Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why See This...The Trial [1962]

To read Franz Kafka one must imagine a world where logic and reason have no hold. To see such a place envisioned by one of cinema's greatest auteurs is a rare treat. Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of The Trial is by no means a conventional edge of your seat thriller. Looming beneath the shadows of his classics Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, Welles’ The Trial is an underappreciated masterpiece of avant-garde cinema and surrealist art. Others call it hyper-stylized, over-the-top, nonsensical and entirely unwatchable. From the latter perspective, it is all these things, yes, outside of being unwatchable. But in The Trial, Welles has created an audacious film that demands to be remembered; something truly unlike any film that has come before or after it.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Month in Movies...August 2015

Total Movies Watched: 12
1930s: 1
1950s: 1
1960s: 4
1970s: 2
2000s: 1
2010s: 4

Irrational Man [2015] dir. Woody Allen

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why See This...Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation [2015]

In an era obsessed with remakes, reboots and sequels, it comes as no surprise that 2015’s summer Blockbuster season has given us a fifth sequel. And once again, movie-goers ask themselves- is no. 5 worth seeing? In this case, yes. 

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible film opts for a simple, tried and true plot line of many past action films. This is no slight towards McQuarrie’s writing abilities, who earned an original screenplay Oscar for the sleek crime thriller The Usual Suspects. Thankfully, he knows such twists and turns do not fit the Mission Impossible mold. Audiences have flocked to the MI series for impressively staged action sequences and the whacky virtuosity of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).  Both are in full force here.

The finals moments of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, have Hunt and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) barely saving San Francisco from nuclear annihilation. In Rogue Nation, the director of the CIA (Alec Baldwin), opposed to the Hunt’s unconventional tactics and admittedly lucky breaks, shuts down the IMF and a search for Hunt begins, who is to be charged with treason. Out in the cold, Hunt is in the midst of his own pursuit— tracking down a terror network known as the Syndicate. Hunt has linked them to a series of global terrorist attacks. After an early face to face encounter with its leader, the composed yet cunning Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), Hunt will stop at nothing to find him and bring down the Syndicate.

Rogue Nation marks the third collaboration between McQuarrie and Cruise in recent years. Their first pairing came in 2012 for the rather flat, more Bourne-esque thriller Jack Reacher.  Last year’s under-watched sci-fi film Edge ofTomorrow earned the two greater praise. What worked in Edge of Tomorrow that was absent in Jack Reacher, is Tom Cruises’ underutilized charm and comedic timing.  Ethan Hunt is not Jason Bourne and at no point does he ever try and mimic James Bond. He gets into trouble and occasionally relies on a little luck to get himself out of a jam. Hunt’s formidable charisma never strays too far and this is why we like him.

Cruise is certainly not the only actor who deserves praise in Rogue Nation. Already mentioning Sean Harris’s brilliantly restrained evil; Simon Pegg, always a crowd pleaser, is as good as ever as Hunt’s genial, sarcastic wingman. Rogue Nation also wins many fans for the return of Ving Rhames as the calm and cool Luther Stickell who was noticeably absent from Ghost Protocol. New to the film is Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust who appears right at home as the double/triple/quadruple crossing “frenemy” of Hunt. The ensemble works like a charm.  No character, big or small, steps out of their role to try and overtake the Ethan Hunt show. Early in the movie, as Faust helps Hunt out of an early predicament, he has to ask her, “this is the first time we’ve met, right?”

Like its predecessor, Rogue Nation opts for a livelier, funnier tone, something pushed aside in the darker, more intense MI 2 and 3. That isn't to say the movie does not have its share of edge of your seat, final-seconds-before-it-goes-kaboom-type drama we crave in Mission Impossible—motorcycle chases through the tiny streets of Casablanca, Hunt hanging onto a flying plane’s hatch in Belarus, scuba diving underneath a powerplant- without oxygen…A particularly memorable scene finds Hunt trying to desist three assassins high above an ongoing performance of Turandot at the Vienna Opera House. Its an unusually long scene for an action film, but the intricate staging, cross cutting and rich opera soundtrack make this scene and the movie as a whole, a pure delight to watch.

Ghost Protocol saw a resurgence in the critical praise of the MI series, and Rogue Nation rightfully surpasses it. If such a trend continues, I wouldn’t mind seeing the 53 year old Cruise throw himself off buildings and onto planes (or vice versa) again in a few years, and if he still can maybe even into his 60s, though at that point, hopefully he’ll keep his shirt on.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why See This...Blue Jasmine [2013]

Since 1966, Woody Allen has directed 43 features, amounting to almost one picture per year, an immense quantity for any one director. Best known for his wry romance comedies and quirky, rambling set of on-screen portrayals, Allen no doubt does comedy best.  But every once in a while, his writing take a dramatic turn.  The laughs come fewer and farther in exchange for a deeper study of human psyche and emotion, ala Match Point.  Not a typical Woody Allen movie some might say, but amidst a slew of signature comedies, these often stand as some of his most memorable work. Case and point with his latest feature, Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine, like Match Point is not a typical Woody Allen movie of recent memory.  The film lacks the outlandish faltery of last year’s To Rome with Love and the whimsical nostalgia of 2011’s gem, Midnight in Paris.  His newest movie is a swooning, cerebral drama detailing the likes of pain and loss, obsession and regret.  Blue Jasmine updates Tennessee William’s classic stage play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  New Orleans swaps out for San Francisco and the 1950s becomes the present day.  The nutty Blanche DuBois character, here called Jasmine, is marvelously depicted by veteran screen actress Cate Blanchett, who the Academy will no doubt recognize with at least a nomination.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Month of Movies...December 2012

Total Movies Watched: 12

60s: 0     + 5 movies I certainly would not recommend to most people
70s: 2     + 2 Tarkovsky films
80s: 5     + 2 movies directed by a brother-brother duo
90s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
00s: 0     + 2 re-watches
10s: 5     + 1 movies I was forced to sit through on a plane because I checked by books

Stalker [1979] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Offret (The Sacrafice) [1986] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Month in Moves...November 2012

Total Movies Watched: 8 (Weak)

50s: 1     + 3 foreign films
60s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
70s: 3     + 2 English movies watched entirely in Czech
80s: 0     + 1 re-watch
90s: 0
00s: 1
10s: 3

Hi Terezka [2001] dir. Robert Glinski

Ucho (The Ear) [1970] dir. Karel Kachnya

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why See This...Hukkle [2002]

To consider Hukkle a murder-mystery, as it is described, might be somewhat misleading, yet that is exactly what it is- to an extent.  Both murder-mystery and avant garde, this 2002 Hungarian film is a work of art that defies genres and categorization.  Hukkle is sometimes comical, other times eerie and always tantalizing. Hukkle assumes no relation to the classic story-styled narrative viewers are used to, director György Pálfi delivers more awe and wonder than thrills in his carefully presented survey of a rural Hungarian town.  There is a plot, sometimes, but the story is hardly what we concern ourselves with. 

Hukkle shares the similar scanty, free-wielding plot found in Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991).  For Slacker, the existence of a plot is highly debatable.  The same can be said for Hukkle, whose murder-mystery premise takes a backseat in favor of captivating imagery and visual poetics. The film, which runs close to 80 minutes, contains no absolutely dialogue.  The closest thing we have is an old man who constantly hiccups.

And given the array of both intimate and grandiose images the movie boasts, maybe a more sensible comparison for Hukkle would be Terrence Malicks’s The Tree of Life, and Malick’s own infamous and unorthodox directing style.  As the camera peacefully meanders through the town , Pálfi evokes a stunningly visceral and meditative approach to his cinematography.  More often than not, his fascination seems to be less with people and more with the birds and bees, or tall golden strands of prairie grass blowing in the praise. Such pristine images force us to reassess some of the most obvious truths regarding movies as well as life and beauty.  We find ourselves not only captivated by images, but also by these simple sounds- the buzzing of bees or whispering winds against the tall meadow grass. Hukkle is a voyeuristic parade that evokes wonder as much as bafflement and confusion.