Exploring Woody Allen in OLRs – Part 2

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“Annie Hall” seems to me to be the grandfather of most romantic comedies, even the true womb from whence “When Harry Met Sally” came.  It’s fast and acid-talking, it’s hilarious, and it’s wry in its commentary about actors, relationships, and society. Alvy’s running commentary about LA is priceless. Again, none of the striking photography of  “Manhattan” ,  but it makes it up for its ample of use of off-screen dialogue, wide shots of characters talking until they come closer to the camera, and the tight two-shot while walking. In short, Woody Allen-ness.

It was sad to see Alvy create the woman he wanted in Diane Keaton’s character, and then lose it. But that’s how life is.

To own and watch again and again.

“The Last Temptation of Christ”

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This is an engrossing, jarring, and deeply thought-provoking classic by Martin Scorcese.

I had heard a lot about this film as I was growing up and I’ve only watched it now. I think this was a wise choice, having gone through some Christian theological studies and looked the other way when the Da Vinci Code hysteria was swallowing up the masses. I thought this film would be the precursor to Dan Brown’s obsession with making Christ seem as human as humanly possible, but the opening credits of Last Temptation took care of that. As I realized that this is supposed to be an alternative exploration of the Christ story, I was at ease for some reason, although I’m never one to stop watching a film because it’s critical or uses artistic license of something to do with Christianity. I’m not that serious of a believer or practitioner right now.

The film has the landmarks of Scorcese’s style: the sudden splatter of blood, the tight beautiful photography, really natural and potent acting. The quick cuts, the slow pans and tilts.

All those technical notes aside, the most powerful aspect of this film is that it’s free. It explores the story of Christ freely. It doesn’t bow down or feel that it has to say something because the Synoptic Gospels said so. Kazantzakis’ disclaimer at the beginning of the film sets that up anyway. So, Scorcese does go wild with the material.

As someone who grew up reading the Bible over and over again, it was really exhilarating to see this story told in a starkly realist way. It didn’t have to go through the Christian Bleak test, where everything has to be dumbed and toned down because you’re talking about the Bible. Mary Magdalene’s prostitution is stark, smelly, sweaty; the silence and indifference is jarring. The detail in the weddings shown in the film – the music, costumes, food – is really engrossing. It really does show you that beyond the rendition of Wycliffe’s Scriptures, there were actually people in the times of Christ.

The dialogue is a bit flat and over poetic. I kept on thinking of Paolo Coelho but I realize that this may be taken from the novel. Aside: I do need to read the novel. But putting the stylized language aside, seeing Christ be so human and it done by Defoe in an engaging way that avoids melodrama is also very illuminating.

There are some really intelligent and dry twists in the film, like the meeting between Paul and Jesus. Very tongue in cheek and I’m sure legions of biblical scholars loved that bit. And the part, especially, where Christ gets old and Judas berates him for not having fulfilled the mission. Even the spin of Judas’ betrayal is interesting.

Coming to the movie with all the crap I’ve heard and read by Christians, I thought the last temptation was to be purely the sexual relationship with Mary Magdalene. It was really refreshing to see that it really was as Kazantzakis said it would be: the conflict between spirit and body. And to the dismay of many Christians, the last part of the film deals with Jesus’ sexual activity in the context of marriage and family, not lust or whoring. It’s interesting and mind-opening.

The music is visceral and I playfully made myself ignore that they were singing Arabic mawaweel (a poetic form set to song, usually in the Saba scale, that usually talks about lost love or sadness) in the 3rd century. 🙂 Overall, it’s well picked, performed, and adds emotional intensity to the film.

Definitely a film to own and learn from. It exemplifies taking a very sensitive subject and making something honest, according to a vision, not caring about its reception. It’s really important to Christians, no matter how blasphemous we’ve been conditioned to think it is, that Christ was after all human. This film just takes that to the logical limits of what it means to be human and what it means to make a choice willfully, mindfully, and with no excuses.

Exploring Woody Allen in OLR’s – Part 1

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“Manhattan” is hilarious, well-written, wryly acted, and beautifully shot. Inspirational to watch and learn from.

“Hollywood Ending” is big on witty dialogue, but lacks the striking yet simple photography of earlier Allen films. Funny nonetheless. Tea Leoni and Treat Williams kind of dissolve int the frenetic acid of Allen’s neuroses.

OLR – “The Girl Who Played With Fire”

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This film is no way as striking and powerful as the previous, neither in acting nor in photography nor overall direction; it actually retards back into arthouse mediocrity, barring the one beautiful shot of the burning warehouse. The faceoff between Zala and Lisbeth is weak and forgettable; not even revealing the identity of the blonde tank brings anything to the screen.

However, the entire film redeems itself in the final moment of tenderness, when Lisbeth reverses Armansky’s curse, that she doesn’t care about anyone else,  and actually lets Blomkvist in. She’s vulnerable, she’s no longer steely-faced, she’s glad to see him.

Look forward to how this is going to be wrapped up in the final film.

OLR – “Cadillac Records”

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“Cadillac Records” is “Ray”, but multiplied in acting prowess and deft direction by a first-rate ensemble cast. Intense, quirky, precise characterization of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, my two great heros of the howl. Watch out for Gabrielle Union and Beyonce bring real performances to the screen. Excellent film. Hoochie coochie seed, baby.

OLR – “Green Zone”

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“Green Zone” is another film about Iraq. It’s given a voice though to the Iraqi people, no longer just wailing women in black or caricatures of brown people. They got the accents right apart from the one Egyptian (I think) guy trying to be Iraqi. Nod to the guy from the Channel 4 series, who played Sadam, who plays Al-Rawi in this film. Average film.

OLR – “Sex, Lies, and Videotape”

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“Sex, Lies, and Videotape” is a dark, dark affair. A real classic. Really great performances by all involved. James Spade is raw, just almost effeminate. What we create, especially involving other people, almost becomes progeny, a child, having traces of us, but can longer be called solely your own. Agree/disagree?

Actor’s note: nice to see Andie MacDowell’s character flourish once she was given that emotional compost.

OLR – “Confessions of a Gambler”

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“Confessions of a Gambler” is let down supremely by weak, wooden performances all round. It’s sad because it’s a very good and strong story, with a great soundtrack.
Some choice shots though; look out for: 1) ceiling-looking-down picking out the main character dressed differently in a sea of worshipping women in a mosque 2) the medium of the main character dressed in black, holding a cigarrette with the Cape mountains behind her.

Thankfully, this is South Africa and not the Middle East, where a shot like that is tolerated and hopefully understood.

Rayda Jacobs wrote the original novel, directed, produced, and acted in the main character. She should have stuck to the first three only.

OLR – “The Kids Are Alright”

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I haven’t laughed this hard and this deeply in a very long time at the cinema. A funny, well-written, gritty film with an ensemble cast, all giving excellent performances. It’s “American Beauty” the sequel, interestingly with Annette Benning being in both. Sure to offend the Republican sensibilities of the US, it’s still a very real and entertaining film, portraying gay couples as-is, avoiding melodrama or head-bashing.

OLRs – from Another Delta Flight

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“The Hurt Locker”. Starts off strong but ends like a limp handshake. The slower arthouse version of “Jarhead”. Not Oscar material in any way. The insight into disillusioned soldiers is overdone. The ending borrows from “Home of the Brave”. Did I say borrows? You could safely say, steals unabashedly.

“Crazy Heart”. Good film. Strong performances by Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal brings a lot of vulnerability and openness to the role. Ending is realistic and non-sappy. Yet, not Oscar material. Not a timeless piece, from where I’m standing.

“Inception”. Rewatched this and stayed awake for the final section that I missed last time. Interesting, strong film. Real star here is really the concept or story rather than the actors. It’s the darker, broodier cousin of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Vanilla Sky”, the one with the morose face and emo haircut. Ending is interesting. Touches of playfulness comes with shots of Marion Coutillard and then Edith Piaff playing in the background. Definitely to own.

“Coco”. The one with Audrey Tatou. Didn’t get to finish this, but very promising. Was interesting to compare and contrast with “Coco and Stravinsky”.