Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weekend (1967)

Okay this is my last Godard review for awhile.  Since I read the book: "Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard" I wanted to review some of his films to get a better rounded view of Godard.  First was Breathless, and now "Weekend".  Weekend is considered Godard's last film of the 60's. He would eventually come back to movie making in 1972, but till then Godard was as he said "finished with cinema".  The end of Week-end even states this in the end credits.

To tell you that it was a difficult movie to get through is an understatement.  Not that it is a bad movie.  It's far from that.  Weekend is one of Godard's darkest films, and it really reminded me of  certain other films about the end of the world, but what Godard does which other filmmakers do not is to include sociopolitical undercurrents within the story.  The film is about consumerism, and breakdown of civilization into savagery.   Our main characters Corinne (Mireille Drac) and Roland (Jean Yanne) play two characters which garner little sympathy  from its audience.  Right at the beginning we hear that these two characters are plotting each others demise with their respective lovers.  They are also plotting together to kill Corinnes's ailing father for the inheritance.  So right away we really have no vested interest in these characters.  We are just passive viewers on a journey toward the downward spiral of civilization.

Pretty heady stuff isn't it?  It's hard to follow, and at times I felt myself drifting.  But the world that Godard presents is one of utter chaos, and one that is yet poetic in nature.  The films lead characters are driven by primitive instincts.  I won't get into how Godard's political views find their way into the film, nor will I discuss the underlining meaning of the film and its characters.  For that their are other film scholars who can do a better job then I can ever do.  What I will discuss is the way the film is structured, how it looks, and how does it stand as a film.

The film is dark.  In the end our characters meet their demise, and the funny thing is that we don't really care. The film's look is interesting.  I also wanted to see "Weekend" because it was in color, and I was intersted in seeing how Godard handles it.   I found out that most of the film was shot in exteriors, and Godard increased the films speed by force processing the film.  Godard's long time cinematographer (Raoul Coutard) said, that at times he needed to put filters on the cameras to decrease the exposure because of the high  ISO they were rating the film stock at.  By doing this Godard creates a interesting color palette in the film, which gives the film that certain quality of documentary.  I believe that is what Godard wanted since he liked the intimacy and the unpredictability of the documentary form.  It's why sometimes Godard did not give his actors their lines before shooting.

I've always said that atmosphere in a movie is important.  That atmosphere in the film works, and it gives it an edge that a lot of films in it's day did not have.  I am reminded of Wim Wenders "The End of the World", and Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" looking at Godard's film.  Godard even touches on cannibalism, and it is the human condition spiraling into savagery and it's this that I come away with.

Godard while making the film seemed to be mocking the critics, and it is largely known that Godard was tired of the whole process that was film making.  That is why at the end of the film it says "the end of cinema".  There are scenes in the film that disturb.  The killing of a pig is one.  Godard handles the violence very objectively, but it is this scene that disturbs the viewer.  Throughout the film we see dead people on the road, and cars crashed and burning, but its is the scene with the pig that jolts us.  Godard's does this on purpose to get a reaction from his audience.  In an interview Godard says this about the scene:

"I think an audience will be much more shocked by the death of a pig then the death of a human being, even if it were told that it was a real human being.  One is not used to the idea of shooting animals just for a movie."

We (the audience) have no emotion of seeing all the dead human beings throughout the film lying in the road.  But when Godard injects the scene with the pig he is showing the duplicity of his audience.  You can see Godard sneering at the thought of our reaction, and that is what he wants.

So is "Weekend" a film for everyone?  Definitely NOT!!   Does it show Godard's genius?  Yes it does.  Of course for a lot of us the film may not work for them, but I don't see it that way.  Godard makes certain points in the film, and he does so by engaging his audience.  That separates Godard from other filmmakers.  He is willing to engage his audience even to the point of pissing them off.  

Godard has a lot to say and he pushes cinema further and further then most filmmakers would or dare to.  You have to appreciate that.  An artist grows only when he or she pushes his art to its limits.  Sometimes it works and othertimes it may not, but one learns and it is this that I find so compelling about Godard.  He is always learning.  Godard incessantly and broadly self-critical, and that makes Godard Godard, and an interesting filmmaker.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Iceman (2013)

So I did get a chance to see "the Iceman" starring Michael Shannon, and directed by Ariel Vromen.  The story is based on a true story about a man who was a contract killer for the mob.  But that is over simplifying the film or the subject matter.  The movie is based on the book: The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer.

The film is also based on the HBO documentary called "Conversations with a Killer". The man's name was Richard Kuklinski and he was a contract killer.  He claimed to have killed over hundred people, but some authorities say that his body count is much more since Kuklinski was also a sociopath.  I have to say that the film gives a chilling account on how he preformed the murders and how he lead a dual life as a family man and a killer.   Michael Shannon gives a wonderful performance as Kuklinski, and the movie is all on him.  But the supporting characters here also need their due.   , , ,, and an unrecognizable all give their best here.

The film isn't easy to watch, but it is Shannon's performance that makes this film, and I really like the way he looked and presented himself.  Winona Ryder performance is so good that you really do believe she loves her man so much that she does not see his imperfections.  In one scene where Kuklinski goes into a rage Ryder is convincing as the loyal wife, yet we the audience see the pent up rage that lies in Kuklinski, yet she is hopeless in love with him.  It is only at the end that she and her daughters realize what a monster Richard really is.

Now the only problem I did have with the film is the way Kuklinski is caught.  In the film and if you don't want to know I'll say that this will be a spoiler alert, so read no further if you don't want to know.

But in the end of the film Kuklinski's daughter is hurt, and somehow we find out it was done on purpose.  Now I'm not too sure about this but I don't believe that was how Kuklinski was caught.  Yes it was through an undercover cop who posed as a fellow hit man, but it was through police work and several mistakes that Kuklinski did that got him arrested.  I know the filmmakers did this to make the story more dramatic, but I really think that it would have been better to see how this cold blooded killer made mistakes because of his own delusional way of thinking instead of putting a child in jeopardy.  IT's dramatic, and it makes the point that Kuklinski gets emotional thereby making mistakes and getting arrested, but I do think it would have been much more interesting seeing how Kuklinski made his mistakes all because of his sociopathic mind.

That's my only problem with the film, and I would not have known it had I not seen the documentary on Kuklinski.  The film is well shot, and gives you that fell of the 1970's.  The film was shot in Detroit and  Shreveport Louisiana and it still looks like it was shot in the 70's in NJ.  The art work is very convincing and should be applauded.

I enjoyed the movie and really thought it was well done.  Very convincing performances by all, and a film that should have got wider distribution.  If you get a chance and you like crime drama, and true crime novels I don't think you'll be disappointed.   Also the performances are worth the admission price. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Breathless (1960)

When I feel a bit less inspired I try and find films that inspire me, and that sometimes means going back.  Breathless by Jean Luc Godard is one of those films.  I did see it while in film school, but I've grown to admire it more and more, and after seeing it again the movie reverberates through me in what good cinema is.    For those who cannot get over Godard's style I understand that it may not be your cup of tea, but Godard is one of the more innovative directors of the era then most.  In each film he pushes cinema a bit further in what he thinks it should be.  Sometimes it's entertainment, but most times there is a message.  In a way it's a feeling, a response he wants to get out of his audience, and Breathless certainly does that.  From its cinematography to its editing the film has a feeling of restlessness.  Even in the sequences where the characters talk about nothing in particular.  To Godard these scenes are important, and it contributes to the films feel.  Before Breathless films were studio driven, and more fantasy.  Godard puts some reality into his films through conversations and actions of his characters.  Godard gives the film a reality bent like today's reality TV, and this is way before reality TV even started.

The documentary feel feels real.  The disjointedness of the editing seems real.  It's what gives Breathless that feeling of  which separates it from other films.  Breathless is a tribute to old American film noir films where the characters and story line are not going to wind up happily ever-after.  Breathless really works with that as the main character (Michel) talks about doom, and his death.

I have to say that I was a bit more impressed by the production, and it still held up for me.  I was fascinated with a 23 minute sequence in a cramped apartment where Michelle and Patricia talk.  It has 64 cuts in that sequence, and by doing so Godard gives us the audience a feeling of things closing in. Yet all it is is a conversation of Michel trying to sleep again with Patricia.  The way Godard cuts it and shoots the film gives you a certain feeling.  Something is coming, and something bad.  Michelle's downfall is also Patricia, and it is ironic that the girl he has feelings for is the one who betrays him.  Of course this is one of the formulas of the film noir called the femme fa tale.

The film really holds up, and dare I say it is a classic.  What inspires me most is that these films that were considered part of the new wave were done by friends, and lovers of cinema.  It was an attempt to wrestle movie making away from the studios.  Technology allowed the portability of the camera to come out from the studio walls and bring a more real feel to cinema.  Maybe that's where I see or have hope for the future.

With technology changing again, and more and more people having access to the tools to create movies and get them seen maybe there's another renaissance in cinema to come.  That's what excites me, and looking back at these classics inspires me.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Iron Man 3

It's getting to be summer season, and summer movies have always been fun and roller coaster rides in a way.  I was a fan of the first two, and was interested in the third.  I also hoped that my boys would also be excited, and they were to a point.  But now after seeing it something still bothers me.  Also when I asked my boys if they liked it they said it was okay.  Right there is when I thought my vibe of the film was right.  Something was off with this one.

Was it something to do with the actors?  I can't say that was the problem.  The actors were all good.  It was more the film as a whole.  The pacing in Iron Man is off, and while watching it you do feel how off they are.  Also the story is lame.  I was a comic book fan of Ironman, and I do remember a villain by the name of "The Mandarin", but I believe it was some eastern block enemy.    I won't give any spoilers here, but the enemy here was weak.  The writers write about suicide bombers, and PTSD, and yet it doesen't work.

Tony Stark is Ironman, but he is just a man, and in the comic he was an alcoholic.  He had issues, and that's what made Ironman vulnerable at times.  If the movie tried going that way more I think it would be more interesting.  Instead they sugar coat it, and glance over Tony's problems.  What I am suggesting may be too dark.  After all this is a superhero movie targeted to the young.  That is the films mistake.  It talks down to it's audience.  The actors do a good job in the film, but they are just going through the motions.   It didn't resonate with me, and worse it didn't resonate with my boys, and they don't care about depth, and Ironman's weakness.  They wanted to see battles, and superhero deeds, and there were none.

At the end there is a battle, but it comes too late.  By the end I really didn't care.  Suddenly there are an army of Ironmen.  Cool, but couldn't that happens sooner?   When I said this out loud my dear wife looked over at me and said that there wouldn't be a movie if that would have happened. The movie would have ended just as it started.

I really wanted this movie to work, but by franchising the Marvel brand Marvel has forgotten what made their superheros so human in our eyes.   The movies don't cover that area.  They did in the beginning.  Tony Stark was a party person, and his company sold weapons.  There was a dark side that he was part of, and the duality of that was interesting.  Here it seems that after fighting aliens in the movie "The Avengers" Stark is suffering from anxiety.  Interesting dilemma  but it is never fully worked into the story, and is solved pretty quickly with some advice a boy gives him.

So yeah I have problems with it.  Everyone I talk to tells me it was too long, yet the other films were just as long or longer and I've never heard that.  The pacing is off, and all I had to do is look at my boys.  They enjoyed the battles, but they were far and few in between.

Yes I know it's PG-13 rated, but still if you can't keep an 11 year old's attention then you've lost a lot more then that 11 year old boy.  My wife even said it felt way too long.

So in the end I have to give this film a pass.  Good fodder for a movie night at home, but is the movie worth seeing in the theaters I really don't think so.  

I did not go to the 3D IMAX presentation of the film.  Our family doesn't like the 3D.  To me it's been a gimmick since it's inception, and I can't justify paying more to see a film that is sub-par.  The studios need to invest in good writers instead of bells and whistles like 3D.  Maybe they do more business that way.

I do have more hope for other summer movies, but as for Iron Man 3.  Save your money wait for Video on demand or DVD.  As for the segment after the credits.  It was also very lame, and only appealed to us Marvelites, and even then I have to say it was lame.  Come on boys you can do a lot better.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Back to the beginning....

It's been a time of reflection and re-tooling for me. Getting back to basics and picking up a few new media tools. I've been reading "Everything is Cinema: The working life of Jean-Luc Godard" by Richard Brody. I've always been fascinated and have admired the French New Wave.  To me nothing in the cinema has been as innovative as the French New Wave.  Sure there have been great films made since the New Wave, but not since that time has cinema become as innovative or as intellectualized since the New Wave.  New terminology was thought of, and new theories had been discussed and discovered.  Maybe I romanticize the era too much but I do know that time was a time of innovation, and experimentation.

It's what I'm doing or trying to do.  Just trying some new stuff, and getting a bit more schooled in new ways of doing things.  Here's an interview of Godard.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The State of Cinema

Soderbergh says a few things that are right. The distinction between cinema and movies is real, and something I always think about.