Friday, April 29, 2016

That is a lie...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

As late as this HMWYBS entry is, it's still not as late as my introduction to Akira Kurosawa which came just last year when I saw Rashomon just to check it off my bucket list. Unsurprisingly, I really liked it. So why didn't I immediately watch more of his films? I wished I knew, but thankfully with Throne of Blood I got to see my second Kurosawa film and well, it was great.

I knew the film was loosely based on Shakespeare's "Macbeth," but that really was all I knew about the film. Transposing the story to feudal Japan is both ridiculous and genius infusing this adaptation with a bold sense of identity. It's at this point I wish I knew more about a lot of things like Shakespeare's dramas, Japanese theater history, Kurosawa's cinematic style, etc. in order to delve more deeply into this beautiful film. Instead, I'll just focus on the one thing that stood out even to a Kurosawa neophyte like myself, his captivating and scary Lady Asaji Washizu, his Lady Macbeth.

The film for me didn't really begin until she makes her first appearance, a statue of a figure sowing doubts to her husband. Her stillness is what caught me off-guard as she simultaneously rages a storm within her husband and the film at large with just words. My pick of best shot though is the first time she moves...

Best Shot

She turns her head slowly, but surely towards her husband and with a deadly smile pretty much calls him a liar. It's such a small scene and yet so damn memorable, because the performance is just THAT good (and chilling). That really is the only time she moves at all during that whole sequence and yet by the end of that scene the audience knew she was a force to be reckoned with.

And now with two films I've really liked from him, I guess one question remains: Which Kurosawa film should I see next?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

This place needs a man...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

I've never seen The Beguiled, but like Witness last week it's about a tough and handsome guy who is injured and taken into custody to heal in a strange environment. But whereas Harrison Ford catches the eye of just one woman, young Clint Eastwood in this film enchants about half a dozen or so of the fairer sex. Of course his charms are all in the service of surviving his precarious position of being wounded behind enemy lines. I'm not exactly sure if I liked the film, but it was definitely an viewing experience.

At the very least it gave me the chance to see a film with young Clint Eastwood and so I guess seeing him as the "hot guy" needed some getting used to. Despite his good looks and charms, the whole household being enamored with him stretched credibility, but I supposed that too was in service of what transpires to him in the end. And he *is* easy to look at and thus his face is my favorite shot.

Best Shot

He's sitting with Martha, the one in charge, and this is where she tells him that perhaps he would consider staying since they needed a man. I just love how his beautiful face is framed in darkness with some of it hidden as well much like his intentions and his past. Danger awaits.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Don't know much about history...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

One of the things I love about this blog series is that I'm given a chance to watch films which I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Mostly it's a rewarding experience though sometimes it's not. Thankfully Witness falls into the category of amazing discoveries especially as the film is also one of my blind spots. Not only did I assume this was just one of your run-of-the-mill crime thrillers, but I had no idea that Harrison Ford actually picked up his one and only Oscar nomination for this film.

Apart from giving us a chance to ogle at young Harrison Ford for nearly two hours, the film itself is superb. It *is* a crime thriller, but it's more heartfelt and intimate and could very well be categorized as a love story as well. A lot of this is due to the film's unique locale, setting most of the action in the beautiful Amish countryside among its quiet people as well as the searingly hot chemistry between Ford and Kelly McGillis.

A lot of my favorite moments in the film takes place between the two of them. Two great shots in particular highlight the film's intimacy via these two characters:

The first shot is McGillis taking care of Ford by bandaging his shot wound while the second shot is towards the end of the absolutely beautiful and touching sequence of them dancing in the barn. The second shot especially is crackling with sexual tension only to be broken up by her father thus leading to my pick for favorite shot...

Best Shot

It's not the most intimate of shots and yet it's clear something intimate was interrupted. Ford gets a lot of praise in this role, but McGillis is just as fantastic. Look at her face and stance here. While Ford, the tough city cop, seems to shrink from slight embarrassment, she stands firm with complete resolved evident in her face. I also love how the barn looks in the background lit mostly by the car's head and rear lights giving it a warm, ethereal feel. Who knew a crime thriller could provide me with such feelings and yet this one did.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

So happy, Mr. Bradley...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

In celebration of Gregory Peck's centennial, we were asked to pick one of his two most popular films, To Kill a Mockingbird and Roman Holiday, to watch and pick a favorite shot from it. I decided to cater to the romantic in me and finally watch the latter film for the very first time. It was an excellent decision as I was transported to a time when smart romantic comedies were being made with the care and passion that director William Wyler and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo obviously had. The latter was blacklisted and had to remove his name while Wyler had to strongly convince the studios to shoot on location in Italy.

Peck, of course, is also wonderful in the film as the tall, dashing and handsome reporter, but it's the glittering debut of Audrey Hepburn as the wayward princess looking for an escape that makes the film an all-time classic. In fact, the shot of her looking in a mirror in front of the hair salon, reminiscent of her very iconic shot in Breakfast at Tiffany's, was a close pick of mine for my favorite shot since it also highlighted the film's overarching theme of having the freedom to follow one's desires.

But what really makes the film is not just Wyler's gorgeous black and white lensing or Trumbo's funny script or even the two leads' strong individual capabilities. What makes the film great is the chemistry among Peck, Hepburn and Eddie Albert (who played the amusing third wheel in most of the film). It enabled the audience to buy the quick camaraderie among themselves as they gallivant throughout Rome even with all the secrets and lies they were all juggling. This relationship-building between the characters paid off brilliantly with the final sequence when they all must meet each other formally for the first time as princess and reporter/photographer. This entire sequence is my pick for best shot.

The anticipation expertly builds as the camera largely stays still following the progress of the princess making her way down the front row of reporters. The audience is left imagining what will happen once she gets to the two men she spent most of the day with the day before. Will there be a big scene? Will there be drama? Of course there was none of that, just friendly, polite looks and smiles and a brief exchange of words before she had to move on. One of the most remarkable things about this whole scene to me is just how much was left unsaid among all three characters, but the audience could easily imagine what each  probably would've wanted to say to one other. If I *had* to pick *one* best shot, it might be the very end of the sequence as she's getting ready to turn and head back to the life she's always known. The subtle look of Hepburn hints at indecisiveness, but also new resolve. She had her memorable holiday and it's something she'll never forget.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

So you think you're dead?

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

Late posting this, but I couldn't pass up a chance to watch the supremely weird sci-fi fantasy film Zardoz starring Sean Connery in a red diaper. It's a fine pick so close to April Fool's Day because the joke is on the viewer as they're immediately greeted by a giant stone head floating in the sky not knowing that the movie will just get more surreal and confusing from that point.

The thing is, as oddball as the film is, it is visually rich with its lush environment, garish costumes, and trippy visual/light effects. I had a few options for my best shot and I certainly could've picked a lot of off-the-wall or flashy scenes, but I decided to pick something relatively subdued in comparison.

Best Shot

Connery's character Zed has just landed in "The Vortex" and is finally greeted by one of the Eternals who knocks him out telepathically. When he comes to, they confer by the side of the lake, her in her usual Eternal garb channeling the hippie movement and him in his usual Brutal Exterminator costume which I likened to a red diaper earlier. And if I'm being honest, as beautifully composed as this shot is, Connery's ridiculous costume is probably the main reason I picked it as my best shot. Because how in Oz did they ever convince Connery to wear this for almost the entire film? It's as confounding as the existence of the film itself.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie (or TV show in this particular case) he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

Instead of a movie this week, we were asked to pick a favorite shot or shots from the recently released sophomore season of Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix. I probably would've opted for Sense8 or Marvel's other show Jessica Jones, but I guess timing made this the more obvious choice. I ended up seeing just the first 3 episodes the past few days and I picked one shot from each episode which ended up working together quite well.

Ep. 1 "Bang"

Ep. 2 "Dogs to a Gunfight"

Ep. 3 "New York's Finest"

The shot from the second episode, "Dogs to a Gunfight," was actually my first pick, because how could I not pick a shot giving us a full display of the glory of Charlie Cox's bloodied superhero bod? But in conjunction with my other two picks, it takes on a more symbolic meaning. See how similar this shot is with a close-up of a bloodied Jesus on a cross from the opening sequence of the third episode, "New York's Finest," itself an intriguing shot from the show reminding us yet again that Catholicism runs through the veins of our main character. It also gives us the not-so-subtle message that Matt Murdock may be the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, but he's also channeling Christ in both the need to save people and to do so by suffering. And so like the neon red cross in the first episode, "Bang," shine light on the dark city below, so does this self-appointed savior/hero/avenger in its midst.

All of this makes me intrigued by the episodes ahead as the show hopefully delves deeper into the different brands of vigilante justice put forth by Daredevil and his seemingly new nemesis the Punisher. Are they really all that different?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The story can resume...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

Atonement is a cinematic masterpiece and I'm not just saying that because it's one of my favorite films of all time. Joe Wright is an exciting and innovative director whose talents were in peak form on this film with a great assist from the visionary work of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. Both were able to craft such a lush vision of the film whose performances, screenplay, and other aspects were also top-notch. I can literally go on and on about how much I love everything about this film.

But the mission for the day is to pick my best shot and in a film I adore full of gorgeous shots, it's a task I took quite seriously. The first "shot" that came to mind is the wonderful Dunkirk tracking sequence which I previously talked about as being one of my favorite film scenes ever. Its bravura technical work for cast and crew and would be a no-brainer pick for anyone.

And then I thought about the wonderful and, in retrospect, heartbreaking reunion of Cecilia and Robbie at the cafe after being separated for years. This move was an acting showcase, especially for Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, and it was in full display here as they both are practically choking over various emotions of love, lust, pain, longing and regret.

In the end, I chose the emotional climax of that earlier Dunkirk sequence as Robbie's emotions finally get the best of him.

Best Shot

He's beyond exhausted and seeing this display of love on screen haunts him as the memories of his all-too-brief love affair with Cecilia haunts him daily. The shot itself is just so evocative especially the way the film screen dwarfs this hunched and defeated figure. Earlier today, I actually posted a series of shots from the film showing McAvoy's Robbie framed by doors throughout the film thinking that maybe it was meant to symbolize how confined he is to his tragic situation. And while this shot is not of Robbie framed by a door, he certainly looks just as trapped.

James McAvoy Framed

I will be writing up a post later tonight on my pick for "Best Shot" in the movie Atonement, which is more difficult than it seems because not only is it one of my favorite films ever, but because nearly every shot in the film would be worthy of a write-up.

So in an effort to highlight as much beauty from the film as I can, I thought I'd post these shots from the film of James McAvoy's character Robbie Turner framed by door frames. Enjoy...

I wonder if someone has asked director Joe Wright and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey why they chose to shoot this character through doors a few times, but the only thing I can think of is that Robbie is confined in his life just as he's confined by these doors. That or the punny (certainly not funny) explanation that Robbie was framed for rape and thus... So, any other ideas?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

I am the gatekeeper...

This post is part of Nathaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series in which the participants must post a single image from a movie he or she deems as the "best shot" for any particular reason.

With the new Ghostbusters just around the corner, it's worth to take a quick re-visit of the original 1984 film starring Bill Murray, Dan Ankroyd, and Sigourney Weaver. It's a film that I like more than love and certainly its originality and ambitions are commendable. Its cultural ubiquity and impact as well are undeniable and yet the film itself suffers a bit by taking a long while to really get going, holding back on its best part, Sigourney Weaver. For me, the movie doesn't really get interesting, narratively and visually, until midway when Weaver's character gets possessed by the spirit of Zuul.

Weaver is an absolute delight in these sequences with her sparkly orange dress, wild makeup and put upon sultry voice. She's clearly having a blast from the moment Murray opens the door and she asks if he's the keymaster. It's a grand entrance that signals a key shift in the film leading up to the requisite rescue and confrontation climax. Her reveal, however, isn't my pick for favorite shot. It's this one...

Best Shot

Framed by the destruction of her apartment and the grandeur of New York City, Weaver is shamelessly splayed in all her carnal glory. It's possibly the most arresting image in the film embracing both the scary and the absurd aspects of the film. Honestly, it's the image I most associate with the film other than the adorable and giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. "I am the gatekeeper" she declares and goddamn if we all didn't want to be the keymaster at the time. Hail Zuul!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Final Thoughts Before the Oscars

It's been quite an awards season. The precursors were mostly all over the place including the critics and guilds. At one point or another one of the following films--Spotlight, The Big Short, The Revenant, and Mad Max: Fury Road--were seen as the film to beat. The only surprise would be if one of these films didn't win the big award tonight of best picture. But they'll all have to do it the hard way with all of them missing precursor honors on the way like assumed current front-runner The Revenant missing out on PGA and SAG Ensemble awards. That film does have the momentum winning at the BAFTAs and coming out on top at the DGA. And yet, even with its Oscar-leading 12 nominations, the attitude seems to be that this film is too divisive to win especially with two films that might play better with the Academy for their topical content.

Certainly The Revenant has been helped by the notion that it was such an arduous undertaking to film, that a lot of its technical achievements are obviously displayed in their epic glory, and that whole weird bear raping controversy. Oh and of course its lead Leonardo DiCaprio is finally, FINALLY getting his overdue Oscars at 41 years young, which also fueled audiences flocking to this nearly 3-hr revenge drama to the tune of $170 million, second highest of the Best Picture nominees. Too bad it's also my least favorite film of the lot and probably stole some of the thunder from the other hard-to-shoot, technical wonder that is Mad Max: Fury Road. Both will be fighting it out to the end for sure.

Speaking of Leo, he will not be denied. He won all of the major awards and his film is clearly a favorite. He will be joined by the other acting lock of the night Brie Larson, whose dominance is a bit more confounding especially with her starring in a far smaller film (though getting a telling Directing nod) and in a severely stacked lineup. But like Leo, she has won all the major precursors including BAFTA and yesterday's Spirit Awards. The Supporting categories are slightly more competitive. Alicia Vikander beat Kate Winslet at the SAG, but Winslet beat her at the Globes and BAFTA while Sylvester Stallone has won all of the awards with the important exception of SAG and BAFTA, for which he was unexpectedly not nominated, going to Mark Rylance. And if Idris Elba has been nominated (won SAG and Spirit Awards), it would've been even more competitive.

Idris Elba's snub also brings me to the biggest storyline this awards season as signified by the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. For the second year in a row all acting nominees are white. There were plenty of outrage, think-pieces written, calls for boycott, and the Academy directly addressing it by making behind-the-scenes changes to make their membership more diverse in the coming years. Also in a stroke of kismet, Chris Rock is hosting tonight and I'm sure he'll have plenty to say so I shan't say more. The other minor story-line was category fraud with plenty of lead roles getting into supporting categories (and vice versa) aka looking at you Rooney Mara and Vikander.

But in the end, it's almost done. It's been a weird and pretty exhausting season. Leo is certainly relieved for it all to end. And while The Revenant is not one of my favorites and will probably walk home with lots of awards tonight, it's all about the appreciation of film. That's why people were so up in arms about various issues this year, because people LOVE films and want to make them better. So in the end, just continue watching and loving films.

Related links:
Click here to see my official predictions.
Click here to see my own personal ballot.
Click here to see my initial thoughts on the Oscar nominations.
Click here to see all my posts on "Awards Season."