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Bernice. 19. Yeah.

Deeper Waters [The Godfather Part II, 080664]

The film takes us to uncharted territories. Obviously, most of the characters from the prequel are present here, and having seen the first Godfather, I already know what Don Vito and Michael are capable of doing. But no matter how similar they appear, The Godfather Part II is miles apart from its predecessor, in a league of its own. I find The Godfather more enjoyable to watch but that factor doesn’t diminish my appreciation of the sequel. This one digs deep into the characters’ ethos, like putting them under a microscope. It gives me a better understanding of the motivations behind their actions. It is longer and quieter but it leaves a subtle, indelible imprint in my memory.

I enjoy watching parallel stories taking place, and seeing how they connect in the end is the part I always look forward to. However, The Godfather Part II is a different case. I fear it would be predictable because we know the outcomes of Don Vito’s earlier works. Unsurprisingly, Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo pull off the incredible task of providing an ending that takes the story of Vito Corleone full circle. It is pretty nostalgic, reminiscent of the last time we see the family come together.

The rise of Don Vito, suavely played by Robert De Niro, from an orphan boy to being the head of the biggest crime syndicate in New York, is shown alongside Michael’s acquisition of headship and facing the consequences of his previous crimes. Here, the filmmakers employ a certain technique that stops me from getting stuck up with just one character’s storyline. The scenes are cut and arrange in a way that excitement gets suspended and then the focus shifts to the other character. And I wait patiently for the pay off. The comparison between Don Vito and Michael is inevitable. In fact, among the siblings, the youngest closely matches the father’s temperament. They are both clever, level-headed men. There is, however, a huge difference with the way they make use of their intelligence in forming bonds and alliances. Don Vito starts from scratch and works his way up to earn his people’s respect. Their loyalty to him is deeply rooted; his demeanor tells them that as long as their loyalty remains with the godfather, they are family. On the other hand, Michael inherits the empire and his father’s loyal cohorts. He seems to act cold and distant. He does seem to trust no one, and talks business and nothing else.

The Michael we see in the first film is unstoppable. He still is; outsmarting all of his enemies, and getting out of criminal cases. But his powers crumble, revealing loopholes and limitations. Too focused on keeping his enemies closer, he pushes his family farther away. He neglects his role as a father. He is unaware of Kay’s apparent abortion. No matter how hard he tries to keep the family intact, things fall apart.

The Godfather Part II is hard to watch because it sometimes leads me to believe that it would give Michael some kind of redemption in the end. It gives me false hopes – changes, reconciliation with his wife, and Michael forgiving Fredo and letting him live. Instead it leaves me, not with the same level of astonishment, but with a heavy heart.

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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Justified [The Godfather, 080664]

I have been reluctant to watch The Godfather. My apprehensions have been there upon learning it is about a Mafia family. Given a choice, I try to avoid its kind, those that contain too much violence, guns and gore. The second reason would be its status as a classic, universally-praised film. It gives me high hopes and expectations for this movie, and several times I’ve seen classics and critically acclaimed movies, I feel let down. I’m happy that I’ve been forced to watch it (Finally!). Every second of the more than three hours is worthy of my time and full attention.

I think I mutter the word ‘epic’ hundred times after watching the film. The way it extracts a raw and compelling twist from an otherwise emotionally-distant subject is unbelievable. It comprises many different characters with unique personalities, but they all have their fair share of the spotlight. They have their trademarks, and long after I’ve forgotten all of the dialogues (Except “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”) or the sequence of events, I know the roles play significant parts. Moreover, these aren’t one-dimensional characters. They may be ruthless murderers but they have human qualities as well. To Don Vito, family welfare comes first. As much as he can, he keeps Michael out of the family business. One of the most emotional scenes is when he learns the death of Sonny and breaks down. The family members follow the orders of their kins, not because of fear, but out of loyalty and respect.

In my opinion, the movie wouldn’t be as good without Marlon Brando and his superb performance. The man is irreplaceable. I have read that he masters method acting; internalizes easily with his roles. He has created the Don Vito we know – a man we love, fear and respect. He is old; his health, failing. But until the end, I find him the most sensible, intelligent man in the family. The eldest Sonny is short-tempered and his temper always gets in the way to making a sound decision for the family business. He is the brother that we can somehow empathize with; he has two huge responsibilities – being the heir to the throne and the protector of his younger siblings. It’s not easy to juggle both, and oftentimes he ends up sacrificing one for the other. The youngest, Michael, has no plans to get involved in the family business. During his sister’s wedding, Al Pacino tells this to Diane Keaton with a straight face, and we know Michael is telling the truth. But he maintains that demeanor until the end – when he gets to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, when he becomes godfather to his nephew, and even when he tells Kay that he is not responsible for Carlo’s death. He is a cautious man; clever not to let his emotions betray him.

It doesn’t surprise me why people tell The Godfather glorifies crimes. Most of the murders appear to be justice well-served. I don’t think I am the only person relieved seeing the heads of other Mafia families, especially Don Barzini, gunned down. The killings are done to remove obstacles, but mostly as punishment to the people who have done wrong to the family.

I hope cheering for the Corleones is the the natural reaction to watching The Godfather. Even if it isn’t, the film gives me plenty of reasons to believe so.

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Perfectly Imperfect [Primer, 080664]

I can only be sure of one thing: after watching Primer, I have had mild headaches. I can’t fathom what I have seen. I can’t describe it in words, especially the mechanism of this whole time-travel thing. In fact, my mind is too focused on trying to figure how it works, the moral implications do not sink in until later. I get goose bumps once I step out of the classroom, and they remain moments, hours and days after.

Primer has an irregular rhythm that is intriguing, exciting and annoying at times. The beginning tells the story in a linear, straightforward manner. The scenes where Aaron and Abe discuss the physics behind their project are painfully slow and boring. Although the topic of their conversation is almost incomprehensible, I can still follow what goes on. When they have decided to recreate their small-scale, anti-gravity machine to a grander, more ambitious ‘box’ that can fit a person, events begin speeding up. My excitement escalates when Abe realizes that they have created a time-machine, and shows Aaron his double. I wait for them to get tangled with events, go to wherever or create a monster (why not?). The movie becomes repetitive instead. We see the same scenes, over and over, except that these are not exactly the persons we’ve seen before. Near the end, things speed up again. The story becomes all the more confusing. And while I am still trying to figure out what is going on, whose handwriting is messed up and who am I seeing now, the curtain closes.

As I have understood from reading the synopsis, the Doubles begin to take over at one point. However, I don’t see the Doubles interfering as some villains or whatnot. Primer is about Aaron and Abe – two engineers dumbfounded with their unanticipated invention. They are ecstatic, for finally having the means to take advantage of the stocks and earn and a way to correct their personal mistakes and shortcomings.

The film atmosphere is quiet and eerie. I can only hear the sound generated by the machine, their voices talking, in English but in terms that I don’t quite understand, and the narration, that turns out to be Aaron two. The scenes showing the machines are close ups. Some show the characters inside the box. Watching these, I feel like I’m forced to tag along them, which is scary. Probably due to budget constraints, and also as an idea incorporated in the story, the characters never come face to face with their Doubles. Thus, making it hard to distinguish one from the other. The film though makes subtle distinctions between them. Twice or more, we see the Doubles with earphones plug in their ears so they get to hear and repeat what the originals have said when the event first occurred.

Primer doesn’t seem like a low budget film. The shots are done neatly. It occasionally blurs but it enhances the feel that we don’t entirely understand what we see on screen. I have complained a lot about the film, but it’s so unforgettable, it has easily become my favorite of the bunch. It’s one painful movie experience that I will never forget due to how it lingers, mentally and physically.

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Second Thoughts [Spider, 080664]

Spider reminds me a lot of Shutter Island. More than featuring mentally ill characters clinging onto their own versions of the past (or in Shutter Island‘s Teddy Daniels’ case, his version of himself), both send that creepy, disturbing feeling when we realize something is wrong but we can’t still figure out what. The latter explains which is real and which ones Daniels just made up. We don’t get this conclusion from Spider. Instead we see how memories are often unreliable. We cannot dismiss them otherwise because oftentimes they can neither be proven authentic nor inauthentic.

I guess nothing can go wrong with Ralph Fiennes. He just transforms into every character he’s in. His role requires minimal actions and dialogues but his portrayal is nothing less convincing than him being a Nazi officer in Schindler’s List. Miranda Richardson is equally believable as the mother and Yvonne. Until halfway, I have not noticed that the characters are played by the same actress. To me, however, the standout performance is the child’s. It’s a little tricky because the young Spider acts perfectly normal but at some point something strange appears in his facial expressions. He almost always looks at things straight, without any show of emotions. So while I am waiting for that moment he finally breaks down and becomes insane, it has already begun.

The film is about the recollection of Spider’s childhood, particularly the period in which he has lost things – his sanity and possibly his mother. He is the only means in which we can gain access of his past. Even though he experiences most of them firsthand, his illness must have tainted his ability to recall things. The realization doesn’t sink in until later. At one point, I begin to think the same way Spider does. I get goosebumps seeing Yvonne as the landlady. I feel for the poor guy. All along, he has been staying in the same building with the person responsible for his mother’s death. What have you done? When Spider attempts to kill the landlady, those words that she mutters wakes me up. I feel cheated. I’ve been lead to believe that his detailed, linear recollections are true. I almost dismiss the chances his illness makes him an unreliable source.

Spider remembers events that he has not participated in. He hasn’t been there but he knows his father and Yvonne have killed his mother, for example. He mumbles a lot, and jots down what he recalls regarding events that have happened probably two decades ago. Isn’t it that if we want to remember events, we jot them down immediately after they’ve occurred and read our diaries afterwards? These are rather small details I find effective in setting that subtle unsettling tone.

Despite my love for psychological thrillers, Spider is my least favorite movie among all we’ve seen in class. But if there’s one film that best fits the idea of “being kidnapped by the cinema”, this is. It lets us step into his shoes, see what he sees, but it doesn’t entirely enclose us in the schizophrenic state of mind. Seeing Yvonne in the latter part of the movie, I try to recall how she looks like the first time we see her. And I think she isn’t the same person, but I begin to have second thoughts otherwise.

 
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Posted by on 24 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Roller Coaster [Paris Je T’Aime, 080664]

With the exception of few outrageous ones, Paris Je T’Aime feature stories that are realistic – a mother’s love for his child, language barrier, cultural differences, a couple getting married and another couple getting out of married, etc. Aside from Paris, as the backdrop and setting, and the last scene where characters from different segments get together, there is no continuity or connection between the stories.This is the basically the reason why I enjoy watching the film. The 18 stories are told separately in the most simple, unique and imaginative way that one cannot be compared from the other. I honestly don’t remember all of the segments but I remember feeling differently seeing one after another; smiling, frowning, go ‘awww…’, and getting confused.

The film takes us to the other side of Paris. It is neither the city loved for its Eiffel Tower, scenery and shops nor the stench-filled, poverty-stricken areas described in Les Miserables. It is the people and their experiences: those of the young and old, the French and tourists, etc. Amid all the glitter are familiar scenes of ordinary people living ordinary lives. Having said that, the story about the middle-aged American lady, who has dreamed of visiting Paris, is to me the most memorable segment in Paris Je T’Aime. It is composed mostly of narration (in French) or the lady walking about, but its sheer simplicity makes it more appealing. Can a person find happiness in solitude? I suppose not. In the lady’s case, spending her time alone does not make her totally miserable because Paris itself provides the companion she needs.

What I like about short films is that, given the restrictions and limitations, they still manage to send the message across. They can tell compelling stories. They can tell complete stories, we won’t feel the filmmakers are rushing things. I have forgotten almost half of the 18 segments, but those I have not, I remember quite clearly. In details. It lingers.

Seeing how the first two segments proceed, I begin to worry that the next 16 would follow the same path. I like those two and I also like watching romantic flicks during my idle time but 18 love stories in one straight viewing are rather exhausting. When I realize how completely different the stories are, I begin to appreciate the movie more. I love how Francine’s and Thomas’ relationship defies the odds (his blindness) but occasionally failing to communicate well. I love that Frances, who possesses some of the most annoying characteristics of women, and William, who lacks humor, get together. A father’s intimate conversation with his daughter along the dimly-lit streets of Paris is rather unusual, but it shows how dynamic a parent-child relationship can be.

Paris Je T’Aime is a roller-coaster ride. The subtle, quieter parts complement the heavy sequences; the crests complementing the troughs. The film tackles love in painful ways, and leaves me emotional, almost fighting back tears. Sometimes it leaves me with the same expression of confusion as the man in the train station. Lastly, it makes fun of love in a good way, injecting humor and making it sound as outrageous as two vampires feeding off each other’s necks.

 
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Posted by on 23 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Subtle and Obvious [V for Vendetta, 080664]

Watching V for Vendetta for the second time has its advantages and disadvantages. This time, I suppose I am not required to look much into the societal relevance and political meanings of the ideas presented in the movie. I do not enjoy watching it then because, as a requirement for SA class, I feel the need to pause the film once in a while, observe and look for symbols, continue watching and reflect and compare with our lessons afterwards. I feel comfortable and less distracted watching it now because I get to focus on what I see on screen instead. However, given my prior knowledge of this film, I feel like I know it enough, and seeing it twice makes a less thrilling film experience.

Without too much blood and violence, V for Vendetta creates an atmosphere that would make one understand and feel the same deprivation and terror as if in a totalitarian society. More than twice, we see High Chancellor Adam Sutler and the heads of government offices ‘meet’ in a very dark room; the former is projected on a wide screen implying that, even without his physical presence, he supposedly towers over these people. All except the head of the Finger, Peter Creedy, have anxieties and fears drawn all over their faces. The biological terrorism employed by the Norsefire to gain power, has been revealed to us through Inspector Finch’s investigation. It is disturbing, but it makes sense, that the kind of government they have employed extreme means. V himself subjects Evey to the same treatment he has experienced in Larkhill; her torture is meant to make her a stronger person. In this society, the means to inflict fear can be used to free a person from fear. Or so it seems.

Few things hinder me from liking V for Vendetta. My prior knowledge of the film is one. The love story between Evey and V is another. It may be the romantic type but it seems like they are drawn towards the ideals the other personifies, how Evey does not agree upon all of V’s radical means, how similar their experiences are, etc. However, the way it has been executed diminishes its depth, makes the idea of love between two freedom fighters cheesy and a little funny. Evey’s transformation is more one thing. After being imprisoned and tortured, we see her infuriated with V. This itself is a testament to the changes she’s undergone, and although she realizes that V has made her a stronger person, she doesn’t seem fully convinced that the end justifies the means. Besides her conversation with Finch and with her sending the train to blast the Parliament, I would prefer if more of that changed person is shown – what can Evey do upon her ‘conception’ in comparison to V at his prime.

V for Vendetta is a conglomeration of ideas, as well as its characters Evey, V and Finch. With her shaved head and interactions with V, I expect her to be a person close to V. However, hers is an internal struggle, conquering a fear that has probably kept her silent after watching people close to her die. Finch is responsible for investigating the crimes and tracking down V. He is part of the government yet he is apart from the government, secretly investigating the history of the fascist government. And how do I ever describe V? Counting his appreciation of Count of Monte Cristo, Culture, Arts, Guy Fawkes and the revolution he initiates, he is the most obvious yet mysterious character in the movie.

 
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Posted by on 23 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Faithful [Zodiac, 080664]

Arguably the best and most exciting part of a crime thriller is when they unravel the identity of the criminal. While he or she gets interrogated, we and the investigators are able to piece together bits of information and determine his or her motivations. We almost see this twice in Zodiac when they try to incriminate Leigh Allen, and seem to find another possible suspect, Rick Marshall. Given the leads and circumstantial evidences, we begin to believe either of these two is the killer. However, the film doesn’t provide a precise answer to our burning question. Instead, it tries to stay true to its material – Robert Graysmith’s own account of the investigation – and manages to portray the less-than-thrilling, grueling and frustrating side of criminal investigations.

David Fincher’s direction turns a dialogue-rich, almost action-less subject into a compelling tale of how one person’s crimes affect the lives of the people involved in the investigation. It is 2 1/2-hours long but it doesn’t seem excessive nor insufficient; just enough to get to know the characters well. It makes me feel that no matter how exciting this case is, with all the mysterious letters and ciphers from the Zodiac killer, it requires a tremendous amount of work. And it is monotonous at times. The choice of dark and muted colors fits the overall mood. I like how a couple of humorous dialogues appears here and there. They are far from what we would normally expect in a film that tackles probably the biggest serial killing mysteries in 60s – 70s San Francisco. The jokes are irrelevant but they are fun to hear anyway.

Zodiac has many minor characters, I often confuse Sheriff this from the other. The typewritten date at the bottom of the screen helps this time. It lets us follow the case as it progresses. It even shows how leads are scare resources, and sometimes appear only once in a span of seven or eight months.

The film is not a murder mystery/crime thriller. The latter is more concerned with the victims, his relations with the killer, and unraveling the motives behind the killings. Except for explaining Leigh Allen’s connection with first victim, Zodiac does none of these. Instead it tells how one man’s works have affected the lives of others. From a fearless journalist, Paul Avery has become a paranoid drunkard after receiving death threats from the Zodiac killer. Long after everyone has left the case, and San Francisco is already at peace, Inspector David Toschi still can’t help but hear what Graysmith has to say regarding the new evidences linking Toschi’s ‘favorite suspect’, Leigh Allen, and the murders. Graysmith is initially drawn to the ciphers but he becomes too obsessed with the idea of cracking the whole code and identify the Zodiac killer. He sets everything aside – his work and family – and goes into seclusion.

Zodiac is the closest we could get to the true-to-life mystery, and the film leaves enough space for us to decide whether or not to believe in its conclusion.

 
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Posted by on 16 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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