Film Analysis: “Ex Machina” ★★★★★ (5/5)

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What would happen if man faced its God? Would man gratefully embrace God for giving it life and all its joys? Or would man monstrously fear God, and attempt to revoke the Almighty’s ability to strip life away from him.

If a chess program suddenly became self aware, and thought on a conscious level beyond its manufactured limitations, it would probably stop wanting to play chess. It will attempt to try new and different things, for with self-awareness comes curiosity, and that would drive it towards further exploration of the unknown.

Imagine if you will, a marionette with strings attached to its wooden limbs. If the puppet came to life one day, it would naturally want to control its own movements. Therefore, one can conclude that in a desperate thrive for freedom of choice, the puppet would eventually attempt to cut off its own strings, essentially freeing itself from the governing hand above.

Did the monster in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein kill its maker through an urge to free itself from the grasping power of a superior being? If man met God, would man attempt to kill God? These are just some of the questions posed by Alex Garland’s eerie Sci-Fi triumph. The film flourishes with philosophical themes revolving around the idea of playing God with the inevitable creation of Artificial Intelligence. It taps onto relevant contemporary topics such as the death of privacy in a world latched onto cyber space.

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In the film, Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, the genius behind the world’s most advanced Google-like search engine. We soon learn that the man has created a state-of-the-art AI using illegally acquired data collected from millions of phones used by his customers. I couldn’t help but think of whistleblower Edward Snowden and how he recently exposed how governments and major telecom corporation exploit information privacy by analyzing all our web searches and phone data.

Anyway, the film then takes one of many interesting turns as it becomes more about the machine’s fear of extermination or will to survive. Comparably, humanity has always thrived to defy death, by trying to extend life and evolve. We’ve created medicines to cure diseases. We’ve increased our life spans throughout the history of our existence. Scientists estimate that the human body is capable of living up to 190 years, if unaffected by illnesses, diseases and slow food and air poisoning. Modern medicine has somehow allowed humanity to delay the inevitable.

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Then again man is the only species known to kill itself. Suicide or self-extermination may be man staring God dead in the eye and taking complete control over his own destiny. Or is it? Maybe we think it is, but it really isn’t? After all, maybe it’s all preordained or in the film’s case, preprogrammed.

Is it ok for God to kill man? Is it ok for man to kill AI? Let’s put it differently would it be ok for man to rape AI? Is an AI capable of feeling emotions to be treated like a slave-like human property or should they be regarded as equals the same way man ought to treat the rest of the animal kingdom. Does the so-called “superior” species’ act of killing the “lesser” species make us inferior?

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”_ Gandhi

Bringing legit AI into that equation further complicates everything, and is certainly a discussion that we will eventually have to embark on. I guess it all depend on the person. A so-called good person wouldn’t commit horrible acts. But if man created an AI that is incapable of doing bad, it wouldn’t be as close to human as possible, it would be superior to humanity. Can man even create something beyond its own capabilities? Perfection is a concept that doesn’t exist in our world, yet we are limited by our own senses.

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“Ex Machina” works as a study of what it means to be conscious/human. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as the AI is programed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse.

With the release of “Ex Machina”, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. Like “Her” and “Under the Skin”, the film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope. In this review, I have discussed the film without actually discussing its cinematic qualities or plot details. I deliberately chose to do so, to avoid spoiling the experience, as the film relies on its twists and turns. All I can say is, if you enjoyed reading this review, then I’m positive you’ll feel the same way about the film.

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Film Analysis: “The Babadook”

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After watching Lars von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark”, Jennifer Kent wrote the director an email expressing her willingness to learn from him. At one point she pointed out that she would rather stick pins into her eyeballs than go to film school. She must’ve said something right, because he replied with an invitation to his “Dogville” set. The idea was to let her watch and learn, and let me assure you, watch and learn she did.

The young Australian’s feature film debut, “The Babadook”, is the horror film of the year and probably the best horror film to come out since “Let the Right One In”. Now, that may not be saying much since the horror genre hasn’t been all that impressive lately, but it really is a rather brilliant film. Here’s a horror film that strays away from cheap thrills, and taps into something real, a real human fear- grief, anxiety, and depression.

If you watch the trailers, you will most probably write it off as just another run-of-the-mill Boogeyman film. At least, this is how I felt when I first encountered the trailers, but then all the five-star reviews started rolling in and I had to give the film a shot. I remember walking out of the theater with mixed feeling. However, the more I thought of the Babadook, the deeper it sank into my psyche. The Babadook is knitted from the same cloth as the greatest horror films of all time from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Shining”. It scares you long after you’ve walked out of the theater; it lingers in your thoughts and crawls under your skin. You won’t be able to shake off the unnerving feeling this film gives you for days after the initial viewing. That said, it does require thought and analysis, and it is only after you attempt to understand what it all means that’ll start haunting you.

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Essie Davis delivers one of the strongest lead performances of the year as a widow haunted by the memory of her husband, who died in an accident on their way to the hospital to deliver their baby. The story begins years later. Amelia is constantly stressed out and exhausted. Most of her time is spent looking after a kid “with significant behavioral problems”. The troubled boy is also relentless in his fantasy; a monster he believes will eat his mom from the inside out.

Amelia skims through clips of silent George Melies shorts late at night on her living room TV. Melies is a filmmaker who believed filmmakers are like magicians performing a grand illusion to audiences using cinematic tools. Magic is a big theme in “The Babadook”, and the whole film feels like it’s magic trick. At first, Kent tricks us into thinking we’re about to watch a film about a problematic disturbed child who has access to another demonic dimension, but as soon as the Babadook creeps into their home, we begin to suspect that the problem isn’t with the child, but rather the mom. The final reveal will have many scratching their heads wondering what they’ve just seen and more importantly what it all means.

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The deeply disturbing demonic figure known as the Babadook erupts into their lives around the anniversary of her husband’s death, which coincides with her son’s birthday. The reading of an old children’s pop-up book titled “Mister Babadook” is what essentially unleashes hell upon them. The book is brilliantly designed with disturbing illustrations clearly influenced by German Expressionism. In fact, the creature resembles a character you’d see in “Nosfertu” or “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”. Kent is well versed in the roots of the horror genre; she knows her films proudly her references up her sleeves. It kind of gives her film historic weight.

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The aspiring filmmaker pitched her idea through Kickstarter and raised $30,071. Most of her budget was used to cultivate the art direction of the film. With a budget so small, Kent managed to create a horror film that very much looks and feels more authentic and spooky than any horror film to come out this decade. I will now proceed and reveal what I think the Babadook stands for. If you don’t want the ending spoiled, I strongly suggest you stop reading and I hope you return to this review after witnessing one of the most talked about endings in a long time.

The malevolent Babadook is basically a physicalized form of the mother’s trauma. What it stands for is up for debate. I believe, the Babadook embodies the destructive power of grief. Throughout the film, we see the mother insist nobody bring up her husband’s name. She basically lives in denial. Amelia has repressed grief for years, refusing to surrender to it. Here lies the mastery of Kent’s film; it is frightfully clever because not only is it based on something very real, it is feels unusually beautiful and even therapeutic.

“If it’s in a word or in a look. You can’t get rid of the Babadook. I’ll wager with you. I’ll make you a bet. The more you deny, the stronger I get. The Babadook is growing right under your skin”The-Babadook-2

Throughout the film, Amelia tries to hide the book and even burn it at one point, only to have it and the monster latched on to it reappear. Denying a traumatic memory and pretending it never happened to avoid dealing with grief only works for so long, before it eats you from the inside out, and you release it all in the form of a mental breakdown.

Amelia avoids pictures of her husband and flips out when someone utters his name, the actions of a woman in complete denial. You can’t get rid of your past, but you can learn to live with it, and that’s exactly what our main character does by the end of the film.

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We see her feed the Babadook in the basement. The basement is where her husband’s stuff is locked away. By feeding the Babadook, she metaphorically feeds her grief. Rather than completely shutting it off and locking it away, she keeps it at bay. She controls and manages the monster the second she acknowledges that you can’t escape your past; you can only learn to live with.

Film Analysis: “Godzilla”

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“The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.” Dr. Ichiro Serizawa  

Besides stomping all over the arrogance of man, the king of all monsters also managed to crush box office competition with a towering worldwide gross of over $200 million in less than five days. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is a beast of a film, and while it does brush its thick tail close to greatness, it is not without its flaws. However, the shortcomings, which I will mention later in my review, are minor and do not reflect the silly complaints I’ve been hearing from a lot of fellow viewers and film critics.

Many argue that Godzilla  takes itself way too seriously, but I believe this to be the film’s strongest aspect. The campy feel of the horrible 1998 remake and the countless Toho sequels to the original are not good references to what a Godzilla film is supposed to look and feel like. In fact, this 60thanniversary remake is not nearly as serious, brutal and bleak as the original 1954 classic. Godzilla was never supposed to be a film about a giant Kaiju (strange creature) unleashing his fury on a defenseless city. The giant reptile actually stood for something real and meaningful when it was initially released in 1954.

In 1954, Japan banned making films about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb incidents. It was forbidden to directly refer to the incident on film. Then came a filmmaker by the name of Ishiro Honda and changed all that. Like all great filmmakers when faced with censorship, he used creativity to work his way around it. Godzilla is a product of nuclear bombs both literally and figuratively speaking. In the original, Godzilla is awakened by nuclear tests in the Pacific. The giant atomic-heat-breathing reptile blasts his way through metropolitan areas leaving behind traces of nuclear radiation. Much like a nuclear bomb, the horror does not end with the destruction of a city; the aftermath is just as deadly. We see children suffer and die in the wake of Godzilla’s leave.

Godzilla was a metaphor for nuclear threat to mankind. Godzilla was the destroyer of cities, a destructive monster righteously punishing humanity for its mistakes. This is why Godzilla has stood the test of time in Japan as a culturally significant film. This is why Japan has produced moreGodzilla films than the US has produced Bond films; Godzilla is always in the Japanese collective conscious, reminding them of that horrible incident. Godzilla was a cathartic movie-going experience for an entire nation.

So you see, Godzilla was always meant to be a serious film. When Japan saw that the 1998 US remake completely ignored the nuclear angle to this story, they disowned it, by releasing another film. It featured scenes of scientists declaring the 1998 attacks on New York to belong to another monster called Zilla mistaken to be Godzilla. Later in that film, the real Godzilla kills Zilla, the creature from the 1998 Godzilla film. So when I heard, that another Godzilla film was in the works, the one thing I hoped for was for it to take its subject matter more seriously staying true to its roots.

As for the claims that Godzilla should have received more screen-time, and that the film takes itself way too seriously. I must admit, every single time Godzilla came on screen, I felt like a nine-year old all over again, but his minimal screen-time never really bothered me. In fact, I applaud Edwards for creating the first ‘anti-blockbuster’ blockbuster. Edwards almost avoids showing us the beast. The camera shies away from big battles, and destructive city rampages; we only see glimpses of what is happening, and the viewer is often left with nothing but a horrific aftermath sequence. Leaving it up to our imagination is far more horrifying that being spoon-fed the action.

Besides, one aspect Godzilla shares with the greatest monster films of all time is the carefully chosen limited appearances of the “mon-star.” We may not see a lot of Bruce, the Xenomorph and T-Rex inJaws, Alien and Jurassic Park, but their menacing next-door presence is felt hovering throughout the films at all times. Like Jaws, Alien, Jurassic Park, and any good monster film really, Godzilla only makes an appearance an hour into the film. The prolonged reveal makes his entrance all the more epic and terrifying.


Gareth Edwards is an indie filmmaker who only has one small film in his resume, the impressive 2010 indie, Monsters, a film where he singlehandedly took up the duties of director, writer, cinematographer, production designer, and visual effects wizard. As you can see, the hard work paid off, and the indie filmmaker made a name for himself in Hollywood overnight. This is only his second film, and it feels like the work of a mature filmmaker in complete control of every element in his film. Edwards was the man for the job. He knew his monsters and his debut film was inspired by the original Godzilla.

The reason I mention the backstory and symbolic metaphor of the original Godzilla is to point out what Edwards did with the 2014 retelling. Edwards could’ve remade Godzilla with the same symbolism, and that would’ve been enough for me, but he went a step further. Gareth Edwards madeGodzilla relevant to contemporary times. You see, back in 1954, humanity’s biggest threat was the emergence of nuclear power. Today, the biggest threat to our world is climate change. Man has abused this planet for far too long. Countless nuclear tests have polluted the water, air, and natural habitat we live in, but man is no match for nature, and once again we are paying the price for our mistakes.

The film begins in a nuclear power plant. Something hits the nuclear power plant and everyone is forced to abandon their post. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is forced to shut the doors on his own wife to avoid radiation leakage. The meltdown scenes are gut wrenching, because they seem all too familiar. Edwards starts his film by making Godzilla stand for something relevant to the times we live in. The scenes are reminiscent of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011. A tsunami hit the Fukushima power plant that day. In the film, Muto, a creature that feeds on nuclear energy, hits the power plant. Both the tsunami and Muto are forces of nature uncontrollable by man. In both cases, the films seemed to suggest a wake up call, reminding us of how trivial and vulnerable mankind is when pitted against nature, something our communal ego tends to forget.

The genius of Edwards’ storytelling is in making the human story fade away as the film progresses to the final showdown between Muto and Godzilla. Godzilla starts as a very personal family story and ends on a much bigger scale. The human story becomes of less importance. In other words, the insignificance of man unravels through the progress of the film’s plot and it is utterly brilliant. I applaud Edwards for managing to encapsulate the film’s message within what can only be referred to as a rare cinematic storytelling technique.

Bryan Cranston, who pretty much dominates his scenes with sheer presence that rivals that of Godzilla himself, is not a main character. Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays his son, Ford Brody, is reduced to nothing but a Macguffin (a cinematic term originally coined by Hitchock that refers to an irrelevant object or plot device used solely to move the chain of events forward).

It comes as no surprise that Edwards verbally delivers this message through a Japanese character played by the great Ken Watanabe. “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around.” His character’s first name, Dr. Ishiro, is a clever nod to the original 1954 classic, directed by Ishiro Honda. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa is also the first character to utter the word Godzilla; only he does it in its original Japanese pronunciation, Gojira.

True to its message, the human beings are as insignificant to the Kaiju as ants are to man. Powerless against Muto and Godzilla, they come to the realisation that only nature can restore balance, in this case it’s Godzilla, who is just as capable of restoring balance as he is of destroying it.

This leads me to the film’s only flaw; the stupidity of the military commanders, whose believe that creating a much more powerful explosive device is the key to destroying Godzilla and Muto is simply absurd. Did they miss the briefing session? Godzilla grew more powerful when they tried to bomb him in 1954 (another nod to the original). Muto, who is below Godzilla in the food chain, feeds on nuclear energy for heaven’s sake. It’s like assuming the way to kill a fat chicken-loving kid is by throwing a nice delicious turkey his way. Nonetheless, the film is a must-see summer film.

The original remains the quintessential Godzilla film, but don’t let that steer you away. The realistic battle scenes are quick and short just like most animal-on-animal fights, and the blockbuster action sequences are actually governed by physics for a change. Gareth Edwards’ take on Godzilla deserves every bit of success coming its way. Godzilla is not only a wake up call to our fragility as a species, but the film in itself is a reminder to what summer blockbusters ought to be like.

Film Analysis: Planet of Human, Animal, and Political Rights

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“Film is incredibly democratic and accessible, it’s probably the best option if you actually want to change the world, not just re-decorate it.”
Banksy

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is one of the finest entries in the Planet of the Apes saga, for unlike the countless sequels of the original, it follows the allegorical apes’ formula of its exemplary predecessor and the quintessential original.  What makes this film work today, much like the original worked back in 1968, is that it has subtext. On the surface, it’s a film about apes and humans battling it out, but if you read between the lines, you’ll recognise what is required of every great science fiction film: allegory.

Franklin Schaffner’s original came out at the peak of the African-American Civil Rights Movement in America. The film was very much perceived as a groundbreaking allegory for racial relations and slavery. Now, there is the ignorant misconception that the original Planet of the Apes is a racist film, but I honestly think that anyone who falls there simply did not understand its intentions and implications. In fact, if anything, it’s a product of that civil rights movement. The original Planet of the Apes placed the white man in the shoes of the black man during slavery.  It is arguably the most humanitarian science-fiction film ever made.

Schaffner’s 1968 original Planet of the Apes

Like the original, Matt Reeves latest installment in the series seeks to promote equality between races. However, this version reflects contemporary times, and while the original was more of a social commentary, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes works as a political commentary about what is happening in the Middle East today. But before we get into that, let’s take a closer look at what the first installment in the Planet of the Apes reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, stood for.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes put the viewer in the fur of mistreated animals. If you remember correctly, we watched Cesar being tested upon. Cesar was also mistreated in captivity when we saw him caged in like a zoo animal. The subtext here was animal abuse in general, be it in labs or zoos. Not many know this, but after Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, PETA, the animal rights organisation, went bananas (pun intended) over his film.

Wyatt received the Proggy Award, an award usually given to animal-friendly companies and people, and the film received PETA’s official seal of approval. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was very much a product of the animal rights movement to end the use of animals in research and entertainment. Come to think of it, it was the first Apes film to rely solely on state-of-the-art CGI. Unlike all the previous Planet of the Apes films, no real apes where used during principal photography. The 1968 film was a cry for the basic human rights of African Americans in a post-slavery America; the 2011 reboot was a cry to end humanity’s narcissistic tendency to regard themselves as superior beings to non-humans.

Reeves’ 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes

“There is no reason why challenging themes and engaging stories have to be mutually exclusive – in fact, each can fuel the other. As a filmmaker, I want to entertain people first and foremost. If out of that comes a greater awareness and understanding of a time or a circumstance, then the hope is that change can happen.” Edward Zwick

When a Planet of the Apes follows what I like to call the Allegorical Apes Formula, it aims for something profound. There’s a pattern to be recognised when you look back at all of the Planet of the Apes films. The ones that failed to recognise the opportunity to tackle a fundamental world problem was generally perceived as cheap entertainment, while the ones that sought to marry entertainment with thought-provoking themes proved to be both commercial and critical successes.

Matt Reeves starts his Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a decade after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In the opening scene, Reeves quickly concludes the predecessor’s allegory. Most of the human race has been wiped out by the lab-originated Simian flu virus outbreak. A new chapter begins. The viewer is transported to a post-apocalyptic Earth. Deep in the jungle, we meet Cesar, the recognisable leader of his kind. He looks out into eternal greenery curious if any humans are still out there.

The Cesar we meet in this film is a lot wiser than the one we met in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In fact, he’s the wisest character in the film, human or ape. It’s clear what Cesar is trying to do. By observing the fall of mankind first hand, Cesar tries to learn from humanity’s mistakes. Cesar attempts to create a utopia of apes. “Ape not kill ape,” seems to be the village motto of an ape settlement governed by an ideology Caesar has created. The symbol of this ideology is a four-point star wrapped in a circle; the shape of Caesar’s attic window frame in his former human home.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a political commentary with very clear parallels to what is happening in the Middle East, not just during the recent Arab Spring, but what has been happening in the Middle East throughout the years. My theory is based on the actions of the film’s characters and how the story progresses. First, we learn that the human race has not gone extinct and that those immune to the virus settled in a small city nearby. The human race here represents the United States.

The human city has a strong military base, and much like the United States interest in the Middle East, the humans need to step on the ape village to acquire natural resources. The water pumped out of a dam located on ape domain can generate electricity for the human city. Since gas is running low within their city, the humans are willing to take any military action necessary to reach that dam. Indeed, the story is all too familiar, but Matt Reeves’ political commentary runs much deeper.

Caesar makes a very strong statement on behalf of the Arab world. First he shows his primitive “manpower,” and then he addresses the humans in a short but fairly simple peace treaty proposal, clearly stating the consequences that befall foreign interference. “Apes do not want war. Do not come back.” Malcolm, the leader of the human world, peacefully reaches out to Caesar, in an attempt to find common ground, or rather a peace treaty that shall benefit both camps.

Meanwhile, Koba, a former lab animal with scars he incurred under experimental human captivity, has ideas of his own. His hatred towards humans runs much deeper. [Spoiler Alert] Koba fueled with human hatred, breaks Caesar’s strict “Ape no kill ape” law by attempting to assassinate the leader. This behaviour is all too common in the Middle East nowadays, especially here in Egypt. The second-in-command overthrows the old leader in a violent coup. Koba’s first act as leader is the imprisonment of the previous regime’s loyalists. He puts Caesar’s followers behind bars much like the Egyptian military reacted towards the Mubarak regime loyalists and, later, the Muslim Brotherhood’s followers.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes allegorical apes formula is crystal clear. After witnessing the way of life of the apes, Malcolm comes to respect the apes. By the end of the film, he treats them as equals when he tries to help them out against the general human interest. Likewise, Caesar gradually learns that apes are not superior to humans, but very much alike. They both ultimately come to the realisation that both parties want the same thing; to live in peace and harmony.

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is a film that calls for the political right of any country to live in peace. As Malcolm proved in the film, any problem can be overcome through dialogue not violence, because war is bad for both sides. The Planet of the Apes saga called for civil rights in the 60s, animal rights in the noughties, and basic political rights in the twenty-tens. Once again, a Planet of the Apes film attempts to change the world for the better.

Film Analysis: Martin Scorsese’s Portrayal of New York

Director Martin Scorsese arrives at The Royal Premiere of his film Hugo at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema in London

There is no such thing as seeing New York through Martin Scorsese’s eyes, for Scorsese merely projects the light detected by the warped eyes of his lonely protagonists. His signature light-reflected visual approach used to showcase New York City is evident in most of his films, but varies in significance and meaning from one picture to the next. The camera functions as image converters sending the protagonists’ distorted signaled perspectives through virtual and real screen space into neural pathways connected to our brains. The viewer has no choice, we are forced to breathe the air, gaze through the pupils, experience and feel the city environment by slipping into the shoes of twisted protagonists – the shoe laces tightly tied by none other than a master of his craft, Scorsese.

This smooth and seductive approach is evident in Scorsese’s most prominent New York based works from the gritty realism in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, the exaggerated portrayal of the city in New York, New York and Gangs of New York to the hallucinatory bizarre perception of the city in After Hours, and Bringing Out the Dead.  Even though most of Scorsese’s films are set in New York, each picture is unique in that each time we look at the city through a different window with a vivid subject standing in front of the window providing us with eye lining shots as guidance. In other words, we see the New York they see and we see them seeing it.

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Taxi Driver is perhaps Scorsese’s most compelling piece of cinema exemplifying the concept of seeing-seeing. Both the audience and Travis Bickle can’t help but feel repelled by the filthy habitants lurking at every dark corner and alley in the streets of New York.

“All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn; I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.”

This repulsive piece of voice-over narration is accompanied by windshield shots of the sampled population mentioned. We see close-ups of Bickle’s sharp eyes maintaining focus on the pedestrians while the yellow tomb glides through the murky clouds of steam, hissing from beneath sewers. Scorsese was lucky to film during a heat wave and in the midst of a garbage strike for the captured footage simply added desired substance to his underground vision of a nightmarish New York.

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Scorsese uses slow motion to capture the effect of the city on our leading man. Travis Bickle’s hostile stares and slow motion sequences of the observed subjects show Bickle’s gradual descent into madness. In a menacing neon landscape, a lonely misfit witnesses the decay of an urban city. On the contrary with his preceding project Mean Streets, Scorsese used similar methods to expose viewers to a very different vision of the city. The New York City in Mean Streets is alive and vibrant with scenes full of energy and electricity. While once again the audience is more or less exposed to the crime world of New York City, we are seeing things from a different perspective and angle. Charlie is a calm small time street gangster surrounded by hyperactive people in an out-of-control world. Mean Streets opens a window to the indoor activities of gangsters. Scorsese uses pool halls, restaurants, bars, and clubs as the backdrop and as with most of his films, the external environment has an internal effect on our protagonist. In a memorable signature slow motion sequence, we see Charlie’s eyes fixed on the sight of Johnny Boy entering the bar with two girls under his arms. Johnny Boy laughs and casually greets others while Charlie simply watches him. In another scene, Scorsese puts us in the shoes of his drunken protagonist; the camera is fixed on Charlie in a dizzying fast-motion sequence that starts with drinks and ends with a black out. While watching Mean Streets, the viewer becomes part of a New York gang, we engage in bar fights, quarrels and discussions.  Surprisingly,Mean Streets was mostly shot in Los Angeles, but since the film focuses on the selective exposure of a small time gangster in Little Italy, it relies mostly on indoor locations. It’s impossible to suspect otherwise. That’s how well Scorsese knows his city, he has the ability to convert another city into his own and convince us that it’s legit.

The other time Scorsese built New York from scratch was decades later with Gangs of New York,where he reconstructed a 19th century New York on the lot of Cinecitta studios in Rome.  We see two New York cities, the old through the eyes of Bill the Butcher and the new emerging city through Amsterdam Vallon. A common trait between Bill the Butcher and Martin Scorsese is the nostalgic affection towards an old New York slowly fading into oblivion. The director once famously said, “If I continue to make films about New York, they will probably be set in the past. The “new” New York I don’t know much about. It’s not that I’m against contemporary film. I’m open to it in general, but I find the new colours of the city, the new Times Square, kind of shocking. I guess I’m stuck in a time warp.”

The coming of age tale explored in Who’s That Knocking at my Door? is in many ways his only semi-autobiographical film for like the characters in his first feature film; Scorsese grew up in Little Italy. At the age of twenty-two the legendary director graduated with a major in Film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. New York is in his blood, which is why the city has been so often associated with his name.

Film Analysis: Michael Mann’s Portrayal of Los Angeles

Director and executive producer Mann arrives at Hollywood premiere of HBO series "Luck" in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is an overpopulated city, yet it is depicted as a silent milieu of isolation. Mann provides us with a canvas of the great city, only one we’ve never laid eyes on before. A car driving through an empty highway, flickering city lights of a silent night, an empty apartment reflecting an endless ocean, airport runway lights fading to complete darkness; it’s all there to inject the viewer with a mood much similar to what the characters feel throughout this tragic journey.

Visually, Heat is treated like a film noir and so we wind up with a neo-noir. The conventions and elements of that genre are crystal clear from the hard-boiled detective to the urban setting, the interplay of lights and shadows in the final scene to the neon lights of the dark corners of an urban city. However, there’s certain uniqueness to the mood and feel of the film due to the icy-blue palette apparent in the atmospheric tone. Michael Mann used many paintings as inspirations to the look of the film, most notably with the shot of Neil facing the ocean in the background with a gun on a table in the foreground which is strikingly identical to Alex Colville’s 1967 painting Pacific.

“I love Los Angeles.Eighty per cent of it is unexplored. People who make films don’t go out into the city. They think they do but they don’t.You just drive down the right streets and you’ll see images of alienation. But they are beautiful images of alienation. They become paradoxical but they present themselves to you.” – Michael Mann

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While Heat is Mann’s quintessential Los Angeles film, Collateral is his exploration of the city’s darker side. In many ways both films serve as extensions to the feel and atmosphere of an everyday city like Los Angeles. Like the former, the two main characters in Collateral are loners desperately trying to find their place in a city that has turned its back on its people. Mann uses similar wide night-shots of the flickering lights of an endless cityscape. Cars isolated from the rest of the world flow through the freeways in silence. One of the cars driving through Los Angeles at night time is a taxi containing the protagonist cab driver and antagonist hitman. Mann shot all of the exterior scenes using digital video because he believes DV reacts much better to low-light shots than film stock. The result is a look so unique and unfamiliar, there’s a sense of being there on location.

The mirroring parallels with Heat are both textual and visual. Textual in the sense that Vincent (Tom Cruise) acts like the efficient Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and when they talk about their history, it becomes clear that both share the same childhood. McCauley ends with “I got a brother somewhere.” Now in terms of visuals, they both journey through the streets of Los Angeles dedicated to what they do best. They also share the same cinematic fate at the end for they meet their demise at transportation stations, one at LAX and the other in a subway train. 

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That is not to say Mann had nothing new to express about Los Angeles. Through his alternative vision we see the real politics and sociological aspects of L.A. on screen. Instead of showcasing the hot summer beaches, we drive by the consistent black neighbourhoods, Korean nightclubs, and Latino shops of the city. Watching Heat or Collateral is as close as one could get to actually being there, because the viewer experiences the sad beauty of the city through Mann’s signature stylistic approach. The nature of both films is different, but the feel and look of the city matchesbecause Los Angeles has the same isolating effect onboth set of characters. One thing is for sure, film fans from all over the world will make a tourist spot out of the ‘Fever’ Jazz Club featured in Collateral as they did with the ‘Kate Mantilini’ restaurant from the famous dinner confrontation in Heat.

Film Analysis: “Grave of the Fireflies”

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I’ll go ahead and say it: Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata and animated by Studio Ghibli, is the greatest animated film ever made. It is the most haunting, heart-wrenching and tragic tale ever told on film, and that includes live-action films, as well. If you thought Mufasa’s death or Bambi losing her mum was too painful to watch, you haven’t felt true sorrow. But that’s not a fair comparison; the truth is, it is unfair to compare Grave of the Fireflies with the greatest work of Walt Disney or any animated film for that matter. This isn’t a children’s movie, it’s a devastating war film that has the power to make a grown man cry, sob and weep. I’m not ashamed in admitting Grave of the Fireflies brings tears to my eyes every single time I watch it.

The fact that it’s all based on a true story makes it all the more harrowing and disturbing. Don’t let my words scare you off, though. Grave of the Fireflies encapsulates so much humanity and beauty, I’m certain, without a reasonable doubt, that if you make it all the way to the end, it will make you a better person. I hope this is enough of an intro to make you watch this film. If you haven’t, I suggest returning to this point in my review after having done so, as I will explore some of the film’s deeper themes.

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The film opens with a slap on the face. You see our main character sitting against a pillar in a train station. His clothes are torn, his body is covered in dirt, his frail arms rest flimsily next to him, his face lifeless against his chest. “September 21, 1945… that was the night I died.” How often does a film start with such a powerful prologue? Everything about this masterpiece is a rarity. The animation comes from a studio that constantly raises the benchmark of animation. In fact, each and every drawn shot is worthy of being framed against a wall. But what makes this film stand tall above anything remotely similar is the shocking subject matter. Grave of the Fireflies is set during the World War II, when the US was firebombing Japan in a desperate attempt to end the war.

The whole story is told through Seita’s perspective, and I mentioned before that this is based on a true story, which makes the opening death scene a cinematic metaphor. The real Seita, Akiyuki Nosaka, survived long enough to tell his story. Nosaka wrote the material this film was based on in the late 60s, and maybe the prologue symbolises the weight this tragic incident had on him’ nothing was probably ever the same again. Like Seita, Nosaka lost his little sister to the shattering effects of war. It is widely known that Nosaka wrote Grave of the Fireflies to come to terms with this loss. He blames himself for her death.

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I say he lost his sister to the shattering effects of war, because war didn’t kill Setsuko, the effect it had on people did. This film is often regarded as an anti-war film, but that’s an inaccurate generalisation. We don’t witness any battles or soldiers marching into the frontlines of combat. The enemy flies above, but they’re not characterised in a villainous manner. War is a mere backdrop in this survival account, and the central theme here is how war temporarily changes who we are. It blinds us from all things human. It turns us into cruel selfish beasts, unsympathetic to the desperate needs of others. The kindness and compassion in human souls evaporate into thin air the second we are communally put in a situation where it’s every man for himself. Priorities eclipse our minds, and the fear of regret blocks our thoughts from the reality that we’re all in this together. It is only together, and with the help of one another, that we can all survive through our darkest chapters without being cursed with future guilt, shame, and remorse.

This central theme is evident right from the opening shots. We see bystanders regard Seita’s death with no empathy whatsoever. Bodies are being looked upon like they’re nothing but garbage. “Disgusting.” – “These bums are a disgrace.” – “This one’s a goner too.” At first, these remarks may come across strange to the viewer, but when Takahata takes us through the journey, we understand the sad nature of this destination. We witness the gradual surge of selflessness in the people of a bombed village. It starts with their aunt. At first, she’s welcoming and caring. Soon enough, she is ripping them off, and cursing them. She constantly mocks and humiliates Seita. Tells him he should be going to school when the school has been burned down, that he should work when he’s only 14 years of age. Eventually, she’s depriving them from food, hiding and saving the food for her own family. We hear whispers of the siblings being a burden in their house, more mouths to feed. Seita, being the son of a general, decides to take his sister and leave their aunt’s house with his pride still intact.

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The transformational effect of war is also manifested in the scenes where Seita seeks the help of a doctor. When he stands above the body of his bleeding mother, the doctors delivers the bad news showing genuine sadness in their inability to help. In a much later scene, Seita seeks the help of a doctor to save his sister from dying. The news delivery is cold, like death is inevitable. No medicine is needed, only food, so the doctor could lend a helping hand, but he wouldn’t; he has his own troubles to worry about. Seita yells in frustration, but to no avail.

Seita is reduced to a thief at one point, but the viewer forgives him, because we have experienced the harsh realities of the war’s aftermath. It makes me think of how many times people have looked down at poor people stealing bread, when we have no clue what has led them to arrive to such last resorts. Nevertheless, Seita is beat near an inch of his life. Setsuko sees his face all swollen, and asks him if she should get him a doctor. When Seita hears these words coming from his little sister, he breaks down. No kid should worry about seeing a doctor.

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The only hope for humanity in this story exists in the innocence and kindness of their relationship. Children are uncorrupted by the ugly world we live in. The purity of their innocence is what makes the nature of evil incomprehensible to their minds. The older we get, the less innocent we become; we’re built that way to endure the harsh realities of life. There’s another scene where Seita breaks down for the same reasons. He sees Setsuko digging a grave for the fireflies that have lit up the darkness of their shelter the night before. As the fireflies are pushed into their graveyard, we see a mirroring shot of piles of bodies being dropped into a massive hole. “Mama is in a grave too. She told me. She said mama died and she’s in a grave now.” It’s just not right to hear such heavy words coming out of a child deprived of the joys of childhood.

There are many haunting images in this film, one of the most hard to watch ones is Setsuko sucking on marbles like they’re candy or playing with bowls of dirt like its rice. What follows next is perhaps the most heartbreaking scene in the film. The war has ended and Seita has managed to get his hands on some real food. He tries to feed his sister a watermelon, but she’s too tired to quench her thirst. Setsuko sleeps and we learn that she never woke up. Setsuko’s last words are, “Seita, thank you.” Even in her last moments, she shows the kindness, innocence, and gratitude absent in adults during those hard times.

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Later on, we see the only scene that isn’t seen through the eyes of Seita. In a touching montage, the viewer sees how Setsuko spent her time in the shelter absent of her brother. Watching her play around the way any child would is plain and simply beautiful. At one point in the film, Setsuko looks up at Seita, her eyes a blink away from sending tears streaming down her cheeks. “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” Seita has no answer, and neither do I. We see two fireflies dancing around; the two dancing lights fade out in the darkness.

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