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.

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.

Biutiful Man

Today’s topic: the presence of death in film. It’s always there, isn’t it? That cold feeling in your stomach, afraid that the character you’re following might be a few steps away from his last one. Goose bumps. Will the movie end? What’ll happen if he/she dies? Death can be the running engine of an entire film. We wait for action, and often action results in a character’s death on-screen. It’s what sometimes stimulates us to watch the movie – we wait for something to happen, we wait for the story to unfold, we desperately need an event to occur in the last minutes of the running time. However, out of the many death-driven films out there (Mar adentro, Amour, The Downfall) the most curious and, oddly enough, beautiful  one I’ve ever encountered is Iñárritu’s 2010 acclaimed drama, Biutiful. Ironic title.

Lead by a staggering performance given by Javier Bardem, the film tells the story of a man, named Uxbal, who is destined to die. Soon. And he knows it. That’s it. That’s the whole plot for those who’ve never heard of this project. Uxbal is as human as humans can get. His hair is becoming grayer and grayer, his skin pale as milk, his eyes like oil wells, dark. He lives in the rough neighborhood of Barcelona, where the tourists refuse to come visit. They’re right. Only a dead man like Uxbal can walk those streets. He’s got nothing to lose, yet at the same time, everything. His two kids, looking up to him. Looking up to who? A man who lives off other people’s lives. In this case, immigrant Asian workers trapped inside illegal underground workshops, sewing clothes that will end up on Barcelona’s black market. Uxbal treats them better than the usual smugglers, in some scenes reminding us of the good Samaritan. Does it matter? He is a criminal living off his last days. A cloud over his head, waiting for the right moment to let it rain.

Family man. Last chance to make things right and then it's gone.
Family man. Last chance to make things right and then it’s gone.

Uxbal has powers. He hears voices. Spirits telling him the end is near. He urinates blood. Wipes it with a handkerchief. Does it matter? You’re going to go, old man. However, Uxbal is not afraid of dying. He knows it’s not up to him to decide. But he must fix some things. Fix the cracks he’s opened. He must put food on the table. He must  kiss his little daughter’s forehead. He must teach his children a few valuable life lessons; no swearing, always fight for what’s right, never back down, and learn English. Death slowly  creeps into Uxbal’s soul and body, weakening his physique, stepping on his back until he can’t stand up from the toilet. He coughs, and every time he does it, a minute goes by. A moment flies away. Uxbal’s ultimate goal is to get off the streets, stop the criminal activity. Stop the pain he’s been inflicting on other people his whole, entire miserable life. That’s when in one of his workshops there is a gas leakage that kills all the sleeping employees; women, elders and babies. That’s blood on Uxbal’s hands. It’s the ultimate punishment. A reminder that no one gets away without consequences. Death might take you away from the world you’re living in but it won’t take you away from your sins. There is no way out of that. Forgiveness is what he asks for. In vain. Death is no listener. You need to get dirty one last time. Uxbal does. Dragging out the bodies by night, to the beach, to the open sea, making it look like a refugee tragedy. The bodies, floating in the open sea are everything that Uxbal’s tried to fight during the last moments of his life. There is no redemption, no last minute salvation. It’s take it or leave it.

The last crime.
The last crime.

Uxbal cries. Death has stolen his tears. His cheeks are dry. Is he really crying? That’s what death does to you. It makes you wonder if you’re still feeling anything, if you still got what it takes to be considered a human being. It makes you think about all the evil things you’ve done while you were alive and hits you with the reality: it’s too late, old man. You’re gone. You’re history. Your thoughts, your opinions, your advice and suggestions, they don’t matter anymore. Your words of love, anger, frustration and happiness are gone with the wind. Uxbal spins around, takes a deep breath and looks up at the night lights of Barcelona. What now, spirits? Is it time? One last word to his daughter. The death of a criminal. A peaceful death. They hold hands. And while she admires his family ring, a beautiful object that has connected Uxbal’s predecessors since the early ages, Uxbal drifts off…

Uxbal’s in a forest. That’s death. Peace, quiet, silence. It’s snowing. A man appears out of nowhere. An angel? Uxbal’s lost father? They smoke together. Laugh.

That’s when Uxbal, for the first time in his life, feels clean. Saved.

Ending the journey of life.
Ending the journey of life.

Sniff Sniff

Today’s topic: sex addiction in film. A hard subject, difficult to get by certain audiences. A subject you want to look away from as soon as possible. Often visually disgusting, sickly portrayed, yet it’s an important subject matter that perhaps only cinema can deal with in a morbid way. For me, the best film about any addiction and in fact one of the best films ever made is Steve McQueen’s second feature, Shame. 

Steve McQueen, the British filmmaker behind Hunger (2008) and the Oscar winning Best Picture of 2013, 12 Years a Slave, directed the gut wrenching Shame without holding any punches. Quite the opposite, he delivers them with brute force and somehow manages to leave us with bruised hearts, not flesh. Shame tells the simple day-to-day story of New Yorker Brandon (Fassbender, phenomenal) who lives an ordinary life by day but once night sets in, he reveals his true self: a sex addict. Brandon works as a businessman, rides the subway everyday and is the owner of a spacious apartment in the city. His story is the story of every man and woman who feel pain every time they wake up. It’s the story of people not able to look each other straight in the eye. It’s the story of loneliness crawling into our disconnected society. It’s the sizzling truth.

He needs this.
He needs this.

Sex addiction like any other kind of addiction, consumes the addict. It devours him and his whole life. It not only damages the person’s condition but the feelings too. In fact, Brandon has a sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), who after a long time of silence storms into his life and turns everything upside down. In the mornings Brandon wakes up, urinates, has a healthy breakfast and goes to work. By night, he chases skirts; sometimes he takes a girl on a quick date, sometimes he pays. With Brandon it’s always classy – a nice restaurant, a luxurious hotel room and then all the problems are solved. Sometimes it can be rough, like on the side of the road, but Brandon is always the true gentleman who walks the girl home or accompanies her to the subway. He’s never had a long lasting relationship. Why? It’s too much for him, what’s the point of waking up to the same face for the rest of your life? What’s the point of coming home to the same smell? What’s the point of making love to the same body? It slows you down, it makes you lose focus, lose your condition, your habits, your dreams. That’s why when Brandon feels lonely, he hooks up with a girl who knows his needs over the internet. She knows what he likes, she knows his favorite position, his favorite style, she knows he likes to take it slowly. Slowly it is. But then Sissy comes into the picture.

Brother and sister: enemies or allies?
Brother and sister: enemies or allies?

Sissy is the fresh breeze. She’s  the upcoming change. She’s the wind that rocks the trees. She rocks Brandon’s lifestyle. She’s the wake up call. She checks his laptop, uses his shower, has sex with his boss, takes up his time, constantly fights him and steals from him. She’s the lost sense of self respect that yells from the depths of loneliness: ” Remember me?! Please, do remember me! I’m here!”. That’s when Brandon starts to realize. Addiction turns into pain and awkwardness. He meets a beautiful girl; smart, funny, big eyes, subtle movements; she’s the one. He rents a room with a beautiful view of New York’s harbour. And that’s when it hits him. He can’t do it. He can’t “make love” this time. Why? Because this time it would really mean making love. Making love to someone who matters to you, making love to someone  who either you can attract or scare away. It’s either gain or lose everything. Brandon shakes his head, and tries to do it, but he just can’t. It won’t connect. He’s helpless. It’s a defeat for a man who’s learned to ignore feelings. It’s a defeat for a man who’s only really good at sex. He pounds his fists in frustration and anger against the glass window. The girl leaves. He’s a prisoner who won’t accept his fate. He’s a soldier fighting a never ending war. The addiction sucks the juice out of him. The addiction’s winning.

Looking for answers in the dark corners of New York.
Looking for answers in the dark corners of New York.

Brandon goes jogging. Watch out for that sequence of him running across the busy streets of New York: you’ll learn more about the human condition and sense of existence from that tracking shot alone than from most of the movies that come out today. It’s a run of desperation, it’ a run in search of guidance. He runs and runs, and nothing can stop him. What can stop him is the answer he’s looking for. Not there yet. Brandon walks the streets at night, this time not on the hunt for a woman but a man. He kisses a stranger. The kiss of desperation. Desperation again. What will stop me? What will stop this everlasting thirst? What will it take to put me down on my knees?

His sister’s suicide attempt, that’s the answer. Only when Sissy slices her wrists in Brandon’s bathroom, does he realize that there is, in fact, a true meaning to life itself. Addiction doesn’t fulfill you, it doesn’t satisfy, it doesn’t shape you as a human being. It all depends from Brandon, the way he deals with his sister, the way he deals with love, the way he deals with his forgotten feelings. The feelings he once had as a boy. The passions he had when he carried a lunchbox to school. The dreams he had when he sat in the theater on opening night. It all comes back to him when his estranged sister’s on the edge of dying. She’s all he has.

And now, he’s awake. He can run.

The last run.
The last run.

Just Like Honey

Today’s topic: cinematic poetry. What’s so special about Sofia Coppola’s Oscar winning drama Lost In Translation? For those of you who have heard something about it, it’s the story of two people who find themselves forced to stay in Tokyo for a week. The movie studies their growing relationship. It’s a delicate love story, not the one you’d expect. There is no raw sex scenes, no sweaty buttocks, no passionate kissing. It’s a story that vibrates and resonates inside each one of us and if it’s your first viewing of it, well… it’ll stick with you.

Sofia Coppola, daughter of world famous director Francis Ford Coppola, creator of The Godfather Trilogy and Apocalypse Now, writes from the bottom of her heart and with each passing minute we feel it more and more. Perhaps it’s her personal experience of a failed relationship (with director Spike Jonze) that makes this movie what it is or perhaps it’s the choice of shooting location (Tokyo, at its finest and scariest) that lets the film take us on a magical trip, inviting us to look deeper, beyond what’s on screen, deep down the characters’ flaws and personal struggles. The characters, you ask? Two lost souls, lost in a sea of misunderstanding and loneliness; Charlotte, played by a  superb 18 year old Scarlett Johansson, is the wife of an independent photographer who shoots local rock bands and punk singers. Bob Harris (Bill Murray, just watch) is on the other hand an aging Hollywood movie star tied by a contract to a whiskey commercial shoot.

Strangers in Tokyo.
Strangers in Tokyo.

Bob meets Charlotte at the hotel they’re both staying at. He’s smoking a cigar and emptying his second glass of Scotch on the rocks while she’s finishing off her fifth cigarette. She said she’d quit, but what’s the point? He said he wouldn’t get old, but what’s the purpose? They look for hidden beauty: she keeps looking out the window, he wanders through the halls of the luxurious hotel. He calls his wife from time to time, but quickly realizes that he’s only doing it because the etiquette says so. Both, Charlotte and Bob, are tired of being who they are or maybe, just maybe, they both don’t know for certain who they really should be. She’s a child and he’s moving on in years, yet they’re both at the same moment in life. Who am I? Why am I walking this way and not the other way? Why am I in Tokyo? Why can’t I smile? Why do I have to pretend to be someone I’m not just to make other people happy? These are questions that sound awfully familiar. We’re forced to obey rules, laws, respect the person next to us, behave this way, that way, talk in a certain manner, walk in a certain manner. That’s when Tokyo ties the two protagonists.

Will there be a tomorrow?
Will there be a tomorrow?

They hit it off, and no. It’s much more than a sexual short term relationship. It’s much more than friendship. It’s something each one of us would like to experience one time before leaving planet earth. The feeling you get when you meet someone who fulfills you. Understands you. Holds your hand and smiles. And you know it will all end soon. It’s a bond for the ages. A bond you’ll keep in your heart until the very last moment of your existence. Bob and Charlotte have that bond. They can be themselves only with each other. Bob can only show Charlotte his hidden melancholy, his fear of slowly vanishing into nothing, and Charlotte can share her insecurity and sense of regret only with the aging actor who won’t just kiss her and tell her “it’s going to be all right”. No. He will look her in the eyes, and let a delicate smile appear on his face. Or he will just caress her hair as if she was a newborn and give her a light kiss on the forehead as if it was her first day of school. It’s the mutual understanding that makes a true relationship possible and exclusive. It’s the mutual respect that counts whenever we look into each other’s eyes. It’s when we stop counting the passing of time, when we stop checking our answering machines and our electronic mail. It’s when we can walk in the street and shout at the top of our lungs and not feel embarrassed. They run through the narrow market streets of the Japanese capital, they crash parties and let their off-beat voices flow through the party’s karaoke. They go to bed together, like father and daughter, and watch each other slowly fall asleep. They talk about their ambitions, their unreachable dreams, their lost hope. They hold hands and make it look like there will be a tomorrow. It’s never gone. It’s there.

It's not about sex, it's about connection.
It’s not about sex, it’s about connection.

And when it’s time to go separate ways – Bob back home to his wife and job, Charlotte with her husband to another country – they know what it means. They won’t forget. And like that, Sofia Coppola writes and directs the love story of the century, a simple account of two people finding each other in the midst of chaos and desperation. Visual poetry at its finest, and when the two look at each other for the very last time, magic happens.

Bob whispers something into Charlotte’s ear. What? We don’t know. We can’t hear. That’s magic.

The final whisper.
The final whisper.

Coin Toss

Today’s topic: Cormac McCarthy’s mind through the eyes of the Coen Brothers. Two different worlds: McCarthy, a veteran writer, known for his violent, slow-paced narrative in novels like Child of God, The Road and Blood Meridian and the Coen Brothers – creators of the concept of  “thought provoking, dark comedy” and quirky screenwriters, famous for their off-beat characters and dialogue in films such as Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading and True Grit. When these two, opposite worlds meet what do we get? One of the best thrillers and film experiences of all time: No Country For Old Men. A bloody, savage tale of an ending era and the birth of a new one. The tale of blood spilled in the desert. The tale of an unstoppable chase. The tale of humanity.

No Country For Old Men tells the story of a man who finds a suitcase full of drug money, a killer who chases him, and an old sheriff who tries to stop the killer. Plain and simple. But what marks this film and separates it from all the other chase-scenario thrillers is the unique voice that it carries. It’s a philosophy class, to be honest. That’s what I think. That’s what the old folks used to say. The Coen Brothers let the words of McCarthy flow through their screenplay. What they do is they direct them in a way that underlines every syllable and noun and impacts the viewer by gluing him to the screen.

The air is dry. The sun is up. The Texas border is crawling with sick individuals looking for a stash of coke or whatever it is they can find. Gangs organize stand-offs in the desert. Motorways are busy. Motels too. People live in trailers and buy their groceries at the local gas station. It’s time for a change. Some things need to go, others need to appear. It’s not the land of the opportunity anymore. Lawman Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) has seen enough bad doings in his life. He’s tired. He loves his wife dearly and his horses even more. He carries a gun, which is surprising because some of his predecessors, even his father and his grandpa, never did. Never felt the need to. The world’s changed. Bell’s eyes have changed. His hair is now grey, and as he recounts the bloody happenings of a summer in the 1980’s Texas, he tells the story of a whole world being crushed by evil. Evil that cannot be caught. Evil that slips through our fingers every time we get hold of it. Evil that looks straight at us every time we wake up. That’s Sheriff’s new reality: an obscure cloud taking over the bright Texas plains.

The old man and the desert.
The old man and the desert.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is a simple man. Born and raised in a small town in Texas, never been to Paris or London. He’s a hunter. He has a wife and a small cozy trailer. That’s all he needs to be happy. Or at least up until the moment when he finds a suitcase loaded with money: blood stained drug money. And someone is looking for it. Someone is ready to do anything to get that money back. That’s when Moss, the hunter, becomes the prey. Fate chases him with nothing but deadly intentions. Death. That’s what’s coming. But Moss, who represents the naivety of kids chasing dreams, is too dumb to see the big picture. The money is tempting: a big house, a better job, a nice car. You can do anything if you got the dead presidents. Unless, you got a snake in your pocket. That’s when you should run.

Don't hunt if you don't know your prey.
Don’t hunt if you don’t know your prey.

But what from? Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, in top form), the snake. The snake without a rattle. You don’t hear him coming. You don’t see him coming. He’s the new plague that gets into your country, your city, your house, your room. That’s who he is. He is a madman with no brakes. He is a man with no limits. He is a man who plays with life and death by making bets: a coin toss, in this case. And when he asks you to call it, you better do. Because he will not ask again. He will not give you a chance. He laughs at chance. You can’t bribe him, you can’t promise him anything because he just doesn’t care. He doesn’t obey anyone and anything. He moves only when he wants to. Why does he chase Moss? For the money? No. The money couldn’t mean less to Anton. He chases him because he must. It’s why he exists. His duty is to make your life miserable. His duty is to burn everything that Sheriff’s built throughout his career. He kills because there is no other reason for him to live if not to kill other people. And you know what’s the worst thing about him? He keeps coming. And he never goes down.

That is why No Country For Old Men is so exceptional. It’s a dark, twisted tale about the changes that our world, our lives undergo every day. The tale of a world that keeps crumbling at our feet. We wake up, we breathe for what? What is the purpose of all that surrounds us? All this destruction…

Where is the joy of living if you can’t stop what’s coming?

Evil is at your door, and it doesn't knock.
Evil is at your door, and it doesn’t knock.

You Can’t Win Them All

Today’s topic: painful comedy. It’s a thing, I swear. How can I back it up? Billy Wilder’s best picture from 1960, The Apartment. Labeled as a comedy, the story of C.C. Baxter, an insurance worker who lends his apartment to his own superiors and their special ladies, in order to get a highly anticipated promotion became an instant hit at the box office and a classic of the genre. Wilder is known for being the ”nephew” of such comedic geniuses like Chaplin or Keaton, however the gags and awkward situations are not what he should be remembered for. The writer-director was much more than that. He had a lot to say and his voice resonated through such diverse works such as Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, Some Like it Hot, Double Indemnity  and Sabrina. 

All of his films were a social commentary, be it the story of a screenwriter trying to help out an aging silent film star or the story of a journalist taking advantage of a man trapped inside a mine for his own never ending fame. Some Like it Hot was met with a lot of insecurity, and the audiences weren’t sure if Wilder made that film just for comedic purposes or something deeper than that. Well, the answer could be found a year later, in the massive hit that was The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon and at the time a fairly unknown Shirley MacLaine. That’s when Wilder hit the public with the unexpected: a comedy that is also a gut wrenching tragedy about the modern way of living and…loving. A tale so revolutionary and so complex that the viewers even to this day don’t know whether to laugh or to cry when the credits start to roll.

Wilder creates the character of C.C. Baxter (Charles Clifford Baxter), also known as Bud, as one of the most loveable yet pathetic characters in cinematic history. Yet why does he remain dear in our minds after the viewing of this picture? Because most of us can relate to Bud. He’s elegant, well mannered, kind and simple, but he’s also naive and ingenuous, used by the higher power, the greedy superiors who we all know exist. They use his apartment for extramarital affairs, promising the poor man a highly desired promotion. That’s one of Wilder’s main points: sometimes it’s not your work ethic and your effort that make you who you are. This was a whole new concept for the people used to the hardworking 40’s and conservative 50’s. The 60’s were considered a new era, a sudden explosion in the way people lived, thought and worked.

The idea of leading a double life, in this case cheating on your wife with your secretary or simply a girl you met in a bar, was met with great shock. How could a well respected insurance businessmen have a dirty affair and have no one notice it? Bud Baxter, in Wilder’s mind, was the typical, gentle, obedient worker, one of the most common characters in today’s world. Bud, in fact, represents the generation of people who don’t have anything  valuable in their lives, no family, no lover, no memories; a new generation of people with nothing to lose. The best example is Baxter’s apartment: a few pieces of furniture, the television that airs only westerns and commercials, a record player and that’s about it. What does he eat? Pre-cooked chicken with no taste. That’s the new way of living. After hours and hours amongst his co-workers, typing figures on the computer, Bud comes to an empty apartment with only a comfortable bed waiting for him.

Lost children.
Lost children.

The only person he really cares about and falls for is Fran, or for him, the true gentleman he is, Miss Kubelik. She’s a sweet elevator girl, another example of a modern character: she found her way into a big insurance company, yet where does she end up? An elevator. The true American dream. “Oh, the irony!” screams Wilder’s screenplay. However, even an elevator girl can be the mistress of the main executive of the company, Jeff Sheldrake. The powerful meets the poor. And then again, Wilder underlines the new generation’s soft heart and innocence by forcing the character of Fran to take sleeping pills, in order to commit suicide because of her broken dreams. Feelings shouldn’t exist in the world we live in today. Everybody has a career. Everybody wants a career. Everybody runs after a career. There is no time for true love, sentimentality and empathy. What the hell is true love? A loving husband? A loving wife? In Wilder’s movie, a Christmas family photo is enough.

We laugh at Lemmon’s great sense of humour and ability to create something out of nothing, like his classic gestures and movements while using a nose spray in front of his boss. We also laugh at the crackling dialogue between Miss Kubelik and Bud in the elevator. However, we also feel for the both of them. We feel hurt because of their innocence and they way they are treated by the higher laws. In some way, they’re both lost on a foreign island.

But Wilder, known for getting to the point, says: “Shut up and deal”.

The world is unpredictable for CC Baxter.
The world is unpredictable for CC Baxter.

Wide Eyes, Wild Places

Today’s topic: Nature. Nope, it’s not a biology lesson, I’m well aware of it. What I mean by the word ‘nature’ is the key role that nature, in this case the tall Elephant grass and the impenetrable jungle, play in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.

A lot of you, when you hear the words “war movie”, might immediately think of Saving Private Ryan, Full Metal Jacket or in some cases even Apocalypse Now. And of course, you have the right to. Those are iconic movies not only in their genres but well beyond that. They marked a certain kind of filmmaking and a very specific way of looking at the horror of the battlefield. A realistic perception of what used to be a movie genre that spread pro military propaganda (re: The Green Berets). However, when I must make a statement on what I consider the most monumental and in a twisted sense, beautiful film, I say The Thin Red Line (1998).

The story of the American battle against the Japanese forces on the island of Guadalcanal, a small piece of rock in the middle of the Pacific, grabs you by the legs and doesn’t let go. The men, portrayed by a wonderful cast of,  during that time,  relatively unknown actors like Jim Caviezel, Adrien Brody, Sean Penn, John Cusack, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson and many others (including veterans Nick Nolte and John Travolta), they are the main plot. Because, well, there actually isn’t one. We follow young soldiers into the unknown, where they discover, on foreign soil, who they really are or who they used to be before their lives took an abrupt turn.

The state of mind of these poor bastards is represented by the wild, dark nature that surrounds them day and night. Why? Well, isn’t the mystery of what’s about to happen our greatest fear? The fear of catching a bullet or the fear of falling into a booby trap? The fear of getting killed on an island far away from home and our beloved ones?

The Elephant grass is tall and green; its leaves are razor blades that cut deep into every soldier’s exposed body part. Its ground is made out of dirt, hiding snakes and other wild beasts awaiting the chance to kill. That’s right. Everything moves. Everything is deadly out there. The soldiers can crawl, squat, even lie down and pray and they won’t be safe. That’s Terrence Malick’s, the director’s, point. We are guests; we are vulnerable; we mean nothing; mother nature decides whether we get to live or die. Malick’s direction, the camera following every soldier from behind and from the side, is meant to hit the viewer straight to the gut with its message: you don’t get to decide. You’re not in a position to. In fact, the soldiers know it. They await, for the first 50 minutes the sound of a speeding bullet. For them it was months, since the Japanese army first of all focused on destroying the US Navy and its supplies. Only after a long, infernal span of time, did the Japanese decide to act. And with what force. What was supposed to be taken in three days, was won over in six months of bloody battles.

Malick, a well known oilman and biologist, has the eye for little details. Even the first shot of the film is a crocodile moving through the muddy water like a trained assassin. In fact, that’s it. That tells you what it’s all about. Explosions? Huge action set pieces (in some scenes up to 3000 extras)? Breathtaking POV sequences? Yes, of course, but that’s not half of it. Peace and quiet. That’s when the jungle is at its most ominous. When the birds stop their singing, when the waters calm down, and when the sound of flies vanishes. That’s when you’re ought to worry. It’s that kind of deadly silence that the soldiers have in their hearts while fighting for survival. The silence in their hearts. The memories of a lover in California, the mental pictures of mom’s apple pie, the sweet sound of children laughing. That’s all in their minds. That’s all they can think about because of the silence. Because of the sun that can’t get through the twisted branches. Because of the thick air that becomes more and more tiring. Because of the mud that keeps slowing them down. The jungle is what they live, what they breathe, what they walk, what they talk and most importantly, what they fear. It’s all their emotions packed into a big, heavy bag. Now, they have to carry it. And that’s no easy task.

Not even for a soldier.

Not even the toughest bombing can destroy mother nature.
Not even the toughest bombing can destroy mother nature.

The Charming Cop

Today’s topic: LA Confidential, and more precisely the character of Jack Vincennes. The superb noir drama, Oscar winning picture that came out in 1997, gives me the chills every time I give it a watch. For those of you who are not familiar with the title I just mentioned, I’ll say this: find it and enjoy. What a ride it is to dive into the 1950’s Los Angeles and its world of corruption and greed; always a pleasure.

However, every time I give this film a shot and every time I try to grasp every second of this cinematic landmark, I focus nearly all of my attention on Jack Vincennes, the “showman” cop played superbly by the one and only, Kevin Spacey. Spacey was having the best years of his career, having already won an Oscar for “The Usual Suspects” in spring 1996, he was on a roll when the screenplay for LA Confidential got to him. Under the direction of Curtis Hanson (8 Mile), Spacey created a character so layered and so profoundly human (also based on Dean Martin, the iconic singer) that audiences and critics were stunned when the Academy passed on this role. His charm and wit take over the screen, I can tell you that.

Jack Vincennes is a good man. He is. However, he is also the wrong man at the right place. Why? Well, he dresses very elegantly, is handsome and knows how to handle hot situations. The world of show business attracts him not because of the pay or the glamour of the red carpet, but because he wants to feel right, he wants to put his foot down and let the world take notice of his input. What can a cop bring into a world where gangsters rule Hollywood, drugs keep getting into the poor neighbourhoods of LA and prostitutes try to look like movie stars? There is nothing out there that a simple policeman can do. He pulls out a badge and that’s it, file a report, then report back to your superior, go home and have a drink before heading off to bed. Does the Medal of Merit save you from this ugly world? No. You just need to know the right people and you need to know how to slip some money under the counter. That’s it. That’s when you profited in those days and still do now.

Vincennes is a man who’s always tried to pass above that. Sure, he’d snatch a little weed for himself, pay off the watchman and make a couple of headlines but he always did it while aiming higher. Higher than the grey skies of Los Angeles, ironically The City of Angels, “Where dreams come true, hush-hush”.  And since everyone needs a key to success, Jack has the “Badge of Honor” hit TV show; an opportunity to teach someone about how a cop really feels and acts when hurt, when happy, when drunk. Vincennes’ a mentor, a guru for aspiring actors and is also the ladies’ man at the parties.

At the end of the movie, when things go really bad, that’s when Jack forces himself to show the LA underworld his true colours, to prove to himself that he isn’t just about the money and fame. He goes and tries to make things right, and more specifically he tries to save a young man who he put into deep trouble for his own dirty $50 and a chance to get back at a pretentious superior. That’s when Jack realizes that he’s been battling these kind of situations his whole life. He’s been trying to get out his real self his whole damn, corrupt life and now he has the chance to make it right. And he does. He pays the bill.

That’s who Jack Vincennes is or at least who I think he is or represents. I think Jack Vincennes sleeps inside all of us and is waiting for us to wake him up, and that’ll happen when duty will call. Rest assured.

Hush-hush.

Trying to make things right always requires sacrifices.
Trying to make things right always requires sacrifices. Jack knows best.