Greatest Directors: Woody Allen; Part 7: Manhattan (1979)

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Manhattan is a silky yet mournful film noir inspired tale of romance and regret. Filmed entirely in black and white, and with elements of classical and jazz the film is quite reflexive in it’s moods, as we see recurring hints of Ingmar Bergman once again. It’s partly autobiographical in nature, recapturing Allen’s experience dating a 17 year old student as a real life experience on film. Other than that, we see the same motifs and ideals revisited mainly about life and love but in a slightly darker context. The black and white, and the noirish feel relates to the film being quite involved in the idea of being faithful with a sinful affair and numerous deceptions occurring within it’s frame. This all relates to classical cinema, with it’s drama frequently featuring cheating wives and lying husbands, with love and betrayal being a prominent feature in Federico Fellini’s work, often cited as a big inspiration for Allen.vlcsnap-2013-05-23-11h54m54s235

Isaac (Woody Allen) is a TV writer, and aspiring author suffering two failed marriages (Also the case with Allan himself) who feels self conscious about a relationship with a 17 year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Meanwhile his friend Yale (Michael Murphy) starts to cheat on his faithful wife of 12 years, with the alluringly neurotic Mary (Diane Keaton). Mary is kind of the polarizing character of the piece, upsetting the status quo of Yale’s marriage, as well as Isaac’s relationship with Tracy. She mirrors a kind of femme fatale character, not in the same kind of sense of mortal danger but a more subdued form, that of the homewrecker. Yale breaks up with Mary, only to find himself lusting after her even after setting up Isaac to be with Mary. They begin to see each other again, as Isaac realizes what a mistake he’s made as he goes to Tracy and tells her he did wrong. However the apology is ultimately too late as she leaves to London for an arts scholarship. 

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Manhattan is aptly named, full of looming shots of the landscape, Manhattan is a story about first world problems, a failed romance tale of the inner city. It’s billed as a comedy though the only real comedic value is found in Allen’s dialogue and nervous mannerisms as usual. Other than that Manhattan is a story firmly grounded in matters of the heart as opposed to elements of humor. Allan describes it as a combination of his previous two films Annie Hall (1977) and Interiors (1978) which is pretty accurate. It has the love and loss in a contemporary setting from Annie Hall, with the rather serious tones of stress, psychosis, and longing for purpose that Interiors encapsulates. Meryl Streep as scorned ex-wife Jill packs a punch, as she publishes a book detailing her failed marriage and how she ran off into the arms of a much superior female. 

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And with that, we approach one of the main underline themes of Manhattan. Freude is mentioned on quite a few occasions, and in that same vein of psychoanalysis Manhattan seems to contain a slight fear of emasculation. Women are seemingly well fulfilled within the frames of Manhattan, while the male characters are left confused and longing in fear they’ve made the wrong choice. Isaac has an overwhelming fear of the book Jill publishes, a fear of this power over him, particularly disheartened when she dishonorably mentions the lackluster sex and emotional connection within it’s pages. Mary is a sexual aggressor breaking up a marriage and a relationship, while forcing former friends to ultimately fight over her. In addition to this, before their break up it seems Yale’s wife often mentioned the notion of kids and how she wanted to have them. In this way the power in relationships is predominantly held by women, which particularly makes contextual sense in it’s homage to more classical cinema. 

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In it’s place in Allen’s overall filmography, Manhattan further cements Allen’s love of smooth and classical Jazz, the films of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, and the acting talents of Diane Keaton. However, foresight tells us it’d be the last major collaboration Woody Allen would do with Diane Keaton. Allen is smart in only casting women he has sexual chemistry with (He and Keaton dated for a year or so), and she would be soon replaced by Mia Farrow as Allen’s main female actor given their relationship which lasted from the early 80’s til the mid 90’s. At this point it can be said that Allen had moved away from the situational comedy genre, and cemented himself in more of an artistic more classical form of the romance film. Regardless of his spurning of the Academy with Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan would still be nominated for two awards, one for best original screenplay, and one for best supporting actress (Mariel Hemingway). In addition to winning the Baftas for best film, and best screenplay, and about 8 or so other nominations.

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Manhattan is a good film, and ultimately a clear display that romantic comedies don’t have to be shallow in content or emotion, or haplessly generic and dull. It feels absurdly textured with its artistic shots, and its highly nostalgic tones and is good storytelling at the crux of it. Next time we’ll take a look at A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). Thanks for tuning in, and please Follow/Comment/and Like if you feel inclined. Also follow me on @Sams_Reel_Views on Twitter. Cheers. 

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The Yakuza (1974)

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The Yakuza (1974) is an American Neo-noir/Crime film, based in Japan. The film is well known for it’s deep contrast of cultural values between Japan and America, most notably from post-occupation changes from the war. It also highly centers around the concept of obligation and debt, or Giri alternatively. I hadn’t really heard of the Yakuza until it became available on my digital service, but I was quite surprised at the quality of the film. The film is directed by academy award winning director Syndey Pollack (Out of Africa, Tootsie, Havana) while the screen play is written co-written by Robert Towne (Chinatown, Mission Impossible), Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), and Leonard Schrader (Kiss of the Spider Woman).

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Retired detective Jake Gittes Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) is called upon for a debt he owes for a friend, someone he was friends in the service with. George Tanner (Brian Keith) asks him to go back to japan, and rescue his daughter from the head of the Yakuza. He agrees, and goes back, meeting his old flame Eiko (Keiko Kishi) and her daughter. Harry recounts his former love with her, and how Eiko’s brother Ken (Ken Takakura) came back from war, and was disgusted and wouldn’t allow them to marry. Ken then joined the underground Yakuza, Harry forces Eiko into telling him where he can find Ken. He goes to Kyoto, finding Ken, now a kendo instructor who tells him where he can find Tono, the head of the Yakuza, Ken also feels obliged to go with him. Though Ken has a lot of contempt for Harry, ultimately Harry saved and looked after Ken’s family while he was gone.

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Ken and Harry save the girl, angering Tono, who then takes out contracts on their lives. They go to Ken’s brother, a high ranking official (of something or rather) but he cannot help them as he doesn’t want to get involved, however he does warn Ken not to kill his son who now works for the Yakuza, identified by a spider tattoo on his forehead. It’s revealed George the man who asked for a favor in the first place had double-crossed Tono and Harry, and Tono had taken his daughter as payment for weapons he never received. To end this, Harry and Ken go and raid the Yakuza, emerging mostly unscathed as Ken faces Tono in honorable battle by blade. Ken apologises to his brother, as he has slain his son, he asks for forgiveness by committing yubitsume, a yakuza ritual in which a small finger is sliced off, and offered as a token of humility. It’s revealed that Ken isn’t Eiko’s brother, but Eiko’s husband as Harry apologizes to Ken for usurping his family in the past, as he also commits yubitsume. They deeply bow to each other, before Harry departs for the U.S

Eiko (Left) and Harry (Right)

Eiko (Left) and Harry (Right)

Didn’t want to waffle, but Yakuza has a very intense, and quite in-depth narrative. It’s interesting as the whole former lovers thing between Eiko, Ken, and Harry isn’t explained that well, but it actually makes sense because why would it be when it’s so far in the past when Harry revisits? In it’s casting, I think Robert Mitchum is probably slightly too old considering he’s in some actions scenes and it comes across as quite unbelievable. However, Ken Takakura is superb as Ken, a very brooding deep character who carries most of the action sequences of the film. Overall the story feels quite solid, but things tend to unfold on their own, it’d make sense if we saw a little more detective work from Harry considering he used to be one. The scenery, and interiors of Yakuza feel authentically Japanese. The lighting is very low-key and quite harsh, making it feel like a noir story, which certainly relates to the past, present and future of Yakuza with no real happy endings or absurdist equilibrium to be seen, just harsh reality. 

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The motifs of loyalty, respect, and honor are certainly interesting. It focuses quite deeply on Ken’s giri, and how he feels obliged to Harry for saving his daughter while he was away in the war, regardless of the fact Harry essentially ruined his life, and separated Ken from his family. It’s also interesting to note that the villain, Tono, didn’t actually do much wrong. He merely took George’s daughter as he had paid for guns, and George had literally no intention of supplying them as we learn much later. For a villain who ultimately dies quite a harsh death, that’s some odd ideology behind that. Especially considering in this American film, there seems to be a much greater degree of morality, and honor among it’s Japanese characters, where the same cannot be said for it’s American characters, George and Harry. There’s also a lot mentioned about how the Yakuza used to essentially be Samurai, not a crime syndicate likening it to Ken’s involvement in the Yakuza and how it hasn’t corrupted him. 

The brooding and violent, Tanaka Ken

The brooding and violent, Tanaka Ken

Verdict: Excellent. Yakuza is a film with a fantastic script, decent direction, with good performances. I feel like the script wasn’t exactly Sydney Pollack’s style and like the similar Chinatown written by Robert Towne, might have been better directed by someone like Polanski. However, the themes, scenery, and imagery flesh out Yakuza to be a beautiful, yet brutal and gripping film. With action, heartbreak, and intense plot, I’d highly recommend The Yakuza as being worth anyone’s time. 

Tyrannosaur (2011)

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Okay, gunna start this one off by saying this review is not for the faint of heart, I had to grit through it myself to be honest. Tyrannosaur (2011) is a British realist drama, written and directed by Paddy Considine, very much in the style of British director Shane Meadows. Tyrannosaur is a very harsh realistic drama, for a very harsh world. I mainly decided to watch it as I’m a fan of Paddy Considine’s acting and was curious as to his directing style, also the film did relatively well at Sundance.

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Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a damaged, harrowed individual who’s self-destructive nature has lead to the boring life he now leads that contains nothing for him. In the opening scene of the film, Joseph is outraged at his misfortunes at the bookies, as kills his dog as a result. He immediately feels remorse, and buries it. Continuing this downward spiral he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) a charity shop worker who prays for Joseph and tries to help him. At first he rejects her, however they keep interacting regardless, as he asks her to pray for his dying old friend. Joseph claims Hannah doesn’t understand what life is like for him, yet she suffers constant abuse from her husband, including assault, rape, urination, and at one point she claims he inserted glass inside her so she couldn’t have children. She moves in with Joseph for the time being, as they fight, as she claims he is the only one she can run to. Joseph takes her house keys as she sleeps and goes to confront the husband, only finding his dead corpse. As the narrative climaxes, we see Joseph as a reformed man, wearing a suit, changing his ways, as we see him on a train. In the final few shots we see Joseph go to meet Hannah in prison, showing his affection for her.

The corrupt, perverted husband apologizes.

The corrupt, perverted husband apologizes.

That was kind of a messy synopsis by me, but it’s often difficult to effectively summarize these real life domestic dramas without drumming over excessive detail. Obviously you expect this kind of harsh statement about the world, and how people can be from social realism, but at the same time, Tyrannosaur doesn’t contrast these damaged, victimized individuals to any concept of normality, and the amount of reprieve in the film is bare glimpses if that compared to the amount of wrong we see. Joseph as a character, is very well played by Peter Mullan, incredibly distant, silent, yet so emotionally unstable. I did have a lot of empathy for Joseph, while knocking down the shed, trying to forget about his dog, as it prayed on his mind. I think the trouble I had with Tyrannosaur was the characters aren’t very consistent  they seem to change and shift all the time, and it doesn’t really show them develop, the moments of crisis when they are forced to change at people. Like the end for example, when we cut from Joseph getting revenge and brutally slaying the pitbull with what we assume from the silhouette, is a baseball bat to, a changed man who practices religion. Surely the film should be about the reformation of this man, if it’s truly trying to be a social realist film, which of course it is, yet it just builds up to it, then shows it there rather abruptly.

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The title of the film, I was expecting to have some deep meaning, however, it’s simply the nickname Joseph referred to his wife as, as she was a diabetic, and slowly killed herself by eating unhealthily, so he used to lambaste her for it, joking that when she walked downstairs, the walls would shake, and his tea would ripple, like Jurassic Park. Hence the film poster, showing a Tyrannosaur in the ground, referring to Joseph’s dead wife. Tyrannosaur seems like it wants to have some kind of social message, yet it doesn’t seem what, everything seems awfully contradictory to something else. Violence doesn’t solve everything, but Joseph is never punished for his violent sins. Is this because he repented in the eyes of god? Hannah killed her abusive, perverted, psychotic husband, but was punished all the same, in prison. Thus i’m not too sure what Tyrannosaur is really trying to tell us, other than just being a vaguely interesting take on a kitchen sink mellodrama, which I think would be dismissing it at surface value.

An uncomfortable scene.

An uncomfortable scene.

Tyrannosaur certainly was an intriguing and an interesting film, however as a cinematic experience I certainly can’t say it was enjoyable, it was harrowing, rather saddening with little justification, and I really had to pace myself watching it. Can’t like em all I suppose, if you have any views yourself on Tyrannosaur I’d be happy to hear them. Until then, Tweet me @Sams_Reel_Views if yah like, or Like/Comment/Follow for more of my content. Until next time, amigos.

– Sam.

Cloud Atlas (2012) or ‘Experimental narrative, and it’s flaws’.

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Hello there, and welcome to Sam’s Reel Views. Today we look at quite a big, controversial piece of cinema as we take a look at Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas is a German film, written, produced, and directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski. At roughly a hundred and 2 million dollars, Cloud Atlas is easily one of the most expensive films ever made. It’s a ‘german film’ but ultimately it’s a piece of world cinema, being shot around the world, containing American, British, and Chinese actors, depicting a number of races, and worlds too. It’s billed as a ‘Drama and Science Fiction’ film, which is true but ultimately far too narrow a description to apply to such a diverse and varied film. The film very much has an ensemble cast, starring among many names, Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, and Susan Sarandon. The narrative contains 6 very different stories, that basically effect each other in chronology, the majority of the character playing a different character in each. What’s more odd is we don’t see the stories in any odd chronology or sequence as the stories inter-cut constantly showing snippets of each before progressing. A very nice and artistic concept, but ultimately flawed in it’s execution.

The futuristic world before 'The Fall'

The futuristic world before ‘The Fall’

‘The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing’ follows a man visiting Africa securing a slavery contract as during the journey back he befriends a slave who stowed away on the ship. During the journey a doctor treats him for a parasitic worm, however the doctor is slowly poisoning his patient in order to steal his belongings, as the slave he befriended saves him. ‘Letters from Zedelghem‘ follows a bisexual musician, who works as an understudy for an old withered, hag of a musician. He threatens to steal his work, as the young man shoots him, finished his symphony before killing himself, moments before his former lover finds him. ‘Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery’, I didn’t really follow, I didn’t really understand exactly what was happening in those segments. Something about a conspiracy? and an assassin? ‘The Ghastly ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’ follows a publisher, who is shook down for money, when he runs to family for help, though he is imprisoned in a nursing home instead. He escapes, and writes his memoirs, and lives a happy life. ‘An Orison of Sonmi’, is about a clone, who is essentially an artificially made human worker who is freed by the commander of the revolution in a dystopian society which gradually leads to his death, and her execution. ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ an Ev’rythin After’ follows a primitive valley men who tries to protect his daughter from an evil shamanic tribe, when he is aided by a woman from a selection of people who are still technologically advance following the events of ‘The Fall’. 

The beautiful 'Neo-Seoul'

The beautiful ‘Neo-Seoul’

So the positives first. The cast is excellent, each one portrays their multiple characters perfectly, and it really shows off the talents of each and every one of them. In particular it shows some rather unconventional roles for Tom Hanks, and Hugo Weaving which is a nice change of pace. The setting, choice of filming location, and aesthetics are all great, with some really beautiful stills. However, unavoidably the problem in Cloud Atlas is pretty glaring, the way it’s shown. The 1 minute cuts or so with it not focusing on a storyline for more than 2 minutes at a time causes major attention span issues, and sometimes I just missed things because it’s hard to really understand what’s happening the whole time. It causes a really big demand from the audience, but not only this. As a result, it’s hard to really build tension, emotion, and ever the confusing thing is seeing an actor in one scene, then another, and when it’s bundled into a hard running time of 2:52:00, it’s rather hard to really appreciate as a great piece of cinema. Some of the stories are bland, mainly the non-futuristic or dystopian ones, and some are incredible so in many ways it is hit and miss, the editing is certainly interesting as you’ll see scenes with kind of similar emotions paired with each other.

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What ultimately is Cloud Atlas about? well, the directors have said in many interviews that there’s no definite meaning, and it’s all for individual interpretation, yadda yadda and so forth. However, my view is that it’s ultimately about story telling. And how we can influence one another. You see a traveller’s journal, who influences a singer, who writes a letter a journalist reads, who is published by a publisher, who’s own book is made into a film, and so on, and that’s the main narrative link between the stories. Other than that there’s probably something to be said about diversity, or some quip that tragedy, death, and happyness will always be factors in life no matter what the context or origin from which we originate. 

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Cloud Atlas is a piece of art, with incredible visuals, acting, score and writing. However the way it’s told is a real divider for audiences, it drives the piece from a segmented narrative, into artistic avant garde cinema which certainly isn’t for everyone. To be honest, watch it, and understanding and trying to maintain the narrative strands in my mind was a chore, and it definitely drained the experience for me, as opposed to if the segments just ran in order, in wholes. However, If I do have one thing to say about Cloud Atlas is that you definitely should watch it for yourself and judge. Anyway that’s it for this time, I return with Annie Hall tomorrow. Until then, thanks for reading, please Like/Comment/Follow if you feel inclined, and thanks. 

– Sam

The Hunt or ‘Jagten’ (2012)

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‘The lie is spreading’. Hmm.

So, today we’ll be looking at The Hunt (2012), a danish Drama Film directed by Thomas Vinterberg, and starring Mads Mikkelsen, although most of you probably know him as ‘Le Chiffre’. I chose to watch this, due to it’s ridiculously high acclaim, and a curiosity for Mikkelsen as an actor with many saying it’s the turning point of his career, which is quite a statement considering the danish actor was the primary antagonist in Casino Royale (2006), and is now starring in TV show Hannibal, as the title character himself. The hunt is a brutal film, and if i’m honest I had to stop at several points just because it was incredibly emotionally draining, and if I had seen it at a cinema I would have been in tears at points. My expectations were fairly unknown, I loosely knew about the narrative but hadn’t really read much, basically because it’s hard to read about Danish cinema by chance.

Lucas (Left) Walking Klara (Right. Before it all happened.

Lucas (Left) Walking Klara (Right. Before it all happened.

The narrative follows Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) a quiet, school teacher who is still recovering from a divorce, and constantly battling with a marred ex-wife to be able to see his son. A lot of people classify him as ‘lonely’ around the tight-knit, quiet danish community, and things begin to get better for Lucas as he becomes intimate with fellow nursery worker Nadja, as they date. He also (the narrative isn’t clear how) gains full custody of his son, as he is told he is soon to live with his father full-time. Lucas often finds Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) daughter of best friend Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) away from home, as he offers to walk her home once, then to school, as she seems to like Lucas, and enjoys walking with him, and his affectionate old dog Fanny. However, things take a turn for the worse for Lucas, as Klara seems infatuated by him, and kisses him on the lips, he asserts that this is only appropriate for her parents and thinks nothing of it. Later that day, a fellow teacher talks to a rejected, melancholy Klara who claims that Lucas showed her his penis, inspired by hearing older kids talk about genitals. As a result, things get massively out of hand, until Lucas loses his job, custody of his son, the right to shop at the local supermarket, his girlfriend, the respect of all of his friends as a result of a stupid white lie.

A passionate embrace as sparks fly between Lucas, and Nadja.

A passionate embrace as sparks fly between Lucas, and Nadja.

Things really hit rock bottom as someone throws a rock through Lucas’ window, following it he looks inside a rubbish bag on the lawn, to find his dog dead, with rob tightly tied around his neck. He makes a stand at certain points, headbutting a butcher, and demanding his groceries. He also goes to the church for mass, as practically the whole town stares at him, as he glares at old friend Theo, who finally realizes his friend was telling the truth the whole time, from the sheer nihilism he sees from a man who’s lost everything there is to lose. The narrative climaxes, with a cut to a year later, showing his son coming of age for a hunting license (bringing the double meaning of the film’s title to a full circle), as we establish that Lucas is re-accepted into society now it’s realized he did nothing wrong. It’s implied he’s living with his son, and with Nadja, and they’re now a happy family However, he’s almost killed as someone shoots at him in the wilderness, but misses, establishing that while things are better for Lucas, and he’s accepted in society, what he was once branded as, will ever haunt him.

A wounded Lucas, beaten by the staff of a supermarket.

A wounded Lucas, beaten by the staff of a supermarket.

Vinterberg is an incredibly good director judging from The Hunt, and you can certainly see why it got the praise it did at Cannes 2012, including a best actor award for Mikkelsen which was definitely earned. Mikkelsen plays the character, as dissonant, and accepting of his fate, knowing ultimately there’s not much he can do to help his situation, apart from grit through it. It becomes more and more tragic as he begins to reject his girlfriend Nadja and the family he has left. Overall a lot of the performances were solid, particularly the son, and Lucas’ son. As an viewer I felt actively angry, and enraged at genthe the teacher who fired Lucas, and reported the incident who ever said her self that the girl has a vivid imagination, and yet claimed that it almost certainly wasn’t the case. The mother also completely neglected to see the truth, when her daughter admitted ‘I may have said something foolish’, which is just absurd considering a man’s life and career hangs in the balance and she chose to completely ignore this.

Some beautiful landscapes for aesthetic purposes.

Some beautiful landscapes for aesthetic purposes.

The Hunt heavily mentions the idea of a repressed, and planted memory, given the scene in which Klara is asked about the situation, she is under heavy duress, and pressured by two adults, who ask her closed questions which clearly want her to respond yes to, a child clearly not understanding the ramifications of this, and just wanting to leave the conversation as quickly as possible. The Hunt isn’t necessarily saying the issue is taken…too deeply? it’s more saying that due to the overbearing nature of the media these days we’re ready to publicly hang anyone without being rational, particularly towards a man who is liked in the village, who is everyone’s friend. The implication that ‘children’ don’t lie, is a misunderstanding of the child psyche’ at best considering how children misunderstand things, and are so impressionable particularly to adults. The Hunt is incredibly gripping as a story, I think it’s something embedded in us that wants to see justice be delivered, and it’s hard to not feel an overwhelming amount of sympathy for Lucas particularly in scenes with his son. One thing worth mentioning is how the public to severely torture, maim, attack, and exile Lucas from society, but the whole case is thrown out in court, in relation to many other kids telling the same story with details that don’t exist, like being in Lucas’ basement, when he doesn’t own one, which shows the intense hysteria, even then. 

Probably the most haunting still of the film, as Lucas buries his old pup fanny.

Probably the most haunting still of the film, as Lucas buries his old pup fanny.

The Hunt is a highly emotive film, of controversy, over-reaction and injustice. It also captures danish cinema, and it’s reduced elements of construction, to make realistic films like this have a really earthy texture, and verisimilitude. It’s a beautiful hand-crafted work with good performances, and superb direction, but it is not for everyone. Definitely not for the weak of heart. Watch this is you feel like some human tragedy, otherwise, give it a miss, and perhaps watch the film where Mads Mikkelsen is the villain, not the one where everyone else believes he is. Next time we continue with Part 4 of my dissection of Woody Allen as an auteur. Please Like/Comment/Subscribe. I really appreciate it. Cheers.

– Sam.