Sunday, September 9, 2012

Night Watch by Timur Bekmambetov

I am back after months of laziness.

So, the first film I'll be reviewing is a Russian Sci Fi movie that deals with stuff highly popular in Hollywood now days. Yes, I'm talking about human like creatures with superhuman abilities.
The whole vampire thing originated in my homecountry, which is why I've always found it to be an interesting topic. However, the way Hollywood (and TV) presented the whole story was always kinda lame and only somewhat related to the original story. No, I am not from Romania and no, the vampire story does not originally come from Romania. Vlad Cepesh, the count in medieval Romanian land, was a cruel ruler, dealing with his opponent in an inhumane way. His ways with prisoners and other enemies earned him a nickname "The Impaler". How does that make him any different than all other European rulers in the dark middle ages? It does not in any way. I wouldn't go as far as say that all rulers were that cruel, but cruel times require cruel rulers. It's his relationship with Hungarian kingdom that made myths about him, rather than his cruelty (compared to other European rulers). The word of his cruelty easily and rapidly got spread through the Catholic world resulting in myths, made up stories and what not.

What is a vampire? Vampire is a ghost-like creature, a spirit of a restless man seeking revenge. It does not feast on human blood. It comes to people while they sleep and strangle them. That is all. Manifestation of vampires that we know of today is a mixture of a restless dead and a werewolf. Their material being, the fangs, the hunger for blood... all werewolf stuff. I guess it was more interesting for people to picture them that way.

Night Watch.
The movie from the title is based on a sci fi book by a Russian writer Sergei Lukianenko. His views were influenced by the western view of the vampire myth, but he managed to give the background to the story which is based on eastern views. The result is impressive, compared to pretty much all Hollywood's attempts at telling vampire related stories.

Don't get me wrong, this is not just a vampire related movie. It combines many myths into an interesting story about the endless battle between good and evil, darkness and the light. I strongly suggest reading the books as well as seeing the movie.

This film simply offers a different approach to the story. Dark and light creatures are real and they live among other human beings under a set of rules. Those rules were brought to them when the light and the dark realized that war will only wipe them both out. So, according to that deal, Night and Day watch were created. Night Watch (the light) patrols through the night finding dark creatures breaking the law and Day Watch takes care of light's illegal activities.

The story follows Anton, a regular every day Russian, without a clue that he belongs to the superhuman world or any knowledge of its existence. In time he obviously finds out about his "gift" and gets a job in Night Watch. The storytelling isn't typical, which is why this film is poorly rated on IMDB and other film websites. It contains elements of Slavic folklore that people from the west can't possibly fully understand. A way of dealing with things, decisions made, things shown... are strongly influenced by eastern views.

Timur's filmmaking is strongly influenced by western sci fi directors, but, luckily, it had almost no influence on the story itself, leaving it as it is in the books. He uses a lot of special effects (masterfully made by a Russian team of special effects experts), but not too much of it. Sure, some scenes should have been excluded, being that they have little to do with the story, but the usage of special effects in storytelling is just right. The same can be said for editing and directing; just what a movie like this needs.

The acting is pretty good. A crew, lead by Konstantin Khabenskiy, does a great job at what director intended. There simply aren't any bad actors involved in making of this movie, including the people passing by, with a couple of lines, like a cop, or a salesman. Everything appears to be in favor of this film's way of storytelling.

The Competition.
I've mentioned earlier that this movie is superior to its Hollywood competition. However, I haven't mentioned any names. There are two movies that are thematically close to it. Underworld and Twilight. They both focus on combining myths. Underworld's backstory is really lame, making all of the endless sequels seem even worse. It's just sci fi action scenes and Kate Beckinsale in tights that sells them. Twilight is a teenage story about the fucked up values of the modern world. Popularity of it is just... sad.

Why should you go ahead and see this movie?
It's quite simple. The book it was based on is really good and the movie doesn't really change the story of it, it just adds action scenes and great acting to it. The story is in many ways different than the western pattern, making it additionally interesting for a viewer. You can, as well, read some things about Slavic folklore to actually be able to see all that this movie is about, because it doesn't include any kind of explanation to things already familiar to Slavic people. This film, however, offers something for everyone without being familiar with the stories background.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What is Avatar?

One doesn't have to be a genius to know that all Jim Cameron wants is to make a shitton of money. Powerful marketing made Avatar blow up on boxoffice and make more money than any film before it. Cameron planned on making a trilogy ever since he started working on the first part of it. Where the hell will the story go? Or, should I say, which old story will he rip off this time?

This post will focus on what exactly Cameron stole for the fist part of the "trilogy" that he wants to make epic and unforgetable. I know how this thing works. Stealing ideas and some parts of stories is what keeps the industry running today, but directors tend to make those parts and ideas as invisible as possible. Cameron, on the other hand, made a complete replica of things already seen. Things already seen many times before. I will focus in the following on what I've noticed, so feel free to add things in comments.

James Cameron knew that people will see the simularities, so he even made Neytiri (kind of) look like Pocahontas. Was he trying to be ironic or just to let everyone know that he can steal shit and nobody can do anything about it?

As many of you have probably seen, Avatar is mostly based on Pocahontas. The story of Pocahontas is mostly a true story, but many elements were added afterwards, to make the story more dramatic. Some of those elements were kept afterwards because people found it to be important for some reason. Technologically advanced people, without human values, come to the land owned by the primitive tribes that love nature, other beings etc. . One of the visitors falls in love with one of the natives and their way of life. *puke*

Avatar before the Avatar.

Some would say that the whole story isn't totally like Pocahontas, because there are some (minor) differences. Ok, let's go with that. Cameron added some fantasy (this crap isn't sci fi, it's simply fairytale-like fantasy) to it, to make it all different (!?) from the original story. Was Cameron the first to do that? No. There is a cartoon called FernGully: The Last Rainforest, made in the 1992. that tells a story of woodcutters on their way to destroy a sacred rainforest that fairies and many other beings live in. One of the woodcutters spends time with one of the fairies and after that encounter does his best to help the fairies defend their holy land from the woodcutters. Need I go deeper into the story? For those who still doubt, woodcutters would be the invaders from the Earth, fairies would be the Na'vi, a guy who falls in love with a fairy is a guy who falls in love with a Na'vi.

Cover of one of the books from the "World of Noon" series by the Strugatsky brothers. It's worth checking out if you're a Sci Fi fan.

Hold on, folks! Somebody would dare to say that even tho all of this is true, Cameron still made a unique backstory. He chose 23. century, named the planet Pandora and his belovered race Na'vi, that humans tend to invade. There happen to be a couple of Soviet Sci Fi (true Sci Fi) writers that already did all that. They're called Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Now, their story isn't a lot like Cameron's, but the aspects that I've mentioned earlier in this paragraph are all there. Their "World of Noon" series take place in 23. century on the planet named Pandora, where people called Nave live. Folks from the Earth do the research on the very planet.  Still in doubt?

Nagrand and Pandora's floating pieces of earth. Coincidence? I think not.

Now, that I have most (all?) of the story covered, let's focus on what many people think is quite unique and only Cameron did. I'm talking about the planet of Pandora and the way beings and the sorroundings were designed. Big blue beings... Now where have we seen those? Oh, that's right, World of Warcraft (not implying anything in WoW is very original). To be quite precise, I'll focus on The Burning Crusade expansion for WoW, that Cameron probably played while trying to picture the world he created (or he just leveled in the Outland while writing the script, being that he didn't need much of a focus to come up with most of it). His Na'vi look a lot like Dranei (took some bits from the Night Elves as well) from WoW. Floating pieces of ground - Zone called Nagrand in the Outland. Big ass birds that Na'vi ride? Check. It's interesting how most of it come from the same place.

Now, for the 3D. Avatar IS NOT the first 3D film, or anywhere near the first one. The technology itself is 76 years old and it's first been used in the theatres in the 50's. Later on it was revived in the 80's and it wasn't that successful. The scientific progress made the 3D look better through the years. Somebody wanted this film to hit the market hard, because it was all over the media! It was everywhere. Cameron is just one of the famous directors, not the most famous one or the best. He just knows his marketing or has someone who's an expert. The out-of-this-world-success of  this film just shows how manipulative people are nowdays.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Memories of Murder by Joon-ho Bong

The time has come for me to turn to South-Korean cinematographers, because most of the things worth seeing from the beginning of the 21. century come from this small Asian country. Before seeing this masterpiece, I've had a unique pleasure of seeing just a couple of Korean films, like Old Boy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (all 3 by Park Chan Wook), Silmido, Brotherhood of War... Koreans had me at Old Boy, but I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this one. It was highly rated, as well as Old Boy, it was Korean, as well as Old Boy, it was a thriller, as well as Old Boy... I was afraid I'd be too much like (if I mention the name of that film again I will slap myself) the other Korean thriller that I liked.

Boy, was I wrong. The only thing my previous experience with Koreans has in common with "Memories" was the fact it was in Korean. Oh, yeah, it was also surreally awesome. I don't like to use the term "awesome", but that is the only word that can describe what I've seen. One can see a number of influences, but also a kind of uniqueness, that gives this masterpiece the timeless value. Everything just seems natural, but not too natural. Everything is believable, but yet entertaining in a way, but also thrilling and a bit scary. I've never seen any director play with emotions and switch between genres so swiftly and effectivly. It takes a high amount of talent and hard work to make this the way it turned out. It's like there are three different movies, all of which with a different message, motive and idea behind it. One does not feel that any part of the film shouldn't be there, even tho segments defer a whole lot.

The story revolves around series of murders that take place in a province of Gyanggi in 1986. . Two local cops are on the case, but their stupidity and primitive ways show no results in finding the killer. The killer rapes his victims and leaves them tied, with underwear in their mouth and most of all... dead. New cop arrives from Seoul to work on the case. He also attempts to return order to the local police station, which is runned by fools. This is where the rollercoaster ride starts. One never knows what's gonna happen next or what's gonna follow. A highly dramatic scene is followed by a humorous scene with stupid cops, trying to get to justice using their idiotic ways and etc. The characters are quite colorful. They're all very different and their role in the case changes through the film, but the transformations are believable and sometimes even funny. They're all masterfully played by Korean actors (i'm not gonna be an asshole and lie about how I've known of them before seeing this film).

This film isn't really easy to spoil, but people who go ahead and spoil this film for someone should be sent to jail before any form of trial takes place. I'm sure I haven't ever seen this kind of movie before, with this kind mixture of genres. It's a lot like some Asian dishes, with all sorts of sauces, that makes food sweet, salty, hot and bitter at the same time. But the result is lovely and totally worth checking out and reseeing it at least once a year, just so that you can tell that the shit Hollywood is feeding us with is really what it smells and seems like. Leave your predjudices behind and dive into the ocean of Korean filmmaking. You won't regret it for one second.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky

The time has come for me to review this masterpiece by USSR's Andrei Tarkovsky. It's my belief that every single filmlover should see this film more than once in his/her lifetime. Tarkovsky is a unique filmmaker, mainly because his work is mostly based on eastern culture and literature. East was mainly ignored by western mainstream filmmakers, even tho many novels and short stories deserve to be filmized and shown to the wider audience.

Tarkovsky's "Stalker" is based on a short story by the Strugatsky brothers, Soviet sci fi writers, creators of the "World of Noon", that Cameron's Avatar is based on. Cameron denies the connection, but that's not fooling anyone. The name of the story is "Roadside picnic". It's a different kind of sci fi, focusing on the characters, not on bigass space ships and futuristic weapons. If you're a sci fi fan, you should deffinitely give it a go, being that it's unlike anything west has to offer. I should also mention that this film has nothing to do with a PC game called "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.". Although the creators claim that their game is inspired by the story, one finds it hard to see the connection.

It is really hard to say what this film is about without spoiling it. Then again, this film is also hard to spoil. One has to see all of it before seeing what this film is about and what the message is. This film is character based. It is based on "Roadsice picnic", but Tarkovsky's view and approach to the story istelf is more than a bit different. He did not use all of the explainations that the story provides, but rather came up with his own, in order to make his point. And he did. This film follows the characters as they make their way into a "Zone", a mystical place where the government doesn't want them to be in. They all have their reasons to visit the Zone, but in the end they all find things different than what they wanted to see.  Two of the travelers, a writer and a scientist are lead by a Stalker, a person who knows the location of the room within the Zone that's supposed to be making the wishes come true. Tarkovsky's view of the room is somewhat simular to his view of the ocean in "Solyaris". The main characters represent two (three?) sides of the human nature, rational and artistic, and focuses on their strugle as they make their way to the room. I believe this is the core of it all and revealing one more bit would spoil some things for you, so I'll just leave it here.

Tarkovsky's directing is uniquely beautiful. Before the chacaters enter the Zone, everything is shot in black and white, the sorrounding is dull and gray, while the zone is shown in full color and all of its beauty. Many references can be made and I believe that it's up to a viewer to tell. This film is very much like the Zone itself, so I don't suggest searching for the answers in reviews, because they will all point out just one point of view. Most of the film is not dialogue based, but rather based on long beautifuly made shots of the sorrounding that tells a lot more than words ever could. That is the beauty of it all. The dialogues are there, but not when there is no need for them. I believe this film is a genre of its own, as well as many other Tarkovsky's films. One can't simply define it as a drama, or a sci fi, or anything. It's pure art of filmmaking, using all of the benefits of the media and showing the world why it's not a book, or a theater piece, but a motion picture.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Once Upon a Time in America by Sergio Leone

I feel that it's kind of unfair that I haven't yet reviewed my top favorite film. My first review was dedicated to "Fistful of Dynamite", but this film is in so many ways different and I dare to say better. Many would say that this film is nothing like previous Leone's work and they'd be right. This is the final chapter of "Once Upon a Time..." thrilogy (Fistful of Dynamite was translated to "Once Upon a Time in The Revolution" in some countries, even tho the original name is "Giu la testa", meaning "Get down!".). This is the fist film Leone made based on a book. In this case, it's a book called "Hoods" by Harry Grey, taking gangs of New York in the 30's. The word is, Leone was supposed to direct "The Godfather", but he eventually gave it up for this story. Personally, I'm glad he picked this story because this way we got 2 great films. He literally fell in love with the book and the way it's written. Harry Gray was a gangmember himself, so Leone recognized honesty in it and probably loved the first hand impressions. I haven't read the book because it's hard to find it where I'm from, but I'll focus on what film is about. If you get your hands on the book, you should read it and sure would be nice if you could comment on it in the comment section.
This film is very much character based. It doesn't follow a story, but rather focuses on the characters, defining them to the smallest detail. The story itself is told in 3 different times: while main characters were just boys, their uprise and while they're old. The story doesn't go chronologicaly, but that's just how Leone decided to tell it and one can easily see why just by watching the movie. The story follows David "Noodles" Aaronson (Played by Robert de Niro and Scott Schutzman Tiler) and his "gang" of friends; the way they grew up on the streets and what the time being made them into. It's basicly a story of friendship, love, betrayal... pretty much everything that life has to offer. The feelins that one gets watching this film change drasticly. From happiness and nostalgia, to sadness and even hate. As if Leone decided to make an ultimate film, covering most of the motives present in other films. Just better. Leone uses "opera-like" directing to present certain feelings and Morricone's timeless music is there to make it all better and more emotional. I feel like i have to mention the unmasking scene (Don't worry, not gonna spoil anything for you) with Noodles and Deborah, which is dialogue based, rather than pure facial acting that Leone perfected. In my humble opinion, that is the best scene ever directed. In my head, it's battling the entrance scene to "Once Upon a Time in The West", but being that I already like "America" more, I will give it a slight advantage. So, I'm asking you to pay extra attention to this scene as the movie goes (It's near the ending.). As to the ending, I'll try not to spoil anything, but many people find it puzzling. I'll just tell you that the ending is what seems right when you finish the film. Don't overthink it, Leone wanted everyone to base the ending upon their impression of the film. Googling and browsing forums for the explaination won't help you. Just trust me.
I feel that Leone is the star of the film, even tho he was behind the camera at all times, but the actors' performances should also be prasied. Leone is known to be a perfectionist. He knew how every scene will look like before even finishing the script and he mostly used actors as "tools" to get what he wants. The acting crew is quite something. Bobby de Niro, James Woods, Joe Pesci, Elizabeth McGovern... They all did an awesome job. Kids playing the "younger version" of the characters also did a great job. One can easily relate to any of them. It seems as if they're not just soulless creatures running through the frames, but that every single one of them has a story to tell, just by the way every one of them walks, smiles, talks. It seems like this film could be made without the script, just Morricone's music in the background making the facial and guestrual acting even more effective. I don't think people would get different messages out of it, but the presence of the script makes the story and the characters a lot deeper and is also something worth praising. I've read that some people consider "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" to be very opera-like, because of the many scenes that are just followed by Morricone's music and not any dialogue. This film brougt all that to a higher level. Some wordless scenes will leave you speachless. You will learn to love, hate, sympathise... all of the characters, because this film basicly is about them.
The main reason this film failed in the USA is the fact that the original cut was quite literally raped by talentless pricks (Rape is the only word I can use for what they've done.). They actually got the original rip and decided that it was too long for the American audience. The job of "cutting" was given to the director of Police Academy (Way to show respect to Leone...). The result was a film about 2 hours and 30 minutes in lenght (out of the original 4), set chronologicly without Morricone's music to cover it. Needless to say, it failed as an award winner and as a money maker. It was nominated for the Golden Globe, but ended up as a loser. Leone was very disappointed by this and many claim that it affected his heart condition, which resulted in his death in 1989., before he could get his hands on the "Leningrad" project.
To sum up, this was probably the biggest review that I've made so far, but I felt like this film deserves every word used and that my English should improve just so that I will be able to say more about this masterpiece.

Oh, for the news, Oscar special is coming up so stay tuned. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Easy Money by James Signorelli

This is probably the first time I'm reviewing a comedy. I picked this very film up because I liked very much and yet it remains underrated. Rodney Dangerfield is one hell of a comedian, and one can easily notice that within this film. He may be better at stand up, but this is one of his films that everyone should see.
The story revolves around Dangerfield's character, who's mother-in-law dies and leaves a strange will, asking him to change his life style completely. His best friend is played by Joe Pesci. And Joe Pesci will be Joe Pesci. Now, when I see a comedy the only thing I expect from it is to be funny. This film makes that work and that's why it made it here. The film is full of Dangerfield's famous one-liners and one just can't hear that and not laugh. If you're from Europe, the weather must be terrible, so use your extra free time to watch thing film and make these shitty days happier. Cheers


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dersu Uzala by Akira Kurosawa (1975.)

Dersu Uzala is a product of Japanese-Russian coproduction. The film is based on a book, written by Vladimir Arsenyev , based on a true story. Vladimir Arsenyev is a Russian explorer, ona mission to explore the remote part of Russian wilderness, eastern Siberia. He's send on a mission, along with a handful of soldiers, to mark the forests, mountains, mountain tops, rivers, lakes... Most of those regions have never been explored by any human, or so they thought... On his mission he meets a hunter named Dersu Uzala. Dersu's Russian is not that good, but they learn to understand eachother and Dersu becomes their guide through the Siberian wildreness. That's where an atypical friendship between a Russian military captain and a hunter who lives within the forests starts. I believe this is all I can say about the story without spoiling it.
I should say that Kurosawa is one of my favorite directors. This film, however, isn't typical Kurosawa, or a typical Russian film. It tells a hearttouching story of an encounter Vladimir Arsenyev never expected to happen. It is not a high budget film and one can easily see that, but when it comes to acting, directing and screenplay writing, this film is top class. Vladimir Arsenyev wrote a book based on his memories and it all seems natural. One can easily see that the only motive for writing this book is the friendship itself, not an agenda of any kind. That is one of the things that make this film so good. Kurosawa's directing is perfect, as always. He still uses his own style, even tho it's not 100% his film or Japanese. Being that the film is in Russian, all of the actors are Russian, or from Russia. They all seemed natural and good at what they did. It's a damn shame west didn't pay much attention to this film, because it was made in USSR, their sworn enemy. This film is so innocent and lovely, just like Dersu's soul, and it deserves everyone's attention. It's a definite must see for every living filmlover. If I was to rate this film I would give it 10/10 without spending 2 seconds thinking.