Peter Weir : Australian Auteur

                         Over a varied film-making career, Peter Weir has been seen as an auteur, an Australian film-maker and, a successful Hollywood director. In terms of thinking and writing, it has always been easier to discuss such categories separately. The result has been that, at worst, Weir has been constituted only partially and, at best, portrayed as fragmented to an extreme. Contextual issues, whether industrial, cultural, technical or political, have generally been set aside. Such elements snake in and out of narrow, and seemingly distinct, categories to disturb and blur neat classifications. Weir work and career both foreground an interconnectedness between the auteur, national cinema and Hollywood genre. 

Early Australian Cinema

                      Although Australian cinema can claim a long history, it has endured more troughs than peaks. Initially, Australian film-makers responded quickly to overseas development in film-making and for the first twenty years of the twentieth century established successful local initiatives. The history of Australian film-making has always been strongly influenced by its isolated geographical location. After a promising start, however, the potential of an Australian indigenous film industry was quickly eclipsed by British, and more especially, American competition. Australia became a home for British and American imports and, some time later, a cheap location for the filming of foreign productions. 

                       Apart from Charles Chauvell and Ken G. Hall, it would be true to say that during the 1950s when Weir was growing up in a middle class neighborhood in Sydney, he was exposed primarily to Hollywood film culture and, from late 1950s, American television culture. The context of Weir's work in Australia was, thus, one of huge cultural anxiety bordering on a sense of national inferiority. When Weir first started his career in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Australia was to all extents and purposes isolated from all but an impression of the rest of the world. 

Weir's Youthful Energy

                   After dropping out of university, Weir joined the procession of other young Australians who traveled to Europe in search of more than just an impression of culture. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, Australia witnessed something of a break with its traditional conservative identity. Weir returned from Europe influenced by many of the new 1960s' ways of thinking and as a strong opponent of the Vietnam war (in which Australia had taken a combat role). As Weir has stated, the effect of the growing Australian anti-war movement unleashed energy and conflict, passion.

                 That youthful energy shaped by 1960s sensibilities, European travel was able to harness new possibilities for film-making provided by a government that suddenly valued and Australian national cinema as an important element of a modern national identity. 

Financial Support
                 Funding opportunities were made available from government sources in a cultural climate that broke with previous ideas of Australian culture's lack of legitimacy. A sea of change was carried through by an increasingly powerful nationalist mythology that came to see film as the most desirable medium for projecting and image of the new confidence and maturity seen to mark contemporary Australian culture and society. The Australian Film Development Commission (AFDC), later renamed to AFC, and the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) became key institutions in the support of this new film-making vision. Released the same year as the AFTRS officially opened, Weir's 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' blew the fanfare for an Australian film revival while gaining Weir himself international recognition.

Traditions of European Art Cinema and Australianness

                    A period peace based on a literary adaptation of Joan Lindsay's novel, 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' reputation rested on its credentials as a quality film. Weir's vision, however, left the narrative deliberately open, immediately associating its style with traditions of European art cinema. With cameraman Russell Boyd and John Seale, Weir transformed the harsh Australian light of its Victoria location into a memorable dream-like setting. In this film, Australia was caught in the amber of its history, its present credentials implied by the style and sensibility of its representation of the past, and in this, his fourth film, Weir became a figurehead in a filmic and cultural search for identity. 

                    Retrospectively, his individual role has possibly been over-emphasized, but he was undoubtedly a key figure. His type of questioning, as opposed to straight narrative cinema, had a distinctive resonance with a special moment of film-making and it is perhaps here where some sense of 'Australianness' adds a further layer for consideration. Until Weir and other Australian directors of his generation, such as Bruce Beresford, Phillip Noyce and Fred Schepisi, won their colors, the lack of experience in Australia meant that it was like starting from scratch to find technical and artistic solutions to film-making. 

                       The ambition of 'Last Wave', made in 1977, still screams out its extraordinary class with its beautiful complexity of narrative and imagery and, perhaps more startling still, the compelling performance of Richard Chamberlain. More than any other of Weir's films, The Last Wave shudders to a halt leaving the viewer with not just an open-ended resolution but practically none at all. The audience falls victim to a relentless rhythm that allows no release. Thus Weir marks out his cinematic territory as one of atmosphere rather than either characters or resolutions. 

                 Gallipoli (1980) explores key tropes of 'Australianness' more explicitly than his last two features. Two elements are central to this explicit exploration of Australianness: first the friendship of Archy and Frank, and second, the focus on a dramatic historical moment that has since been seen as a foundational to notions of Australian identity. Weir regards 'Gallipoli' as one of his favorite but least personal films. Two years later he made "The Year of Living Dangerously" (made with some funding by MGM), with Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, which set about making films outside America with a clear awareness of their American reception.

A Move To Hollywood and Hybrid Themes

                  Witness (1985) is perhaps Weir's most explicit engagement with the genre film to date, but it is one that remains characteristically hybrid. The film reworks the thematic preoccupations of the detective thriller and the Western. Witness made Weir's importance as a film-maker, who exploits the complexity and instability of the perceived gap between Hollywood, European and the newer Australian traditions of film-making in order to make consistently interesting films. Since Witness, all of Weir's films have been made in Hollywood. He has made these films under a mixture of circumstances. He was courted to direct Witness, inspirational drama 'Dead Poets Society' and 'Fearless', whilst 'The Mosquito Coast' and Green Card stemmed from very personal projects.

                 Weir's Hollywood movies are marked by a deep knowledge and love of its style and conventions but this has not precluded him from exploring and problematizing them. Jim Carrey was cast somewhat against the grain of his usual comedic performances in the 'The Truman Show.' A consistent feature of Weir's Hollywood movies has been the questioning of the place of the hero (Witness, Dead Poets Society, Fearless) and has also recently portrayed hard, unmanageable adventures (Master and Commander, The Way Back) and his ploy has been to make obvious, and yet simultaneously blur, notions of Hollywood, European and Australian film-making. Throughout his career, he has consistently presented viewers with films that are much more than the sum of their parts, offering complex, rich and diverse viewing positions and possibilities. 

                 I prefer Weir's more explicitly Australian films which might have a stronger influence on viewers. For the viewer, one of the great pleasures of Weir's films is to take up his textual invitation and read them actively and, indeed, even selectively. For both the viewers and the central characters of Weir's films alike, there is always a requirement to try and move beyond narrow understandings and definitions of culture and identities. Peter Weir is an Australian auteur as well as a maker of Hollywood's best genre films. He is a rich fusion of all these great elements. 

Films of Peter Weir -

Peter Weir - Senses of Cinema

Australian Film Financing - Wikipedia

Even The Rain - Conquerors and Contemporary Corporations

                       Pure, clean water is one of the essentials for our existence. Even in our thirst, we often tend to forget about this precious gift. It is said that for more than one billion people around the world, to access clean water within a 15-minute walk of their homes, is only a dream. In the future, we might have battles for water resources, since the large corporations are keen in water privatization. So today, the weak or poor must be strong to survive, as their strength is endlessly tested by these giant resource grabbing corporates.

                         The Spanish movie, "Even The Rain" (2010), which talks about the exploitation of indigenous peoples, has an irresistible combination. It is a movie about the making of a movie - combined with a bit of a history and a political message. It is a powerful, richly layered film about the plight of Latin America's dispossessed that cunningly parallels the Spanish conquest of the Americas with the 20th-century spread of capitalism.

         A red helicopter is flown across the grey sky, with a massive, wooden cross. This is a striking image which sets the tone for this compelling movie-within-a-movie. A film-crew comes to Bolivia to make a biopic on "Columbus" and about early Spanish exploitation of the Indians. Right from the start, the producer (Luis Tosar) and the director, Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal) encounter trouble. The crew advertises for extras to play the natives that rose up against the Spanish explorers.

            Thousands turn up, and when the crowd is turned away, an angry young man Daniel (Juan Carlos Aduviri) protests and convinces the film-makers to see all the local people who have come for miles to audition for roles as extras in the film. Sebastian is impressed with Daniel's anger, passion and leadership quality, who gives him a plum role as Hatuey, a chief who led a rebellion against the Spanish. Just as Costa and his crew try to do the shooting, hostilities between Bolivian peasants and the government goes to the exploding level.

              Wells from which the Bolivians have drawn their water for centuries are abruptly sealed. Riots break out when the rates charged by the large water corporations prove ruinous. As things turns hectic,  Costa and Sebastian find themselves doing things they probably couldn't rationalize, actions that seem to contradict their very nature but actually define who they truly are.

                  Acting is the crucial part, since this movie is also a character study. The transformation of Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal's Sebastian, as he sacrifices his liberal ideology to protect his precious art and Tosar's swift transformation from mercenary capitalist are convincing. They both handle well the opposite sides of conscience and conflict. Elejalde as Anton and as Columbus is riveting with his hard-drinking, shambolic and terminally cynical viewpoint. Juan Carlos' Daniel is the soul of the piece. He bestows upon a quiet strength tinged alternately with arrogance and disappointment. The confrontations between Costa and Daniel are the pic's moral heart, and they are superbly written and played. 

                  Director Iciar Bollain , who began her career as an actress, isn’t very subtle in making her connections between the film crew’s fantasy world and the harsh realities intruding on it but the details and workings of a movie production are all intimately done. Screenwriter Paul Laverty  has previously written Ken Loach’s politically themed films “The Wind That Shakes the Barley’’ and “Sweet Sixteen.’’ The script strains on occasion to keep all the segments credible and they overlap rather too conveniently. "Even The Rain" brings a grandeur and a force reminiscent of Terrence Malick films and is splendidly panoramic. The sequences where Columbus arrives and of his imperialist and religious sloganeering are graced by a lushly evocative natural setting, and the scenes about the chaotic water riots have a documentary immediacy.

                 If there is one flaw to be made or a criticism on "Even the Rain," it's that it force-feeds the audience on the notion of Daniel's nobility, when he's an often difficult man who is inconsiderate and foolish in his choices. At times, the movie succumbs to sentiment as the fictional filmmakers wrestle with crises of conscience that feel schematic.

                “Even the Rain,” is not a masterpiece, but it is a pretty good one — well-acted and always with an ear for its own social relevance. Like gold, diamond, oil and petrol colonialism, the water-rights thing is happening now all over the world. People are facing the privatization of all the world’s most precious resource, “Even the Rain.”


Even The Rain - IMDb 

Zhang Yimou - Ingenious Film-maker of China

                      Zhang Yimou is the best known contemporary Chinese film-maker both inside and outside China. He is at once the personification of Chinese national cinema, an important figure and frequent award winner in the international film-festival circuits, a director of cutting-edge art-house film, a commercial genius, a political spokesperson through film, an artist and a performer. The way in which he has come to embody these many roles echoes the trajectory of Chinese cinema itself from the mid-1980s to the present day, partly as a result of the international response to the generation of Chinese film artists represented by figures like Zhang.

Award-Winning Specialist

                   Zhang emerged on the Chinese and the international film scene as a key member of the so-called "Fifth Generation" and more broadly of the New Cinema or New Wave. A graduated of the class of 1982 from the Beijing Film Academy, he and his classmates have forever changed the course of Chinese film history. In the international arena, no other film-maker has won and been nominated for so many prizes, at numerous international film festivals in such a short period of time, including the Berlin Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, the Tokyo Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, and the Academy Awards. In China he has been nick-named the 'award-winning specialist.'

Zhang's Visual Language

                Zhang first worked as a cinematographer in he early stage of his career. He was the cinematographer of the Fifth Generation film One and Eight; of Yellow Earth, directed by his class mate Chen Kaige, a landmark film that established the reputation of Fifth Generation; and of other classics of the New cinema such as The Big Parade and Old Well. If a distinctive visual style has defined much of the essence of the New cinema from the early phase to the present, Zhang Yimou is undoubtedly a key figure from the beginning. His extraordinary camera work in Yellow Earth -- long shots of the Northern Chinese landscape, the grafting of traditional Chinese landscape painting onto modern film technology, and the evocation of Taoist aesthetics in the service of a contemporary cultural critique --  amounted to a revolution in Chinese film language.

                  Striking visual images are also a recurrent feature of his work as a director. The symmetries, close-ups, long shots and perfectly framed images, buildings, faces and figures in 'Raise The Red Lantern' are textbook examples of the art of cinematography. The exuberant colors in Red Sorghum and Ju Dou evoke either a sense of exhilaration and liberation, or a mood of confinement and imprisonment.

An Adroit Story-teller of Modern China

              Zhang is also a gifted storyteller in otherwise a convoluted melodramas of modern Chinese history, for example 'To Live.' Further, he is able to create dramatic tension in otherwise simple tales of contemporary peasant life, for example in 'The Story of Qiu Ju', 'The Road Home' and 'Not One Less.'

             His first film 'Red Sorghum', narrates the legend of peasants in Northern Chinese brewery in the 1930s. The exuberance, excesses, raw energy and physical and sexual liberation as exhibited by the peasants and the narrator's 'grandpa' and 'grandma' in the film caught the attention of both domestic and international audiences. It was a winner of Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1988. Since then, Zhang has become the most popular Chinese film-maker. Because of the commercial success of the film, Zhang was obliged to make a popular entertainment film for the Film Studio. Code Name Cougar, a detective thriller set in contemporary urban China, was well received by Chinese audiences, but critics and Zhang himself regarded it as a temporary aberration in his career.

Art-House Chinese Cinemas

              Zhang's next three films, Ju Dou, Raise The Red Lantern and To Live, firmly secured his reputation as a master film-maker. These films also set the paradigms and expectations for what art-house Chinese cinema is supposed to be for a vast number of viewers in the West. These movies represent what might be called the classical stage of Zhang's film art. Both are allegories of physical confinement, sexual oppression and physical oppression of individuals in China's past (set in the 1920s and 1930s). They are powerful critiques of China's patriarchal social order which silences and suppresses the desire of women and youth.

               The films enact an all too familiar drama about what is known as China, but in more vivid details -- how the Chinese were imprisoned within an inescapable walled space. Although both films were nominated for Academy Awards and won major international prizes, they were banned in China for some time. The compelling visual images, the consummate narration and the superb acting by the lead actors and actresses in Zhang's films place him at the forefront of international art cinema. The exotic spectacles and rituals staged in Ju Dou and Raise The Red Lantern satiate the curiosity of the international audience and its desire to know the 'Other' -- the 'Orient' in the case of China.

              For the same reason, Zhang has been severely criticized by many indigenous Chinese critics as a classic example of 'Orientalism' fabricated by the 'Orientals' themselves. They conclude that Zhang makes films primarily for the gaze of the western audience in order to gain recognition and to win prizes at international film festivals. The argument is that, here, the Third-World artist willingly succumbs to the power structure of the global film circuits dominated by the taste and standards of the First world. It should be noted at this juncture that Zhang has also taken in the lead in setting in motion a new mechanism of film production, exhibition and consumption. Since Ju Dou, many of his films have been joint productions, funded by foreign capital where the target audience was not Chinese.

                The emergent category of transnational Chinese Cinema exemplified by Zhang's film problematizes the traditional paradigm of national cinema in the condition of global capitalism. Such films force us to rethink issues pertaining to film markets, audiences and film production at both the national and transnational levels.

New Styles and Broadened Subject Matter

                  After 'Raise the Red Lantern', Zhang's work branched out in new directions. He began to take on contemporary subjects, setting his films in the 1990s and 2000s rather than the mythical past. The Story of Qiu Ju and Not One Less are both tales of a stubborn, single-minded peasant woman who is determined to pursue her goal against overwhelming odds. Whether criticizing the inefficient,bureaucratic judicial system or the primitive, inexcusable condition of the country's primary education, the films offer a glimmer of triumph and hope for China's women and children. Departing from sensational legends about a remote past, these stories capture the sight, sound, scene and mood of contemporary China. In fact, Zhang intended to achieve the effects of documentary realism in these fictional films. 

                  Zhang is an master narrator of China's mythical past, however an unturned stone in his films was Chinese urban life. To this end, Zhang wanted to prove that he could also be a skilful ethnographer of Urban China in his films Shanghai Triad (1995) and Happy Times (2000). A gangster film, Shanghai Triad describes the underworld of mobsters, the triad, in 1930's Shanghai, while 'Happy Times' is a comedy about a guy in his early fifties who's out of work but still wants to marry his girlfriend.

                    In 'Road Home', Zhang captured the simple magical tale, where a son recalls the story of how his father and mother first met and got together. In this movie, Zhang opens up the heart of the film to us and makes us feel, finding more in the eyes of his characters and in their expressions than words could ever convey. In the 2002's "Hero", a high-flying Martial arts movie, Zhang weaves a complex and interesting story about three assassins who sought to murder the most powerful warlord in pre-unified China. 'Hero' explodes with luscious color and stunning visual effects. Though a martial arts movie the ultimate strength of this movie is its poetic beauty. Hero also turned to be a block-buster grossing more than $53 million. 

                  With the 2004, 'House of Flying Daggers', Zhang once again makes a elegant period peace, set in 859 A.D. Here, Zhang fuses martial-arts drama with a tragic romance. House of Flying Daggers was a another Chinese period piece resplendent with a dazzling palette and soaring, ambitious fight sequences. "Curse of the Golden Flower" in 2006 was, yet again, a period film, which deals with a dying love in Tang Dynasty, 10th A.D. Zhang's artistry and spectacular vision decorates the movie excellent set-pieces and melodrama resembles a Shakespeare tragedy. "A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop" in 2009 was a remake of Coen brothers' "Blood Simple" This movie was both a critical and commercial failure. Zhang's latest ambitious project "Flowers of War", with Christian Bale, about the rape of Nanking, was a beautifully shot and superbly acted drama. It is impossible not to be moved, though the movie deserved a more subtle handling in direction part.

Gong Li

             Zhang's name has been intimately tied to an actress discovered and championed by him -- Gong Li. She had been his lead actress from his first film Red Sorghum to Shanghai Triad. Because of her memorable performances in various roles in Zhang's films, she has come to signify the image of the Chinese woman internationally. Their collaboration onscreen and love affair off-screen ended after the shooting of Shanghai Triad, and Zhang has not as yet found a new female star who can replace the presence, prestige and box-office value of Gong Li for audiences around the world. 

                Zhang raised the level of film as an art form. Domestically, his films came out at a time when Chinese audiences, having lived through the Mao era and been flooded with the trite formula of socialist-realism, desperately wanted to see scathing works of art that would cross-examine the entrenched patterns of Chinese culture and society and probe the depths of the Chinese psyche. Internationally, his engaging narratives and powerful images allow viewers to witness at close range the rituals, mysteries, dramas, politics, tragedies, struggles and passions of the Chinese people in the twentieth century. As Zhang Yimou's experimentation with new themes and new ways of film-making continues, we can only hope that even more outstanding films are yet to come.

Zhang Yimou's Interview

Zhang Yimou - Wikipedia

Zhang Yimou - Senses of Cinema

The Exorcist - An Intense and Psychologically Scary Classic

                           During the winter of 1973-74, the release of a horror film called 'The Exorcist' became a phenomenon in USA. This is one of the rare R-rated block-buster movie. It was said that, the audience were drawn in the late winter by a primal desire to get shocked and prodded in a way that they'd never been shocked and prodded before. Four decades later Exorcist still gives you the chills, with well-developed characters and good special effects than those slice 'em and dice 'em horror flicks starring Freddy, Michael and Jason.

                         Directed by William Friedkin and written by novelist William Peter Blatty, 'The Exorcist' was said to be based on a true life story of a boy who underwent exorcism in the late 1940's. The movie blows two of cinema's biggest taboos: showing the church attempting to beat the supernatural, and depicting a young girl's traumatic puberty. Friedkin presents us a world full of normality at the beginning, then he steadily ruptures this everyday setting with the chaos seething under the surface. 

        The movie starts slowly on an archeological dig in North Africa and introduces us Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow). Merrin has a heart condition and the initial sequence foreshadows the coming encounter with evil forces. But we leave Merrin there, and follow the story of Regan which are destined to collide. Regan (Linda Blair) is a twelve year old girl, who is normal and well-adjusted. She is the daughter of popular actress Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn). We learn that McNeil is is opposed to all organized religion.

               Soon, Regan starts to hear strange noises, uttering obscenities, and experiencing violent tantrums and seizures.She is attended by a army of doctors, but still her condition worsens and she begins speaking in an inhuman voice. This calls for the spiritual help. So they contact a local priest and psychiatrist Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller). Father Karras has his own crisis of faith, but he becomes convinced of the Devil's power and convinces his superiors to perform a ancient ritual called 'exorcism.' The movie becomes more intense, when Karras is assisted by the respected and mysterious globe-trotting priest, Father Merrin.

                 The Exorcist is not like a teen slasher movie, where we are presented with a dozen of cardboard characters, who are to be cut to shreds. The characters here well developed. We get to know the relationships of McNeil with her friends and family, and we also get to know the Karras' spiritual struggles with his faith. The cast was equally impressive. Initially, high-profile actors were under consideration (Audrey Hepburn for Chris, Paul Newman or Marlon Brando for Karras). However, in the end, the film-makers went for largely unknown group of actors.

                 Linda Blair is a shock to see as she slowly entraps herself in the clutches of demon. Her innocence, renders her subsequent ravings so obscene. Blair was so good in this movie and it somehow defined her entire career, which took the low road and spiraled into exploitation fare. Jason Miller gives a wonderful performance as a tormented priest, who is losing his faith. Von Sydow, the Swedish actor who worked with Ingmar Bergman, as Merrin gives an instinctive feel to his character (He was only 44, at that time, though he played the part of old priest by wearing a heavy make-up). As McNeil, Ellen Burstyn excels whose sole concern is her daughter's welfare. 

                  In a deliberate, methodical way, William Friedkin builds the movie slowly and releases tension that is not only thrilling but seems perfectly natural. The atmosphere and mood is sufficiently creepy throughout the movie. One of the memorable and evocative image in this horror movie is, with Father Merrin emerging from a taxi and standing, in silhouette, under a street lamp as he faces the house where his latest struggle with the Devil will transpire.Sequences like this, scattered throughout the production, gives the movie an artistic edge. William Blatty's screenplay (for which he won an Oscar) makes the demonic possession, a lot scarier. The elements of "what if" in his screenplay makes the movie all the more plausible, and, therefore, all the more alarming.

                 The movie was shot in 1973, so by that standards the visual effects were impressive. Movie viewers will be scared upon seeing the Linda Blair's head spin or spider walk  or barfing green pea soup. Sound effects deserves its due credit for all the creepy scenes, which also won an Oscar. 

                  For some 'The Exorcist' might not seem as frightening as they were led to believe. I think your reaction on this movie will be largely based upon your faith. Those who believe in the existence of evil and Satan will more likely to become engrossed in the movie than people who don't. Even though we are horrified by the make up and gross obscenities, Exorcist is powerful when the attack is psychological. Father Merrin says during exorcism that, "The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with truth to attack us." The idea seems intriguing and renders the psychological view-point to the movie.

                  The sequels or prequels or other movies with the same storyline matched the quality and the success of the original picture. Regardless, of how viewers react, "The Exorcist" still remains an effective excursion into demonic possession.


The Exorcist - IMDb 

Sunshine - A Journey to Avoid Human Extiction

                       When talking about apocalypse, some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. Danny Boyle's sci-fi/thriller, "Sunshine" (2007) postulates a serious question to consider the theory of ice. It asks, what if the Sun burns out, so that the the Earth descends into a frozen darkness? What happens if  a spacecraft embarks on a journey to reignite the sun, with a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan?

                         Sci-fi movies, recently, have become predominately entertaining, which could be called as 'space operas.' Many fans of the genre have long deplored the absence of real "science" in "science fiction." Like Kubrick's '2001: Space Odyssey', Sunshine tries to take a step back toward reality. The movie credits a science consultant, and the filmmakers made every effort to follow his suggestions. “Sunshine” represents warmth, happiness, and comfort, but throughout the film it is intense, all-consuming, and potentially deadly.

         In the year 2057, approximately five billion years ahead of schedule, the sun is beginning to die. In a desperate effort to save mankind, scientists hatch a plan to essentially reignite the sun with a gigantic nuclear bomb delivered via spaceship. The earth's resources are marshaled in building two spaceships to fix the great problem. Seven years earlier, Icarus I have failed in its mission. So, Icarus II is earth's last hope. 

             Icarus II has a multinational space crew led by captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada). Among the crew is pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), communications officer Harvey (Troy Garity), physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy), engineer Mace (Chris Evans), botanist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), doctor Searle (Cliff Curtis) and navigator Trey (Benedict Wong). The mission runs an unforeseen remification when they receive transmissions that appear to be coming from the Icarus I. It is very doubtful that they could have all survived, after seven years, but the crew decide to venture off course (still close to the sun) to check it out. That's a  fatal mistake, which makes both Icarus II and its crew fall apart slowly.

                  For the claustrophobia of spaceship living, Danny Boyle has clearly stuck close to Ridley Scott's 'Alien.' But, unlike 'Alien' there is no monster hiding in the cupboard, instead he has employed the provider of all life as our ultimate enemy. It's so clever a idea  that Boyle ultimately stumbles a little in trying to deliver a conclusion that satisfactorily lives up to his bold set-up. Except the movie's final 30 minutes, Danny Boyle offers a gripping adventure yarn in the man-versus-nature category. Boyle's Trainspotting spoke to '90s alienation and 28 Days Later to post-9/11 anxiety, Sunshine befits a climate where the possibility of ecological apocalypse is no longer a science fiction. 

                 Screenwriter Alex Garland and Boyle are effective in setting up the premise, the characters and the underlying tensions without overburdening viewers with lots of expository dialogue and as things progress, they display an equal care and attention to both the tension special-effects set-pieces (especially the ill-fated shield repair sequence) and the smaller, character-driven scenes. Although the budget is not that big (£26,000,000, estimated) for a sci-fi film, Boyle turns Sunshine into a visually striking film that uses the expected elements of the genre to create memorable, sometimes mesmerizing images. 

                 Cillian Murphy heads an international cast, which includes Michelle Yeoh and Chris Evans (Captain America, Fantastic Four). As a physicist, Murphy brings his usual flurrying, blue-eyed intensity to the role of Capa, the only crew member capable of undertaking the complex task of activating the stellar bomb. Chris Evans gives a solid performance as the hotheaded engineer and the rest of the cast (Bryne, Hiroyuki Sanada) turns in a low-key performance.  

                  The ubiquity of the sun, both visually and thematically, remains the film's foundation, and light is manipulated every way imaginable. Even though we don't see our planet until the film's final frames, the continued existence of humankind is what truly hangs in the balance, which makes every action one of dire importance. The third act steers away 'Sunshine' from mystery to a place far more familiar. Towards the climax, the movie is plagued with redundancy and cheap thrills—yet the movie never feels stupid. Boyle plays it safe in these last minutes and doesn't challenge himself further with a complicated and neutral conclusion. 

                  "Sunshine" -- despite few flaws -- is engrossing, believable and intelligent sci-fi film-making at its best.

Sunshine - IMDb 

Lars Von Trier : Idealistic and Irreverent Film-maker

                                 Lars Von Trier is widely regarded as the important Danish film-maker since Carl Theodor Dreyer, not only on account of the highly original quality of his cinematic oeuvre, but also because his role as an inspirational figure has made him a driving force in the renewal of Danish film. Von Trier's relation to the tradition of Danish film polemical and largely negative; his first feature films established a clear preference for English language film-making in an internationalized art-cinema vein involving a visual style cinema influenced by, among others, Andrei Tarkovsky

Europe Trilogy

             Element of Crime, Epidemic and Europa were framed by Von Trier as a trilogy exploring a Europe that, although strangely deterritorialized, somehow ends up being largely synonymous with Germany. The trilogy, claims Von Trier, pits nature against culture. Each of the three films develops a story centered around an 'inquiring humanist who leaves his home terrain,....... journeys out into nature' and ends up being destroyed by the very process in question. 

               Von Trier's view that film can induce states resembling hypnotic trance is evident in the trilogy's insistence on a connection between narrative and hypnosis. The entire story of 'Element of Crime', Von Trier's attempt at a modern film noir, is framed as a narrative of serial murder related to Cairo psychiatrist by his hypnotized patient, the European policeman Fisher. 

               The low-budget, black-and-white meta-film Epidemic features von trier as both a sardonic irreverent film-maker and as a idealistic doctor. The film concludes with the film-maker and his co-writer, Niels Vorsel, presenting their project to an actual consultant from the Danish film institute, Claes Hansen.Part of their presentation involves hypnotizing a young woman with a intent of having her enter their imagined fictional universe. The group is suddenly smitten by plague symptoms -  the explanation, it would appear, lies in the woman's hypnotic imaginings. 

              In Europa, a melodramatic love story involving a Nazi sympathizer, Katharina Hartmann, and a young American idealist of German extraction, Leo Kessler, Von Trier makes use of an intricate form of cinematic narration. More specifically, the disembodied voice of Max von Sydow hypnotically directs both the viewer and the main character through the unfolding narrative. Although these three films are different in many respects, they clearly manifest Von Trier's affinity with a German expressionist cinematic style which emphasizes long shots and elaborate camera movements through highly contrived and carefully constructed scenographic spaces. 

Dogme 95

             A key element in Von Trier's oeuvre is his self-image as provocateur, a stance expressed in the influential Dogme 95 project which Von Trier developed together with another young luminary of contemporary Danish cinema, Thomas Vinterberg. In brief, the four participant film-makers (Von Tier, Vintberg, Kragh-Jacobsen and Kristian Levring) agreed to submit to a vow of chastity involving strict rules designed to foster the essential elements of cinematic art that are particularly at risk in big-budget productions using cutting-edge technology. Thus, for example, 'shooting must be done on location', 'the sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa', 'the camera must be hand held' and 'optical work and filters are forbidden.'

               Dogme also expresses an interest in collective authorship in as much as the relevant directors submit to uniform rules and cannot be individually credited. Initially to have been supported by a special grant from the Danish ministry of culture, Dogme 95 was ultimately made possible, following considerable controversy, by support from the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. The first danish Dogme film, Vinterberg's Festen (The Celebration, 1998), was co-winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and helped to consolidate a growing international interest in new Danish cinema. Dogme 95 has since become a transnational undertaking. 

Self-centered Idiocy and Sentimentality

             Von Trier's Idioterne (The Idiots) is the second of the Danish Dogme films; it explores what the director refers to as the 'distasteful idea of people who are not in fact retarded pretending to be.' Karen, an outsider who initially questions the propriety of pretending to be retarded, has a special place in the group. The film concludes with her playing the lunatic where the personal risks are greatest, that is, in front of her husband and other family members who have not seen her since the death of her 1-year old son. 

            She is accompanied by Susanne, who learns of her deep grief for the first time and movingly bears witness to Karen's new-found ability to achieve the authenticity that somehow accompanies the project of idiotic pretense. Von Trier's claims his aim was to produce a cocktail consisting of 'self-centered idiocy on the part of the group's members, combined with intense sentimentality and emotionally charged scenes.' This insistence on sentimentality is linked to Von Trier's intentions in 'Breaking The Waves', whilst recalling his interest in reviving the much maligned and frequently adapted works by the maudlin popular writer, Morten Korch, as well as his remarkably successful attempt in 'Dancer In The Dark' to combine certain sentimental qualities with the highly stylized musical genre. 

Self-Provocation : A Brief Analysis

               Referring Riget (The Kingdom) and Riget 2, Von Trier explains his repeated characterization of the David Lynch inspired hospital series as 'left-handed work': 'It is not the work of a fine hand, which is also a way of provoking yourself, if you are used to writing with your right hand.' Von Trier's oeuvre lends credence to the idea, which he himself clearly espouses, that creativity is linked not so much to limited freedom, as it is to precisely defined challenges and clearly articulated constraints.

               The erotic melodrama, Breaking The Waves was once again an attempt to provoke himself. Von Trier says, 'I establish problematic and take things to their logical conclusion, which involves asking whether a sacrifice could be sexual. We know about the sacrifices of saints, so why couldn't a sexual sacrifice be a saintly sacrifice?' The film centers around the relationship between Bess, a young and inexperienced local woman, and her husband Jan, who is one of a number of outsiders working on an off-shore oil rig. When Jan is paralyzed following an accident on the rig, Bess, having previously begged God for her husband's return, assumes that she is to blame. 

             Bess becomes convinced that Jan's recovery depends on her willingness to sacrifice her sexually. And Jan does in fact emerge from a coma as Bess expires as a result of knife wounds inflicted by a sexual sadist. The film concludes with shots of enormous bells ringing in the heavens following Bess' secret burial at sea. The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, was praised for its remarkable acting and an effective visual style shaped by hand-held cameras and slowly evolving chapter images. 

The Transformation of Danish Cinema

                   Von Trier has transformed the landscape of contemporary Danish film, repeatedly taking issue with the standard institutional arrangements and associated with film-making in the context of a small, state-supported industry. Vinterberg makes the point succinctly: "My collaboration with Lars Von Trier has taught that he is able to make Denmark big, without leaving Denmark. And this, for me, is the ultimate ideal. The idea is not to go international and become famous but to think oneself beyond Danish mentalities." Von Trier's vision and powerful presence have been a clear source of inspiration to other film-makers, particularly in recent years, but his work has also helped to reshape the very definition of Danish film.

               Von Trier's projects are characteristically bold, passionate and generous attempt to break the hold of various conventional and stultifying set-ups, with the aim of fostering the conditions for genuine creative expression and dialogue.

Lars Von Trier - Wikipedia

Von Trier- Time Out Interview

The Gold Rush - Comedic Mastery

                           Charles Chaplin's 'Tramp' is the most recognizable fictional screen character. With the shortened mustache, over-sized shoes, a distinctive walk and baggy pants, he has made small guy as an icon. Chaplin's "Tramp" character, in all of his films, always had a dream: a good meal, a nice place to stay, and people to love him."The Gold Rush" (1925) is one of his quintessential silent films, where the 'Little Tramp' verges into the territory of social satire.

                           Gold Rush was made, when Chaplin read a book about the infamous Donner party tragedy involving cannibalism. This was Charlie's personal favorite film, by which he always wanted to be remembered. Emotionally strong and veritably hilarious in ways that transcend culture and time, it balances the witty and the sentimental and still finds plenty of room to inject the moments of underdog social commentary that were so crucial to Chaplin’s worldview. 

                       The story takes place in 1898, Klondike, Alaska, where the gold rush was at its peak. The poor, but adventurous and hopeful tramp along with thousands of others, have come to Alaska to try his luck. Fatigued and cold, the tramp enters the remote log-cabin of a dangerous fugitive, Black Larsen (Tom Murray). Big Jim McKay (Mack Swain), one of the lone prospector, shows up looking for food and shelter, but there's not much to be found in Larsen's place. The trio draw out lots to see who should embark into the storm to find help. Larsen loses the lot, the Tramp and Big Jim stay in the cabin. 

                    The rest of the story involves Big Jim's discovery of a huge vein of gold, Big Jim and the Tramp's eventual partnership, and the Tramp's helpless falling in love with a beautiful dance-hall girl, Georgia. Compared to other silent features of Chaplin, The Gold Rush was an epic narrative and massive film-making endeavor; not only was it the longest of Chaplin’s features at that point, but also had a number of innovative special effects. Watch out  for the greatest set-pieces like the Tramp eating the wick of a lantern; the famous scene of his eating his shoes; his waltz with Georgia in a saloon; his walking against the wind and being blown about; then finally, the heart-breaking New-year Eve dinner. 

                     Chaplin's aesthetic view always springs from the figure at the center of the frame rather than the arrangement of objects within the frame. He once said, "I don't need interesting camera angles, I am interesting." Considering the qualities of his films he might be right. There are no great innovations in cinematography or editing, but it doesn't seem to matter as the action moves at a brisk pace. Most of the movie was shot in a studio, when the plans to film in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were scrapped because of bad weather. 

                    Chaplin's art remains in the transformation of suffering into comedy, without trivializing the pain. In 'The Gold Rush', Chaplin's characters are surrounded by hunger, desperation, and poverty, which he transforms successfully by finding the universal strands of humor. This movie might seem sentimental in this, more cynical age, but he's never less sublime than when he reaches for grandiose highs in romance, coincidence, and naked emotion. Chaplin earns every bit of pathos he renders, during the sentimental streak of films.

                Tragic, heart-breaking, and most of all funny, "The Gold Rush" remains quintessential Chaplin. It remains exquisitely charming today, as it was in 1925. 


The Gold Rush - IMDb 

Pizza - Delivered Deliciously

                       Thrillers, without a plagiarized plot, are a rare thing in Tamil movies. Also rare are the thrillers that makes you play the guessing game. In a season, where top-billed actors' movies (from Saguni to Maatran) are falling for the below-average category, here is a movie that keeps us entertained, without insulting our intelligence. Karthik Subburaj's feature-film debut "Pizza" creates dread and suspense in our minds, and is neatly packaged with a good lean cast, taut screenplay, deft camera work, and a terrific background score.

                          Karthik Subburaj has made numerous short films, which received wide appreciation in the Internet. Setting about to do a full-length movie is not a simple task, even for a short-film maker, but Karthik delivered the goods. Pizza has a simple story with an interesting screenplay. It urges viewers and critics alike, not to spoil the movie by giving the distinct structure of the plot.

                          Michael (Vijay Sethupathy) works as a pizza delivery boy and has a live-in relationship with his girlfriend Anu (Ramya Nambisan), who is a aspiring horror-novelist and an avid reader of ghost stories. There is no usual dose of sentiment here, by introducing us their families, because they both have grown up in a orphanage. Michael doesn't believe in the presence of paranormal and a bit afraid of it too. In the meantime, unexpected pregnancy of Anu forces Michael to marry her. Up to this point, the movie moves a bit slow takes some time to set up the characters. 

                  The movie shifts to top-gear, when Michael is asked to do a home delivery to a posh, mysterious bungalow. Michael is stuck inside the house and encounters some paranormal creatures. The second-half unfolds in a different manner and keeps you guessing the various possibilities of a twist. Revealing more about the character and plot, might spoil the interest, so it's best leave it at this.

                      Vijay Sethupathy (who recently did the role of villain in 'Sundarapandian) has a great field day as Michael. A character in a horror movie needs to convey fear in a believable manner. Vijay's dread and the occasional outbursts of courage are perfect for such an character. Ramya Nambisan as Anu plays her part effectively, looks endearing as well as cunning. 

                  Other important ingredients for a horror/thriller movie are cinematography and background score. Be it the romantic sequences, at the start, or the fearful haunting house sequence, cinematographer Gopi Amarnath frames it all in an efficient manner. Santosh Narayanan's music score seems to be an integral part of the movie. His background score is one of the high points of this splendid movie. Paul John's editing plays its part in increasing our anxiety.

                      Director Karthik Suburaj  has made a huge impression by producing a gripping story. He has really made us think that, it's going to be another psychological horror inspired from Hollywood, but has delivered an entirely different movie. The lean cast and its intentions are executed in a exalted manner. Even though there are some minor plot holes, Karthik doesn't give you the time to ponder on those things (at least when you are watching the movie) Producer C V Kumar (Who also brought "Attakathi") deserves huge credit for coming up with this quality product. Some might say, 'Pizza' is influenced by Hollywood horror classics like 'The Shinning' or 'The Sixth Sense.' If you consider 'haunted house' and the 'ghost-seeing experience' as a inspiration , then there are some hundreds of movies with this plot structure, even before the inception of these classics.

                    Pizza is progressive film-making at its best, and highly entertaining with a well thought-out plot. It's a movie experience that should be savored by watching it in a theater.


Short Films of Karthik Subburaj - Youtube