Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Box: The gulp of the pulp

Richard Kelly, the creator of a memorable cult masterpiece “Donnie Darko”, gives you the idea of a life-box. Your house, your car, your body, your coffin – closed, compact, solid but transient – compressing, squeezing, tightening, and finally, altering or even crushing your spirit and soul. You are up to anything to widen, to enhance, to live a better box than other people, but the flame of thought or conscience or existence smouldering in the pit of your skull just surprisingly burns out and there is only the box and no contents inside.

“The Box” is a novel-based picture which pays homage to the absurd-packed pulp fiction and sci-fi B movies. Supported by the existentialist psychological play written by Jean-Paul Sartre, namely, “No Exit”, it smuggles a very up-to-date but the ‘70s. settled theory which punches you straight in the stomach in order to pinch and burn and not to be forgotten somewhere in between the nonsense-and-gravity fizzing shake and the mystic New Age babble. Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) lead a happy life in modesty together with their son, Walter. But the financial opportunity taking the shape of a strange red button-topped device which literally erects in front of their door makes them concentrate their efforts on improving “the box” rather than keeping to the values they elaborated. The idea is simple and most intriguing: push the button and you’ll get one million dollars, push the button and somebody you don’t know will die. The choice is yours, can your conscience take it?

The brilliant concept, however, becomes too literal and pretentious to accept the quirky story as one shocking entity. Kelly aims at justifying and explaining both the mysterious device and wonderfully creepy Arlington Steward played delightfully by Frank Langella, who presents the disturbing proposal to the Lewis couple. The background gets the audience into the area of some unbelievable sci-fi debris which contorts the astounding idea of analyzing destructive human behaviour and nature and overtakes the main concept of the picture. Finally, artistic ambitions get diluted in the solution of the genres multiplication. Intriguing and courageous cinematic experiment lacking congruency and overcomplicated. Too bad – sometimes simplicity is the key.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Perhaps love: The firm grasp of the past

A very unique epic musical story from Peter Ho-Sun Chan delivers a great deal of aesthetic excitement, romantic beauty of tragic love theme clashed with the ruthlessness of human ambitions, power-striking soundtrack tipped with the melancholic energy and stunning acting-and-singing performances from Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Xun and Jacky Cheung. To say that “Perhaps love” is a remarkable cinematic experience would be an understatement as it writhes a perfectly cosy nest within your heart with no intention of leaving.

No simple romance plotline ideas can apply to Chan’s twisted and still purely magical picture which burns you with emotional flames just vaguely simmering underneath the smooth surface of clearly misleading appearances. The story that connects Sun Na and Lin Jian Dong was once deeply rooted in what could be named love but after her despicable deed of eloping with the famous director-to-be in order to launch a splendid acting career excluding her unsuccessful boyfriend, love evaporates to transform into love-like and revenge-lined push and pull play. Sun Na, Lin Jian Dong and their friend, the director, meet again after years for another movie making. But this time the forces are equal because once a zero, Lin Jian Dong traversed his route from rags to riches and became an onscreen hero who can finally match with his beloved one. In the game that the three of them embark on, no one will be victorious nor unscratched, but emotionally wrecked – certainly yes. The narrative construction exposes brilliantly the turns of human soul with the means of emotions-jostling songs shuffled with numerous retrospections spiced up by the delicate artistic vision and consummate acting.

Takeshi Kaneshiro makes the character of Lin Jian Dong an ambivalent personae lost among his unsatisfied expectations, who attempts to devote himself to revenge and loathing but ends up only inflaming his old feelings. Zhou Xun manages not to reduce herself to the character of a cruel opportunist but digs deeper to find a life-disappointed self-angry girl. The final word belongs to Jacky Cheung who creates his role on the basis of powerful tear-jerking voice singing and profound look which makes the whole picture not only moving but authentically sad.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Milk of Sorrow: Soft and strict

In the eye of the society Fausta is sick. She took over fear and impotence from her beloved mother, who had been raped as a young pregnant woman during the Peruvian terror period in years 1980-1992. By having drunk her mother’s milk, Fausta inherited loads of pain and weakness sealed by the social approval and resulting from the fact of being a victim. Not only the victim of masculine dominant position but the society’s culturally confirmed blindness. Indeed, the trauma inscribed in the girl’s soul is even more profound because of the social silent persecution than it would be if left alone and not raked up.

“The Milk of Sorrow” brings an extraordinary story of a woman who despises her overwhelming fear but cannot find enough strength to fight her innate inability to overcome herself. The path she finally chooses gives a glint of hope to the dark meanders of Fausta’s psyche. Still, the whole narrative is very carefully woven by Claudia Llosa, the director. She takes every possible measure not to turn her picture into an unhealthy, hideous and exhibitionist psychological horror. Nevertheless, any joyful gleam becomes eventually strangled due to the wariness not to run sentimental.

In order to avoid the fate of a victim, Fausta inserts a potato into her vagina. It may sound perplexing or ridiculous even but to her it is perfectly innocuous – only abomination can fight abomination, she says. But Llosa plucks up her courage to continue the chosen plotline and to complete the story in subtle, metaphorical tones accompanying a very feminine and soft look at the protagonist. Fausta’s mother death, death of a person who provided her both with fear and sense of security, pushes the young woman towards liberating herself from the irons of historical and internal limitations. The distance she covers on her journey makes “The Milk of Sorrow” not only sagacious but simply touching and thought-provoking.

Re-watched: Across the Universe

Musical, a movie genre that has recently undergone a tremendous transformation and now offers to all song-monikers post-modern, aggressive fusion of image and sound rather than correct melodious chants, has again delivered to its loyal audience a small masterpiece of its kind. The song-packed “Across the universe” skillfully directed by the queen of quirky and juicy cinematic visions, Julie Taymour, gives an exquisite performance from Jim Sturgees as Jude, poor Englishman coming to the USA, who meets on his way clumsy, war-terrified American and his pretty sister fighting against hellish military struggle in Vietnam. Romance, clash of youth spirit and politicized war realms, genius episodes from megastars of showbiz Joe Cocker, Bono and Salma Hayek and an outstanding musical drama – all of that keeps the mouth opened and nerves strained by the sheer excitement.

Taymour turns her Hair-like movie into already legendary music encyclopedia for all the Beatles fans. After all “Across the universe” has been built upon classical compilation of smashing song hits from Liverpool boys. The unique mojo the new voices tack onto to the well-known notes and lines, morphs Taymour’s gross, breathtaking music story into fresh cinematic breeze among genre’s typical features. Fortunately, the corky visions do not burry the movie’s message underneath the music bloat.

Taymour, the celebrated director of “Frida”, exuded her style in her earlier iconoclastic, vivid and fantasy-like productions just to unleash this intensely emotional, bolting tornado of sounds touching the most delicate strings of the musical admirer’s soul. She melts images and mix them into homogenous, artistically coherent phenomenon, so it is worth seeing “Across the universe” merely for amazing, spicy clips of “Strawberry Fields” and “I want you bad”. And there is so much more!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Departures: Bittersweet touch of coldness

Heart-gripping, Oscar-winning Yôjirô Takita’s tale about a young cello player turning to funeral ceremonies business grasps your soul and squeezes it out of all emotions. It has it all: throbbing feeling of inevitable human fate, warm and honest characters portrayals, slow-paced narrative with gentle, serious reflection over life and death along with several laughs enlightening the subject. The director managed to step into the most complicated and unstable taboo area in human perception and still not to step onto the fragile material and smash it with his clumsiness. No. The picture balances in an extremely agile manner on the verge of what’s acceptable and what’d be rejected by the human mind accustomed to the comfortable thought of everlasting successful existence in some ideal surroundings. Still, Takita doesn’t play with you but slaps you on the cheek giving conviction that he’s been just patting you on the shoulder.

Death: the picture appoints to the role of a guide in the most delicate excursion towards the acceptance a young leading man who knows nothing of pure joy of being alive and who ignores subject of death, in whatever dimension it would be, but still overcomes his prejudice and fear. Takita takes Daigo on a journey through disgust, tolerance, comprehension and finally respect making you follow his steps and understand or reject them. The full empathy that links the protagonist and the audience in fear, doubt and amazement comes from the performance delivered by Masahiro Motoki. His authentic hold to the character and the story eludes dangerously frequent artificiality being part of strongly emotional scripts which handled without feeling and devotion turn into sentimental flops.

The visual shape of the movie supports in every tiny detail the spiritual and moral line of the story. Every single image is aesthetic and ascetic at the same time, revealing all along the white and pastel palette which underlines the very essence of the picture – its subtlety and its frank humility towards the greatness of life whose part constitutes death, not that hideous and terrifying as we could think but gracious and liberating phenomenon transforming every day into more than special and joyous celebration of life. Only for coming to terms with death on screen, Yôjirô Takita deserves his Oscar, the audience’s attention and, most of all, their respect.


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