas denies the romantic qualities of the previous gangster movies. It’s like rock’ n ‘roll; it’s fast, loud, dirty and it smashes you over the head. It’s unexpected. Henry Hill’s story, that of a gangster who’s been the middle man in a large family for over twenty years and finally turned into witness protection after pointing out the bosses to the FBI, is a true story that is still looked upon as one of the most fascinating experiences ever told on film. And who would be better at directing it than the one and only, Martin Scorsese? Scorsese. Someone who’s seen it with his own eyes. Someone who lived surrounded by those kind of people. Someone who breathed the same air as they did. The director is the energy. The actors the power. The combination is deadly.

Enjoying freedom to the fullest.
Enjoying freedom to the fullest.

You can’t compare Goodfellas to anything. Not even Scorsese’s later gangster biopic, Casino (1995). It’s unlike any contribution to cinema. The groundbreaking direction is part of the unnerving realism; look at the role played by the tracking shots — when Henry hears about his girlfriend being disrespected by some hood, he parks his car in the driveway, sees the guy in the rearview mirror, packs his gun and exits the car. He walks toward the hood with fury burning in his eyes and how does Scorsese capture it? In one single tracking shot. He shoots Henry walking up to the guy and bashing his skull in with the butt of his gun, and then going back to his girlfriend’s house in one take. Would it have made a difference if it was filmed with many single takes? Yes, it would have been the typical beat-up scene we find in almost every movie and TV show. Yet here, Scorsese decided to film it as if we were witnessing the scene from next door, leaving us with our mouths open, cringing. Even the cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, has said in an interview that the particular scene I just mentioned was the hardest job he’s ever done – he’d close his eyes every time Ray Liotta’s character hit the hood’s forehead with the butt of his revolver, ruining the whole take. That’s what I call riveting filmmaking. To make an impression and leave it there forever. Leave an unwashable stain that will haunt us for days to come.

Watch out, he's coming.
Watch out, he’s coming.

On the other hand, what strikes me the most about this mad classic is the way it refuses to follow any conventions. It doesn’t obey any rules, any laws. It’s pure improvisation of the best kind. Almost everyone has heard of the “How am I funny?” scene (if not, youtube it , or better yet, watch the movie). To think that it was unscripted, 100% improvised on the spot is something that we hardly comprehend in a world where movies are played out word by word, sentence by sentence. What’s really funny about that scene is that it’s true. For a fact, Pesci (playing the character of Tommy) was a waiter in a Little Italy bar and happened to get caught in this kind of situation, when laughing at a wise guy’s joke and then having to face what was an unpredictable reaction that could have ended in a brawl or even a shoot-out. It’s unpredictability that counts here. There are no domino effects. It’s real life on the screen. Beating up a union boss, burying him in the woods and then, after six months, having to dig up the stinking body again. The only rule is: get dirty and survive.

Lovely dinner.
Lovely dinner.

The characters, another plus. Sure, The Godfather’s Clemenza or Luca Brasi, Carlito’s Way Pachanga, Donnie Brasco’s Sonny Black are all interesting, tasty characters but they don’t feel real. They are either the typical behind-the-back-sneaky  or the good-friend type of characters. Goodfellas, being a true story, spices everything up by reminding us how everyone can go to hell in the matter of a second. Not even the madman Tommy can hide. We are immediately introduced to this big family, again in one long POV tracking shot of Henry entering the restaurant. It’s a rite of passage for the viewer. We meet Frankie Carbone, Fat Andy, Frankie the Wop, Freddy No-nose, Nicky Eyes, Mickey Francese, Jimmy Two Times, and the list goes on. In the matter of a one minute long single take we greet a whole world of different characters that together form one big cruel family that well, unfortunately, we get attached to. Yes, we grow fond of them. At least I do. Because it’s a memorable vision of a world that I can almost touch. It’s out there, Scorsese reminds us. And it’s real because it can easily disappear. When it comes to eliminating any possible witness, there is no mercy. Family members are all treated the same. A bullet into the back of your head, a car explosion, a quick stabbing, whatever. It always comes down to dead bodies.

Listening to fascinating stories told by the clown, Tommy.
Listening to fascinating stories told by the clown, Tommy.

And to make it short , it’s also how music is used to impact the viewing and increase the storytelling drive. We start off with 1950’s tunes such as Rags To Riches or Sincerely and go at full speed through Mannish Boy and Layla, increasing the horsepower and smashing into the wall with the furious Rolling Stones and crazy Sid Vicious. The music IS the movie. It’s the engine that roars and doesn’t stop. It introduces us to characters, situations and events. We slow down whenever there is a wedding or a romantic kiss and jump right back in when mobsters kick the hell out of a poor sob or when we enter a truck where among the hanging frozen ribs there is the body of a frozen Frankie Carbone. The music is the soul of Goodfellas that craps on our heads whenever we try to predict what’s next. The helicopter paranoia scene at the end of the movie is what it is thanks to the brilliant use of editing and an excellent song choice. It makes us believe what we see, it makes us feel what Henry feels; the paranoia of a scared, coked out mobster. He is coked out. We are coked out.

Is that helicopter following me?
Is that helicopter following me?

Don’t obey the standards. Don’t listen to the past. Be inventive. Look at it differently. Push yourself to the edge. That’s what Scorsese says. That’s why I love him. That’s why we all love him. He’s not afraid of his ideas.

Push yourself to the edge and beyond, you funny guy.

It all ends with a bang!
It all ends with a bang!

Shirtless

Today’s topic: a troubled generation. Troubled youth has been known for years and years as one of the main subjects of cinema in films like Juno, The Basketball Diaries, Kids, Palo Alto, and even the flashy Bling Ring. However, don’t think that the subject matter of teenagers having to face everyday struggle is one that began to exist in the late 90s and developed only recently. It didn’t. Already in 1955, Hollywood had released one of the most epic dramas that is still recognized as a milestone in cinematic history. Rebel Without a Cause; not only did it introduce the groundbreaking icon – James Dean – it also introduced a new way of looking at the part of society that up until then was ignored by the people and government. The 1940s and 50s were a time of rebuilding the country’s economy, men were coming back from the war and sent out to fight another one in Korea, women were busy taking care of the house while their husbands were on their way to the office. The tension between the US and USSR was heightening by the minute, and nobody had time to look down at the running teenagers. They were free to do whatever they wanted to do. Sometimes this freedom overwhelmed them and in some cases it still does. However, Rebel Without a Cause proved that there had to be a change. Everyone needs attention. Kids too.

A helpless dialogue. Cornered.
A helpless dialogue. Cornered.

James Dean had a certain manner that fitted his, unfortunately, few characters perfectly. He would come onto the screen and let his swagger take over. His laid back voice and the untamed lion inside of him were something out of this world for those times. He was different, and that mattered the most. It was a breath of fresh air for a Hollywood industry that was serving the same dish over and over again. That’s why James Dean is Jim Stark, the protagonist, because Stark is different. He is new in Los Angeles, he moves along with his parents all the time and he’s not a bully. He’s not a yo-yo. He’s a thinker, a true rebel that doesn’t want trouble. Trouble was the only answer teenagers would come up with to solve their problems, and in those times it often resulted in a knife fight, which we witness later on in the movie. A knife fight is personal, it’s a challenge where two boys stay close to each other and watch each other’s steps. It proves who’s stronger, who’s the leader. Stark gets into one of these fights, cornered, unwilling  to respond. He doesn’t want to fight back. And that’s when during that scene, on the planetarium, we see the City of Angels in all its majesty thanks to the Cinemascope camera; a beautiful, humongous city that traps the youth’s emotions and passions. The youth is cornered along with Jim.

Los Angeles with no answers.
Los Angeles with no answers.

The boys are inspired by figures like Hitler, MacArthur and Eisenhower. Neo-nazism is becoming more and more popular throughout the sunny streets of LA, creating an environment of insecurity and danger. Insecurity in showing what you really feel deep inside of yourself, insecurity that eats you up and finally, breaks you into pieces. “You are tearing me apart!!!” it’s  not only what Jim yells out against his parents but what his whole generation of misunderstood young men and women does too. Every day. School doesn’t teach them life values. School subjects are school subjects. There is no discovery. It’s same old, same old. Alcohol is a discovery, drugs too. The very opening scene is composed of Jim lying on the sidewalk, stone drunk, playing with a toy. Because teenagers are children. Children who want to be men but simply cannot. Something’s pulling them down. Perhaps it’s the need to prove themselves in front of their peers, or the fear of having to face the adult world and the adult life. Birds that can’t fly. Parents that don’t know when to stop and when to act, what to say and what not to say. Of course, it’s a tricky game for both sides, and Rebel Without a Cause explores their relationship. The father who wants his son to carry the family name, behave just like he did when he was his age. The mother, quiet, afraid to speak up, looks at Jim with no hope for a better answer in her eyes. It’s the electrical misunderstanding. There is no connection, no ties. If we think about it, not much has changed. Things may have even gotten worse. We’ve entered the online community, we look for advice on google, we find pleasure in pornography, we have long conversations with people we know nothing about, we watch videos depicting sickening acts of violence and laugh. We do this because we feel abandoned, helpless and forgotten. It’s typical. You’ve all heard this before and you’ll hear about it again.

A crawling child.
A crawling child.

It’s a world of Jim Starks. It’s a world of Chicken Runs. For those who don’t know, the Chicken Run is a scene in the movie where James Dean’s character duels with a local bully by both driving their cars at full speed toward a cliff. The one who jumps first is a chicken. The challenge ends with a tragedy. A tragedy that speaks for all of us. We all know Chicken Runs. We’ve all done them. We’ve all faced our enemies in schoolyard or in the street. We’ve all looked at them with disgust, deep down gathering all the anger and the pain they’ve been inflicting on us since day one.

Each one of us is part of a troubled generation. No matter what date we were born to. We’re all a disconnected community, and we’re all fighting to re-connect. We sign petitions, we create societies and join festivals and events. We want to be part of something.

Like Jim, we want to walk the streets not drunk, but smiling, carrying the books of the girl we love.

The eyes of truth.
The eyes of truth.