Akira (1988), or My Uncanny Film Origins or The Most Perfect Bookend To Cinematronica

31 12 2009

AT LAST! 365 days, 365 movies indeed! It’s been a long fucking road, friends, but here it is, my last movie for 2009! From the dizzying heights of The Seventh Seal, to the lame pile of degradation of Jennifer’s Body, I have seen a lot of films this year that mean a lot of things to a lot of people. This last film on the website is for me, though. Akira was the first movie that really made me think about the motion picture as art. It was the first movie that grabbed me, called out my name, and took me out of my own head, challenging me to think about things in a different light. Of all the movies I had seen in my life before 1997, Akira was the one that changed everything for me, the one that made me understand the concept of the film as an art form. To me, that crucial shift in thinking means everything, and, of all the films Cinematronica could go out on, I wanted it to be the film that made me who I am today.

Akira is a Japanese animated feature from 1988.  Set in (drumroll please…) THE FYOOCHA!!!, we are taken away to the chaotic and dirty city of New Tokyo, a city rebuilt near the ashes of the original Tokyo, which was destroyed by a gigantic explosion that sparked the third World War of the late 80s (remember how awful that was?). Thirty years afterward, the city has reached completion, but the people squirm restlessly and undulate beneath the overbearing government. Riots and doom prophets run rampant in the streets, crying for change to wash over the stagnant air of the near future. In the midst of all this, a group of angry youths in a motorcycle gang whittle away their futures by clashing with rival gangs in the streets. During the skirmish one of the members, named Tetsuo, has a run-in with a strange, aged child, who is trying to escape from unseen forces. His bike explodes from hitting some sort of psychic shield as he nearly runs the child over, and when the rest of the gang comes to Tetsuo’s aid, a group of government vehicles surrounds them and takes the child and Tetsuo away. They are interested in Tetsuo, whose interaction with the strange child has awakened a power within him, something that neither he or the mysterious military man overseeing his capticity could have ever imagined. His friend and de facto leader of the gang, Kaneda, will stop at nothing to discover Tetsuo’s whereabouts, and decides to sneak in with a group of revolutionaries into a secret government building where Tetsuo and other psychically powerful individuals are being held. But what they soon realize is that what they stumbled upon is bigger than all of them, and it threatens the very safety of the world. Because Tetsuo’s power is growing exponentially, and he is growing more and more mentally unstable. The government will do anything to keep him from realizing his maximum potential, however, as Tetsuo’s story seems to mirror that of a boy from 30 years ago named Akira, a boy whose abilities may have caused the destruction of Tokyo and the beginning of the World War…

Akira is sci-fi at its highest echelon, especially in the sense of challenging the present with its dark visions of the future. A chilling saga about science at the fringe of human comprehension, Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic, which he took from the pages of his own monstrous manga, is the standard by which modern sci-fi is judged, a juggernaut of scathing political and societal indictment with strong messages to match the overwhelming emotional side of alienated youth. Fingers are pointed at the philosophically outmoded Japanese military, the shadowy backroom dealings of modern government, a society who throws the young away without giving them much of a chance, and the cold hand of science, who will put discovery before anything and everything else, even the safety of the human race. If good science fiction makes a statement, Akira is certainly one of the greatest sci-fi films out there.

And it’s also revolutionary for its time. Akira is a bloody mess, an anime definitely for adults at a time when animation was just for kids. There is violence beyond description here, like people being turned into gooey messes, but beyond that it houses disturbing imagery that sunk into my subconscious at a young age. One scene in particular sees Tetsuo, in a mental panic, being attacked by a teddy bear with fangs and a snake arm who is bleeding milk profusely from his face! If that’s not terrifying for a kid, I don’t know what the fuck is! But it’s so good, you won’t really care how freaked out you are in the face of its quality. Which is another reason Akira is so special; featuring over 160,000 cels of animation, this movie is a fully realized animated event. Lips are very nicely synched, and movement is flowing and beautiful. One of my favorite animated moments sees Tetsuo falling from his bike after an accident, and Otomo shows the entire wreck in its full glory, even the moment where Tetsuo rolls off and away like a Japanese rag doll. And, if I can just give a personal kudos, thanks to Katsuhiro Otomo for making Japanese people look… Japanese. I hate how white anime characters look, but the art direction here calls for all the characters in Tokyo to look like Asians, not white girls with purple hair and 36 HHH size breasts! I hope more people take to this art style in the future!

Akira is, for me, the point in Japanese filmmaking when anything seemed possible. Where the future was vivid, the message was strong and eloquent, and the world seemed ready to accept it. Looking at Japanese films now, I think they took some of that spirit here and there, and while the films now are not nearly as great as that moment promised, I’m just glad that one film rose above the rest to tell its amazing story with a verve and a presence that still cannot be matched today. I loved it then, and, after seeing it again for the first time in years, I love it even more. Timeless music by Shoki Yamashiro and breathtaking animation by Katsuhiro Otomo make this a film that you will never, ever forget, so Akira gets a big Cinematronica thumbs-up and 10 geriatric children out of 10! My highest recommendation!

FUCK! I’m done! I can’t believe it! It’s been a great year, everyone, and I can’t believe how much fun this was! Thanks, everyone for your support, and I hope you come see me at my new website, http://www.ifreviewscouldkill.com, when it starts up! I’ll keep updates on here for the launch of the new site, so you’ll have up to date Eric news, but until then, enjoy your New Years Eve and I am TAKING A WEEK OFF OF REVIEWS! HAPPY 2010 EVERYONE!!!!!





Citizen Kane (1941), or Once In A Lifetime

30 12 2009

So here we are. You know, when I thought about starting this Cinematronica thing a while back, I always knew I would have to review Citizen Kane. It is the most wonderful of all American films, to me, and although that may come as a sort of surprise from a 23 year old, and perhaps I might come off as somwhat pretentious for choosing something so obvious, it’s a film I take very close to my heart. For me, Citizen Kane is a crucial story for the American cinematic mindset; it is both blockbuster and daring independent film, a debut from a young upstart who had his own ideas as to how films would be made; a child of studio expectations and fiercely personal individual goals that ends up being freater than the sum of its parts. It tells a story that touches me to my very core, a story of loss, ambition, greed, and that most human desire to be loved and truly understood. There is something here that truly lays hands on perfection, a considerable skill, a very noticeable ambition, and a love of cinema that transforms this film from merely a film to a work of art, and an exceptional one at that.

We follow the story of Charles Foster Kane, a man who grew from humble origins to eventually amass a wealth that most people could not ever imagine. We begin at the end of his life, when a group of reporters gather together to find clues on the enigmatic man’s life, loves, and mysterious last word, “Rosebud.” The reporters interview many of Kane’s close friends and acquaintances, and discover a man who had an indomitable spirit but a terrible hunger for power that would both found a massive newspaper empire and simultaneously demolish his aspirations for anything else. But even with all the people in his life explaining who he is, they soon find Kane to have an unspoken quotient to him, something unexplainable to him that keep them from understanding him fully. Will they discover the mystery of “Rosebud”? Does it help to explain the life of a man who was larger than life but so much smaller than his own desire?

Citizen Kane is, in some ways, a treatise on the state of America in modern times. In other ways, there are definite links to Kane and legendary news tycoon William Randolph Hearst that echo throughout the film. And in other ways, one could also link, eerily, I might add, the tragic downturn of Orson Welles himself after his failure in Hollywood. Citizen Kane has the power to twist and turn its meaning through the years; it is a character study without peers, astute and wise, that seems to mean different things to different people. For me, it leaves a very individualized print on my heart that would take another essay just to explain, and I’m sure the meaning and the emotional power is found elsewhere for others. It is a film whose true value cannot be honestly appraised, and whose very meaning is neatly encased by the end of the picture but still loftier than one can begin to express before the credits are over.

The filmmaking is some of the finest I have ever laid my eyes on. From a technical standpoint, there are things going on here that are WAY ahead of its time. Deep focus is the process of making everything in both the foreground and background of a shot look sharp. Almost every scene in Citizen Kane uses this effect somehow, to my honest surprise. The effect requires massive amounts of staging beforehand, making sure things stay absolutely in focus the whole time, so this isn’t something one could just go for in 1941. But Welles does, and the effect speaks for itself. Every scene is beautiful, looking clear, crisp, fresh, and striking. The score by Bernard Hermann is one of the best of the 1940s, blending sorrowful themes with the punchy tunes of industry and drive that perfectly explains the world around Charles Foster Kane. And although Orson Welles, in his career ,would go on to direct films that to this day have yet to be equaled, Citizen Kane, his first film, was his most impressive as a director. He directs not with that Hollywood flair that was so popular at the time, but with that independent eye for evocative imagerythat would go on to dominate his aesthetic sensibilites (as well as damn his Hollywood career…). Kane, with the dynamic direction Welles utilizes, is seen less like Phillip Marlowe from The Big Sleep, but rather Kihachi from A Story of Floating Weeds.

Orson Welles knows just how to direct Orson Welles, because his turn as the mysterious Charles Kane is one which will live on forever. His face is a mask of avarice, but just beneath it is something wounded, something wanting. Although Kane pushes everyone away from him, there is a part of this character that cannot think of a more dreadful punishment than being alone. It is a complicated character, but one that Welles excels at playing, and he does justice to his own writing by acting superbly. Joseph Cotton plays Jedediah Leland, Kane’s best friend. Through his interview scenes and his real interaction with Kane, Cotten spins a wonderful character that wants what’s best for Kane, even if telling him the truth means destroying his relationship with him. His charming, smirking demeanor as a person adds a lot of spice to this character, and I, for a change, liked how much of himself he left in the character. Dorothy Comingore plays the haunting role of Susan, Kane’s mistress, and later wife. She has a great range, and I felt a great deal of sympathy for this character as she took more emotional distress from the curmudgeon Kane than she really deserved. But her intensity, that piercing gaze of hers, keeps us glued to her every moment Susan pops on-screen, and I kept hoping the longer the movie went on that she would have more scenes. She’s really quite lovely here, a joy to watch.

What else is there to say? Citizen Kane is a monolith of American cinematic history. It is simply an amazing achievement, all of it made even more amazing still when one takes into account that this was a debut feature. Orson Welles created something here that transcends lists or “Best of” segments or “pretentious” reviewers like myself prattling on about its glory. It’s just something that American fans of cinema need to experience to truly understand the language of our films and the emotional truths of our work. Citizen Kane represents the best we have to offer in terms of technical innovation, impeccable writing, and superb acting. It is an American institution, and, whether you like it or not, it has a message that is undeniably relatable and culturally relevant even today. I truly love it, and I give it an enthusiastic 10 Rosebuds out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow is the LAST day of Cinematronica, the last leg of my 365 day journey, and the last review period I shall post for a week! Tomorrow I go back to where it all began for me. Tomorrow I watch Akira! Until then!!!





Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), or The Meaning Of Epic

29 12 2009

Hello, all! Another day in this final week, another classic! Some movies are simply part of the vernacular of cinema. They are vibrant, wonderful, and universal in their emotional appeal. They cannot be questioned in their quality, their sterling vision, or their importance to cinema. Such films do not come around very often, but their effect is timeless on the human spirit, and it is really something special to sit down, putting away the modern accouterments and distractions, and just watch one. Lawrence of Arabia is one such movie, an epic that rivals its spiritual predecessor, The Bridge on the River Kwai, of which I did a REVIEW (link here!), in scope and grandeur. It is certainly one of the first films that pop into mind when one thinks of a historical epic, and its legend is only exceeded by the movie itself. I mean in when I say that everything you’ve ever read about this film is true.

Based loosely on the book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, it concerns the real-life exploits of T.E. Lawrence, the British officer who served as a liaison during the Arab revolt during World War I. From his humble beginnings as a misfit Lieutenant during the conflict, we are introduced to a man with few aspirations in the military, but a very deep interest in the nomadic Arabs, known as the Bedouin. He is sent on an assignment to assess the likelihood of an Arab overthrow of the Turkish forces led by a man named Prince Faisal. Lawrence finds in Faisal’s camp to be just what he needed. He decides that the Arabs indeed have a chance against the Turks, and, more than that, he has a plan to help them succeed. He wants to help the Arabs wage war personally; it is a controversial move, one that will not go without repercussions, but Lawrence was anything if not controversial, and his destiny in the conflict will be decided by him and him alone. Outside influences from the British Army try worming their way into his ear, attempting to shove him this way and that way. But Lawrence clearly shows that he is his own man, and the conflict between the Turks and the Arabs may just be decided by the efforts of a white man who has fallen in love with the desert.

David Lean does it again!!! Lawrence of Arabia, based on the real life account of larger-than-life British soldier T.E. Lawrence, is one of the greatest British movies I have ever seen. Lean proposes the most spectacular visions as a director, his camera working like a sweeping mural of a bygone age to bring this historical drama to life. He and constant 60s cinematographer Freddie Young make an Egypt that is as regal and as proud as Mankiewicz’s Rome in the following year’s Cleopatra. The sets are lavish and awesome and the natural beauty of the desert is brought to life with plenty of long, loving shots into the unknowable distance. The visual strength of the haunting desert landscape is put to good use by Lean, who takes the time to show us that even in the midst of modernization, man is no match for the harsh mistress that is the endless sand. The movie’s visually a jaw-dropper, and it is most likely Lean’s finest-shot picture.

The story can’t be sold short for all of its majesty. It begins as merely a story about a military maverick who thinks a little differently than everybody else around him. But T.E. Lawrence was more than that as a person, and so I’m glad Lean decided to tell the more personal story of a man who was torn between his orders and a cause that he thought was genuinely worth fighting for. It’s wondrous to watch his transformation from unassuming British soldier to guerrilla warrior to full-fledged Bedouin leader in the span of 223 minutes. Most people feel that is an inordinate time to spend watching a movie, but if any film can make you feel that nearly 4 hours is not a lot of time, it is this film, I assure you. It breezes by like the wind upon the tip of a curved Arabian scimitar. Good imagery, I know…

Shall I just go ahead and say that Peter O’Toole is the man? Okay, I’ll say it; Peter O’Toole is the fucking man here! T.E. Lawrence could only have been played by an actor who was similarly larger-than-life, and O’Toole was just that. He makes the character veritably vibrate with the vitality of the age. It is a performance that will live in history books as long as they exist. But Lawrence was not an easy man to be; he is attacked, brutalized, beaten senseless by the sun, and, in one particular scene, possibly raped (!!!). There will never be a remake of Lawrence of Arabia, or any re-imagining that could compare to this version, because the blood, sweat, and toil O’Toole invests here is irreplaceable but instantly recognizable to anyone who watches it, and anybody who tries to take up this mantle in the future will look a little foolish trying to fill such large robes. Other actors impress, as well. Alec Guinness again supports David Lean’s wildly British vision as Prince Faisal, a most interesting character indeed. He is the man who entices Lawrence into this battle at the beginning of the film, and it is his character that really influences Lawrence the most. Guinness steals the show once or twice for himself, as is his wont, and gives some great lines that are still insightful and relevant today, like:

Prince Faisal: Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage, and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution.

Anthony Quinn is Auda abu Tayi, a ruthless Arab leader whose support become very valuable to Lawrence, and he is a great character. Quinn plays an Arab man rather stiffly, and according to some of the prevailing stereotypes of the day, but it’s not as bad as it could have been, all things considered, and I actually rather enjoyed it at times, mainly because of his rather impressive physical transformation. Omar Sharif plays an excellent supporting role as Sherif Ali, one of the men assigned to Lawrence by Faisal. He is excellent, and added some genuine spice to the mix with his smooth, leading-man presence. Jose Ferrer makes a small appearance as a Turk here, but while his role is small, it is at a terribly crucial scene, and when you see him, you’ll realize that they could not have had anyone else play the part. Great casting all around.

Like the gravitas the amazing Maurice Jarre score suggests, Lawrence of Arabia is a film that will live forever. But it will only breathe deeply if more people take the time to see it. It is a real gem, a classic by which other classics are judged. There is not another film like it, not that I have seen, and it is simply a unique, risky epic that would rather focus on quality than on any preconceived notions of structure or character development.  I have nary met another person in my life who has seen it as well, and I doubt I will meet anyone anytime soon who treasures it like I do. But, perhaps, if you take my advice and check it out, you’ll see what I mean when I speak of its undeniable quality and will not be reticent to give it a full recommendation of your own! I give Lawrence of Arabia 10 Pillars of Wisdom out of 10! My highest recommendation!!!

Tomorrow I discuss what is most likely the greatest film of all time. I think we’re all aware of what I’m talking about. That’s right; you, me, Citizen Kane, tomorrow!





8 1/2 (1963), or The Sordid Life Of The Artist

28 12 2009

Ah, the dulcimer tones of fine Italian cinema! They call to me like a pizza made out of encouragement and long, life-affirming hugs. Today we cull our film from the timeless works of Federico Fellini, the director of La Dolce Vita and Satyricon. This, his most personal and revealing film, is one of the greatest European films of the 1960s. It has a hypnotic, dream-like power that is truly a joy to bask in. And a big part of what makes this film so special is the semi-biographical perspective the film takes. It is a comical, poignant, subversive, and slightly surreal take on Fellini’s life at the time by Fellini himself. It is extremely powerful in its intimacy, and it speaks to us from beyond the gulf of time with a voice that is almost instantly relatable with its portrait of the artist as people as vulnerable as you or I.

The plot is simple. We follow the exploits of famous director Federi- I mean, Guido Anselmi, and his tribulations with finishing his latest film. He’s having creative difficulties, mostly caused by everyone nagging on him all of the time about it. He’s famous and revered, and he’s expected to create something really amazing, but all the pressure is getting to him. It grows ever worse as personal problems at home involving his wife and his various infidelities. Everyone wants a piece of him, everyone wants to talk to him, and he can’t get away from it. He checks himself into a spa, thinking that will alleviate some of the stress, but it soon becomes apparent that he cannot find solace. He begins to retreat into fantasy, waking memories, falling into the nostalgia of his colorful past. Can Guido make the movie come together after all, or is he doomed artistically in this endeavor, enslaved by his own haunting memories and the debasing lack of control in his life?

It is so strange how shared experiences affect us. 8 1/2 speaks to anyone who has been put under pressure to create something, or put through a ringer of high expectations over anything. Guido is the poster child for the overly encumbered, the man living up to unrealistic expectation, and I think anyone can understand that desire to be left to one’s devices. But 8 1/2 speaks at times specifically to the artist, the ones disenchanted with their craft after experiencing some sort of block, who allow the world to eke into the sacred personal world of their art. And yet, simultaneously, 8 1/2 is completely about Fellini, and there is no message to be bequeathed, only a recollection of who Fellini is and his own trials and travails as an auteur. So through his experiences we can project a similarity between us and him, this was an intensely unique scenario that he lived and shared with us. In a way, Fellini makes us discover the meaning of art and storytelling through the dichotomy of 8 1/2.

Fellini creates something edgy, surreal, and hilarious in this virtual cinematic memoir. 8 1/2 takes us into the mind of a man who is cowed in the face of the women he has loved, and so we can look at it as a sort of conquering of the male through his passion. Guido, as a character, is both inspired and driven to distress by all the women in his life; his wife, Luisa, who he loves but has trouble approaching due to her demeanor, his mistress Carla, who is the exact opposite of Luisa, for better or for worse, and the beautiful and enigmatic Claudia, an actress working closely with Guido who he feels is the only one who can pull him through this strange block of his. As he drifts into fantasies, he even recalls other women in his life, in particular an older lady in his youth that first awakened his feelings of sexuality. But it is not an indictment of women in any way, as that does not seem to be Guido’s or Fellini’s intention; it is a celebration of women, how they confound, exasperate, inspire, and terrify the adult and the confused young boy in us all.

The acting is the best you’re likely to see in the Mediterranean during the early 60s (until Godard filmed a movie there, that is…) Marcello Mastroianni, Fellini’s male muse for the second time, blows me away as Guido. At the time, he was seen as a sex symbol, much like the Hugh Jackman of his day, but truly Mastroianni proves here that he’s more than just a pretty face. He plays the struggling artist like it really means something to him, a thing so rare in acting nowadays. He is Guido in the same way that Guido is Fellini; it seems to flow from a very natural place. Even the surreal bath scenes in Guido’s fantasy is very subdued compared to the zaniness that Fellini could have pulled out of him, which is telling of something just below the surface of this awesome performance. The women in Guido’s life are also amazing. Anouk Aimee plays Luisa, the wife, with a glare and a bitter glance that puts an icy chill in my spine. She is very disappointed in Guido for reasons that are both very apparent but never implicitly stated. I like her a lot, especially in the scenes that Guido fantasizes about her, where we see her range. There’s a lot more to take in about this character than we see at first, so pay close attention to her and understand her, she will become much more vivid to you afterwards. Claudia Cardinale plays a movie star named Claudia (NO!) that is Guido’s ideal woman. She really epitomizes the heart of this movie, which exists somewhere between the consternation of Guido and the myriad souls of his muses. I liked her character the best, as she seemed so sweetly earnest, even in the face of Guido’s lecherous behavior.

8 1/2 is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, the ears, and the heart. It is the tale of the artist in distress, the tragedy of failed creativity that anyone can relate to, despite its intensely unique perspective. The fine acting, the astounding script, and the immaculate direction by Fellini himself are simply words to the same lovely song that combine to make something that is more than the sum of its parts. 8 1/2 now resides in the very language of Italian cinema, from the cinematography to the sheer attitude, and it’s not there without good reason. If you go and see this fiercely independent vision of surreal heartache and comedy, you will understand by the end of it all. I give 8 1/2 10 Claudias playing Claudia out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow I take in Lawrence of Arabia! Until then!!!!!!!





PSA: Blade Runner (1982), or Fiery The Angels Fell…

27 12 2009

The last PSA of the year. I wanted to end things on a high note, so I thought I would finish my sprinkling of Public Service Announcements about cinema with a movie that should be mandatory for moviegoers of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner sits atop the apex of science fiction in a very real sense with a very small handful of peers, and I don’t say that in a sensationalistic manner. This movie, released to dumbstruck audiences in 1982, revolutionized the way sci-fi movies are made. For America, it re-institutionalized the intelligent science fiction film, a genre lost in a mire of post Star Wars mania and established Ridley Scott as a director wh0 had something meaningful to say as a filmmaker. It’s a hypnotic, passionate futuristic noir about the very nature of humanity, and what it means in a cold, harsh future. It’s one of the best there is, and I think before 2009 closes out, you should invest just 2 hours of your time to this beautiful sci-fi masterpiece.

Based on a novel by sc-fi legend Phillip K. Dick, Blade Runner takes place in 2019, where we follow a detective named Decker who is on the trail of four humanoid robotic workers called “replicants” who have escaped from an off-world mining operation to hide on Earth. Decker is a retired “Blade Runner”, a detective who specializes in tracking non-organic humanoids and terminating them. He has been called onto this special case after one of a series of four runaways blows away a younger Blade Runner after being interrogated and escapes into the city. Decker travels from the tiniest cracks in the nasty, futuristic slum of 2019 LA to the top of the splendorous Tyell Corporation building, where the replicants are designed by the reclusive Dr. Tyrell himself, in search of information about these 4 strange runaways who look and act almost exactly like humans. He learns about their history, their design, and a most interesting failsafe on their particular model; a four year lifespan. Decker begins to deduce that perhaps these four are on Earth to discover a way to increase their lifespan, an act they feel that only Tyrell can give them. But along the way of tracking them down, he begins a strange relationship with a woman named Rachael, who works at the Tyrell Corporation. They harbor feelings toward each other, but Decker knows something about her that keeps him reticent; she is a replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. Implanted with false memories, Tyrell created her as an experiment. Decker struggles to come to grips with this strange fact amidst his own feelings about her, the constant struggle to track down the replicants and their relentless leader, Roy Batty, and his own doubts about the assignment and his own humanity…

This is such a thematically dense work. Ridley Scott took an almost obsessive attention to detail as a director and turned it into something exquisite. Los Angeles 2019 is an absolutely complete world, a slum of a city that only houses the people who could not afford to live off-world. It is a world constantly darkened from the shadow of the skyscrapers and the industry that towers above, and there seems to be no hope left in the streets. Much like the noir films of the 40s and 50s, the city is a perpetually darkened hellhole, and acts as a harbinger of the ills to come. Scott’s futurescape takes from Lucas’s idea of a “used future”, but it goes so far beyond that. This is a dilapidated future, where the only lights arrive from neon signs and where the streets are filled with the whirring and buzzing of machines instead of the sounds of people; a future devoid of humanity in its human population, another interesting thematic decision.

And the cast is simply amazing. This might be the best Rutger Hauer performance I’ve ever seen. He plays the antagonist, Roy Batty, with such an intensity that it cannot be contained on the screen. He is a replicant, but he is more alive than any of the downtrodden humans he encounters on Earth. He is strong in heart and in spirit, and his is the true tragedy of Blade Runner, because while he is not human, his soul is great, which makes his four year lifespan all the more cruel. And his love interest, the attractive replicant Zhora, played by Daryl Hannah, is equally tragic. She is a playful female replicant who wants to live life to the fullest. Her character, as much as Rutger Hauer’s encapsulates a love of living that is exceptional and magical in contrast to the real human characters. Harrison Ford plays one of the greatest role of his career as Deckard, the replicant hunter whose life is slowly unraveling. He plays it with a style reminiscent of Bogart’s Philip Marlowe, a wise-talking gumshoe with a street-wise wisdom that is constantly at odds with the evil he encounters on the mean streets that puts his soul constantly at hazard. It’s a rich, complex character that will have you guessing, in some rare moments, whether he is even human, or if he is another lively replicant with a good heart and a short life. Sean Young is beautiful and compelling as Rachel, the replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She plays the character calm and cool, but underneath her exterior lies a confused and terrified woman who doesn’t understand what exactly is happening to her. Sean Young brings a surprising vulnerability here that I was absolutely NOT expecting, and it’s one of those things that really brings home why this is just one of the best films out there. Her candid romantic scenes with Deckard will leave you both moved and fixated to the screen as the two dance around their own emotions in totally unexpected ways.

Ridley Scott asks quite a few questions of us, some that we are perhaps not entirely prepared to answer. The nature of man, his destiny in an unknown future, and what it truly means to be alive are pondered very loudly here. Blade Runner is a very intelligent, beautiful movie that digs into the subconscious and forces us to confront ourselves in a very meaningful way. The characters are incredibly rich, vivid, and well-written, the score by the prog-new age group Vangelis somehow gets better with age, the story is powerful in a way that most sci-fi could only dream of being, and the film itself is still gorgeous, even after all the various cuts and versions to be released (for a more in-depth history of Blade Runner‘s rocky history, stick with me in 2010 for my planned essay on the making of this classic and how it might have easily been different!). It’s a timeless film that only seems to increase in character and insight as the years go on. I have so many things to say about this, but I’ll just leave you with the fact that if you have any desire to watch sci-fi, then this film is absolutely part of the curriculum! I give it 10 unwitting replicants out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow I will take on the great and wonderful Fellini film 8 1/2! Until then!





Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983), or A Demigod Among Gods…

26 12 2009

So we arrive at the end of Cinematronica and establish a week of classics, where I pick out of a select set of films some of the best and most wonderful movies imaginable. I come to the Star Wars franchise, a wealth of wonderful sci-fi entertainment, and out of the entire series, I can only pick one to represent in this final week of goodness and awesomeness. Logic would demand that I pick The Empire Strikes Back, for its inventiveness, relative dark tonality, and gratuitous incestuous kissing. I could also have gone for A New Hope, the movie that started it all, for its historical value and innovation. But no, I chose the chump of the original trilogy, the ending. Return of the Jedi is like the solid chocolate square in a Zachary sampler box; it’s still fucking chocolate, but it’s just not as beloved as the rest of the bunch. The other two movies have droves and droves of champions all around the world, people who proudly declare that “Episode (IV or V) changed my LIFE”. Nobody really feels the same way about RotJ. There’s something about it that undeniably is different. The dynamic is different between all the characters after all we’ve gone through with them, the space-battle-to-lightsaber-battle quotient is skewed significantly, and, well, Ewoks. It’s a completely different feel here compared to the rest of the series. But I will defend it with even more vigor than I defended the tepid Episode I, and this time around I think I can surely persuade you to give this movie a second chance!

[I will not be repeating the story of Star Wars to you; please go watch the first 5 movies if you wanna get in on this discussion, COMRADE!]

Okay, so the second trilogy of Star Wars is about Luke Skywalker and his issues with his dad, Darth Vader, while the first trilogy was about Anakin Skywalker and his problems with not wanting to become Darth Vader. So by the time the 6th movie has come to pass, Darth Vader, under the command of the evil Emperor Palpatine, has rebuilt the Death Star, and is overseeing its reconstruction personally so the Empire can terrorize and monopolize the entire galaxy. Well, the Rebellion has a little something to say about that, and they are preparing for an all-out assault on the Death Star once they receive word that Palpatine himself will soon be boarding to oversee the finalization personally as well! But before the Rebellion can do that, Luke and Co. have a whole lot of personal errands they have to do, like jeopardize the entire galaxy’s freedom to save Han Solo, who was in no rush to be saved, since the Carbonite Freeze process apparently works like a metallic Zip-Lock bag, as well as zoom all the way to the Dagobah system to see Yoda and have him train him for an indefinite amount of time (luckily, Yoda has the good sense to deny him training due to his own poor health). Once Luke’s incredibly selfish agenda is put aside, the assault is set to take place. But the Rebellion needs a small group to disable the Death Star’s shields, which are powered at the nearby moon of Endor. Luke is finally rarin’ for some action, and takes off with Han, Leia, and the gang, but even when he arrives for the mission, he decides to gallivant off and get captured on purpose so he can try and talk some sense into his father, so that he might turn from the Dark side of the Force. The Emperor has foreseen ALL of this, though, and is waiting patiently for the Rebellion to fall into his clutches. Can Luke somehow get out of himself long enough to actually do something for the Rebellion, or is the last Jedi too busy finding himself to save the galaxy?

Now, if you think I painted a more cynical picture than I should have for my case, let’s be honest; the entire series is all about the Skywalker family doing what they want, when they want, even if they have honor and duty to think about. If you put it like that, I think you’ll find that this behavior is really not as bad as it is in some of some of the other films.

What this movie does better than any of the others, and why I think it holds a special place in my heart, is its presentation of the two sides of the fight; who is in charge, and what they are fighting for. The Dark Side is always talked about in vagueries and mysterious parables with the other 5 movies. But the Dark Side is there, alive and breathing, in the form of Emperor Palpatine, the real villain of the Star Wars saga, and the mastermind of so much awful shit. He IS the Sith, a terrible old man who breathes lies and treachery, who is willing to sell anyone out and do whatever it takes to keep the one thing he cares about; power. And we finally find true virtue in Luke, a man who is struggling not to repeat the same mistakes as his dandy of a dad, but who is wrestling intently with the same lust for his awesome power that Anakin was years ago. He really does want what’s best for everyone, even if it seems like he’s impulsive and kind of a dick at times. So it becomes a battle for the soul of the last Jedi, in the end, and the final assault against the Sith Lord will not be fought with Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, but with lightsabers and dark persuasion.

And the action sequences are the best, arguably, out of the whole series! That is the real reason most people go to see a Star Wars movie, I think; if you’re looking for space battles, any movie can give you that. I posit that space battles are the worst part of the Star Wars saga, and while unfortunately this movie features plenty of ships flying around and shooting pew-pew lasers at each other ad nauseum, there’s enough stuff going on to keep you entertained in between. If you’re looking for entertaining stuff, how about a no-holds-barred fight on a floating pleasure barge in the desert? How about a battle to death with a 50 foot-tall monster won by beating it to death with a door? How about a super-fast chase through the woods on speeders so fast that you can barely make out the forest background in a blur of green and brown? Or how about teddy bears smashing an AT-ST with two logs smashed on its head simultaneously like a fucking 3 Stooges skit? YOU GOT IT! And let me tell you, this movie has, without a doubt, the best lightsaber battle of the original trilogy. It is the most emotionally-charged, expertly handled battle of them all, and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that they would top it in Episode III between Anakin and Obi-Wan. If you’ve never seen it, watch it above, and revel in its goodness.

The acting is the best it ever was in this trilogy. The players all know their parts by now and can inhabit them with an ease that is really remarkable. Mark Hamill IS Luke, Carrie Fisher IS Leia, Billy Dee Williams IS Lando, and everyone just exists seamlessly in this space opera, not as an actor, but a beloved member of this colorful fantasy world. Harrison Ford is the only person who doesn’t seem to be in it 100%, due to his distaste of Han Solo being revived, therefore somewhat dampening the sacrifice he made in the last movie, and while I can understand people’s frustrations with that, this is more of a Jedi story than the other two, anyway, so he seems to be left out of a lot of the action. All he does is shoot some stuff, declare his love for Leia, and get a little peeved at Luke for taking her attentions away before discovering they are related (OOPS), so it’s really not that much of a loss.

Return of the Jedi is the most emotionally charged movie out of the original trilogy. It has the final choices, when all the shit is really on the line, instead of just whimsical chasing sequences and flirty Leia-Han dialog. It is when Luke comes to terms with his lame-duck of a father, and decides to take the high route and SAVE him instead of wasting him, which is what everyone wants him to do. It also, for the first time, shows Darth Vader’s reckoning with the choices he’s made, and the first time we see him falter in his loyalty to Palpatine. And of course, it’s the first time we’re taken to the lair of the beast, and we get to take a look at the real Dark Side, Palpatine, and not just his lackey, a confused Jedi with a codpiece and a breathing problem. This is the last one, where things really matter, when the choices are made, the lines are drawn, and the fate of the galaxy is decided. And for that, I love it. I think you should go back and give this one a chance. I think you’ll love it too, and if you don’t, you’d have to have a stone heart to not love that last lightsaber fight! I give Return of the Jedi 9 1/2 floating pleasure barges out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I examine our existence with Blade Runner! Until then!





Rachel Getting Married (2008), or Demme’s Opera

25 12 2009

All right, I’ve been wanting to review this film for a long time, and I’m glad I finally have the chance. Jonathan Demme is a director I’ve never really dealt with on this site, and I think that’s a shame, because he is such an amazing director with such an irresistible eye for the beauty and the emotion in the real world. His naturalistic style brings to life the world we live in but neglect to revel in. Anyone who has seen Silence of the Lambs knows how much he is able to imbue our world with powerful feelings, and today’s film proves that, yet again, Demme’s eye for natural drama can have heartbreakingly beautiful results, as he tell this lush story of regret and familial recrimination.

Rachel Getting Married is about Kym, a young woman in rehab who is allowed to leave to attend her sister’s wedding. Her family isn’t exactly thrilled to see her arrive. Her exploits in the past have cost the family a lot, and all she seems to greet them with are more headaches, more drama. Her sister, Rachel, harbors a lot of resentment towards Kym, and the family is trying to cope with a terrible tragedy that befell them at Kym’s irresponsible hands. Her father is trying to be there for her, but Kym sees all this as him not trusting her to handle sobriety. Rachel’s special day seems less and less cheery to her as Kym continues to take the spotlight away with her addiction, going so far as to use her wedding rehearsal toast as part of her twelve step program. Things just grow worse and worse between this estranged family, and when an unexpected visit from one of Kym’s rehab acquaintances nearly shatters the bonds between Kym and Rachel, is there anything that Kym can do to regain her family’s love? Or will it be too little, too late?

MAN! What a heartbreaker! Rachel Getting Married has all the drama of an opera combined with the realism of a documentary and makes something really special out of it. I could not take my eyes off the screen for a minute as this train wreck of a family unfolded in front of my eyes. The story, written by Jenny Lumet, is a powerful, exasperating drama that leaves you without much breath in your lungs. Kym is a painfully real character that I have personally met a number of times in my life; a selfish person whose addiction springs from an inability to cope with reality. They’re not heartless people, and they deserve love, but Kym constantly proves that selfishness is a hell all its own, and the faithfulness of this character to reality is just more impressive than words can do justice.

I would consider this to be Anne Hathaway’s breakout role as an actress. If Havoc was her first foray into something a bit more daring, this pushes the envelope over the cliff and into the sun as far as serious drama. She plays Kym like a real artist; not band-standing, not competing for lines, not degrading into silly Hollywood archetypes. This character breathes, and Hathaway takes none of it for herself. I appreciated that, and I think it was one of the best performances I have seen from 2008. I really think she has arrived; you will never look at Hathaway the same way again after this. Rosemarie DeWitt also proves she has something to offer as Rachel. You know, the one getting married. She has her own set of issues as a character, and DeWitt handles it beautifully and tastefully as a bride to be distraught over her everything coming undone. DeWitt has an undeniable intensity that adds something to the frenzied bride she plays that I rather liked. Bill Irwin is Kym’s father, the kind and unassuming gent who only wants her to be happy. He’s a Broadway actor, and I thought at first that he would be a little, let’s say overzealous, in his performance. Luckily, he keeps his Broadway belting down a notch and manages to keep everything very demure and intimate. I like him overall, and hope to see less musical output from him in the future. Debra Winger rounds out the cast as the mother, Abby. A hard-to-read character, she is at once a ghost of a character and the most important character, because she is the one who has the hardest time dealing with Kym and her addiction. Debra Winger does an amazing job, and I think her climactic scene with her daughter near the end deserved some accaim from the Academy. It’s an intense scene, well played by everyone and captured exquisitely by Jonathan Demme.

I think everyone should watch Rachel Getting Married. It’s one of the best movies I have seen from 2008, and I really regret not watching it sooner. It is a family drama that has almost no peerage. It’s moving, exquisitely shot, well-acted, and very close to resembling reality. Anne Hathaway finally comes into her own here, and I think this film will be looked at as a watershed moment in her career. If you want something to really make you feel this Christmas, look no further than this glowing DVD recommendation! I give this, Jonathan Demme’s greatest film of the decade, a well-earned 10 Fab 5 Freddy cameos out of 10! My highest recommendation!

(Oh, did I tell you that Fab 5 Freddy is one of the wedding guests? For no reason, apparently. WEIRD, HUH?)

Tomorrow I take on my last PSA with Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi!