Le Cercle Rouge (1970) – Film Review

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Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville, I think, is just about equal, or at least comparable, in tact with Hitchcock, even if he has half the worldwide exposure. “Le Cercle Rouge” is a detective story about a man who escapes from the clutches of the law and goes on the run. It features a corrupt ex-cop who always keeps us on our toes, keeps us guessing.

The story begins with Vogel, the con, escaping from the clutches of the inspector and jumping out of a slow-moving train they’re currently traveling, running off as a ‘free’ man into the wild. A good way to start off any movie: with a bang.

He then runs into Corey, played by Alain Delon, who offers his help by hiding him in the trunk of his car, as there are now barriers set-up in order to catch Vogel before he leaves the city. The captain of Internal Affairs tells the Inspector, the man who lost the prisoner, Vogel, in the first place, very coldly, that all men are evil; to not doubt that Vogel deserves punishment, even if he didn’t commit whatever crime he is accused of.

Corey and Vogel create a silent bond, both not very communicative, and decide to pull off a Jewel heist. Vogel knows an ex-cop, Jansen, who can help with the heist.

Jansen walks into the Jewel facility, on the highly guarded second-floor, and acts as if he wants to buy jewels, but mainly is just looking at the locations of the security cameras with the corner of his eye. One of the slickest moments I’ve seen in a movie happens here, when, after the long struggle of climbing inside of the Jewelry building after-hours, without triggering alarms, the three criminals stand before the master alarm.

All around them are alarms that they’ve managed to avoid by stepping over or under. But the master button is on the far wall, past all the glass-encapsulated jewels and Jansen, with his sniper rifle, has to deactivate it with a single shot; (he made special low-density alloy bullets so as to not destroy the button, just activate it).

He puts it on a tripod he’d brought and we see the cross-hairs from his perspective but then, suddenly, he jerks the gun off of the tripod, Corey and Vogel silently gulping and gasping, and shoots the button with only the simple trust of his steady hand and chest: straight in the center. They run off and take all the jewels, alarms disabled.

What essentially makes Melville’s movies so entertaining and fresh is his characters: the plots aren’t particularly complex, but the little quirks of his characters are unforgettable. The gritty cop whose chasing after Vogel is a lover of cats. The alcoholic ex-cop, who joins in on the Jewel heist as the sniper, dresses up for the heist in a suit and tie for no particular reason at all.

It’s these touches, matched with the brilliant direction and cinematography, that makes it an experience not only worthy for the dense, well thought-out plotting, but for the unique, engaging characters as well.

Looper (2012) – Film Review

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Rian Johnson’s “Looper”, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis, is a fresh science-fiction film that focuses on the feelings and emotions of its central characters, avoiding the typically contrived structures of action films.

The movie isn’t yet home free, though, considering the surplus of logistical flaws surrounding the proposed time-travel absolutes and the paradoxes they represent. The sheer impact of its ideas, however, are enough to warrant at least one viewing, if not multiple.

The story begins with an introduction to the world itself: a society where time-travel is outlawed to the general public and used only by the most sneaky and highly-skilled criminals. It’s challenging to write a sci-fi script in a way that explains the world-building details of the new society or time period while not hovering over these ideas for too long.

Director Rian Johnson hands over the expository duties to the main character, Joe, who explains the various types of lingo throughout various voice-overs. The balance between voice-over and visual context within the action is a tricky tightrope to tinker with.

The narration could have been broken down and explained organically throughout the course of the film, even though other visual storytellers prefer to pull the heady sci-fi information out of the box as soon as possible. Bring it up to the surface, let the ideas and concepts simmer and cook thinly across a film’s lengthy running-time.

The concept of “closing the loop”, where the Looper is forced to turn their blunderbuss weapon over towards their much older, future self. The character of Seth, played by the eternally-scrawny screwup, Paul Dano, introduces the audience to the “closing the loop” concept fittingly: by having to close the loop on himself.

Everything that happens to Seth seems to be foreshadowing what will happen to the younger Joe. It feels like an excess of exposition: why introduce Seth and his hasty demise when it’s the same violent end that Joe will be forced to face, sooner than later?

Despite a few questionable narrative decisions, the action is stylish and enthralling. Seeing Bruce Willis play an old man bent on revenge never gets tiresome, especially given that Willis reaches a near manic state, blood flowing down his face and neck as he shoots down a series of henchmen with a sturdy set of automatic-rifles hoisted up on his shoulders.

The performances are very effective, even Gordon-Levitt’s, whose lip and facial transformations flew past the gimmick stage and started to just feel right. For all it’s worth, Bruce Willis plays across from Gordon-Levitt with rugged but tangible chemistry. Willis pulls off a fatherly, concerned tone.

Jeff Daniels adds some spice to the ensemble cast as a rugged mob leader from the future. He’s the orchestrater for the Loopers and their time-traveling assignments.

When young Joe meets with old Joe, the screen is filled with dualism and constant provocation: we are only shown a single scene featuring the two men sitting down, having a nice, regular conversation, disappointingly so, though.

Gordon-Levitt and Willis are the two most enigmatic and engaging people in the film. Every other scene involving the two consist either of violent gun spraying or yelling/arguing about their self interests, given that they’re separated by such a massive age gap.

Emily Blunt stars as Sara, a farm-owner, whose son has mysterious and powerful abilities. The son can alter the timeline, a unique and rare gift. There are some inventive futuristic technology shown on the way, such as a pesticide droid that flies down the long rows of crops, spreading an equal amount of water across the crops.

Sara turns out to have a will and a temper of her own. Her character is brought to the forefront in the third act. There are plenty of philosophical debates that bother the characters and hold them back from moving forward. Nature vs. nurture, sacrifice yourself or save your future loved ones.

The films final ending is memorable and visually electric. It’s filled with earned, real poignancy, even if it renders everything that had came before it almost totally meaningless.

“Looper” is one of the best sci-fi noir films of the 2000s, and introduces Rian Johnson to the mainstream public as an unrestrained, creative, and inventive young filmmaker.

Deleted Scenes from P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights

Take a look at a few deleted scenes from Boogie Nights, starring Mark Wahlberg and John C. Riley. These short clips are filled with the intensity of the actors, showing them in an almost improv-like manner. It’s easy to look at the scenes and point out flaws or make reasons why they deserved to be cut after the fact, but they’re still pretty great gems to check out atleast once.

Notice director P.T. Anderson rarely does more than two different setups in a scene: In fact, most of his shots are continuous throughout. With that breezy, lofty effect, one can barely even notice the presence of the camera.

I can see how this scene didn’t make the cut: It slashes subtlety and straight out dictates to us how much Dirk obsesses over himself, while also not adding anything to the narrative. By the time the movie ends, this theme is clear enough.

Some great, babbling actors.

Battle Royale: Hunger Games Unrated

    Battle Royale is the BR act in Japan, which consists of a mandatory lottery that selects a class of students to fight it out on an island, to the death. In this film, we see a class of rebellious ninth-grade students taken onto a bus, gassed, and then woken up, confused and bewildered like the viewer. Their past teacher, one who was cut and abused during his time teaching, shown in the first scenes, is now their commander in the BR act. They are all very shocked and the sense of rebellion still acute. They shout and demand answers. This is it. Their to be silenced, with a bag of random weapons and a chance in the course of three-days to kill all their classmates and remain alive and able to return home. But to what? Is what’s being asked by several characters.

The film blends pulpy, bloody action with high-school drama in a sardonically funny, yet poignant way. Behind each person pointing a gun comes with conviction: You locked me in the bathroom, you stole my boyfriend, etc. High-school students are too misty with their priorities for violence, and the ‘teachers’ know this. The scenes are shown in an evocative manner alongside long-spanning landscapes and frightening noises. Shuya and Noriko band together as romances, like so many other devoted young lovers, or young fighters. The movie has stark similarities to America’s Hunger Games film and books raving, but this is an entirely different beast and genre. It is dark, atmospheric, and grotesque, while Hunger Games is fluffy, flush-faced and Hollywood-designed. Don’t make exceptions with your children on this one.

Their are ironic moments that lift this film far above The Hunger Games. It isn’t first-person, but instead switches to different people and incites convictions from different points of view. The way it seams these together, even with sporadic use of flash-backs, makes it a masterpiece of film structure. When you look at movies in Hollywood consisting of twenty-plus people, you will see two or three people and become close to them, idealize them in fact, and the rest of the bunch won’t be introduced besides the act of being killed. Not here, though I don’t see entirely why we couldn’t spend a few minutes of exposition introducing the characters in their natural, school-desk existence.

Battle Royale is a strong, highly cinematic and entertaining film for those who like Pulp action or High-school drama (think Carrie). This is a movie that deserves and is receiving hype, even with the subtitles that ignorantly turn people away.

WarGames

Matthew Broderick stars as boy hacker David, who finds a computer-game on his computer, but doesn’t realize that hes actually tapped into a live war-game. Part satire, part commentary on the problems of technology, and always an entertaining breeze. It took the hacker generation under its wing, becoming a cult favorite in the 80s and 90s. Where the film lacks in strong storytelling it makes up in charming characterization.

Hacker David can change his school-grades from his computer. He knows exactly where the school stashes the passwords. He is a sly, wisecracking kid who loves more than anything to be at the arcade. He starts teenage flirts with a girl Jennifer, played by Ally Sheedy, and poses the first morality responsibility of the movie: She doesn’t want him to change her grades. She eventually bends, but he changed it anyway; summer school is for losers. The War room is a sort of modern, toned down version of the antics in Dr. Strangelove. The general acts like a misunderstood elephant and the employees speak in squeaky tones.

The parents are notoriously cardboard, as the father wields historical oval shaped glasses and a warmhearted Atticus Finch like posture. The most effective aspect about Wargames, though, is the ending. When the nuclear war that David accidentally incited is about to unravel, and we nor the members of the war-room know whether or not it’s going to actually happen.

I think that War Games has the potential of a solid re-make, unlike most that come up in Hollywood, with a more serious and provocative-centered tone. In the field of philosophy, it asks two major questions. Is what feels wrong to a human, worse than what feels wrong to a computer? And if so, should technology reign? Their are many reasons we as humans are afraid of technology’s submersion into the culture, but in reality, it has quietly slid itself in already, permanently. A majority of our confidential files, passwords, and security numbers are stored online, digitally, and through other non-material means. WarGames, like so many similarly themed movies, is an outlook into the future of our information driven world.

The acting in WarGames, by the charming young actors and the goofball adults, is enough alone to make it entertaining. It inspired a generation of computer-savvy, hacker children, and still reigns today as a classic cult film. If you think it’s outdated, think again, then see it and think some more.

Stanley Kubrick, A Life in Pictures

Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is not the benchmark documentary on Stanley Kubrick, but it does evoke his own personal wonder and the relationships in his life, from interviews with his wife, to actors he worked with and people he just simply touched. The man was a genius of the cinema, a man who gives off the sense that he’d be sucessful in any field: With such classics as 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and Dr. Strangelove, his name will be found beneath Top 100 titles for many years to come.

Kubrick first was recognized with one of his photograph’s being published in Look magazine. It was at a fairly young age and makes one think that it really sealed the future for Stanley, because when a kid is recognized as good he will work to become better; the touch of praise is very affecting. Stanley could win a game at chess any day, says Tom Cruise, actor in his film Eyes Wide Shut , but I could beat him at ping-pong every time.

Kubrick was a man of reason, indefinitely. His movies have a linear style to them, even in the more dramatic and character-driven films like Lolita. He was filled with curiosity, and Arthur C. Clarke claims he was even a latent mathematician. The artistry of his shots and compositions are noted by film-scholars worldwide.

The film brushes across his filmography, showing some footage of Kubrick around his family, and even some tape where Kubrick yells at his child who is playing around where he is about to shoot; a determined, sometimes cruel, but ingenious director, Stanley Kubrick once said: I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. And so do his viewers and fans.

I Am Legend

“I Am Legend” commercially transcends the cheap and ambient atmosphere of the early survival flicks, like The Night of the Living Dead and Legend’s prequel ‘The Last Man on Earth’, but is also a very cold and predictable affair. Will Smith stars as the titular character, but not until the end do we truly realize the meaning of the proposition: I am Legend. It is not self-sustenance, or near-scientific day-to-day living that is respected, but rather having confidence in your life’s accomplishments to accumulate the bravery to give it up for others.

The film is much more visually compelling than the earlier, home-ridden exercises of survival. In ‘I Am Legend’ Will Smith wanders around the Island of Manhattan, desolate and dry, weeds growing yards in height from the street-crevices. The man vs. nature dichotomy is truly put to the visual test: towering, once-occupied buildings, tigers roaming with as much sense of right as anyone. We see the main character strolling into a video-store and conversing in desperate verisimilitude with the mannequin figurines. How much psychological merit this has, especially considering hes a logic-sworn scientist, I’m not sure. But it is very gripping, as an emotional and plot device.

I Am Legend is not the next Romero de-throwning, but it is a good film to be seen at the multiplex. Exciting, adrenaline-packed, and featuring stand-up acting by audience-loved Will Smith, I Am Legend soars past its own faults.

Badlands

 

Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” is a built-up masterpiece that calls for attention to each frame. It’s slowly paced and sauntering with feeling and mystery, as garbage-collector Kit, played by Martin Sheen, quits his day on the job Terrence’s camera is perched upon him. He finds as he walks home, kicking a can and then conclusively stomping it, a girl outside twirling a baton, played by freckle-faced Sissy Spacek. He sweet-talks her and the spree of cross-country murders begin, inspired by the Starkweather-Fugate killings of the 1950s.

Terrence Malick is an undeniable poet of the cinema, an auteur of nature. He follows the goings of these two young people with romantic shots, despite the two never making love or showing much affection other than just being highly devoted to each other. In a scene where Kit shoots a hillybilly living on a ranch in the desert, the man settles on a cot, breathing deeply and accepting his death, Holly comes in talking leisurely with him; he looks at her a bit odd, but answers her trivial questions anyways. Her lack of shock may be comforting. The expected theme of Badlands is male control; but Kit doesn’t sexually harm or force Holly into any of his circumstances. After it all happens, he just expects shes with him and she is. Her mind is too far gone now to sit back and think: she’s got to keep going.’

The ending of Badlands seems to be an attempt at meaning, but it really doesn’t pry. The police-men look at Kit like Capone, admire him maybe. But what does this say? We know America glamorizes violence, but is it any different for police-men? The photography that’s been done in Badlands is its greatest ultimate feat: Dust flying from treading tires, and wilderness shots of men clambering with shotguns, after Kit and Holly, the whole film is  shot in crisp full color. Terrence Mallick develops and introduces his style with Badlands, an effective look into the lives of two criminals.

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.

The Stuff

“The Stuff” is about a certain cup of white-goo that people eat in an addictive nature and become controlled by it. Yes, that’s what this stuff is about.  A boy whos entire family, like everyone’s, spoons the stuff into their mouths faster than the clocks secondhand, suddenly has an epiphany or realization that the stuff is bad. He has sudden outbursts and the father assumes its just child-like immaturity and wont have it, but its all about the stuff. The boy even goes straight to the core: he walks into a grocery store and starts slashing the cups of stuff off the shelves, eventually held down by workers.

Michael Moriarty stars as the agent researching the nutritional merit of the stuff and the people who created it; David ‘Mo’ Rutherford, a hilarious quasi-agent seeking out the ingredients of the popular food substance, the stuff. It’s premise is exactly what you’d expect: Eat the stuff and turn into a eye-melting zombie. But it doesn’t take itself as a serious meditation on the business of food production–though it adds a few punches–it is a rather funny journey to the point of where the stuff accumulates; from the ground, in an end scene that is reminiscent of the end of Close encounters, though less potent with meaning or excitement, just oodles of white-goo spurting from the soil.

Their are some fun characters, some who unexpectedly turn into the stuff zombies, but the main emotional focus the filmmakers want to imprint on us is the little boy, Jason. He eventually meets up with Mo, in desperate anti-stuff evasion, and is turned into the young Ripley-enigma between Nicole, the girl Mo befriends, when they are fighting to get out of the zombie infested wasteland that creates the stuff. It is nice to be able to use the word stuff in a sentence so rightly.

The Stuff is a fun, albeit uneven, ride through a society filled with goo-eating Zombies, even if they don’t at the time act like one; they are persuasive, characteristic, and satirically funny. The thing that makes The Stuff an above-entree in 80s cheese is Michael Moriarty: funny, sensitive, and ultimately a true bad ass who kicks back at the corporation, he leads the film with his definite charisma.