Sunday, January 27, 2008

Persepolis (2007) - Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis (2007)
Directors: Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud
Writers: Marjane Satrapi (Comic and Screenplay), Vincent Paronnaud (Screenplay)
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abkarian, Gabrielle Lopes Benites

Persepolis (2007) tells the amazing story of a young girl growing up in Iran around the time of the Islamic Revolution. Marjane Satrapi does a wonderful job of bringing her story to life and drawing the viewer into her what it was to grow up during a time of political revolution. Using a unique style of animation, that closely follows the style of the graphic novel, the audience is pulled into a world that is much different than the world they are used to.

Marjane's story is often times humorous and often times heart breaking without resorting to heavy handed sentimentalism that is often seen in Hollywood movies. There were times that I laughed out loud during the movie, particularly the 'Eye of the Tiger' sequence which had me in stitches. Other times during the film I had to wipe a tear from my eye. I won't spoil any of those moments for anyone, but there were parts of the film that left me crushed.

The characters in the story were all very interesting and all seemed very real. I loved watching Marjane grow from a child to an adult and seeing how she dealt with struggles as extreme as a revolution and as simple as the end of a relationship. Most of the supporting characters were interesting as well and extremely well thought out. The most memorable of the side characters though, would have to be Marjane's grandmother. She almost acted as Marjane's moral compass throughout the film and in most cases she did it with a great cynicism and humor that only someone who has lived through so much could have.

As an American I will probably never know what it is like to live in a state of such political oppression as the one depicted in the film. It is an extremely hard thing to even imagine what people go through during such political struggles. However, one of the things that makes this movie unique is that a lot of it is told from the point of view of a child that does not really understand the politics of what is going on around her. This really helped draw me into the movie. Since I do not understand what it is like to be in the situation, having the story told from the point of view of someone that doesn't really grasp the enormity of the events unfolding around her really helped to bring me into the story. It was very helpful in trying to comprehend the scale of what was happening in the movie, not that I claim to totally comprehend what this young girl must have gone through.

The animation style of the film is definitely interesting and unique. It is a lot different than anything I have seen before and I really enjoyed the style that was used. The more simplistic animation that was used definitely worked well with the story being told from the point of view of a child. The child in the story could not totally grasp all the details of what was going on during the revolution and having a less detailed style of animation definitely helped emphasize this. Also, having a style of animation that was so different than what audience are used to also helped emphasize that we were viewing a world that was, in many ways, much different than our own.

Overall I really enjoyed the film and it is one that I may eventually want to see again. I really would like to read the graphic novels that it was based on and probably even a few of the other graphic novels written by Marjane Satrapi. I think she is a wonderful talent and I hope she continues to make such interesting films, perhaps bringing some of her other graphic novels to the big screen.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Seven Samurai (1954) - Akira Kurosawa

The Seven Samurai (1954)
Shichinin no samurai
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Starring: Takashi Shimura, ToshirĂ´ Mifune

Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954) seems like a much more quickly paced film than many of his other works even though it is a much longer film. Kurosawa manages to make a film that at no time does the audience feel like they are sitting through a three and a half hour movie. He manages this by his use of great editing, beautiful cinematography, an engaging story, and intriguing characters.

Kurosawa never once slows down the pacing in this film, in fact as the film progresses the pacing gets continually quicker. As the story starts to move along quicker Kurosawa’s editing style also begins to speed up with many more cuts happening in the second half of the film than the first. Also Kurosawa leaves anything out of the movie that does not move the story forward; there is not a single extraneous frame of film in this movie. Everything that happens in the film impacts the story and pushes it towards its inevitable climax.

The extremely beautiful cinematography of the film also helps the viewer stay entranced in the movie. As with most Kurosawa films this cinematography is part of what makes the movie worth watching. There are just several scenes through out the entire film that are just breathtaking to look at. The most prominent to come to mind is the scene near the end where the 3 surviving samurai are standing at the foot of the hill where all the graves of the villagers and other samurai are buried. This shot just fills the entire frame so beautifully and is just one example of the fine cinematography that goes into Kurosawa’s films. Another scene that comes to mind is the shot of the village as the Samurai are first arriving. The village is extremely old and run down but the wide shot of the village still manages to look beautiful.

One of the most brilliant things about this movie was how the final battle was set up, shot, and edited together. In many films that include large battle sequences, these battles are often times confusing and often times leave the viewer unsure of what exactly is going on until the end when they learn the final outcome. Which often may be intentional so the viewer gets the same feeling of chaos that the soldiers in the battle must feel.

Kurosawa, however, manages to give his battles a sense of both order and chaos. Although the battles scenes can be extremely chaotic, the audience almost always knows exactly what is going on, who is fighting who and where in the village they are fighting. In many other films the confusion would take over and it would not be as easy for the viewer to distinguish all of these things.

One of the ways Kurosawa manages this is by having the audience tour the village with the Samurai. We learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the village as they do. Also by showing the shots of the map the audience is able to get a feel for where everything in the village is. Also during the battle sequences the audience continually hears communication between the Samurai so we are able to understand what each of the Samurai is doing and what part of the village he is defending. This communication between the Samurai and the previous tour of the village along with seeing a bird’s eye view of the village in the map helps the viewer to keep up with the battle sequences even when they are at their most chaotic.

Rating: 10/10

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cloverfield (2008) - Matt Reeves

Cloverfield (2008)
Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard
Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller

A lot of the reviews I have read about Cloverfield (2008) state that the camera work is the only real negative about the film. Other than that it seems that people, for the most part, really enjoyed the movie. I will however start off my review by saying that the camera work was the least of my problems and in fact the camera work didn't really bother me at all. I was bothered by just about everything else that the movie had to offer though.

To begin with the "relationship" that was a major part of the film was, in a word, boring. It wasn't at all interesting and didn't make me any more interested in the characters then I would have been had we just been thrown into the middle of the film with no previous knowledge of the characters. None of the characters were at all likable or interesting so I pretty much rooting for their demise... well except Marlena she was kind of cool. The relationship melodrama that was going on in the lives of these uninteresting people was just so dull. The beginning party sequence bored me so much that when the attack finally came I looked over at my friend and said "Finally, now these annoying people can start dying."

I had heard from several people that the movie was scary and suspenseful so I was at least hopeful on that level once the attack started. However, none of the "scary" moments were at all scary. I saw each and every scare coming from a mile away. (There are some spoilers in the rest of this paragraph, you have been warned.) As soon as they went down into the dark subway it was pretty obvious that they would get attacked and then when the attack finally happened they gave it so much build up that it didn't surprise or shock me. Also, when they were flying over the monster in the helicopter and they were cheering because they thought it was dead I just knew that it was going to jump up and hit the helicopter. Which brings up the question, if the pilot of the helicopter was supposed to be evacuating these people why was he just flying directly over the monster while it was being bombed? Why didn't he change course and get the heck out of there? Which then brings up the question, how did they survive the helicopter crash? The pilot dies but the three main characters somehow survive? How does that work exactly? The movie seriously should have ended with the helicopter crash; it would have made a lot more sense.

Some of the scenes of the monster attacking the city were pretty cool. One scene that stands out in my mind in particular is the one that happens right before they go down in the subway where the tanks roll in and start attacking the monster and the main characters are just kind of stuck with nowhere to go. That was actually a very cool scene but scenes like this were too few and far between to keep the movie interesting for me.

I will agree with some of the things I have read that the CGI was very well done, especially considering that all the shots were hand held. I am sure it is hard enough to animate a monster into a movie when the camera is still. It has got to be extra hard when the camera is going all over the place. It probably becomes much harder to find references for where to put the monster from frame to frame.

So, in short, the characters weren't at all likable or interesting and the love story was dull. I never really felt that there was any suspense in the movie because all the scares were predictable. The only cool parts were when the monster was destroying the city and there really wasn't enough of that to justify an 84 minute length. And it is pretty sad when a movie is only 84 minutes and is unable to even justify that short length.

I feel the movie could have benefited from maybe seeing everything from more than one perspective. Perhaps instead of finding one camera, the military finds three cameras at different places in the city that see different things. This definitely would have helped the movie reach feature length without having to pad it with the uninteresting melodrama because honestly the relationship part of the movie felt like it was just there as filler to get the movie up to a length that they could actually show in the theater. For a much better recent monster movie that has much more interesting characters check out The Host (2006).

Rating: 3/10