BABEL, CHILDREN OF MEN, RAMBO, I AM LEGEND, PRESTIGE

Well Finally got around to tossing out some new film reviews. Enjoy!

BABEL- I really was very pessimistic about this movie going in. Just the hype that surrounded it, I didn’t think it could live up to. And the subject matter, I thought would be too overly… eurocentric for my liking. Much like the films of Walter Salles, while ostensibly Brazilian helmed, are coated in this very European sensibility.

But Babel quieted all these qualms. Being as brilliantly structured, and as emotionally broad a film, as you will find. A nonlinear tale of one bad day, full of bad choices… that spans the globe. And the film could have easily been ruined for me if the final scene of the movie went down the road it was hinting act. Instead it ends on a note of hope, with one last memorable and fantastic shot.

We have a tendency to toss out accolades, like masterful when it is not deserved. But weighing carefully my words… this is a masterful film, not so much shot as weaved, and as such is a film deserving… of all its accolades. A.

CHILDREN OF MEN-Wow. It’s not often when words for me are… hard to come by. This film about a near future, when children are no longer being born is as quiet and contemplative a film, as it is a loud, bloody thriller. And it resists definitions, and easy labels. Both adrenalin inducing and tension filled, CHILDREN OF MEN is an atypical film that breaks against labels such as thriller, sci-fi, drama, suspense, fable… while integrating all those things. It is a mirror of our present, a warning if you will, diffused through our future. And while all that sounds very cerebral, it’s gets you no closer to the strength of this film. Which is at its heart “North by Northwest”, the ordinary man, dragged into extraordinary circumstances. But here in CHILDREN, as opposed to Hitchcock’s classic, the circumstances are unremittingly grim, and the stakes are no less than the end of the world… or the salvation of it. A great film.

RAMBO-I had written a review of this film earlier which was lost, but writing another review won’t be hard; In that the film, weeks after viewing it, is still very vivid. While being no fan of the RAMBO franchise, I do think the first movie, FIRST BLOOD, staying close to the source material of the novel, and with a screenplay co-written by a young Sylvester Stallone… is a great film. Hitting on many notes of alienation and separation, of an individual from his country, and the country from the individual. However I was not a fan of any of the sequels… till this one.

The difference?

The fact that Stallone was writing and directing this latest and (one would think, at least for Stallone) last film, made me want to see it.

People used to seeing Stallone as just an actor tend to forget he is an impressive writer and director. Forget that he has a knack for expressing the collective id, for creating cheer inducing films, adrenalin and testosterone drenched films where competition and violence are not just our natures… but our needs. Our those shores against which we define our seas.

So I was looking forward to this film. And it exceeded my expectations.

And yes the dialog early on is a little ham-fisted, the lead actress a little too earnest and Mary Poppins, there are definite faults.

But you don’t have time to brood about them.

From beginning to end you are assaulted by violence, by brutality, by our stock villain being villainous. It’s very jingoistic. Something you see a lot in Asian cinema, the demonization of the other. If you look at films like PEDICAB DRIVER and DRUNKEN MASTER II the villains in these pieces are villains definitive. Caricatures, parodies, stereotypes extreme… there to justify your violence. To spur your desire for revenge.

RAMBO taking a page from Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, where Spielberg had redefined screen violence, putting you on the front line, as a “you are there” harrowing witness to carnage. But what Spielberg had perhaps thought would be a dissuading use of violence, the wall we hit and back away from; Stallone’s RAMBO shatters that wall and goes beyond it. The film taking the wholesale slaughter of the human form, the concept of war as hell, to Boschian extremes.

And he does it… while making you… cheer.

What he did in the first Rocky, making the audience want victory, want the hero to dispense violence… he does here, but to a far darker degree. And really it’s a phenomenally dangerous and insightful film. Stallone sets up a villain who does horrendous monstrous things and we are opposed to him, and we setup the hero, who becomes our proxy for this, our answer, and our answer?? Is carnage that is even greater than the villains.

So the villains use of violence was bad— why? And the heroes use of violence was good— why? Ultimately it’s a very powerful film, in that you cheer at the taking of life, you cheer, because you presume yourself at that point in time to be in the moral right on the side of the angels. But perhaps in the beginning of the movie, who we call the villain also believes he is in the moral right when he slaughters. Perhaps the antagonist thinks he is justified in cheering.

It’s a wicked line we cross when we lose site of the fact that anyone dead is a bad thing. And while arguably a necessary thing, god help us all if we forget it is never an enjoyable thing, a cheer inducing thing.

And Stallone in RAMBO, gets us to forget that, gets us to cheer for the killing of men, and by so doing we are as culpable, and guilty, and morally wrong as the villain who slaughters indiscriminately at the beginning of the film. Or those soldiers in the flick who make fun, and joy, and sport out of the rape of women. Who cheer… at the rape of women, while we the audience cheer at the murder of soldiers. It’s a thin line from one cheer to the other. Becomes a film that watches us, as much as we watch it.

Stallone is not a stupid man, I’d wager he’s far more intelligent than most of the critics panning the movie for its violence, or patronizingly liking it for being nothing more than a dumb action movie. Both camps perhaps… not getting it.

So on one hand you can walk out of RAMBO thinking you just saw a bloody good action flick, but there is something else there, there’s an irony to the film, there’s a culpability to it, that wipes off on you. That the astute will latch onto immediately, but even the literal… will feel it not sitting right, though they may write it off to just being a bad movie. When nothing could be further from the truth. The film is filled with a dangerous duality. There’s an acceptance and indictment of wars and warriors. Stallone’s character says as much in the film, that “he went to war not for his country but for himself, and when pushed killing is as easy as breathing”.

There’s an understanding of violence as a thing beyond motivation, that is there in spite of motivations. Is there in spite of reasons.

And that final shot of Rambo making that long walk home is possibly the best final shot I’ve seen in a long time. I consider this to be not just a great Stallone movie, but I think it’s a great movie, and a dangerous one. Because a lot of people won’t get the irony and duality in it, and for them it feeds the circle… the rightness of violence, for any reason or in spite of reasons. But for those who come away with a sense of… culpability, in the film and in themselves… it makes you far more aware of the edges of violence… and to beware them.

Very few filmmakers can play with a crowd, hype a crowd better than Stallone. Phenomenal film. B+.

I AM LEGEND- I adore this movie. Two months after seeing it and it remains pristine, and memorable and harrowing. This tale of the last man, picked by fickle fate… to survive. Will Smith turning in a performance only he could have given, ferrocious and haunted and bitter-sweet. Really an acting clinic, given that he spends most of the movie acting only against himself. And the direction in this movie is phenomenal, the monsters here having the 28 DAYS LATER vibe, but this movie being superior in every way. That scene of them sleeping standing up… being a standout. The whole movie plying tension upon tension, with a great ending! A-/B+.


PRESTIGE- This movie just cements the fact, that I am not a fan of the movie-making style of Christopher Nolan. Much as in the style of other innovative “gotcha” directors such as Dave Fincher and M. Knight Shyamalan, Nolan weaves movies that offer a third act that makes you reassess the first two acts. When done right this “Gothcha” moment is among the best in cinema.

However where I think Fincher pulls this off in films like SEVEN, THE GAME, FIGHT CLUB, and Shyamalan pulls this off in films like THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SIGNS, I do not think Nolan pulls these moments off. It’s less that he fails to pull the moments off, and more that I find the payoff insufficient to the buildup. I thought so in Memento and I definitely think so here in PRESTIGE. Along with BATMAN RETURNS Nolan’s films for me, while they begin well, all tend to have overlong middle acts, and underwhelming final acts.

Descent, films of Stelvio Massi film reviews
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