Stalker (1979)

4.5 STARS
General Information:  163 min  –  Adventure | Drama | Fantasy  –  17 April 1980 (Netherlands)
The information below is taken from the following link:

Director
Andrey Tarkovskiy
Writers
Arkadiy Strugatskiy; Boris Strugatskiy; Andrey Tarkovskiy
Stars
Alisa FreyndlikhAleksandr KaydanovskiyAnatoliy Solonitsyn
Plot:
A writer, a scientist and a ‘stalker’ go into ‘The Zone’- a deeply spiritual place with a conscience of its own – in an attempt to find ‘The Room’, a place where your innermost wishes and desires will become fulfilled if you enter it.

Stalker (1979)

Stalker (1979)

Review:
After watching ‘Stalker’, I didn’t know if it was one of the worst or one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. It left me confused and not knowing what to think. It’s a difficult film, and this is completely besides the fact that it is 154 minutes in length. Tarkovsky has a gift in drawing out meaning in every single shot. Scenes play out slowly, and this is only added to the fact that each shot is long in length – most lasting multiple minutes: this gives the film a dreamlike and real-time quality, which only adds to the film’s philosophical power and deeply mysterious atmosphere. Basic things about the characters are stripped away, and we only know of them by their occupations: a writer, a scientist and a stalker (a person who guides people into The Zone).
We start off in a bleak, run-down town in some form of dystopian landscape. The opening shot is of a bar: the floor is leaking water, the walls are covered with dark and light patches, some of the fibres of the wallpaper are scratched away. Outside, there is lots of mud, and barely any plants, we also see the occasional plank of wood or scrap of metal. The setting feels very industrial and I was reminded of the locations in Eraserhead and the excellent book-to-film adaptation: 1984. Perhaps the characters live in is a direct representation of Soviet Russia at the time: bleak, despairing and ruled by violence and an authoritarian government. It is no surprise then from this landscape that our main characters are searching for something to love and hope for. They believe that The Room will provide them with this. Indeed, when they are escaping from where they live, the film has a kind of noir-like quality. Shadows and inventive lighting, characters sneaking around trying to be quiet and avoiding gun-fire, and the film then morphs into some kind of slow-paced thriller when the characters go on a rail heading towards The Zone: constant long shots of the foreboding depressing landscape and shots of the characters looking depressed, anxious and fearful – all of this shot in a brown-tinted monochrome.

Opening shot in Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'

Opening shot in Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’

This is one of the oldest visual techniques in the cinematography book: shooting bleaker scenes in monochrome and scenes with a sense of hope (when they’re in the zone) in colour. It works surprisingly well. Tarkovsky’s cinematography manages to blend reality with fantasy, like he’s stylizing and painting over real life itself. He manages to make the ugliest things look oddly beautiful, and perhaps this is a key message of the film as the film is about searching for hope in the most difficult of times. Cate Blanchett said of the film that “every frame is burned into my retina”. She has a point.

Monochrome cinematography in Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Stalker'

Monochrome cinematography in Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’

Once the characters are in the zone, the film unfolds like an adventure movie – but in a more pretentious artsy kind of way. Characters wonder around the barren, dangerous landscape slowly, occasionally being naive and running into traps, or going round in circles – all the while discussing the meaning of life. Going back to the length of the film, it is 154 minutes long, and due to this factor, this is a movie which you should watch when you’re in the right mood. Tarkovsky’s theories about film where closely stringed to the idea of time; indeed he wrote a book about it with the artsy portentous title Sculpting in Time. His theories were about how watching a film was about time. How the audience spent time in a cinema, how cinema was like “time recorded in metal boxes”, and how time should be used to intensify a scene or atmosphere to transcend narrative into an emotional/spiritual experience. This theory definitely comes across in this film. He has a skill to make ten seconds feel like a minute, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, Stalker wasn’t a film where I was screaming at the scream, sobbing, begging and pleading the damned thing to end. The best way to describe it is like one of those dreams you have which feel so real and feel so long in length, and so good that you don’t want it to end. As the film unfolds, it gets progressively more mysterious and more interesting: we discover more about the characters, new ideas are put forwards, and every so slowly the characters begin to clash against each other.

When the characters get to this setting, they really do start to clash against one another...

When the characters get to this setting, they really do start to clash against one another…

Of course, time is well-spent in this film. The characters feel real and are three-dimensional, and the long ‘real-time’ takes further adds to this. The film asks difficult, challenging questions about the meaning of life, what our inner-most desires are, whether hope really exists, whether it is pointless to imagine hope, whether having dreams and desires is a positive or a negative thing. The sheer length of the film allows these questions to be asked multiple times, and to be developed and reshaped into new questions. Sometimes, it is difficult to be asked so much, and even more difficult because we don’t usually expect this from a film. Stalker asks too many questions to the extent that it almost becomes unbearable – to the extent that the film’s positive traits simultaneously become its negatives. But questioning everything and anything is one of the most important things in life, and is arguably what makes you human. This is why Stalker is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.
Verdict:
A challenging film due to its length and its questions. But for those willing to be patient, the seconds all add up in the strangely beautiful, ambiguous film.

Inland Empire (2006)

4.5 STARS

General Information:

The information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460829/

Director:

David Lynch

Writors:

David Lynch

Stars:

Laura Dern; Jeremy Irons; Justin Theroux

Plot:

Nikki Grace loosing her mind in David Lynch's labyrinthine nightmare, Inland Empire (2006)

Nikki Grace loosing her mind in David Lynch’s labyrinthine nightmare, Inland Empire (2006)

This might not make any sense:

Put a golden watch on. Stab a random person with a screwdriver – who is inside an alternate reality, or a film, and might just turn out to be you. Pick up a piece of silk. Light a cigarrete. Using the cigarrette, burn a hole through the piece of silk. Look through the hole. You’re now in a different world; explore this world. Is it in the past, present or future? Yesterday, today or tomorrow? Or all of these? Is this world that you’re just about managing to peer through – via the piece of silk – all a dream, or all a film, or all of these? After you’ve solved that, pick up a phone and call a random co-worker, who by chance is wearing a bunny-rabbit costume; this person may be in the film that you’re trapped in, or might not, or might actually be you, but then again, might not be. Remove eye contact from the hole in the piece of silk. Watch the credits go up. Think about how David Lynch has toyed with your mind in such a way that he’s given you the parodox that is the nice headache.

Now, I get baffled by most of David Lynch films, but none more so than his latest effort. His movies are like environments as opposed to films. He gives us the door to them and lets us step inside, we experience the nightmarish world that he’s created and once it’s over we’re not quite sure if we ever want to step back in them again.

This pretty much describes the elusive, paradoxical and complicated atmosphere which Inland Empire creates. I don’t pretend to understand Inland Empire, because well…I don’t. But like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, that’s all part of the fun. David Lynch is the only director I know of who can make a film where the more you don’t understand what’s going on, the more you like it, as opposed to being frustrated.

Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) plays – to quote the tagline – “the woman in trouble”. She’s cast in a new film, which is actually a remake of a never-finished Polish film entitle “47”. The first hour or so seems to be like the first half of Mulholland Drive: we think that we just about understand what’s going on until the rug is pulled underneath us, or rather wrapped around us so violently that we fall down a hill tumbling into sheer Lynchland, where apparently you know it happened yesterday, but it’s actually tomorrow. For example, during one of the opening scenes, I felt a sheer sense of delight watching, perhaps one of the most naturalistic scenes in the movie. Nikki, Devon (Justin Theroux) and Kingsley (excellently played by Jeremy Irons) sit round a table reading the lines for the film that they’re about to shoot. The scene lasts for around seven minutes and the majority consists of Nikki and Devon delivering their lines. We can tell that Nikki and Devon are skilled actors, and there’s that rare moment when watching a movie, where you are tricked by the director to believe it, the scene feels real. Yet, during the end of the scene, one of the actors hears a sound, and Devon goes to inspect in the set where it came from, he can’t find anything, yet of course, later on in the film, we fit the puzzling shards that Lynch creates to solve what happened during the read-through…and then…well, I couldn’t ‘solve’ what else happened. The best way to watch a film by David Lynch is not necessarily to try and understand what’s going on but just to let it wash over you. Repeated viewings are necessary for understanding.

Laura Dern gives a naturalistic performance

Laura Dern gives a naturalistic performance

Later on in the film, Nikki gets trapped in the film world that she’s playing, to such an extent that the real world where her director, Kingsley exists in, is no longer there. Fiction has become reality, and as we watch these events unfold, we just have to kind of accept that Lynch has gone completely bonkers and deal with this bizarre narrative. Of course, it gets more complicated, as Lynch also involves the production of the original film (not the remake that Nikki and Devon are filming) into the events as well. It’s more confusing to us, because Lynch isn’t a director that likes to ‘spoon-feed’ his audience. He never gives us any clues about what film we’re in or whether we’re in reality or fiction. The film never fades to black so that he can show us a subtitle saying: “FILMING THE REMAKE” or “FILMING 47”, or simply: “REALITY” and “FICTION”. Instead, we’re forced to work it out for ourselves, and this – if you like to have your mind fucked with – is all part of the ride.

Now for some objective drivel. Inland Empire is he first film to be shot in digital by Lynch, yet, it’s shot on a poor quality digital, we can just about make out the pixels, and this gives the film an amateur-film quality, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it adds to the films themes and style more. Lynch goes wild with close-ups and hand-held shots, to such an extent that we’re occasionally aware that THIS IS A FILM WE’RE WATCHING. The hand-held camera techniques used in this film very much reminded me of a technically brilliant horror film called The Cellar Door.

Bizarre close-up of Nikki Grace in one of the opening scenes of Inland Empire (2006)

Bizarre close-up of Nikki Grace in one of the opening scenes of Inland Empire (2006)

The acting is pitch perfect, Laura Dern gives an excellent performance about a woman who’s world is blening ever so more with the fictional and is slowly loosing her mind. Jeremy Iron’s performance bizarrely reminds me of a young Stanley Kubrick – he gives off the air that he’s a director who is at once enthusiastic and then a complete meticulous perfectionist. The soundtrack in this film is so bizarre that it should go in the album Crazy Clown Time or be put on an acid-addicts playlist on their iPod. Yet, even though it’s technically faultless, there is one fault I do have with Lynch’s most recent film. Perhaps it’s just me, but it doesn’t seem to have a personality, and could easily be mistaken for simply being confusing for confusions sake. It’s like an experiment. I can imagine this being a film being made by Lynch if he was a film student going to the NYFA. As much as I appreciate its experimental efforts, to me the film lacked a tone, Mulholland Drive was beautiful and hypnotic, Lost Highway was disturbing and frightening, Blue Velvet was mysterious and bizarrely funny…this was just confusing.

I shall now end with some form of epigrammatic statement which (and yes, it took me ages to come up with it, so you should bloody well appreciate it, you lazy person staring at a computer screen): Inland Empire is like a shattered window, where all of the shards are mixed up randomly on the floor, and some shards taken away. It’s the fact that some shards are taken away that makes it difficult: we get the sense that Lynch hasn’t quite told us everything, and that he much prefers to leae it up to our imagination instead.

On a side-note, Inland Empire has rabbits ironing clothes.

RABBITS!

RABBITS!

Verdict:

This one’s for die-hard Lynch fans, and if you’ve never been Lynchified before, watch Mulholland Drive first. It’s the most daring, bold and experimental film, Lynch has ever made (yes, even more so than his earlier short-films), yet it’s strength may also be its weakness, it’s a film without a soul.

Fight Club (1999)

4.5 STARS

General Information:

The information from below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0137523/

18  139 min  –  Drama | Mystery | Thriller   –  12 November 1999 (UK)

Director

David Fincher

Writer

Jim Uhls

Stars

Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter

Plot:

Jack’s (Norton) life is dull and depressing: he is an insomniac, goes to cancer self-help groups (he doesn’t have cancer) and works in insurance. Suddenly he befriends Tyler Durden, and his life takes a dramatic twist. They form an underground fight club, yet their ‘Fight Club’ develops and becomes more and more to Jack’s disliking until eventually his life – and indeed: the world – spirals out of control…

Review:

Fight Club can be described by all of the film-critic-bullshit-clichés ever written: it is brutal, funny, disturbing, sexy, entertaining, mind-bending, breath-taking, thought-provoking – and bloody hell it’s violent. Well what is this film about? What is it not about? It’s about machismo, violence, sex, consumerism and fascism; yet it is also about: instinct, work, primal desires, money, and of course: soap (soap to make BOMBS!….obviously). All of these ideas and concepts are all mixed up and thrown into this mind-bendingly visual and darkly comic film. Yet, oddly, it works.

Jack narrates the film, it is told from his perspective. The first section of the film is philosophical and is a commentary mainly about consumerism and how Jack is bored with life. Jack is a sucker to consumerism, rather than watching TV and eating chips at night, he sits in his toilet and reads the IKEA catalogue pondering which furniture defines him as a person. He also goes to testicular cancer classes, even though he doesn’t have cancer, and because it makes him feel superior. (Hey, I said the humour was dark).

Suddenly, his life takes a turn, as he meets a soap-salesman named ‘Tyler Durden’ (Pitt). Jake envies Tyler because he is his opposite – he has a good body compared to him, is better looking, more confident, (and by the amount of noise made in the bedroom) is apparently good at sex.

Next thing you know, Jack’s condo blows up.

Bye-bye IKEA furniture. (Yes, that’s the satirical bit about consumerism.)

Luckily Jack phones Tyler and asks him to stay with him, they then form an underground fight club for many reasons: to vent aggression, to pass time because they are bored with life, to ‘get back’ at society. However, Fight Club builds and builds and builds until it becomes more serious: ‘Project Mayhem’.

This film is perhaps comparable to A Clockwork Orange: it is violent, yet it is also funny in areas in which it shouldn’t be. It challenges me as a viewer, and it distorts how I would normally react to violence. As a society violence is frowned on, yet in Fight Club it sets them free. The people doing the punching and the people receiving the punch both feel better than they’d ever felt in their entire life. Should we agree with what Tyler has done to these people? Has he really set them free or has he given them a false concept of being ‘free’? I’ll let you decide on these questions for yourself…

Verdict:

Funny, satirical and downright violent, Fight Club is not for the fainthearted, and must be viewed more than once in fear that it may be taken the wrong way. If it’s not a satire about fascism or consumerism, it is entertainment at the very least: original, bright, daring and bold; don’t you dare miss this cinematic gem.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

4.5 STARS

General Information:

The information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093058/

18  116 min  –  Drama | War   –  11 September 1987 (UK)

Director

Stanley Kubrick

Writers

Stanley Kubrick; Michael Herr

Stars

Matthew Modine; R. Lee Ermey; Vincent D’Onofrio

Plot:

A film showing how the marines are turned into trained killers who are ‘born to kill’. The first half of the film showing us how they are dehumanised by boot-camp, and the second half showing us how they cope with a cold, savage and at points: brutal – war.

Review:

Kubrick’s penultimate film before his untimely death is a Vietnam film like no other. Rather than recognising Vietnam as an ‘American tragedy’, Full Metal Jacket take a different more refreshing stance, as it represents it as what it really was: a human one. It is a film of two halves: the first half showing how the marines are turned from emotive humans into savage, mechanical (almost robotic) killers. The second half shows us how these marines cope in what they were training for in boot-camp: the Vietnam war itself.

Kubrick has often been criticised for making ‘cold’ and ‘inhuman’ films, yet perhaps – for me, anyway – this film doesn’t follow this rule. Take a quick look at the plot and the content, we can see that this is the above, yet the emotions it triggers are the opposite. Full Metal Jacket doesn’t leave you cold as it is triggers a variety of emotions. Perhaps the most obvious is sympathy. Throughout this film, we see the atrocities of war, and it is almost as if Kubrick is shouting out to us about what is ‘wrong’ about it. Yet, it doesn’t portray war as necessarily a bad thing (as this film rightfully stays out of the politics of Vietnam), it more or less portrays what happens in war (atrocities, blood-shed etc) to be the bad thing.

Full Metal Jacket presents us with the relationships of the soldiers perfectly, especially between Private Pyle and Joker. Their relationship is attached and detached simultaneously – most obviously detached when Joker takes part in the bullying of Pyle, and when he stands still and does nothing in the infamous bathroom scene.

However, I have only awarded it 4.5 stars, I feel that this film doesn’t have the hard-edge like Kubrick’s earlier war masterpieces such as ‘Dr Strangelove’ and ‘Paths of Glory’. Yet, I must point out that a Kubrick film tends to grow on you, you simply cannot just watch it once (I have only seen it once). Each time you watch a Kubrick you’ll notice something that you didn’t even see the previous time you watched it, so I imagine that if I watch this again, it will go from 4.5 stars to 5 stars.

Full Metal Jacket is a riveting tale about how war dehumanises soldiers to the extent of just making them ‘killers’. It is disturbing, entertaining, gripping and filled with scathingly dark wit – Full Metal Jacket is definitely not to be missed.

Verdict:

A film that strikes hard and makes a point straight off. Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket is savage in plot, sharp in dialogue and scathing in humour. It is powerful, satirical, disturbing and definately makes a point about how inhuman war is.