The Cove - An Insightful, Disturbing Documentary


                                 Movie-makers aren't spurring activism anymore, because they are activists themselves. I exactly thought that, when i saw the James Bond like, environmental documentary, 'The Cove.' National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos and his crew are players in this activist thriller documentary. It is a guerrilla mission to show us the brutal and systematic slaughter of dolphins in a hidden corner along the rugged coast of Taiji, Japan.

                                 It is said that, Dolphins are the most social creatures on the planet. They have a larger brain than humans, and a highly developed sense of hearing. We might have seen them leaping out of the water, in a incredible playful fashion, and though that these are mammals, who make most of their freedom. But, we are being proven wrong, because over the years they are trained to perform in shows and live the rest of their lives confined in small areas and cut off from their pods. Richard O'Barry, trainer of dolphins for the popular 1960s television series Flipper came to understand that it's torture for the sociable, intelligent mammals forcibly separated from their fellows and habitat. Then, he transformed himself into becoming the most vocal advocate for dolphins in the world.


                              Taiji is a lovely fishing village in Japan. They have tour boats in the shape of whales and dolphins, that cruise the harbor. The village has a national park, which is decorated with colorful murals of the sea mammals. They also have a wonderful aquatic parks and dolphin shows. Every year dolphin trainers from seaquarims and marine parks around the world gather to select animals, paying as much as $150,000 each. Those not chosen are killed for their meat. According to the docu, the slaughter of dolphins amounts to 23,000 per year.

                              In 2005, Ric O'Barry accompanied veteran National Geographic photographer Psihoyos to Taiji in an intent to capture the images of the clandestine slaughter. In the 60's, O'Barry lived a comfortable life as the trainer of the five dolphins, who played the titular charmer in the TV series 'Flipper.' After becoming a ardent campaigner to expose the grim events inside Taiji's cove, he says,"I was as ignorant as i could be for as long as i could be.," "I spent ten years building this industry, and the next 35 trying to tear down." But, the whole-sale butchery of dolphins is only half the story.

                             The Cove also brings out other guilty parties in this staggering cover-up. The International Whaling Commission, enables the dolphin massacres to happen. The Japanese government, not only looks the other way when the subject comes up but goes along when dolphin meat is sold on the market as "whale." It also has carried out a media-blackout on this subject, so, when Japanese citizens are interviewed on the street and asked about eating dolphin meat, they are shocked at the idea. With the DNA scientist Scott Baker, the documentary argues about the mercury-tainted dolphin meat finding its way into the food supply. The meat even winds up in the mandated lunches of Taiji school children.


                            Louie Psihoyos, photographer and co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society directs "The Cove," like a Hollywood nail-biter. He has recruited a a crew of divers, tech experts, cameramen, and others in a heroic attempt to catch on video the actual slaughter of the dolphins. Along the process, it generates a fair amount of investigative suspense and horror. In a breathtaking sequence, the team along with its thermal-imaging cameras race to the cove under the cover of darkness, avoiding the local fisherman, and police, to plant film cameras stowed in fake rocks around the bay.

                         'The Cove' is topnotch journalism, putting the dolphin trade in political, economic, and historical perspective. This is not a documentary trying to scare you with straight facts, statistics, advises, and talking heads. This is one of the most effective in a class of non-fiction films, and also prepare yourselves for the frantic, brutal climax sequence, a massacre that turns the cove into a bloodstained slaughterhouse. It's a very tough sequence, but its just a afterthought in a treatise on government corruption, and the ineffectual international Whaling commission.


                   "The Cove" insist us to think about the ethical relationship we wish to forge on globe's other species. It is properly enchanting, horrifying, and never overshadows its message or activist credentials.

Trailer

The Cove - IMDb   Dolphin Drive Hunting - Wikipedia 

The Road Home - A Simple, Eternal Love Story


                                   Few faces have the power to carry an entire movie. I am not talking about the faces with star values. I just intend to say that some faces deserve to have long, lingering close-ups because so much can be seen, heard and felt just by watching simple movements of the eyes and lips. A face like that belongs to Zhang Ziyi, the Chinese actress best known as the young warrior of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." "The Road Home" was her first film, where she smiles a lot, and embraces love. 

                                    Renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou's, The Road Home, is a poignant, sensitive, and emotionally-satisfying love story. There are so many layers of truth, emotion and devotion in Zhang's eyes throughout this movie that she single-handedly makes it deeply romantic -- even though there's not a single kiss, not even an embrace, in the entire picture.

Plot
        The movie is set in two different eras. The first fifteen and final fifteen minutes, which serves as the framing story is presented in stark black-and-white and takes place in a modern-day village in north China. The majority of the film occurs in the same village forty years ago, and is photographed in color. 

                Luo Yusheng (Sun Honglei) is a successful businessman from the city, who drives to Sanhetun, the town where he was born. The reason for his return is a sad one, to bury his father, a long time teacher who died suddenly. Yusheng's tough elderly mother Zhao Di (Zhao Yuelin) declares that her husband will be brought home properly from the place he died. She insists, no cars, no tractors. He has to be carried by a group of men, "so he won't forget his way home." 


                The flashback details the courtship of 18-year old Di (Zhang Ziyi) and 20-year old Luo Changyu (Zheng Hao), who broke with tradition and married for love rather than based on an arrangement. For Luo, his mother's fixation on an old custom, one that hasn't been followed since the Cultural Revolution, is pure superstition, but he gradually, learns the value of tradition and of placing family honor above everything. 

Analysis
                Zhang Ziyi embodies and sustains both her character's absolute certainty about love and her childlike innocence. She just becomes that girl, soul and body. Glances and prolonged gazes play a big part in The Road Home's love story, and Zhang has no trouble captivating the camera. Zheng Hao is effortlessly fascinating, gentlemanly and sincere as the teacher. 


                When compared to some of the great works of Yimou's, like Raise The Red Lantern, To Live, 'The Road Home' must be considered a lesser effort. However, he and screenwriter Bao Shi has taken a small tale – we're talking about a burial and an old story, not much more – and made it transcendental. Yimou often employs a lingering camera and silence to make his points about love, family, culture, and change. Cinematographer Huo Yang's sun-drenched and snow-soaked colors are in their natural, lifelike form. 

                 There are some unique, genuine moments in 'Road Home,' including Di waiting patiently by the road for the first sight of her husband and, at the end, mother and son sobbing quietly. It is these nonverbal realities, and rich silences makes it a unforgettable experience. By the time the movie is over, we can see why the old woman feels as she does. 

                   "The Road Home" is a work of emotional purity and depicts the fable of true love with the beauty of the winter snowstorms and golden autumns that are almost as beautiful as Zhang Ziyi herself. Movie-lovers, who like a simple, well-developed romance, will appreciate this movie. 

Trailer

The Road Home - IMDb 

Development of The Cinema : Aesthetic Advances of Soviet Cinema


                          The Soviet cinema is immensely powerful. Its films carry social and political contents expressed so emotionally and with such a degree of technical perfection that the content may be accepted in the admiration of the method. It will be recalled that among the proposals of the Soviet Government when it assumed control in 1917, was the suggestion that all forms of expression to the public, such as the cinema, theater, the press, and literature, should be under the guidance of the state. The aim was, of course, that the new ideas and concepts of the Government should be widely circulated in the outlying areas as well as in the industrial cities. The theater essentially was to become a unified form of drama, arising out of the social necessities of the masses. 

Early Soviet Cinema

                     The aim has to some extent been successful, having evolved, during the process of rebuilding, a technique such as exists nowhere outside the Soviet Russia. Incorporated in this constructive policy for the theater was a similar but wider aim for the cinema. The initial aim of the Soviet film was to reflect and interpret a new civilization in the making, as conceived by Mark, and realized by Lenin, which resulted in a form of cinema demanding an entirely new scale of values. Lenin intended the theater to be a microcosm of the complete theory of Bolshevism, to be admired and copied by the masses. But it was also Lenin, who declared of all the arts, the most important for Russia is, that of the cinema. 

                     The nationalization of the Soviet film did not take place until 1910, but two years earlier, a special Cinema commission  was held in by the People Commissariat of Education to lay down a future policy. The complete control of film production and distribution, however, soon passed into the hands of Government and there began the development  of the cinema along the lines of Lenin's policy. All profit derived from the exhibition of films went to the realization of better and more productions. Theoretically, it was an admirable state of affairs for the nurturing of a new form of dramatic expression. 

Purpose And Contents of Soviet Films

                       The content of every film is whether of social, heroic, epic, historical, romantic, or national importance. Moreover, it is out of the desire to express this content with the greatest amount of emotional effect on the simple minds of the masses that the cinematic technique of Soviet directors has developed to a state of efficiency equaled by no other film-producing country in the world. 

                      Soviet films falls into various classes, each made for a special purpose, and these are roughly as follow: (a) General subjects dealing with life before, during, and after the revolution, including satires, dramas, comedies etc. The usual aim of these pictures is to show the tyranny and oppression under the Czarist regime and benefits derived from the Soviet control. It shows the masses challenging the old-established authority (Ten Days That Shook The World, Battleship Potemkin, Strike); the individual film, depicting the effect of the Revolution on a single person, or group of persons (Mother). 

                     (b) The educational, scientific, and cultural film, which is a form of cinema that the Government has developed to a wider degree. (c) The news reel, which, as in other countries, is the survey of the events of the week. (d) The children films, both cine-fiction and educational. This highly developed organization for the classification, cataloging, and sorting of film scenarios is an important feature of the Soviet cinema. In no other film producing country is so much attention paid to the construction of scenario work. 

Aesthetic Principles of A Soviet Director

                       The cinema was controlled by Communists, whose sole aim is the spread of their faith; whilst the realization of the best films is in the hands of the workers, who are also by way of being artists. As a result, a film director, who for some past years has been training his mind and has been contented with the policy dictated to him in his work, may now find himself in the position of being unable to realize his aesthetic principles if they do not conform to the wishes of the Government. 

                       Although he has freedom of expression in actual technical representation, his aesthetic progress is limited by the demands of the production committee. The Soviet film director was as restricted in his self-development as his fellow in Hollywood is bound by the capitalistic methods of picture-sense and star-system. Neither is free to develop his knowledge of the cinema along an individual instinctive course. The Soviet director, it is true, has the benefit of being able to realize his own ideas of technical expression which the German, American and British director did not have; bu they where equally prevented from progress in the realization of their intellectual, spiritual, and creative conception of the film as a means of self-expression. 

Two Eminent Soviet Directors

                          S.M. Eisenstein and Pudovkin, have achieved during their evolutionary period the enviable position of being the most eminent directors in the world. They have been satisfied with State control over their themes and concepts whilst they have been otherwise interested in the perfection of their technique. In his first three films, Eisenstein has been interested in the representation of the mass mind, in particular the mass challenging the established authorities. The theme of Battleship Potemkin is familiar. It concerned the revolt of the crew of a battleship against their officers on account of the 'bad food; the warm reception of the rebel ship by the townspeople of Odessa; and the final meeting of the battleship with the remainder of the Russian fleet. 'Ten Days That Shook The World' was a representation of the events that followed the establishment of the Provincial Government in 1917; the attack on the winter palace; and the triumph of Lenin. 

                       The intense dynamic vitality that is the keynote of Eisenstein's personality is the dominating feature of his cinematic expression. His films are unparalleled examples of ruthless, throbbing, vigorous direction. With absolute faith he remains true to the central aim of his theme. He does not seek help from outside sources, from irrelevant symbolic references, as does Pudovkin, in the expression of his content. Added to which, Eisenstein has a wonderful sense of pictorial composition and a unique feeling for the constant movement of his screen material. 

                      Pudovkin is essentially the constructive director, perhaps more interested in the method of expressing his themes than in his themes themselves. His film contains more study, more deliberation, more calculation, more esoteric intellectuality than those of Eisenstein. Just as the themes of the later are expressed through the collective spirit of the people and things, so are Pudovkin's individual characters expressed through the themes. Pudovkin is scientific and analytical in his outlook. He was less spiritual and less physical than Eisenstein. He was more methodical and less visionary. The most important of Pudovkin films was undoubtedly 'Mother,' for in its brilliant realization were found the elements of his constructive process.

                      One may admire Soviet Cinema's technical excellence and acknowledge their unquestionable superiority over the product of any other film-producing country, but it is impossible to ignore their primary social, political, and often anti-religious influence. The primary aim of the film at the present moment is entertainment. This must statement must be qualified by the functions of the Soviet cinema, which have caused the film to be considered as a dominant factor in the social and political organization of a country. 

References:

The Oxford History of World Cinema, edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

Cinema of The Soviet Union - Wikipedia 

Feel Good Movies From My Blog


                                  I have written, reviewed, or analyzed nearly 150 movies. Here, I have compiled a list of feel good movies, i have written from the start. And, what is a feel good movie ?

                                  That's hard to answer, because it differs from each person. For me, they are something we can hang out with. They should motivate you, inspire you, teach you a life lesson, and make you feel good. Movies, I think is the greatest art, and for many serves it serves as a form of high quality entertainment. But, how many times can we watch movies with exploding helicopters, slap-stick comedies, and gory super-natural forces. These 'Feel Good Movies' are altogether different, even magical. If you watch these films, you might punch the air and get right back to living your life in the best ways you can imagine.

The Way Home 
               The simple, but moving Korean drama 'The Way Home,' is the story of a spoiled young city boy sent to live in a tiny rural village with his peasant grandmother. The movie isn't about Korean culture in particular. The grandmother in this movie represents a generation, which stands completely in contrast to our modern cellphone generation, that is bombarded with consumer-friendly luxury.

The Way Home - Review

Children of Heaven
                Another powerful family drama from Iran, about two children, who invent an intricate plan to conceal the loss of a pair of shoes. A world of deep humanism is explored in this movie, as we take a trip to the poor sector of Tehran, to watch desperate attempts of soulful children. 

Children of Heaven - Review

Dead Poets Society
                This American drama tells the story of a new English teacher, who awakens a traditional, conservative prep school for boys by daring to teach the lessons that can't be found in textbooks, and by inspiring to be themselves. Robin Williams delivers, one of his best performances as the English teacher.

Dead Poets Society - Review

It's A Wonderful Life
                 In this infinitely watchable movie, George Bailey (James Stewart) has his darkening worldview adjusted by an angel called Clarence. It is about the cosmic importance of one person's life and dreams. 

It's A Wonderful Life - Review

Groundhog Day
              A crabby, egocentric Weatherman lives the same dull day, in the same dull place, over and over until his cynicism becomes boring, and leads a way to the path of enlightenment.

Groundhog Day - Review

Good Will Hunting 
               This movie is a redemption story, a story about growing up and growing comfortable with oneself. It tells the story of a 20 year old rebellious, yet incredibly brilliant young man, Will Hunting (Matt Damon).Love, friendship, acceptance, and perseverance are the main themes in this movie.

Review

Forrest Gump
           This cinematic sensation tells Forrest  Gump's (Tom Hanks) epic journey through life, meeting historical figures, influencing popular culture, and experiencing first-hand historical incidents while largely unaware of their significance. It highlights goodness and integrity.

Review

Little Miss Sunshine 
             This American comedy-drama road film is about a dysfunctional family going to a childrens' beauty pageant for one of the children, Olive. Traveling together in a mini-van each of them discover certain aspects of their lives that they could not see beforehand and how to relate to one another.

Review

Cinema Paradiso
              A must watch movie for all movie-lovers. This Italian film, told in flashback, tells the story of the return of native Sicilian village, successful film director "Salvatore" for the funeral of his old friend "Alfredo", who was the projectionist at the local "Cinema Paradiso". Alfredo serves as a father figure to his young friend who only wishes the best to see him succeed, even if it means breaking his heart in the process.

Review

The Straight Story
                 David Lynch's movies mostly resembles a nightmare, but this semi-true story about an old guy riding cross-country on a lawnmower has the slow, awesome power and says wise things about age, time and brotherly love.

Review

The Shawshank Redemption
                    Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's novella tells a story about a banker who is accused of double murder in the 1940s and begins a life sentence at the fictional Shawshank prison, where he's befriended by an older inmate named Red. The movie transmits a powerfully pure and simple belief in hope and transcendence. 

Review

Millions
                   Millions is a film about young kids learning lessons about life through fantastical experiences. Films like this one should be seen to remind us of a more innocent and peaceful time that is gone, but not forgotten.

Review

Amelie
                 This charming movie tells the story of Amelie, an innocent in Paris, with her own sense of justice, decides to help those around her and along the way, discovers love. 

Review

The World's Fastest Indian
                 This movie tells the real-life story of New Zealander Burt Munro, who spent years re-building a 1920 Indian motorcycle, a bike which helped him set the land-speed world record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967. It exudes affection and goodwill.

Review

October Sky
                  This inspirational true story based on the memoir Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr. is about growing up in a mining town and pursuing an interest in amateur rocketry.

Review

Big Fish
                   This is a movie full of vision, feeling, innocence, and magic. It tells the story about Will Bloom who goes home to be with his family as his ailing father, Edward Bloom, passes away. During his time there, he recalls the outlandish tales that his father told about his own life, always swearing they were true.

Review

Cast Away
                      This is a inspirational tale of human survival. In this movie, Tom Hanks plays a fictional FedEx employee who is stranded on an island after his plane crashes on a flight over the South Pacific. It depicts his attempts to survive on the island using remnants of his plane's cargo, as well as his eventual escape and return to society.

Review

The White Balloon
                          This highly acclaimed Iranian movie tells the story of a seven-year-old girl, who encounters a cross-section of Tehran's citizens as she finds and loses the money for a lucky New Year goldfish.

Review

Being There
                        This American satirical comedy is about a simple-minded, middle-aged gardener who, after a lifetime of seclusion and safety in a Washington, D.C. townhouse, gets his first exposure to reality beyond the walls of his sheltered existence. His only reference to the world is television, and when a chance encounter brings him into the inner fold of a dying billionaire, he suddenly finds himself the toast of Washington's political elite. His simple phrases about gardening are misinterpreted as anything from economic predictions to sage political advice. 

Review

Stand By Me
                        This is a American teen drama, which tells the writer's recounting of a boyhood journey to find a body of a missing boy, after the death of a local boy. Based on the novella 'The Body' by 'Stephen King.'

Review

The Kid
                       This classic silent movie was the first of Chaplin's feature films, and perhaps his most memorable. The heartwarming affection shared by Chaplin and the 'kid,' Coogan leaves a lasting warmth even in the coldest heart.

Review

50/50
                     This inspirational true story about love, friendship, and survival tells the experiences of a 27-year-old guy, who learns of his cancer diagnosis, and his subsequent struggle to beat the disease.

Review 

Finding Neverland
                        This semi-biographical, feel-good movie is about the experiences of Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie that led him to write the children's classic. He befriends a young widow - and more importantly, her four sons - and their experiences together give him the ideas for a story about boys who do not want to grow up. 

Review 

 

Hunger - Witness The Strength of Human Spirit


                                 In 1981, Irish Republican Army (IRA) men behind bars seek identification as political prisoners. As a protest, they won't wear prison clothes (the uniform of common criminals) but demand their own. They decorated their walls with great caveman swirls of their own waste. In this protestation against Margaret Thatcher and the British government, Bobby Sands, an Irish republican, locked up in Belfast prison, began starving himself. Sands died after starving himself for 66 days, at the age of 27. Nine other inmates followed him to death. 

                              The movie "Hunger" tells the devastatingly powerful story of Bobby Sands. Artist Steve McQueen's debut feature, Hunger might be the bleaker movie you have ever seen. It is uncompromisingly bold and commands our attention for its elaborate mise-en-scene and shockingly beautiful imagery. The movie advances more by images than dialogues, and most of its sounds being unintelligible moans and screams. 
 
                          Even though it is a Bobby Sands story, we don't even see Sands until 30 minutes into the movie. First, we follow a taciturn prison guard Raymond Lohan (Stuart Graham), from his home (he checks under his car for bombs) to his job "interrogating" inmates at The Maze. His knuckles bleed red from beatings and enforced bathings on prisoners, but his face betrays a keen sense of regret. He is constantly under threat because the IRA exacts revenge. Then we dwell in prsion with two imprisoned Irish Republican Army members, Davey Gillen (Brian Milligan) and Gerry Campbell (Liam McMahon), watching them smuggle tiny messages to headquarters and paint the walls with their own excrement.


                       After half-an hour of the movie, the sudden arrival of Sands (Michael Fassbender) as a kicking and screaming new inmate jolts the film into a whole other realm. He is the IRA leader who reached international headlines when he starved himself to death over a two-month period. 

                      Director McQueen is a famed British artist who has, before, focused his film-making on non-narrative, meta-cinematic art installations, many of which use multiple cameras and simultaneous projections in enclosed spaces. With 'Hunger,' he realigns his visual artistry by changing enclosed spaces into a claustrophobic visual vocabulary that dominates his frame. The script by McQueen and Irish playwright Enda Walsh, is insistent on seeing all the characters as humans, torn by their competing desires,obligations and impulses. 


                    Cinematographer Sean Bobitt, uses long-takes to depict mundane routines of prison-life, on both sides of the spectrum, such as a masked guard cleaning up the urine in hallway, cell by cell, are most impressive. In the last moments of Booby Sands, the camera focuses intimately on his shrinking frame and bedsores. This scene inter-cuts with brief images of Sands' self-vision as a child sitting in the room. Bobitt creates some of these haunting images, which have a disturbing painterly quality. 

                    There is a brilliant scene mid-way through the film. In this 22-minute extra-ordianry scene, Sands and his priest (Liam Cunnigham) battle over moral and practical issues of protest, personal and collective responsibility, micro and macro politics, and the sacredness of life and death. In this audaciously compelling sequence, McQueen's camera just hangs back and watches it build. The priest demands "I want to know whether your intent is just to purely commit suicide here." After a long pause, the prisoner replies, "What you call suicide, I call murder." That one sequence makes "Hunger" what it is: a force of acting, writing and riveting moral complexity. 

The Monologue :

                      Michael Fassbender gives a astounding performance as the heroic and humble Bobby Sands. He went on a medically supervised crash diet and lost over 50 pounds. He was blessed with a clear elocution and eloquent voice. Even though his transformation to skin-and-bones is shocking, it is not sensationalized.                                                                                                                                                                                                        We might not agree with the political stance of Sands, but his obstinacy and the willingness to use his own body as a canvas of protest, is a excruciating experience, and deserves our great respect. Through "Hunger" we learn about human spirit and the strength of human resolve. The unflinchingly realistic "Hunger" leaves an indelible impression on us. 
Trailer
Hunger - IMDb 

The Expendables 2 - A Hollow-Point Amusement


                                   Hollywood and other film industries has never been kind to its old actors or players, as was clear from the careers of so many stars, even during the studio system. But, Expendables, the movie formed by Sylvester Stallone, is a throwback to the righteous-kill, action movies and stars of the 80s. It features several generations of action film icons pounding against each other.  

                       “The Expendables 2”  mostly serves as the working opportunity for many of Hollywood’s former action stars. It is also a self-referential tale, that pays serious homage to the stars better and more glorious days in the past. There’s really a great interest in seeing old-school action icons tossed together in the same movie, but imagine what a blast it could be if the films gave them genuinely inspired material. Instead, we have male population of a Third World nation being evaporated into red by a superior firepower. In short, it has no surprises and no twists. 

Plot
      After an initial sequence in Nepal that finds them slaughtering thousands of bad guys, and rescuing a Chinese diplomat, the band of ruthless mercenaries -- Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Christmas (Jason Statham), Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and Bill the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) -- are about to take rest, when Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) drafts them to take on a seemingly simple job.


                  Church dispatches Barney and company to Albania, to track down a downed airplane, and retrieve the mysterious contents to a safe. To retrieve the safe and for negating its technological complexities, he sends along a young woman, Maggie (Yu Nan). But, the the group is ambushed by Jean Vilain (Van Damme), and he kills Bill. Vilain has found a stash of weapons-grade plutonium deep in a mine and trying to get it out by using slave labor. The mysterious content is a blue-print of the mines.  


                   The Expendables team is helped by Mr.Church and Trench (Arnold), a rival. Then, the movie travels for that big-climax, even though, the character building moments throughout the movie are mostly painful and mundane. 

Analysis
              Stallone and his Expendables has leathery skin, but they're still at it, and they’re not trying very hard to hide it. Since the block-buster success of their first film proved the enduring popularity of action heroes in their 50s and 60s, we have more muscles crammed into this movie. The excited pack has a couple of noteworthy additions (Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris) and subtraction (Mickey Rourke), plus enlarged cameos (Schwarzenegger and Willis).

              Simon West takes over the direction from Stallone this time, but his efforts are as pedestrian as can be, and lacks the style, grace of his movies like "Con Air." The action sequences, are a major drawback in a film like this, because its completely formulaic. Fans of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris and Van Damme will have a great treat in watching these movie icons together, and twist their still-taut muscles, even though their stunts looks more of a workout for their stuntmen.


                There's no need to write a lot about 'Expendables 2,' because if you have a firm understanding, in what they're getting at, it is unlikely to disappoint. It has knife fights, big guns, blood and witty one-liner nods to the assembled actors’ filmographies. This is generic, basic action film-making, like the ones in 80s, no more, no less. 'The Expendables 2' is a movie fast food of lower level, but it does have a certain charm to it, no matter how slight it may be.

Trailer

Badlands - A Meditative View of Love And Death


                                    Badlands is a simple, PG rated film, which makes a much more eloquent and enduring statement about American culture's glorification of violence. The movie presents us a man who kills for neither joy nor pain. He rather kills for the sheer convenience of the act, thinking of neither the repercussions that might eventually come down on him, or of  the suffering of his victim. To be brief, he is apathetic. Even though the theme here is 'alienation of youth,' it finds a rigorous poetic voice in 'Badlands.'  The movie also marks the feature-film debut of visionary director  'Terrence Malick.'

                                     Terrence Malick is a rare kind of a film-maker. In the four decades as film-maker, he has only directed five films. After 'Days of Heaven' in 1978, he he literally took off and didn't touch a camera for 20 years, then returned triumphantly with "The Thin Red Line" as the same brilliant artist. Terrence Malick's films doesn't have an exceptional story, but the images you see in his movies are very unique, so different from anything you usually see that it takes a while or even a second viewing to truly appreciate them. Like all his films, 'Badlands,' at first seems disorienting, because it doesn't follow the genre conventions. But this, fictionalized account of Starkweather's 1950s killing spree, is a cult classic--mixing together murder, banality, pop culture, love, romance, and alienation.  

Plot
        'Badlands' is a fictionalized account of real-life exploits of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. Kit (Martin Sheen) is working as a garbage collector because he doesn't have anything better to do. He is a vagrant with no particular place to go and nothing to do. Holly (Sissy Spacek) is a 15 year old girl, with long beautiful hair. Kit meets Holly, immediately falls for her, and they begin a courtship. Holly isn't pretty or doesn't have a great personality. Yet she looks strangely mature for a 15-year old. 


              In their courtship, they're not having raucous fun, they don't have long conversations about anything, or they don't rebel flamboyantly against authority figures. Both Holly and kit seem incapable of showing emotions toward each other. Holly's domineering father (Warren Oates) doesn't want Kit around his house, so Kit shoots him and burns the house down. Holly eerily not minding that her father is dead, runs off with Kit. 


               Thus begin long cross country crime spree, as the excitement and paranoia of the possible arrival of the outlaw Kit Carruthers spreads through the Great Plains. At first, Kit has his excuses for killing people, such as when he guns down three bounty hunters searching for him and Holly in the woods where they are hiding. Throughout the plot, Malick sneakily builds a biting commentary on the American infatuation with violent crimes and criminals.

Analysis
                 The searing central performances by Sheen and Spacek are amazing. Martin Sheen is by turns terrifying and infectiously likable, one of his best next to Apocalypse Now. His character, Kit is full of contradictions. He is not counter-cultural, does not defy institutional authority per se, and he also shows respect for Holly's education, insisting that she takes her books with her so that she won't “fall behind.” Sissy Spacek as Holly, showing innocence in the face of Kit's violence is scary in itself. Spacek plays Holly with such offhanded withdrawal -- as if the gum she's chewing is the dream she's pondering over -- that only glances suggest that her heart might be racing. 


                 Director Terrence Malick doesn't romanticize the runaways or judge them, but just tells their story as it is and allows the viewer to fill in all the missing pieces. The evil portrayed in this movie is unique, in that it carries no emotional baggage. When the incidents are over in the movie, there is little to say because only his murderous acts remain, with no true aftermath to speak of. He also makes sure, that we never confuse Kit and Holly with Bonnie and Clyde. A lack of passion differentiates them from the gaudy outlaws of the thirties.


                 The most important reason to watch 'Badlands' is Malick's choices in camera placement, and the powerfully photographed harsh bleakness of the South Dakota lands by cinematographers Brian Probyn, Tak Fujimoto, and Steven Larner. This movie is also among the best examples I have ever seen of the perfect use of music. The music by George Tipton didn't sounded out of place, and I couldn't imagine the scenes without their musical accompaniment. 

                 Badlands depicts moral emptiness as an inevitable by-product of mass society and its vulgar culture. The dysfunctional role of the media and its thirst for sensationalism confers status on small-time criminals, turning them into instant celebrities. The characters are a product of its materialistic times, where television and movies colors everyone's actions. The protagonist's actions, though never explained, tell much more than if they were attempted to be explained. This movie is a convincing case-study of people headed for hell and looking, talking and acting pretty much like any of us.

                 Badlands, portraying the two lost violent souls, is a complex, morally ambiguous film and an indisputable masterpiece of American cinema.

Trailer

Badlands - IMDb 

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas - Holocaust Through The Eyes of Children


                            Films that combine children and Holocaust generally trivializes the mass murder with cliches of youthful innocence, even though, there is nothing more harrowing to think about or painful to observe than children in peril.And, sometimes moviegoers can be forgiven for feeling a little Holocaust fatigue. There have been so many films, which uses holocaust as a backdrop, that there's no shame in feeling a bit numb to it all. But, once in a while, a movie like 'The Boy In Striped Pyjamas' comes along and brings us fresh eyes and the wounds reopen anew.

                           Based on the critically acclaimed novel of the same title by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,  like Life is Beautiful, gives us a child’s eye view of unimaginable evil, which makes said evil all the more grotesque. Most of us know what horrors were inflicted at Auschwitz. By considering how the barbarities of the Third Reich would appear to an innocent child, the film makes us rethink not only the Holocaust, but human nature.

Plot
        The story opens in Berlin in the early 1940s, where we meet the 9-year-old German boy, Bruno (Asa Butterfield), his father (David Thewlis), an SS commandant, and his family - including Bruno's mother (Vera Farmiga) and teenage sister (Amber Beattie). They are moving from Berlin to the countryside, where the father is taking up his new assignment. The job of Bruno's father is to manage the operation of a Nazi death camp.


                Bruno has no friends to play with in his new neighborhood. He finds a concentration camp in the back of their house, and it looks like fun for him. Bruno is too young to understand the true nature of the "concentration camp" near their impressive new home, or why the skeletal manservant who does chores for the family would have left a career as a doctor to rake leaves and dig potatoes. The lonely Bruno travels to an unguarded corner, and meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), on the other side, a boy his own age with no more understanding of what is happening than Bruno.


                 Bruno's parents have forbidden him from visiting the camp. but he ignores them and strike up a friendship that's heartbreaking. Bruno despite the warning by his stern tutor that 'Jews' should be “enemies,” continues his meeting with Shmuel, which leads to some terrible repercussions.

Analysis
                 Director Mark Herman, a British Writer/director has made a film uncluttered with the detail we all know so well. The result is a movie without any accurate details, but rather gives a profound experience. Without berating, director Herman connects the divide between these two innocents with ethnic bigotries and economic injustices that are still inflamed worldwide. He also draws nuanced performances from his two young actors.


                 The blue-eyed Asa Butterfield (so memorable in the recent 'Hugo') as Bruno and  Jack Scanlon as the tortured Shmuel incarnate an almost magical sense of childhood that deepens, rather than conflicts with, the stark historical realities in which they are living. Butterfield wonderfully manages as Bruno, who wrestles with the frightening thought that his father may be an unworthy idol. At one scene, Bruno is stunned to find Shmuel in his home, cleaning small glasses for a party. Why? "They needed someone with tiny fingers," Shmuel replies. That, along with Bruno's question to Shmuel, "What do you burn in those chimneys?" can break our hearts.

                  David Thewlis makes sense of the contradiction in his caring father overseeing genocide. Vera Farmiga as the helpless mother is the conscience of the film. She is a "good German" who has gone along as the country drifted from right-wing hate speech to a "solution" to a problem she hasn't let herself see. Farmiga's intensity and emotional clarity have an almost cleansing quality - so plain, pristine and right. 


                   The director of the eight-hour documentary Shoah (1985), Claude Lanzmann, argued that, the Holocaust is beyond representation because it erects “a ring of fire around itself.” Perhaps, Lanzmann is right because no single movie or group of films or even the entirety of cinema history could ever fully represent the horrors of that time, yet, 'The Boy In Striped Pajamas,' through its narrative, give ourselves the chance of understanding that which seems beyond the pale, to cope with the idea of true monstrosity.

                  What saves this movie from the sentimental, melodrama is the cold, observant logic of Herman's storytelling. So, when the movie is over you may be shocked at how very disturbing an honest, uncompromising finale can feel. Watch 'The Boy In Striped Pajamas' for its heartbreaking and unusual view of the Holocaust. 

Trailer

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Development of The Cinema : Aesthetic Advances -- Part I


                         Just after the First World War the first imaginatively genuine film made its appearance amongst the hundreds of formalized movies. This break in the monotony, the gleaming ray of light , deserves our closest attention. Like a drop of honey in an ocean of salt water, The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari appeared in the films during the year 1920. Almost immediately it created a sensation by nature of its complete dissimilarity to any other film yet made. It was, once for all,  the first attempt at the expression of a creative mind in the new medium of cinematography.

Robert Wiene's Imaginative Masterpiece

                      Griffith may have his place as the first employer of the dissolve, close-up, and the fade, but Griffith's contribution to the advance of the film is negligible when compared with the possibilities laid bare by Wiene's 'The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari." The movie was made in 1919, a period, which will be remembered for its expressionism and cubism. When the scenario for Caligari was first handed to Wiene, the manuscript specified none of the style that appeared in the production. In form, the original scenario was conventional. But Wiene saw an opportunity of getting away from the customary by giving the scenes in Caligari settings and forms which intensified the thoughts and emotions of the characters.


                     In 1919, The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari put forward these dominating facts, which have lain at the back of every intelligent director's mind to this day: that for first time in the history of the cinema, the director hard worked through the camera and broken with realism on the screen; that a film, instead of being realistic, might be a possible reality, both imaginative and creative; that a film could be effective dramatically when not photographic; and finally, of the greatest possible importance, that the mind of the audience was brought into play psychologically.

                     The settings, which were almost entirely composed of flat canvas and hanging draperies, furnished with such simple objects as ladder-back chairs and stuffed horse-hair sofas, were painted with two intentions in mind: primarily to emphasize the distortion of the madman's mind through whose eyes they were seen, and secondly to provide interesting decorative values of tone. It may, perhaps, be asserted that this film has dated. Technically, as regards camerawork, stock, lighting, this is correct and naturally inevitable. But in meaning, content, suggestion, treatment, and above all entertainment, The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is as convincing to-day as when seen years ago. It is also true that surrealism and neo-realism have superseded expressionism in the minds of avant garde, but this does not alter the fact that expressionism plays a large part in the film.


                     Wiene 's film certainly influenced some of the more advanced American directors, but taken as a whole the productions of Hollywood remained on their former level. What the movie did, however, was to attract to the cinema audience many people who had hitherto regarded a film as the low watermark of intelligence.

Pure Fictional Cinemas


                    After the success of Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, not until 1924, with the exception of Nosferatu (1922), a film wholly justified the position of cinema. During the intervening period many remarkable films were released, chiefly in Germany and Sweden, which evidenced that brains were at work in Europe, but these were of less significance than would first appear. In 1925 'The Last Laugh,' the joint production of Murnau, Mayer, and Freund definitely established the film as an independent medium of expression. It was a remarkable example of filmic unity, of centralization of purpose and of perfect continuity.

                   Not a written or spoken word was necessary to the correct unfolding of the theme. By psychological understanding, every action suggested a thought to the audience, every angle a mood that was unmistakable in meaning. The Last Laugh was cine-fiction in its purest form; exemplary of the rhythmic composition proper to the film. After 1925, the German cinema, to which students of the film were looking for further progress, began to decline, largely on account of the general exodus of talent to Hollywood. An argument for the failure of these films is the knowledge that the cinema is essentially modern, and modernism is, above all things, anti-romantic and experimental, reflecting as it does the spirit of the age.


                  The 1927, Metropolis by Fritz Lang, may not be a pure filmic expression, but it contained scenes that for their grandeur and strength have never been equaled either by Britain or America. Metropolis, with its rows of rectangular windows, its slow-treading workers, its great geometric buildings, its contrasted light and shade, its massed masses, its machinery, was a considerable achievement, and the architecture was story in itself. Fritz Lang is not only a showman, he is reckoned as a director of decided film intelligence, of broad views, of rare imagination, of artistic feeling, who is not afraid to put his amazing conceptions into practical form, using every technical resource of the studio to do so.   

American Cinema

                   Meanwhile, it must be remembered that America was producing films in vast quantities during the years that cinema was discovering its aesthetic qualities in Europe. The American cinema as a whole naturally demands wide investigation, which will follow at a later stage, but at the moment it is important to mention two outstanding tendencies that had grown up in Hollywood. A school of light, domestic, drawing room comedy, displaying a nicety of wit and intelligence, had developed, to be carried eventually to high as a degree of perfection as this lighter side of film allowed. It had its origin in Chaplin's memorable satire 'A Woman of Paris' (1923) and 'The Kid' (1921), as well as in Ernst Lubitsch's brilliantly handled 'The Marriage Circle,' made in the following year. 


                  Along these lines the majority of Hollywood's young men worked with superficial skill, to produce many effervescent comedies and farces, sparkling and metallic, which provided light entertainment for the audiences of many nations. In contrast, with this movement in the studios, there had appeared a small group of directors who showed a preference for constructing their films around natural incidents and with real material; a tendency that had possibly grown out of the early Western picture. Robert Flaherty, Merian Cooper, Karl Brown formed the nucleus of this group, to whom where should be added John Ford, and Victor Fleming, by reason of their isolated pictures which fall into this category. To Flaherty, however, must be given the full credit for the first film using natural resources, the inspiring Nanook of The North, in 1922.

                 Apart from these two tendencies, only the work of Erich Von Stroheim, Henry King, and the individualistic films of Charlie Chaplin, Keaton, and Douglas Fairbanks, emerged with real seriousness from the mass of machine-made movies up till the time of the dialogue film. Investigations of these works along with cinematic advances in Soviet Russia and Asia will be followed in the later parts.

References:

The Oxford History of World Cinema, edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith

The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari - Wikipedia

German Expressionism - Wikipedia

House of Sand And Fog - An Unforgettable, Excruciatingly Tragic Movie


                              What happens when a dream turns into a nightmare? The American dreams are built on the basis of financial independence and home ownership. For some it's a place of refuge and comfort, or it's some sort of investment. For others, it's a key to identity and a link to the past. "House of Sand and Fog," adapted from Andre Dubus 1999 novel tells the sad story of two people on two edges of the American Dream. Like Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" or Innaritu's "21 Grams," this is one of the movies that try to harvest the terror and grandeur of classical tragedy from the everyday sorrows of contemporary American life.

                               In the mainstream cinema, we always have the division between good and evil. It's rare to come across a movie, where you don't know which side is right, where it is terribly difficult to form an alliance on one side or the other. Vadim Perelman’s House of Sand and Fog goes against all by setting up a bleak conflict with two opposing sides and refusing to align with one or the other.

Plot
        Massoud Amir Behrani (Ben Kingsley) is a proud, honest, Iranian immigrant, is the sort of person the American dream was designed for. He has moved to the United States a number of years ago with his wife, Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo), and his son, Esmail (Jonathan Ahdout). He was once a air force colonel, but was forced to flee, when the ruler was deposed. Exhausted from his night job as a clerk in a convenience store, Behrani decides to buy a property at an auction. His idea was to make some improvements and re-sell  it at market value, so that he can raise the cash to buy another house and have enough left over to fund his son's college education.


              The house in question, belonged to Kathy Nicolo (Jennifer Connelly). Her husband had left her eight months ago and has spent most of her time in bed, depressed. She never cared about the mail, where she would have found letters from the county to take possession of the house and put it up for auction if she doesn't pay her tax bill. It's also partially the county’s fault too. The taxes imposed against her were a mistake, and they were for only $500, hardly enough to justify repossessing a house. When she finds out that her house was already purchased by Behrani, she realizes to her dismay that she has lost in a few months what her father took 30 years to pay off.


                 Kathy views Behrani as a thief and calls him that to his face. She also finds consolation in the person of a sympathetic and married police offer, Lester Burton (Ron Eldard), who chooses to help her by harassing Behrani and threatening his family. Instead of settling the matters, this deepens the tensions.

Analysis
                 Ben Kingsley as Massoud Behrani is a perfect fit for the character: Kingsley's clean-cut physique and air of intense focus could not be better suited to Behrani's tightly wound sense of honor and his latent violence. Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo plays Nadi Behrani, with so much dignity and heart. Jonathan Ahdout gives a moving performance as a good-hearted, Americanized son. Connelly as Kathy is well suited to her role. She channels an inner despondency that is heartbreaking, and presents Kathy as a deeply wounded bird, but one who is still capable of fighting. 


                  Russian-born Vadim Perlman in his debut feature-film has executed "House of Sand and Fog" with admirable dexterity, infusing each event with almost unbearable tension and foreboding. He draws upon a vast source of human emotion, and brings out to our attention some of the more demanding themes, the meaning of home, the downward mobility of a woman, and the yearning for upward mobility of an immigrant who wants to escape the menial jobs. The film, shot by Roger Deakins, has a elegant, melancholic look and a style that might best be described as tactful. 


                 Each of the characters in the drama is flawed but capable of love, self-sacrifice, and kindness. We might find ourselves shifting allegiances between Behrani and Kathy as they try to cope with the conflict that draws them together in a circle of anger, love, loss, and recrimination. The story by author Andre Dubus III doesn't easily paint its characters, constantly making us reflect on exactly what shade of gray our eyes are actually seeing. Both Behrani's family and Kathy holds compassion and decency, and seem to concord that no house is worth a human life, which makes the heavily foreshadowed final tragedy especially painful and powerful. 

                House of Sand And Fog is a challenging motion for the viewers. It exacts much from the audience, and repays that investment with engrossing drama that does not offer insulting, eloquent answers. The movie says that, if the simplest of solutions can’t be agreed upon, then a pound of flesh may be the next step. House of Sand And Fog, with its excellent performances, is a heavy flick made for grown-ups to savor. 

Trailer