Following Sean


“Following Sean” is an engaging documentary, focusing on the youth of a hippy-parented boy and then finding him, Sean, again later in life. It isn’t fictional, which can make you cringe a few times that we are following a normal, family occupied man with a camera because his dad was a hippy. But the film bars your expectations, and one is equally enigmatic as the filmmaker to see how Sean turned out.

Sean was smoking cannabis at age four, running through the crowded street corners beneath long-legged and bearded smokers, wearing ti-dye shirts and colorful scarfs. He was a child of the peace-movement. The documentary, “Following Sean” poses from the beginning, “What will Sean be like as an adult?” And as the student-film footage of the Director’s hippy years are shown, we grow an inexperienced nostalgia for this area. Following Sean is a bit directionless, but it is also a poignant and effective sentimental documentary.

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Memento

Christopher Nolan’s memento takes the narrative linearity of film and flips it upside down; Leonard, played by Guy Pierce, must work backwards to find out his wife’s death because he no longer has a short-term memory. The premise of this is fulfilled to its fullest: He writes notes, not on a pad, but tattooed across his body. The motel-clerk has him booked for two rooms, so he can receive two payments. And everything that Leonard encounters could potentially not be what it seems.

Tense, provocative, and highly intelligent, Memento displays British director Nolan’s talent,and sets the tone for his later, also highly psychological films.

Trainspotting

Trainspotting is a classic, if not The Godfather, of drug-depiction cinema. Based on a book by Irvin Welsh, the film peeks into the lives of a group of British heroin addicts. It features an ensemble cast of wacky characters, the main character, Renton, played by a young Ewan McGregor, and the side-men, Spud, played by Ewen Bremner, and Jonny Lee Miller as sick boy. Their isn’t much of a plot: we are simply gazing at the behavioral modes of three British drug addicts, and that plot is much different than most peoples “ordinary” lives, which Renton denounces and is clinically afraid of, in a literal sense. From start to finish, however, their is always thoughts of getting clean, and that train does eventually approach for Renton.

They have a method of trying to get clean. Lock the doors. Can’t get out. Then, you get to leave like you just walked out of a billionaire dollar signing. Unless your friends cant handle your screaming. “Get me out!” And they cave, and you cave, and it all tumbles: This second-person wording is done throughout in Renton’s voice over, as he tries to explain the troubles of an addict in his British accent.

Then their is Robert Carlyle incredible performance as Begbie, a snide and insulting forty-or-something who hangs around the bars with Renton and friends, chucking beers and swearing his head off. With Begbie, you feel like his energy with his own age crew has worn dry and he hangs around with Renton’s friends to seem like hot-stuff. He’s skinny and probably couldn’t beat up any of the early-twenties, but he acts like he could.

Renton comes to realize, through listening to Sick Boy’s same old theories and injecting the same poison, that he lives not unlike the ordinary man. Monotonous and tiring, the wild life soon dies on him. When Begbie takes him to bar, he sits patting his thighs, awkward and too drug-occupied to know how to attract a girl. Danny Boyle expresses these characters lives and attitudes with great honesty and fervor, creating creepy hallucinatory scenes and dramatic down-pourings. Though ultimately it is a devastating film, it also has the quick speed of a hip and entertaining film: but don’t get the wrong idea, Renton went clean.

Carlito’s Way

Carlito’s Way, directed by gangster film auteur Brian DePalma, is a tantalizing view into the post-prison world of a gangster. It features Al Pacino as Carlito, Sean Penn as his unjust Lawyer, and Penelope Ann Miller as Carlito’s long-time love interest, Gail. Carlito has a heavy sense of regret and re-establishment, but also holds the idea that you don’t rat on your friends, his most dangerous of ideas; this gets him in a harmful situation when he is sitting in the D.A., asking to testify against his heinous lawyer. He refuses, no matter the result.

The main-plot of Carlito’s way is ex-racketeer Carlito’s attempt at getting clean and staying away: It follows him. Through family, through his area, and through the respect people have come to know him through. He has to get out, with Gail, and go live out the remainder of his life. The film boasts the usual great performance from Al Pacino, but Sean Penn should be noted for such a great performance playing an ugly role as a corrupt lawyer. As the lawyer, he perfects the nervous ticks, the coke-sniffles and paranoia, and the reassuring talk of his lawyer-magic; his character itself is an embodiment of unjust admiration, to be able to do what he does at night and wake up in his own office, with secretaries, doing the duties that a lawyer does.

Carlito still has the street-smarts he had before, but toned down; when a punk street-thug, Benny, approaches him in his night-club, asking for his girl who is with the lawyer at the time, the Lawyer pulls a gun on him: Carlito’s got to take Benny out back, for the sake of respectability in the club. He decides to give mercy though, and tells his men to just leave him: This might possibly tick something in the heads of his men, seeing that they will go nowhere in the Darwinian world of the streets if they stick with Carlito.

With powerhouse acting on all sides, Carlito’s way forms an allegory on the one-way train, the profession that once you get in, it’s impossible to get out. Complex, hard-hitting, and plain entertaining, Carlito’s way is one of the top gangster films by Director Brian DePalma.

Pi

Max Cohen has a long list of mental-problems, psycho somatic, hyper-obsessiveness, severe headaches because he allegedly stared at the sun when he was young; too many to continue naming. Max is played by a taut-faced Sean Gullette to great, authentic effect. Similar to ‘Peeping Tom’, this movie has little interaction outside of Max and his mind’s manifestations.

Max wants to break the secrets of Pi and predict the stock market; he is obsessive, hallucinatory, and has very little friends, besides a seizure-stricken retired Mathematician. The man discusses during casual father-son like meetings, that approaching Math with conviction and desire for a conclusion will get to you floating towards a dead end. Indeed, the man gets the seizures from being overly-attentive to his studies, depicted in the film like a drug.

The movie is shot in black-and-white and features some powerful moments of panic. It is has some irrefutable similarities to Aronofsky’s later work ‘Requiem for a Dream’ like the sharp close-up to the cupped pill flying into the needy mouth of its target. But this is meager, it’s his own work and he has the the right to draw from it.

The movie is a stark representation of intellectual-obsession and how it can madden ones soul, albeit it
doesn’t help to be slightly mad already. The voice-over callback to ‘When I was young I stared at the sun’ is partly a signal to the audience of his troubled existence, and also his Dysfunctional Defiance Syndrome, hence wanting to crack the stock-market because he is repeatedly told he cannot.

The film is a stark, nightmarish auteur-attempt and fits the black-and-white bill as good as any modern film can. The end scene fades, like the final scenes of Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’, with a gloom of ambiguous prosperity and heaven, a long needed escape from needing so erratically to know.

Film Review: Chinatown

Chinatown, directed by the acclaimed director Roman Polanski,  is a feat of modern noir, and an equally crowning achievement from Robert Towne, whose screenplay made the show. It takes place in a classic Los Angelos, and is about a private investigator named J.J. Gittes, who gets a call for help from a woman looking for an investigator of her husband’s murder. This woman turns out to be in a very complex case, one that has to deal with the power behind the Water supply of Los Angeles, and a series of murders. Mr. Mulroy was the partner of Noah Cross, (John Huston), and is found dead in the waters of Los Angeles. Tons of water is being poured meaningless into the bay: Why?

The movie takes a contemplative look into the world of the private-eye, and into the world of a woman who has been confused about herself and family for a very long-time; “She’s my sister! She’s my daughter!”. I feel as though the film shows J.J. Gittes as a man who goes after the controversial-cases, a sort of light mobman, and this case is him trying to set his reputation, both internally and publicly, straight. The film boasts great scenes of light-decor filled with smoke, and tense, mysterious gestures from the characters: We, because we follow Mr. Gittes, never know what the other characters are doing or why, especially Mrs. Mulroy and Noah Cross, her father, though one can assume she has been subjected the most unfairly. You can see it in her eyes, and the dark, careless way she speaks.

Their is a famous scene with Roman Polanski as a stand-in actor, a gangster-like figure around the water-supply area, who cuts Gittes nose off, leaving him with a metaphorical bandaged nose for the rest of the film, a lack of scent. And it couldn’t be more true, though not out of incompetence; He takes pictures, keeps his findings hidden from colleagues, and blasphemies politicians as he attempts to get information, truly seeing for himself and for us, the corrupt world of covering the tracks in political life. The water’s are muddy, and we sense it early on.

Roman Polanski’s ‘Chinatown’ is a tense and suspenseful movie: It takes us through dark alleys and clouded actions, and out the end with still unsettled grounds: It’s what happens in Chinatown. A jarring, wild ride of classic noir film-making, and a great testament to Polanski’s talent of atmosphere and meticulous staging.

Paths of Glory (1957)

7/10

Kubrick directs his first big-budget feature, Paths of Glory, with grace and his signature phlegmatic style of shot-succession. It stars Kirk Douglass Col. Dax, a young leader whose occupation as a crime lawyer shines through his personality, before he even has to take the stand. Although Douglass is known by some as a vanity actor, I get the feeling that after he thought he could push young Kubrick around in ‘Spartacus’, as the producer, now as an actor he found his ‘rank’. He gives a strong, constrained performance, as the man who tries very hard to be the mirror of the General’s immorality, and of the idea of war entirely.

Col. Dax leads the units in the trenches many yards back from the ant hill, a rather funny name to be used in such seriousness by higher-ups. But when he is ordered by his higher-command, Gen. Mireau, to raid up towards Ant Hill, which even then they could barely hold from a distance, Col. Dax is forced into this act of wrong futility. He obeys orders, and the result is half the men charging and being blown to pieces, in a very effective tracking shot concerned only with the frame of the charging soldiers. The other half of the soldiers don’t charge at all; this cowardice, as Gen. Mireau calls it, who by now we can see is a soulless man whose been in Wars far too long, is put into military court. Gen. Mireau demands execution of his own French troops for their cowardice; beginning with a request of one-hundred, it ends with the selection of one from each regiment, a total of three. The rest of the film concerns itself with the morality of this, and the desperation of Col. Dax for a way to save the soldiers from a pointless execution.

We know once the court hearing is adjourned that the soldiers are going to die; it is a transparent slight in the film that the one-position opinion of Col. Dax is so absolute, as to mimicking the same absoluteness of the General. The military is too attached to cowardice, and sending a signal, more so to the public’s approval than the soldiers, about how things are run. At this end, the rest of the movie seems pointless, yet the ruminations of Col. Dax on the nature of war are enticing;  he stands up to higher-ups and even when they don’t always catch it, we do: he plays word-games on the bluntness of the Generals when it comes to death and rightness, constantly.

Paths of Glory is a unique war film, expected from the anti-war director Stanley Kubrick. He approaches the story with economical methods of  narrative, from the perspectives of all parties involved, including in the cellar with the soon to be executed soldiers. Stark, riveting, and unnerving, Paths of Glory strikes rebellion in the gut from the comfort of a chair.