Exploration, and Fear of the Unknown. Europa Report (2013)

Europa-Report-posterSpace is a concept that’s always intrigued us, in our yearn to understand more of the universe than we currently know. Generally speaking we are a hungry race, hungry for knowledge, and understanding. Sebastian Cordero’s new film Europa Report (2013) asks the question, what if we discover something best left alone? Europa Report is a science fiction film, recently released on Itunes after it’s festival debut, with a cinematic release in August. It’s quite a conceptual mish-mash, a space drama like Moon (2009), burrowing the concept of found footage and horror most notably used in contemporary cult hit The Blair Witch Project (1999). In addition it also has touches of the documentary, in order to try and give it a realistic sheen. 

Six astronauts go on a mission to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter in order to survey it for signs of sentient life. We the audience see the story unfold as ‘lost footage’ from the feed from mission control, to the Europa One. The mission goes swimmingly at first, as we see the crew first adapt to their surroundings in Europa one, inter-spliced with segments from those behind the mission talking about the general course and plan. An abrupt solarstorm knocks out the communication systems, leaving the crew essentially stranded with no choice to continue. The situation only gets more perilous as they set foot on Europa. 

A sample of new life.

A sample of new life.

Let’s start with negatives first, so we can finish on a positive note for a film I quite liked. Europa Report generally follows that typical horror formula, as our protagonists gradually are killed off one by one, as we’re left questioned who will survive. The thing is, throughout the whole film there’s clips from a crew member who’s clearly survived the mission, and we don’t hear from the others. This reliefs the narrative of a lot of needed tension. We never really get to know our 6 ambitious young astronauts either. This usually means the emotional impact is significantly weakened when we don’t identify, or feel empathy for a much loved character. A lot of this is down to the script, it only touches on the surface of each character, a few of them only having a few lines throughout the entire film. In addition the cinematography is very realistic, but for a horror film you need those close-ups, and dramatic shots to milk the drama, which mostly isn’t there.

Lost in space.

Lost in space.

Apart from the loss of drama, the way it’s shot is very elegant. The shots inside the ship are from multiple cameras in fixed positions like the genuine article, and it’s very convincing. It’s a hard trade-up either way really, realism, or drama. One thing I have nothing but praise for are the wonderful aesthetics. The sights and sounds of the moon Europa are breathtaking, and the shots following the engineers as they attempt to fix the ship are like nothing I’ve ever seen. It captures the true wonders of exploration, and why we yearn to see new things. The casting of lesser-known actors is always a good thing when reality is involved because it preserves that authentic feel, the idea that these people are astronauts, not actors portraying them. The main recognizable presence on board is that of Sharlto Copley, from District 9 fame who gives an impactful performance, however brief his screen-time may be.

Overall Europa Report is worth a watch simply for the stunning visuals, and refreshing concept. Admittedly as it develops into horror territory I wasn’t scared, shocked, or fearful. I don’t even know if I was supposed to be? It’s still a fantastic attempt, and a solid entry into the science-fiction genre that’s only a few details from being a classic. That’s all for now, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. 

 

Casino (1995) and Scorsese’s ‘Epic’ structure.

casino_1995_5Casino is one of Martin Scorsese’s generally underrated films. Thing is, when you have such a vast and praised filmography like Scorsese’s even a long, gritty, and gripping epic like Casino can be dismissed as ‘minor’ in comparison to the likes of Goodfellas, or Raging Bull. However, I really like Casino. There’s something about the allure of gambling films that’s entirely unique. The risk, the seedy underground nature of it all, and the heavily ironic opulent atmosphere. We rationalize casinos as classy places, an excuse to wear a suit or look smart. The irony lies in the hookers, the shady business deals, fraud, the presence of hired muscle and drug-filled pockets. Casino captures that to a tee. It’s textured and glitzy, and you know from the very beginning it’ll all fall down, just not how or why. 

Casino is a fairly long film at 2:52:00 or so, so I won’t bore you with my traditional narrative synopsis, i’ll just briefly summarize it for you folks. Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert Deniro) is a sports handicapper and a mob associate who is put in charge of a Casino known as the Tangiers. He doesn’t have a gaming license, nor does he care as he simply changes his job title and simply runs the casino from afar. Things become seedy as his childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) moves to Vegas and begins to hustle the very casino Sam works at. Nicky receives a gaming ban, and as a result begins to cement himself as an underworld power in Las Vegas. In addition, Sam’s wife Ginger (Sharon Stone) soon begins to change from the glamorous siren she once was, into a lying and cheating coke addict, as she threatens to drive a wedge between Sam and Nicky’s already strained relationship. Things end messily.

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Casino is a strange formula for a film. It acts and for all intensive purposes is an epic, a long narrative told by multiple points of view that spans a relatively large time period. But in many ways it isn’t. In epics, specifically in Scorcese’s you start with a rise to power before the struggle to maintain it. But in the opening minutes of the film Sam Rothstein gains control of the Casino, and his power is made evident pretty much then throughout the entire film. Also of note is Sam’s car exploding at the beginning, and the flashback to current events. I didn’t really see the point in this choice retrospectively? I’m not quite sure what it adds to the film, it seems mostly unneeded. However, it is very much epic in it’s ‘fall’. Much like Greek tragedies and very traditional storytelling Casino details the fall of our three protagonists in great agonizing detail. Nick Santoro is buried in the desert, still breathing along with his brother. Ginger dies of an overdose. Sam’s empire is mostly collapsed with the Tangiers casino being knocked down. 

'So, you're a righty then?'

‘So, you’re a righty then?’

Although, while I did say it was fundamentally different a series of remarkable similarities can be drawn between Casino, and Scorsese’s other films. In particular, in it’s story-line structure it bares a likeness to Gangs of New York, and Raging Bull. All three of these films take place within a particular turbulent time, and inevitably build up to the end of that period. Raging Bull depicts a boxers career wind down to crushing defeat, Gangs of New York documents the military ending a time of revelry and gang warfare. While Casino depicts the end of mob dealings and influence in the casinos, as Ace’s long uninterrupted prologue at the end tells us:

The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior’s college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it’s like checkin’ into an airport – Sam Rothstein

Scorcese depicts the turbulence, the violence, the warfare, ending on a period of calm as order is restored. Quite honestly it’s because audiences like chaos, we don’t wanna see the order. We’re glued to insane and dominant figures like Nick Santoro, Jake Lamotta, Bill the Butcher. The reason why these situations and characters seem so real and vibrant is primarily because they are, ripped from the pages of history.

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Casino is also very notable for his use of minor or supporting characters. It stars James Woods as the lurid and despicable Lester Diamond, the man who constantly uses Sam’s wife Ginger. He’s important because he really helps clarify the character of Sam. Sam deals with Lester by sending men, having him beaten to a bloody pulp outside in front of his wife. He is of power, thinks of himself as a man of standing and wouldn’t get his hands dirty with Lester. If it was Nick Santoro in this situation, he might have stabbed Lester several times in the jugular with a fountain pen, which happened in earlier scenes. Lester functions as a narrative trigger, to cause the tension between Sam and Ginger, which in turn leads to the tragic downfall of all three of our characters. In addition it stars long-term collaborator Frank Vincent as Frankie Marino. Frankie is primarily Nick’s second banana, his right-hand man, his extra muscle. He betrays Nick, and beats him and his brother to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat. This could have been anyone, but to see this character who was always by Nick’s side do it, added surprise and shock to an otherwise inevitable end. I also liked the irony that Nicky always talked about burying people in the desert during his monologues, and the only person we see buried is him.

Casino is incredibly textured, authentic, and well-written. The only real flaw I could say for it is that the monologues and narration ultimately makes the whole thing predictable. But I guess anyone who’d really seen anything from the gangster/casino genre could have guessed. Not to mention Pesci’s performance is priceless, no one plays the threatening and terrifying small man so well as Pesci. Deniro is fantastic as usual, as per all of his collaborations with Scorsese. Casino is a fantastic film, it deserves more respect than it gets I think. 

Dr.Easy (2013) – A short film.

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Dr.easy is a tentative first step into cinematic ventures from highly acclaimed music video direction company Shynola. It was recently made public today found herehttp://www.created-to-help-you.com/ Dr.Easy details a medical robot dispatched by police to deal with a tense situation. It uses it’s medical and analytic skills to try and aid the distressed individual, to no avail as tragedy still occurs. There’s something haunting about the words ‘You have so much more to live for’ uttered from the cold metal mainframe of a computer. Dr.Easy is emotionally charged, with twinges of social surrealism. It’s technically sound, and incredibly authentic. It’s a fine piece of short film, and I implore you to give it a watch.

Man Of Steel (2013), More Man than Super.

ManOfSteel.Man of Steel is incredibly important as a film. Why? Well simply because it’s results and the way it’s received will affect the way the superhero genre develops in the years to come. DC has a lot of marbles riding on the Man Of Steel because of it’s cinematic competition with Marvel. Marvel have been dominating the box office with The Avengers, and Iron Man 3, and films that boast an impressive gross in their adaptation of comic books characters, but offer little substance. Meanwhile, DC has had intense critical success with Christopher Nolan’s the Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins (2005) , The Dark Knight (2008),  The Dark Knight Rises(2012)). However, other than that it’s not been fairing so well. Green Lantern (2011) was a financial and critical failure, and the last Superman film to be made Superman Returns (2006) while receiving mostly positive reviews was scrapped by DC management due to it’s lack of marketability and underwhelming box office returns. So that brings us to Man Of Steel (2013) directed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) written by David Goyer, and produced by Christopher Nolan.

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An interesting fact is Zod’s suit was completely CGI, due to the weight issues.

Unlike Superman Returns (2005), we start at the beginning once again. Krypton is on the brink of destruction due to civil war and a conflict between the political council and it’s military forces led by General Zod (Michael Shannon). Krypton is a society that operates via a caste system, enforcing artificial birth that warps genes to create a suitable being for his chosen life task. The information is stored in a codex that Jor-El (Russell Crowe) steals and sends along with his naturally born son Kal-El to Earth, to carry on his legacy and the legacy of Krypton. Zod slaughters Jor-El, as punishment he and his band of men are exiled to the phantom zone, while Krypton explodes.

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Kryptonian wiseman, and father of Superman, Jor-El

We follow Kal-El as he’s now a citizen of Earth known as Clark Kent (Henry Cavill). We see him shift from job to job, a faceless wanderer as he keeps his head low. Occasionally we’ll cut to him as a child learning to deal with his heritage and powers under the watchful gaze of his adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner). Clark goes towards a cave known as the genesis chamber, a relic of Krypton’s past as journalist Lois Lane (Amy Adams). She follows him, injuring herself in the process as a kryptonian piece of technology attack hers. Clark saves her and vanishes as she attempts to find her unknown savior. Soon General Zod comes to earth, seeking to destroy Kal-El in a wicked plan to terraform earth and transform it into the new Krypton. Zod and his forces attempt to destroy Superman, as the realization comes true that Kal-El’s DNA is the codex of all kryptonian life.

With Nolan’s name attached to the film there’s been a lot of hype and speculation over it being ‘darker’. In my opinion I didn’t see Man of Steel as ‘dark’ or ‘gritty’. It was certainly less sensationalist, and camp but that’s certainly to be expected in a contemporary adaptation that wasn’t paying homage to the older depictions of Superman. For me what made the film was the emphasis on Clark Kent the man. It didn’t try and make a big spectacle out of Kal-El’s powers and the slow bleed and development of Clark’s identity was fantastic. The aesthetics and cinematography of the world around Clark, were truly beautiful and it definitely added a visual depth to this new found emotional side of Superman. However, the film soon recedes as the layers peel off. We get less and less of Clark’s identity, his real character, as the film advances into a series of fairly expected set pieces of action-packed drivel. I’m not saying I hated the action sequences but there were nothing special. However it’s possible I’m being biased because I had a bad reaction. The past faced constant motion of the combat made me relatively dizzy and gave me a headache due to the constant jiggling of the camera.

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It’s performances were pretty flawless, I have to admit. Cavill played it well, capturing the emotional side of Superman, the beardless repressed wanderer. Although he also depicted the moral do-gooder, the last son of Krypton to a tee. Russell Crowe as Jor-El was something I was immediately skeptical about, but he proved to be quite good. Costner also added some reality, some emotion to Clark’s childhood. Setting up this interested duality of his two fathers, Jor-El who wants his son to be a shining god upon man, and Jonathan Kent who would prefer his son to live his life quietly. Michael Shannon did his best as Zod, however it fell fairly flat purely because the character just isn’t that dynamic really. On that note, what a punishment, they get sent away from the planet about the explode, so they can survive. What a cruel and unusual sentence. The special effects were well-done, and fundamentally basic. There weren’t overly focused on either. Generally the majority of the special effects budget is used in the opening scenes on Krypton, which were particularly well done. Especially the design of the Kyptonian technology, and the look and feel of the costuming. A minor detail I quite liked was the origin of the ‘S’ which it alludes to as the shield of Krypton, and a culture symbol as opposed to a simple initial.

On the film and it’s general reception, I think people are instantly dismissing it purely because of it’s legacy of badly translated adaptations. It definitely seems there’s some intense bias for a film I actually thought was quite good, for it to receive universally mixed reviews. I thought it was wholly better than anything Marvel’s churned out in recent years. The whole thing felt very authentic. Admittedly it did lose steam and didn’t continue it’s refreshing emotional parts throughout the entire film. The inherent problem was the ‘Man’ in Superman, the part we haven’t seen before was so much more interesting than the ‘Super’, the spectacle we’re supposed to pay to see. However Man of Steel is mostly make, as opposed to break.

What’s next for DC? Well there’s been some floundering in direction ever since the incredible ‘success’ of the Avengers (Mostly financial as opposed to critical). Obviously the Justice league was always going to be their call to match it. More obvious would be them turning to Nolan wanting him to lead the whole DC cinematic universe said to compete with Marvels. While Nolan’s involvement may still be used he’s mostly signed off on any ideas of ‘his’ Batman from the Dark Knight trilogy making any kind of appearance in Justice League or other DC films. Bale was mostly positive for the idea if Nolan was attached to the project but that probably won’t happen. It’s also unsure if the Superman appearing in Man of Steel would be the one appearing in Justice League. It’s mixed reviews mean an uncertain future for the fate of the Justice League film, but it seems Goyer and Snyder will be attached to the project. I liked Man of Steel, and would guess it’ll probably remain one of the better blockbusters of this year. Thank for stopping by, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views

Riddle (2013), or a Gigantic Waste of Time.

RiddleA riddle can easily be defined as one of two things: a mystifying, misleading, or puzzling question posed as a problem to be solved or guessed. Or alternatively something or someone difficult to understand. Riddle (2013) is not a deep-rooted conundrum, or a hard to solve mystery. It is very misleading, puzzling, and mystifying it’s in lack of technical accuracy. However the solution is ultimately that it’s basically a waste of time.  Riddle is directed by John O. Hartman (Wyatt Earp 1994) and Nicholas Mross. I would say it stars Val Kilmer, but that’s basically a lie as his screentime in the film consists of about 6 minutes. Why his face is on the poster, I have literally no idea. His character is an irrelevant stock character, who has roughly 5 lines in the whole film. If we’re putting irrelevant cameo roles on the poster, where’s William Sadler’s face? He was in it too, and was actually marginally more relevant. Anyhow anger aside, it stars Elisabeth Harnois, and a lot of fresh faces.

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Holly Teller (Elizabeth Harnois) is a sensible do-gooder who has a very healthy relationship with her brother. One day at school, her brother Nathan is harassed by two bullies. They take him for a ride in their car, as the one driving heads straight into a truck only to swerve away at the last second. Nathan urinates himself, as they stop at a gas station so he can clean up. A few seconds later Nathan is missing. 3 years later, her brother is still missing, as Holly believes she sees him drive away in a truck with a strange looking man. She finds out where Nathan is living and uncovers a ‘mystery’ to find him much to the discomfort of Sheriff Richards (Val Kilmer). The inhabitants of Riddle become unsettled as Holly roots around, along with her friend, and the two guys who lost him in the first place. Holly and her brother were adopted, he was taken by their original father, and that’s about it.

The old burning man finish. The 1980's wants their set piece back.

The old burning man finish. The 1980’s wants their set piece back.

So what’s wrong with Riddle? Let’s start with a plot analysis. First of all, if you’re a bully and you don’t like someone, why would you ever want them to go for a ride with you? Why abandon the old tried and true methods of assaulting the kid or verbal abuse, but asking if he wants to go for a joyride? Why would you ever possibly want that. What were they intending to do? leave him in the woods or something? Second of all, how did their biological father happen to conveniently be there at the right time in all of 20 seconds when he was in the toilet. Was he stalking them? Why did the people of Riddle never see the boy around town considering Holly saw them driving in a different town. Riddle is a mess of basic plot errors, and logic knots but quite fundamentally the premise isn’t even vaguely entertaining. The Thriller is a genre that has such rich roots in it’s genealogy and it really is a shame to see films try and emulate the Hitchcock-esque style so badly.

The performances surprisingly weren’t bad, not good by any stretch of the imagination, but satisfactory. The film had barely enough engagement to keep me watching just because I was more curious than anything. What else is there to say really? A horribly deformed father who killed his wive, sought to reclaim his son and did, and attempted to kill his daughter, murdering many of her newly made friends in the process. I can’t help but think the story wouldn’t have happened if Nathan wasn’t seemingly incapable of the most basic of motor functions. Riddle is a catastrophe of a film, suffering from incredibly basic errors in casting, writing, and direction. It clearly tried to plug the film solely based on the cameos by Val Kilmer and William Sadler (Why did you bother guys!?) What riles me most is how bizarre the poster is in all of it’s completely irrelevance. Well, that’s all for this time. I may review something that’s not a complete waste of time later today. But we’ll see. Follow me @Sams_Reel_Views.

A study of Film in 1931: Frankenstein!

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My second piece of retrospective analysis, looking into the year 1931, continuing from Cimmaron (1931) I take a look at iconic horror monster flick Frankenstein. 

Mankind will always strive to push limits and boundaries particularly when science is involved. As a race we constantly demand answers, progression, hungry for knowledge and advancement. Our fascination with death, and the mortal coil and ideas of immortality constantly plague fictional works. Frankenstein is a story of that gone too far. Frankenstein is one of the most iconic horror films ever made with the monster of Frankenstein being a significant figure in popular culture even now a full 82 years later. Directed by James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein, Man in the Iron Mask) a very influential figure in the field of classic horror. It’s based on the play by Peggy Webling, which in turn is heavily based on Mary Shelley’s 18th century novel of the same name. 

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Henry and Fritz robbing a freshly laid grave for components.

One thing most modern audiences will say is how the film isn’t remotely scary in a contemporary context. This is true, but the thing is Frankenstein still has such a depth to it. A lot of controversy was stirred in the scene in which Frankenstein’s monster throws a small girl into a pond not quite realizing the logic of it. He likened it to the flower petals that float on the water, his undeveloped brain not really sure of the consequences as the girl slowly drowns. Is the monster the villain? or the wicked scientist who wanted to play god? Frankenstein can be likened to a child in many ways, a child in a man’s body. The whole principle likens to Lennie from of Mice and Men in some ways. What’s bizarre is how there’s basically no punishment for defiling the natural order for Dr.Frankenstein, it’s all happy marriage after the beast has been felled. They only blame the monster, and not the fool that made him, though a lot of the blame could be upon Fritz for taking the deformed brain I suppose. That kind of mood supports the alternative reading even more. 

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It’s set design is truly classic, and really sets a gloomy atmosphere and morbid tone. For example the graveyard scene is very morose, and sets the whole motif of reanimation and death off perfectly. Something also highly impressive is it’s use of special effects, not only in the timeless makeup and creation of Frankenstein, but also the laboratory equipment. It’s said the set designer highly researched and recreated the effect made from genuine live Tesla coils for the lightning scene, which truly captures the mood of the storm both literally and figuratively as the beast becomes alive again.

It’s alive! It’s alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God! – Doctor Frankenstein.

In addition it’s performances and cast are also fairly good. Colin Clive is often epitomized as the mad scientist, coining the role that started the stock character who would often be replicated and parodied in subsequent years. Boris Karloff also received critical acclaim for his depiction of Frankenstein’s monster. 

'IT'S ALIIIIIIVE'

‘IT’S ALIIIIIIVE!’

In it’s cultural impact, Frankenstein has permeated the sphere of popular culture and still makes appearances in contemporary fiction on a consistent basis. There are countless remakes and modern retellings of the story of Frankenstein, a notable cameo is in horror homage film Van Helsing (2004). In addition Frankenstein is easily the highest grossing film of 1931, with an contextually impressive total of $12,000,000 from a measly budget of $200,000. Compared to ‘Best Picture’ of that year Cimmaron, it’s a shining success economically. Along with Dracula (Also 1931) Frankenstein helped popularize the horror genre and established a fairly niche’ genre for the years to come for the likes of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Peter Cushing and Vincent price to lavish in. That’s all for this time, join me next time as we resume our study of 1931, with a look into Dracula (1931). Thanks for reading, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views.

Tales of the Squared Circle, and Tragic Elements in Boxing, Raging Bull (1980)

RagingBullThe Bull is a creature often associated with virility, aggression, and power. It rages out of instinct and fear, to no real goal or end because pure aggression is not something easily channeled. Martin Scorsese’s boxing drama Raging Bull (1980) captures the life of boxer Jake Lamotta adapted from his memoirs of the same name. The title refers to Jake Lamotta’s eponymous ring name ‘The Raging Bull’ known for his unrelenting and savage style of boxing. Boxing really is a tragic sport, particularly when it’s adapted to the frame of dramatic cinema. We see athletes risen as gods in their brief time in the limelight, but rarely is there a soothing catharsis. Is it a fair price to pay to leave your stamp on sporting history? your body? life-span? sometimes your family? Raging Bull is without a doubt the best cinematic depiction of Boxing, purely because it captures the rage and aggression in the ring, and most importantly the incredible pride before a sensational fall from grace.

The story focuses on Jake’ Lamotte’s (Robert Deniro) career as a boxer and his rise up the local talent along side his brother Joey Lamotte (Joe Pesci) who takes care of managerial duties. Unlike some boxing dramas, we see an immediate focus on drama. It depicts as a boxer, and how his style reflects his aggressive and unsettled mood outside of the ring.  He and his first wife constantly shout at and berate each other in constant domestic strife as Jake trades his wife in for a newer model, Vickie Thailer (Cathy Moriarty) a young 15 year old girl who he spots at the local pool, who he soon weds. He has a series of 5 matches against Sugar Ray Robinson, of which he won one, and lost 2 to controversial and very split-decisions most of which were booed avidly by the crowd.

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His wife Vickie and her old mob connections become utilized as they offer to give Jake the title fight he’s been wanting if he’s willing to throw a fight first. He throws the fight, which ends up incredibly obvious as Jake simply doesn’t fight back because of his pride. The fight is a farce and the New York Athletic commission suspend Jake. A year later, he receives his title shot and wins by unanimous decision. His marriage begins to slowly deteriorate as a result of domestic abuse. After his title win, Jake defends it a few times before beginning to struggle to maintain his fitness. His old rival Sugar Ray Robinson challenges him for the middleweight title, and Robinson wins in a match often referred to boxing’s own version of the Saint Valentine’s day massacre. As he retires his wife and children leave him. Things only worsen for Jake as he regrets losing the ones closest to him now his time as a boxer is well and truly through.

LaMotta's career rival, boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson.

LaMotta’s career rival, boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson.

Martin Scorcese’s seedy and sensationalist style, along with screenwriter Paul Schrader’s focus on the dramatic side of Lamotta’s life over the technical is what makes Raging Bull truly gripping and ultimately tragic. In the genre boxing films typically don’t show the latter half of a boxer’s career. They usually build up to a high point, a goal, a title shot or the end of a feud and then call it a day, they often avoid the decline. But Raging Bull is completely different, it entirely dispels the happy endings associated with Rocky-type boxing films. Imagine if Rocky faced Ivan Drago only to taste bitter defeat. The fall of the mighty Raging Bull is the tragic spectacle, the train wreck that we cant help but watch intently. You can learn a lot by contrasting Jake to his long-time rival Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson was seen as a stellar athlete, a go-getter and an inspiration to all. Often smartly dressed, an entrepreneur Robinson was known for his style and slickness. Alternatively Lamotta was known as a ‘rough and rude’ type, a woman-beater full of rage. He opted to take hits instead of dodge them, often known as one of boxing’s toughest chins. In some ways we follow the villain in Raging Bull, and find it hard to have much sympathy for him in his lonelier years as Robinson’s continues to have a fantastic career winning the middleweight title an additional 4 times. However, one legacy lingers with Lamotta. Robinson never knocked him down, in fact nobody did. And nobody ever would in the ring. 

It’s use of black and white as opposed to colour is often disputed in it’s meaning. Most would assume it’s related to the time setting with most of the film taking part from 194o’s and onwards. However in it’s stance, it’s morality, it’s meaning Raging Bull is a very ‘grey’ film. Lamotta left his wife only to abuse a more younger innocent girl. He was imprisoned for escorting minors into the clutches of older men, and he assaulted his brother Joey one of the only true friends he had. Are we supposed to praise him as an athlete? respect his manly fortitude? have sympathy for the guy who’s lost it all and didn’t realize? Or are we supposed to be disgusted. Who knows. Not to mention he only got the title shot due to mob dealings, due to the intense corruption in the sport plaguing boxing in the 40’s-50’s. Would he have ever held the title round his waist if he didn’t have that connection? Regardless of whether Lamotte was a good guy or bad, he left his mark on the sport and a legacy in the ring. I suppose that’s what we celebrate in addition to his cathartic downfall. 

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Raging Bull was nominated for 7 oscars, and received 2, including the highly relevant Best Actor for Robert Deniro. Raging Bull initially had mixed acclaim because of it’s different and incredibly negative nature and many critics reacted badly to the sheer amount of violence. However, since it’s been widely accepted as one of the best American films ever made and often features frequent on top 100 and top 50 lists. People often look back on the 53rd academy awards and remark how the wrong film got the best picture award for that year, the incredibly formulaic Ordinary People (1980). In general people said that Raging Bull and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man two highly acclaimed films for that year didn’t received nearly enough praise. Raging Bull is a highly intense, brooding drama that depicts to true grit and nature of the sport of Boxing, and could be said to be Martin Scorcese’s best picture. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Also I’d highly recommend watching the match i’ve linked and comparing it to Scorcese’s depiction of the finish, a true treat for any sport fan. That’s all for this time. You stay classy WordPress. And follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. 

IMDB Top 250 Addendum:

Raging Bull (1980) is a brutal, and immersive look into the past of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta from the ever-talented Martin Scorsese. For me it really defined the biographical picture, and is one of the only films to really capture the true grit and tragedy involved in Boxing. Featuring unforgettable performances from Robert Deniro, and the debuting Joe Pesci, the film boasts some timeless star power even now. The direction is raw, intense, and truly powerful as we follow Jake to his unobtainable highs as middleweight champ, to debilitating lows as a lonely, bloated bum. For me there’s no real question if Raging Bull is deserving of it’s place among the Top 250. It’s number 100, is probably a bit low. For me, Raging Bull will always be among my top 10 and I’m honestly quite surprised to not see it further up.

Judgment – Deserved

A study of Film in 1931: Cimmaron

cimarron1931Just as a foreword, this is part of my new series in which I pick a year, and study several influential, successful, or otherwise controversial films from that year, and then essentially summarize it as a whole afterwards. Our starting year is 1931, as I take at look at RKO’s literature based juggernaut Cimmaron (1931).  Cimmaron is a very capitalistic look at the western, ultimately painting it as a land of prosperity and opportunity. It stems from Edna Ferber’s 1929 novel of the same name. RKO highly pushed the film, granting it a contextually large budget of 1.5 million dollars. Given inflation, the state of the industry, and the influence of the great depression, the sum is actually incredibly large for a film.

The film focuses on the incredibly flamboyant and ambitious Yancy Cravat (Richard Dix) as he leads the small settlement of Osage through the years. He’s a lawyer, and newspaper publisher who sets up shop in the newly occupational land that we now know as Oklahoma. The film is well known for it’s depiction of the land rush of 1891.  In contrast to societies views of poverty and the great depression at the time of release, the film tried to bestow quite positive ideas of ambition and prosperity, reinforcing that old stereotype of the ‘American dream’. Yancy has to leave town again to go aid the strip, as he leaves his wife on her own once again, to fend for herself with their child.

LandrushFor such a big epic and opulent film, the script is underdeveloped. A lot of characters don’t particularly have a purpose, and the whole direction of the film feels more like a motif than a message or narrative of sorts. Generally I think Cimmaron is more about the atmosphere than anything else. After all it’s often hard to capture the entire ideals of a book within a narrow 2 hours of cinema. It does depict the scenery and the time span accurately if nothing else. However it’s often said that Werber was very pleased with the adaption, regardless of the book rights being used again in 1960 for the same purpose. Cimmaron isn’t particularly special by any means, often devalued by it’s very ‘goofy’ cast of actors so it’s been said. However it’s definitely useful as a pinpoint for the Sevolution of the grand epic, and where that kind of ambition in cinema stems from.

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Right, now to context. Many people often claim that Cimmaron is one of the most undeserving Academy Award winners there is in the history of the Oscar. But the thing is, it was crowned with the award of Outstanding Production (Best Picture) in only it’s 4th ceremony when none of the candidates were particularly fantastic or outstanding in themselves. It competed against Skippy, Trader Horn, East Lynne, and the Front Page, which were all received as ‘fine’ productions they didn’t have that big impact that Cimmaron did just because of the sheer grand spectacle it provided for audiences in 1931. Interestingly Cimmaron is technically an economic flop as it brought back $30,000 short of it’s budget, but that’s fairly successful considering the ludicrous figure of 1.5 million sunk into it.

It was a fairly slow year for the oscars, with Cimmaron being nominated for 7 awards (every category) with it receiving 3. In addition we can see that directors and producers clearly had big ambitions but the economy at the time had other ideas. Clearly it wasn’t wise for RKO to produce Cimmaron but they did to critical acclaim regardless of the economical turnout. We also see the western creep in the title of Best Picture considering the only other western to do that is Dances With Wolves in 1990. Anyway, i’ll end the history lesson here, and hope you join me next time as I take a look at one of the most iconic horror films ever made, Frankenstein. 

(Unfortunately I couldn’t get my own images for this article, as my edition of Cimmaron was being faulty). 

The Master (2012)

TheMasterEver get that feeling when you know a film is good, and you can appreciate the base elements of it, but you can’t really enjoy it as a whole? That’s my relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012). The film is highly aesthetic, beautifully shot, and well-written but the whole idea of the topic matter and how it’s presented to us just left me longing for something a bit more gripping. It is by no means a bad film in my eyes, but considering the high critical praise it’s received, especially lauded by some as one of the best films of 2012, I just couldn’t connect. 

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Freddie Quell, a mentally disturbed and mildly damaged sailor who’s dismissed from the navy during the war. He acts like a child, vastly inappropriate at times, hiding from his past and refusing it he develops nervous twitches and tries to forget. He crosses paths with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who takes Freddie under his wing as he’s fascinated by his intricacies and quirks. Lancaster is a charismatic scholar who dabbles in that of the psychological, as he attempts to hypnotized and ‘process’ Freddie’s brain. He attempts to cure him, as they adventure together as they learn more about one another under the watchful and skeptical gaze of Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams).

Joaquin Phoenix was certainly convincing as Freddie, and clearly had put a lot into the role. However, I found it hard to emphasize with the juvenile protagonist, and as an issue I could barely understand a lot of Freddie’s lines which were fairly garbled. This was in order to make Freddie sound very underdeveloped in his language, with Joaquin only speaking from a side of his mouth as a nervous twitch. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the eloquent gentleman, with an aggressive side for assertion quite well. In addition Amy Adam’s muddled mix of maternal, and the aggressive in the form of the very passive wife is also perfect. All three actors received Oscar nominations for their corresponding roles of Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

It’s themes are highly based in the unexplained nature  nature of mental repression and damage. Not to mention The Master is roughly set in the 1940’s meaning that Lancaster must constantly assert and defend his theories which many regard as baseless nonsense, particularly when he implies in his book that his treatment could help cure some minor cases of leukemia. Ultimately the conclusion is muddled, Freddie isn’t exactly cured in the aggressive and inappropriate way he acts. But he does face his fear, and confront his old love Doris only to find she’s long gone with two kids, and a husband. He flees from Lancaster, as he rides into the sun on a motorcycle as part of an exercise, though he never returns until asked to later. They offer for him to come back, or they can no longer help him. He leaves as Lancaster says a sad goodbye. 

The ideas and motifs especially the whole father/son, subject/researcher relationship that Freddie and Lancaster have do mesh together well. In addition there is some good method acting, and certainly some very vivid and appealing cinematography and score. However the whole thing just felt very isolating and overall as a piece of cinema I can’t really say I enjoyed it. I’m not sure why, if I’m completely honest. However, it at least shows Anderson’s fantastic direction as the film is certainly built to his purpose. Anyway, that’s all for this time. Thanks for reading, and follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views.

Gangs of New York (2002) and the Importance of Catharsis.

4288a961d4ca0bd983f929918337dd8dGangs of New York (2002) is a fundamentally solid film, that truly teeters on the brink of excellence. It offers an incredibly immersive look into a very divulgent time in the history New York, that of the 1840’s. Based around the ‘Five Points’ district, the film loosely follows the anarchy that ensues, and the ever on-going struggle for power. Critical opinion often claimed Gangs of New York didn’t stand up to the hype it generated and sits as one of Scorcese’s more minor films in comparison to Goodfellas, or Raging Bull, or Taxi Driver. Join me as I ponder why Gangs of New York perhaps didn’t pack as mean a punch as Scorcese’s other films, and how it could have possibly been better.

Gangs of New York first shows us an epic battle occurring between the Irish Catholics and immigrants against the American Natives. At the heads of this armies are Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) a true defender of the faith, an inspiration to all. Facing him, Mr.William Cutting, or as he’s often referred ‘Bill The Butcher’. A crude, harsh, and racist man who only seeks supremacy. They go to far as Bill slays his foe, for all to see. His young child runs off as Bill declares his victory, but also the honour of the fight that Vallon put up. The son of priest returns 20 years later to Paradise Square as he is soon taken under the butcher’s wing as he takes quite a liking to him. Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo Dicaprio) always sought to kill Bill (no pun intended), however a friend rats him out turning Bill against his former protege as he learns of his connection to Priest. Things escalate, leading to a final war between the Dead Rabbits and the Native Conversation Society. However the draft riots begin to occur, and both armies are pretty much instantly dispatched by confederate forces as Bill is hit by shrapnel, Amsterdam finishes him off with a knife. Him, and his lover Jenny Everdeane (Cameron Diaz) run off to California in pursuit of a more prosperous land.

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A lot of the criticisms were about the story’s course and overall structure, so we’ll begin there. The whole focus of the main plot is on Amsterdam, with the growing tension between him and Bill which leads to the final confrontation. However, with the intervention of the 3rd party draft forces the set piece falls rather flat and feels rather lacking. It was about settling feuds, rivalries, and beliefs but regardless of who killed who it felt as no one really won. Amsterdam strikes Bill down after Bill is wounded by shrapnel as he utters the words ‘Thank God. I’ll die a true American’.  For me I felt that wasn’t really cathartic, it’s probably more accurate in it’s depiction of historical nature. After the battle we see Vallon’s and Bill’s graves as they overlook New York as we begin to see it evolve, as the skyline and skyscrapers develop and turn into the New York of today. Their graves gradually deteriorate as Scorcese suggest that the two didn’t really matter?

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I’m not quite sure what this means. I guess it meant it signified an end to the wars and the death of both of them is the only way the feud could finally climax between native and Irishman. As for the historical content, the sets design and costume Gangs of New York was very acclaimed for it’s historical preservation. As you’d expect things were misconstrued and bent into a narrative structure as you’d expect. An interesting fact is the Irish primarily feuded with those of black origin as opposed to anyone else, primarily because they would work at a lower rate than that of the Irish, thus stealing their jobs from beneath them. 

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The performances in Gangs of New York are fantastic. It offers an ensemble cast, headed by Leonardo Dicaprio and Daniel-Day Lewis, with cameos by Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson, Eddie Marsan, among others. For me the character of Bill truly supersedes the film. Bill is a foul, violent intolerant villain, but he’s very logically written. He feels he must die for his country purely because his father did, because he sees some misguided pride in that hence his end remark. His vocabulary and voice are oddly eloquent, but very ribald. He is a violent kingmaker who deals in flesh and blood, both figuratively and literally through his love of the butcher’s cleaver.  

‘I took the father. Now I’ll take the son. You tell young Vallon I’m gonna paint Paradise Square with his blood. Two coats. I’ll festoon my bedchamber with his guts.’ – Bill the Butcher

Daniel-Day Lewis is must-see as usual (when is he not?), while the Dicaprio we see in Gangs, isn’t the one we see now. He’s always been a great actor, but in recent years he’s really excelled, become an A-list talent from the likes of Inception, Django Unchained. I don’t suppose I have too much else to say about Gangs of New York. A solid piece of historical entertainment, with some excellent characters and superb performances. The ending for me wasn’t as climatic, it didn’t drive home the vengence of Amsterdam’s father which I felt in many ways was the entire point. Regardless it’s a great film for style, and design, and entertainment if not substance. That’s all for now I suppose. Join me next time! Or I’ll festoon my bedchamber with your guts. >.>

Follow me on Twitter @Sams_Reel_Views.

                                                                                       Sam.