Rashomon (1950)

3.5 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056193/

15     88 min                          –  Crime  | Drama                 –              25 August 1950(Japan)

Director

Akira Kurosawa

Writer

Akira Kurosawa; Shinobu Hashimoto; Ryûnosuke Akutagawa

Stars

Toshirô MifuneMachiko KyôMasayuki Mori

Plot:

Following the murder of a man, multiple people retell their version of the events.

Review:

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

It’s interesting how some films are so concerned with their narratives, that in a sense, they’re almost about the notion of a narrative itself. Such is the case with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon: an interesting film, which is also visually gorgeous as well. The film retells the same timeframe but from multiple perspectives.

The film is interesting at first, because its ideas are very much enhanced by its style. The style is strange – you could go as far as to say: ‘quirky’ – maybe even – ‘eccentric’. The music is at once light, and then occasionally over-dramatic (the almost apocalyptic thudding of drums), the dialogue – at times – feels forced and stilted, and then there’s the acting style, which reminds me of silent-film acting, due to its eccentricities and exaggeration.

Exaggerated acting style of Rashomon

Exaggerated acting style of Rashomon

All of these aspects made me rather warm to the film, but not to its characters. I think this is the point. The style engaged me with the narrative events, but rejected me from forming an intimate bond with the people involved in the events – I think this is Akira Kurosawa’s way of making us become detectives. By pulling us in yet distancing us from any bias towards the characters, we’re made to contemplate what the real truth actually is: do any of the retellings match up? Or is this impossible because they’re all lying? Are they even lying? Or are there some sections which involve lie and then involve truth? What is truth? Can it even be measured? Or is it all so abstract, that it is ultimately, meaningless?

At once we have a rather intriguing critique of truth and perception, and how humans can ultimately never be trusted due to their bias towards the subjective as opposed to the objective.

Yet, in my own personal opinion – the effect of this film wore off at the end of the second third of the film. As the film progresses, I became quickly used to its methods and ideas: the notion of retelling a story, and jumping back between the character’s telling their version of events, into their subconscious minds (the filmed events designed by Akira Kurosawa to show their subjective perspectives of the events in an ironically, objective way: by using wide-shots quite frequently as opposed to Point of View Shots). Once I got ‘used’ to the film, the thought-provoking aspects dimmed away, and I began to contemplate how ludicrous it all was.

Now, I agree with the notion that different people have different perceptions of events, but Rashomon takes this notion to the extreme. For example: two of the characters in each story engage in sexual activities – in one story, they make love, in the other, it is rape – bearing in mind: same characters, same timeframe. This is – in my mind – one of the least  ludicrous differences between the stories.

Making love or rape?

Making love or rape?

Then we come to the dialogue. At first, it’s rather charming and amusing. But, at points it does feel like Akira Kurosawa is forcing the themes of perception, truth, reality, memory and the human condition into our eye-sockets. Take for example, when we cut back to the sequence when we have a ‘Commoner’, a ‘Priest’ and a ‘Woodcutter’ – again – retelling and discussing the retellings of the characters involved in the main event. (The fact that it’s a retelling of a retelling surely emphasises the accentuation of the themes by Kurosawa). Here is some of their dialogue:

Priest: If men don’t trust each other, this earth might as well be hell.
Commoner: Right. The world’s a kind of hell.
Priest: No! I don’t want to believe that!
Commoner: No one will hear you, no matter how loud you shout. Just think. Which one of these stories do you believe?
Woodcutter: None makes any sense.
Commoner: Don’t worry about it. It isn’t as if men were reasonable.

Writers often ensure that their characters discuss themes of humanity by saying “men” or “mankind”, in an attempt to emphasise a philosophical point. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But more to the point – the worst part is when the Commoner says: “Which one of these stories do you believe?”, it’s as if Kurosawa himself has leaped out of the screen, pointed to all of us, and then rubbed his beard in such a manner as if to say: what do YOU think?

Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. But then again, isn’t all criticism about perception?

Verdict:

Some interesting ideas to start off with – but plays off of them repeatedly, so that I ultimately felt like the element of surprise in the movie diminished. A great shame.

Sorry for not posting in a while…

I’ve been getting ready to go off to university (where I’ll be studying Film and Television Studies). It’s been  pretty hectic for me.

Me having not posted in a while undoubtedly means that my ‘pics of the week’ postings well…you get the jist. Even though, I’ve missed out numerous weeks in between from posting from now – I hope you’ll all ignore this cock-up and continue to enjoy some film discussion…

Pics of the Week: WEEK 3

Cinema is an Art form inherently based around the visual image. To celebrate this notion, every week, there will be 5 stills uploaded onto this blog due to their power to resonate emotionally. Whether they are beautiful, technically perfected, memorable, geniusly disgusting, or meet their intentions – they will be put on here.

1. Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver (1976)

Memorable shot amongst the gritty, intentionally vile looking visuals of Taxi Driver. Perhaps a metaphor for Travis Bickle having died a long time ago, and having killed himself further by becoming a Taxi Driver: his hand in the shape of a gun, and a ‘result’ of the blast being the blood stains all across the wall. Who knows?

2. Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962)

Genius innuendo.

3. Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003)

My favorite Tarantino image ever. Absolutely simple, yet so effective, it’s as if Tarantino forces it down our eye-sockets and into our subconscious memory itself. I haven’t seen silhouettes being used so effectively for such a long time.

4. Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

The location. The fact that they’re clutching each other. The similar hairstyles. The lighting. The high-exposure. It all adds up to a dreamlike image. Plus the facial expressions of our leading ladies is a metaphor for the film itself: what…the…hell?

5. Melancholia (2011)

Melancholia (2011)

Melancholia (2011)

My least favorite von Trier next to The Idiots is Melancholia. Filled with pretentiousness and not really about anything at all – however – the image is beautiful. Observe the symmetry: the three circular planet/stars in the sky, the three characters centre screen. The hedges either-side adding to the formalist nature of the shot. The way the lighting gets lighter from left to right.

Although completely formalist in structure, the image itself is one of absolute haunting beauty which has stayed with me for some time.

Pics of the Week: WEEK 2

Cinema is an Art form inherently based around the visual image. To celebrate this notion, every week, there will be 5 stills uploaded onto this blog due to their power to resonate emotionally. Whether they are beautiful, technically perfected, memorable, geniusly disgusting, or meet their intentions – they will be put on here.

1. The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

I think it’s an image of just astounding beauty – not least because my favorite colour is blue. To say why I love it is to merely describe it: the endless sand stretching all the way up to the panorama, the way Jessica Chastain is given an angelic, almost goddess-like quality, the perfect symmetrical shadow she leaves behind, the sun in the distance…

Simply perfection.

2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

There are lots of terrifying and uncomfortable shots in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – this one remains to me to be the most intense. It captures the madness of the situation and the fear Sally is experiencing: the bulging of the eye, the tear, the pumping blood gushing into the centre of her pupil, the sweat, the rednes around the eye-lid…

It really does capture the emotions of this character succinctly and has left a powerful grasp on me.

3. Persona

Persona (1966)

Persona (1966)

Ingmar Bergman invents his own motif of showing the blending of identity in this film: a medium two-shot of two characters side by side – with their shoulders at the bottom of the frame. This is perhaps the most artsy one: capturing the light and dark shades of the inner turmoils of the characters via expressionistic lighting. Persona has the most gorgeous black and white cinematography, and this is one of my favorite stills from the film.

4. Empire (1964)

Empire (1964)

Empire (1964)

Empire blurs the line between painting and film. It is also profoundly dull. This still could be applied to every frame of the film, because every frame (albeit the opening titles) is of the Empire State Building.

5. El Topo (1970)

El Topo (1970)

El Topo (1970)

Filled with such random strangeness, El Topo is a film I admire for its inventiveness but don’t particularly like. It is all symbolism and no meaning. Filled with obscure shots and obscure images it is indeed. This is the least obscure image of the film, and for me the most powerful – capturing a disturbing amount of bloodshed. It’s the way the blood draws our eye all the way to the distance of the frame, like a line on a map – further accentuating this are the numerous dead bodies.

And for weirdness sakes, Alejandro Jodorowsky as the title character helps a young naked boy (why he is naked is never known) through this barren land of depravity. To further enhance the weirdness is the fact that this is Jodorowsky’s own son.

3 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056193/

15   135 min  –  Drama | Romance  –  September 1962 (UK)

Director

Stanley Kubrick

Writer

Vladimir Nabokov; Stanley Kubrick

Stars

James Mason; Shelley Winters; Sue Lyon

Plot:

Humbert Humbert (James Mason), intellectual, professor, middle-aged man, a paedophile lusts after 15 year old Dolores Haze (Sue Lyon), eloquently nick-named: ‘Lolita’.

Review:

Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962)

The films of Stanley Kubrick are oft criticised for being ‘emotionally cold’. Personally, I have always found these claims to be ridiculous. Objective they certainly are, but cold? 2001 is one of the most awe-inspiring works I’ve ever seen, A Clockwork Orange twisted my emotions throughout, and Eyes Wide Shut stayed with me for a good two months after viewing. Even Barry Lyndon, which is quite clearly the most distancing of his films has emotions oozing throughout it.

Kubrick shoots films as if he were shooting stills of a crime-scene: he puts the camera at a distance so all the characters are in view amongst a meticulously lit and scrupulously composed backdrop.

Classic use of distancing being used in Barry Lyndon (1975)

Classic use of distancing being used in Barry Lyndon (1975)

More distancing methods used in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975)

More distancing methods used in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975)

We are thus forced to question the characters, but the emotion comes from the fact that we view them like ‘bugs under a microscope’ (as one critic excellently put it). The ironies, hypocrisies, stupidities, obsessions, angst, paranoia and rage of every character always seeps through. The best example of this is in that long and pivotal scene in Eyes Wide Shut where Bill is told that Alice has contemplated sleeping with another man. By being distanced, I learned more about the character of Bill, and thus, I felt emotion. Bill fails to see that it’s not just men that have an intense desire for sex lurking inside of them.

Silly Bill.

Like Eyes Wide Shut, Lolita is about male sexual obsession, and presents it with great sympathy and snide sarcasm. Though doubt, probably more sarcasm than Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick shows the lustful emotions of the humorously named, ‘Humbert Humbert’ with moments of such obvious subtlety that it borders on self-parody and mocking the religious and right-wing censors of the time – like he’s bluntly trying to get away with as much as possible without crossing the line. It’s not just suggestive, it’s very suggestive. Take the opening shot (similar to that of The Graduate), consisting only of a teenager’s soft, shining foot. A middle-aged hand delicately applies nail varnish to it, subtly rubbing its fingers against the skin as much as humanly possible. Or the shot where Humbert Humbert kisses his wife, about to make love to her, whilst all the time looking at a photograph of his wife’s daughter, Lolita, in view. The joke being that during sex, he’s not concentrating on his wife, but instead what his imagination can do. And what about the first time we see the title character? Laying in the sun, clothed in a bikini, a sun-hat, and of course, wearing those heart-shaped glasses, whilst, licking a lollipop. Oh, Kubrick you.

Sue Lyon in Lolita

Sue Lyon in Lolita

There’s a great shot in this scene, where the camera is placed behind Lolita so that Lolita’s mother and Humbert Humbert (blocked behind her) are in view. If you look closely, you can see Humbert Humbert’s eyes twitch with nervousness and sexual tension – all at a self-knowingly slutty 15 year-old girl. I think the point being that Lolita is the sexual-predator here as opposed to Humbert Humbert – who merely comes across as pathetic, and idiotically possessive. Throughout the movie, Humbert Humbert seems to care more about love and relationships, whilst Lolita seems to be driven by sex – aided by that sly allure she has.

I’m reminded of the reasons why Chris Morris made the television special of Brass Eye named ‘Paedogeddon’ – an episode mocking how paedophilia is sensationalised by the media and how children are presented as being objects of such glowing innocence and naivety, that you’d expect them to grow angel wings, a halo and make Jesus Christ look like a sinner.

Chris Morris' sharp satire on the way paedophilia was sensationalised in the media

Chris Morris’ sharp satire on the way paedophilia was sensationalised in the media

The film slowly unravels, charting Humbert Humbert’s paranoia and obsessions building. It’s surprising how throughout the film, you forget that one of the main themes of it and the book is paedophilia itself. What’s unsettling here isn’t the age gap but the power-play between the couple. Humbert Humbert wants everything his way and Lolita would gladly disagree. Is the point here being that the notion of age-gaps in relationships being something predatorial is a ludicrous idea, and what is more sexually sinister are 1950s gender-roles? I am unsure. Kubrick films have to be watched multiple times.

I think the fatal flaw of the film is the time in which it was made. Censorship is such a pointless affair. People know of paedophilia, so why prevent presenting it? Throughout, you’d probably consider Lolita to be of 18 years old, if it wasn’t for the fact that on the DVD box, the internet and the film’s taglines we are told that she is 15? Yes, the film is suggestive throughout, but implying something can only go so far. I think the film could have played out like A Clockwork Orange, simultaneously unsettling and hilarious: the film would have been more interesting if Humbert Humbert’s sexual desires appeared to be more sinister. On screen we would have had two sexual predators as opposed to one, and the question surrounding the morality of age-gaps would have been more forceful, intense and dilemma-inducing. The novel is told from first person perspective, Humbert Humbert hypnotises the reader throughout – I think the same would have worked well in the film. We never seem to understand Humbert Humbert’s motives – I think the film would have been interesting if we got inside his head via the use of voice-over. Again, A Clockwork Orange springs and leaps to mind.

Also, the film is too slow in some areas. This is typical of Kubrick: Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut are above the two-and-a-half hour mark, but this is because they have a lot of story to tell. Would the humour have been intensified if the film was more rigorously speedy in its pacing?

I feel that the film does come across as cold because it isn’t as emotionally complex for the audience as it could have been. Thus the objective direction doesn’t present us with intriguing characters to contemplate but instead ironic situations which lack the depth of Kubrick’s later work.

I think it’s also interesting to watch this, whilst knowing that some of his later films are my favourites. I can see the beginnings of a directorial style, a seed being planted, knowing throughout that something great lurks within. 37 years later, Kubrick made a masterpiece.

Kubrick's last and final film is a masterpiece: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Kubrick’s last and final film is a masterpiece: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Verdict:

Not nearly as complex as it should have been. I’m left with the thought that the film should produce a moral-dilemma, similar to that of A Clockwork Orange. However, watch this for the beginnings of a great-director’s talent slowly churning: the compositions, the choice of music, the meticulously slow-pacing (although this doesn’t always work here), and of course the great performances from James Mason, Peter Sellers and Sue Lyon.

Lolita (1962)

This Is The End (2013)

3.5 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1245492/

Director

Evan GoldbergSeth Rogen

Writers

Evan GoldbergSeth Rogen

Stars

James FrancoJonah HillSeth Rogen

Plot

This Is The End (2013)

This Is The End (2013)

A group of celebrities and glamorous people head to a party at James Franco’s house – yes, James Franco’s. However, their anarchic fun, endless drinking and drug-consuming is violently stopped when the apocalypse begins.

Review

Rihanna slapping Michael Cera in the face for fondling her bottom. Michael Cera being impaled on a sign post. Jona Hill being possessed by the devil. Seth Rogen’s house setting on fire. Emma Watson with a pick-axe. Danny McBride masturbating over an issue of Penthouse. Do I need to say more?

This Is The End is the movie where you see celebrities playing themselves, and then dying in ludicrous ways or arguing over who’s going to have a Mars Bar. It’s great entertainment and contains set-piece after set-piece, self-referential gag after self-referential gag. Half of the fun is in guessing the movie references. It’s an excellent send-up of celebrities – and also a fine genre-parody as well: taking heavy influence from apocalyptic dramas, psychological thrillers, and of course, The Exorcist. The movie takes the conventions, amps them up to 11, and ridicules them. Take the opening apocalypse sequence: cars crash into buildings, bodies fly in the air like weightless boxes being left on a see-saw; furthermore to this: random items of furniture (or bits of wall and ceiling) crush people to death. Heads and body parts fly. All of this with celebrities playing themselves. The actors are in the movie, as opposed to the characters they portray.

This Is The End doesn’t just enjoy being a self-referential parody, it relishes in it as well.

The ‘characters’ are stripped down to the bare-bones stereotypes – more importantly, the way they are portrayed in the media/in their films. Remember how in Being John Malkovich, John Malkovich is sarcastic and incredulously angry – the same here, but in a less intelligent, and more anarchical and silly kind of way. Characters don’t just refer to each other by first names or nicknames – but by full names: “It’s Seth Rogen!”, “It’s Emma Watson!”, “It’s Channing Tatum!”

However, unlike Being John Malkovich, or most recently – Cabin in The Woods, the film doesn’t concern making a statement about the film industry. Which is fine. It’s just silly camp fun. But, could it have been sillier? Could there have been more cameos. As much as I liked it, I can’t help but think that I wanted more.

This Is The End is the kind of film where after it having ended an hour ago, you realise it wasn’t as good as you originally thought it was.

Conclusion

Ridiculously silly fun, with bonkers post-modern humour. However, it’s not nearly as memorable or as impactful as it should have been.

Pics of the Week: WEEK 1

Cinema is an Art form inherently based around the visual image. To celebrate this notion, every week, there will be 5 stills uploaded onto this blog due to their power to resonate emotionally. Whether they are beautiful, technically perfected, memorable, geniusly disgusting, or meet their intentions – they will be put on here.

1. The Turin Horse (2011)

The Turin Horse (2011)
The Turin Horse (2011)

This shot encapsulates the existential crisis the characters face in this apocalyptic drama. The endless barren fields of despair which seem to go on for eternity, but end up nowhere. The harsh winds almost knocking Ohlsdorfer over. The misanthropic use of high-contrast monochrome. The image provokes so much meaning and emotion but is also memorable due to its simplicity.

2) Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

This image sums up the greatest anti-one-night-stand-franchise ever made. At once sex and death are combined in this shot: a man with a godly physique having sex with a sensual curvaceous female – whilst in the backdrop, a work of art which inside is hiding lord of the cenobites: Pinhead. We are aware that the female will die after having sex with JP Munroe. We are also aware that Pinhead is watching them have sex throughout, making the scene sexy yet unsettling – due to this, I am heavily reminded of when Jeffrey hides in the closet in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Also, technically it’s a great shot too – notice the shard-like lighting covering JP adding to the sexual allure of the scene – but also the fact that similar lighting is covering the statue. Again – sex and death are combined. This cheapo exploitation trash flick – at points – has an artistic sensibility.

3) Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Although done for practical reasons as obviously Banksy wishes his identity to remain anonymous, there’s more to this shot than that. Think about it. This is as close as we’ll ever get to meeting one of the most mysterious characters in pop-culture.

4) Stalker (1979)

Stalker (1979)
Stalker (1979)

This shot is at the end of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. The shot holds a mysterious magic. Although it is a shot of a rough, run-down, barren, ugly setting – Tarkovsky seems to draw out the beauty of the location. The camera has been placed metres away from our central characters and the lighting now makes them into eluvious – almost ghostly – silhouettes.

The lighting above them allows us to see the tiny dust particles, and it makes the walls become an aquatic green colour. The tiles on the floor are clearly infected and unclean, but the water and its reflections and refractions of light make it seem quite beautiful. The shot also serves an intellectual as well as an emotional purpose for the audience: because the camera has been taken a few metres back, everything the character’s say is now being made more objective, we are made to think, contemplate and question what the characters are saying.

5) Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)
Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

Any shot with an appallingly shoddy prosthetic frog carrying a chainsaw ‘threateningly’ is a good shot in my books.