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The Godfather II: A Classic (070660)

The Godfather Two takes the first movie and blows it up to epic proportions, both literally and figuratively. For one, it is much ambitious in terms of size and scope; spanning two generations worth of crime families, and providing a back story for the much revered icon Don Vito Corleone of the first Godfather fame. It also takes the viewer to numerous locations, such as Italy for the back story and Havana for the expansion, because the Corleone family is considering branching out, taking small steps in order to become legitimate. As the details mentioned above have much continuity with regards to the first film, veterans of the series would ultimately feel rewarded for having invested time in watching Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus.

Because I could not fully express in words how much I love this movie, it would be biased of me to praise it immediately. Thus I would get my criticisms for it out of the way first.

If I were to criticize this film, then it is of my personal opinion that the action scenes in the first Godfather movie were much more memorable than this one. Where was the filmic quality of the morbid decapitation of Woltz’ six hundred thousand dollar prize horse, and its most convincing placement on the owner’s bed as a death threat? What we get in Part Two instead was the kiss between Michael and Fredo. (You broke my heart!) In addition to this, the execution of Don Fanucci seemed to pale in comparison to the ruthlessness of Michael’s point blank double assassination of Sollozzo and the Police Captain McCluskey; the anticipation with regard to whether the gun was hidden behind the toilet receptacle was priceless.

In addition to this, where was the hot female lead? Godfather I had the innocent looking yet infinitely sultry Simonetta Stefanelli, who, shockingly, was underage when the first movie was filmed. And don’t even get me started about that scene. Bellissima! On the other hand, we get a tired looking Kay Adams for the second movie. Not really a good comparison.

Kidding aside, Godfather II was really definitive in elevating the Mafia genre and could be said as the highlight of Francis Ford Coppola’s career. It would be quite repetitive to again discuss the use of film elements, but as is evident, this film is characteristically Coppola. For instance, lighting was even and the flashback scenes could be clearly delineated to what was happening in the present; with the flashbacks utilizing golden hues, while the present utilizing much darker colours. In addition to this, much respect and admiration should be accorded to Robert De Niro for playing such a suave and honourable character in the presence of the young Vito Corleone. Most notable are the scenes where they were yet at the short end of misfortune; helpless as he watched his first born struggle with pneumonia, and how after assassinating Don Fanucci he immediately professes his love to his family and specifically to his youngest child. “Michael, your father loves you very much.” Enough to wet the eyes of even the most hardened gangsters (or wannabes.)

I love Godfather II and how it has made me appreciate film in general. It has formed a significant part of my childhood, and me along with my father and brother have bonded numerous times over this movie. Watching it for film class and reminiscing about the good times makes it all the more rewarding.

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Miguel Castriciones

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The Godfather 1: A Tribute (070660)

What else is there to say about The Godfather that hasn’t been said? The mere thought of writing an article for it is quite daunting, because I might be doing it a disservice by not talking about it properly. This paper will attempt an explanation of my experience with the Godfather 1 from a personal standpoint (or will perhaps appear as a tribute, of sorts.)

I have loved the Godfather ever since my grade school days. My father and my brother are huge fans of the series, and I have often watched it with them countless times. Back then however, I think that I was a bit confused about what was going on; there were many characters, (and most of them looked alike, typically Italian); and the storyline, though straightforward, was complicated for a little kid to handle. Despite this confusion, I had initially fallen in love with the movie if not due to its action scenes, at first; you’d have to admit that the Solozzo headshot was pretty damn cool. I had often fantasized what it was like to lead the life of a Don.

It was one of the films, if not the definitive film, that showed the glamorous side of organized crime. Though their business was illegal and could be said of as dirty, they certainly didn’t look the part; with their double breasted suits, slicked back Italian hair, fancy cars and Thompson guns. Not only did they appear stylish, but they also acted stylish too. Their principles and what they stood for; how they valued honor and family above everything else, not to mention the stylish way they performed executions or death threats. I believe that the horse head scene ranks as the most memorable scene as far as death threats in film go.

Though Mario Puzo could be said as the main person behind this brilliant piece of fiction, credit is due to Francis Ford Coppola for having transformed the experience masterfully onscreen. The casting choices are brilliant, including a lifetime’s worth of work for Marlon Brando, and a rising star and a force to be reckoned with in Al Pacino. Symbolisms and metaphors abound, such as the baptism scene with the multiple murders; or even the way death is imminent whenever oranges are present in the scene. The transitions are brilliant, the lighting is impeccable (although natural light was used); the overall mood elicited by the movie guarantees it as a classic. So much so that it has garnered innumerable ardent fans over the decades; spawning numerous spin-offs wanting to capitalize on its success, or perhaps recreate the same emotions which the movie has triggered.

**The Sopranos, a personal favourite, is a close contender for the ultimate gangster piece; integrating the dimension of psychology and semiotics with regard to the life of a modern day mob boss, it has elevated the genre into another level.

** This movie has influenced me to embrace the Mafia videogame over the then more popular Grand Theft Auto III. Perhaps you know what I am talking about, sir.

Again, what else is there to say about The Godfather that hasn’t been said? Stop reading this article and go watch it already, if you haven’t. If you have, go watch it again.

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Miguel Castriciones

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Spider: Ambiguous (070660)

I found Spider to be a particularly hard film to watch, because of countless reasons. The first is that it employs a very unusual narrative, relying on flashbacks to tell the story of Mr. Cleg. At first it manages to confuse, given the fact that the character himself is present in these sequences; only later on did I realize that he was recounting instances from his childhood. The usage of this device is quite effective though, especially when it becomes evident that the main character is mentally unstable. Ralph Fiennes does a great job in conveying emotion; though his character sometimes lacks speaking parts, he more than makes up for it by with his wide range of facial expressions. (unlike some of our local actors; Kim Chiu, for instance, who is only limited to two particular emotions: happy and sad. But I digress.)

It could be said that this movie requires patience, which I admit I am lacking. Aside from the fact that the movie’s pace is on the slow side, it doesn’t help that the movie tries to confuse you at times. What was shown on screen, did it really happen, or not? There is no indication of whether a particular scene is a dream sequence or whether it was actually recalled from his memory; what’s constant is his omnipresence all throughout.

Shocking scenes include a very distraught main character holding broken glass. The tension was unbearable and it took a long time before they were able to restrain him. These sort of films are heart racing in due to the fact that the anticipation is what would keep you at the edge of your seat. Second place for shocking scenes was when the prostitute showed her mammaries. Quite unexpected, really. A welcome change for an otherwise dry film, though. I kid.

Upon paying close attention, however, one would see that the film was quite creative with its composition of shots. Numerous camera angles were utilized, and with a film with a pace as slow as this, it was good that the camera work had the liberty of experimentation. The scoring and sound gave it an overall eerie atmosphere, with silence occupying a major part of the film. It is interesting how silence can add layers of feeling in terms of the viewing experience. You know that it’s there, but this is just passive acknowledgement in the sense that you’d rather pay attention to what is happening on screen. This is used to great effect in films such as this, where the main character’s schizophrenia is underscored, and the plot and film elements are all the more noticeable.

Honestly, I don’t think I can say much more Spider, because in my experience as a viewer, it had failed to capture my attention span; I dozed off and missed most parts of the movie. (Ironic, since I was awake and drudged my way through Primer, which I found to be a much drier movie.) If not for the superb acting performance of Ralph Fiennes, I wouldn’t recommend this film as an entertaining one.

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Miguel Castriciones

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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V for Vendetta: Ideas (070660)

V for Vendetta shows the exploits of the anarchist V and his rebellion against a corrupt government and a severely dystopian society. He could be seen serving justice into his own hands; blowing up the parliament, executing corrupt officials, and cleaning out the bad guys in general. But his actions aren’t without personal motive, though; he wants to exact retribution for having been tested on at a facility decades ago. He meets Evey and implants in her the notion that ideas are bulletproof by putting her in the face of death. (An interesting observation is that Natalie Portman still manages to look ridiculously hot even without a head full of hair.)

There are many reasons why I found the movie to be particularly easy to watch. One reason is that a lot of action takes place on screen. Punches, stabbing, and explosions are aplenty in this movie, and they never fail to entertain and capture the attention of the audience. In addition to this, the casting is also composed of convincing actors; old people who manage to act unlikeable as corrupt politicians, dirty looking thugs who look like rapists, and an adventurous Natalie Portman who was willing to have her head shaved for the movie (it was done in a single take.) However, the main character who plays V is quite limited in terms of facial expressions; he could be seen as smiling all throughout the movie. Kidding aside, it is quite interesting to note that V, the main character of the film, never once shows his face on screen.

However, I did not like how clichéd some of the elements in the movie are. For instance, there was the baptism of fire and water, where scenes from an open armed V and Evey were juxtaposed, showing that they now had a new life and a new cause to fight for. This was quite literal and not at all subtle, and as discussed in class, some people found it funny or otherwise found fault in it. Another scene was during the end of the movie, where a mask wearing crowd of V’s could be seen unmasking themselves one by one, and the faces of both the living and the dead characters throughout the movie could be seen. It means that collectively, they are now fighting for the same cause. Effective as it may be, perhaps it could be said that the scene was overly dramatic and clichéd. (Though sometimes, is it best not to think about these things in detail? Overanalyzing could severely ruin a movie experience after all. When watching something like ‘The Transformers’, you just have to look at the screen, watch the robots transform, and eat your popcorn.)

V for Vendetta is a film with the premise that an idea will live on, as long as someone still believes in it. This actually marks one of the earlier efforts of DC with regard to film adaptations of its comics, and they have succeeded in making it entertaining. Cliched as some parts may be, the movie is quite balanced with a healthy dose of action and drama; I personally would remember the 5th of November.

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Miguel Castriciones

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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La Jetee/ Primer: Those without Science Degrees need not Apply (070660)

La Jetee was good, but you had to admit that it was quite artsy. It was supposedly about World War III and a sort of memory slash time travel combination where he gets to meet himself at the end of the movie. And it was delivered in still pictures, and in black and white, which was quite puzzling; isn’t this period the burgeoning of cinema, after having been stuck in silent films for so long?

A possible explanation which makes sense to me is that the nature of the plot made it more convenient to use still pictures. Staging a World War III would cost too much, in the context of a short film. Thus still pictures would make it easier for them to manipulate as much as they wanted. In addition to this, the audio dealt with quick cuts; with scenes quick to change and transition. Consider me an amateur but I don’t really buy it when the director is lauded for having have left the thinking to the imagination of the audience. They filmed it, and this is how it turned out. Not to mention that the only video we see is that of the woman lying in bed, eyes blinking. Interesting a premise as it has, it looks artsy as hell. La Jetee is a movie best left to the curious, and the critics.

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Unlike other films which we have watched for film class, it could be said that Primer does not rely much on the visual aspect, but rather focuses mainly (if not solely) on the narrative in order to deliver its message. This, in my opinion, is both its strength and its weakness.

There are no special camera tricks here, or fancy symbolisms worth overanalyzing; rather, it is purely straightforward science fiction all throughout. From what I understood from the film, scientists accidentally invent a time travelling device, and use said machine to their advantage; whether going back to the past in order to manipulate the stock market, sports bet on March madness, or unentangle the many consequences of their actions along the way. Though the premise holds much promise, its execution on the screen I found to be honestly dry and uninteresting.

For me, there was nothing to look forward to. There was initial curiousity upon the accidental discovery of time travel, but it loses its appeal early on, probably due to the drawn out story telling or the unrelatable main characters. Cold and distant, you couldn’t really sympathize with them for anything. Unlike perhaps Einstein, Hawking, and other scientists; whose scientific endeavours were probably boring as well, but with their stories romanticized, you just can’t help but love those intelligent bastards. On the contrary, I actually sympathized with my other film classmates, whom I noticed were either sleeping or just plain bored.

I couldnt help but feel that Primer’s objective was to deliberately distance itself from the common audience. Its overly technical and esoteric first act had me uninterested from the start.

It left me scratching my head in more ways than one. For me, there are many films which are similar in nature but have managed to captivate: with 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Vanilla Sky, for instance, among them. I am not saying that films have to be entertaining, nor should the director make it easier for the audience to digest; if that is how he truly gets his message across, then so be it. But if films do have a message to convey, then I was wondering what message this story has and to what audience it is intended for. It has to be lauded for its accuracy, for showing the realism behind scientific endeavours; but then again, we don’t watch House, MD in order to learn more fancy medical terms. I would give it another chance, in that perhaps numerous viewings are required in order to even get what was happening in the story; but the mere thought of watching it again already has me tired and running for the exit. Primer is admirable; who am i to disagree with critics, but I found its dryness to be unwatchable. Though I like the idea and the premise of the movie, its execution leaves much to be desired. Perhaps I would take a degree in the sciences before watching it again; those without science degrees need not apply.

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Punch Drunk Love: In Need of Understanding (070660)

Punch Drunk Love is admittedly not your usual romantic comedy. For one, I think it tries to be, for lack of a better term, deep, with the way it presents itself. Even the pacing of the movie from the first act itself could be seen as quite experimental; for instance, with the use of space in that long, lingering shot of the main character at the corner of the screen, as discussed in class. This is quite unlike Adam Sandler’s usual straightforward slapstick comedy fare. (It calls into mind the brilliant casting of Will Ferrel in the movie, ‘Stranger than Fiction’; a personal favourite, and which shows that some comedy actors truly have the acting chops.) This is not saying, though, that this perceived ‘unusual presentation’ doesn’t work to its advantage.

There is something wrong with Barry Egan on the psychological level, and the film conveys this hilariously by uncovering his character through his life story. He could be seen leading an extremely uninteresting life; a dead end job, no real friends, and with nothing to look forward to. His sisters don’t exactly help as well, bringing him down and constantly reminding him of his weirdness. However, with the arrival of Lena as played by Emily Blunt, the audience is presented two people who aren’t quite right in the head as per the standards of normal society, navigating their way through the seas of love and just wanting to be understood. I found their chemistry to be somewhat questionable; though if the director’s intention was to show the awkwardness present in their relationship, then he has succeeded. A particularly awkward yet hilarious scene was when Barry and Lena were in the process of making out, and were trying to dirty talk each other, which turned out as disastrously contrived; it would make for a few laughs.

Adam Sandler can be seen to convey a wide range of emotions in this film, and his acting skills are put to the test; he is quite good with these types of movies. On the other hand, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the emotionally unstable conman is also worthy of mention, though it is of my personal opinion that he is somewhat underutilized in this film. The supporting cast is admirable as well; with the characters giving off that awkward and unsure vibe as demanded by the movie.

But what steals the show is the direction and film elements; such as the subtle transitions and lighting effects which have been subject to much curiousity and debate. As discussed in class and also due to the supplemental readings, the bluish streaks of light are manifestations of the instances of true love in the movie. These effects, though subtle, are noticeable and provide an experimental twist to what would be otherwise a rather dry and slow paced movie. With all these elements combined, however, the film is a refreshingly unique romantic comedy in this genre which is filled with unoriginal copycats.

Punch Drunk Love’s title alone is unique in the sense that nowhere in the movie could anyone be seen punch drunk. However, it was able to capture that feeling of love? between Barry and Lena, if not the universal yearning of just wanting to understand and to be understood in return.

070660

Miguel Castriciones

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Hotel Chevalier/ The Darjeeling Limited (070660)

Hotel Chevalier is a good prequel to The Darjeeling Limited. Even if it starts out ‘in medias res’ or in the middle of things, it gives a nice back story for the Jack character and builds up the world in which they are part of. Starting out in the middle of things is risky in the sense that if done improperly, the viewer would not care much for it; however, I believe that Wes Anderson is successful in that it leaves much to the viewer’s imagination as to how the actual story plays out. In addition to this, watching The Darjeeling Limited afterwards and seeing the connection between the two is actually a good payoff, with the viewer being left satisfied with the time he invested in the movie.

With the main movie at hand, The Darjeeling Limited follows the quest for identity of a seemingly dysfunctional brotherhood. The twist is that this quest takes place in an environment most definitely outside of their comfort zone, the seemingly alien world of India. Here we are presented three brothers, each with their own quirks which endear them to the audience. Their squabbles and exploits in sunny India lead to a lot of laughs, but it also is the type of movie which would make you reflect. It talks about how you can’t really escape who you are, and that the quest for self is not really a destination, but rather a journey.

I found it a particularly easy film to watch due to numerous reasons. The first is that the movie establishes itself as endearing early on. It has an even, straightforward pace and generally is light in terms of mood; which makes it easy to watch as a popcorn movie. In addition to this, the actors in the film are familiar to the viewers; with Owen Wilson, Natalie Portman and even Bill Murray in the roster. The familiarity of these actors make the movie accessible to the viewer.

As discussed in class, the brilliant execution of film elements not just for entertainment purposes, but also makes it also a good film worth analyzing. For instance, it manages to elicit in the viewer a wide range of emotions; from the light and easygoing pace early on, to something such as the death of a child, with the shifts in mood handled appropriately. A most noteworthy part is the scene wherein the brothers take part in the funeral rites of the recently deceased child. The silent droning provides a contrast to the actual scene taking place, where it provides a feeling of distance and isolation. Quite the opposite, this spiritual journey enables them to accept their differences, and they actually find themselves amidst all this confusion.

The Darjeeling Limited is an entertaining movie, what’s more, it is a philosophically subtle one. In being lost, we find ourselves; and we can only be truly free if we let go of our baggages, as literally and figuratively shown in the movie. Now where to get those peacock feathers.

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Miguel Castriciones

 
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Posted by on 25 May 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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