Tuesday, May 24, 2016

All of it. It's all true...

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 want to begin by saying that I was never a big fan of Star Wars growing up. I knew of it obviously and my brother and friends were very much into it, but it was one of those big pop culture phenomena that I managed to avoid getting into for the most part. Even with renewed interest in the franchise in the early Aughts with the prequels, I remained largely unfazed by it all (the mixed reception of these didn't help). But I had to see Star Wars: Force Awakens on opening weekend, because it was the event movie of the year and I was intrigued to see what a fresh perspective J.J. Abrams and company would bring to this beloved franchise. And what they delivered was an enjoyable blockbuster with a lot of heart in no small part to the handful of new actors and characters that really made the film for me.

Of course I'm alluding to the great trio of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. Upon my re-watch of the Force Awakens, the only real thing I was able to articulate was how happy I was whenever one of their faces were on screen. The joy and wonder they brought to the film and their characters isn't something that one can really manufacture. Not to mention Adam Driver who had to delve into a whole different set of emotions, trickier in a lot of respects than the other three. His *important* scene with Harrison Ford's Han Solo is probably the best acted scene in the whole film.

So I had plenty of shots to choose from where the camera just lingers on the great faces of these characters like so...

But I ended up with this relatively simple shot as my Best Shot:

Best Shot

I picked this shot because of Boyega and Ridley's faces, but mostly for the moment. This is when Han Solo tells them both that the Force and the Jedi, all of it, is true. And then just this look of hope, wonderment, perhaps even a little fear fill their faces. It's the turning point of both of their lives which has already been severely upended very recently. It's the moment that they actually realize that they're finally a part of something bigger. Because sure they already had a mission for the Resistance, but this is something mythical becoming reality right in front of them. In a way maybe I had the same look when I saw Force Awakens, this pop-culture force made real in front of me. I finally got it.

Bonus: My roommate picked her favorite shot as well! It's a damn beauty.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Do not ever leave me...

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.

Even though I took French History in high school, I remember very little of it now and thus still got a bit lost while watching La Reine Margot, a period film by director Patrice Chéreau. The film, known in America as Queen Margot, takes place in the late 16th Century amidst the great unrest between the ruling Catholics and Protestant Huguenots. The film opens with the arranged wedding of the title character Margot, sister of the Catholic king, to the Huguenot King Henry of Navarre. Then what follows is a lot (a lot) of murders and sex (sometimes at the same time!).

It was hard for me to care for a lot of the characters in this film because its weight feels overpowering with its massive cast and the screenplay's unwillingness to hold its audience's hands through the numerous deaths and changing alliances. I don't necessarily begrudge the film for doing this, but just a observance as a first-time viewer. With that said, the film's other technical attributes were something to behold like its costumes, production values, and its painterly palette. Plus the main characters of Margot, Henry, and Margot's lover La Môle were the best fleshed out thus at least ensuring the film its emotional throughline.

The star-crossed affair between Margot and La Môle was the thing that left a lasting impact for me. Apart from the objective beauties of both actors (Isabelle Adjani and Vincent Perez), their whirlwind romance to me felt perfectly set amidst the inter-religious turmoil engulfing France and its citizens. And so my pick of best shot...

Best Shot

They've just finished making love and the last words she utters to him were "Do not ever leave me" and yet he must and he does. And so even though they got as close as two people ever could, they are also constantly apart from forces beyond their control. Thus this shot to me perfectly encapsulates it all--their messy and beautiful love affair amidst all the dark ugliness and unrest of the world. In that sense, it's a powerful image that lingers through to their inevitable tragic end.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

That is the thing about the present...

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.

Short films are great. Because of their length, they have to be efficient in their story-telling and it's always a treat to see how certain filmmakers achieve this. In both True Skin and World of Tomorrow, the two short films we were asked to watch for today, the world building is key to getting the most of their narrative.

True Skin is just 6 minutes long and yet in its first 60 seconds, it's able to show the audience exactly the kind of world our main character find himself living. And that world is full of people who have chosen to augment themselves using cybernetic implants not only because it's the new trend, but more interestingly because those who don't do this find themselves seemingly discriminated against as my favorite shot shows us below.

The narration gives us all this information, but the film's visuals really makes it feel alive and this shot at the end of this intro sequence is both informative and chilling. And it's enough to give narrative weight to the predicament our protagonist finds himself in for the rest of the film.

World of Tomorrow is a longer film, but its world building is just as impressive especially since its world is largely abstract. It's a future where the internet has integrated itself with the outside world as an outernet that is represented by a series of lines and shapes. The best thing about this short film though isn't exactly its deceptively simple visuals, but its dark humor and great script. The film is elevated when there is an interplay of its distinct look and smart writing such as the sequence with the Boy in the Glass or the young girl counting the the shooting stars aka dead bodies falling into the atmosphere. Or like in my favorite shot...

I admit this scene doesn't showcase the film's signature dark humor, but look at how beautiful the scenery is, looking like some modern art piece. It's actually one of the more sobering moments in the film that leads to perhaps the best line: "That is the thing about the present, Emily Prime. You only appreciate it when it is the past." Indeed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Flaccid, flaccid, flaaaaaaacid....

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.

"What do I see? That's the question I'm most afraid of."

"I see me! Actress, woman, star and lover."

Death Becomes Her is a darkly comedic fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn and the one and only Meryl Streep. Willis and Hawn are both good, but Streep is such a force, isn't she? We know she excels in dramatic roles, has a skill for accents, and is a wonderful singer/dancer to boot (as evident by her hilarious performance that opens up the film), but her comedic chops gets featured here to my absolute delight.

Streep is always such an expressive actor using her whole body and her face to convey just the appropriate emotion or message. In this film, she's asked to be vulnerable, mean, funny and so much more and she took to it all wonderfully. One of my favorite sequences highlighting her demonstrative gift happens early in the film as she reunites with her nemesis.

In the first shot, for example, you can almost feel how tense she is and her whole face and body language is giving us such a pitch perfect Miranda Priestly (14 years earlier). The second shot is even more telling especially when you think that right after it she immediately turns around and puts on the most fake smile and making it work. This was almost my pick for best shot, but that honor actually goes to Streep and her tongue.

Best Shot

Look at that silly shot. Now, what did I say about Streep being an expressive actor? This moment is in the midst of her big fight with her husband, calling him all sort of names including repeating the word "flaccid" more than a few times. She berates and taunts him and Streep is just so damn committed, tongue and all. It's a random moment in the film, but even here Streep doubles down. Perhaps the script said she sticks out her tongue right there, but I bet it didn't and it was just Streep being glorious herself.

So what do we see? Meryl Streep... actress, woman, star.

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?