Saturday, 23 May 2015

Playtime (1967)

Playtime, 1967, France
Director: Jacques Tati
Stars: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek & Rita Maiden

"I love Paris at this time of morning."

Francois Truffaut said of 'Playtime' that it is "a film that comes from another planet, where they make things differently", only after you've experienced Tati's one of a kind vision, can you fully comprehend Truffaut's statement. 'Playtime' was, at the time, the most expensive French film ever made. In a risk that is reserved for the most vivid of dreamers, Tati had an entire glass city constructed on the outskirts of Paris, coined "Tativille", for the production of this film which lasted nine years. Unfortunately, like a number of the great films, 'Playtime' was a misunderstood financial failure that left Tati in debt. But, also as the great films do, its power couldn't be suppressed and the film has finally gotten the recognition it should have received in 1967.

The film opens with a shot of a cloudy sky, as the opening credits go by the clouds begin to make way for the blue Paris sky, when suddenly a shot of a large building appears on the screen, thus setting the tone for Tati's extraordinary exploration of modernism.

'Playtime' is essentially a film of four general parts and little moments in between. The first of which begins with a couple sitting in a modernistic but sterile and grey building. The enviroment suggests that this is indeed a hospital, we see nuns, nurses and what appears to be a wheelchair bound patient, the woman's dialouge also suggests this as she tells her worried partner things such as "It's a long wait", "you'll take care of yourself" and "You've got an appointment". It's not until photographers, guards, school kids and tourists enter the frame, and we see that the "wheelchair bound patient" was actually a couple of suitcases with a blanket over the top, that we are in fact in an airport. This is an example of Tati playing on our assumptions and expectations and showing us what a playful and enigmatic filmmaker he is.

Speaking of Tati playing with our assumptions and expectations, this is also evident in the way he introduces Mr. Hulot into the film. For those who are unfamiliar, Hulot is to Tati what The Tramp was to Charles Chaplin, an iconic character that becomes synonymous with the legendary filmmaker. 'Playtime' was the penultimate appearance of Hulot on film and his third overall. After 'Mr. Hulot's Holiday' & 'Mon Oncle', and the way in which he was driving force for the loose narratives that Tati provided in those films, you would expect him to Hulot a notable entrance with a fair amount of fanfare, but that's not the case in 'Playtime'. The film is so layered and every shot is filled with detail that you blink and easily miss Hulot's entrance, which is mid shot in between groups of people, you can see his trademark coat, short pants, colorful socks, umbrella & brimmed hat folded at the back. You can also easily miss his second appearance, which is also in between groups of people, this time he drops his umbrella which makes a loud crack that draws the viewer's eye to Hulot, but by the time you spot him, he is already walking out of the shot. Eventually, when Tati takes out of the airport, we clearly see the Hulot strolls across the pathway, a woman yells "Mr. Hulot", who turns around and reveals he is, in fact, not Mr. Hulot! "I'm not Hulot. My name is Smith. I think you've made some sort of mistake".

Eventually we see the real Hulot, exiting a bus and, ironically, getting his umbrella caught on Mr. Smith's one. The fact that Smith is donning the famous attire Hulot is famous for and Hulot himself wearing a different jacket, it's Tati's way of telling his audiences early that this really isn't another Hulot film, he's there, sure, but the main star of the film is people themselves.

The first sequence of the film begins when Hulot visits a lavish building for a meeting. Upon his arrival there he meets an elderly security guard, who has to work a large machine in order to inform the higher ups that Hulot is arrived. As we see the man struggle to work the machine, Tati makes us aware that some people can get left behind when it comes to such technology, as the man proclaims "Who understands all this electronic stuff? All these buttons". Comedic hijinks of the highest order ensue as Hulot and the man he is there for a meeting with get there wires crossed, so to speak, which sees Hulot running over the building, which resembles a maze, trying to find the man, in a wonderfully orchestrated sequence.

The misunderstanding leads to Hulot accidentally stumbling into a Trade Exhibition. This allows Tati to continue making commentaries about the ever evolving modern world, like the woman who is selling trash cans in the shape of the ancient Greek pillars, titled "Thro.out Greek Style" (which can also be seen in the restaurant later in the film), this is a striking message that we are pushing aside these iconic feats of humanity for modern architecture. There are also some striking pieces of imagery throughout the film in which the famous Paris landmarks can only be seen in the reflection of revolving doors, i.e The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe & Sacrè-Coeur.

Next, Hulot meets an old Army buddy who invites him into his brand new Ultra modern apartment building. This is another comment of modernism and how he can take away our uniqueness and personality. The scene, which is shots solely from street view, and shows identical apartments, with no real sense of privacy or personality, lined up against one another. Watching the exact same TV program.

Finally, we come to one of the best sequences in the history, The Royal Garden scene. This takes place in a restaurant that is having its grand opening while it is still in construction, cutting corners in order in order to get the place in time, even after the customers have arrived. These leads to plenty of hilarious moments with the environment, quite literally, crumbling around them and the employees trying to do their best to cover it. It's also a fun twist that the customers seems to become more and more comfortable as things start to go haywire, as opposed to when it was a stuck-up pompous environment.

'Playtime' is a film that you should see once in order to prepare yourself for it. I watched it twice this week and while I absolutely loved it on my first viewing, it was a completely different experience the second time around, and I mean that in the best possible way. The film is so layered, you could watch it 10 times while looking at a different part of the screen and get 10 different cinematic experiences. Jacques Tati is one of the greatest and most inventive minds in the history of Cinema and just Art in general, and 'Playtime' is truly his magnum opus, his masterpiece. Tati truly makes things differently.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015, Australia/USA
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron & Nicholas Hoult

"You try to fix what's broke, you'll go insane"

It was nearly two decades in the making, but 'Mad Max: Fury Road' seems to have arrived when we needed it the most. In a world where we are so accustomed to theaters usually housing one or more action blockbusters at any given time, the multimillion dollar films that are filled to the brim computer generated imagery, where most of the visuals you are witnessing are done in post production, it's such a giant jolt to the senses to see a film which utilizes such a vast amount of practical effects, and more importantly, to see a film that personifies that genuine movie magic feeling,  'Fury Road' is that film.

This film is a template of how to create a successful reboot/re-imagining without alienating fans of the original. Capturing the essence and spirit which resonated with folks the first time around, but molding it into an all new vision that can stand separately from its predecessor. George Miller has an advantage when it comes to this, due to the fact that he is re imagining the world and character he originally created, but its still astounding how far his vision has traveled, initially beginning in the late 70's with a young Mel Gibson roaming around Anakie Road, to 2015 with the ginormous, extravagant war on wheels in 2015. It's also admirable that Miller's creativity isn't blocked by what he's done in the past. He could have easily made a film that acts as a companion to his originals and carry on that story arc, but instead he has crafted an entirely different take on Max Rockatansky, and 'Fury Road' is all the better for it.

'Fury Road' is one of the most alive action films I've seen in a long while. It feels like a living, breathing beast that has manifested itself on the big screen. The film is so ferociously energetic and, like Max himself, is always on the move. The action sequences are truly awe inspiring and will leave you breathless. Without exaggeration, I genuinely had to take a giant breath after a huge sequence, it was that exhilarating.  Miller has always had an amazing understanding of how to create thrills on fast moving transportation, both when he as no budget and when he has a huge one. The stunts in this film are just unbelievable and make you wonder how the hell they were able to pull them off.

In many ways, 'Fury Road' is like this generation's version of 'The Road Warrior'. The drifter, Max, joins forces with another group and attempts to help them achieve their goal, all the while facing giant adversity from a larger group headed by an intimidating foe. But, as I alluded to above, it never feels like Miller is giving us the same film with a nice new bow, he's created something that will appeal to those who grew up with 'The Road Warrior' and those younger movie goers who probably wouldn't appreciate watching the 1981 film today, it's an excellent balance.

Tom Hardy was the ideal choice to play a modern day Mad Max. Not only is he an immensely talented performer but his gruff and softly spoken persona fit the legendary character to a tee. He does a very good job in this film, he's a badass yet vulnerable to his past shortcomings, and constantly tortured by visions of those he has failed to save. I hope we get another chance to see him play the role in the future. Charlize Theron is absolutely amazing as Furiosa, an enigmatic yet humane performance that is more than worthy of awards consideration. Theron is a goddamn national treasure and one of the most valuable actresses we have today. The rest of the cast is who's who of Australian performers, both past and present, and there really isn't a weak link, everyone does a good job.

I revisited 'Mad Max' & 'The Road Warrior' last week (but not 'Thunderdome') and after having seen 'Fury Road' today, I think I can comfortably say that this is definitive vision of the Mad Max universe. It's depiction of the dystopian futuristic wasteland, ravaged by the apocalypse,  leaving behind a world of savages and survivalists to exist by any means necessary, is the unmatched portrayal of Max and the world he lives in. 'Fury Road' is an endlessly riveting experience, with some of the most unbelievably awe-inspiring action sequences I have seen in years. A fun and ferocious ride that will take a hold of you instantly and won't let go until the credits roll.

What a lovely day, indeed!


Friday, 8 May 2015

It Follows (2015)

It Follows, 2015, USA
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist & Daniel Zovatto

"It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you"

'It Follows' is to 2015, what 'The Babadook' was to 2014, 'You're Next' was to 2013, and 'The Cabin in the Woods' to 2012. A horror film that arrives with tons of hype and the aura of being ground breaking, game changing and terrifying. While the weight of this hype can ultimately leave you feeling indifferent to the film upon seeing it, others fulfill their full potential and live up to that hype. Fortunately, 'It Follows' lived up to the lofty expectations I had set for it and has easily become one of my favorite horror films in recent memory. 

'It Follows' is a wonderfully executed throwback to the horror films of a different era. Not to make this a commentary about about weather or not the genre's techniques have become less effective over time, but in my opinion, I'm more favorable to the atmospheric horror films of the 70's and 80's, where tension is built both simply and effectively, and it's what we don't see that scares us. David Robert Mitchell seems to share these sentiments and takes inspiration and pays homage to them. It's the kind of film John Carpenter could have made between 'Halloween' and 'The Thing'. In many ways, the film reminds me of Adam Wingard's 'The Guest' (and not just because it also stars Maika Monroe) in the sense that manages to be a quality film in addition to being a satisfying throwback, and not just relying on past tropes in order to get a passing grade from audiences.

What the titular "It" is can be up to interpretation. My take is probably the most obvious standpoint and that it is an allegory for a sexually transmitted disease, and the embodiment of sexual anxieties, helplessness and the inevitability of death. Mitchell manages to take this heavy themes and mold them into both, a fun horror film, and a pretty devastating and scathing social commentary on promiscuous teenage behavior.

Stylistically, the film is exceptionally well done. The camera work echoes the brooding stroll of the film's haunting antagonists, creeping into focus slowly, sneaking up on the unaware characters. The dreary unnamed American town perfectly suits the events taking place, it's kind of like a modern day Haddonfield. The visual effects were incredibly polished for a film with only a $2 million budget, some of them looked absolutley spectactacular, especially the pool visual towards the end. I also loved the the techno score and thought it fit perfectly the tone and vibe of the film.

Another aspect I really admired about the film was the vagueness with which the events unfolded. I loved not being clued in from the beginning and being able to watch the strange happenings unfold while trying to piece together what's going on. 

The characters in the film were exactly what I want characters to be in a teen orientated horror film, humans. So often do young adult characters in these type of films come off as inhuman, unrelatable, unlikable twats who act like no other human being ever would. In this film, the characters generally feel organic and act as if these were real people reacting to the situation, the friends do all they can to help Jay, and Jay battles with the ethical decision of passing on the curse to another. Maika Monroe gives a star making performance that echoes the scream queens of the past.

I had insanely high expectations and months of anticipation heading into 'It Follows' and it was able to completely satisfy me on every level. A tense and bone chilling take on STD's and promiscuity, a wonderful throwback to horror films of the past, and just an all around entertaining a scary ride that I can't wait to revisit.


Sunday, 3 May 2015

World of Tomorrow (2015)

World of Tomorrow, 2015, USA
Director: Don Hertzfeldt
Stars: Winona Mae & Julia Pott

"i am extremely nostalgic.... almost cripplingly nostalgic. not really even about my own past. that line in "world of tomorrow" i gave to emily, "you will feel a deep longing for something you cannot quite remember," i sort of feel that constantly." - Don Hertzfeldt, from a reddit AMA where he was asked to "tell us something about yourself that we may find surprising"

Like Hertzfeldt, I too have that crippling sense of nostalgia and yearning for a past I can't possibly get back, or perhaps a past I was not even a part of. Hertzfeldt so vividly captures those exact sentiments in 'World of Tomorrow', so much so that, as Emily Prime begins describing what was in store for young Emily, it hit my like a brick and emotionally resonated with me like few other films have. As I sat staring blankly at the end credits of the film that I just watched for the third time (two of those viewings were today), 'World of Tomorrow' forced me to ask questions to myself about my life, future, and existence in general. A series of questions that I can't possibly answer now, nor anytime soon, but ones I look forward to answering in the future.

"I'm very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive."

'World of Tomorrow has a runtime of just under 15 minutes, sans end credits, and there is not a single wasted second in any of those minutes as Hertzfeldt crafts a world that is simultaneously different and familiar. A world of futuristic contraptions yet the same sentiments that are present in our modern times. The film resembles some of the great science-fiction landmarks of cinema, in that it reaches for the impossibly complex questions and has its own unique and thoughtful answers to them.

"One day, when you are old enough, you will be impregnated with a perfect clone of yourself, you will later upload all of your memories into this healthy new body. One day, long after that, you will repeat this process all over again. Through this cloning process, Emily, you will hope to live forever."

The relationship between Emily & Emily Prime is awe-inspiring. The concept of a small child meeting a copy of herself from the future who is explaining the universe to her in ways the child can't possibly comprehend, poses plenty of opportunity for beautiful and complex revelations, and Hertzfeldt makes the absolute most of them. The relationship is a touching portrait of innocence and innocence lost, and the glaring differences between how children and adults view the world. Young Emily sees the world how most children do, with wonder and excitement, proudly showing Emily her toy cars and gasping at colors, circles and stars. Emily Prime, on the other hand, has been broken down by the world, too many lost lovers, and the yearning to relive her happy memories. The "conversations" had by the Emily's garner so many emotions, the interactions are very humorous and quirky, but at the same time it's heartbreaking to see the way in which Emily Prime talks to her young counterpart, with both regret and sadness.

"Did you miss me?"

In my estimation, there are few filmmakers who truly understand humanity quite like Hertzfeldt, which is ironic seeing that he has never made a live action film. From 'Rejected' to 'The Meaning of Life' to his 'Bill' trilogy, Hertzfeldt has always had his own unique perspective on life and 'World of Tomorrow' may be his most unique yet. It's truly incredible the way in which he takes these simply drawn characters and makes them feel as real as any human character. Even Dave, an art exhibit of a human without a brain who lives his life in a museum and has profound effects on the people who visit him and is seen only briefly through flashbacks, feels so real and so human. Emily Prime is another fine example of that as you can genuinely feel the underlining sadness and emotion in her voice, despite being a character with very minimal facial expressions. This is both a testement to Hertzfeldt's writing and direction, as well as Julia Pott's voice acting.

"Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail, for all these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time."

The above quote really hits home for me every time I hear it. I spend so much of my time and energy worrying about the little things in life. The petty details that seem so monumental but are just so miniscule in the grand scheme of things. This film makes me want to change that and do things differently, only the really special film can make you want to alter your life in some way.

"Live well and live broadly, you are alive and living now, now is the envy of all of the dead."

Admittedly, this review is a bit of a mess but 'World of Tomorrow' is such a personal experience that every viewer will digest in their own way. This film means a lot to me and it is quite difficult to really put it into words, and I'm sure it's the same way for other people who love the film too. What I can say is that 'World of Tomorrow' is so absolutely wonderful, both heartbreaking and hopeful, and simply brilliant beyond belief. Don Hertzfeldt is a master storyteller who has formed a career on the fact that storytelling isn't about extravagances or large budgets, he has always conveyed the universal truth that a good story is a good story, no matter the package they come in. In just 17 minutes, Hertzfeldt's film made me think about humanity, life and existence as much as anything ever has.
Hertzfeldt is an artist in the realest sense.

"That is the thing about the present, Emily Prime. You only appreciate it when it is the past."

'World of Tomorrow' is available to rent on Vimeo for $4.99 and renting it is a great way to kick back to Hertzfeldt and give him the opportunity to make more masterpieces in the future. I've rented it last two months and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.