‘The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)’: Review

The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty is indeed that, a great beauty to look at. It’s not only a gorgeous film to look at, but it’s film in an equally beautiful way as well. Rome is the backdrop for a film that looks to explore the wonders of life, in past, present and future, as an aging man recounts his life in a position of change. The film embodies a life of high luxury, countless parties, love and what have you, the ultimate dream life for a person. It uses the imagery to not only shape what Jep, our main character, has enjoyed his life through, but also how it has shaped him.

Ultimately, the film is a celebration of life. Jep looks back on all these events throughout his life, how they have shaped him to who he is now, and the pleasures of his adventures. I think The Great Beauty is interested in all these disparate ends that create a person and make up yourself, whether you like it or not. From the people you meet, fall in and out of love with, where you live and party, it makes who you are.

On the other side, Jeb just kind of fell into all this, having wrote a famous novel, and just living off its success for the rest of his life. Feeling some regret, having all the opportunity ahead of him and all just to spend it partying the rest of his life. He’s thinking back if he made the right choice or not, but simultaneously enjoying these memories of what he once was and what he still could become.

7/10

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‘Leviathan’: Review

Leviathan

Leviathan is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in any genre, let alone in a documentary. We’re used to the typical documentary format of late from popular films like The Cove, Food Inc., and Gasland. A controversial topic is explored through narrations, vast interviews, visits to points of origin, sob stores, government inquiries and stuff. Piling us with information, teaching us a bunch in the most educational way possible. Sure, these films are often entertaining and give use the required information, but they still largely operate in the “plug-and-play” environment of getting everything across.

Leviathan is a different beast. The only thing we get is the cameras rolling on a fish trawler, and that’s it. Nobody to guide us, no talking heads, no interviews, no location changes. Cameras trained on the fisherman, the boat, machinery, animals, the hull. Everything is covered, but it’s up for you to take what you will. For some it could be boring to watch, endless minutes on end of seemingly minut activities for an hour and a half. It’s often fascinating and perplexing watching it all and trying to parse meaning. Or if there is any at all.

Normally, documentaries try to tell you something and come out pretty clear one way, or at least outline it for you. This is completely the opposite, do you take all this meaning to be a critique on our society’s method of attaining food and pillaging the sea, or do you see it as an exploration into the hard lives and hazards of the modern fisherman, or perhaps a commentary on the cycle of life and what it means. Or most simply it could be just some long shots that equal up to an hour and a half of people catching mass amounts of fish. The film goes to know extraordinary means to say which way it leans, anyone could be correct I’d image, it’s how you interpret it. What’s for certain is that the title is no mistake, “Leviathan,” a monster that comes from the sea, but is it man or animal? Nature or psychology? You choose.

8.5/10

‘Fruitvale Station’: Review

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station doesn’t mince words or time, and at 85 minutes it has scant ability to do so. Telling the story of Oscar who was shot by a police officer on New Year’s Day in the so titled Fruitvale transit station in California. The film doesn’t cover a sprawling telling of Oscar’s life from a child and the struggles he went through or how he came to be. Rather the film follows him throughout his last day on earth, the first one we meet him on, and a defining day for everybody around him.

Michael B. Jordan is pitch perfect in the role, and just continually proving why he is one of the best young actors working. He gives off by nature a tough exterior, but it’s often heavily weighed out by hist soft heart in caring for others, and helping people out beyond himself. It’s set-up of course for the what happens to him in the end, trying to put more weight on the emotions, but Jordan plays it so truthfully beforehand that it seems all the well earned.

The film was never destined to be a large budget film, nowhere close, where even it had troubles to be made at its current dollar figure. But, really this type of material shouldn’t be filmed any other way than on low budget measures, echoing the grittiness of the story in the filmmaking.

It does well to tell this story like many others surrounding an event fail to achieve. It solely focuses on this event, and the direct lead-up to it, never wandering in any other direction, everything is honed in on the one direction. It’s never really a mystery what is going to happen, even if you hadn’t been aware of the story, but the film takes no mind to take, and it still hits as hard. Much is due to Jordan’s performance, but also to the solid and real directing around him

8/10

‘The Bling Ring’: Review

The Bling Ring Banner

I don’t think this film really needed to get made. I mean there’s really no story here. A bunch of kinda already rich teenagers decide to break into the homes of their favourite celebrities, they eventually get caught, and then are charged with varying crimes. That’s the movie and the story. Yeah, I know we’re in a celebrity obsessed society where we love anything revolving around these people, but the film offers nothing of commentary really on the subject. You would think that maybe the film would try to make a point about celebrities and how our culture demonizes them, our weird hero worship of them, and how both sides influence each other in negative ways. The film does nothing of the sort, and is really just a straight-forward telling of not very compelling story.

While the content doesn’t delve any deeper than the surface level, Sofia Coppola keeps the movie from being boring by her continued excellence behind the camera. She’s on of my favourite visual directors, who really knows how to compose shots and images that are striking, yet never steer the viewer away from the narrative on-screen or distract from the story. She mirrors the wealth and glamour atmosphere of the film by composing shots and sequences that seem to be highlighting these aspects.

The actors are all pretty well cast, with Emma Watson being the stand-out. She plays Nicki (Alexis Neiers) in real life, doing a pretty good job of her valley girl accent. Her performance was the big one where you could tell they were trying to re-enact as best they could Neiers mannerisms, but also make fun of it at the same time.

As much as this review might not suggest, I really enjoyed the film that was made, but wondered if something even better could’ve come out of it. As is, with Coppola putting her visual flourish on the straightforward events of the story was fine, and enjoyable if not provoking in any way.

7.5/10

‘Before Midnight’: Review

Before Midnight

It’s really hard to quantify how truly great Before Midnight is. I say this without any hyperbole or reservations that the “Before” films are the greatest trilogy I have ever seen. Never have I seen a succession of films where they continually get better and develop into even further introspective films. It’s almost inconceivably how how a group of films about talking, relationships, love and life could ever be considered one of the best sequels of all time. Surely, it should be some non-stop action series, or a gangster epic, but no, it’s just Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy trying to work shit out.

As these series of films reaches it’s third benchmark, it has never been clearer as to what this stage means. Eighteen years after their first meeting and nine after the most recent things have changed, but oh, so remained the same. Jesse and Céline are married now, a family with kids and their past coalescing into what they are now. But, even the most perfect night and seemingly perfect couple doesn’t always make the best models. Céline is wary of Jesse wanting to move to Chicago to help raise his son, while Jesse is reticent about the positions that maintain in their life.

I’m not married, and really don’t see myself like that in the future, but holy shit have Hawke and Delpy choreographed what seems like the most realistic fight in human history. They fight about family, sex, and person, throwing it upon each other negatively, like they don’t mean anything until their certain way is met. Realism abounds from the film like it has the previous ones, being so real and present that it seems painful to further experience these feelings.

The film, after building upon the previous ones of growing love and maintaining it, shows how hard it is to keep this feeling up after multiple years. Sure, you met your dream girl in the most random of circumstances, but really how are things 20 years later. Is the love still as fresh, do you touch each other like you used to? No matter the insanely romantic way you met someone, and the romantic connection you had, who knows how that supposed concrete walll will change over time. Maybe, you’re not as set in stone as you used to be, and are more reticent to other’s needs. Who knows.

10/10

‘Before Sunset’: Review

Before Sunset

Before Sunset is the most effortless sequel I have ever seen. There’s really no point at to even make it, the first film ends perfectly ambiguously where it’s up to anyone’s interpretation. Odds are that making a sequel would just serve to tarnish the goodwill and memories of the first film. After all, that was a huge theme of Before Sunrise, the idea of all this happening on one night, with the real distinct possibility of never seeing this person again. Of course, now we have they’ve met up again, and it’s about as good as you could ever get. I say the film is effortless because it’s so simplistic in its presentation, but so true to the characters and the world that the previous film had created. This is really all we need, these two characters conversing as they make their way through the beautiful Paris landscape

In the first film I absolutely loved the long takes, which just cemented how well Hawke and Delpy work together, how they could string a conversation on for so long, ad-lib the tiniest and realist details to seem like a conversation you could see at any cafe or bar. “Sunset” absolutely blows it out of the water, staging a real time 80 minute film with countless long takes through streets and parks, with Hawke and Delpy never missing a beat. You get mesmerized by the two bunting back and forth that sometimes you don’t realize the swooping adventure that Linklater’s camera has taken you on, all within one shot. Then you realize your surroundings, and it gracefully backs up and supports what is being mused by Jesse and Céline.

Hawke and Delpy have such great chemistry that they seem to instantaneously jump back into their character’s skins and the history feels real. How it often works better than the first film, conversationally wise, is the now shared history and events between them that have shaped this meeting nine years later. Now they’re not just talking about their own sex lives and relationships, it’s even realer now that they are sparring over their real feelings for each, what it all means, and how it has affected the lives they have live since. We as the audience feel a part of it, having experienced that one night with them, all those years ago (or a few hours for me), with every revelation hitting just as hard for us. The characters are still so similar, but different enough now to create new feelings between them. Looking back they were just kids when they spent that night together, hardly a full-fledged life between them, but now they’re full-blown adults with jobs, significant others and responsibilities.

They may have moved on in a physical sense, but emotionally both are still invested in that night all those years ago. Jesse wrote an entire book to retain the memory, and Céline wrote a song about it. As much as it seems inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, that night shaped a lot of how they are now, how they view relationships, and the effect of each other’s presence on their loved ones. Each was searching for an ideal of the other, that they just couldn’t find, a copy that wasn’t out there, until they bumped into each other nine years later. It’s not instantly falling in love and running off together, but it’s the presence of Jesse and Céline together again, knowing what began to define them into adulthood, into their life.

9/10

‘Before Sunrise’: Review

Before Sunrise

There’s always that certain awkwardness about meeting someone for the first time, where you create this vision of yourself, and what you want to be and present that. Nobody ever “honestly” meets someone first off, you pick and choose elements of yourself that think the other would deem pleasing about you, and you share those in hopes that you are correct. You don’t bare the brunt of every opinion, thought or experience you have, in fear of scaring said person away or making them think differently of you that’s not true. Sure, if this relationships lasts over a longer period of time, you slowly let the person know more about who you really are, and in turn you find out about who they really are. Maybe, you don’t believe in love, or religion, or maybe some experience in your childhood turned you off of pie. I don’t know, but these things come tumbling out as you go on, such as what builds a relationship.

Jesse meets Céline on a train en route to Vienna. He strikes up a conversation with her, they talk, he becomes entranced by her and convinces her to get off with him in Vienna and accompany him until the 9 AM the next morning when he flies back to the States. Why is he in Europe? Why is she on this train? Why are they both alone? Why get off a train with someone you hardly know? These questions are answered immediately, but only at face value, the answer you get by skimming the outer-most surface of what’s really going on. Both of them have nothing to lose, though, they are in a foreign country all by themselves without a connection to family, friends, or a job, so why not confide in a blank slate that you’re never going to see again? The conversation gets looser and freer, opinions on love, life, relationships, religion and philosophy are discussed, not the immediate go-to’s with a new acquaintance, these are the deep cuts that truly define a person and only seem to come out later. Everything is laid on the table and each self is truly laid bare for the other.

Jess is trying to piece things together with some alone time in the European countryside after his girlfriend breaks up with him we find out. Céline is on the way back to school, a safe haven that she can remain in without having to make any real life decisions just yet. Both sides got off that train because they saw something in each other, not the whole picture, but a glint of what’s underneath that surface. Their night together was more fluid and life-affirming than any relationship of any number of time beforehand. It was the the freedom to be who they actually were in front of the other, no real idea of failure or of ultimate dismissal.

What better place to focus this night in one of the most historically and romantically rich cities in the world. Vienna provides a backdrop of culture and spinning off points for tangents of conversations, from palm readers, art, religion, classical music, poems, literature. All things that have come to define the objects of life that we hold so dear, such as love, connecting, dreaming, theorizing, philosophizing and conversing. It doesn’t take much to meet a person, or even finding common interests, but one that you can bare the brunt of every corner of your thoughts to, and still wants to know what’s deeper, well that’s hard after a prolonged time, but after one night feels like something that could only be meant to be.

9/10