Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

 

As someone that is admittedly critical of the American film scene it is very difficult to give an American made film huge plaudits and credit.  However three films in the last month have really changed my outlook on the current forecast of American made films.

First was The Town, an intense character study about slums that are mainly populated by white Americans, a setting that is rarely seen.  I was very impressed by Affleck’s film and the honesty its story was told with.  It pulled a punch at the end but was still impressive.

Then there was David Fincher’s Facebook drama The Social Network. This was an exploration of the upper class in America and how social voyeurism has become quite an intrinsic part of all our lives.  Fincher continues to prove he is one of the most interesting directors working today.

However the film that stands out as being truly and uniquely an American film is Winter’s Bone.  This is an independent film directed by Debra Granik and made on a paltry budget of 2 million dollars.  However the story it tells is haunting and stays with you for many weeks after seeing the film.

Winter’s Bone tells the story of an impoverished 17-year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawerence) who is responsible for taking care or her younger brother and sister as well as her catatonic mother in their small Missouri home.  Her father is a Meth-Cooker who put their house up as bail when he gets arrested then promptly disappears.  Ree is forced to venture into the underground networks of her Ozark community to find her father if her family is going to have any chance of surviving.

The film breathes realism in every aspect.  This is by no means a glamorous look at life in the substance abuse riddled boonies of Missouri.  However like The Town this explores a Caucasian slum in a way that is not often seen in film.  Ree is forced to go out searching for her father amongst a community that is all interrelated, whether by blood or by past experiences.  It is obvious that Ree is not welcome and that she should just accept that her father is gone.  However Ree is a fighter and wants to be able to provide for her family without losing her dignity.  There is a poignant scene where Ree’s neighbors are skinning a deer.  Ree’s brother implores her to ask for some of it, as they have no food.  Ree scolds him, “never ask for something that ought to be offered”.

Lawrence depicts Ree with a steely set of nerves yet is not without ambitions outside her family.  She wishes to go to school like every other kid her age, and also dreams of someday joining the Army.  However she understands her responsibility and takes the burden of her family on her fearless shoulders.  Lawrence gives a strong performance, she plays Ree as such an empowered female lead throughout the film, which shows the backwardness of the Ozark community where the males make the life-altering decisions, and the females are forced to deal with the consequences.

The scene-stealer and overall best performance of this film however is John Hawkes as Ree’s coke-addicted uncle Teardrop.  If Hawkes were not nominated for Best Supporting Actor it would truly be a crime because he delivers a performance so powerful that the film feels almost anchored by his scenes.  He also delivers the scene of the film in the form of a showdown with Garrett Dillahunt’s Sheriff.  Hawkes has been trapped in thankless comedy roles for a long time but finally breaks out here and shows a brooding intensity.  Teardrop is a conflicted character that the audience never fully understands, however he is a symbol of the good and evil that we as humans are capable of.  He is not a fully sympathetic character yet he is not completely bad, and Hawkes portrays him beautifully.

Another thing that I specifically thought about this film was how much of an answer it was to The Coen Brothers No Country For Old Men.  Where No Country was an exploration of the transition from old moral views to a new generation of moral views Winter’s Bone is an example of the new generation run amuck.  In fact there seems to be a sense of continuity with Garrett Dillahunt’s character.  In No Country he was a young and naïve deputy to Tommy Lee Jones Sherriff.  In Winter’s Bone he is a Sheriff who has been jaded by the community he is serving and no longer sees a meaning to his job.  What are the effects of trying to serve justice on a community that has no respect for it?  How can you do your job when no one wants the job done?  These are all questions Winter’s Bone raises.

Director Debra Granik does a thoughtful and meditative job with this film.  She understands the direction that American filmmaking has been going and actively fights against that paradigm with this film.  She says, “The traditional storyline in an American film is usually in the form of a V shape. I am oversimplifying, but we see someone tumbling down, they hit bottom, and then they rise up again and find redemption…You get knocked down and ask all the ethical questions like how many chances do you give a person? When is the last chance? How many chances do they get? Can you imagine how difficult it is to fit that in a feature-length film? But those are the questions that are worth asking… The reason why boils down to the word “dark”. It is the scariest four-letter word in American storytelling and in this culture.”  This is a true statement but hopefully more directors will join Granik in their subtle understanding that humans are not always predictable and total redemption is not always found in a 2-hour time frame.  Also making a film does not mean that it needs to have a conclusive ending.  Trusting your audience enough to allow them to make decisions about what happens to the characters after the film is a huge compliment a film can pay its audience.  Granik achieves this and then some with a beautiful final scene that is half melancholic and half hopeful.

Read Full Post »

The Social Network

Many have referred to modern youth as being the “Facebook Generation”.  That is saying that Social Networking will completely change the way that people interact in the future.  My only criticism of this estimation is to say that Social Networking already has completely changed the way we interact with one another.  All types of different websites allow for people to display their lives in hopes of meeting other people around the world.  The birth of this idea is the focus of the new David Fincher film “The Social Network”.

The film is based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mreznick and tells a pretty simple and straightforward story.  Harvard Computer Programming student Mark Zuckerberg begins the film getting dumped by his girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara).  In a drunken frustration he blogs unflattering comments about her on his LiveJournal and then creates a website called Facemash where Harvard undergraduate girls pictures are put up face to face and people browsing the site can rate them.  This becomes so popular it inspires Zuckerberg to work on a bigger idea for a social networking site.  With some initial capital from his best friend Eduardo Saverin, (Andrew Garfield, or the new Spiderman in Sony’s reboot) Zuckerberg sedulously begins work on “The Facebook”.  It quickly grows from being Harvard-exclusive to other college campuses and Zuckerberg struggles to maintain control of his creation and his friendship with Eduardo.  All while dodging a lawsuit attempt from a triad of Harvard students who claim that Facebook was their idea.

I was first drawn to this film when I saw the beautiful trailer this summer with the “Creep” cover hauntingly layered over snappy dialogue.  My interest was peaked when I saw David Fincher was attached to direct.  Fincher is still unfortunately on the fringe of the directing A-List.  In the late 90’s he was somewhat pidgeon holed as a Thriller/Suspense director with films such as “Seven”, “The Game”, and “Panic Room”.  However in that time he also turned out the cult hit “Fight Club”, a film as epitomal for Generation X as “Social Network” is for the Facebook Generation.  In the Mid-2000’s he directed the underrated “Zodiac” and then two years ago got Oscar nominated with “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.  Fincher has a visual flair that is comparable to Kubrick in that every shot is very intentional in progressing the story and themes of the film.  However it is his sense of narrative that makes him stand out, expect this to be his first legitamate shot at grabbing a Best Director Oscar.  However Fincher’s film would be grounded if it wasn’t for the brilliant pen of Aaron Sorkin, Screenwriter of venerably worded films such as “A Few Good Men”, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, and the popular T.V. Series “The West Wing”.  If Fincher grounds the film with his realistic directing, Sorkin’s witty dialogue gives in wings and carries it to a level an average writer could not reach.  This is important because the story in and of itself is not terribly dramatic.  Zuckerberg creates the site, struggles with his friendship with Eduardo, and then gets hit with two lawsuits.  The stakes are not horrible high, yet Sorkin and Fincher add the drama without over dramatization.

A huge part this film is so successful is the casting and the unexpectedly astonishing performances.  The role of Mark Zuckerberg is a hard one to cast, however Jesse Eisenberg completely knocks it out of the park.  Eisenberg was quickly headed towards Michael Cera cute nerd typecasting before this intervention.  He creates a character in Zuckerberg that is at times a total jerk and menacingly selfish.  However he plays it so understated that you end up being sympathetic for him, even though he is a 26-year old billionaire.  While Zuckerberg is obviously the main cog of the film the scene-stealer is Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, in a case of pitch-perfect casting.  Parker arrives midway through the film and attempts to get on board the Facebook gravy train.  Timberlake is the perfect choice because he emanates charm and cool, just like Parker trying to get Zuckerberg to buy into his vision for Facebook.  However Parker is also a tragic character, a dinosaur of programming innovation that is deadly insecure of not being in on the cash cow Facebook would become.  The only real weakness in the acting is unfortunately the role of Eduardo Saverin.  On this character rests the fulcrum of the only real high stakes in the movie, the betrayal of a best friend.  Saverin and Zuckerberg’s falling out leads to a lawsuit, which is intertwined throughout the whole film via a non-linear storytelling style.  Andrew Garfield play’s the role so one-dimensionally that Saverin doesn’t even feel like a real person (As well as horribly butchering what I am assuming to be a pseudo-Brazilian accent…).  Garfield is so doe-eyed that the scenes he is supposed to feign intensity don’t hit nearly like they should.  A climactic showdown in the Facebook offices late in the film ends up not packing the emotional punch it could because Garfield simply doesn’t have the range to get the audience to believe he is truly angry.

I hoped that this movie would not simply be a straightforward biopic of Zuckerberg’s creation, though that also would have been successful, Fincher chooses to reach deeper into this and explore the roots of Social Networking as a concept.  This digital voyeurism is shown most powerfully in the lawyer meetings where Zuckerberg is attempting to exculpate himself.  Zuckerberg and his accusers (Saverin in one case, the Harvard Classmates in another) rarely speak to each other directly in these scenes, using their Lawyers as proctors who they speak through.  A powerful symbol of the courage allowed when one is a step disconnected from others.  What Social Networking does essentially is creates a symbol of a person, whether it be a Yelp! profile, a Blogster account, or a Facebook page.  Through this symbol a living breathing person can safely observe others and can more courageously interact because there is not the same fear of rejection or social cues.  This is the power of social networking yet also the addictiveness of it.  The film refers to this when a Harvard student hears that The Facebook got 650 members in a day.  He quips, “I couldn’t give free drugs out to 650 people in a day.”  Every day millions of college students spend countless hours on Facebook, so much that the term “Facebook stalking” has become very common vernacular.  As I am writing this I have my own Facebook page up, occasionally checking to see if anyone has posted anything new or written on my wall.  The film also interestingly portrays the battles as an old time Aristocratic Feud.  This is done primarily via the visual styling, with Fincher taking nods to Kubrick’s forgotten “Barry Lyndon” and other period pieces such as “Pride and Prejudice” and “Vanity Fair”.  The film is compelling because it is not simply a battle of regular people but of high class New England yuppies to whom money is not the issue but personal and familial pride is.

“The Social Network” sets itself a step above almost all films released this year, and is sure to be a Best Picture contender come Oscar season.  While the story does not always have a sense of urgency or high stakes the performances and content are so interesting you will find yourself not even noticing.  Sorkin’s script paired with Fincher’s directing make for a smartly comedic and dramatized look at one of the biggest innovations of the last twenty years.  Look for Eisenberg to receive tons of deserved Best Actor plaudits as well as Justin Timberlake finally getting respect as a talented actor in his own right.  “The Social Network” will most definintly cause you to take pause and think about all the ways you are “connected” online, and make you wonder if it may not be high time to “log out”.

Read Full Post »

Departures

I once heard someone describe the 2008 Japanese film “Departures” as the place where “Soul met Beauty”

I was curious as to where this place was, surely it could not be a film, for I thought it would be a shaded wood or a shining night sky.

However I was wrong on all counts, “Departures” truly is a film with Soul and Beauty, and the two encounter each other quite often.

“Departures” tells the story of a young cellist named Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) whose dreams are dashed when his Orchestra in Tokyo gets disbanned.  In financial woes because of the cost of a high-class cello, Daigo and his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosu) relocate back to his hometown.  Here Daigo finds a lucrative job preparing corpses in front of mourners.  Daigo is hesitant to accept the job at first and tells no one about it.  However after a while the community begins to find out, prompting him to lose friends and others close to him.  Daigo chooses to continue through the persecution because he begins to see the beauty in his work.  He is mentored by and elder corpse dresser named Shoei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) who urges him to continue.  Eventually so much contact with death leads Daigo to confront the issues in his own life, including old family relationships that lack closure.

“Departures” is a strangely packaged film, as at times it slips between genres.  It is strikingly poignant, while at the same time being uproariously hilarious.  The humor is at times very culturally Japanese, which lend to the films charm.  For this is truly a film made for the Japanese culture, one that holds death and all things surrounding it to be taboo topics.  Director Yōjirō Takita believed that his film was not going to succeed commercially due to these topics being discussed.  Despite this the film went on to gross over 61 million dollars and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008.

So what is it about this film that has such universal draw?  Why is it that it has found such a wide audience even with its perceptively small scope of story?

What drew me so much to this film is its grand celebration of life.  In the opening scenes Daigo experiences death.  It is not a physical death but a death to his dream of playing in an orchestra, and with it comes the death of his identity.  In his conversations with Miko he is a shell of himself, while her powerful life force seems to be the only thing keeping him going.  As more is revealed of Daigo we realize this passion for Cello is intertwined emotionally with a desire to know his father, who left Daigo and has been estranged from Daigo almost his whole life.  Daigo’s attempts to escape his woes lead him into an occupation where he must confront death, every day.  He is jaded and wounded but he is slowly coming back to life.  There is a beautiful moment where Daigo is contemplating quitting his newfound profession.  He is on a bridge staring into the murky river below.  He sees a salmon floating dead, a victim of his own fatigue.  Then another salmon approaches and accelerates past the corpse, fighting for his life.  At this point Daigo decides to continue his job, realizing how intertwined death and life are.

This is the fundamental exploration of the film, the interrelatedness of life and death.  Daigo encounters the beauty of both in his work.  He cleans and dresses the corpse in front of the families, in front of their eyes reviving their bodies.  This revival brings out the memories and beauty of these peoples lives, even ones with checkered backgrounds.  Many of the families tell Daigo after his work that their dead family member is the “Most beautiful they have ever been.”  Daigo sees that death and life are part of one another, we could not understand the beauty that we have in life without the concept of death ending its existence.  Daigo experiences the beauty of life, as does the viewer.  While death is a terrifying concept because of its mystery, “Departures” also highlights the mystery of life.  As the seasons change in Daigo’s hometown so does his outlook on life and his relationships with others.  He arrives in Fall, understanding the leaves as they die and fall off of the trees.  In the winter Daigo is at a low place, however is beginning to discover more about his life.  As the spring rolls in Daigo experiences the revival of what he thought were dead relationships in his life.  Daigo experiences this rebirth and the film begs the audience to find the same beauty and revival in the things we think to be dead in this life.

Life is cyclical, Death is imminent.  However these two things that so tightly govern our lives are beautiful and true gifts.  Both have their time and place and both are unavoidable no matter how hard we try and thwart them with our personal attempts at control.  As Daigo learns the acceptance of the existence of Death and the embrace of it as a part of life leads one to fully feel and emote.

“For Death begins at Life’s first breath and Life begins at the touch of Death”

-John Oxenham

Read Full Post »

The Town

The Bank Robbery film has been done before, many times.  “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Point Break”, “The Inside Man”, and the epitomal “Heat”.  It has become a sort of sub-genre of Crime films and explores some very interesting characters.  Exploring the psyche of men who meticulously plan out a 3 minute highly intense crime and have to trust other members of their team to get them through the heist.  There is a sens of fraternity and trust amongst the team (except for the formulaic ‘traitor’ in the gang who never talks much and no one really trusts).  In Ben Affleck’s “The Town” we get an exploration of childhood friends robbing banks together in Charlestown, and the idea of “Honor Amongst Thieves”.

“The Town” begins with a heist where one of the bank managers named Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) sees a tattoo on a member of the gang, making them vulnerable to her witness.  Ringleader Doug MacRay (Affleck) begins to follow her, however his romantic interest begins to pull the group apart.  And a cavalier FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is hot on their tail.  The gang begins to question each other’s motives and tension mounts towards a harrowing climax.

With “The Town” Affleck has officially announced his arrival as a director.  He makes so many great choices artistically in this film that I am amazed this is the same guy that once chose to star in “Gigli”.  His first important choices were in his casting of this film.  He has surrounded himself with a large heaping of burgeoning talent that carries the film.  Affleck himself delivers his most soulful and layered performance since “Hollywoodland” and does us all the favor of not making MacRay the “Bank Robber with the Heart of Gold”.  He also cast the “so hot right now” Jon Hamm as his FBI foil.  I thought this choice would backfire, as Hamm seemed a one-dimensional actor to me.  However he proves himself more than worthy of being a movie star with a performance that is very complex.  His FBI officer is in many ways the antagonist (if this film even has one) and has one great scene at a bar where he goes from smooth and charming to menacing and terrifying in a matter of seconds.  However the most impressive performance of the film belongs to Blake Lively, yes she of Gossip Girl fame.  I was convinced that she was going to be the bane of this films existence; I thought she was simply another stock “Blonde Girl” in Hollywood.  However she centers the film with her performance and becomes a symbol of Charlestown in MacRay’s life.  The rawness of her character, a single mother who is addicted to oxycotin and cocaine, is a central part of who MacRay is.  In the beginning of the film he evens shares a brief, un-intimate tryst with her; this scene parallels powerfully with the first true lovemaking scene with MacRay and Claire.

The film is at its best in the bank robbery scenes themselves, with Affleck flexing his directing muscle by using very creative techniques with sound to ratchet up the intensity.  Affleck displays the understanding that silence can tell much more than a booming soundtrack or loud effects, especially in these hurried moments.  The lightning quick pacing gives the vibe of an actual robbery, where one mistake can cause complete failure of a carefully rehearsed heist.  These moments are rife with chest tightening, razor-wire force as the audience has no idea how any of the robberies are going to go down.  We are left to speculate and hope for the characters we are attached to.   In this way it is very comparable to “Hurt Locker”, and even shares a co-star in Jeremy Renner.  Affleck truly shines in a car chase scene in the crowded alleyways of Charlestown.  This includes some great moments that are sure to be the most memorable icons from the film.

Affleck’s film lags in the most important relationship of the film, the romance between MacRay and Claire.  It is meant to center the film but instead is drowned in clichés and doesn’t achieve the affect of sentimentality for their tragic bond.  This leads into the weakest moment of the film, the ending.  Affleck’s yearning to give the audience a hopeful ending instead pulls a punch.  Instead of ending with the ambiguity of a true classic “The Town” goes about four shots too long, however it doesn’t compromise all of the positive things done before.

“The Town” is an uncompromising look at life in the slums, and how people try and escape their horrible situations.  Affleck is impressive as an actor, yet even more so as a director.  He has shown that he can make a well-paced and quality film.  It would be interesting to see him move away from the crime genre with his next film.  However “The Town” is well worth visiting, and surely merits another viewing.

Read Full Post »

Amelie

The world is full of, above all else, details, facts, truths. Anything we can know is one of these. On August 25th 2010, I woke at 7:10 AM with a stuffy nose. I fumbled around in my room for 5 minutes because I could not find my glasses. I ate a piece of toast which I put into the toaster with a heat setting of 7, burning the toast. I brushed my teeth before I ate the toast, and forgot to brush again after. I like falling asleep to the sound of a clothes dryer in motion, steeping my tea for over 1/2 hour, and leaving all the lights off except for one when I am home alone at night. These are things about me that are true and accurate. But, they are not very interesting, are they? Or, are they?

This 2001 film, “The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain”, might say otherwise. Amelie opens with a narration of unrelated events; the temperature on a certain day, the fact that a waiter forgot some glasses atop a table, and other quirky minutiae. But one of these events is significant to us, the movie watcher. A sperm and egg are about to meet, and give rise to a process that will eventually produce Amelie Poulain, the hero of the film. We see that, of all the things that happen in the universe, even this most important event is indeed part of a set which includes all of the others. At this thought, I find myself asking “so, why is the conception and birth of Amelie, or any of the other events that center around her or the story of this movie, significant to me, or to anyone else? Generally, how do we determine the facts, events, things, or relationships that are valuable to us?” The movie provides its answer to this somewhat weezlingly dry philosophical question by saying, “shhhhhhhhhh. Watch the beautiful film that I am. I won’t tell you the answer. I will show you the answer. And you tell me if it feels right.”

Amelie is raised by her anti-social and shy (but loveable) father; she eventually moves out to live by herself, and starts working at a local cafe as a waitress. She “cultivates a world of small pleasures”. Little things that alleviate the loneliness that is a creeping feature in the back of her life. Like running her hands through bags of grain. Or skipping stones in a canal. Amelie lives in relative comfort but is ultimately all by herself; and this eventually becomes the only thing that really matters to her. One day, after spending the night in a train station, when she arrives too late to catch the line home, she first sees Nico. She sees him, and alongside him, a glimpse of a world beyond the small pleasures. A world of big broad strokes of fulfillment and connection. As it turns out, Nico is very much like Amelie. He too is an oddity, when it comes to the things he likes. He spends his free hours tweezing torn up pictures out from under subway photo-booths, re-assembling the pictures, and placing them in his scrap-book. Or taking photo-graphs of various foot and hand prints in cement. Or recording the various types of odd laughter he hears. If he had just looked into her eyes at that moment, he might have seen the world of joy that Amelie desires. But he is distracted.

The story drives forward, centering on this romantic possibility. But I won’t ruin that piece for you. I’ll say a little bit more about what it’s like to watch this film. I don’t think I can communicate the joy that this movie promotes. Like its themes, the movie focuses on the small things. Everything director Jean-Pierre Jeunet decides to show us on-screen is whimsically lovely and colorful, and fascinating. The objects that Amelie keeps in her house; the fruits and vegetables of the local grocer. The suitcase that flies off of Nico’s bicycle as he speeds away. There is this feeling; we are being urged to wonder at reality again, in a way that young children do. Everything is clear, and fresh, and fascinating! And, these small joys layer on top of each other, until you really do enter that state of wonder, in the world of Amelie.

This spirit of wonder is the films answer to my earlier question, I think. The world is full of isolated facts, some extraordinary, and some utterly mundane. But there is this wonder in all of them; and it is up to us to apply that wonder to the things that cause us to melt into a puddle. To go with our gut, get out in the world, and find wonder and connection, period. I could be wrong. Watch this movie friends. The themes I tried to flesh out a little bit here, if it is even a fair analysis, are only a few of the ones offered up. This movie is a feast, and joyous one at that :).

Read Full Post »

Lord of the Flies

There are only a few other movies that make me as deeply sad as Peter Brook’s 1963 film “Lord of the Flies”. But sometimes I can have a melancholic temperament, so I keep re-watching it. Fortunately, there is more to this movie than the ideas conveyed through it. It is also a visual feast. It is one of my all time favorites for just this right balance between visceral and intellectual effectiveness it achieves, and also for very satisfactorily translating William Golding’s novel (one of my favorite books) to film.

The movie opens with a slide show, of pictures of a British public school. Very civilized activities are occurring. We hear a tutor read Geometry and Latin lessons, a group of relaxed people watch a cricket game. A boy’s choir sings the hymn Kyrie Eleison (lord have mercy), and is politely applauded. But then, tribal-sounding percussion takes over the soundtrack. There is a war on. There are explosions, massive bomber wings fill the sky, and the picture of one plane going down, flashed after a picture of a group of school boys, is the last shot we see. A piercing cymbal crash.

Buzzing flies. Ralph awakes, lying in the jungle of a tropical island. It was his plane that crashed. He is marooned with about thirty other boys, mostly younger than him. He meets a boy who is given only the nickname Piggy. He is a tubby boy, and a very intelligent boy. Ralph and Piggy form a sort of bond, a tentative alliance, while swimming in the ocean, comforting themselves after the trauma they have just come through. They have arrived in a tropical paradise. Indeed, the Puerto-Rican locations where they shot this film are absolutely gorgeous even in crisp black and white. And then they find the conch shell, the object that will be used throughout the film to symbolize the echoes of the boys’ past life. Indeed, sounding from the blown conch is the call to nobility, to order, and right morality. This shot took my breath away: we see the conch drift in on the surf, waiting, as if it had been placed there by God. When Ralph plucks it from the ocean and sounds the call, the other boys come to him, respecting the authority of the deep tones that come from within the shell.

That authority is immediately challenged. Some of the boys who gather on the beach for a council are part of a choir; They are led by Jack. He is a fearsome child, full of all sorts of unrest. He leads his choir of black cloaked angels, singing “Lord Have Mercy, Kyrie Eleison!” across the pristine white beach. Joining up with the other boys, he immediately starts quarreling with Ralph and Piggy, seeking control, and the freedom to do exactly as he pleases. After he and Ralph and another boy named Simon determine that a signal-fire must be lit from the top of a mountain, Jack asserts, “Got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages. We’re English! And the English are better than everything. So we’ll have lots of rules. And when anybody breaks them…”.

Jack is the one who starts to break them. He has arrived on the island with a cloaked lust for blood. He encounters a squealing piglet in the forest. At first he holds the knife to its throat, and can’t bring himself to kill it. He does much more than that later. He and his choir take on the rule of hunters. They return from their hunts shocked at the violence they are committing, all splattered with blood. One day Jack takes his crew hunting instead of attending to the fire. A boat sails by; the crestfallen look on Ralph’s face, and his anger when he discovers that it was Jack who dropped the ball, are so wonderfully expressed on James Aubrey’s face, the untrained actor cast as Ralph. But Jack has decided that he will take not another scolding or corralling from anyone else ever again. He splits off from Ralph’s tribe, taking most of the others under his sway. He wants to have “fun”. He will not play by the rules anymore. He becomes a “savage”; he covers his body in strange dyes, masking his appearance. The choir boys look like frightful demons now. They beat each other for fun, they don’t worry one bit about keeping the signal fire going, or about getting home.

Things on the Island do not turn out very well for any of the boys. It is a good island when they arrive; there are a great deal of fruit trees, a healthy population of wild pigs. If only they could work together, if only they could live “sensibly”. Or so Piggy says. Piggy has the deepest faith in “the rules” of any of the boys. He is always making reference to his auntie, or to the old world back home. In boring detail he describes the etymological origin of the name of his home-town, Camberly. He frequently uses the excuse of his “ass-mar” for not doing anything risky, on account of his auntie not approving. “Grown-ups sit down and have tea and talk things out” he says. Oughtn’t the boys behave like adults?

But indeed, I think Piggy, that the world is full of adults. Unfortunately, as we learned from the title sequence, those adults are just as much at each others throats as the boys on the island eventually become. The Island is destroyed in the end. The fool, the beast, the Übermensch, the unrestrained id in Jack cannot hold himself back. The boys that Peter Brook and crew recruited to act in this film are just spot on. None of them were professional actors, so some of the performances feel a bit awkward. But little boys are awkward and surprising. The facial expressions of Ralph and Jack in particular are to celebrated for their realism. The pain at the loss of innocence, and the emerging inner brute are right there for us to see. The darkness of man is not just a sad, albeit livable fact. The burning of the island in the end is final; if not for a horribly ironic deus ex machina, all the boys would have died. The launching of a nuclear arsenal is a final decision. One that any of us might make, if only on accident. After all, even our defacto hero, Ralph, ends up committing a horrible atrocity. Barring our own deus ex machina, things will not turn out all right. So this film would suggest. I need to drink some tea. I’ll give some to Ralph, cheer him up a bit :).

Read Full Post »

Jindabyne

Jindabyne is a film about family bonds not easily broken…no matter how hard we might try.  This 2006 Australian drama takes place in the small town of Jindabyne, a quiet little town where everyone seems to know about other people’s business.  It stars an ensemble cast led by Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney.

This film is an honest portrayal of people on the edge, driven mad by the mundane routine of everyday life.  Gabriel Byrne plays Stewart, a former Race Car Driver who now runs a Car maintenance shop and is married to Laura Linney’s Claire.  They have one young child together and their marriage seems fine from the surface.  Stewart and Claire are the centerpiece of a group of couples that spend most of their free time together.  They are all tied together in some ways and each relationship is layered with different intricate difficulties and unique personalities.  The Men (Stewart, Carl, Rocco, and Billy) leave for an annual fishing trip, and the Women (Claire, Jude, Carmel, and Elissa) hang out with each other during the weekend.

As the men leave we know a little about the characters, and all of them seem to be not quite happy with their life situations.  Claire has an obvious mistrust for Stewart’s Mother, who has come into town to help watch their child.  Claire also seems to be having some medical issues that she is trying to hide from everyone.  Jude is a middle-aged alcoholic who has never really dealt with the loss of her daughter.  Carmel is the local elementary school teacher who ties these two families together as both of the children under their guardianship are in the same class.

The film opens with a crime, we are not shown the length of it at first but eventually are let in to the fact that a murder has taken place and the body has been dumped out by the river.  The Men’s trip quickly turns from whimsical and escapist to morbid and terrifying as Stewart finds this body floating in the lake that they were planning to fish in.  The Men debate over what to do, and soon realize that no matter what the girl will be dead and decide to tether her to a branch and fish for a day before returning home from their vacation.  This choice sets off the action for the rest of the film.

When the Men return home much is made of their decision to leave the dead body instead of immediately reporting it to the authorities.  The Men themselves seem to be confused on why they did what they did.  When they are fishing they seem drunk off of the beauty of the landscape and lost in how mystical the woods and forest can be.  This is an idea that is alluded to across all mediums of creativity.  Stories such as Robin Hood or A Midsummer’s Night Dream draw on this idea of freedom and a powerful life force existing in the woods.  There are often shots from the point of view of a far off observer of the men in the forest, hinting at another presence that is supernatural in these woods.

Whatever the reason for their choice the consequences are wide ranging.  The news makes headlines in the papers; people trash the men’s workplaces, Aboriginal people call it a hate crime due to the nationality of the men being white and the murder victim being Aboriginal.  The perspectives here are interesting to see, as the men don’t understand why it is such a big deal for them to have done what they did.  However the women, Claire in particular, cannot live with the decision their men have made.  Claire begs to know what happened from Stewart, however he is all too willing to brush it under the carpet, like everything seems to be in Jindabyne: A town with many secrets.  This issue brings these up, and the couples are forced to deal with the demons of their past.  The issues and wrongdoings of the past are never explained, merely referred to.  This serves to show the audience that there may not even be a true recognition of these events, merely the harsh and broken feelings that were the result.

The film also powerfully depicts the Grand Canyon between Men and Women.  I would have really enjoyed seeing this with a Female to see what she thought of the men’s decision as I found myself consistently siding with the male.  My bias became so obvious that I began really disliking the female characters and all of the choices that they were making.  I just wished that they didn’t make such a big deal out of nothing.  In many ways this took me into the perspective of the men, I had the same frustrations they did.  I experienced the same spectrum of emotion, which is a great deal to say about a film.

The scene that perfectly sums this film up for me occurs at the beginning.  Stewart is with his son, teaching him to fish at a lake by their house.  He catches something that ends up being an old clock, and Stewart informs us that old Jindabyne is beneath the Lake, washed over when a new Dam was put in years ago.  In Jindabyne, the past is a murky place, a place no one dares go.  However every once in a while, something rises to the surface.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »