Many times, the best way to really see a good movie is to go stray far, far away from commercial blockbusters. Sam and Alex have learned that because, in relation to their courses (Photography and Technical Theater, respectively), they get more exposed to the artsy fartsy stuff. As a consequence, the artsy fartsy stuff trickles down to our house. For the longest time, Sam had been recommending Requiem For A Dream. Alex, on the other hand, had Mr. Nobody on her list. Both stars Jared Leto, one kept me awake, the other put me to sleep.
There were three other films we recently saw: 13 Assassins was recommended by reader Richard. Donnie Darko and Caché, we watched because of their critical acclaim.
Requiem For A Dream
A story about drug addiction and how it destroys lives. Might sound like a moral drama and it probably is except that it leaves you with nightmares instead of introspection. Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a widow who spends most days watching TV game shows. She receives a phone call that she would be invited to appear in one, she takes out her favorite red dress, tries it on only to find out that she was no longer thin enough to fit in it. Desperate to recapture her lost youth, she goes to a quack who prescribes diet pills. She takes the diet pills, experiences the “high”, starts to take larger and larger dosages to maintain the “high” and becomes addicted. She does lose the weight she wanted to lose but the invitation to the TV show never comes and she loses her grip on reality.
Sara’s son, Harry (Jared Leto), is a heroin addict. Harry, his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) become heroin dealers hoping to save money to start a legitimate business. But Tyrone gets arrested in a bust, the money they saved is used to bail him out, the heroin business goes awry and, at Harry’s instigation, Marion becomes a prostitute to support their heroin addiction.
Everyone gets screwed in the end. The point of view is obvious — don’t start with the drug habit because it’s hard to shake off and, when you can’t, you’ll end up a loser. It’s a simple message told in a scary, harsh and very disturbing way. But if you can watch films like that from a detached perspective and not feel emotionally involved, then, you get to the part where you can actually enjoy and rave about the film.
From a camera perspective, Requiem For A Dream is an artistic success. And I can understand Sam’s interest. Different camera techniques are used for the fantasy sequences and the reality sequences. Time-lapse, extreme close-ups and wide-angle shots… The length of the sequences also varies from split-second to ones lasting a few minutes making the overall effect fast-paced and catchy.
If you’re an artist and you’re into cinematic techniques, Requiem For A Dream provides a lot of ideas. But if you’re an average moviegoer looking for entertainment, well… to call the film disturbing would be an understatement.
I fell asleep after 20 minutes, so, never mind.
Set in Japan during the 1840s when peace has been achieved and the samurai way of life was waning, 13 Assassins is based loosely on the historical character Lord Matsudaira Naritsugu, the shogun’s half-brother, soon to become a member of the high council. Naritsugu is a sadistic bastard who kills and rapes for entertainment. Fearing that his ascension to a high government post would make him even more of an untouchable bastard, a high-ranking government official calls on a retired samurai and engages him to assassinate Naritsugu.
The film is divided into two parts. The first is the organization of the assassination team juxtaposed with the crimes of Naritsugu which has the effect of morally justifying the assassination. The second part is the assassination itself which is really a series of campaigns and a final violent confrontation.
To cut to the chase, 13 Assassins is a beautiful film. There are no confusing moral dilemmas because it is clear who the protagonists and the bad guys are. Despite the plot being an assassination — murder in cold blood — you’re cheering the assassins on because their target is an asshole of epic proportions.
But to appreciate it from a cinematic perspective, you have to let go of any images derived from The Last Samurai if you have seen it. 13 Assassins tries and successfully recreates the more historically accurate mood and rather drab colors of 1840s Japan as well as the “slow” pace of life until that final battle when everything is moving from every direction.
I fell asleep after 30 minutes or so. Again, never mind.
A story of a professionally successful couple, Georges and Anne Laurent, and their 12-year-old son, Pierrot, whose idyllic life is disrupted when they start receiving video tapes taken of their house. Left anonymously on their porch, the tapes suggest that they are under surveillance.
When they subsequently receive a tape showing the house in which Georges grew up, Georges surmise that the anonymous sender is Majid, the son of an Algerian couple who used to work for his family and who were killed in the Paris massacre of 1961. George’s parents planned to adopt Majid, six-year-old Georges didn’t like the idea and told lies about the boy to thwart the adoption plans. The adult Georges think that Majid is exacting revenge for having been sent to an orphanage.
Another tape showing the direction to a low-cost housing area leads Georges to the apartment of Majid. He confronts him and, later, they receive another tape of the confrontation suggesting that Majid is not the videographer after all.
The film unfolds slowly. Most scenes consist of long conversations. In the beginning, the conversations are ones normally heard in an average household. As the disturbance brought about by the tapes steadily creeps into their lives, the conversations take on a different tone until, finally, there are accusations of lies and lack of trust between husband and wife.
The strange thing about Caché is how the film ends without a closure. There is no explanation as to who has been taking and sending the tapes and why. I was rolling my eyes in disbelief when the final credits started to roll and Alex sarcastically remarked on how “good” I was at choosing films.