Inside Man - A Brainy Bank Robber's Tale


                            Spike Lee's Inside man is an unorthodox thriller, stylish as well as engages our mind. It breaks all the usual conventions and comes across as a reworking of a very tired genre that started with Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon. Set mainly in and around a Wall Street–area financial institution, it retains all the elements of a caper film, relished in the smarts of a decades old police procedural and leaves us with something greater than forced twists and shoot-outs. 

                           Spike Lee has worked first time on a caper flick - instead of one of his more personal, politically charged efforts. So, with “Inside Man,” he extends his horizons as a filmmaker; he’s tried documentaries, concert movies, short films, even television, and while he’ll always be known for his socially aware dramas, at least he’s constantly working to challenge himself as a director, avoiding getting stuck in a single field. This might not be his best movie, but it's his most complete tale. Inside Man has a impressive cast, which includes Denzel Washington,  Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, and Willem Dafoe. 

Plot
         The film grabs your attention from the beginning, when we meet Dalton Russell (Clive Owen), a cool, collected thief who tells of his plan to rob a Manhattan bank. He causally explains that, it's not only for the money, it's "because I can." Carrying out his strategy, Russell and his three co-conspirators enter the building as painters and soon have everything under control. Part of his ingenious plan includes, forcing his dozens of hostages to strip to their under-wears and put on dark, hooded coveralls that match the robbers.


              Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), a detective and hostage negotiator and his second-in-command Bill Mitchell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are in charge. They understand that it is not going to be easy working with Emergency Service Officer John Darius (Willem Dafoe), a cop with little patience. When Keith Frazier confronts the main perpetrator, Russell, he warns the guy that this isn't going to turn out well and asks if he's seen "Dog Day Afternoon." 


             But this isn't like 'Dog Day' in its tone, it's exactly opposite to that, where crooks out-think the cops on every move. Russell seems to be executing the perfect bank robbery - but he appears not interested in the vault's cash. So, the question becomes, what do they want? That's the mystery that out-thinks audiences as well.

Analysis
                The three performance from the top-billed actors are terrific. Denzel Washington is as good and reliable as ever. The character Frazier is probably one he could do in his sleep, but he invests the character with a fierce determination and a degree of moral ambiguity. Clive Owen has the arduous job of delivering most of his performance through a mask, but his icy calm acting is powerful. He is mesmerizing in the opening sequence, when he recites for the audience the who, what and why of the crime he's about to commit. Jodie Foster stars as Madeline White, a mysterious power broker who is hired by the bank's board chairman, Arthur Chase (Christopher Plummer), to look after his interests. She captures the right mixture of strength and verve, for her tough character.


              Spike Lee has never directed genre movies or thrillers and he isn't often in the "big-budget" mode, but with 'Inside Man' he's found a way to matter as an entertainer without copping out as an artist. Lee also brings incredible camera energy, throughout the movie. His camera floats through, penetrating the action, moving up and down stairs, circling antagonists in the many hostile confrontations. 

             Screenwriter Russell Gewirtz presents an impressive amount of information in the way of procedural tactics, within the limits of the thriller genre. The screenplay isn't comprised of elaborate suspense sequences but instead of the collective moral fortitude of each character. Gerwitz also brings out some of the minor characters in the drama who represent a microcosm of New York City, which includes a Sikh (hostage released by Russell), who is called as "an Arab", pushed to the ground and his turban is removed. 

                 There is also one memorable sequence in 'Inside Man', when Russell sits down with a little black kid over pizza and registers surprise at the violent Grand Theft Auto-like game on the boy's PSP. It might seem to be an odd irony given Dalton’s violent take-over of the bank, but is actually both a comment on the role of such games in the development of black male identity and a subtle hint at Dalton’s true motives. 


                Inside Man is a extraordinary film about power, amorality, ethics, and urban living and at the same time it's a satisfying entertainer. 

Trailer


 Inside Man - IMDb

Masters of Cinema : Sergei Eisenstein


                           Sergei Eisenstein together with his colleagues Pudovkin, Vertov and Alexander Dovshenko, revolutionized film directing. Building on the work of D.W. Griffith, each set out an different path for creating films, but each did so out of a conviction that the power of film should for harnessed for public purpose -- to change society. Each of these directors had a different aesthetic. Pudovkin embraced the theatrical, Vertov embraced the documentary in its most orthodox form, and Dovshenko embraced the poetic. To say that Eisenstein saw film as architecture or as graphic design or as a new malleable medium arising out of literature is too limiting. 

                        Eisenstein, like Griffith before him, explored the medium of film and contributed new ideas about film. In addition to Griffith, Eisenstein's ideas about film made him a key explorer of the medium. His ideas about editing remain important. And his influence on directors such as Sam Peckinpah and Oliver Stone confirmed his continual relevance to directing. For Eisenstein, editing is the core creative strategy, and his director's idea is articulated in those ideas about editing. For Eisenstein, history is conflict, the inevitable contradiction of one force fighting another. The clash of images has to be articulated and given a human face.

Interpreting Eisenstein's Films

                   Eisenstein directed fewer than ten films from 1925 to 1945. When he fell out of favor, he would teach and write. At the invitation of Charlie Chaplin, he tried Hollywood in the early 1930s and developed a script for a novel 'An American Tragedy' at Paramount, but his American interlude was not successful. Eisenstein is best known for his films "Potemkin" (1925), "Alexander Nevsky" (1938) and "Ivan the Terrible."

                   Turning more to specifically to Eisenstein's director's idea, although Eisenstein considered editing ideas to be the most powerful manifestation of that idea, he believed that text interpretation as well as style of acting contributed to the director's idea. With regard to text interpretation, Eisenstein approached his screen stories in a particular fashion. "Strike" (1924) examines the consequences of labor rebelling against management, with the government not mediating but rather aligning with capital against labor. The historical struggle is specific, conflicted, and framed as exploitation versus moral or human values. The struggle becomes tangible as well as metaphorical as it devolves into evil versus good. 


                 A similar interpretative pattern follows "Battleship Potemkin" (1925), which tells the story of a naval mutiny in 1905 in the seaport of Odessa. Here, again, the mutiny is framed in terms of exploitation -- the sailors are the victims, and their officers enrich themselves by providing bad food rather than decent provisions. One sailor, Vakulinchuk, assumes leadership role and is the catalyst for the mutiny. His death in the struggle makes him a martyr for his fellow sailors and the sympathetic population of Odessa. 

               In "Alexander Nevsky" (1937), a 13th century narrative, the main character is Nevsky, a prince of the Russian back-country. In the east, Russia is under attack by the Mongols; in the west, the Germans have invaded the Ukraine. Nevsky, having already defeated the Swedes, is a natural leader. He chooses to defend the city Novgorod against the advancing Germans. Nevsky is good and strong; his people are simple, virtuous and dogged, both men and women. The Germans, aided by Russian opportunists, are authoritarian, cruel and evil. Once again the interpretation is a struggle between good and evil, and the characters are archetypal rather than realistic. 

               In each of these films, the conflict is elevated to momentous proportions with considerable historical implications. It seems as though Eisenstein wanted to point out that history is created out of such struggles. At no point does Eisenstein suggest a more benign view of the historical process. Its all about conflict. 

Visual Style

              To understand how to harness conflict, one must know how Eisenstein used the camera to portray conflict. There are numerous dimensions to Eisenstein's visual skill as a director. To understand his work as a director, one must look at the compositional qualities of his films and the editing of his films. Because Eisenstein's contribution to the art of editing are so great. 


                Eisenstein uses powerful images of the beauty of the sea and the seaport of Odessa in "Potemkin." These images imply a certain tranquility, a quality for sailors and the civilian population. The land is even more powerfully evoked in "Alexander Nevsky," where the rural imagery is of wheat fields, with ship-masts in the foreground and the bountiful sea in the background. In all the rural images, the sky is endless and dominates and dwarfs humans. The urban images are different. Bustling and brimming with religious iconography, the city represents physical protection rather than spiritual sustenance for its inhabitants.

                   Cities are power centers important to Russia but also its enemies. That sense of power and potential protection is how Eisenstein choose to present the city in "Alexander Nevsky." Eisenstein's power as a visualist and a transformative director is best illustrated in these images. 

Eisenstein's Editing

               Editing can shape how we experience narrative events. Few directors have considered editing to be a source of power in film-making, but Eisenstein recognized its power and developed many of the ideas still used today regarding the use of pace, rhythm, and cutting to add emotional impact. Both the Odessa Steppes sequence in "Potemkin" and the Pskov massacre sequence in "Alexander Nevsky" have a sngle goal -- to shock and outrage the audience through his portrayal of  the unjust behavior of the Czarist forces and the German forces. 

              Eisenstein wanted to illustrate the misuse of power, its inhumanity, and the worthiness of using power to crush injustice. In both sequences, creating emotional arousal and outrage were his goals. The Odessa Steppes sequence introduces the future victims, the innocents who are enjoying life when the Cossacks attack. The grandmother, the intellectual, the grand-daughter, the peasant mother and her son, and later the well-to-do mother with her baby carriage are all introduced through mid shots. Although each of these characters later becomes a victim, Eisenstein particularly focused on the deaths of the mother and their children. 


               Detailed in the close-up are the shooting of the high-spirited son, the peasant mother's shock, her raising the boy's body and appealing to the soldiers to stop, her death, the shooting of the other mother, the command, the baby carriage's descent down the steps, the baby, the Cossack raising his sword, and the killing. The two mothers are the ultimate victims, and watching their efforts to save their children is the equivalent of seeing our future being stomped out; these scenes are shocking for that time and overwhelming. Rhythmic montages or other visuals that oppose each other further deepen the sense of conflict and victimization. 

               Conflict is at the core of Eisenstein's narratives, but it is hope that Eisenstein embraced -- the hope that good can overcome evil, and when it cannot, then at least understanding and compassion can be extended to a man who has experienced so much evil in his life that he has become its ultimate victim. 

Sergei Eisenstein - Wikipedia

Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy : A Retrospect


                         In America, in the early sixties. western films were locked in a range war for audiences with TV - and losing. What cinema needed was an out-of-towner, a specialist who could turn the tide entice audiences from their TV's back into the theaters. Their unlikely savior was an Italian director named Sergio Leone

                       By the early sixties some interesting genre changes had driven the western into new and interesting territory. Among these was a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Japanese action drama 'Seven Samurai' (1954) as 'The Magnificent Seven' (1960), which was a massive hit where the heroes' mercenary adventures struck a chord with the audience. When Sergio Leone cast Clint Eastwood in a trio of westerns, it gave the genre a much needed injection of style, wit, violence and grit.

                  The 'Dollars' trilogy made Clint Eastwood a celebrity climber, from TV star to global success story, and his character 'The Man With No Name' is still probably the most recognizable gunslinger in cinema. Eastwood's hero killed with passion, but no compassion, and was a slender moral cut above the villains he dispatched.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

                    There have been many different versions of how Clint Eastwood came to be a cast in 'A Fistful of Dollars.' The most accepted one is that in 1963, a script called "The Magnificent Stranger" arrived at a agency of Eastwood's representatives. Eastwood was hardly the first choice for the lead role -- the list of actors who had already been contacted included Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. The project was to be financed by Italian, West German and Spanish investors and directed by Leone.


                Eastwood recognized the tedious manuscript, which resembled a telephone directory, as a rewrite of Yojimbo, a successful 1961 Japanese Samurai film directed by Akira Kurosawa, which he'd seen on its American release. He loved Kurosawa's action comedy, masterfully shot in black and white. So, Eastwood accepted the offer of $15,000 salary -- even though he was making that kind of money in a single enertainment as entertainers on the rodeo (an exhibition of cowboy skills) publicity tours.

               The original script called him 'Texas Joe' while the published script called him "Joe The Stranger", but all US publicity marketed him as 'The Man With No Name.' Joe arrives by mule in the Mexican border town of San Miguel, where he discovers that the district is controlled by two rival gangs of bandits and smugglers: the Rojos, who deal bootleg liquor, and the Baxters, big gun merchants. The stranger sees an opportunity to make a few dollars and exploits the gangs' rivalry hiring himself as a gun-hand to the Rojos. But Joe stirs up trouble, taking payment from both factions. Soon the feud is fervid as ever, with the gangs shooting it out in a cemetery.  

Toshiro Mifune
                 Eastwood grew a beard for the role, possibly inspired by Toshiro Mifune, who played Sanjuro, the unshaven lead in Yojimbo. One key mannerism Eastwood taken from Mifune was his thoughtful chin rubbing. Leone shot the movie in Italy and Spain. The budget didn't allow much room for luxury and Eastwood even brought along his own stunt double. Fistful's memorable score was composed by Ennio Morricone, a school friend of Leone's. Fistful was released in Italy in 1964, to great word-of-mouth success, eventually becoming the biggest-grossing Italian film of all time up to that point. 

For A Few Dollars More

               Eastwood was soon back in Italy and Spain filming a sequel, literally For A Few Dollars More' -- his salary this time was $50,000. Eastwood was again a gunfighter and a bounty hunter named Monco. The story was based on a original outline by Leone. Monco and Colonel Douglas Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) are two deadly bounty-killers, riding the American southwest of renegade outlaws and cashing in their rewards. When the territories most notorious criminal El Indio escapes from prison, the pair teams up to scoop the $10,000 reward offered 'Dead or Alive.' 


             This time Leone had a larger budget than Fistful -- $60.000. He again filmed the majority of movie in Spain. The desolate Spanish deserts, sierras tool center stage, as a memorable and breathtaking backdrop. The great riding scenes, where Monco loses a posse from El Paso, display Eastwood's consummate horsemanship to best advantage. The script was tighter than Fistful and Leone's visual style began to flourish. 

            In For A Few, Eastwood's hero is more humorous, he even smiles occasionally, and has great final punchline. As he loads the bandits' corpses into a cart to take back to El Paso, his bounty haul calculations fall short of expectations and he realizes he's one villain short. At that moment Monco spins around and shoots an outlaw, who is about to plug him in the back. At the sound of gunfire the colonel shouts, 'Any trouble boy?'; 'No old man,' answers Monco, 'Thought I was having trouble with my adding -- it's alright now.' 


              Ennio Morricone once again provided the distinctive score, with a main theme deploying flute, whistling chorus and electric guitars - a 'riding theme' powered along by pounding hoof-beat drums. For A Few Dollars More was released in Italy in 1965, to massive and influential success. It was released in US rated R, to even greater success than Fistful, initially taking $5 million. 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

              Eastwood's next project with Leone, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in chronological relation to the first two films is a prequel. In early 1862, Confederate forces invaded New Mexico from Texas. Amid the confusion, as the war engulfs, three men have something else on their minds; hired gun Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), a Mexican outlaw Tuco Ramirez (Eli Wallach) and his partner, shifty drifter Blondy (Eastwood), are searching for a cash-box containing $200,000 in gold coin buried in a grave marked 'Arch Stanton' in sad hill.


              The epic story was written by Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni. This time Leone had a budget of $1.2 million. This time Eastwood drove a hard bargain; for his role as Blondy 'The Good', he received a quarter of million dollars. Leone's anti-heroic depiction of American civil war filled his towns with refugees and troops, while the military hospitals are packed with the bloodied wounded. 

            The film's battle scenes deployed hundreds of extras and heavy duty artillery, including Gatling guns (rapid firing guns) and mortars. In his third Leone outing, Eastwood's performance is confident and effortless. He deploys his full range of 'Man With No Name' mannerisms; the double takes, the squint, mouthing the cigar, the long silences and the empty half-smile. This time there is more humility and humanity to Eastwood's gunman. Morricone's most famous composition, the film's title music, is cut to an equally memorable title sequence, with colorful tinted stills from the film, explosions and dust. The main theme, a guitar-twanging, bugle charge, is one of the most famous western themes of all time.


             With epic battles and scores of extras, it is ironic that the finale involves only the three antagonists competing for the prize -- the contents of the grave marked 'Unknown', the tomb with no name, next to Arch Stanton's, which contains a cash-box. It is one of the most memorable endings to a western and a fitting climax to the 'Dollars trilogy' as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly shoot it out in the epicenter of the vast graveyard, with Morricone's thundering soundtrack. 

               The 'Dollars' films' success in Italy led to the 'spaghetti western' craze, which produced hundreds of films in the next ten years and revitalized, the Italian film industry. Following The Good, Eastwood and Leone didn't see each other for years, as their careers diverged on different projects. 'I have often been asked if I could make another film with him' said Sergio Leone (at the time, making Once Upon A Time In America), 'I always refuse. It is impossible.' They could never have surpassed the 'Dollars' trilogy, especially The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, their masterpiece.

Tokyo Story - A Underrated Masterpiece About Universal Human Values


                             Ozu is one of the greatest film-maker, whose name must be familiar with ardent movie-lovers, but who also remains virtually unknown. Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) acclaimed was a critically Japanese director who made close to 54 films, films that were popular in Japan, but have been under-appreciated outside Japan. His movies mostly deal with the middle-class Japanese family life. All the laurels for his movies means nothing -- especially when considering his films are so completely committed to avoiding the grandiosity such ready-made labels imply. 

                        Yasijuro Ozu's best known film 'Tokyo Story' is a work of art that still has the power to astonish, disrupt, and shatter hearts. The movie creates a unforgettable pictorial design of middle class Japanese family that might seep into your consciousness. The movie poignantly broadens into universal issues that all can relate to. Tokyo Story graphs the inevitability of change, disappointment and death with a resigned air of mute acceptance. 


Plot
        The story of the movie is very simple and straight-forward and the dominant theme here is the generational conflict between parents and their children. Don't expect an sentimental film, or the one with fancy camera movements, fades, dissolves, pans or tracking shots. The story is uneventful, but hides great depth beneath its basic structure. As the movie opens, the parents, Shukishi (Chishu Ryu) and Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama), who live in a small rural village, are preparing to visit their grown children, all of whom reside in the post-war Tokyo. Their children are disinterested and selfish and the grand-children are even more self-centered and spoiled.


               The grown-up children have no use with their presence. They are preoccupied and a little put out by the old folks' visit. The only person who seems really pleased to see them is, ironically, their widowed daughter-in-law, Noriko (Setsuko Hara). It is an straight-forward narrative, in that there is no great all encompassing resolution, and none of the characters are delineated as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’, with the possible exception of their widowed daughter-in-law Noriko.

Analysis
                Yasijuro Ozu’s long shots, knee-high camera placement—gather power over the duration, but time itself is the master’s most potent weapon. Prolonged sequences make you impatient for forward motion, but then, in an instant, you’re left to mourn beauties hurried away. The simplicity of his narrative is rejoiced in the intricacies of everyday banality. Ozu adds subtle shades for a character, which means that what isn't said can be more important than what is. When the elderly Tomi says, "When each of my boys was born, I prayed that he wouldn't become a drinker," it connotes that her husband had in fact a drinking problem, something you wouldn't expect from the ever-so-slimly-stiff Shukichi.


                  Tokyo Story is about a middle class family life and more specifically, how it was coming apart at the seams, but there are no arguments, fistfights, or shouting matches -- just coldly subtle rejections and snubs veiled by intricate social etiquette. We’re also given access to the children’s points of view—they’re selfish yet understandably so, not villains but thickened—but Ozu is most interested in micro-scoping beneath the polite smiles of their elders, confronting a lifetime of gathered disappointment, facing children they frankly can’t stand to be around. Even though all of his films all centered around the daily activities of parents and their offspring and the often widening gaps between them, director Ozu himself never married or had children. 


                   A unschooled eye might see the simple staging and composition as artless. Notice how in the movie Shukichi usually sits at a right angle to the camera, right side facing us, with Tomi to his left and ever so slightly behind him. But when things were bad for them on their trip, Shukichi and Tomi end up sitting directly parallel to one another, as if comforting each other. Also, Ozu places his camera no higher than the eye-level of a person sitting on a mat and, almost never moving the frame, records the carefully planned movements and gestures of his actors. Ozu establishes rhythms of elderly couples life with such precision, which nullifies the melodrama and histrionics.  When 'Tokyo Story' ends where it began, with Shukichi sitting on his mat, fanning himself because of the summer heat, this time alone, it's like a different presentation of eternity. 

                   The acting (though they have lived in those characters) is brilliant throughout, emotions conveyed powerfully by as little as a turn of the head. Chishu Ryu, as Shukichi, the father who lives so gently beyond his time, is surely one of the best actors in Japanese film industry. Setsuko Hara as the gracious daughter-in-law gives a wonderful, subtle performance.


                 A character observes, "Isn't life disappointing." This dialogue and scene, near the end of the film, essentially completes a view of normal life that is luminous in its freedom from the sentimentality or the satire that so often obscure an artist's vision of normal living. Tokyo Story is a remainder that the most pleasurable moments in cinema don't consist of special effects and mind numbing action sequences, but are thoughtful and quiet small moments that touch the heart and soul.

               Watch Tokyo Story because none of the modern multiplex movies showing a similar family-styled melodrama can match this film for breath of scope, intensity and honesty of character.

Trailer



Tokyo Story - IMDb 

Rober Ebert's Great Movies Archive - Tokyo Story 

The Origins of Surrealism In Cinema


                         Surrealism emphasis's image rather than word, a feeling rather than thought. Surrealism emerged as the European cultural/artistic movement in the 1920s. Surrealists were prominent in the areas of painting, literature and the cinema.

                       Surrealism was founded as a movement by Andre Breton in the mid-1920s. The movement issued manifestos and declared themselves enemies of Bourgeois society. Many were Marxists who wanted to transform society and held a romantic faith in the power of art. Many were influenced by the 'untutored' art of madness, children and so called primitive art forms. They wanted to create something more real than reality itself.

Cinema And The Surrealism

                    Surrealist cinema developed in the period of 1924-30 and was more radical in aims and content than impressionist films. Surrealist film-makers were forced to work outside the commercial film industry and to rely on private backing. Surrealists were naturally attracted to cinema, because of the cinema's attempt to re-present the world in a darkened room, the individual experience, the manipulation of time and space, editing etc. They were influenced by films that presented untamed desire (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu). 

                      Painters such as Salvador Dali dabbled in film as did its most famous film-maker Luis Bunuel Bunuel referred to the cinema as 'the best instrument to express the world of dreams, of emotions, of instinct.' Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) 1928 and L'Age D'or (The Age of Gold) 1930 are the famous collaborations between Bunuel and Dali. Andalusian Dog has the themes of sexual desire and violence, ecstasy, blasphemy and bizarre humor. The Age of Gold is a full scale attack on bourgeois culture. The film caused riots when it was first screened and was banned until 1970s. 

Understanding Surrealism

                 Central to the reasoning of surrealism is their notion of freedom. Surrealists felt letdown and restricted by the rational, bourgeois society to whom many of Europeans belonged. They wanted freedom from the constraints, conventions and restrictions of bourgeois life and saw art as a means to achieve this. 

                  Many surrealists held more complex/revolutionary views. They wanted to change society and peoples perception of the world. Surrealism challenged reason and modernity and favored the magical and mystical. They aimed to derange meaning, to upset, disorientate and shock. Surrealists wanted to liberate western culture from what they saw as the tyranny and repression of reason and to reveal the true nature of reality. Referring to the work of Freud, they believed that only when the mind was in its semi-conscious or dream states could liberation be achieved. 

Absence of Narrative

               Surrealist film-makers rejected conventional narrative forms and sought to liberate the film and the spectator from narrative itself. Such films serve to focus attention upon narrative itself and upon filmic process of constructing meaning and upon the relationship between the film and its audience. Narrative and continuity expectations are denied and an absence of narrative logic defies us to impose any meaning on events. 

               Surrealists attempt to disrupt narrative conventions of time and space, of plot, character and causality. To disorientate to spectator and render to unconscious, irrational world of dreams. Often through a series of powerful, seemingly unconnected images. Point of view shots, a mixture of discontinuity and continuity editing and the unexpected juxtaposition of images were often used to shock and disorientate the spectator.

                Within the art of a surrealist we encounter the same characteristics that great thinkers and philosophers possess. Surrealist films temporarily arrests our mind's conventional patterns of logical organization, and opens the possibility of rendering and reordering new patterns along with the suppressed unconscious drives and obsessions.

13 Assassins - A Samurai Action Fest


                            Film buffs might remember, half a century before or more of the hype surrounding "Seven Samurai", "Yojimbo", samurai pictures remained the equivalent or a inspiration to American western films. Japanese film-maker Takashi Mike remembers this and sets aside his penchant for twisted modern horror to craft a classic period adventure, something like a "Seven Samurai" for the 21st century. '13 Assassins', a remake of black-and-white 1963 picture of the same name, "13 Assassins" is a earnest homage to the form at a time when Japanese feudal period films are an increasing rarity.

                         Takashi Mike is one of the few directors, who could juxtapose cruelty and beauty. His films, including the creepy psycho-sexual horror 'Audition' and over the top splatter crime 'Ichi the Killer', often carry a whiff of sadism. Miike's '13 Assassins' offers not over-the-top, Hong Kong-style martial arts, but rather is a throwback to silver-screen warrior epics where men steered their horses through woods, and where ritual and rules of law were not broken lightly.

Plot

The movie opens with a gentleman in 1844 Japan committing harakari (Ritual suicide by self-disembowelment on a sword). The death is related to Lord Naritsugu (Goro Inagaki), the adopted son of the shogun whose madman reign of terror is soon to be rewarded with a political post that will allow him to fully plunge the country into chaos. 


             Shimada (Kôji Yakusho) is appointed with the task of freeing the country of this menace. The 1840's were a time of relative peace, and the way of the samurai is fading. So, he embarks on a quest to find men, who are willing to risk their lives for the chance to blood their swords. Shimada, and his 12 samurais concoct a plan to kill Lord Naritsugu, but of course they also have to take out his 200-strong personal army first. A heroic mission, with a high possibility of death -- just the way the samurai like it. 

Analysis

         The movie's cat-and-mouse game of strategy, figuring out when and where to ambush the evil overlord’s group, is fascinating. As in Kurosawa’s epic “Seven Samurai” things begin slowly, and hauntingly, then movies on to some killer battle scenes. In the consecrated style of "Ocean's Eleven" the group is selected, man by man, and for the audiences it might take a while to sort through the identical topknots and work out who’s who. 


            Key players among the 13 assassins include the young fighting genius, Hirayama (Tsuyoshi Ihara); the explosives experts Horii (Koen Kondo) and Higuchi (Yuma Ishigaki); Shinzaemon’s jaded playboy nephew, Shinrouko (Takayuki Yamada); and Koyata (Yusuke Iseya), a rougish forest hunter the assassins pick up along the way. Iseya as Koyata is a direct link to Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo in “Seven Samurai.’’ Koji Yakusho gives a impressive and noble performance as the samurai leader. 

                "13 Assassins" is a must-see for Takashi Miike's passionate fans. But even action movie-lovers who've never seen any of his films before will be drawn in by this masterful exercise in cinematic butchery.  Director Miike breaks up the epic struggle into compact corners of the battlefield (a crowded village rigged with booby-traps and all manner of barricades), places where each character can make an impression on viewers as each seeks “a noble death.” Akira Kurosawa in 'Seven Samurai' created an intensely affecting social canvas on which to paint his battle scenes, Miike sticks to the narrow but rich world of samurai,  politicians, and nobles. The movie is fully about a man’s world — and the few women we see don’t fare well at all.


                 13 Assassins, when compared to the samurai movies of old, might be called a mere action movie. But when the action starts, it is breathtaking. The movie concludes with a breathtaking 45 minutes of choreography, swordsmanship, carnage, dirt and blood. “Your samurai brawls are crazy fun!” excited the hunter turned fighter in the heat of battle. After those action sequences, we might agree with him. 

                   13 Assassins is definitely not for the squeamish. For a stout heart, this is visually exquisite,  emotionally charged and a spectacle.
  

Trailer



13 Assassins - IMDb 

District 9 - An Unorthodox, Unique Sci-Fi Movie


                             Nowadays, very few sci-fi genre movies leaves any imprint. The sci-fi genre is especially dominated by the bloated and ear-splitting meaninglessness movies like Transformers, Resident Evil. Sci-fi movies are not just about aliens and spaceships, it's all about the way they use these devices to illustrate some greater truth. Neill Blomkamp's 'District 9' is one of those smart sci-fi movies, which also serves as a sociopolitical allegory. It is a unforgettable, monstrous fable that's consistently gripping. 

                             Preconception or prejudice is one of the loathsome disease of human mind in which we project our feelings of self-disgust, rage, alienation, and paranoia on others whom we perceive to be different. All over the world, hatred of certain humans is eating away at respect for the ideals of ethnic and religious diversity that traditionally have animated our pluralistic society. "District 9', set in South Africa, functions as a metaphor for a million South African blacks still live without basic human services, two decades after the end of apartheid. But, it's also not too hard to draw parallels with the ghettos of Nazi Germany, America's inner cities, and all of those other places where unwanted, powerless peoples have been herded off far from the backyards of the ruling class. 

Plot
       District 9 takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, where a massive spaceship have descended from the sky and stalled there before 20 years. The ship's dwellers look like crustaceans; quickly dubbed "prawns" by wary humans, and they're shunted off to the shantytown of the title. When the film opens, there's been a wave of unrest in the refugee camp, which is a sun-scorched slum overrun with crime lords who exploit the prawns’ relatively meek nature and craving for cat food. 


                 The government reconsiders its alien policy and moves them further away from the human population to an even more remote tent camp called “District 10.” Multinational United (MNU), a massive private military contractor is hired by the government to relocate 1.8 million aliens. Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) -- a not very bright corporate lackey hose wife (Vanessa Haywood) happens to be the daughter of MNU’s cutthroat CEO -- is in charge to handle the operation. 


                 The first 30 minutes shot in documentary-style shows the arrival of MNU soldiers and Wikus to roundup the prawns for their relocation. Things doesn't go exactly as planned for Wikus, and at the end of the first day he ends up in a hospital, and that's where his personal nightmare begins. 

Analysis
                South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp has designed a griping sci-fi tale that accurately reflects the paranoia and xenophobia that is sweeping the globe.With the support of his mentor and producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) and co-writer Terri Tatchell, Blomkamp fills "District 9" with some of the most edgy, and most unsettling, thrills, also retaining his faux documentary style and hand-held cinematography.

Neill Blomkamp and Copley
                  Copley (who is not a professional actor) is stunning in his first film role and gives an amazingly naturalistic central performance, which very much remains us the Robert De Niro 's performance in King of Comedy. Copley gives Wikus a poignancy that somehow makes you feel for him despite everything. Wikus is transformed from a inhumane rank specimen into a tragic character, ultimately a hero, and Copley hits every note perfectly. Christopher, the giant alien (performed via motion-capture by actor Jason Cope) and his young child, who speak in subtitled clicks and grunts are as real as Wikus, and even more sympathetic. The special effects, created by WETA Workshop (co-founded by Jackson) is responsible for the movie's seamless blending of worlds. 


                  In reality, there was a District 6 in Cape Town that served the same function for human beings as this movie's District 9 does for computer-generated. The sci-fi adventures, shoot and splatter scenes somehow affect the poetical nature and fails to evoke that real tragedy, but the last image is haunting, certainly, and it makes us want to see what this filmmaker does next. To our delight, Blomkamp is now working on another sci-fi project 'Elysium', with Matt Damon and it is slated to release in March, 2013.

                "Hospitality" is the true way we come out of ourselves. Through hospitality we can turn a prejudiced world around one heart at a time. District 9 reminds the desperate need of hospitality in such a fearful and tense time. Watch District 9, because it is a clever, provocative, exciting feature film, and a movie not based on any violent video-game.

Trailer

District 9 - IMDb

The Personality of Quentin Tarantino


                           A director who has achieved popular and critical prominence despite having directed only seven feature-length films -- each with small or relatively modest budgets -- Quentin Tarantino is in many ways the most visible new American film-maker to have emerged during the 1990s. In industry terms, his reputation stems from screenwriting as much as directing or producing, while he seems to see himself very much as a performer. His direct and indirect influence has splashed widely and his media currency has grew to the extent that a critical consideration of Tarantino, the individual and his work, necessitates some unraveling.   

A Film Geek And A Trained Actor

                   The story goes that Quentin Tarantino was a video-store clerk who got his script to the actor Harvey Keitel whose support got Reservoir Dogs made and so catapulted Tarantino to directorial stardom. Although there is a gist of truth in this, there is also a mythological aspect, recalling studio-generated tales of actresses and actors discovered as waitresses and gas station attendants. Tarantino may be indeed be 'the most famous former video-store clerk in America.' He is happy to play up this aspect of his past, staging a press reception for Reservoir Dogs at Video Archives, the place where he had worked.


               Acknowledging his past as 'a film geek', he has commented that 'I think my biggest appeal amongst young fans is that they look at me as an fan-boy who made it.' Although Tarantino had no directorial experience before Reservoir Dogs, this is not quite the same as the supposedly seamless transition from video-store clerk to celebrated director enacted in publicity and media biographies. 

                Tarantino has trained early as an actor. Indeed, it was his lack of success as an actor that first led him to write. Eventually he quit Video Archives and went to support himself by selling scripts (True Romance), revamping outlines (From Dusk Till Dawn) and polishing the work of others. A rewrite of Past Midnight (1991), cable TV premiere with Rutger Hauer, gained him an associate producer credit. Thus Tarantino had already achieved a measure of credibility in the industry by the time his script for Reservoir Dogs reached Keitel: not so much a video-store clerk turned director, but an industrious Hollywood hopeful hitting the big time.

A Crossover Hit


              After the success of Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989, distributors were keen to spot another crossover hit at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. Although it did not win a prize, Reservoir Dogs caused controversy and gained attention, gathering critical plaudits across Europe. The film's box-office and critical acclaim allowed Tarantino to set up favorable deals, including the opportunity to hand-pick actors for his next project. 

              Nevertheless, it seems to have been the desire to act which sparked the idea for Tarantino to direct Reservoir Dogs himself on 16mm for a budget of $30,000. In other words, his connection to writing was as an actor. Unsurprisingly perhaps, sensitivity to the needs and talents of actors remains his significant strength as a director. The care taken in assembling the cast of Reservoir Dogs is instructive. Whether seasoned or relatively fresh, each brings a celluloid past. Of course, such a parallel also feeds the myth. If the robbery goes badly wrong, the film itself -- very much about 'getting away with it' -- does not. 

Frenzied Media Attention


                True Romance, one of Tarantino's extant screenplay, was directed by Tony Scott and was put together with another excellent cast and increased Tarantino's stock. Meanwhile, prior to the success of Reservoir Dogs, an associate had been allowed to go seek for finance with another project, Natural Born Killers, and it 'got away' from Tarantino -- ultimately against his will -- to be adapted in visceral style by Oliver Stone, creating further controversy (and profit). The result was a wave of 'Tarantino' movies appearing, building up expectation for his second directorial project, Pulp Fiction, which delivered audiences, acclaim (including Palme d'Or at Cannes) and an Oscar for best script. 

                 In the media attention that followed, it was clear that Tarantino was a good copy, clearly someone who had dreamed of fame, someone who conceived of himself as a performer and had no difficulty putting himself across. Tarantino emerged as a talkative autodidact, enthusing over the power of direction and his enjoyment of on-screen violence, who is not afraid to have an opinion. He is defensive of his films, particularly in discussions of violence (Reservoir Dogs' torture scene), racism (use of the 'n' word in 'Pulp Fiction'), plagiarism (borrowings from Ringo Lam's City on Fire (1987) in Reservoir Dogs), and perhaps even more so about his acting and personal conduct. Whether self-aware or narcissistic, there are close to ten biographies on Tarantino.

The Criticism

             Tarantino's self-forged personality has provoked considerable irritation, with critics attacking him for a lack of moral compass (his interest in movie violence) or pointing to a lack of life experience. A American critic, for instance, dubs Tarantino as 'The Man Who Mistook A Video Collection For His Life.' Rather than something new, Tarantino represents the extreme of an existing phenomenon. He was raised by his mother in an ethnically mixed neighborhood in Los Angeles, dreaming, discussing, obsessing about movies. 

              To some extent, what attaches to him in this type of criticism is a back-lash against the video-store clerk 'mythology,' suggesting that he is somehow not fit to be a film-maker without years of struggle or film-school training at the very best. Luckily, or perhaps shrewdly, when the backlash had reached critical mass it was Four Rooms, the disastrous collection piece for which Tarantino, wrote, directed and acted in only one section, that was released. 

Pop-Culture And Post-Modern Cinema

             Tarantino-esque, a handy adjective, which has become a 'byword for both pop-culture reference and popular post-modern cinema.' But it has also become 'critical short-hand for hackneyed, low budget crime-thrillers.' Tarantino-esque sometimes functions as a short-hand for the weightier, and considerably more problematic, term 'post-modernism.' 

              For film, the postmodern has two essential aspects: the stylistic and the political. Tarantino's relationship to postmodern style is clear and manifested in a variety of ways such as the use of self-conscious artifice (Pulp Fiction's use of inter-titles, the back projections during cab rides). Also significant is Tarantino's blurring of cultural boundaries, particularly those between exploitation and main-stream cinema, and between genres, for example From Dusk Till Dawn's mid-movie switch from crime-thriller to horror movie, or 'The Bonnie Situation' in Pulp Fiction

                   Some celebrate these elements whilst others condemn as style over substance, or, perhaps, spectacle over message. Condemnation usually occurs when the politics, rather than the aesthetics of postmodernism are at issue. Tarantino's clear commitment to postmodern style draws fire from those objecting to its perceived politics as though one was necessarily evidence of the other. For example, Tarantino's use of inter-textual reference to commercial crime cinema could be seen as 'Pastiche.' Yet this is not necessarily simply blank parody. 

                Instead we might regard Tarantino's use of inter-textual pastiche as a positive exploration of possibilities within the commercial form. Nevertheless, Tarantino semblance of art house independence combined with sustained commercial success remains a goad to his detractors. Quentin Tarantino is film-maker who works successfully within compromised, commodified, popular culture and has been fortunate enough to be able to write, cast and direct on his own terms. The result, and his chief asset, is that he delivers a distinctive and memorable product. 

Quentin Tarantino - Wikipedia