Saturday, January 26, 2019

Loving Vincent (2017)

Loving Vincent (2017)

Directors: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Cast: Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O’Dowd 

It has always baffled me how artists are unappreciated when they are alive. That whole thing that only after an artist has died do people truly care about their work. If you know anything about the story of Vincent Van Gough, well, then you’ll know he was one of these artists. He had many personal and internal struggles to deal with in life. Was he crazy? Why’d he chop off his ear? Why did he shoot himself? Van Gogh’s life and work has been the focus of many films throughout the years. For example, Paul Cox’s Vincent (1987), Robert Altman’s Vincent and Theo (1990), Vincent Minelli’s Lust for Life (1956) and most recently Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate (2018) starring Willem Dafoe as Van Gogh. So, Van Gogh’s life was one filled with all the elements for a good film, tragedy, passion, art, love, poverty, money (or lack thereof), so it’s no surprise so many films have been made about him. 

Today I will be talking about Loving Vincent (2017) a film that tells the story of what happened to Van Gogh during his last days on earth, when he committed suicide by shooting himself in the gut. The story unfolds from the perspective of a character called Armand Roulin, the son of a postman who was good friends with Van Gogh. You see, this postman has the last letter that Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo Van Gogh and so he wants his son to deliver this letter to Van Gogh’s brother. The film unfolds as we meet all the different characters that Armand meets in order to deliver the letter. In the process, Armand gets to know who Van Gogh was and the consequences that led to his demise. 

I connected with this movie immediately because it’s about the story of an artist and I am an artist myself, so I am quite sensible to the turmoil’s and tribulations that come with being an artist as well as that special kind of sensibility that we live with, a sensibility that not all possess or understand. Seeing how Van Gogh was bullied and tormented for seeing the world differently, for not being able to fit into that mold that they all wanted him to fit into is heartbreaking. Van Gogh went through many psychological struggles because society didn’t accept him and because he lived mostly in poverty. All Van Gogh wanted was for people to understand how deeply he felt about things, to understand the passion and lust he had for life and beauty. So sad that people would only understand this many years after his death. So, if you are an artist (or an artist at heart) you’ll be able to connect with this film. 

But one of the most amazing things about this movie is how it was made. Each frame was hand painted by a group of more than 100 artists from over twenty different countries. The film took four years to complete! Now try and wrap your head around how difficult it is to oil paint every frame of an entire film, all while still trying to tell a compelling and intriguing story! A lot of films can become an exercise in execution and try and impress with how well they were made while losing that all important element, a good story. This does not happen with Loving Vincent, a film that delivers both a good story and an amazing execution. I wanted to know what truly happened with Van Gogh. Did he truly shoot himself or was he murdered? I loved how the film was told like a detective story, as the main character picks up pieces of the story as he tries to deliver the letter. 

The fact that every frame of the film was hand painted gives us a very unique looking film. Sometimes we as viewers take so many things for granted because at the end of the day, all we have to do is watch a film. Sometimes we are oblivious as to all the hard work that goes on behind the cameras in order for a film to get made. In the case of Loving Vincent, we shouldn’t take anything for granted because it achieved something that had not been done before to this extent. It’s a film miracle. A wonder to behold.  

I loved how the film incorporates so many of Van Gogh’s paintings into the film. Many of his portraits and characters jump to life and walk around many of the beautiful vistas that Van Gogh painted. The film is like seeing all of Van Gogh’s paintings coming to life and breathing, while never losing Van Gogh’s particular style and colors. It’s amazing. I felt like I got to know who Van Gogh was after watching this film and connected with the painter in a more profound way then before. You’ll get to know Van Gogh’s thoughts and feelings because one of the films director’s Dorota Kobiela, made this film after having studied Van Gogh’s painting techniques and analyzing the letters he wrote throughout his life. This is a unique and visually dazzling film, one that requires admiration for how it was made, this isn’t just any old film, it was painstakingly made to give us, the viewers something truly special.  

Rating: 5 out of 5

Friday, January 18, 2019

Glass (2019)

Glass (2019)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, James McAvay and Anya Taylor Joy

M Night Shyamalan’s a walking time bomb when it comes to quality. While one film might deliver, the next might disappoint. For example, the double knockout of Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008) were completely rejected by fans of the director and nearly destroyed Shyamalan’s career entirely. He’d lost the respect of many audience members out there. Had he lost it? Well, for a while there it seemed like so, like he’d lost that magic that makes directors produce a good film. Then he kicked back and made a horror film called The Visit (2015), about these pair of grandkids who go to visit grandma and grandpa in their house in the middle of nowhere. Apparently, working on a smaller budget did Shyamalan good because with The Visit, Shyamalan proved to us and himself that he could still make a good film. Shyamalan cemented his comeback with Split (2016) which presented us for the first time with the fascinating character called ‘The Beast’. An awesome performance is what carried that film and we got McAvoy to thank for that. His psychical and psychological transformations when he switches from personality to personality is one of the films biggest strengths. 

Split was also the film that united Split, Unbreakable and now Glass as films that coexist in the same universe, with characters from Unbreakable and Split crossing over onto this new film Glass. There was a lot of speculation in regards to the film. Would Shyamalan deliver one of his good ones? Does he still as they say “have it”? Was Split a fluke? Would this be a great sequel, or a forgettable one? 

I enjoyed Split a lot but I remember thinking it wasn’t original. We’d seen movies about psychos kidnapping people for vile purposes a million times before. But that performance and that tension Shyamalan directs so well got me reeled in. With Split I went back to that old saying “it’s not what you say but how you say it”, sure we’d seen this type of story before, but Shyamalan told it so very well! Now here comes Glass, the sequel in which we’d see all these fantastic characters clash. The Beast, The Overseer and Mr. Glass. So is it the big conclusion we all expect? Yes it is my dear readers. You feel that tension building all the way through, kind of how all those Rocky movies that all led up to the big fight in the end. Glass is a very fresh take on the whole superhero thing. It tones everything down, makes it more believable. This is not a big special effects spectacle, no, this movie is more about performances, tension and suspense. In that sense the film was a breath of fresh air. It was interesting to see a super hero film that wasn’t  90% computer generated. So yes, glad to inform that Glass focuses on gripping performance and a well written, tense script. 

When Unbreakable (2000) premiered I remember I didn’t know what to expect. The premise pulled everyone to see it. How and why had David Dunn survived that tragic train crash where everybody died, except him? A lot was expected of the second film from the  director of The Sixth Sense (1999), which had been a hit the previous year. When I went to theater to see Unbreakable the night of its premiere, did my comic book loving heart know that it would end up being a movie that explained the nature of comic books so well? Nope. And that blew me away! Here I was watching a film about something I loved so much. Back in 2000, super hero films were not as big as they are now, so seeing a film that talked about comic books, was something for me. The film used all we know and love about comics and analyzed it with style. To me Unbreakable was one of the films that helped kick off what would become a new era of comic book movies, and era that has been reigning supreme in Hollywood for almost two decades now.

Glass does the same thing yet again, it dives into comic book lore by analyzing the nature of the villain. Why are these villains so deranged? What makes them tick? What set them off? We get a good dose of that in Glass. It takes us deep into the psyche of the psychos Mr. Glass and The Beast. This movie belongs to McAvoy and Mr. Jackson on the performance side of things. Willis plays David, who’s job is to be stoic, strong and quiet, but McAvoy’s Beast loves to chat it up. Every single one of The Beasts 20 something personalities likes to say their piece! The real spectacle here is watching McAvoy do this masterful job of giving each one of the personalities a completely different performance. I’d dare say I’d consider this performance for an Oscar, or some sort of award. Fantastic performance, a memorable villain if there ever was one. 

So did Glass deliver? Hell yeah, it’s a good film. I don’t get these “bad reviews” that it got from critics? The general consensus out there is that critics hate it, but that fans love it. I don’t get why critics would hate it but I agree that a fan of Split and Unbreakable should be very pleased (and even surprised) by this movie. It takes the premise from Unbreakable and Split further. I congratulate Shyamalan for playing with heavy themes within the context of the comic book world. On Glass he played with that wonderful idea that we all have this potential to be amazing, that we are capable of more than we know, we just have to believe. So yeah, Glass delivers, another good one on Shyamalan’s cinematic crown. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Title: Tekkonkinkreet (2006)
Director: Michael Arias 
Tekkonkinkreet is a film that comes to us from Studio 4C, the same guys that produced the amazing and unforgettable animated anthology Memories (1995), the mind blowing animation on Animatrix (2003) and most recently the feature film titled Mutafukaz (2017), which I’ve yet to see, but hear great things about. I hold this animation studio in high regard because their stuff is always cutting edge…its state of the art quality stuff. For example, on Tekkonkinkreet they started to fool around with mixing computer animation with traditional animation and the results were nothing short of amazing. It’s the kind of animated film you will want to watch more than once. So, what is this strangely titled movie all about? 

The title of the film, which might sound weird to English speakers, actually means ‘steel reinforced concrete’ in Japanese, which makes sense when you think about how the story takes place in this complex city landscape, where buildings are piled up into one another. At times the city itself feels like a character all its own, dying, decayed yet menacing. But the main characters in the film are actually two kids named ‘Black’ and ‘White’. Black is the older brother type, always taking care of things, solving problems and saving White from trouble. White is a kid, a daydreamer, whose head is up in the clouds dreaming about a perfect world where man and nature can coexist in peace and happiness. I loved how he sees himself as an alien, reporting what he sees down here on Earth. Together, Black and White see “Treasure Town” as their town, not to be messed with by anyone. It may be old and decayed, but it’s theirs, it’s actually the only thing they can call their own. So you better not mess with it, or else. So, what happens when a Yakuza gang lord strolls into town with the idea of turning Treasure Town into a pleasure den in order to trap young people and turn them into puppets?

So yeah, at heart this is a story about young people looking for freedom from the suffocating urban jungle that they live in. White is always dreaming of playing amongst flowers, insects, animals. He dreams of swimming in the ocean with dolphins and looking for interesting rocks at the edge of the beach. But his reality is another one. He is homeless, and lives on the grimy dirty streets of Treasure Town, where every day is a struggle to survive. I thought that was a beautiful message to address with a film, how the city, the concrete, the cars, the pollution, the crime on the streets all that stuff that we deal with on a day to day basis can get to us. Of course we will day dream of a more beautiful place whenever we can. 

The film is also about religion and governments wanting to control people, to trap them, ensnare them somehow to keep them distracted, so they won’t even realize they are being used. This is all represented by the main villain, who says he is doing all this in “Gods” name. In many ways Tekkonkinkreet also reminded me of Pinocchio, with its story centered on ensnaring the youth with drugs and games. Best part about the story is how the youth themselves identify the enemy and realize they have to do something to protect “their city” from this great evil. This is a very rebellious film, with many symbolisms pointing towards taking matters into our own hands if we have to, reaching into that dark, violent part of ourselves if need be. Black is named Black because he realizes he has this capability of tapping into his dark side. White is pure, chaste, childlike. Polar opposites that totally need each other, like the ying and the yang. Like tit for tat. One cannot live without the other. They are brothers, eternally intertwined. I loved how the film truly augments that feeling of a strong, brotherly love. And how it speaks about how we are both good and evil, for what is light, without dark. Nothing is pitch perfect good, or pitch black evil. 

Finally, the visual side of the film is astounding. This is one of the greatest strengths of the film, but what’s great about Tekkonkinkreet is that it balances those great visuals with a great story, so it’s a fantastic balancing act between eye candy and an immersive, emotional tale. Director Michael Arias seems like a guy who likes to charge his films with emotional content and I love that. Tekkonkinkreet is not a spectacle void of emotions. The film also has elements of magical realism, because it’s not a complete fantasy, yet characters do jump inhuman lengths from one building to another. Characters seem to defy gravity at times, going as far as deftly having fights on top of moving cars and trains. There’s also a strong surreal vibe to the film, with dreamscapes and visions being vividly depicted and yeah, the film even has some sci-fi elements in it, with what seemed like cyborgs or aliens to me. I say “seemed” because another thing I liked is that certain elements of the film aren’t fully explained, they are left open for you to interpret in your own way. What is firmly orchestrated though is what these images represent, and to the observant film watcher, these symbolisms should not go unnoticed. 
Rating: 5 out of 5


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