Monday, July 30, 2012

Star Wars (1977) - dir. George Lucas

Every now and then, there comes a series of films that completely shakes the world from its feet. Very recently, The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final installment of Christopher's Nolan's take on the story of Batman, brought in about $160 million worldwide. Just four years previous, its predecessor The Dark Knight set records in achieving a similar intake. Arguably, one of the most important things to note in perfecting an ideal series is to start with an initial film that sets it off with a bang. This is why the Harry Potter films and Lord of the Rings trilogy have been noted among the best of all time. Thankfully, I have finally been able to access an original VHS of the first film of this truly revolutionary trilogy; possibly even "the one that started it all".

By now, nearly everyone who is anyone is familiar with the story of Star Wars. Writer/Director George Lucas informs us from the very start that the setting is "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away". The story of the film is literally not of this world at all. Through the brilliant and infamous scrolling text introduction, the audience is informed that this current galaxy is in a state of civil war, between the Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance. Rebels have managed to steal secret plans to the Death Star, an armed space station capable of destroying an entire planet, and passed them over to rebel leader Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). We then meet a young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who is confronted by a couple of droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO. He finds out that Leia has been taken captive and must be rescued before it is too late. He leaves his planet with former Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), with help from Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his Wookiee Chewbacca, to recapture the princess and eliminate the Death Star.

What impressed me the most about this film is just the extent of George Lucas' imagination, which is undoubtedly apparent in this intricately created universe that seems to be beyond the realms of any imagination. Every character seems to be so well thought out, and the accuracy of such a storyline is just downright amazing. The writing in general is crafted with such excellence that any film student could only dream of achieving. When phrases like "your lack of faith is disturbing" and "may the Force be with you" have been engrained in everyday modern society and culture, you know there's something truly special there. I would also like to give my highest of regards to the groundbreaking special effects that really make this film as breathtakingly brilliant as it truly is. The shots set in the dark outer depths of space seem so realistic, it's as if one was physically there witnessing the action. Not to forget that these, of course, are aided by the impressive work in cinematography. I would be perfectly confident in adding these sorts of scenes up with 2001: A Space Odyssey in levels of sci-fi amazingness.

I felt personally that the acting itself wasn't all too special. Of course, with a film as visually and narratively magnificent as this one, I think that to complain about the perfectly decent performances would be asking too much from a perfectly decent film. I would, however, like to acknowledge the talents of Alec Guinness, in his role as the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi. He conquered the role with such vigor and passion, and it's impossible to imagine another actor playing him nearly as perfectly. I have seen him perform in a number of other films, and there is only one other performance (Liet. Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai) that I would put above his work as Obi-Wan. I also must mention the flattering detail put into the character of Darth Vader, who surely must have scared the pants off of quite a number of children in 1977. I don't believe that too much of his character had been exposed in this first installment as I would have liked - but that's more of a reason to continue on with the series!

Now, I dare not close this review without even mentioning what I believe is one of the most important aspects of the film overall: the music. From the very first seconds of the film's start, the musical score by John Williams' orchestra booms with such epic vivacity that is uncommon in many similar blockbusters. The score, though similar in sound all throughout the film, has the versatility to change in tone, depending on the situation. It can go from downright epic, to intense, to heartbreakingly beautiful, driven by the simple change in scene. I think it takes a special kind of talent to achieve such abundance while, at the same time, embedding this music into relevance, even for those who haven't seen the films. John Williams is an absolutely giften composer, and for that, I give him a round of applause.

Since I've now finally seen this film, I can't help but feel saddened by the fact that George Lucas has become so big of a cash cow, using any excuse to make money off of what has now become a worldwide franchise. Even though I had not watched any of the films at the time, I was so upset when I learned about the languid editing done for the Blu-ray release back in 2011. Luckily, I was able to get my hands on the original cut, but I find it very disappointing that someone would tinker with what is obviously one of the most beloved films of all time. Having now watched it, I know that its place is very well-deserved. I only wish I'd be able to go back to 1977 and watch it in theaters, because I'm sure the experience would be worth tenfold in the already incredulous delight I felt watching it. For now, I can find pleasure in basking in the forever faithful fandom of this truly miraculous universe.

My rating: 4.5/5

Tillsammans (Together) (2000) - dir. Lukas Moodysson

Having seen and been thoroughly impressed with director Lukas Moodysson's Lilja 4-ever, I have decided to give the rest of his films a try. I would have most preferred to have started with his debut Show Me Love, but the convenience of Together, which is available now on Netflix instant (and which I've heard good things about in the past), made this feel like a good start to this.

Together examines the relationships between a bunch of eclectic individuals in a 1970's commune in Stockholm called "Tillsammans". Instead of focusing on these characters in the scope of the outside world, this film does the opposite. They are shut in and isolated from community, making the focus, instead, rely on how they communicate with each other, as they strive to rebel against nearly everything that society expects them to be.

Undoubtedly, the film is driven along, not necessarily by a proper storyline, but by these characters and how they interact with one another. The characters of the film are as follows: Göran (Gustav Hammarsten) is the kind, soft-spoken presumed leader of the commune - one may argue that he is the most "sane" of the group. He is in a open relationship with tenant Lena (Anja Lundqvist), but the two are struggling, due to her lack of willingness for responsibility. She is having an affair with Erik (Olle Sarri), who comes from a rich background (which he opposes), and is arguably the most politically-charged member of the group. Also accompanying them are: Anna (Jessica Liedberg), a self-proclaimed feminist lesbian; Lasse (Ola Rapace), her ex-husband; their son Tet (Axel Zuber); and Klas (Shanti Roney), a homosexual who longs to be loved. The story of the film truly begins when Göran's sister Elisabeth moves in with her two children Eva (Emma Samuelsson) and Stefan (Sam Kessel), after she leaves her alcoholic and abusive husband, who soon attempts to clean up his act for his wife and children.

Now, my main issue with the film wasn't with how convoluted the storyline was. There are a great deal of absolutely great films with non-linear plot (I'm looking at you, Pulp Fiction!). Unfortunately, the fact that there as so many facets of the movie to discover makes it difficult to spend too much time on any of the characters at all. I understand that this was meant to be a satirical film, and the setting for this is absolutely great, but it just didn't seem like the characters came across as real people. Rather, they were like caricatures, stereotypes of characters our parents warned us about, and the audience remains at a distance from the goings-on of this closed-in community. I've heard many describe this movie as "heartfelt" and "heartwarming", but because I personally felt no emotional connection to any of them, I really didn't care for them too much at all. The parts that I think were supposed to come off as heartwarming, to me, just felt silly, because of the lack of consistency.

One interesting facet of the film, however, came with the children's paralleling stories. Eva is largely alienated by the members of the commune, and befriends a seemingly "normal" neighbor boy. It soon comes to our attention that his parents are just as dysfunctional as (if not more than) the members of Tillsammans, bringing to light the fact that these hippies of the '70's may not be as exclusively immoral as how the media portrays them. The friendship between Stefan and Tet, though basically glossed over, is also very interesting. At one point, they are shown playing a game where one pretends to be Augusto Pinochet being tortured by the other; for the sake of equality, they take turns being the torturer. It comes across as being very funny and an ordinary staple of young boys at playtime, but also exemplifies how the values of the adults in the household reflect upon the young and naive. To me, the scenes with the children were the most interesting points of the film and really provided the necessary connecting points that were lost from the rest of the film. If this were the whole film, I probably would have liked it a lot more.

I understand that there was a message that Moodysson was intending with Together. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the theme was unevenly distributed through a selection of characters that come across as "fillers", when it would have been much more effective with a definite focus. Of course, I definitely appreciate the effort he made with this, and am planning on seeking out Show Me Love next, since I still am a fan of the boundless creativity that Moodysson undoubtedly possesses.

My rating: 2/5

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Obligatory Introduction: Films Like Dreams begins!

I guess to start off this blog, I should make an introductory post to set things off to a good start.

I suppose I'll begin by talking about myself: My name is Lyzette. I am a 20-year-old college student, currently attending San Francisco State University. One of the greatest loves in my life is cinema. Ever since I attended my very first movie theater viewing with The Lion King at age two, I have steadily acquired an ever-growing love and appreciation for the art of cinema.

Now having grown up in an average Californian upbringing, I have always enjoyed movies. It is just so deeply engrained in our culture and, thus, in myself, it is almost inevitable to have been touched by cinema in some way or another. However, when I first saw Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange at age thirteen, as cliché as it may sound, it had truly changed my life. From the subject matter alone, I could truly see that this was unlike much else I had ever seen (or at least noticed) before. What's more is that there were things being done with the camera and use of close-ups and long shots that created a sort of ominous atmosphere, making it clear that this was clearly not a film to simply "enjoy", but rather it had so much more to say. Of course, I could not have possibly recognized this so adequately, but I could feel it, and for a thirteen-year-old who had been raised on Disney movies and Nickelodeon, this was a big deal.

I suppose you could say that this was the point where I realized that it was okay to explore new territories in terms of film. It suddenly wasn't so important that I had to catch the latest blockbuster as soon as possible, when there were so many other unseen gems to find. I began watching more older films, many of which - e.g. Pulp Fiction, Casablanca, The Godfather, It's a Wonderful Life, etc. - have become beloved favorites. In high school, I discovered Charlie Chaplin by watching The Kid during history class. This had begun an unbreakable passion for silent comedies, and soon, silent film in general.

Eventually, I graduated high school and started taking classes at Moorpark Community College. In my first semester, I took an Introduction to Cinema class with an absolutely amazing instructor. It was during that class when I truly came to terms on how seemingly limitless cinema truly was. In the course, we examined what it takes to make a film - writing, acting, direction, cinematography, editing, and others - and how they came together to basically create magic. I got to see The Wizard of Oz and Donnie Darko (both old favorites of mine) in much different ways than I had perceived before. This was also where I watched Blade Runner, The Graduate, and Stand By Me for the first time. This - along with Intro. to Documentary Film and Screenwriting courses - led me to recognize just how much hard work, talent, and passion goes into making a truly great film. 

Since then, I guess one could say that I have been aiming to watch as many films as possible ever since. According to my iCheckMovies profile, to this date, I have watched 1,260 films. This includes feature-lengths, as well as short films (<45 minutes). Obviously, I plan on watching much more. Although by now I have a pretty good idea of what kinds of films I enjoy over others, I think that watching these films for my own satisfaction is only half of the work. I think it is just as important to inform the public that such wonderful films do exist, and that there is a strong group of individuals ("cinephiles") that find their greatest pleasures in seeking out these films to enjoy them. Cinema is an excellent looking glass from one era onto another, and should never been merely seen as a methods of entertainment. I am truly upset by the knowledge that the vast majority of silent-era films no longer exist, due to mistreatment, abandonment, or just plain indifference. I suppose that this blog is just my way in contributing to the uprising to preserve film.

The title "films like dreams" just suddenly came onto me quite a while ago. I can't exactly tack on a true meaning of the term, but I like to think that the primary explanation is to metaphorically describe the universality of cinema. Sometimes dreams can be deciphered into some kind of meaning pulled from the person's subconscious; even though they sometimes seem to just randomly occur with no real meaning at all. Such is that of film - how accessible the meaning of film is depends on the filmmaker's willingness to derive their intentions and inject whatever means necessary to create a masterpiece. Though their meaning may not always be completely apparent at first, it just makes it that much more interesting for the audience to take what they perceive to be the meaning from it all. And just like dreams, not everything remains exactly the same from person to person. What one person could see as a typical love story could translate, for another, to anything from a comment on the trials and tribulations of love, to an uprising against the social/political ideals at the time - and everything far and in between. And this is why reviews are written - as a means of comparing ideas and broadening our horizons to what others have to say about the same thing. Because film is just that amazing.

This blog will be primarily used as an attempt for me to get back into writing reviews, which I gave up about a year ago due to feelings of inadequacy. Besides cinema, I will also be updating every now and them about whatever shows I'm watching, since it has recently made a comeback in my life. If things turn out right, I want to have between 75-100 reviews posted by about this time next year.

Cheers for the future!

- Lyzette