Marie, a waitress, lives a horrible existence where she is mistreated by both her parents and her lover, Paul, an unemployed drunk. Marie is terrified of Paul, yet she dreams of being able to escape her life with Jean, a dockworker, who she sneaks away to spend time with. Eventually the two men confront one and other but Paul is able to retain his grasp on Marie. Jean Epstein's The Faithful Heart is a masterpiece of silent cinema which perfectly supports the notion that the invention of sound killed cinema as a visual form of storytelling. The easiest way I can think of how to describe this film is a visual poem about love. The Faithful Heart is an emotionally resonant experience as we watch Jean and Marie fight for each other even when things become bleak. I believe Epstein wanted to state the power of love with this film and he certainly succeeded. The entire film is a visual feast but the use of editing is really phenominal and ahead of its time. The film uses lots of overlaying and quick cutting to elicit emotion with Jean's scene of despair near the water being a perfect example of this. After Jean loses Marie to Paul we see how Jean sees Marie in almost everything he looks at, from the water, to the shore, he is unable to escape the power of his love for her. Random sidenote: Geno Manes, who plays Marie, has some of the most vibrant eyes I've seen - if eyes are the window into ones soul than she gives us one helluva a view. The Faithful Heart is a film that I have a hard time putting into words but I will say it's incredibly powerful and astonishingly well-crafted, especially for the time.
Set during in Chile, 1973, during the last days of Salvador Allende's presidency, Port Mortem tells the story of Mario, a lonely clerk who works at the morgue. Mario has a very mundane existence but one night he decides to go down to the burlesque club where he meets Nancy, a burlesque dancer who happens to also be his next door neighbor. Mario becomes swept away by Nancy's beauty and companionship which she provides, yet things aren't exactly how Mario sees them. Pablo Larrain's Post Mortem is a film which captures the horror of Chile's 1973 military coup through the eyes of Mario, a passive and somewhat cold man who functions more like a robot than a human being. The film does a great job early on of showing this growing conflict between the people and the current regime, showing us subtle glimpses- which makes sense given Mario's passive nature towards almost everything in his life, except Nancy. Nancy is clearly involved with people who are a part of the resistance, and when shit hits the proverbial fan Mario and Nancy are pulled apart by much larger forces. Alfredo Castro is extremely well cast as Mario, not only in looking the part but in portraying this cold detached man. Since everything is by Mario's point of view the film does unfold quite well as the viewer begins to realize that the relationship between Nancy and Mario is not as romantic as we were led on. I'm honestly not entirely sure what Pablo Larrain was trying to say with Post Mortem but I would guess it has to do with how being passive in life brings nothing but lack of control in the end. While Post Mortem is not particularly engaging, it definitely gives a unique and interesting vantage point to a trying time in Chile.
As much as I liked William Wellman's Battleground, Story of G.I. Joe reaches a whole new level in its dissection of the US Infantry during WW II. This is much more of an epic experience, as we follow this platoon of soldiers across Africa and Europe, through the various landscapes and cityscapes which have been decimated by the war. Through this fantastic imagery Wellman creates a rather bleak film which shows the loneliness and isolation which infantry units experienced, really touching on the anxieties and fears about facing the German army. Many films dealing with WWII seem to ignore the daunting task both physically and mentally of facing the Germans during the war, a force which had essentially crushed anyone who stood in their way. While it's rather epic, the film does spend a lot of time with the individuals of the unit, particularly their commanding officer, Lt. Walker (Robert Mitchum), giving nice insight into a man who is responsible for the lives of the soldiers under him. Probably my favorite scene of the film involves the Lieutenant and a war correspondent which encompasses much of what the film is saying. These infantry men's daily lives are full of drudgery, mud and despair and when they die, they die in this shit hole. The scene is perfect because while the correspondent is saying these things, Mitchum passes out from exhaustion, showcasing the life of an infantry-men who has no time for anything but fighting. William Wellman's Story of G.I. Joe is a beautifully bleak film which feels very genuine in its approach making it one of the best war films ever made.
Alexandra is a FBI Investigator who is hot on the trail of what she believes is a deadly killer. She believes that all of the deceased millionaires' in recent memory got that way because of one woman, a deadly widow responsible for taking all their money. We learn early on that Alexandra's woman is Catherine, who goes from millionaire to millionaire, poisoning these men in untraceable ways and collecting the inheritance. While Alexandra has no doubts about Catherine, her department heads believe that Alexandra's findings are without merit, simply declaring her as obsessed and in need of a break. Bob Rafelson's Black Widow is a fun, sexy, and engaging psychological thriller that ultimately works because of skilled direction and two great central performance. The film is told in a very Film noir-type style, following both Alexandra and Catharine individually. Both these characters are very well developed and defined. Alexandra, our protagonist is tough as nails on the outside, yet shows glimpses of fragility. She is a woman whose desire to prove Catharine's true intentions border on obsession with it becoming more and more clear that she is desperate to prove herself. Catherine on the other hand is a diabolical vixen, played perfectly by Theresa Russell, who really showcases this characters ability to go from sweet, to seductive, to deadly, all at the drop of a hat. When the two finally do collide with one and other the viewer is given a nice cat-and-mouse game, ultimately showing how similar these two characters actually are. They are much more similar than one is led to believe, both being fragile yet driven by their obsessions. For Catherine, her greed for money and security drives her and with Alexandra it's her desire for a better job and notoriety. These characters are relateable with merely different ideals of morality. Bob Rafelson's direction is simplistic but assured, with quite a few nice compositions throughout. The real treat though is in the aesthetic, which uses green hues and expressive lighting to symbolize the greed that exists in both of these characters. Black Widow does feel somewhat dated, but the film is loaded with interesting subtext and great performances, making it a strong psychological thriller.
Goody and Stacy spend their nights like most typical 20-somethings in New York - clubbing and living it up in the big city, desperate for their next thrill. Though these two do have one attribute which makes them quite different - they happen to be blood-sucking vampires. Goody and Stacy prey on the blood of rodents to fulfill their hunger and much like everyone else, still have a lot to learn about life, particularly relationships and love. Amy Heckerling's Vamps is a mildly entertaining comedy which uses vampirism to inject some life into the somewhat tired rom-com genre. The comedy is rather hit or miss, with a few memorable lines sprinkled throughout the running time. Essentially Vamps is a good example of a film that is more cute than funny, doing just enough to make it modestly charming. The film's best comedic moments tend to revolve around the ageless quality of vampires, showcasing how Goody and Stacy must keep-up with the world which is constantly changing all around them. That being said, the film seems to know this as well and eventually even these jokes become tired towards the end of the film. Also of note is a surprising abundance of homages to silent cinema, with Goody and Stacy happening to be major fans. Vamps also features a deep cast, with Sigourney Weaver as Cisserus, the vamp responsible for turning both Goody and Stacy, being the highlight. Vamps is one of those films which is instantly forgettable, yet during the viewing I found myself entertained.
Marian, a middle aged nurse, devotes her entire life to caring for her patients like a saint. She frequently is responsible for making the gravely ill feel at peace, often soothing them during their final hours. While she is an incredibly caring person, she is surrounded by sorrow and death, which begins to take a toll on her soul. Urszula Antoniak's Code Blue is a very powerful character study about one woman's subdued loneliness. Urszula Antoniak is certainly a filmmaker which understands the power of image, as this is a visually stunning film which has imagery evoking powerful emotions. Code Blue has a minimal amount of dialogue, instead opting to rely heavily on visuals to tell its story with fantastic results. This is the definition a character study, and Marian is certainly a tragic character who feels almost lost among the living. One scene beautifully illustrates this point as Mariam sits on a bus next to a healthy citizen. She seems to desperately want to rest her head on the stomach of this individual, almost as if to feel life, not death for once. What makes Mariam's character so tragic is how her closest companions tend to be her patients. The film beautifully illustrated how Mariam feels connection with these people, yet has to watch them die almost on a daily basis. There are so many great and interesting character decisions in this film like how Mariam keeps objects of her deceased patients as a reminder, not only of their lives, but of the connection she felt with them. Code Blue is a masterpiece of cinema because of Urszula Antoniak's ability to understand Mariam as a character. There are so many wonderful scenes which illustrated her emotions in visual, yet subtle ways. The film even hints to that fact that Mariam might be unable to create life for herself, but it is never concrete in this assertion. Urszula Antoniak's Code Blue is a film that some will find hard to stomach but their is no denying both its viceral power, as this is a searing portrait of a woman who can't seem to be good to herself.
The Lion Knight, a young nobelman, crosses the countryside with his faithful lion companion, out to find the Ogre, who lives off the living flesh of innocent children. On his journey he encounters Nicholas, a young man, who is on a quest of his own. Nicholas is off to save the Maiden of the Chapel, a woman who has been captured by the beast. He promises to join the Lion Knight on his quest but Nicholas decides to visit the Chapel first to seek information and council. Eugene Green's The Living World is a modern day story centered around fairy tale mythos. Think of it as an Art house version of Lord of the Rings which features forest creatures, mysticism, ogres and voyages into the spiritual world. The more films I see by Green the more I am beginning to appreciate his unique aesthetic. Green is enamored by the power of the close-up and symmetrical framing, using heavy dosages of compositions in which the character's faces fill up the screen. It's a simplistic style, yet very effective in capturing the performances of the actors as they stare into the camera as if we are peering into their souls. The Living World is a beautiful example of how a film can be remarkable fantasy-type experience with absolutely no special effects. The cinematography is incredibly well designed and together with lots of ingenuity, the film creates a simple, yet effective fantasy experience. The film relies almost entirely on well composed static shots to create this world but when the camera does move, it is felt in the story. The overall style is a bit odd, with the actors speaking in modern day English while delivering these fantastical type lines. It almost comes off as too cold or mechanical but in the end it's still effective. The Ogre's wife was a character which I found quite compelling - a woman who is trapped in hell because she is married to a beast responsible for the death of many children, including her inability to ever have them. Eugene Green's The Living World is an experience that really shows the power of shot compositions and ingenuity and while I certainly enjoyed the unique experience, it's not a particularly profound piece of filmmaking.
Juan is a 40 year old with absolutely no direction in his life. His only emotional tie lies in his daughter, Camila, who wants nothing to do with him because of his lack of purpose. When strange things begin to occur, specifically people violently attacking one and other, Juan decides to do what he does best when facing this type of situation - make money. Alejandro Brugues' Juan of the Dead is a zombie horror comedy in the same vein as films like Shaun of the Dead or Fido. It's a highly entertaining addition to the sub-genre with lots of great comedic moments centered around Juan and his friends being oblivious to the true nature of the situation they find themselves in. In terms of a zombie movie, Juan of the Dead brings what one expects to the genre with lots of violence and some rather creative deaths. In the end, what makes Juan of the Dead so good is its scathing satire towards Cuba, more specifically Castro's regime. Early on the satire is more subtle, showing the stagnant nature of people caused by the regime, focusing on Juan's lazy lifestyle as a symbol of this concept. Almost every character who has a sense of direction is leaving the country to make something of themselves while the people who stay, Juan for example, are simply drifting through life with no purpose. The satire becomes far more blunt after the zombie apocalypse escalates, displaying news reports which blatantly lie to the people about the severity of the situation. There are even billboards displaying messages like "Free Cuba" just in case the viewer is missing the point. Juan and his fellow survivors never even comprehend what a Zombie is because they have been living in a sheltered box from the rest of the world. Juan of the Dead is a lot of fun as both a comedy and a zombie film but what escalates the film is its satirical elements about Cuba, even giving the country's people a beacon of hope at the conclusion of the film.
Les Miserables is the epic tale of ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, a man who is hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert, after Valjean breaks his parole. It's an epic tale of love, passion, sacrifice and redemption that spans many lives over a period of 20 years. There have been quite a few film adaptions of Les Miserables, most notably Raymond Bernard's masterpiece in 1934, which will safely continue to retain that distinction in my eyes. Tom Hooper's adaption of Les Miserables is certainly ballsy in that the film is performed more like an opera with also every single piece of dialogue being expressed through song. I've never been a big fan of musicals that use song to drive dialogue as I think it's much more effective when used to establish mood and character. Hooper seems to have perfected or at least established his aesthetic over his last two films, using a heavy dosage of these fish eye style lenses to decent but varying effect. I think he overuses the style but at times it does work well in the close-ups at showing the emotion of his characters. Les Miserables is certainly a cinematic experience but the film runs overlong, mostly due to the constant singing that begins to wear down the viewer around the 90 minute mark. Early on in the film I was surprisingly enthralled, with Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe all giving strong performances in their respective roles. It's hard for me to pinpoint it but the film seems to lose its pacing during the last time period of the film, which could possibly be attributed to Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfriend, who play Marius and Cosette respectively, having almost zero chemistry. Todd Hooper's Les Miserables is a brave adaption in ways, which I certainly can respect, but the film loses much of its steam due to poor pacing and uninspired relationship dynamics towards the end of the film.
It's 1987 and a gang of Motorcycle ninjas has tightened their grip over Florida's narcotics trade by viciously annihilating all rival gangs who impede on their turf. Everyone is scared except for a group of college kids who make up the rock band Dragon Sound. Rockers by night, the band members all happen to be "Tae Kwon Do black belts" who will stop at nothing to bring down these ninjas, thugs, and dealers who make up the Miami drug trade. Miami Connection is the latest film to be re-discovered and it's no surprise as to why it has become such a beloved cult classic. The film is incredibly bad, ignoring almost every basic tenet of filmmaking and yet because of this fact, Miami Connection is incredibly endearing and very entertaining. The filmmakers clearly cared far more about the action than anything else and it shows. Miami Connection has everything you would hope for in its action sequences - grossly exaggerated deaths, gratuitous violence, and cheesy slow-motion, yet they are surprisingly well choreographed. What really makes Miami Connection fascinating is the blur of western and eastern culture running throughout the film, with the drug trades most deadly weapon being the 'Miami Ninjas' and everyone seemingly knowing some form of martial arts. The script also seems to be written by someone whose first language certainly isn't English, leading to some laughably bad expositional dialogue which at times reaches the nonsensical. Miami Connection is a lot of fun and certainly a film that belongs very much in the celebrated category of "so bad, they are good" films.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.