PSA: Dark City (1998), or Let’s Start Over Again

14 12 2009

A big shout out to Alex for requesting this movie! Your name is now immortalized in my writings! In 60 years time, you’ll be able to print this very review out on a FUTURE! printer and send it into a literary authority for pricing. He or she will soundly laugh in your face and send you on your way, but at least it will get you out and about in your old age!

Okay, let me make this one quick because I have some sleeping to catch up on from a weekend where I saw too many movies. Let’s turn the clocks back a few years, shall we? Long before the movie known as Knowing totally burned down my trust bridge between me and director Alex Proyas. Let’s turn it all the way back to 1998, where techno was getting darker and angsty, the Matrix was brewing in the Wachowski Brothers’ brain stems, and we were living with a President who liked blowjobs on the down-low of the extra-marital kind. Back then, if you had told me a movie like Dark City was possible, I would have mightily doubted you. But assuaging doubts was something Proyas was good at back then, and I would have been put to shame once I saw one of the most cerebral films of the decade. It is a mind-bending sci-fi film that breaks barriers and takes more risks than I ever would have dared to as a filmmaker.

A big part of it is the story, written by Proyas himself. It is crafted so well, to the point that I am surprised that it is not based on a novel. It has all the makings of a great mystery, in the tradition of Raymond Chandler. Involving things as common as amnesia with things as unbelievably complex as the nature of time and the destiny of man as a species, we are taken from the noir to the nouveau and into the world of the extraterrestrial as Proyas weaves his tale of mystery and whispered truths into our minds with his cerebral, gut-punching cinematography and his intense special effects. The magic of Dark City is not the answers to these troubling questions, but how we arrive at the point of discovery.

The characters walk through half-remembered states of routine, living in a haze that seems almost manufactured. It seems like the world has always been that way, but nobody really knows for sure. The truth of their existence is more disturbing than they could imagine, but it’s always just out of their reach. Rufus Sewell plays an amazing amnesiac as the lead character Murdoch. He is really quite amazing here, pulling off what might be one of my favorite performances of his career. He’s fully committed in every way, and it’s his zest for discovery that makes the movie so fun to watch. Also intriguing is Kiefer Sutherland as the Doctor, a mysterious man seen around town in the company of strange, pale-faced men. His quirkiness is practically coming off the screen in chunks; I can’t remember seeing Sutherland so animated. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see him act so weird, so I suggest you relish it. William Hurt plays a detective similar to Phillip Marlowe who is in WAY over his head. He smolders with a low-voiced beat-down attitude that reminds me why I like William Hurt’s character acting so much. He adds so much to this, but you don’t ever notice it the first time, so just try to keep an eye out for him in this film. Do NOT keep an eye out for Jennifer Connelly, though, who plays Murdoch’s gal pal. She again looks helpless and weak throughout most of the film, and whether or not that was a character flaw,  it seems to me that too often I see her just ease up on any realistic emotional response and go for the Hollywood Shuffle. I think she has a lot of potential, but none of that shows up here in Dark City.

I could go on and on about this film. I really like it, and I think it’s a unique experience, even as far as Proyas’s filmography goes. But I am dog tired, so let me conclude by saying that if you were to see one sci-fi film from the 90s, I would probably make it Dark City. It’s well-crafted storytelling from start to finish, and it creates real movie magic by forcing us down this long, shadowy corridor of the mind, not allowing us to see the light until we’re all the way through. It’s amazing, and therefore I give Dark City 9 1/2 jittery Kiefer Sutherlands out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow we go to Boston for The Departed! Until then!!!

Blood Diamond (2006), or Zwick On Atrocities

12 12 2009

Director Edward Zwick has taken on many of the pains and triumphs of war in his career. He has covered a number of important battles that have sprung up in our more recent history, and he has certainly has an eye for the vicissitudes of war. In Glory, he bravely covered the Civil War and the trials of the black soldiers fighting in the Union. In Legends of the Fall, he focused on the endurance of family in times of war. Courage Under Fire exposed the Gulf War conflict and the role of women in modern fighting forces. The Last Samurai deals with the American involvement in the Meiji Restoration of the late 1800s in Japan, and one man’s fight against the end of an era and the end of a people. Today’s film, Blood Diamond, is about the most sinister of conflicts occurring in the world today; the war zone that is Northern Africa. So many countries in turmoil and civil unrest, atrocities happening at every turn, and nobody seems to want to intervene. Blood Diamond deals specifically with the exploitation of the Africans during the Sierra Leone Civil War during the late 90s. It’s a harrowing film full of great performances that I think might be Zwick’s best work to date.

Blood Diamond stars Djimon Hounsou as Solomon, a fisherman whose family is taken from him by forces of the Revolutionary United Front, one of many opposing guerrilla military groups rooted in the region of Sierra Leone. His son is taken away to be trained and brainwashed as a member of the group, and he is taken to the diamond mines to dig until he drops. Under the strict leadership of a warlord named Captain Poison, he works day in and day out, ripping the diamonds from the earth. One day, he finds a mysteriously large pink diamond that he keeps and hides for himself. But moments later, there is an attack on the mine by the forces of the ruling government and both he and Captain Poison are taken to a prison. While in jail, he strikes a deal with a Rhodesian mercenary named Archer to help him find his family in exchange for the diamond he found. Archer is a greedy slimeball, and he has his own seedy agenda, but after they’re released from prison and they start looking for Solomon’s family, he undergoes a transformation of sorts, as he begins to look through the world with a new set of eyes. With the help of Maddy Bowen, journalist and generic love interest, can Solomon and Archer make it back to his son before the brainwashing goes too far? Can Archer find peace in himself and become selfless before his greed ruins a friendship and a budding romance? Or will they all be shot to death by crazy militants anyway?

This movie, I believe, captures the dire circumstances of the people living in Sierra Leone during the Civil War. It was a terrible time that most of us, including myself, simply cannot imagine. There were families torn apart, people being brutalized and enslaved, and it is something that we really don’t discuss enough in the Western world. Zwick takes on grueling subject matter, and deals with it in the most sensitive way he can without pulling punches. He gets into the darkest recesses of the dark continent, taking us into the heart of the conflict, which is something as simple as greed. It’s not the kind of greed where a man takes from another man to feed himself and his own; this is the greed of the wealthy, the kind that drags thousands into the mire of conflict to sate. I applaud the director here for finding the hardest-hitting shots and the most evocative angles to bring out the stark reality of the African condition.

The acting is either amazing or off the mark. I swear, Djimon Hounsou, for the first time, makes me sit up and notice him as an actor. As Solomon, he finds a character he can do justice. There is so much emotion that he has to put a voice to, almost as if he were voicing the struggles of an entire generation, and he succeeds almost effortlessly. I hope he continues to make more movies like this, and I think he has it in him as long as they give him the lead (imagine HIM as the lead in Gladiator! Yeah!) DiCaprio is DiCaprio, I should not even have to say any more. He has not disappointed me in over a decade, and I consider him to be one of the best actors of his generation. He invests himself in every role, and as Archer he really branches out to play the greedy white man, which is usually a type he avoids. Michael Sheen again dazzles as a villain, this time playing a corrupt hand in a South African diamond trading company. He is much more subdued this time, opting for the calm, more reserved seat of evil rather than the more obvious, out-there evil he protrayed in New Moon. The only stick in the mud is Jennifer Connelly, who plays maddy Bowen with a wide-eyed mediocrity that can best be described as “I Got Paid $2 Million For This Feature And All They’re Getting Is This Lousy Facial Expression”. ‘Nuff said.

Blood Diamond is a great movie punctuated by powerful performances and scenes that stick with you for a long time after you’ve turned it off. A powerful score enhances this striking drama about greed in Sierra Leone, as does cinematography that does us the service of taking us right into the fray. It’s a great film in the tradition of Zwick’s other war films, and I am very glad to have watched it! Thanks goes to Jenni for recommending this, by the way! I give Blood Diamond 9 corrupt South African diamond trading companies out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I have no idea what I shall watch! Please help me decide with RECOMMENDATIONS!