Tag: realism

Fame


Fame (1980)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Students with talent when it comes to acting, singing, dancing and playing music were accepted in New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts and those who lack such talents were rejected. The very intense audition process was only the first scene and it really showed me that “Fame,” directed by Alan Parker, was going to be a very different musical compared to the ones that have been released in the 2000s. Throughout the film, it had a certain seriousness to it. It started off showcasing naive characters who want to “make it big” but as years went on, some of them made it while the others’ dreams were crushed because they either succumbed to the pressure or they simply didn’t have that extra “thing” to make them stand out. Some of the students that the film focused on were Irene Cara (who wanted to be a singer), Maureen Teefy (who wanted to act), Barry Miller (who wanted to follow Freddie Prinze’ footsteps), and Lee Curreri (who wanted to make and play music that was different and progressive). Throughout the film’s 130-minute running time, the spotlight was eventually under each of their respective struggles and we get some ideas on what made them the way they were. I also liked the fact that none of the actors looked like typical actors or had features that most would deem “beautiful.” In fact, all of them looked kind of geeky or nerdy so that spice of realism really helped the picture to become more than another forgettable musical. As four years went by, the characters matured (while some were fixated) in both overt and subtle ways and their problems had more gravity. Granted, the pacing became a little slow (and somewhat depressing) toward the end but I was more than willing to forgive that flaw because there were a plethora of memorable scenes and fun dance sequences. I wish that Cara had more scenes, however, because I really did love her songs. I wished that the film showed more of what personal events and experiences inspired her to write. This movie’s remake is to be released this year (2009) and I can only hope that it is able to retain some edginess and realism that this one had. I also hope that the remake would not lose sight on this picture’s theses–that talent is a good template but far from enough to be successful; and those who attain fame are not necessarily safe because it’s a constant challenge to rise above the pressures. The movie’s ability to take the audiences back to the 1970s was a bonus.

Julia


Julia (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Tilda Swinton stars as the title character who is an irresponsible alcoholic and liar who one day agrees to kidnap a kid (Aidan Gould) after the mother (Kate del Castillo) claims that she wants to rescue him from the multimillionaire grandfather. I understand that this can be a difficult film to swallow because of its two hours and twenty minutes running time. Although even I have to admit that it did drag during some parts, I thought that showing Julia’s journey from deep trouble to really, really deep trouble was fascinating in its own strange way. Another reason is that this is primarily a character-driven picture where we see Swinton’s character evolve in subtle ways from beginning to end. I definitely did not expect this film to be so visceral. I thought I was going to see a movie about a woman who was way out of her league as she tries to fight off henchmen and ultimately achieve redemption. I was so wrong because the main character did not want to change, unapologetically lewd and racist. There were times when I thought she really should stop lying to herself (and to others) and admit that she had a problem and that she needed help. But then there were also times when I was glad she was a great liar because her lies sometimes got her out of very complicated (and scary) situations. Without Swinton’s charisma and great timing, I think this film would have essentially fallen apart. Even though the lead character had the negative qualites mentioned prior, I still wanted her to succeed in her plight. In the end, even though she was not the character who appreciated other people’s pity, that’s exactly how I felt toward her. I got the feeling that she was not happy with her life and she ultimately wanted escape because it was too late to turn her life around. I’m giving “Julia” a strong recommendation because it very realistically portrayed people who were drowning in their own desperation. Other people may not agree but I think this film is a diamond in the rough.

Paranormal Activity


Paranormal Activity (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Oren Peli, “Paranormal Activity” claims to be real but it is far from it because, well, it was written and directed by someone. So save yourself the embarrassment and don’t yell out, “It’s real! It’s real!” in front of everyone. A couple from San Diego, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, decided to record the paranormal happenings in their house from September to October 2006. Katie was apprehensive of the idea because she has a history of a ghost following her ever since she was a child. Micah went ahead anyway because, a typical guy that he was, he wanted to record something awesome instead of taking the safer route. The movie started off with funny moments between the couple but it became more grim the deeper we got into the film. I’m not talking about just scary noises in the hallway. I’m talking about footprints, shadows, Ouija boards, sleepwalking, possession, and exploring the idea of a possible exorcism.

Comparisons with the highly influential and effective horror film that everyone thought was real at the time of its release in 1999, “The Blair Witch Project,” is inevitable. (I wonder why suddenly most people nowadays really dislike that movie.) Both movies used a hand-held camera that was shaky and it played upon one of people’s greatest fears: the unknown. Both movies also used the technique of a continuous rising action and ending the movie during its climax for full effect (and discussions after walking out of the multiplex). Although I consider “The Blair Witch Project” to be a better movie, it’s really all a matter of personal taste. I believe “Paranormal Activity” more than held its own because it captured genuine thrills and chills that most movies with big budgets (and far better special and visual effects) cannot. That fact alone should make the actors and the director proud of their work.

Essentially, “Paranormal Activity” thrived on realism. If you believe in demons or ghosts (or even if you’re not sure they exist–a group of which I belong in), chances are you will be cowering in your seat. If you don’t believe it demons or ghosts at all, chances are you’re going to laugh at the whole thing and maybe you shouldn’t even spend money to watch it. (Maybe catch it on DVD because it really is quite impressive.) I thought the movie was scary because it’s a classic haunted house movie: we see shadows, noises, and the things they do to the objects around the couple. And yes, they eventually do something to our protagonists other than scaring them out of their minds and desperately wanting to call an exorcist for help. I loved the bedroom scenes because those are when things started to get very… interesting. Even though the setting was rendundant (the whole movie was shot in one house), the things that were happening (that shouldn’t happen in the first place) was not. With each bedroom scene, the level of scare factor was amplified exponentially–by the fourth of fifth bedroom scene, I really wanted to look away because I found myself imagining the “What Ifs” when I would be the one sleeping and all the lights would be off.

This is not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. But it is one of those movies that I couldn’t help but think about afterwards. Despite what we know (or “understand” might be a better word) of science, and as a person who values science, we shouldn’t disregard certain possibilities just because we haven’t gathered enough support about them. If you’re tired of the same generic slasher films and remakes that Hollywood is spitting out every week, then do yourself a favor and see this one. Stop reading spoilers and hoping that the fear will wane after you’ve read a description. Because chances are, images are stronger than words. And even if you don’t end up liking it, at least you’re supporting a small movie. By doing so, perhaps big studio executives would stop being so elitist and support smaller films in the future–a movement that I strongly believe in because, in my experience as a young cinéphile, most of the time smaller films have great ideas and better execution than big Hollywood movies.

[REC]


[REC] (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

Having seen and being impressed with the remake called “Quarantine,” I just had to see the original. I think both are very effective even though they pretty much had the same scenes. In “[REC],” astutely directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, it had less exposition but the audiences quickly cared about the reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman. The reporter had a certain spunk and enthusiasm and what the cameraman saw, we saw so there was an automatic connection there. Everything starts off pretty light as the reporter interviewed the firemen about their every day happenings. Things quickly went for a darker turn when the firefighters got a call from an old apartment complex. At first, they thought it was just an old woman that fell and needed help. But when she started attacking and biting people, everyone pretty much knew that something more sinister was going on. People started dying in gruesome ways in the hands of zombie-like infected people and they get quarantined by city officials without an ounce of explanation. What I love about this film was its natural ability to build tension after each scene. There were moments when I thought that if I was stuck in the building with them, the exact same thing could happen so I was definitely more than engaged. “The Blair Witch Project” was undoubtedly this picture’s biggest inspiration but it managed to tilt just enough to have an identity of its own. The best part of the movie for me was the last fifteen to twenty minutes when they finally made it inside the apartment on the top floor. Such scenes revealed to us that it had more to it than “28 Days Later”-like zombies. The disease had a history and I wanted to know more about it. (Maybe a sequel?) But, of course, the scares did not end there. I felt like I was in that dark room with them as they tried to use the night vision option on the camera. I tried not to blink because I was expecting those “shock”/”jumpy” moments. But even then I was surprised and things popped out of nowhere. If one is a horror film fan, this is a must-see. However, this is definitely not for those who dislike shaky cameras in order to add some type of realism to its craft.

The Edge of Heaven


The Edge of Heaven (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Even though I did hear a lot of critical acclaim about this motion picture, I didn’t expect much coming into it. However, after finally watching it, I must say that I was absolutely blown away because of the way Fatih Akin, the writer and director, told such a human story about devastating losses and partial recoveries. The first part was about an aging father (Tuncel Kurtiz) making a deal with a prostitute (Nursel Köse) to live with him and only sleep with him while paying her the same amount of money she would make in one month. I saw the father’s situation as a way to gain control of someone because of his own frustration with his son (Baki Davrak) even though it’s apparent that they genuinely love each other. The second part was about Köse’s daughter (Nurgül Yesilçay) escaping to Germany because she’s wanted by her country’s officials for “terrorism.” She meets Patrycia Ziolkowska and the two become friends and lovers. Eventually, Yesilçay pushes Ziolkowska’s mother (Hanna Schygulla) to the edge because the mother believes that Yesilçay is preventing the daughter from achieving her education. The third part is the most powerful because the film shows that all of the six characters have impacted each other more than they ever thought possible. Although this film does intersect the six lives, it’s not one of those preachy movies with a twist in the end in order to accomplish some dramatic irony. Everything is naturalistic yet bizarre but it never lets go of the fact that it’s grounded in reality. It has enough coincidences to show that life is still magical despite the political battles, strained relationships between children and their parents, and lovers that are never meant to be. To me, the most powerful scene in the movie (among many) was when Schygulla and Yesilçay finally settle their differences. I found it beautiful that, despite all the anger and sadness, a person can look past all those negative emotions and embrace forgiveness. I was also impressed with Davrak as the son who pretty much has nobody even though his father is still around. Their interactions are somewhat cold (but as I said before I think they do love each other) but he still manages to radiate this warmth and craving for knowledge. This is not a simple film that ties up all the loose ends by the time the credits start rolling. This is, in a way, a slice-of-life picture designed for audiences who want to see fascinating characters dealing with realistic situations and deeply affecting outcomes.

Rachel Getting Married


Rachel Getting Married (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

It’s definitely refreshing to see Anne Hathaway play a sarcastic and narcissistic character because I’m so used to seeing her as sugary and sweet like in “The Princess Diaries,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Ella Enchanted.” Although she’s had her share of darker characters such as in “Havoc,” it’s in this film that she truly shines and showcases her potential as a serious actress capable of carrying roles that have a certain resonance. Although the backdrop of the film is Rosemarie Dewitt’s wedding (as Rachel), the film is really about Hathaway’s inner demons as she tries to recover from addiction to drugs (and negative self-talk regarding herself, the world and the future). I must give kudos to the director (Jonathan Demme) and the writer (Jenny Lumet) for their sublime way of telling the story and how certain characters would crash onto one another. Although the arguments between DeWitt and Hathaway are truly scathing, I still felt an undeniable love between them because of the things they’ve been through. Some of those things are explored in the picture in insightful and meaningful ways so the audiences truly get to appreciate the main characters. I loved Bill Irwin as the father who mediates between the two daughters. Even though he strives to play the middleman, after certain fights, it’s noticeable that it pains him to see his daughters fight. My main problem with the film is that it lost some of its momentum especially toward the last twenty minutes. The movie started off so strongly because we really get to experience Hathaway’s frustration, sarcasm and rage but I felt like those attributes were missing in the end. Yes, I get that Hathaway’s character wanted her sister to have a nice wedding so she tries to hold her smart remarks but I still wanted more. However, I believe this is a strong film because I felt like I was really there with the characters; from the rehearsals to the actual wedding, it made me miss my own family and relatives when we would gather and everyone would act crazy. In a way, I could relate to Hathaway’s character because I consider myself the black sheep in the family (minus the drugs). I also enjoyed the multicultural cast and the fact that the issue of race was not brought up. The main critique I’ve heard from audiences prior to watching this movie is the somewhat shaky camera. I thought it was utilized in a good way in here because it added to the sense of realism. Not everything has to be perfect especially in a film with a very flawed lead character who wants some sort of closure in order to be able to move on with her life.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom


Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
★★★ / ★★★★

Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini paints a deeply disturbing film about Nazis who kidnapped eighteen teenagers from their homes and subjected them in all kinds of physical, sexual and mental embarrassment (“torture” is the more accurate word to be perfectly honest). Out of those eight Nazis four were men (Paolo Bonacelli as The Duke, Giorgio Cataldi as The Bishop, Umbero Paolo Quintavalle as The Magistrate and Aldo Valletti as The President) and four were women (Caterina Boratto, Elsa De Giorgi, Sonia Saviange and Hélène Surgère). I have a penchant for films that defy the norm; though this film definitely fits in that category, I must admit that even this one was too much for me. It’s one thing when the audiences are forced to hear stories about the prostitutes’ personal experiences with men who have strange perversions but it’s another when we’re forced to see teenagers consume feces and get their tongues cut off. There were many scenes in the movie when I had to cover my eyes or look away because it all looked so realistic. At the same time, despite my disgust and horror, the film has messages such as the danger of capitalism, the objectification of male and female bodies and taking reality in a whole new level. There’s also bits about homophobia, mashochism, and insidious tools of oppression such as religion, titles and groupthink. When I really think about it, even though this picture was released in 1975, it’s still very relevant today. I also liked the common theme of something beautiful and inviting on the outside but only meanness, ugliness and evil can be found inside, such as the structurally beautiful palace where all kinds of evil are committed within its confines. I thought its messages culminated in the end when all kinds of atrocities were happening: While we get to see horrific images of violence sans the screaming and begging for remorse, I felt a sort of sadness and even a pinch of anger. When reviewers say that this film has nothing to offer, I argue that they haven’t really thought about the picture. While it may be challenging to look past the violence, it’s undeniable that “Salò” has insight that less daring movies will otherwise not achieve. I give this a recommendation but I must warn that this is not for a typical movie-going audience or for the faint of heart.