Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Play it again, Sam.

Jolie Clinches number oneOn any list of Who’s Who in American Cinema will be the film Casablanca.  It has not only been an iconic piece of cinematic history, but has also risen in its role as a historical document about America during the 1940’s.  Analysis on the film is both wide and deep, and any library search will yield several well researched articles on one point or another.  This essay will draw upon some of the contributions to this body of research, as well as elicit certain points I found through my own viewings and analysis of the film.  I will first give a brief background of the film followed by a plot synopsis.  Then I will discuss the historical setting as evidenced by certain elements in the film.  I will then discuss several messages Casablanca was meant to deliver to its wartime American audience through examples directly from the film.  

Casablanca was first presented as a play entitled, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The project never really came to fruition but came to the attention of Michael Curtiz, who became the film’s director.  Hal Wallis became the producer.  The studio funding the film contracted Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman for the lead roles.  Bogart was the on American actor to star in the film, as the rest of the leads were played by Europeans, some of who had escaped the Nazis months or years earlier.  

Casablanca was one of 500 films that premiered after 1942 and before 1945 that addressed the war. It was meant to strengthen support for the war and buoy up the allies.  It’s premiere on November 26, 1942 was only eighteen days after the allies landed in northern Africa.   The film was made with $950,000, and earned a respectable but not spectacular $3.7 million during its initial release.  It was nominated for the 1943 Academy Awards and took away Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screen-play.  

The film takes place in Morocco at the city Casablanca.  It centers around protagonist Rick Blaine, a nightclub owner of his own Rick’s Saloon Americain.  Hardened by life, he is a self-proclaimed Isolationist, catering to the rich and famous refugees escaping the Nazi onslaught in Europe.  Many people in the Resistance would make their way to Portugal via Casablanca, the only safe route still available.  Unfortunately, Vichy French and the Nazis had made it extremely difficult for anyone who arrived in Casablanca to leave, and thus there was a large body of foreigners who attended Rick’s nightclub on a daily basis.  Rick comes into possession of exit papers much to the dismay of Louis Renault, the Vichy General who cares first for himself above anyone else, and General Strasser, the Nazi Commander stationed there.  Both are aware that Victor Laszlo, leader of the Free French Resistance, has just arrived in Casablanca.  They want nothing more than to put him in a concentration camp, and look for every opportunity to do so.  He arrives with a beautiful woman named Ilsa, who, as it turns out, had a short but meaningful romance with Rick months earlier in Paris right before the German invasion.  They were both in love with one another, but when they were to meet at the train station to leave together, she never showed.  Rick struggles with his remaining feelings for her as well as his anger at her betrayal.  As the story unfolds, Rick learns that Ilsa was previously married to Laszlo but thought him dead, and when he turned up ill in a box car outside of Paris a day before she was supposed to leave with Rick, she had to return.  She eventually confesses her remaining love with Rick, and even concedes her remaining agency in any further actions she will take.  Rick becomes the quintessential American hero as he maneuvers through a difficult love triangle, get Laszlo and Ilsa out of Casablanca, and remains safe himself.  He even befriends the waffly Renault in the process.  

Casablanca remains an exceptional historical work that tells us much about current trends going on during the early 1940’s.  One of those trends was smoking.  In the film, ten different people smoke cigarettes a total of 31 different times.

This was not uncommon for commoners; in 1943 290 billion cigarettes were manufactured, reaching an all time record.  It would only be fitting for a nation going up in smoke to watch a film that was mimmicking it’s habits.  

Rick, Victor, Ilsa, and Louise all drink heavily throughout the film, another infatuation of America.  Between 1942 and 1943, production of alcohol had increased by 50 million gallons.Jolie Clinches number one Nightclubs were the place to be in the forties for Americans, and this is well documented in Casablanca.  Most of the film takes place in Rick’s Saloon, where alcohol was easily accessible, smoking allowed, and music abound.  If Americans weren’t watching films, they were out on the town.  In New York City alone, there were 1200 nightclubs in 1942. If people couldn’t afford to dress up and go out, they read about nightlife in magazines such as Time, Newsweek, and the Saturday Evening Post.  

Amongst these examples, the one that was most heart-wrenching was the separation most Americans felt with their loved ones.  This happened to be the basis of the love story between Ilsa and Rick, who were torn apart in Paris by events out of their control.  That there were not a few love longs popular during the period Casablanca premeired is undisputable, and hits like “I’ll Never Smile Again, Until I Smile at You” by Frank Sinatra was just one.  Many of the tunes were meant to stir up old, happy memories, just as the song, “As Time Goes By” in the film said to do.  If people could escape their pangs of emptiness at loved ones lost by remembering better days, then that’s what they did.  Jack Nachbar documents the many other examples of this trend in a different article.

The film also reflects a modest liberalism on blacks in society, as advocated by the NAACP.  Sam, the black pianist in the film, seems to be a friend and partner to Rick.  He has traveled with him as well has co-owns the business with him.  Sam’s role was created and written most likely due to efforst by groups such as the NAACP.  The NAACP was active during the war years to promote blacks in society not as equals, but at least obtaining full citizenship in Hollywood and elsewhere.

Many black Americans were signing up for the war, since it was there they could find opportunities for advancement that didn’t exist elsewhere.  

The ending of the film not only was reworked considerably from it’s initial script, but was made patriotic.  At first, Rick was to shoot Strasser to allow Ilsa and Laszlo’s escape, after which he would be arrested and sent to prison.  This ending ultimately let the Nazis win against the Americans, and was unacceptable to Curtiz.

He had it re-written to allow Rick to not only kill Strasser, but also allow Lasko and Ilsa to escape and remain out of prison.  This was accomplished with the help of Renault, who finally settles on the side of the free French with the symbolic gesture of dropping the Vichy bottle of water in the rubbish bin.  Rick and Renault walk off into the fog of Casablanca hand in hand, solidifying their friendship as well as representing their respective countries as allies.  Curtiz ensured that viewers of the film would feel the patriotic triumph of America over the German villains.  
Protagonist Rick Blaine was entirely an American symbol for audiences, first as the independent Saloon owner and then inevitable hero.  His gradual involvement with helping the free French parallelled America’s own involvement in the war.  Although harboring anti-fascist ideals all along, he refrained from explicitly involving himself in the underground resistance movements until it was absolutely necessary.  But this faux neutrality was with notable exception.  For one, Rick helped a Bulgarian family obtain their leave papers through a conspicuous Roulette win.  Without him, the young wife may have had to resort to certain sexual favors to win the French inspector’s aid.  At another instance, Rick gives the go ahead for the Saloon’s band to play the French tune “Marseillaise” to drown out the German patriotic tune “Die Wacht am Rhein”, which the Nazi soldiers had begun singing throughout the parlor.

Yet these instances would still fly under the radar, much as America’s supply freighters to England dodged their inclusion in the second World War for a time.  But this wouldn’t be for long.  

For Rick, the score became personal when it involved his past love interest Ilsa, who seemingly left him stranded in Paris on the day of the German invasion.  When he finally understood why she had left him, and that she continued to love him still, he sprung into action to organize a perfect plan for their escape.  This paraphrase could easily be a description of America’s involvement in the war with the Axis powers.  At first, although against the Fascist regime in Berlin and Italy, America had refrained from involvement to protect it’s own interest (remember Rick’s favorite snub “I don’t stick my neck out for nobody”).  Then it became personal with the bombing of Pearl Harbor December 7th, 1941.  By that time France had been at war and conquered in six weeks, and England was holding her own against the constant bombardment of artillery from the Nazi Luftwaffe.

Jolie Clinches number one Throughout the front lines and especially in the minds of Americans themselves, the United States were coming to save the day.  The film’s storyline only reiterated what Americans already believed; that they were the saviors of the free world, and it was up to them to step in and take charge.  Ilsa made it clear that the situation at Casablanca was too complex for her, or for anyone but Rick to deal with when she said, “You must do the thinking for me, for all of us.”  To Americans, that meant it was up to their democratic, free country to save the world.  

French portrayal in the film also was suggestive.  Victor Renault, the head of the Vichy army in Casablanca, was self proclaimed as “tossed where the wind takes me”.  Vichy French became the micromanaged under the Third Reich after French army’s quick defeat.  Vichy, a part of southern France, was allowed to remain somewhat self-governed due to their claimed loyalties to the Germans.  To many of the allies, the right moment might allow the Vichy to rejoin the fight against Germany.  Robert Willson rightly described Renault as symbolizing the hopeful French ready to take up arms again with England and America.  He wrote that Laszlo may even have been speaking to followers of Charles de Gaulle as well as Rick when he said, “Welcome back to the fight.  This time I know our side will win.”

True, but it also was encouragement for America’s own citizens that the french, as well as other allies, were more than ready and willing to fight alongside America.  Renault didn’t side with Rick until the very end of the movie, and it was only after the American had blatantly inserted himself into the conflict.  And although Laszlo was portrayed as the most noble of the characters, he was helpless without Rick, just as France was helpless without America.  

One important message to viewers of Casablanca was that of self sacrifice for the greater good.

Until Pearl Harbor, the U.S. wanted nothing to do with what was taking place over seas.  In 1937, 94% of the respondents in a gallup poll opposed getting involved in foreign problems.

Franklin Roosevelt even campaigned on the promise, “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war.”

This was in 1940.  After America entered the war, it was important that its soldiers knew that fighting overseas was the right thing to do, even if it meant great sacrifice.  This message was made clear through Laszlo and Rick’s interaction.  At the end of the film, Rick says to Ilsa, “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill o’ beans in this crazy world.”  Ilsa replies, “God bless you, Rick.”  Moments later, Laszlo and Ilsa are on a plane to Portugal to continue the resistance efforts safely.  The final scene has become iconic, but to audiences in 1943 the message was that sacrifice was not only necessary, but undeniably good.  The message was not unique to Casablanca.  Advertisements portraying the sacrifice of families sending their sons off to war as positive were being circulated throughout many of the newspapers.  One ad showed a wife and son reading a letter from their husband in the army.  The tagline read, “It becomes the patriotic duty of every American without exception…to sacrifice without restraint…,” Thus, Casablanca’s message was just part of the propaganda campaign throughout the country that focused on sacrifice.  
Casablanca continues to be an important classical work of cinema, as well as an informative, historical tool in evaluating the war years of the early nineteen-forties.  It tells us today what it told viewers then; that America is the heroic savior of the world, and a trusted ally of its friends.  It would be wrong of us to not utilize this film for a better understanding of America’s history, and thus we should heed the words of Rick Blaine when he said to his piano player, “Play it again, Sam.”  

Tagged , , ,

Let the Right One In

photosThe Twilight franchise has considerably numbed us to the horror that is called a vampire.  Thankfully, directors like Tomas Alfredson can still take a well written plot and turn it into something chilling, original, and memorable.  His film, Let the Right One In, based on a book by the same title by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, provides a nuance to the vampire genre that is fresh and haunting.  The film has received critical acclaim, rating 98% positive from the popular film critic website, Rottentomatoes.  Rather than remaking a vampire film like those based on Brahm Stoker’s book Dracula, or copying what is in many popular vampire films like Vampyr, Interview with a Vampire, or Blade, Let the Right One In is wholly original in its choice of setting, plot, and characters.  

Synopsis

The plot centers around protagonist Oskar, a twelve year old boy who has no friends.  His parents are both emotionally unavailable, and he is bullied at school.  “Bullied” is really a misnomer, as the group at one point draws blood while whipping Oskar with a switch.  Oskar notices some new tenants move in to the apartment next to him, who turn out to be Eli, a girl appearing to be the same age as himself, and an older man.  We discover  Eli to be a child vampire as the older man calmly ventures out into the night to not only murder, but to harvest the victim’s blood for his companion.   Oskar is caught one night in a violent fantasy of stabbing his “enemy” or light post by Eli, and from there they begin developing a friendship.  Meanwhile, the older man living with Eli begins to realize his usefulness isn’t what it once was, yet he continues provide what he can like a devoted partner.  

The film takes a turn when Eli’s older companion messes up a kill in a high school gym, and ends up pouring acid on his face to protect her identity.  She finds him, and he offers his blood as a final token of his love.  From there, she continues to befriend Oskar and tells him that he must begin fighting back against the bullies at his school.  Oskar doesn’t want to remain an outkast, and latches on to Eli with a childlike fervor.  He protects Eli with a much more brutal nature than a twelve year old, evidenced by the incident at Eli’s apartment when one of the political activists comes to seek revenge for his lover’s death.  His strength and courage grow to dark proportions under Eli’s tutelage, and we see that his life of solitude has left no real compassion for those whom he has no love.  

The cinematography accentuates the thematic aloneness of the film.  The shots and color both mimmick the experience the main characters, which I will discuss.  I will also briefly analyze certain aspects of the film’s editing and acting.

 

Cinematography    

Many of the shots in the film are extreme long shots, which heighten the emotional distance between the audience and the characters.  At one point, Eli lures a man under a bridge and brutally attacks him, and we view it from far off.  As she satisfies her thirst, she slumps over the dead corpse pitifully, suggesting a sadness in killing him.  She is alive, but again she is alone.  Murder is an act that permanently separates the killer from the rest of society, not to mention the finality of their victim’s death.  That distance is felt through the film’s extreme long shots of the actions in the film.  In another scene between the old man and a pedestrian victim, the distance suggests that the victim could be anyone.  We never see the victim’s face; he walks onto the screen and is lured in by the old man’s innocent question.  In the next scene he hangs from a tree as his throat is cut and blood siphons over his forehead into a plastic basin.  What if some murderer took us off into the woods?  The distance only heightens the sense of randomness in the killings, depleting any passionate motive for killing other than necessity.  It scares us all the same.  

Much of the framing in the film focuses on the objects that the characters handle and interact with.  These scenes are meant to tell us about the characters subtly, without having to resort to dialogue and overt explanation.  In one scene, Eli’s protector packs several items into a case.  The shots are all closeup shots of siphons, hoses, and a halothane inhaler.  Later, all of the objects are seen when the man hangs his victim up to collect his blood for Eli.  The previous shots pointed out the relevance of the several articles, and we learn that they are all tools of a well prepared, meticulous killer.  This type of shot choice is also evident with Oskar.  Several shots focus on Oskar’s pocket knife which he carries around with him.  In one scene, we see Oskar’s coat, and he slowly pulls out his knife before pretending to stand up to his bullies, stabbing the tree repeatedly in doing so.  In another scene, we see several newspaper clippings of murders and violent news articles which are glued into a scrapbook.  A hand slowly turns the pages, and we realize it is Oskar.  The objects which are portrayed through several important closeup shots tell us much about the characters, and are an important part of the film. 

The colors of the film are also suggestive.  Many times Oskar and Eli are surrounded in darkness.  Many shots have a black background and a white foreground, since the wintery town is covered in snow and ice.  This allusion may be suggestive of the black and white morality that is unattainable in the film’s plot.  Oskar and Eli are only children; yet they murder and even relish in their actions at times.  Eli must kill to survive, and Oskar must protect Eli.  For this to happen, throats must be slit, so is it totally wrong?  Animals kill other animals to survive, and we surely do not argue the ethics of a Cheetah killing a gazelle.  Is it any different for a vampire who must drink the blood of a human victim?  

The pale skin tone of the characters is another form of color usage.  Naturally, Oskar and Eli’s skin tones are due both to the ethnicity of their ethnicity, as well as the geographic location of Sweden, being near the North Pole.  The paleness however also represents the emptiness and lovelessness that both Oskar and Eli feel.  Neither of the two have family or friends that really care about them, so they must resort to befriending eachother.  Their pale skin tone is extemporaneous, but also represents the internal cold, emptiness they feel.  The only time either of them feel truly alive is when they hurt or kill those around them.  When Oskar takes his revenge on the school bully and crushes his ear with a stick, he subtly smiles at the sight of pain and blood he has caused.  In the scene where Eli attacks and kills her attacker in the bathroom, she emerges with blood all over her face.  She hugs Oskar, one of the view times in the film she expresses real human emotion for another person.  The blood is therefore not only what gives the physical body life, but it’s appearance in the movie tells the viewer of heightened emotional moments with the main characters as well.  

photosEditing

Shrewd editing in Let the Right One In was tactfully achieved.  Almost the entire film is edited so the dialogue occurs where the viewer watches the reaction of the character listening, rather than the one speaking.  For example, when Eli is enraged that her protector came home empty-handed after his killing was botched by a dog, we never see Eli except for a shadow moving in front of the man.  Instead, we see the man’s eyes has he nervously watches her pace back and forth.  He reacts to her words by flinching, and we see that even though he is slightly scared, he actually does regret failing to bring her food.  In another scene, as Eli and Oskar discuss the Rubik’s cube, many of the scene breaks show the character that is listening, not speaking.  This is almost backwards of what takes place in most mainstream movies, where the scene cuts to over the shoulder shots of each character as they converse.  In Let the Right One In, we are able to see how each character reacts to the other’s dialogue thanks to the reverse type editing of the dialogue.  

Acting

The acting in the film is mostly done by two child actors, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson.  Neither of the actors have large speaking roles, and there aren’t any dramatic speaking scenes that might be expected from child actors like Dakota Fanning.  Instead, the children act much like real children.  They are quiet, they speak softly, and much of their acting in the film is psychological, expressed through slight facial expressions or movements.  For example, when Oskar reminds Eli that he has been at the apartment complex longer than she, he smiles slightly, proud that he stood up for himself for once.  In another example, we see the pain and hunger in Eli’s eyes as she has gone days without feeding.  The sadness and longing we feel could only be achieved through a child vampire, because it muddles the morality around killing to keep a child alive.  

Personal Response

photosLet the Right One In could be described as a film about love, but I would say it’s much more animalistic.  Oskar and Eli have important needs that must be fulfilled, and many times that occurs through instinct alone.  Eli doesn’t really love Oskar.  Love, even sexuality, died long ago for the old vampire.  Eli must survive, and she can’t do it alone.  She is nocturnal and requires a protector during the day.  Being stuck in a twelve year old body, it makes it very difficult for her to function.  When her older companion demonstrates his growing inability to provide and protect her, she sees Oskar as the predecessor to that role.  She cares for Oskar, but not in any Romantic idea of love.   

Let The Right One In is definitely one of the better horror films.  It’s success could be attritubed to its brilliant use of cinematography, editing, and acting.  The choice of shots and color, as well as scene editing and splicing lead to an incredible psychological thriller.  The choice of child actors and their subtle movements also add to the film’s haunting success. 

Tagged , , , ,

Mis en Scene' for Ostrov (The Island)

5a132a41487bae52931cd8db8bb745eaPavel Lungin directs a moving and provoking film in Ostrov.  I was left truly touched, like how beautiful music resonates within you.  Ostrov is about making one’s way through the murky swamp of pain, regret, and sin to find God.  At the beginning the movie starts during World War II.  Anatoly, the russian maniacal teenager, is forced to shoot his commanding officer and comrade or die himself by the hand of the nazis.  Left for dead, he is rescued by a group of ascetic Eastern Orthodox Monks who take him in.  Eventually we discover the last thirty years of his life have been lived on a small group of islands where he has toiled away with a wheelbarrow and coal.  He appears quite mad from his behavior and words.  His fellow ascetics tolerate his antics, but only barely.  Mostly they grow agitated at the reputation he’s earned from the surrounding towns and villages as a Holy Man, with people flocking to him for his advice and blessing.  With each encounter his promises and instructions are bizarre, and only at the end of the film do we see the implied rationality of Anatoly’s irrationality.  

But enough of a synopsis; let me focus now on the Mis en Scene’.  This term pronounced in your best french accent accounts for the entire compilation of visual elements found in the film.  Color, lighting, scenery, costume, and character movement all are accounted for in the Mis en Scene’.  First, Anatoly is trampled upon by the Nazi soldiers.  One soldier steps on his neck.  Later, a frame sequence focuses on Anatoly’s face buried in the mud of the White Sea.  He is basically prostrate before the world, dirtied with his sins, almost despicable.  From there, he is carried by the monks to shore, representing the beginning of his spiritual journey.  He is found in the water, which may also represent a type of baptism or new beginning.  

766871Father Anatoly is surrounded by the sea.  Several scenes frame the islands as a tiny spec lost in a great expanse.  Many times Anatoly will pray, but he will look outward towards the sea.  The vastness of the water signifies the all powerful God, and Anatoly recognizes this.  Thus when he is accused of facing the wrong direction during communion, to him he understands it is not to materials and idols he turns his attention, but beyond.  Towards the great and eternal God.  In many scenes Father Anatoly’s eyes raise above the horizon as he looks beyond the events and struggles of this life to the greater meaning and purpose.  To everyone else this seems absurd, but to Anatoly it is the only way.  

The island itself symbolizes a separation from God.  Like the fall of Adam, who was cast down after his sin, the monks cast themselves away from the world.  Father Anatoly is the farthest away from the actual continent, requiring an additional walk across a wooden bridge to reach his coal hut.  And like Moses, Jesus, and other prophets, Father Anatoly takes himself even farther away from the world to commune personally with God.  With other prophets who went up to the mountains, we see Anatoly boat himself out to a grouping of rocks where he wrestles with God over his sins.  

In one scene, the group of rocks to which Father Anatoly travels to is covered in moss.  The moss grows even in the most inhospitable places, which Anatoly notices in one scene.  He even tastes the moss, whose existence on the rocks mimics the power of God to give life even to places seemingly impossible.  Like this, Anatoly hopes that eternal life can be given to him who has sinned so grievously against god.  

20071016_the-island-pic-1Even the ascending placement of Anatoly’s character in the film is important.  As stated before, Anatoly starts the film with his face in the mud.  Later, the camera looks upwards when he sits on a wooden bell tower and casts down a burnt log at his father superior.  It represents is heightened spirituality and closeness with god.  As well, his appearance is not one of a well kept clergy but of the savior himself, who dwelt with the lowest of the low as a poor carpenter.  His face is always chafed and soiled, his clothes ripped, his dwelling is not on a bed but on coals.  While his spirituality is great, his humility is that of a true ascetic.  We know this even by his appearance alone.  Conversely, in one scene the father superior plucks an egg from a hand woven basket.  The walls of his home are bright, and he has tables and chairs.  We almost believe he is about to cook the egg to eat.  Who would wait for an egg to be laid with such anticipation except one of hunger?  Instead, we see the yolk land onto a plate and the yolk is dabbed to remove a dusted stain from a painting.  Where Anatoly’s dwelling is the dirtiest and lowest, father superior’s is the greatest.  

ostrovThe weather proceeds to winter as the film comes to a close.  Winter, as always, represents the twilight of life, and foreshadows the end of Father Anatoly.   But not before an incredible and fitting climax to the film.  We end saddened but uplifted.  The film can only strengthen a christian believer’s faith, no matter how predictable or unpredictable the movie seemed.  

I can only add that as I walked away from the film, I knew I may never have a faith like Anatoly’s, but my entire life I have tried to search out God’s mysteries diligently.  If it were to all end, at least this could be said of me.

Tagged , , , ,

High Noon

high-noon-DVDcoverHigh Noon is an old western film, but it actually is an incredible piece of cinematography and social commentary.  First showing in 1952 and directed by Fred Zinnemann, the film starts with the wedding of Will Kane to a Quaker, Amy.  The joyful audience presses for his badge as the town marshall, but right as he is about to set off into the sunset a telegram comes to him warning of the release of outlaw and killer Frank Miller.  Miller, in fact, was aboard a passenger coach coming into town at high noon.  At first, Will leaves at their bequest, but then returns quickly to uphold his self-projected duty to intercept Miller and any brouhaha that might be stirring.  Expecting to find support to uphold the law, he spends the entire movie looking for supporters and being betrayed by their cowardice, greed, and even misplaced ideologies, including his own bride.  Thus, he faces Miller and his three gunmen alone.  

The film was heavily criticized in it’s time as a critique of the second Red Scare and its blacklisting of individuals believed to be communist supporters [3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_noon].  John Wayne, who actively supported black-listing, dubbed it, “the most un-American thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” [1. Manfred Weidhorn. “High Noon.” Bright Lights Film Journal. February 2005. Accessed 12 February 2008.]  The main parallel is that all of the townspeople, deputies, and friends of the Marshall are afraid to offer their help in staving off the outlaws.  In the case of Will’s former deputy, Harvey Pell, it was a matter of pride, since he wasn’t offered the marshall position because of his immaturity.  For the congregation of old friends in the church who knew the merits of Will and even went so far as to praise his actions in the past, were too afraid to stand up and help now.  His old friend and mentor said he had worked hard and long to defend justice, and for what?  “What does a man with broken knuckles get but arthritis?”  He said[2. High Noon, 1952].  His new wife even deserted him, saying her father and brother were once killed defending others, and violence was never the answer.  All the while the outlaws wait at the train station.  

I wanted to focus on certain tools of the film that were effective.  First, Zinnemann used suspense effectively right from the beginning of the film.  As soon as we learn of Miller’s acquittal, we know he will be returning to Hadleyville at High Noon on the train, and from then on it is a race against the clock.  Will frequently checks the time as each one of his pleas for help fails.   This reminder keeps the impending doom fresh and urgent.  The outlaws continually stare down the disappearing railroad, waiting for the first glimpse of their leader.  The camera shot shows the tracks disappear on the horizon, but we realize the train has nowhere to go but there.  The most dramatic sequence plays out at the end of the film when the clock actually does strike twelve.  Several pans to each of the betrayers, Will, the outlaws, the ticking clock, and the train’s whistle blow, set to a steady musical buildup  string our nerves taught.  I could only compare the suspense to that of the musical sequence in Jaws foreshadowing the shark’s attack.  This sequence was the first of its type that so deliberately and effectively aligned the movie’s score to its events and editing.  

While the acting was overly dramatic at times like many spaghetti westerns were, there was still a great feeling of betrayal and disgust portrayed by Gary Cooper (Will Kane).  Every time Will is turned down, his face drops and his eyes 

0018a516

reveal his thoughts.  Then, he quietly thanks the man who knowingly is sending him to his grave and walks away.

High Noon does an excellent job of building a compelling back story with the town’s store and saloon owner, Helen Ramirez.  A former lover of Will’s, something between the two went awry and they separated.  When he comes to tell her the news she knows already, she is visibly still angry at him.  Later, we realize it is still a passion for him seated in a deep respect.  When she and Amy are discussing their escape from the town, Helen questions Amy’s commitment saying, “I would never leave my man.”  She seems sad that Will is no longer hers.  

Lastly, the ending was extremely satisfying to me.  Instead of being killed, Will succeeds in shooting down all four of the other outlaws one at a time in a great western battle around the empty town.  Amy even comes back in the nick of time to redeem herself and save Will from one of the outlaws.  All of the townspeople emerge after the fight to thank and congratulate Will, but he pulls the silver star from his chest and throws it to the dirt.  Then he is gone.  It is the perfect gesture to such a ungrateful town.  

High Noon is a courageous film all around.  Is it about Communism?  Maybe that was a driving force behind making the film, and today we would certainly balk at any political black listing to such a degree as that of McCarthyism and the 50’s.  But today the film is still politically relevant.  I think of the bi-partisanship going on, where many of the people in my life may call themselves a democrat or republican, but identify with neither.  Many of us want something different for our government and country, but honestly don’t have the power to stand against it.  Why bother?  Let me answer with a reference to a similar film in context, The Mission.  At the end of The Mission, the religious leader discovers that his own orders have led to the annhilation of an entire tribe of people half a world away.  One of the men dining with him tries to placate his guilt saying, “The world is thus.”  He pauses to let the heaviness of his actions wobble within him, and he says,    Thus have we made the world.  Thus have I made it.”[4. The Mission, 1986]

Tagged , , , , , ,

Head to this great film site

Bitchin Film Reviews

Blake’s film review site, aptly titled bitchinfilmreviews.com, is definitely the place to find interesting, intriguing movies.  If you’re looking for positive reviews of Michael Bay films and other common smut, then you won’t find it there, but you may find some witty criticisms only an intelligent, superior film critic could verbalize.  And I might add very accurately.  So when you want to start watching film that is art and not just entertainment, head to bitchinfilmreviews.com and read a review.  You’ll be glad you did.    

He even gives away cool prizes.

Tagged ,

The Wrestler

Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free?
If you’ve ever seen a one trick pony then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me

Then you’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door
Then you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before
Then you’ve seen me, bet I can make you smile when the blood, it hits the floor
Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?
Tell me can you ask for anything more?

Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and wheat?
If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me
Have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze?
If you’ve ever seen a one-armed man then you’ve seen me

Then you’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door
Then you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before
Then you’ve seen me, bet I can make you smile when the blood, it hits the floor
Tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?
Tell me can you ask for anything more?

These things that have comforted me, I drive away
This place that is my home I cannot stay
My only faith’s in the broken bones and bruises I display

Have you ever seen a one-legged man trying to dance his way free?
If you’ve ever seen a one-legged man then you’ve seen me

Tagged , ,

Cold Souls

Alright, I’m going a little out of order but I had to address this film from the Sundance Screening Room: Cold Souls.

Synopsis: After reading an article on Soul Storage in the New Yorker, Paul Giamatti decides to give up his soul to relieve himself of the pain and weight he feels, which has been affecting his acting. Turns out his soul is a chick pea, and he quickly places it in a chilled locker. From there, he finds his scale tipped from one extreme to another, borrowing an anonymous Russian Poet’s soul and finding his own soul trafficked across the Atlantic to Moscow, where it becomes harbored by a ridiculous young soap opera diva.

What makes this film so remarkable is the black comedy as well as the intriguing dramatic depth that blends together for an entertaining and yet intimate experience. It questions the tangibility of the soul and its reverbrating dynamic on the human experience. Paul loses his depth as an actor when he loses his ability to relate to his character. He realizes his pain is what makes him an individual. This is made blatantly evident when the soap opera star enjoys his melancholic soul with a lightness he regrets he didn’t appreciate.

This begs the question: Is there ever really a life experience we shouldn’t be grateful for? When you take away the painful memories and the saddest moments of life, you lose a lot of the fiber that makes us who we are. And we all know what happens when you don’t have fiber in the diet.

Another provoking thought of the film followed the scene when Paul finally gets his soul back, but has to reconnect with it first before it will enter him again. The Russian soap opera star hardened his soul, and it wasn’t malleable as before, so he has to look within himself before he can reconnect. This is the exact thing he has avoided from the start. The trafficker who has helped him tells him that she found his soul quite beautiful. The scene is beautiful, but we must obviously draw the conclusion that it is painful to Paul to have an inner eye. Sometimes the answers we need can only be found by looking inward. Do you believe that? That’s definitely a transcendental thought and it smacks of Emerson and Kant. Is it true? I’ve questioned this heavily this last year, and my search has been mostly external. Maybe all the real answers can only be found inside of us.

What was great was after the film, Anthony and I asked a couple questions to the hot french director, the talented Sophie Barthes. I asked where the idea for the script came from and how it evolved to the end product. She was so fun to listen to with her quaint french accent, but her answers were even more rewarding. She told us the script came from a dream she had, and that most of her inspiration comes from her dreams. The main elements of the movie, i.e. that Paul (originally she dreamt Woody Allen) stores is soul and it is stolen, souls are trafficked from America to Russia, the soul is a chick pea, etc. were all eventually incorporated into the final product.

Of all the films at Sundance, this was definitely one of the most impressive and had the most lasting impression.

Tagged , , , , ,