Blindspot: The Great Dictator (1940)

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Two years ago I watched City Lights, my very first Charlie Chaplin film. There’s something about firsts that stay with us. No matter what we’re always seeking to replicate that feeling while at the same time always remembering the joy it brought us. It’s an impossible feat for anything to accomplish on it’s second or third attempts at hitting that very same experience again. So why is it I feel so bitter sweet about this one? Continue reading

‘Enemy’ Is As Ambiguous As Doppelgangers Get

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Enemy is a film that I feel is something that requires many viewings in order to walk away from it with more than a feeling. Many people are going to go into this movie hoping for either The Double fun of the doppelganger or Fight Club level of crazed uncertainty that is clearly defined somewhere later down the like; however we are forced to reside somewhere between these two variations of this story and it’ll lose people. It lost me a few times.

I’ve written previously on my evolution of thought on the idea of knowing what the meaning of film is; and here is the movie that starts the mental debate all over again for me. As I sit there entranced by Villeneuve‘s style and focus on Adam and Anthony’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) reaction to this doppelganger, I find myself searching for that meaning and becoming even more interested Enemy -2as it doesn’t appear to me after the credits begin to roll. I start to demand myself to find a meaning for the film, to understand what it wanted to say about how we perceive ourselves or something else.

This has led me to a further point in the discussion of understanding movies that I don’t quite always get. It’s one thing for a film to mean something, and it’s another thing entirely for the film not to care whether you know that or not. Enemy is a film that feels unwilling to share itself with us just as Anthony is unwilling to truly admit anything about himself to Adam that’s anything other than on the surface. He doesn’t walk up to Adam with open arms telling him tales of when he was young looking for meaning, as much as Adam when he finally meets Anthony (what he was pushing to happen) immediately shuts down and walks away from it all. It’s distant in a way that many films can’t quite pull off; but it does.

As the film reaches it’s climax the film throws more than the odd wrench in the middle of it all. The film continues along the line of refusing to stay within one definitely decision as to whether what we’re seeing is true in any sense and asks us to question everything as such. The film however doesn’t truly aide us in asking the correct questions.

If you’re in the mood for some dark moody filmmaking that draws you in regardless of how you’ll feel at the end then Enemy is the film for you. Otherwise stay far and trying not to get addicted to the every lasting Kool-Aid that will be consumed on forums and other places with this latest piece of weird.

What do you think of Enemy?

Age Defiant in the Face of Love With ‘Before Midnight’

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Nearly two decades ago Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) crossed paths for the first time on a train and happened to have the greatest day of their lives so far in Vienna together. Nearly one decade ago in Paris they reconnected after not seeing each other since that day in Vienna, different people and finding out what it is that remains after nine years of now knowing what could have been.

Today we meet up with them again, still together after their reconnection in Paris, on vacation in Greece with two daughters (twins) staying at the home of a famous writer that just had to have that weirdly curious American who loves this peculiar French woman and keeps writing about her in his books.

In Before Sunrise we are introduced to the idea of true love. This romantisced idea of love that we used to see in films of the 30s where we’re pining for him and her to get together. However, somehow Linklater along with the personalities of Hawke and Delpy make something new that we would’ve seen happen in a Godard film in the 60s where people are being ‘real people’ as opposed to those characters on screen in the 30s that feel stiff and in a vacuum.

In Before Sunset we get to ask the question if that love died after nine years of being away from one another. It becomes a love that has pain behind it. From Jesse’s disappointment to not seeing her again 6 months after their day in Vienna, to Celine’s anger at how ‘on paper’ happy Jesse’s life has become after it all without her, and them questioning within themselves whether it’s okay for them to try and have the love they once had even with all these problems in the way of that now.

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In Before Midnight we see the love that evolved after him staying after a waltz in Paris. It’s the ‘real’ love, as Jesse puts it, where warts and all he wants her still after a decade of knowing this woman. We jump into their lives on this vacation and we just happen to come in on a day that has it’s ups and downs for the couple. We spend the hundred or so minuted with Jesse and Celine piecing together what we’ve missed out on over the last ten years and at the same time figuring out where they stand as a couple today.

I would also make this film comparable to Blue Valentine in how we as an audience invest in these two people as a romantic couple and begin to start trying to figure out where Linklater is taking them. The audience watches on knowing that romantic entanglements have their ups and downs and we watch on in an adorable tone where no matter how dirty and vile and argument may get we still pine for them to remain together so we can have the even more adorable moments live on.

Before Midnight asks us to grow with Celine and Jesse and believe in love eternal while at the same time being practical as the world tries to remind the young about the reality of love. Trying to think of why I love these films I start to question whether I love this third chapter in the series. What began as the adorable cute romance that I pine for as a twenty something and shifted to a conflicting reconnection in the thirties that helped me believe in love has once again changed into something else. However, at the same time it remains with the sole idea of making the audience once again try to believe in true love and that regardless of all the fights and issues that two people may have with one another they will, in some shape or fashion, love each other. That is where I feel this movie resides and wins it’s audience with again. Love.

What do you think of Before Midnight?

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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Two years ago super hero films, as The Avengers puts it, received a game changer in the way of Thor. According to Box Office statistics it didn’t do that remarkably in way of profits — at least not in comparison to other Marvel films that were being released – but it still managed to make a marginal profit and help Marvel lead up to their biggest film yet, The Avengers. However, how this film changed the game wasn’t in money or franchising but by being the first of Marvel — and all superhero films of this era in film — that didn’t hang on the crux of the alter-ego but rather to land entirely within the supernatural and mythic. Instead of the world being saved by a super soldier that symbolizes a nation, a warmongerer that had his eyes opened and used his brilliance to the world’s benefit, or even a failed science experiment that made a monster be the destructive beast that can save as well as dismantle worlds; this time we had a God save the world. The distinction of God (or demi-god if you want to be specific) changes the scope of things to a whole new level of not only destruction but in weird that can be done in narrative.

Thor: The Dark World, does just that try to change the game again. In Thor they managed to make the film serviceable, in the realm of reality, by making it not so much about Gods fighting for power or frost giants enacting revenge, but really about a son trying to find the meaning of humility and empathy. Thor learning that there’s more than one way to live a life and that it isn’t always fixed by smashing his hammer around — though I could name a few people who wished the film skipped that lesson. In The Dark World, having dealt with all the human elements of this story we begin to get into the supernatural where Dark Elves want to ruin the cosmos and they have a weapon that is so super awesome that no one can destroy it, but it can destroy all.

In a very Lord of the Rings feeling film it seems out of place to have the minute level of character development in a mediocre action film. Revisiting Thor this past week I recognized that what I loved about that film wasn’t seeing a hammer smash worlds to bits but seeing Thor and Loki go through their own changes and discoveries. In The Dark World both are relegated to very minor character arcs and are asked to exist in a typical “superhero sequel” film where the filmmakers are demanded to provide action instead. However, it fails on almost every attempt to make action enticing. With the exception of maybe two sequences — especially one with Heimdall (Idris Elba) – there is nothing here but a mixture of unintelligible scenes that give us nothing. Even as a Loki (Tom Hiddleston) fanzine the film doesn’t quite deliver. His scenes, which tend to be of the better side of the spectrum, can be fun but feel as if they were from a different movie where people get to be entertained.

I am left wondering whether Marvel is really ready for the weird? They have The Guardians of the Galaxy coming up soon enough and a lot of discussions of characters like the Mandarin and Dr. Strange eventually being called on film goers are going to be attacked with more esoteric storylines that don’t fit into the four quadrant studio system. Does Marvel believe they can make the strange marketable or are they planning on just placing what’s marketable into a strange shell and count their dollars later?

Thor: The Dark World is a barely watchable film with moments of joy peppered around it. Seriously, thank you Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings  for sticking around for these films, you’re amazing.

What do you think of Thor: The Dark World?

Machete Kills (2013)

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Never has a film had more of a hill to climb than this and at the same time existed in it’s own realm of perfection than Machete Kills.

With the first film I found myself completely and utterly disappointed and I feel it was from a place of lost expectations. A film, based on a joke that was initially meant only to be that encapsulated by a (roughly) two minute trailer, where they decided to do that very narrative promised in the trailer felt like the epitomy of the “all the best parts were in the trailer” complaint that many film fans love to lob at these big dumb films. However, far away from that production process, starting anew Machete Kills has it’s own slew of dumb action gags that are ripe for joyous film lovers to dig deep into.

With the film beginning with it’s own new promised third iteration trailer — IN SPACE!!!! — the film leads in with more than enough to set the tone that we can’t wait to gorge in on.

Now when I talk about movies like Machete, people can’t quite get their heads around it. We’re talking about a film which involves one character played by a revolving door of actors that changes each scene, has a guy being killed by a helicopter and spear gun combination and let’s throw in some brothel humour including murdering guns in the position and shape of erogenous areas of the human body. This film is and tries nothing else than to be lovingly insane and it’s audience, not you Oscar gripping dramatic sap, will love it even more than Rodriguez ever imagined we would.

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It would be a poor choice for me not to discuss the idea of diminishing returns, which is what films like this are. I’ve already explained — I love this movie — but at the same time films like this, and I’d throw the first Machete into this category, have a sense of “diminishing returns” as it runs on. These films play on such a specific genre gag of filmmaking and film lovers that as time wears on it can feel as if you’ve had your fun and can become “full” to the point of needing to take a breath before diving into more, or sometimes wanting to call it quits. Machete Kills does have that to an extent, as it relates to the precluding trailer and where the film takes itself towards the end, but I’d argue that the pacing and general vibe of the film never oversteps its own vision. With the first film it felt too constricted by it’s own joke that was the initial trailer — which the film stuck to — but here it’s free to manage it’s crazed story on it’s own terms and go in directions we haven’t been thinking about for years before it’s release.

If Shaft is black culture’s answer to James Bond, Black Dynamite is modern ironic subculture’s answer to Shaft; then Machete is Rodriguez‘s answer to all of the above with cutlass’ and Lady Gaga somewhere in the middle of it all.