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The Glory and Pain of Exception

22 Nov

Film: The Graduate

Director: Mike Nichols

Year Released: 1967

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.8/10

Plastics.

Exactly how I mean may be the first question that pops into your head after reading that word. Don’t worry. The same thought crosses the mind of main character Benjamin Braddock, played by the wonderful Dustin Hoffman. However, taken in context with the entire film, this quote manages to summarize the entire establishment that Benjamin is fighting against. Plastics is the establishment and Benjamin is the exception. At first, it seems like that establishment manifests itself in one clear manner in The Graduate. However, there are several nuances to the theme of non-conformity in a world which demands conformity in our futures.

Benjamin Braddock just "drifting" on the pool

Even the way in which Braddock’s mind operates supports this theme. It’s really what makes The Graduate so good. All the characters are developed amazingly well and they all complement the film’s subject sensationally. Benjamin is an odd figure: well respected by all the adults and well liked by the majority of his class. He is handsome and gets along well with girls. This quality is what becomes the driving force of much of the film. In Benjamin’s desires to be different from his parents and his classmates, he ends up creating most of the action in the film.

The biggest action in this film is undoubtedly the relationship between Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson. It is an altogether unnatural and strange connection they share. Mrs. Robinson is about twice the age of Benjamin and casually demands an intimate and sexual relationship of him. Benjamin eventually follows her seductive advances, believing that Mrs. Robinson can be his way of shifting the norm. While all his friends and peers are out with their girlfriends at night and thinking about graduate schools during the day, Benjamin sneaks around during the night to visit Mrs. Robinson and drifts around on the pool during the day, apparently quite self-satisfied by his accomplishments. Not a thought is given to the future.

Their relationship instigates much of the intrigue of the film

And that’s what creates the central conflict in The Graduate. Benjamin hardly ever realizes that by pursuing a life so vastly different from the expectation, his future becomes extremely uncertain. From the very beginning shot of Benjamin moving on the moving walkway in the airport, where the camera deftly managing to hide what is in front of Ben, to the very end shot (won’t spoil that), the film creates this sort of anxiety in the viewer. The source of this anxiety is the tremendous amount of uncertainty that Benjamin faces in his life. Had he chosen to conform to the same standards as his peers and parents, his life would surely have more of a fixed route. This uncertainty can become unbearably troubling and creates a huge dilemma in choosing the unconventional.

However, director Mike Nichols completely insults such a mind-numbing lifestyle. He instead celebrates the uncertainty that comes with life and that has come to characterize much of the youth of the day. The so called quarter life crisis that sociologists speak of today was visualized more than forty years ago by Nichols. That’s probably where this film hits home the hardest. I plan on posting a short write-up on this topic. When you watch a film (that is the actual moment in your life) can significantly alter your perception and understanding of it. Watching The Graduate again a few months leading up to graduation, I found that my appreciation of the film’s subject and themes had increased exponentially. This has happened to me repeatedly and is one of the key reasons that watching films again is by no means a waste of time. Our attitudes shift, our lives change, and we connect to different things as we grow older. Well like I stated in the film introduction a week ago, this film is an absolute must watch for college students (especially those graduating soon).

This is the future that beckons Benjamin. Or at least what his parents want.

Alright, on to the music now. Simon and Garfunkel composed and performed the entire soundtrack. The hugely famous Mrs. Robinson is featured in the film and it’s catchy nature makes those moments when it plays in the film extremely fun to watch. However, the  track which I find absolutely remarkable is the track which plays at both the beginning and end of the film. The Sound of Silence has some nostalgic, regretful and somewhat hopeful quality that makes it incredibly complex. The lyrical quality is top notch here and the voice of Paul Simon is legendary. He has a softness to his voice that just goes straight to the soul. The songs are fairly slow so all may not be a fan of the slower, folksy quality. However, I think that most will find the soundtrack absolutely incredible. Each song complements the onscreen action very well and also connects to the film’s central themes as well. When The Sound of Silence plays at the end…wow that scene would simply not be the same without it. One of the best examples thus far in this blog of music’s impact on film.

I really don’t want to say much more about the film. It’s one of those stories that are best left discovered and interpreted by the viewer. It’s a terrific piece by Mike Nichols and definitely is his best film. If you are a college student and you don’t feel an ounce of what Ben feels, well then I honestly feel sorry for you. This is a film that will be relevant for years on end! Check it out!

http://www.cuevana.tv/#!/peliculas/3163/the-graduate

Rating: 9.8/10

Some of the great music:

-Cinemabeats

Portrait of a Misanthrope as a Vigilante

9 Nov

Film: Taxi Driver

Director: Martin Scorsese

Year Released: 1976

Cast: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepard, Harvey Keitel

Available on Netflix Streaming: No

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 10/10

Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man… June 8th. My life has taken another turn again. The days can go on with regularity over and over, one day indistinguishable from the next. A long continuous chain. Then suddenly, there is a change.

One of the views of Travis Bickle. He is truly complex.

Finding just one quote to sum up the entire sentiment of Taxi Driver proved extremely difficult because of the film’s many layers and multifaceted quality (look at the title of this review if you have doubts).  However, this line spoken by main character Travis Bickle, played by Robert DeNiro, seems to encompass the general progression of the basic intrigue of the film. Director Martin Scorsese first introduces us to the life of Travis Bickle and the environment that surrounds this man. The interaction between nighttime New York City and Bickle seems simple at first, but as the film moves forward, the viewer finds an increasingly complex dynamic in the psyche of Bickle. Then suddenly, as Bickle so daftly states, “a change.” The nature of this change cannot fully be stated nor understood. The motivations are arguable but the reasons (be they rational or irrational) lie solely within the mind of Travis.

And that is exactly what this film deals with: the mind and psyche of a lonesome New York City cab driver. He is an interesting figure; not because his life or personality is particularly captivating, but because he possesses both elements of a hero or a villain. What exactly does that make Travis Bickle then? It is difficult to say, and the film manages to convey that both literally on screen and also under the surface through subtle implications. Regardless of his character, Bickle does resolve to fight back against the scum that he reviles. That is his outlet against the monotony and the incurable, painful insomnia that plagues his entire existence. He is a misanthrope in all senses of the word. He has neither family nor friends. He is not well socialized nor does he attempt to become so. His thoughts are expressed solely in his diary. But Bickle’s ruminations border on a much more dangerous edge than simply misanthropic.

Cybill Shepard plays Betsy. Her influence on Travis is quite significant.

His thoughts soon become violent. The famous “You talking to me?” scene captures this transformation beautifully. Under the right pressures, a man can be pushed to commit a great number of terrible or heroic acts (they can be construed either way). The idea of legacy plays a key role in Taxi Driver. The imprint that we leave on our lives matters significantly to many of us. Will the world remember us as heroes or villains? Saints or demons? Or perhaps completely unmemorable. DeNiro’s constant monologues reveal this anxiety as he demonstrates his will and desire to stand out as one man who stood up against the filth and the scum.

Having said that, Bickle cannot be well understood without understanding the “filth and the scum” that drives him for much of the film. The constant reminders and backdrop of the presidential primary, which has the potential to change the face of New York City, play a huge role in the film. Senator Palantine stands in stark contrast to Bickle; a man going through the political institution to enact change. Not much is ever said about Palantine’s policies (conveyed through Bickle’s ignorance) but he serves as a higher being in the film. He is everything that Travis cannot be. Having said that, this contrast makes it difficult and maybe even impossible for Palantine to actually get rid of all the crime and misconduct in New York City. Bickle perceives the problem through a different lens and acts out violently to make his point clear.

Scorsese does a masterful job of establishing the disgusting back alleys of seventies New York City, and his visual scheme always displays some form of corruptibility. The sidewalks are littered with non-amiable pimps, junkies, whores, degenerates and everything in between. However, Bickle finally gains a friend in the form of young Jodie Foster’s character, Iris. This relationship is extremely complex and develops in a rather interesting manner. Through Iris, Bickle attempts to gain some form of redemption.

The music in the film concentrates mostly around the main theme that I posted earlier. It is a wonderful, recurring theme that places the viewer in a myriad of emotional states (much like Travis). The true magic of Scorsese’s work here is not necessarily the quality of the music (though it is awesome). What truly makes each moment when it plays amazing is how Scorsese manages to pull so many sentiments from the music, depending on the visual context of each scene. Take the beginning scene where it plays and compare it to the end scene where it similarly plays. The imagery is quite similar here actually, yet each scene is respectively infused with contrasting ideas. Here, one can begin to see how imagery and sound truly come together to push a certain message or feeling. The atmosphere depends heavily on this marriage in Taxi Driver. And it makes the film so successful. Earlier, in my review of Do the Right Thing, I commented how the jazz sounds were far too one-note for me. One could possibly wonder how I do not feel the same way about Taxi Driver. Fair question. It is the character development and integral quality of the jazz that makes it not only bearable in Taxi Driver but extremely enjoyable. It is a film that depends on its sound as much as its characters and imagery. Diary of a Taxi Driver is a particularly interesting piece on the soundtrack. All the songs complement each other very nicely and it makes for an all together solid soundtrack. Not necessarily music I would listen to by itself (which has not been the case for most of the music I”ve posted before) but it adds an essential element to the film.

The relationship between Jodie Foster's Iris and Travis is quite unique. A source of salvation in an unlikely place.

Undoubtedly, Taxi Driver has an indescribable quality to it. Some do not know how to feel when the film ends. The ending I will say is rather breathtaking and truly manages to round out the entire film nicely. This is one of those films that stays with you. Bickle is not necessarily relateable  but there are parts of him that we see in ourselves. His frustration, his desperation, his longing, his despair. Without DeNiro’s performance, Taxi Driver would simply not be the same. A character and a film that speaks about so many issues. It manages to do it all perfectly. It is that rare form of art that operates on a entertainment level as well. Masterpiece does not even begin to describe it.

Rating: 10/10

Some of the music:

http://www.cuevana.tv/peliculas/770/taxi-driver/

Enjoy!

-Cinemabeats

The Lost Ones

29 Oct

Film: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Director: Terry Gilliam

Year Released: 1998

Cast: Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, Tobey Maguire

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.1/10

Dr. Gonzo: Let’s give that boy a lift…

Raoul Duke: What? No! We can’t stop here. This is bat country!

Yes indeed, it seems the drugs have started to take hold. On many more than one occasion, Raoul Duke, portrayed by Johnny Depp, spits out some outlandish, absurd and frenzied comment on the current state of affairs, like the one quoted above. In effect, this film does not have a conventional beginning, middle and end; instead relying on highlighting the “now” and what state of mind the characters find themselves in at each moment. There is no real plan for these two. Therefore, its unconventional nature makes it somewhat difficult to review. Difficult but not impossible. The film essentially tells the story of two men searching for the American Dream, as they head to Las Vegas to cover a story and get lost in their insane world of psychedelic drugs.

A man too rare to die. The man Raoul Duke.

Starting off with our two “heroes” is probably the best starting point. Johnny Depp plays the particular oddity known as Raoul Duke, a Doctor of Journalism, whose eccentric behavior is nicely complemented by the terrifying fierceness and smothering attitude of Benicio Del Toro’s character, Dr. Gonzo, Duke’s attorney and drug buddy. These two characters represent the entire soul of the film. They make it what it is by infusing such overwhelming greed, gluttony and excess into each and every moment of the film. The first instinctual reaction is to be disgusted. However, take a closer look and one can see how Gilliam uses his characters to lampoon the American mindset and lifestyle. They are creatures of desire and not necessity. Their drug-filled adventures escalate further and further to multiple breaking points where one would imagine everything would collapse, and reason would win over the duo. Not the case for these two. In America, if things don’t turn out right doing it one way, we don’t change what we’re doing; we just keep doing what we’re doing until it becomes right.

Such is the essence of this film. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle of the numerous drugs, visuals and references that the film contains. At first glance, it may seem like nothing more than a pointless meandering on the lives of two drug-crazed individuals reaching the apex of depravity. However, at each turn, the film relays hidden messages. The endless possibilities in this country, personal freedom (and the loss thereof), rejection of conventional responsibilities as well as the meaning of the American Dream, in relation to the generation born out of the 60’s and 70’s, are all subtly explored by Thompson and placed on screen by Gilliam.

Raoul Duke narrates much of the film, ruminating on this experience with his attorney. His insights are mad, thoughtful, nonsensical and damn chock full of wit. His extremely deep reflection on the drug culture of the 60’s (particularly San Francisco) evokes such a nostalgic and regretful quality. The end monologue by Duke truly brings the entire theme and significance of the film together. The viewer realizes exactly who these two characters are and the context behind all the action in the film. It’s quite incredible.

You don't look so good Mr. Duke

Terry Gilliam has always had an extremely unique visual style and vision. It is no different here. Fear and Loathing constantly makes you feel like you are tripping right alongside Duke and Gonzo. The subtle change of colors, the onscreen shifting of objects, and the frequent off-center “canted” shots give an off-balance and unhinged characteristic to the film. The viewer can feel the inner tension of Duke and Gonzo, their anxiety, their zany view and perception of the world around them.

In addition, the music adds an additional layer to this visceral experience. It offers the sort of old-time tunes you would expect from 70’s Vegas but it still manages to retain this sense of frenzy and panic. For example, in the beginning where Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over the Line plays is just fantastic and truly builds the atmosphere and mystique of the two characters. White Rabbit has a tremendous significance in the film and that song is just awesome. Like I stated in the film intro post, the soundtrack is quite eclectic and despite what you may think of the film, it is hard to say that the soundtrack is not amazing. The drug score is just an incredible recurring track that gives those scenes a very out of world feeling. Simply put, this soundtrack captures the vibe and essence of old time Vegas beautifully.

People see this film for what it shows but rarely can they see it for what it signifies: the lost search for the American Dream, a lost generation, a lost sense of purpose. The journey of these two men dives straight to the center of those notions. They themselves are lost and are searching. It takes a little searching yourself to see it. If you come in with an open mind, you will most likely find yourself in love with the characters that move this story forward. They are despicable yet they are amusing. They are clueless yet indeterminably clever. All these contradictions establish a hysteria of interwoven, conflicting emotions and sentiments that come with doing multiple drugs at once. Regardless, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo remain two of the most memorable onscreen characters of all time, and their antics reflect their completely uncertain future, leaving Las Vegas on a straight road, yet lost and astray.  Next stop: The American Dream.

"Well... I guess you're about ready, then, aren't you?"

Rating: 9.1/10

http://www.cuevana.tv/peliculas/1067/fear-and-loathing-in-las-vegas/

Now some of the great music from the movie:

A lot of the songs contain lines from the movie on the soundtrack. Also some have footage from the movie as well.

The whole soundtrack is really amazing! Give it a watch and listen!

-Cinemabeats

Tears in the Rain

31 Aug

Film: Blade Runner

Director: Ridley Scott

Year Released: 1982

Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 10/10

It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again who does?

A very thought provoking question indeed, asked by what literary buffs like to call a leitmotif, a recurring image or in this case, character, who serves to repeatedly develop the themes of the work further. In Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott asks us to ponder some of life’s most perplexing and difficult questions and notions. As a film that constantly reminds us of our mortality and our impermanence, Blade Runner uses more than that just that one leitmotif to drive its points home. However, the significance of the quote when taken in context with respect to the entire film, becomes very clear, especially in the end scene. The character that speaks the line also defines the technique as it gains a much greater poignancy when the viewer sees where this thought is coming from and why it would naturally come from this character.

Welcome to the Future and the Future is not bright.

And it is the characters that make Blade Runner what it is: an extremely deep and satisfying character study of several different mindsets and backgrounds. Scott tells the story of a retro-future Los Angeles where advanced technological breakthroughs have given way to the advent of android beings known as replicants, who save for their increased intelligence, physical ability and dissimilarity with typical human emotion, are absolutely indistinguishable from normal humans. In this grimy and grim looking future-noir world, officials have banned replicants from taking up residence on Earth, after mutinous activity by replicants on off-world colonies. Scott sets up the background of the setting and universe very quickly and plunges into the story of a retired replicant hunter, also known as a Blade Runner, who is asked to complete one last task to hunt down and kill four rogue replicants that have escaped and arrived in Los Angeles. The two leads of the film perform amazingly well; Harrison Ford as the mysterious Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, and Rutger Hauer as the extremely well-developed and terrifying, Roy Batty, the leader of the rogue replicants. As the two main characters, they primarily give weight to the motif of living in fear and overall, the theme or idea of death as inescapable, a haunting close to the countdown of our lives.

Harrison Ford does an excellent job.

In Blade Runner, one can view Rick Deckard as death, assigned to track and exterminate these four replicants or one could alternatively and simultaneously view the limits imposed by genetic engineers as the ultimate fear that constantly reminds us of its impending closeness. See, these replicants have been designed to only last for a few years so they cannot learn over time to develop true emotions and feeling. However, critics have often argued that it is the replicants in this film that feel and display the most heartfelt emotion (anger, fear, grief). I am inclined to agree as we see the desperate Roy Batty, obsessed with finding a way to extend his lifetime and understand his meaning in the world. What does it truly mean to be alive?

In fact, Blade Runner has hardly been examined as an existential piece but with the overarching theme of fear of death, an existential concern or panic can immediately form and it seems to happen with Batty. What is the meaning and significance of a transient human life, here to serve for a few decades, and then be gone forever? Apply that to the even more so decreased lifespan of the replicant counterparts, and the theme of lack of meaning in relation to our short lifespans elucidates itself very brightly. We search for these answers as to who made us and how we came to be and what that means for our current situation…well Batty happens to know all this yet his life still retains this quality of sorrowful regret, a desire that his short but eventful life could have had some meaningful impact and preservation. Certainly, any viewer can see this come to fruition in arguably one of the best scenes in all of cinema history; the climax between Deckard and Batty. The title of this review actually derives from a beautifully ad-libbed line spoken by Batty to Deckard towards the very end of the film. I will not spoil it because one should truly examine the passion of the delivery by Hauer without knowing exactly what he is talking about. The music that plays in that end scene is just magical and mirrors the sentiment of Batty so finely.

The beautiful climax between Deckard and Batty.

Speaking of the music finally, Blade Runner utilizes terrific music to bolster the viewer’s understanding of the future world. Filled with tightly packed roads, street vendors on every corner from every part of the world and large flying projectors, this world is quite unlike the Los Angeles we know today. One aspect of the music that many do not appreciate is its fantastic, global range. Beats can be heard from the tabla, a traditional Indian drum, as well as traditional Chinese-inspired strings, all throughout the film. What makes the sound so unique is composer Vangelis’s use of eighties synthesizers, which add a very techno-pop effect to each and every sound. Percussion and strings are all morphed by this interesting synthesized sound and it creates this effect of foreign and noir influence in a very futuristic manner. In addition, one scene in the film utilizes a changing traffic signal, which audibly instructs pedestrians to “Now Walk,” along with the beat in the background to form an interesting sound to the scene. No doubt, this film has a phenomenal soundtrack and does not just rely on electro beats; it places all sorts of sounds in the context of that overall sound. It is incredible. Listen to Damask Rose if you only choose one!

I have not discussed the visual portion of Blade Runner that much but rest assured, it develops the plot in a very essential way as well. I will allow you to judge it, however, and make what you will out of it. It is truly unique I will say and has served as inspiration for other futuristic, science-fiction films since. That’s what makes Blade Runner such a colossal success; its themes have since appeared in other science fiction films and its pace, slow-building tension and alternatively thought-provoking charm have been used as models for other sci-films as well. Keep in mind, this film slowly builds to its climax but the payoff is extremely rewarding while its speed additionally contrasts heavily with the idea of the film, bringing further attention to the problems of the replicants. That’s where you are headed when you watch this film. It will make you think, second-guess and reassure yourself. Ultimately, where you end up by the end of the film, may be very different each time you view it or vary greatly from another viewer who has seen the film. That’s the magic of Blade Runner. A film that is as open to interpretation  as it gets (critics have formed various, different interpretations) and leaves you speechless every time. A moment of our experience that we always remember…one of the few perfect tens in film, in my opinion.

Rating: 10/10

http://www.cuevana.tv/peliculas/875/blade-runner/ (I would recommend this cut)

I’m posting a lot because I love the music in this film!

There you go! Please enjoy!

-Cinemabeats

A Tale of Two Tales

24 Aug

Film: The Fall

Director: Tarsem Singh

Year Released: 2008

Cast: Lee Pace, Justine Waddell, Catinca Untaru

Available on Netflix Streaming: No

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.1/10

Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Okay so that line is not spoken in The Fall; in fact, that dialogue is from the very popular Batman Begins by Christopher Nolan and received by Bruce Wayne as fundamental advice from both his father as well as his caretaker and butler, Alfred. Yes, that line captures a very significant thematic element of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, its extremely visual, inspirational message coming through the use of breathtaking images, scenery and wonderfully delightful characters. Tarsem contrasts his real-world characters with their fascinating counterparts in the fantasy world weaved by main character Roy, played by Lee Pace, given to the young Alexandria, played by the incredible child actress Catinca Untaru. In the real world, individuals feel constrained by their circumstances and refuse to the face the reality of their situation while the fantasy characters surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles in order to fulfill their quest for revenge.

Our five heroes in the fantasy world. Each is vastly unique.

Alright so let’s take a few steps back because I absolutely love the plot of this film. It tells two stories in essence: when a young stuntman finds himself in a hospital after a terrible fall on a stunt gone wrong, he befriends a young girl named Alexandria. Over the course of the next few days, Roy begins to tell Alexandria an epic tale of five men seeking revenge against a man, named Governor Odious, for the terrible wrongs they feel he has committed against them. When the story cuts to these incredible sequences of the epic fantasy, the film almost transforms into something else altogether; a showcase of beautiful imagery woven together by amazing characters who all have different motivations for their revenge. I will not say anything else more than that but trust me, you have never seen anything quite like the shots that Tarsem captures in The Fall.

Amazingly, Tarsem did not use any CG special effects to deliver any of the setting or scenery in the film. The sequences on film…these are all natural as some girls would like to say. It serves as an homage to classic film-making where directors did not have the tools or resources to include computer generated graphics and imagery. And I must say, it elevates the quality of the film all that much more, in my mind. In fact, the entire film feels very retro from the setting in 1940’s Los Angeles (Tarsem says Once Upon a Time in the film) to the very formal dialogue and vocabulary used in the film. It creates an out of world effect like we, the viewer, are being transported to another time and another realm, in the case of the epic fantasy segments.

One of the incredible locales in the film.

I really cannot say enough about the visuals in this film. I know that this is a blog about the effect of music on films and their significant relationship but Tarsem conveys some absolutely stunning images to the viewer, to the point where we honestly doubt whether all these places where he shot the film could truly be real. Rest assured, every single locale where the film was shot(over 20 countries) most certainly exists. Lakes, deserts, mountains, ocean reefs, palaces are all included in this film. How this film did not win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography is beyond me!

Moreover, the actors in the film are relatively unknown save for Lee Pace but a regular moviegoer probably will not recognize the name; nevertheless, they all give fantastic performances especially the actors who play characters in the fantasy tale portions. They breathe such specific qualities and characteristics into each of their personalities that the viewer forms a very deep connection with these completely fictional characters made up by Roy. Speaking of Roy, the interactions between Catinca Untaru and Lee Pace are very fun to watch. They have a fantastic rapport with one another and Tarsem often did not tell the young actress that he was filming in order to gain more spontaneous reactions and lines from her.

As the story unfolds deeper and the nature of the relationship between Roy and Alexandria becomes more clear, the themes of the film similarly become more apparent to the viewer. Alexandria is the stark opposite of Roy. I will not say how exactly in this review but it is only through the joy and inspiration of Alexandria that Roy finds the courage and power to move forward out of his desperation. I really cannot speak too much more about this major, central theme without spoiling the entire plot but Pace and Untaru both do a phenomenal job towards the end of the film. The ending sequence of the film played alongside Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony Movement 2 brings the entire film full circle very nicely and truly makes a great statement about the two main characters.

Speaking of Beethoven, his Seventh Symphony Movement 2 serves as a recurring motif through the film. Like the setting and the dialogue, it gives the film a very classic and vintage essence while maintaining the epic quality of the film as well. Unfortunately, since the film was solely financed by Tarsem himself, no production crew ever became responsible for releasing a soundtrack or even an official score. However, the music in this film is so indescribably eclectic and unique, it manages to strengthen the grand nature of the story and the viewer feels further drawn into the fantasy world. Simply put, it is a monumental shame that there is no soundtrack for this film because I guarantee that I would listen to every track repeatedly. It is quite honestly just that good.

And our other two heroes in their fantasy counterpart bandit costumes!

And this film is quite honestly just that good. While it did not gain much recognition from viewers or award associations, some critics did appreciate the amazing effort that went into this terrific endeavor. Tarsem actually has his Immortals coming out this fall (haha sort of a pun) and I think more regular moviegoers will see that and finally get the chance to see the incredible vision of Tarsem. Check this film out! It recounts two touching stories and has a very inspirational message that connects the two stories!

Rating: 9.1/10

http://www.cuevana.tv/peliculas/2356/the-fall/

-Cinemabeats

Everything is Alright

16 Aug

Film: Little Miss Sunshine

Director: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton

Year Released: 2006

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Alan Arkin

Available on Netflix Streaming: No

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.3/10

She’s Kickin’ Ass!

Say Hello to the Hoovers! They are unhappy.

That line remains the culmination of emotion, frustration, elation and eventually acceptance in the film, Little Miss Sunshine. It does not seem like a particularly important line; in fact, at first appearance, it merely serves as comic relief from character Richard Hoover, played by Greg Kinnear. However, taken in relation and context with respect to the entire film, one can truly begin to appreciate the magnitude of this simple statement. Quite appropriately the entire beauty pageant at the end of the film serves as a sort of mechanism  to take all the problems of each character and place them in context with respect to the entire film.

Husband and wife director duo Valerie Faris and Johnathan Dayton bring to life Micheal Arndt’s cleverly written screenplay, for which he won an Academy Award. Arndt has woven such familial intricacy into the script, which ranges from the good moments to the equally occurring painful and devastating moments, that we feel a deep connection with the characters. The film begins with a wonderfully made opening sequence, which introduces us to the family members and all their respective characteristics and idiosyncrasies. Already at the beginning of the film, it is easy to tell that not all is well with this family.

Little Miss Sunshine recounts the journey of a dysfunctional family as they attempt to get their young, innocent daughter, Olive, to a children’s beauty pageant in California. Throughout this journey, all the characters face obstacles and personal dilemmas that threaten to disintegrate the family even further. It is only through time spent together that the family begins to realize that they can only stay connected as a family if they learn to accept each other for who they are and not who they want each other to be. This is especially the case for Greg Kinnear’s character, Richard Hoover.

Throughout all the mayhem, it is clear that Arndt has painted an accurate picture of modern America and the contemporary issues that people contend with on a daily basis. Notions of obesity, suicide, the definition of success, drugs and of course dysfunction pop up in various scenes and though these motifs never take the center stage, they create an astonishingly desperate background in which all these characters operate. Moreover, all these motifs connect to the central theme of the film of learning to realize that despite all the hardships and the struggles and the judgments, everything will be alright.

In order to convey this message, Arndt relied upon dark and witty serio-humor while directors duo Faris and Dayton contrasted the dark problems of the family with the bright, yellow van they drive as well as the bright, visual motifs of the film. Sunshine is beaming in nearly every shot. Even when the family faces drawbacks, they maintain their resolve to get Olive to this beauty pageant. Why is there such an effort by all characters to make this happen? Perhaps because they feel that this pageant, this one last chance for something good, is the only thing that can bring their family back together. In any case, the realism portrayed by each character bolsters the theme exceptionally.

Life is referred to as one, big beauty pageant by one of the characters and this seems central to the theme as well. The disparity between Olive’s physique and the attitudes of the far more serious and disturbingly sexed-up little girl contestants mirrors this concept. People will tell us who to be, people will tell us how to act and people will judge us if we do not conform to these standards; they will call us losers. But this film teaches us to acknowledge that there is no silly pair-wise classification of winners and losers. We are who we are (yeah Ke$ha) and we should fully embrace that image in order to truly be happy.

The doll-like appearance of the contestants is quite scary.

Like I stated in the film intro post, the score was produced by Mychael Danna and Devotchka. It contains some very touching music in addition to some very inspirational tracks. The opening sequence that I referenced earlier would not have made such an impression without the The Winner Is playing in the background. Again, the power of music in film is unmistakable. The soundtrack does comprise many tracks that do sound like reworkings of their famous song How it Ends but the different instrumental work in each piece defines a different dimension of the plot. And it creates a wonderful gamut of sounds and emotions in the soundtrack.

In addition, the soundtrack features Sufjan Stevens and the wonderful Rick James and his incredible classic Superfreak. All I can say is that this film utilizes the song superbly and if you do not crack even a smile during that scene, well you must not have a heart I’d say. As one of the purer moments of comedy and the film’s climax, this scene brings the film back to its narrative core. A story about family.

Indeed, Little Miss Sunshine demonstrates that life is rarely ever easy and that overcoming life’s hurdles is not any easier. But how could we ever truly enjoy the good without knowing the bad? As long as you stay true to yourself and you have people who love you for who you are, you can tell yourself that everything is alright.

Rating: 9.3/10

Soundtrack

Some of the great music from the movie:

I love how they use this track. It’s perfectly done.

and of course:

http://www.cuevana.tv/peliculas/1156/little-miss-sunshine/

-Cinemabeats

Black and White. Right and Wrong.

9 Aug

Film: Do the Right Thing

Director: Spike Lee

Year Released: 1989

Cast: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, John Turturro, Rosie Perez

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: No

Rating: 9.0/10

The Mayor: “This is The Mayor talking.”

Mookie: “Alright. Alright.”

The Mayor: “Doctor….”

Mookie: “Cmon Cmon…What?”

The Mayor: “Always Do the Right Thing!”

Mookie: “…That’s it?!”

The Mayor: “That’s it.”

That’s it. It sounds so simple when you put it that way but director Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing is anything but simple. It’s a disturbingly accurate depiction of inner racial tension and sentiment exploding into deadly and chaotic force. Keep in mind that Spike Lee made this film prior to the Rodney King riots of 1992 (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_King_riots) and the film’s vision seems all the more foretelling when put into chronological perspective. Certainly much more believable and honest than that melodramatic trash that the Academy gave the Best Picture Award to a few years back.

Let me tell you the story of Love and Hate.

In my last review of Trainspotting, I asked you to consider the decision between choosing life and not choosing life; here, Spike Lee asks you to very seriously consider the choice between doing what’s right and doing what’s wrong. This is a very different decision in nature, altogether; in fact,  people’s views on the exact meaning and understanding of right and wrong have such little universal conformity, that the decision becomes almost impossible to make at times. Are you truly doing something wrong? Is standing up for what you believe in, even if it means using some form of violence, inherently right or wrong? Is everything circumstantial? Is Fighting the Power as Public Enemy so deftly demands something wrong? Spike Lee forces us to ponder these many questions and contemplate our own feelings regarding race, morals and our civic duties. Sure this film is about race: examining black and white. But it also equally implores us to realize that most things are rarely ever just that: black and white.

The film explores the lives of several citizens, during a single day, living in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. It just so happens that New York is going through one of its worst heat waves in history and everyone around is scrambling to cool off and escape the heat. This is impossible: Spike Lee drives his characters into several interactions that push them closer and closer to their boiling point until they can no longer withstand anymore heat. It is no coincidence that this story takes place on an extremely hot day. Heat represents intensity, frustration and stress: an unstable, smoldering pot of ingredients just ready to blow at any time. The characters that Spike Lee generates allow his film to transcend its simple story by breathing such vivid and authentic life into the intrigue as well as by playing off the racial relationship between each other. There is love, there is hate, there is uncertainty. One thing is for sure: these incredibly realistic portraits of Brooklyn will stick with you and you will remember their little quirks and tendencies forever. The cast is quite a pleasant surprise as Spike Lee himself plays main character, Mookie, who works for pizzeria owner, Sal, played incredibly well by Danny Aiello. Sure it does not feature an all star cast but you will recognize faces all over the place. As much as music and sound headline this blog, viewers should pay special attention to Spike Lee’s unique visual style.

Rosie Perez opens the film with a bang

In fact, the visual and the audible go right together hand in hand. The colors and fashions of the characters are bright, saturated and painfully characteristic of 90’s flair. Camera angles range from canted to overtly off center in order to bring attention to the terrible realism of the film: the fact that all these characters are on the verge of something awful. When the viewer sees loud colors, the viewer hears loud and strong sounds. When Spike Lee introduces viewers to quieter and smoother characters, we hear equally smooth jazz sounds along with cooler tones. One of the best blends of these two distinctive styles (yet unmistakeably African American based in culture) comes at the very beginning of the film, during the opening credits, when Public Enemy’s Fight the Power is remixed to a jazz composition alongside it. The implications of the mixture of these different musical genres only becomes clear as the film progresses and slowly we begin to grasp the significance of the opening credits’ visual component. I do not want to mention it in this review since I find it quite unique and considering this was Rosie Perez’s film debut, it makes it all the more special.

I will say that the film’s score did not strike me as particularly memorable despite its orchestral adherence to the jazz genre (if you like jazz you will love the score; the tracks sound relatively the same at times and too much so at times for me). However, the film’s soundtrack, which features Public Enemy and Perri, achieved several milestones on the Billboard 200 and has some fantastic songs. A nice reggae-inspired track of Steel Pulse plays towards the middle of the movie and gives the film an additional layer of cultural verve.  Of course, the most prominent song of the movie as I mentioned before in my previous post is none other than Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. The importance of this song can not be lost on the viewer; it plays repeatedly during the film on one of the character’s boomboxes (yeah this film is retro) and serves as a reminder to everyone that they must keep fighting oppression and powerful forces attempting to subjugate them. At an early point in the film, a character with some form of cerebral palsy mentions that even though Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are both deceased, we must still keep fighting.

Indeed, this film was extremely controversial upon release due to its brutally honest portrayal of racism and critics’s fears that the film could incite riots all over the country. Now just appreciate the magnitude of that statement. A mere piece of cinema has the potential to instigate fundamental responses out of people. Quite amazing I must say. Whether Spike Lee intended his film to inspire people to fight back is unclear but the motivation is altogether irrelevant if one person gets that message from the film anyway. It only takes one to say we must fight! And another to say, no…we must do the right thing! Wait, could they both be the same thing? Who knows? So many people have watched this film and interpreted it differently that no, one clear universal message can be taken from it. Everyone will take something different from it. And I hate to say this but sometimes your race may even affect how you feel about this film. Because Spike Lee does force you to identify with his characters, his music, his world; and if you don’t like it or you’re not used to it, too bad! Whether the film makes you uncomfortable means nothing to Spike Lee because he didn’t set out to make you feel good in this movie. No, he set out to demonstrate that racism still exists in our society and that making/determining the right decisions never comes easy. The solution and responses are neither simple nor singular. Several viewers argue over whether the actions of certain characters are for the best, whether they are right or wrong…

A hugely important reference in Do the Right Thing

However you feel about this film, one fact remains clear. Spike Lee has created something that many films aspire to but few films achieve: the illustration of deep, raw human emotion in the context of race and self-examination. It references so many different moments in history, belief systems and cultural norms that we truly know that this is America. This is the country we live in and these are the issues we face every day. It’s no wonder why critics thought the film would spark violence; everything about it is just so real. Spike Lee does not filter or pretend. And that is why I love this film. It is the penultimate standard for films on racial and moral exploration. So as The Mayor so bluntly tells us, always remember to do the right thing…and go ahead and let me know what that is for sure once you figure it out.

Rating: 9.0/10

Soundtrack and Score: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_the_Right_Thing#Soundtrack

Here’s a couple great tracks from the film:

The Tough Choices

1 Aug

Film: Trainspotting

Director: Danny Boyle

Year Released: 1996

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Kelly MacDonald

Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes

Available on Cuevana: Yes

Rating: 9.7/10

Renton and Spud fly down a busy Edinburgh streeet as police follow

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?

Consider these wise words from main character Mark “Rent-boy” Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, the next time you go to class, have dinner with your family, go to work, or purchase your newest technical gizmo to add to your coveted collection. In a short soliloquy, played along Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and over images of Renton sprinting from the police, director Danny Boyle manages to summarize the entire meaning and significance of our lives. And what a life that is. Then again, Renton’s alternative lifestyle does not seem to provide a better solution, as Boyle demonstrates throughout the film. So what life is Boyle trying to tell us to live? Well it seems almost obvious: everything is a choice! You choose what to make of your life.

Boyle’s masterful film tells the tale of a group of friends, afflicted with heroin addiction, residing in Edinburgh Scotland, as they attempt to kick the habit and live a “better” life. Filled with humor, drama, intensity and moral depravity, Trainspotting succeeds on every level. We are introduced to perhaps the most deplorable yet sympathetic characters, and the story takes us through several turns in their lives. Perhaps the best moments in this masterpiece remain the scenes depicting withdrawal of main character, Renton, as he struggles to resist temptation and his several issues become apparent to the viewer. As much as people like to say that this is a movie about drugs, it is not. Sure, heroin is by and large the narrative paddle of the film. It does give the plot a base and allows the story to progress; however, this film is truly a documentation of the 90’s British culture and allows us to see five characters, honest and pure, making it through life in Scotland. For Boyle, there are no filters or ideas of painting a prettier picture. Never does he point or wave fingers at the actions of his characters. They are who they are and their choices influence their future. This is truly a film about finding yourself. And the terrific music in the film enhances this central motif.

Throughout the film, upbeat tempos contrast with subtle, moody tones (sometimes overlapped), which create a wide range of sounds and subsequently a quite eclectic soundtrack that is simply put, one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. Rarely does music complement the tone of films, much less add an extra layer of depth to a film’s core meaning and principle; however, Trainspotting’s soundtrack enriches the plot, the setting and the characters to the point where certain scenes of the film gain a musical identity.

Meet Spud: Hard to understand what he's saying sometimes

The Scottish setting of the film creates an extra dimension of sound: the language. Indeed, Scots can sound like they speak a different language at times, and Trainspotting illustrates their foreign, filthy mouths beautifully. Each character has a different cadence to their voice; the character Begbie for instance speaks with curtness and bluntness that induces a cacophony similar to what blunt force trauma must feel like. The exact correlation of character and their respective sounding voice by Boyle, establishes an authentic sub-culture that we are immediately drawn into.

The influences of Brit pop in this film cannot be ignored either. Damon Albarn (who went on to form the Gorillaz band) has his Closet Romantic playing over the end credits while one of my favorite songs of his former band, Blur, plays during an exceptional scene midway through the film. The Brit pop revolution had hit its apex during the release of Trainspotting in 96 and the associated mindset, culture and lifestyle had permeated much of Britain’s youth at the time. Simply put, Boyle’s story spoke to much of Britain’s youth at the time by portraying identifiable characters and a story that detailed the lost and existential sentiments of the youth. These individuals had chosen not to choose life but rather to ignore the everyday responsibilities that beckoned them towards their adulthood.

On an interesting side note, the film contains no music from Oasis, whom critics popularly coined the kings of the Brit pop revolution. On the other hand, soloist Iggy Pop’s significance on the film is very apparent, as the characters often mention his music and their taste for it. At one point, one of the character’s girlfriends tells him, it’s either me or Iggy Pop. Therein lies one of the fundamental themes of Trainspotting: what do we choose?

Former frontman for Blur, Damon Albarn

Well by the end, you gain a very substantial explanation from Renton while Underworld’s Born Slippy (great song) hammers the point home. I do not want to describe the end scene any further but for me, it remains one of the more magical and impressive combinations of imagery, dialogue and music in film history. This is a story about finding our niche in life and Trainspotting utilizes music in every way to bolster the story on every level. So much so that the music spanned not one, but two soundtracks.

So while the choices that Boyle presents in this film are the tough ones, the choice of whether to watch this film or not is an extremely easy one; in fact, it’s not much of a choice at all. Go watch Trainspotting!

http://www.cuevana.tv/peliculas/844/trainspotting/

Rating: 9.7/10

Here’s some of my favorite music from the film:

Sing by Blur

Atomic by Sleeper

Carmen Suite No. 2 by Georges Bizet

A full link to the track listing of the soundtrack(s): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trainspotting_%28soundtrack%29

-Cinemabeats