Archive for 2010
It’s been a whole month since my last post…that speaks volumes about the amount of free-time I have.
Work commitments have been piling up, and organizing a wedding isn’t a walk in the park. Just the other day, I went to Ikea which doesn’t sound like much until you understand that I get a headache when I shop too long. Any shopping complex that requires a map to navigate is too big for my liking, and it’s a great irony of nature that my fiancee can’t get from Shah Alam to Klang without the GPS turned on, but can navigate this maze of Ikea which I’m sure was created by an Evil Swedish King intent on making me look foolish.
Between now and then I’ve watched Saving Private Ryan (I never remembered Vin Diesel in it), Das Untergang , GoodFellas, The Good The Bad and The Ugly , Sinonmbre and two episodes of Star Wars. I also managed to watch the new Toy Story 3 (which is the best Pixar Cartoon EVER) I wondered why something like Star Wars (the original trilogy) outranks Avatar which has so much more vivid Graphics and hyper-realistic effects?
I’ve always wondered what makes a good story, why some movies seem to succeed while others don’t. It’s not a straight forward formula, but I do know why movies succeed. Most of the movies I watched introduced to me a new world of fascination and wonder. Star Wars is obvious, it’s a whole new Galaxy, it’s a whole new re-imagination of reality same goes for Avater, but even the other movies introduce us to worlds we don’t know about.
Saving Private Ryan showcased the lives of standard American GIs running into Paris shortly after D-Day, it’s a story or reluctant soldiers marching into a mission they never truly believed in. In the end Tom Hanks explained that they just do what they’re told so that they can go back home, the soldiers mission is not to kill the enemy, a soldiers mission is to go back home.Fantastic..all 3 hours of it.
Das Untergang, was the flipside of it all. It reveals Hitlers last days to us, as the allies close their grip on Berlin and how Joseph Groebbels refuses to leave the Fuhrer and kills his children to avoid capture. It’s just 2 hours of raw emotion, revealing a world we never considered exist, asking the question of “Was Hitler Human?” .
GoodFellas is an biography of a wise-guy, a gangster. It’s a world where killing isn’t unusual and Gangsters using connections and fear to get what they want. It’s a great show made better by great acting, but the story, the story of gangsters and how even though they’re criminals…they’re the heroes in the movies. Gangster movies are strange in that they make us love the ‘bad-guys’ they make us understand why they became gangsters, they make us love their arrogance and wish we were like them.
The Good The Bad and The Ugly isn’t an out-an-out Western. Set during the American Civil War, Clint Eastwood acts as blond cowboy venturing in search of gold. It’s a great movie, and like all Westerns involves a lot of shooting and riding. I don’t know why we love Westerns, I guess we love to live in a world of no rules, and every man fended for himself.
Either way, unless you’re a Jedi Knight, a Cowboy in the wild west, a Gangster or a Soldier in war, these movies offered a glimpse into worlds we can only imagine. Worlds we’re probably not going to experience in real life. It offers an escape from the drudgery of 9-to-5 jobs and normal ‘ordinary’ lives we lead. We all crave the excitement of war, or a fight, we crave to be the hero or to have one. Each story reveals new worlds with unlimited possibilities to us, each one brings something new. I call this the landscape of the story, and while it’s possible to create great stories with normal landscapes (of office workers in 9-to-5 jobs), a landscape helps captivate our imagination and getting us to pay attention, sometimes the landscape is the story.
Peeling away the landscapes of the stories reveal great depth (all great movies have this), but the landscapes they have are equally important. It’s impossible to separate the landscape from the story, a story of boy who fights an entire war against his father is great, but would Star Wars have made it to where it is, without things like “The Force” or “Light-sabres” or “Jedi Knights” or “Hans Sole”..and Darth Vader?
Take Avatar for instance, while the imagery was breath-taking and the landscapes were great, the story itself lacked any depth. It was monotonous, it was single dimensioned, there was no twist, no extra layers…you could predict the ending half way through the movie, you couldn’t have predicted “No Luke, I am your father”.
That’s why Avatar is in the list, that even though it lacked any REAL story-telling depth, the story was in the landscape. The landscape was captivating enough to hold our imaginations,it held us in as they explained a story of Man going to war in far-away planet against Aliens who download and upload content into their planet. It’s amazing, and it can create a movie.
However, having just a pretty landscape isn’t the story in itself. It merely creates a condition for a great story… that’s where Star Wars has the edge on Avatar, and that’s why it’s higher on the list.
Next is the characters, while you remember Darth Vader, and Hans Solo, the Skywalkers, can you name the guys from Avatar? But that’s for a later post.
That’s my 2 cents. Don’t spend it all in one place
If you’ve watched the Quintin Tarantinos inglorious basterds, where a group of AMERICAN soldiers patrol into Germany cause massive chaos, and then kill Hitler with the help of a SS officer. You know sometimes in movies people stretch the truth to make the story better.
For instance, Tarantino needs to have Hitler killed so that the movie ends on a high note, and the surprise ending does contribute to the storyline quite a bit.
But to make a movie about Hitler is a totally different thing altogether. Das Untergang potrays Hitlers last days in his bunker in Berlin, just before he kills himself (and Eva Brown). In Germany even 60 years after the war, this is unheard of, in fact people were protesting a film that tried to “potray a monster a human being”. The film was brandished anti-semitic as it tried to potray Hitler as just a ‘sad,deluded man’ as opposed to the monster we all learnt about. One thing that is undeniable though, this movie is awesome. So awesome in fact it’s probably the most parodied movie….EVER!
The fact is that the movie is as powerful as it is true (that’s debatable), what isn’t debatable is how moving this movie is. You get that feeling at the end, when all is lost, and the Germans surrender that the movie portrayed humanity in all it’s forms, from the down right evil to the righteous good, from the arrogantly confident to the humbly desperate. All nuances are potrayed, all betrayals explains, every bit of human emotion is portrayed in this. I’ve said before that one of my favorites movie was Schindler’s list…well that may very well change.
Ever since I started this quest I’ve had to watch some really boring movies (like Das Boot), but every now and then I get introduced to great movies I would never have watched unless I took the quest.
Dr. Strangelove is a great movie.
There’s really nothing more to say, it’s a fantastic movie. I had very low expectations of it, but I enjoyed every second of the movie, it was light-hearted comedy with fantastic one-liners and a great story as well.
Think of it as The Sum of All Fears meets ….well The 3 Stooges. The movie isn’t slapstick funny, but any movie made in the 1960s that can me me laugh more than 50 years after it was released needs a standing ovation. It may not be the movie for everyone but it sure was the movie for me.
I’m not one to post about my experiences, but today betterworldbooks.com gave me something to laugh about.
I recently purchased a second hand book from the website, that promotes literacy by recycling books, and got this rather strange (in a good way) from them:
I know the trip to meet you will be long and fraught with peril, but after the close calls I’ve had, I’m ready for anything (besides, some of my best friends are suspense novels). Just five months ago, I thought I was a goner. My owner was moving and couldn’t take me with her. I was sure I was landfill bait until I ended up in a Better World Books book drive bin. Thanks to your socially conscious book shopping, I’ve found a new home. Even better, your book buying dollars are helping kids read from Brazil to Botswana.
Talk about good marketing, now I won’t be able to ever forget this purchase. Although I’m quite sure this is an automated message it does add a touch of personality to the order. I recommend the site, and I’ve purchased other books from them that arrived on time to Malaysia, and cost less than most sites.
For my other book purchases (and I do purchase quite a lot) , I use bookdepository.co.uk which has free shipping to Malaysia.
I’ve always been fascinated with westerns, so it really intrigued me when I found out that one of the best westerns ever was actually based on a Japanese Movie. The Magnificent Seven Starring Yul Brener, and a movie my dad (whose a western fan) absolutely adores was actually based on a Japanese movie called the Seven Samurai.
In both movies 7 men are chosen by villagers to defend a their village from attacks from Bandits. In the Japanese original, villagers ask the help of seven samurai to help defend their village. The seven are inidividual characters themselves and the characters are built up throughout the movie. It also offers insight into Japanese living, and some parts of the movie I’m sure had specific cultural context which I could not understand.
That being said, the movie extends for more than 2 hours, and the first 1 hour involves little (if any) action. Don’t expect all guns a blazing, there are just 3 guns in the movie, and each of them play a specific role. It’s when bandits begin to attack the village do things get really interesting, and the movie is proof positive that you don’t need multi-million dollar effects to get you excited about action scenes, great action scenes can be shot without CGI, in 4:3 aspect ratio and in Black and White (and you’ll still enjoy it).
As the bandits attack, the movie gently moves from insight to Japanese culture to a great action movie that is comparable to the shootouts we so loved in westerns.
I wouldn’t know if it’s an accurate representation of samurai living, but I loved the story, and I guess you would to. You should watch the movie, but it gets too boring round the middle, just forward it tills the bandits show up, things get really exciting then.
In one word…..unexpected. The action sequence at the end is far more captivating than the beginning. Half way through the movie I expected it to be boring, but the end was truly unexpected.
That’s my 2 cents, don’t spend it all in one place.
I understand that 1962 was a long time ago, but I still thought that To Kill A Mockingbird would have been a better film than it turned out to be.
The story about a white man defending a black man in a depression-era south, spends more than a hour before a courtroom scene of the defense. What I expected to be an emotionally charged movie, turned to be nothing more than Huckleberry Finn meets Boston Public. The show was draggy at times, but this was the 1960s, it was a time where there was little to compete for your attention, there was no 3D and the film was shot in a 4:3 ratio. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a film in 4:3 ratio.
The drudgery continued for nearly one hour, with just a slight (ever so slight) hint of what was to come during the first 60 minutes of the film. This was no high-octane action film, nor was it highly charged emotional one. The climax of one scene was Atticus Finch shooting a mad dog (literally) on the street, I guess this was the equivalent of dodging bullets in The Matrix. The courtroom scene was devoid of most usual courtroom antics, although there was some highly charged emotions in the courtroom, nothing comes even close to “You can’t handle the truth” (although nothing could come close to Jack Nicholson).
The show doesn’t make sense to me, and probably since I didn’t read the book it made even less sense that it should. I was left wondering why this show rates to highly and what the fuss was all about…..until.
Until I stumbled upon wikipedia to find out what this show was all about. Here’s the thing, the book (pulitzer prize winning material) was published in 1960, the movie was released 2 years later. The book was so influential it even ha it’s place in the Timeline of African American Civil Rights Movement. Not many books can be counted in a timeline for something as monumental as that. It was 5 years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man. There were still things like separate drinking fountains for white and black folk. It’s modern day equivalent would be a US General defending a Taliban Soldier for killing and American.
The Movie is around Atticus Finch, and how a White Man defends a black man convicted of raping a white women. This was serious reading material. The Mockingbird itself is metaphor (not many of those in movies these days):
Atticus warns them that, although they can “shoot all the bluejays they want”, they must remember that “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”. Confused, Scout approaches her neighbor Miss Maudie, who explains that mockingbirds never harm other living creatures. She points out that mockingbirds simply provide pleasure with their songs, saying, “They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” Writer Edwin Bruell summarized the symbolism when he wrote in 1964, “‘To kill a mockingbird’ is to kill that which is innocent and harmless—like Tom Robinson.”
I later read that Atticus Finch was actually a role model for many lawyers and remains to this day one of the most influential figures (fictional or otherwise) in legal circles. There is something to be respected in the character, the movie plays this out well. Although not as powerful a hero story as Schindler’s List or Hotel Rwanda, I have no doubt that given the context of the time the movie was released, it was every bit as powerful (or even more so).
In was in the this turning point of American History that Harper Lee decided to publish this book about heroism in the face of hatred, because only in the face of such hatred could such heroism be revealed.
In 1997, the Alabama State Bar erected a monument dedicated to Atticus in Monroeville marking his existence as the “first commemorative milestone in the state’s judicial history.
There is in fact more to this that meets the eye. That given the context in which the story was created, and the point in which America stood at the time. This could have been one of the most powerful movies ever made, but I can’t know for sure till I fully understand the context, that would come in my final thoughts.
That’s my 2 cents. Don’t spend it all in one place.
A lot of people have been giving me stig for not watching American History X when it first came out, but that’s beside the point.
The point is that it’s a great movie, with a great story that ends with you emotionally evaluating everything you considered. I always believed the greatest story make you think, and American History X just excels in that area.
That being said, the amount of hatred and anger portrayed in nearly every character, proves at times a big distasteful. I’m not American so I wouldn’t know what goes on in the minds of the characters, but it does sends chills down your spine to think that is probably a realistic depiction of what goes in on in Urban America (possibly till today).
The show is powerful, and after reflecting on it, I stand by my initial review that this is the best Edward Norton movie ever.
For now that’s enough hatred already, and although Hotel Rwanda would be a better show to continue this, my mind can only take so much hate at once. Next up is a ‘still’ a story about racism, but one that involves a hero, it’s based on a Pulitzer prize winning book , To Kill a Mockingbird. Based on the outcome of that one, I’d probably choose to go back to Hotel Rwanda, or Schindler’s List. Let’s see.
It’s a deeper more engaging version of Blood In Blood Out.Some parts of it you just can’t watch, because they’ve managed to capture so much hate in the movie your natural reaction is to turn away.
A story about a white kid whose fireman father is killed, soon he becomes a protege of a white-supremacist. He then uses his natural leadership to form a small band of white-supremacist to ‘protect’ themselves. He ends up in jail and comes out of it a changed man, and that’s how the movie starts. If you don’t end this movie re-evaluating the way you think about race and racist, you’d be the first. I won’t give it away, but in the end this white supremacist is saved by two black men.
Ed Norton at his finest, and I mean his absolute finest. There are few performances I have seen that can match his work in this movie. A white supremacist with a swastika on his chest, that goes to prison for killing two blacks trying to steal his car, who could picture Ed Norton in this role? You can’t because the notion of Ed Norton you have a skinny guy who played Bruce Banner, so Ed Norton actually
Not much of the supporting cast helps though, Avery Brooks does pull of Dr. Sweeney really well, but everyone else on the cast seems to be a nearly-there kinda way. Which emphasizes just how well Edward Norton took on this role. If you’re an Edward Norton fan, you know what I’m talking about.
In the end though, even Ed Norton’s brilliant work only reinforces an already brilliant story. You’re force to re-evaluate the way we think about skin-heads and white supremacist, they could be just young teens who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The story is emotional throughout and some parts of it you just can’t bear to watch, because they’ve managed to capture so much hate , your natural reaction is just to turn away.The emotional power made present in every scene.
I was upset with the end. The movie is just filled with hate and anger that you hope towards the end of it they give the characters a break, give them a happy ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but I were deciding between Fight Club and this, I’d choose American History X …hands down.
In one word, American History X is Powerful. In two words it’s Must-Watch.