The Revenant and The Hateful Eight

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A powerful, moving motion picture of utmost purity, in terms of screenwriting, character development, film-making, knowing where to set the camera and capture the events. At times it felt as if I was witnessing a documentary about men in the wilderness and of a man who’s perhaps not as angered on the beast that leaves him paralyzed physically and mentally, but angered, deeply broken from inside after witnessing what a MAN does to its own kind.

Inarritu, as a director, provides his audiences the beauty of not just the world we live in, but of cinema, its audacity to show and tell, the greatness, darkness, the chilling realities of our atmosphere. He, also, along with the central character (Hugh Glass) limned passionately by Leonardo DiCaprio, proffers that cinema is also about the sheer power of man. What is the power of man? By man, I mean, human, we, the soul, who stand on feet and see the reality of the world by two eyes.

The Revenant is about heart, passion, a fight against nature, against man, the enemy of man, and also the capability of flourishing love that love, respect, honor can still exist between it all. If you would like to know the power of cinema, the big screen, and the audacity of artists, The Revenant is one of the perfect examples.

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Raising hell or blowing his audience’s brains into pieces, Tarantino is that master of cinema, who sees a different world through the squared frame. No one’s able to see what Tarantino sees and understands. It is he, who only comprehends the palatable cinematic frame, through which only his kind is able to, and can, proffer pure cinematic entertainment, though with, and thankfully, drama consisting of crucial character development.

Tarantino’s actors have to become characters first and foremost. As a pupil, each character follows his/her teacher and most importantly, they are good at what I think is absolutely essential: Listening. There’s absolute mannerism, out-and-out sense of discipline.

The Hateful Eight, from its opening shot, snow-covered landscapes and camera panning gradually presents itself in the glorious 70MM, making one appreciate the utter sense and feel of cinema. Sense and feel which cinema-goers will never get to see, understand or absorb via almost all of the big-budget blockbusters that are CGI-filled monkey business. The Hateful Eight is captured in the extreme widescreen Ultra Panavision 70 system, used, for the first time since 1966.

The film is about impactful writing and film-making. Jaw-dropping performances, remarkable cinematography and score. The Hateful Eight is a no-nonsense, filled with witty one-liners, not at all bullshit film. The first act, second act, third act, all acts performs the job of a ticking bomb. And when the momentous third act is about to arrive to its conclusion, Tarantino, has for us, poetic imagery, captured, in a way that only a genius can. His artistic strokes are the reason The Hateful Eight is such a splendiferous piece of cinema.

Sicario

sicario-posterFor me, the cinematic screen is about its importance; about the audacity of it and as well as its sheer gravity. I’ve been watching films since a very young age. Ever since understanding the difference between the right and left hand, I’ve held the cinema screen more than just a source of entertainment. It is more about understanding the world—nature of us, the man; the universe, first and foremost, the purpose of us, meaning our existence. Cinema, it can be, and it is the foremost source of understanding, not the significance of the art only, but the art of the universe, its mysteries and of music and human nature. Cinema, in my opinion, when it comes to a particular film, should be blessed with didactic content, for cinema proffers the fact—the reality. I’m not at all interpreting as to why cinema shouldn’t be aimed as just entertainment. By all means, it is about entertainment. But an essential, unique kind of entertainment as it is rich with cognizance.

Cinema consists of captured experiences and when I say captured-experiences, I mean what is seen on the screen. The act of viewing, depending on the kind of a film that one is viewing, is one’s own personal experience. Cinema, since it is an experience, an encounter, is told to the viewer in the form of the motion picture by the writer/director. Events that are in a film, not matter how realistically executed, don’t necessarily indicate that the writer or the director has gone through them in his or her life. Though, the experience of an event in history, for example, can be taught and understood thoroughly through education.

The focus is on Sicario, which is written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Denis Villeneuve. When I was viewing this film, and especially after the screening, my focus, mainly was to comprehend what is essential in it. Often with great filmmakers, and I say, “often,” for we, unfortunately, don’t have too many of them. While we do have some great filmmakers their body of the work is understood by some. Great filmmakers, wants us to focus on something else entirely when it comes to their films. There are times when they want us to learn how to focus as they feel they have a responsibility. A great filmmaker interprets the cinema, however, sometimes they like us to see and understand more than just cinema—more than entertainment. Cinema-goers, in my opinion, up to 60 percent of them, when they view a great auteur’s body of work, they are present to view the aspect of, not cinema anymore, but of the true world—their world.

Mr. Villeneuve is not an ordinary filmmaker. Like all great filmmakers, he has a responsibility. A filmmaker’s leadership is actually more than an interpretation of cinema and more than his or her personal point of view. The world’s that we see in Denis Villeneuve films, be it Incendies; Prisoners; Enemy and now, Sicario, he wants us to see deep into this world of man. Sicario, on the surface, is the tension on land dividing United States and Mexico, dealing with cartels. A few men are on route to eradicate the source of the conflict, all seen from the perspective of one main character, Kate Macer, limned passionately by Emily Blunt, whom is very much like us, the cinema-goer. However, Sicario’s metaphor is far deeper and darker than the world itself. The film’s intrinsic meaning, the very infra-narrative of it, is easy to say it is about “understanding.” yet it is difficult to understand the purpose, leadership, responsibility of both the writer and director as what is it that they are trying to tell us. We know the problem as we’re aware of the conflict in the region in real life. To help us understand, Sheridan’s script has one more player, Alejandro, who is played by Benicio Del Toro. Josh Brolin’s character, Matt Graver, is the one, who is playing the chess game, like Denis. They both have their favorite player, Alejandro on the ground.

When it comes to Alejandro, if I, personally, have to decipher his existence on the page, he is the world we live in. A world that is wounded and completely veiled by scars. Imagine, the planet Earth, turning his back to man, for man is an animal. However, Alejandro has kindness. His affection is the sign of his innocence. Yet sadly we don’t get to see the innocent aspect of the character much. When we comprehend where Alejandro comes from, we are maybe saying to ourselves, the difference between the good and evil is balanced. The good must win, evil must lose. Alejandro believes, the devil must first understand the true nature of evil. The question is what is the devil? Who is it? Is it the nature? Is it the man or the God?

The devil, it can be man-made. It is purely circumstance here that has the man captured, whom is Alejandro. Like Alejandro, there are men, who walk on the Earth, wounded, with loss of innocence. The world we live in has turned more fragile than us, for man has the world taken hostage. But, the devil walking as a man must meet and understand sometimes the importance of a demon. We must, too, as the cinema-goer, understand more than just entertainment, the audacity of cinema. Sicario’s iconic, haunting, its utmost eerie conclusion says, peace is a lost right to some and therefore, Alejandro exists in order to bring balance to the good and evil aspect. Kate, pointing the gun at Alejandro comprehends and that is why she chooses not to put Sicario down. Perhaps, she is thinking, standing on the balcony with hate in her heart that this monster is the creation of God and he is important to be understood. When Kate, she understands, we understand. When we understand, we let him exist. We let him turn his back and walk away, proceeding towards the battleground where good is going to collide with the evil. The monster meets the prey. A necessary monster—creation of the God, or, circumstance.

Blackhat

Blackhat_posterI didn’t find anyone to sit with me, in order to discuss Michael Mann’s Blackhat. To bring this piece, I was thinking of certain names to sit with first at the round table, where endless opinions are always welcome. However, that was not the case, and that’s because on the surface Blackhat seems to some like a film just about hacking—action sequences, shootouts and lots of chases. What Blackhat instead represents is that it is passionately made to satisfy the need of the cinema screen, that frame, which some so lightly take for the sake of only getting entertained. There are those who only see the surface, and in a film like Michael Mann’s Blackhat, such attitude I find unjust. Utterly unfair, to not only to the filmmaker himself, his time and his respect for the true cinema, but unfair to the actual interpretation of the giant, squared curtain—cinema is what I’m referring to. I’d not written this piece to speak of what the film on the surface is about, which is hacking. But, to understand what’s taken right or wrong, if it is to some extent accurate, hacking I mean, I highly recommend the Wired’s article, Is Blackhat The Greatest Hacking Movie Ever? Hackers Think So.

The other reason I wrote this piece, since I didn’t find anyone to discuss the intrinsic meanings of every angle, every long to short pauses and silences, and from time to time the long stares performed flawlessly by the characters, is to hopefully open up the route of that, what they say, perhaps, the eternal discussion of all things Michael Mann here, or, all things cinema. Cinema is what, an actual thing? Perhaps, it is, and perhaps it is entirely not. Cinema, first and foremost, should exist, not just in the heart of the soul walking around, but in his or her mind. Then, from there, it becomes something when it is psychologically comprehended, and spiritually perceived and also appreciated.

Blackhat, it consists of eerie close-up shots, wide angle ones, too, and as well as scenes captured in gloomy atmospheres. One can sense, smell, and understand the atmosphere the characters are born in. The weather, the skylines, and of course, the element that Michael Mann has been always good at, in fact, a true master of it: capturing paranoia realistically from his own respective point of view.

I mentioned point of view here, for it is essential—whether one is a musician, poet, filmmaker or a writer, point of view, if not at all, at first, perceived rightly, nothing exists. The world which you’ll be thinking about, exists only as an object, yet soulless. So, therefore, point of view will always be crucial. And in order to grasp the film, it is that point of view of the filmmaker we must first understand. This truly takes practice. Am I the master of it? Absolutely not. There are times I see a film, I must immediately see it again in order to understand the shots, its nature and why is it written and directed. What I try to comprehend is the true fact behind the film, its meaning, the writer behind it and its director. Why does it exist? It must exist, in my opinion, for a purpose. If we, the man, are born in order to understand our purpose in life, a film very much like the soul of the man must carry its own unique purpose. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are films that are written and later directed just so be filmed, just to fill the emptiness of the cinema screen; it is created, invented to lack a point of view, however, to be fair here, even some of those films consist some kind of a point of view. And to investigate its purpose, you must investigate the writer and the director.

What makes Blackhat unique, so individual here, in this blockbuster-ism epoch, is Michael Mann. We have to understand, if students of cinema, we consider ourselves, the entire body of work of the artist first and foremost. When one finally knows and comes to understand this reality of, not just the point of view of the writer/filmmaker, but as well as his/her purpose as an artist, it is then when one can perceive the immanent realities of the film—its hidden purposes, metaphors. Films, as I’m sure some of you know, are also representations of symbols and signs. One of my favorite shots in Blackhat, which immediately got me teary-eyed, is when Viola Davis’ character Carol Barrett gets bullets penetrated through her. She falls on her back and stays there until she slowly closes her eyes. But, what’s so unique and touching about this particular point of view, or symbolism is that she keeps staring at the skyscraper, which is almost touching the dark clouds. It was during the second viewing of this film, I realized Michael Mann’s point. Barrett has lost her husband in the fall of the twin towers on 9/11. So, when she gets shot, and there is no way to survive, as she already knows it, she stays calm, absolutely relaxed, looking at the skyscraper, meaning, she’ll be joining her husband soon. In heaven.

Michael Mann is a realist filmmaker; we have to keep this fact in mind whenever we watch a Michael Mann film. For you, to understand something entirely different, Michael Mann won’t alter his body of work. He is an artist, and artists like him must be understood the way their nature has turned them into. He has a style, and so is Blackhat—that style, so alive, as if a recording of an actual event is taking place. Imagine the cinema screen, that squared frame, is not a screen anymore, but a window, through which you are seeing the actual event. The communication of the scenes in which characters are dealing with conflict, turns Blackhat into no longer a film, but an event, shot distinctively, poetic in nature, speaking back to its audience. Perhaps, it is essential to comprehend the work of the filmmaker via editing as well. Imagery, claustrophobic closeups, then the sudden transitioning to the wide angle shots of the inky skies; birds eye views; planes; boats; guns; bullet shells, each even if you notice as they fall, has its sounds captured. Blackhat is one of the definitions of bold filmmaking.

Inherent Vice

Inherent-Vice-Poster1-e1420753199331Where do I even begin when it comes to the oeuvre of a film-making genius like Paul Thomas Anderson? From the music in his films to the atmosphere he creates for his characters, or, is it the visual themes that his work poetically presents?

The question above is a loaded one; that is something, in detail, to be discussed, and be cleared intellectually when one gets the opportunity to spend time with the filmmaker himself. Though, Anderson, as the filmmaker and as the screenwriter, whether it is a concept he creates himself or ones he adopts, is in a constant state of communication, for he is a lot like a communicator—very much like Orson Welles. His communication via his, not only the point of view, but via the medium of film itself, is the lesson that every film enthusiast must devote his/her time to, in order to learn, grasp, not just the gist, also the entirety of  the meanings the oeuvre of Anderson’s hold.

To dive deeper into the filmography of Anderson will take perhaps days, months and years as they consist of the philosophical tones carried proudly throughout. Not many filmmakers dare to be a Paul Thomas Anderson, and even if they do attempt to be one, that is very much safe to say, it is an attempt that is a waste of energy and time for the others. We let Paul Thomas Anderson to be the only Paul Thomas Anderson, like we let Orson Welles be the only Orson Welles. Aesthetically, it is arduous to be like P.T. Anderson just as no one can be Welles, Kubrick and Hitchcock. But, these filmmakers, including Anderson, have the filmmaker-habits, we can borrow. Here’s something interesting about Inherent Vice, Anderson’s latest film adapted faithfully from the book by Thomas Pynchon. I won’t go into detail as to what the film is about as I’m sure you know that by now.

Inherent Vice is Anderson’s way of communicating with audiences through, less the concept, more the camera angles; various uniquely captured shots; expressions; music; setting and calmness. Anderson’s film is not the thesis here, it is the presentation of what’s real—realists possess the attitude; Anderson is a poet first like he has always been and Inherent Vice is his song of love for the medium he respects, the form, the squared frame of cinema. He is that poet whom is penning the terms of love, with tears streaming down his face. His film is a universe unknown—it is the creation of hands and the mind together, an effort that will never be duplicated. In other words, Anderson’s films, especially Inherent Vice, are a film a lot less for the moment, for Anderson makes films for ages. Inherent Vice is his film for the centuries to come, then to be revered, venerated by us, and all, becoming strictly diurnal aficionados. Anderson proves that he is very much the prophet of cinema, now standing next to the greats like Hitchcock, Kubrick and Welles.

In Inherent Vice the characters are often captured from behind, back to us angles. There is a scene in which both Doc (Phoenix) and Shasta (Waterston) are sitting, silhouetted against the dusk sky. Anderson says here, this is my moving-image-postcard created for the generation that has gone and the generation on the way. To stir the film through philosophy, which Inherent Vice is attempted, the film is interpreted, in its every single shot, if one does hit the pause button, as it questions, not the existence of the world, the era it represents, but first and foremost, beauty and what’s real—the truth. Here, Anderson’s film is more of an object. Objects can be defined in a way of a portrait, painting or a book, literature—all of them present in themselves a philosophical deed a lot like poetry, and in this case, Inherent Vice is poetry by P.T. Anderson, the poet.

Similar to his previous films, Anderson’s has kept Inherent Vice as honest as he can, not for a minute shying away from the element that his body of work usually carries, and that is, that they are always real. Anderson’s films are presentations of a realist-filmmaker. To explain, perhaps in a much stronger manner, a realist, Andre Bazin, had the film classified as real, for the film is competent of capturing the independent reality of human subjectivity. Many viewers might find Inherent Vice slow in pace, but the beauty of it lies in such method, for Anderson’s oeuvre strictly time travels to 1900s, explaining the movement-image concept developed by Henri Bergson, whom had image declared superior to the concept.

Unlike Anderson’s previous films, Inherent Vice, argues nothing much. Filmography of his, functions most of the time like an argument, respectively—tackling sentimentalism, religion, power, greed, whereas Inherent Vice is an homage to the style known as noir, and paranoia, expressed delicately by the actors, Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston and Josh Brolin. A film should be alive, it must be able to breath, no matter what concept it is in the process of conveying; is it linear, non-linear, does not at all matter. Film can also be, as we all know, with no single lines, a mute piece of work, where only music and images convey the message, their morality. Anderson speaks with images and long sessions consist of cogent, calm, meaningful dialogues. Dialogues that does take its plot somewhere in the end, but leaves one thinking, where am I? Anderson, perhaps, chose to borrow Pynchon’s book strictly for its dialogues, and excuse of it on the surface, it’s the era, the book represents.

Films, while they have the audacity to explain to us philosophy—ask us questions, pays homage to cinema, art, and be arguments, they can also test, not just knowledge of us, but tolerance, the attention span. Inherent Vice is the perfect example of that. It is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most powerful work in his outstanding filmography.

A Most Violent Year

most_violent_yearThere has to be a sense of authenticity in a film. Authenticity is essential as conflict is in drama—it must be the essence of the film. Writer/director J.C Chandor’s third feature brings such essence up front this time, whereas in two of his previous directorial efforts (Margin Call, All Is Lost), authenticity was present, but took a back seat, I’m sure intentionally, to give himself the room as the filmmaker to flex not only his directorial prowess, but his writing as well. And that’s not a bad thing. What I mean here is that both Margin Call and All Is Lost, respectively, are Chandor’s official presentations to movie-going public, keeping in mind to attract the film aficionados. It’s an attitude that every filmmaker must possess and it must be part of his/her job, first and foremost. Chandor is slowly proving to us that he is indeed authentic in what he does, but here is the question: Is he already that great filmmaker?

If you ask me, it isn’t a difficult question to answer, for Chandor, especially the way he is, a strict filmmaker, can be said, he’s great in making films. Though, for Chandor to salute again the very cinema, he adores, he must present at least one great product again.

A Most Violent Year, his recent honest work passionately pays homage to 70s cinema, an era in which the great Francis Ford Coppola gave us the Godfather (1972). But, Chandor, as a writer/director eschews diving deep in saluting that great film, which is a cunning step, and I give him credit for it for one can get lost in someone else’s oeuvre. It is, at all-times, better to stick with your story and see where the characters take you, which brings me to the characters in this film as he has spent time on giving them the opportunity to play in this cold world that he has created. Both Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain are relaxed, focused and they show what they are truly capable of in every scene. And, that’s acting. Just imagine two boxers in a ring. Chandor’s characters carry elemental roles here, and his actors are very much cognizant of that onus. You can feel their sense of respect for their roles.

And, when it comes to the look of the film, cinematographer, Bradford Young, whose work (Selma, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) I’m very fond of has painted what Chandor has envisioned. The film is a wide-angle piece, capturing, not only the characters, even the smoke from Jessica Chastain’s cigarette, for you can see clearly where it disappears in the air. The film has two chase sequences, both captured very well, but my favorite is when actor Elyes Gabel gets off the truck amidst heavy traffic, back to us, charging with a gun in hand while the score by Alex Ebert emphasizes, error-free, the authenticity of not just the film’s, but the very genre—creating tension, imposing the language of cinema. And, during this masterful sequence, don’t forget the expression on Gabel’s face. There’s brilliance in this short foot-chase.

Expressions are also the essential factor, I must say, as there are scenes consist of monologues with abrupt conclusions giving room to the silences afterwards that we must deal with—providing the opportunity so we, with no hesitation whatsoever, can just stare at the characters staring at each other. That’s what makes a film like this a fun-film-watching-experience. A sense of calm gives one enough time to grasp the atmosphere—feel and sense the air characters are breathing.

Chandor’s A Most Violent Year is such a cinematic feast. He has played quite well with it. It is his promise to that greatest title that I’m sure is in the making. Every filmmaker, in my opinion, owns his/her greatest, for every filmmaker should. Chandor is on track to be one of the important filmmakers, but he already is great in making films, as I noted earlier. The difference is that being important is much essential than being just great at what you do.