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Posts from the ‘PeekPicks’ Category

30
Jun

Papillon: A Review

 

 

nOO9pELNGcT9zWaH3rW4Qs4J5lVHow many times will a man attempt to escape from an island prison in spite of the fact that with the first attempt, he will be placed in solitary confinement for two years and each subsequent attempt will earn him an additional year added to the initial amount of time? In the film Papillon, released in 1973 and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, the title character makes three attempts. According to those who made the film, which was based on the book; the actual number was nine. Do the math. Papillon spent a majority of his life sentence in solitary confinement.

 

True, there is some of that spent in relative freedom and that is shown in the film, but the most interesting aspect of this film is not the attempts themselves, but the extent to which Papillon, portrayed by Steve McQueen plans each escape only for the majority of them to fail and land him right back where he was trying to leave in the first place.

 

So then; why, after a multitude of failed escapes would he continue a seemingly fruitless endeavor? It could be that he has nothing better do, or he enjoys the challenge. The latter is in fact how McQueen portrays his character. Indeed, each plan of flight from the inescapable prison becomes more and more elaborate. From making an all out run for it, to filling a burlap bag with coconuts as a makeshift raft and jumping into the sea from a cliff.

 

A long the way, Papillon conspires with compatriots and sympathizers to his predicament. After all, Papillon’s single motivation is the fact that he is an innocent man wrongly accused of murder. By all means, this would be a reason for anyone of us to have the inclination to abdicate from captivity. Papillon’s apparent innocence is the cause for his fellow inmates commiseration to the idea of liberation.

 

Not only fellow prisoners, but even some conscripted to enforce the resolute confinement of the penitentiary appear willing to aide our would be escapist. Perchance they find it amusing and only do so for entertainment amidst the melancholy of their daily routine. This penchant for insincere support is illustrated in a scene where Papillon, Luis Dega-a part specifically created for Dustin Hoffman-and one other convict arrive at a location where a boat and supplies are said to be placed, only to discover that said provisions are either fake or in such ill repair as to be ineffective.

 

As if by grace a new ally emerges to accommodate Papillon and his companions with a better means of transport and the trio eludes capture. At least until they reach land fall. The flight to freedom turns into a blunder as they almost literally stumble upon a group of police from another country who are escorting a prisoner of their own. The situation worsens when Papillon hurls an ax at the men, resulting in one guards death. Luis Dega is wounded and can’t run away and the third member of their tiny troupe is wounded by gunfire, leaving Papillon to his own devices. Especially once the prisoner belonging to the new set of guards mets a savage demise.

 

At this point in the film, we are certain that Papillon has accomplished his goal. After some time passes, another bungle by the antagonist leads the Frenchman straight into the waiting jaws of the Spanish police who ship him to the French prison from which he had gone AWOL. Maybe this will finally convince the man that avoiding his prison time just is not going to happen. For the third time escape is thwarted and our upstart hero is thrust back into solitary and when we see him again, he’s an old man.

 

One would think that being old would slow such a man as Papillon down. Not likely. Instead he continues his quest for freedom despite being reunited with Louis, whom he had thought to be dead. It is here that we see just how calculating Papillon is as he studies the tide patterns of the small and very dangerous cove near his dwelling quarters and discovers an incredibly risky chance at freedom-if he can only manage to elude the inevitability of being dashed across the rocks below. We will live this bit a mystery as to persuade those reading this to view Papillon.

 

Although Papillon appears to be a sprawling drama, it is in truth a comedy of errors. This is evident by the number of failures Papillon endures in spite of-perhaps in mockery- of his apparent cleverness, reducing him in those moments to a blunderer. One may feel sad for the man who continuously beats feet for the wide open world, refusing to stay in his cage, but will find the absurdity of it all worth a few chuckles minimum.

 

Whether it is to see Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in roles that seem unlikely in contrast to their repertoire, the immaculate cinematography, or to simply view a classic film, Papillon is a cinematic adventure, which merits inspection.

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27
Jun

Moulin Rouge: A Story of Love

Image“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn; is just to love, and be loved in return.” This is a quote from the song Nature Boy written by Eden Ahbez and made famous by Nat King Cole in 1948. This single line from the composition is the central theme in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, surrounded by a myriad of ideals about love, freedom of expression; an homage to the first days of film and even a rekindling of an old American past time-the musical.

What makes the line from Nature Boy such a central theme is that the quote-slightly paraphrased in the film-is said numerous times throughout the movie. We first hear it in the very beginning of the film as a kind of introduction to the story as Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) sings; “There was a boy. A very strange, enchanted boy. They say he wandered very far. Very far, over land and sea. A little shy and sad of eye, but very wise was he. And then one day, he passed my way. While he spoke of many things, fools and kings; this he said to me, ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.’” as if summarizing the events about to unfold before our eyes in an explosion of music, singing, color, comedy, drama and tragedy. At the same time the last sentence is spoken by Christian (Ewan McGregor), a central character in the story as he types the very words we hear. It is here we learn that the story of Moulin Rouge is his story and the prophetic sentence his message to us.

The sentence is repeated again by Christian, as he explains his idea for a play to the group of Bohemians who recruit him to replace their writer. Thereby supporting the previous affirmation and its importance to the story. The third and final recitation of the chorus to Nature Boy comes at the end as a curtain- not unlike the ones found in old 1900’s theaters and the very same one which opens as the title credits roll-closes over the final shot of the film. For the viewer, this creates the sense of closing a book, as if we had just read Christians story and are about to return it to the shelf.

The very act of repeating this theme three times emphasizes its importance and centrality to the story of Moulin Rouge. However, emphasis may not necessarily be Luhrmann’s goal. Instead, the director wants the audience to remember; above all other themes and messages within Moulin Rouge, this one particular phrase. Hence, it is thrice conveyed to us.

Why this single phrase? Why this one in particular? Perhaps there lies an answer within the body of the film and in how it is told to us. Luhrmann does not simply present an age old love story, though in many ways Moulin Rouge is just that. A love story. 

Consider this. Christian falls in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman) at first sight and she with him. There love is strong and unwavering it seems. At least until the Duke (Richard Roxburg) sinks his teeth into Satine. As the story goes forth, Satine breaks Christians heart, claiming to love the Duke because of the security he can provide her with his riches. By the end, the Duke turns out to be filled with lust and desire rather than love, treating Satine as something to be possessed and she goes back to Christian. Thus, we have what appears to be the classic boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back formula, but this is not so. Moulin Rouge is not a story about romance and finding the love of your life. It is a story about love itself. Its power. Its endurability. Its risks.

When we take into account the numerous anthems of love infused into this hyper active spectacular, spectacular musical unlike any before it or since, we can truly see the tapestry being woven before us. Not unlike a quilt, Luhrmann patches together the best bits of some very famous songs to tell the story of Moulin Rouge and does it well enough that the songs become part of the narrative itself. 

When Christian first realizes his feelings, he woos Satine by serenading her with Elton John’s “Your Song”. Later he convinces her of his love with such anthems as “All You Need is Love”, “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong”, “In The Name of Love” and even “I Will Always Love You”. As much as she resists, Satine soon comes to realize how wonderful life is now that Christian is in the world. 

As Christian accompanies the Bohemians to the Moulin Rouge for his meeting with Satine, songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend” and “Material Girl” serve as part of the entertainment at the…Cabaret burlesque show. Likewise, the lyrics to Queen’s “Show Must Go On” are a poignant sentiment to the feelings of Zidler (Jim Broadbent) and Satine as both succumb to the wishes and dominance of the Duke. Never the less the purpose of these anecdotes is only to push the narrative forward if only to enhance its theatricality. 

Surely one can lose themselves in the attempt to name every popular song used in the film, but that would quickly become a distraction from the true meaning and message that  makes a film like Moulin Rouge even remotely relatable. The message of love and what love must sometimes endure before gaining absolution. As if love needed such a thing as to be absolved.

In a sense, Christian is the embodiment of love. It gives him energy, drive, it comes easily to him. Perhaps naively so. After all, it is Christian’s relentless devotion to the power and promise of love that causes him to persuade Satine to rethink her aversion to the idea of being in love, because of its absence in her own life. Here is love at her doorstep and her instinct is to push it away, except that she has never really known love and as much as she’d like to, she cannot deny her need to have it in her life.

Perhaps Satine’s realization that her existence has been bereft of love is what drives her into Christian’s arms and to cherish him so completely, she is even willing to betray him to save him. Yet love-Christian-never wavers. Staying by her side in spite of the Duke. Vying for her right to be happy, to have joy, to have love. Even when Christian finally reaches his breaking point and confronts her, thanking her for curing him of his “…ridiculous obsession with love.” Satine then realizes that the only reason Christian’s heart broke so utterly, is because he loves her body and soul and that her own heart is breaking on the inside, because she truly loves him and she may have lost him forever. Precisely at this moment, when we believe all hope is lost; is when we are reminded that “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”

For all its theatricality, raucous pomp and comedic bravado, Moulin Rouge is now a classic film of the post-modern era and in spite of its hodgepodge of pop culture romanticism, the films message that love endures all things; even time and tragedy, is not missed by the audience. It stands as a resonant beacon for that timeless of all emotions-love. 

2
May

Fargo: The Film That Inspired the Show

ImageFor a film that was made nearly twenty years ago, about an incident that occurred in nineteen eighty-seven; close to thirty years ago, Fargo still holds up as much as any classic film from the golden age of Hollywood does. This is in part to the approach of the Joel and Ethan Coen, that director/writier tag team responsible for such films as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou and No Country For Old Men.

Primarily, the directors allow the story to tell itself, beginning with the set up, where Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) meets with Steve Bucsemi’s Carl Showalter and Peter Stormare’s Gaear Grimsrud hiring them to abduct his wife Jean; to the climax of the film where Police officer Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) confronts Grimsrud.

By allowing events to unfold linearly instead of using flashbacks or clever plot twists, the audience is given a sense of being a “fly on the wall” from scene to scene. This approach is effective because we are never left to wonder what will happen next and there is no need to explain why a specific event took place. The only questions the viewer might possibly ask are: “Could this situation get any worse?” or “How will this finally end?”

In answer to the former question, things do unravel rather quickly due to the bungling of Showalter and most especially Grimsrud, both of whom find themselves going from a supposedly effortless kidnapping, to multiple homicides and Lundegaard is forced to watch his perfectly formed plan to use his wife as a means of getting money go to absolute caca.

Another portion of the Coen’s approach that works well, is that they keep things simple, because the events themselves are complicated enough. To achieve this apparent simplicity, we are really only given three points of view: that of Lundergaard, Showalter/Grimsrud and Gunderson. We watch as Lundergaard must deal with his plan becoming increasingly complicated and dangerous, the abductors as they make one mistake after another and Marge as she follows the bread crumbs.

When the treatment of the story is combined with the beautiful cinematography and performances that are realistic rather than over the top and dramatic, the result is a film that is instantly timeless and iconic. So much so, that the film has inspired a television series based on it. Truly worth the effort to create it as well as the awards it earned.

29
Apr

Don Jon: A Film About Finding Fulfillment

ImageIf you are familiar with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or JGL as he is popularly known; then you are more familiar with him as an actor rather than a writer/director. Don Jon is his directorial debut. In addition to directing this film, he is the star, writer and producer. Surely, tackling four positions says a lot about Gordon-Levitt’s talent , not to mention his dedication.

That dedication bleeds through on screen with the actor/director’s character Jon, who the actor portrays as convincingly as he has other parts in other movies like The Dark Knight Rises, or Looper. Never the less, Gordon-Levitt’s acting, nor the superb acting of the remaining cast, which  includes; Tony Danza, Scarlett Johannson and Julianne Moore is the focus of this article.

Instead, the topic of import here is the message that Joseph Gordon-Levitt means to convey as writer/director. The reality of this film is palpable and rings so true one has to wonder if the story is not based on someone from Gordon-Levitt’s life, or at least someone he knows. Perhaps the characters and the specific story within Don Jon are fictitious, but the issues and problems the lead character faces are very real.

Here we have a young man whose priorities are: His body, the myriad of women he beds, his apartment, his car and porn. The latter appears to bring him more satisfaction and fulfillment than the second item in the list. This of course, is to his detriment, because he eventually finds himself in a relationship with a woman he “loves” yet he still does not find fulfillment with her.

Don Jon is not so much a comment on how pornography keeps men from finding satisfaction in their relationship, but rather that when it comes to men who think they get more out of looking at pornography, or sleeping with a new woman every day/week, than they do when in an actual relationship, are missing the big picture.

When Esther (Julianne Moore) asks Jon what it is that he gets from looking at pornography that he doesn’t from a relationship, his reply is pretty enlightening. “I can just lose myself in it.” he says. In that single sentence the root of the problem for Jon is revealed. Enjoying his internet activity more than being with a woman is not the problem. It is where his focus lies.

There in we find the message Joseph Gordon-Levitt  wants to convey. Men and women often go from one person to another not solely because of a habit they have or just because of an addiction. Instead, they lose sight of where their focus should be due to the habits, addictions or even fears that get in the way of the things that are important. Such as losing oneself in another person whether it be a lover, friend, spouse, or family.

What makes Don Jon a successful film, is that it does not seek to embellish on real topics by making them fantastical or improbable, but takes a real issue and portrays it in a straight forward and objective fashion. We cannot hide from what happens on screen. It forces the viewer to observe their own life and how they approach relationships and what it is that they focus on in order to find fulfillment.

7
Jan

Out For Coffee

This is my own version of the deli scene from When Harry Met Sally. The setting is outside a coffee shop and instead of eating sandwiches, Harry and Sally are enjoying some coffee.

7
Jan

Rebirth

https://vimeo.com/home/myvideos

Because I am in school for a film degree, it is only natural that I will make a few short films. This is one that I wrote, directed, filmed and edited. It is an artistic film about the transformation a young woman goes through during a bath after a very rough day.

26
Apr

Harry Potter Ultimate Edition

Excited for Harry Potter 8 coming to theaters in July? Need something to get you through May and June? Why not get the Harry Potter Ultimate Edition box sets that have been getting released every few months?

Currently Harry Potter 1-4 are available as the collectible ultimate edition sets on both DVD and Blu Ray. Ultimate Editions for Harry Potter five and six are arriving on June, 14 2011 according to Amazon.com.

The ultimate editions are an excellent addition to any true fan of the Harry Potter films. Each set comes with four discs. The feature film (both theatrical and extended versions), two special features discs and a digital copy. For some, having both the theatrical and extended cuts of each film could be enough. However, there is more.

These box sets include a book containing a collection of production stills from each of the movies, a collectible hologram of the cover art, and two character cards with a portrait of some of your favorite–and not so favorite–characters from the movies such as Rubeus Hagrid and Severus Snape.

What more could a Harry Potter fan ask for?

As the owner of the first four sets I can attest to the collectible nature of the ultimate editions and they certainly are an excellent addition to the wall of movies–no exaggeration there–in my room. This Harry Potter fan plans to thoroughly watch these four films prior to the release of the long-awaited and highly anticipated conclusion to the Harry Potter saga in July.

The Blu Ray sets run for $49.99 off the shelf, but on Amazon.com you can find them for $39.99. The DVD versions of the sets are $39.95 in store and $25.99 on Amazon.com

Go forth Harry Potter-ites. Go forth and satisfy that need to see the adventures of the boy who lived.

5
Mar

Doubt

Recently I watched Doubt, which came out in theaters in December of 2008. If you have not seen this yet it is certainly worth viewing. Especially for those who like a good mystery.

The film is adapted from the play written by director John Patrick Shanley and stars Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The story in the film takes place during the nineteen sixties shortly after the assassination of John F Kennedy at a small Catholic school in Brooklyn, New York.

As the tale unfolds we are introduced to Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Sister James. Two nuns who are on a mission to uncover the truth concerning the relationship between one of the students and Father Flynn, the school’s priest.

The remarkable thing about this film is that it approaches controversial subject matter without spelling it out or “spoon feeding” the audience. We are instead left to our own interpretation of what has transpired, to ask ourselves; “Has Father Flynn done what Sister Beauvier suspects he has or is she paranoid?” The film even appears to be asking itself the same question. At times the answer seems clear, until a moment of compassion or a piece of dialogue pollutes your train of thought  and changes your perspective.

Simply put, Doubt is a masterful work of art with visually stunning cinematography and superb acting combined with an emotionally driven story that is less about solving the mystery than it is about the line between certainty and doubt.

For those who have yet to see this film I highly recommend it.

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