District 9 (2009)

District 9 is the first science fiction film where extraterrestrials are in a worse condition than humans, less frightening, more to be sorry about their fate. There is a very good reason behind this, but let us not start the revelations right from the start!

The movie is filmed in a mixed way, something between a documentary and a fiction tale, where several people present their point of view as the story evolves. A very good plot where action, emotion and thought are well-balanced.

The director, Neill Blomkamp places the tale in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was born. Unfortunately nothing much may be told without revealing the film’s plot. So, before seeing the film, keep in mind that there is a lot more than the action taking place. Some things are really strange and make one wonder why they happen. After seeing it, may be, you want to see another interpretation of the film, below the rating 🙂

My rating: 08/10

A Film Interpretation

Whatever works (2009)

Woody Allen made it again :). Ok, I am a fan, I admit it. How does this guy, seventy four years old, manage to have such clarity in mind, to create such a play, to present the same old eternal questions in such wonderful and refreshing ways? Woody Allen never created a funny movie without embedding serious consideration about the meaning of life, love, human relationships, especially with the opposite sex and of course … death!
So, in the first five minutes of the film, he makes through Larry David a rundown of his idea about … well everything! Ok, the important things! A mere beauty to listen to the film’s main character’s spit out his ideas – or should I say its guts! – for the human race, why it is doomed for extinction, how love never lasts for ever, etc.
Pessimism and optimism spread in different characters, with the pessimism of the main character prevailing BUT also with unhappy people managing to finally find happiness in life, by putting away all the cliches in their way of living…
Oh, for sure he did not expect a good reaction from his audience when he was filming that movie. He says that through his main character at the end. Truth injected with irony is the worst medicine for those who cannot stand it. But he never made a film to be likable, just films to express himself.

So, Woody,  I’d like to dedicate to you that song that was heard in the “Front” to the end of the movie, which I believe expresses your whole being (as well as mine):

And if you, will arrive, to one hundred and five ,
and your heart is still young,
you will find, how hard is to be narrow in mind,
when your heart is still young…

Happy birthday Woody (December 1st is very close anyway!)

Almost forgot: My rating: 8/10

Welcome (2009)

Philippe Lioret makes a film about immigration, humanity, friendship, love, life it self. There are no beatifications, no good and bad people. Just people in need and people settled. People who, when in need, will steal to make their lives a bit easier and those who will not…There are also people who keep their humanity and those who cannot.

It takes a lot of courage to make such a film: being honest about oneself, about the society one lives in, the friends you’ll have to face once such a film is released. A must see! Do not miss it…

My rating: 10/10

Pope Joan (2009)

Pope Joan is a European film based on a novel with the same title of Donna Woolfolk Cross. The story as well as the way it is visualized  are good. Actors are convincing in their roles. You’ll have two hours well spent watching the movie.

My rating: 6/10

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is an excellent thriller from Denmark that has all the good qualities of a movie of its kind: suspense, very good rhythm, a big puzzle whose pieces are put together one by one at the right time, two entirely different characters that really help each other, each one with its own wounds and blessings.

One might argue, that since the screenplay is based on a book that sold one million copies before even getting outside Denmark, the success is guaranteed. Not true. The direction of the film, by Niels Arden Oplev, really immerses the spectator in the movie. All actors are excellent in their roles.All the needed ingredients are in place 🙂

It is really sad that the book’s author,  Stieg Larsson, has passed away. On the other hand, there are two more books in he sequel, so other movies may follow…The story reminds me of that song of Dire Straits called “In the Gallery“.  Bitter? May be so…

My rating: 08/10

2012 (2009)

2012As a Sci-Fi, blockbuster fun, This is a film I was looking forward to see. Did not spend too much time reading critics around because I wanted to have a first hand impression. Alas :(.

Special effects are really amazing. It is also a fact that a movie with special effects is best enjoyed in a film theater. But on the other hand, even such a movie needs a minimum of of other ingredients. They just are not there! There is humor in scenes that it should not be: is it funny to show a man lying bleeding in the ground, when the world around is falling apart? On the other hand, scenes that are really melodramatic seem so fake… Is it the direction, the acting, the exaggeration, the fact that I have seen to many of them, or that I expected something new? May be a little bit of everything. The plot is not strong either.

One thing is for sure: it was not lack of money that created such a film. It was just the approach that since we have such amazing special effects, we need have nothing more! Or we need not spend time to have it! Should someone accept such an approach? Not as far as I am concerned.

Ronald Emmerich, has directed a number of films I really do like. The day after tomorrow, Independence Day, Stargate are good movies I enjoyed. Not this one.

My rating 1/10 (and this one is just for the special effects!)

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

The Men Who Stare at GoatsA funny, anti-war film, where the plot is based on the misuse of the human’s potential physic abilities.

My rating: 06/10

Surrogates (2009)

surrogatesIf you want to spend two hours watching a good plot, a lot of action, several plot inversions, then Surrogates is a good movie for you. For me too 🙂

It does attempt to make a couple of comments on the misuse of technology but it looks like a pretext for the “other” stuff the movie has…

My rating: 6 / 10

Kynodontas (Dogtooth) (2009) & Symbolism in films

dogtoothYesterday I saw Kynodontas (Dogtooth). Before writing down my opinion about the film itself, there are a couple of thoughts that need to be mentioned regarding the symbolic nature of films.

A film using symbolism to convey a message to the spectator, allow me to say, is like a key and a lock. The spectator may or may not understand the symbolism. He/she may or may not have the key to the lock.

If the message is understood, if the key fits the lock, then a sense of satisfaction fills the spectator by the mere fact that he did understand it and in case he/she does agree with the message the satisfaction is bigger. Even if he/she does not agree, the message has a better impact than from an equivalent non-symbolic film.

If however the message is not understood, then the spectator feels like an imbecile and a number of questions arise: am I a fool? Why did I throw my money away? What on Earth am I watching now? Why am I wasting my time? You know, stuff like this! I’ve been in that position too many times. For example: it is 100% certain that if I watched “The Andalusian dog”  by myself (see my previous post), I wouldn’t have understood a thing and for sure, if would have stopped the movie at the 1st minute if I was watching it at home!

Of course, the more one sees symbolic films, the more is understood. There is a certain beauty in it. But on the other hand, do we always have the time or are we always in the mood to watch them? That’s for each one of us to decide. I do admit, there are times (quite a lot actually!) I like to see a movie just to be carried away by the plot, the action etc. There is a proper time for everything…

So, Kynodontas: it is a symbolic film that its plot has no meaning at first. Scenes appear to be unrealistic. There is not an initial understanding on which to build a second or upper level of thinking. Either one understands what is going on, or not. The key-and-the-lock concept described above.

Is it meaningful for me to describe here something that you may read everywhere else? No. Also, if you want to see the movie, it would be inappropriate for me to outline my point of view for the symbolism (I thought) I understood. But on the other hand, you may want to read it, after seeing the movie. So, below, is the text that appears only after you select it! You may agree or disagree, that’s why we are different! Movies like this are “food for thought” as they say :). This trick I took from stixakias: really brilliant!

An isolated house is like our society. The father is the ruler and he calls the shots. The mother, the female element in the society, next to the people who have the authority, is more sensitive but does not oppose the father. She plays the game along the guidelines he sets.

Children are prohibited to have communication with the outside world. Information is power after all. So, even words that they might hear and could make them deviate from the predetermined way of thinking are given a different meaning. In 1984, words were eliminated from the dictionary. Here they have a totally different meaning. A more effective approach! The kids have every day a number of contests, which are outside of any logic. Their very nature (as in the scene/game with the hot water in the tub) as well as the rewards (the elder son decides for the type of the entertainment: we will watch video!) are meaningless. Well, what do we do with our children? We learn them in to be antagonistic between them since the time they go to the kinder garden! They do get their silly awards to learn operate in that framework. As they grow, the framework is reinforced, in primary school, high school, the university to obtain the final goal.Very few will question that framework when released in the market!

Christinna, is the only person coming from the prohibited world in the house. The father brings her home every week. He is asking her questions just to appear to be polite. He does not hear the answers. He does not need to: authority needs only to rule, not to care. Christinna represents the erotic element, but with no love, just sex. The framework imposed does not allow for love.  It uses sex as means of exchange. The kids of the family do not even understand the concept of pleasure, apart may be from the elder son. Even he, denies to provides pleasure to Christinna, thinking only of himself.

There is a male child that escaped the house isolation in the past, that questioned the authority of the father. This is a problem that the father and mother wait to deal with. When a cat appears, the kids are terrified: they have never seen such a creature before. Even innocent things create fear: it is the fear of the unknown. The elder son, braver than them all, kills it! Father and mother grab the opportunity, once more, to indicated the horrible fate awaiting any kid that may want to leave the house, the system: death is certain!

Christinna, plays a catalytic role in the course of things: attempting to get what the elder son does not provide to her, interacts with a daughter of the family. During that interaction she ends up being blackmailed to provide movies from the outside world to the daughter. The scenes the daughter sees in the movies (Rocky and Jaws), really throw her off-balance, a behavior noticed immediately by the father. He severely punishes his daughter and almost kills Christinna: no one is allowed to provide outside information to the system that may damage its delicate balance.

However, the seed has been planted: the daughter changes its name: the information she got changed her identity and is no longer satisfied with what she’s got.  She wants to go away from the house. How? All kids have been taught that they are ready to leave the house only if a dogtooth drops off! So, when she really has made up her mind, she hits herself with heavy object to make it drop. She goes in the trunk of the car of her father to hide, expecting to find the desired freedom. Alas, the trunks are not made to open from the inside, so she is trapped in there, just a breath away from the factory the father owns, just a breath away from the means to earn her living: whoever is outside the framework, has no chance of survival!

There are of course many more clues in that film that the ones mentioned above. It is certainly one of those films one may need to see more than once, probably playing back some scenes to understand their meaning. But this is a start 🙂

My rating? Well, expectancy in probability theory is a good measure for some cases. Suppose you roll a dice. If the outcome is odds, you gain 8 Euros. If the outcome is even, you gain nothing. If the dice is fair, the probability is 0.5 for either outcome. The expected earnings are 0.5 * 8 + 0.5 * 0 = 4. If it were Math, it would make sense. Now, it does not!

Attending a film direction class

This week, being in Thessaloniki for a couple of days, I was given an unexpected gift that changed the way I see films for ever. I’ve got an invitation to attend two sessions of  a film making class in the University of Thessaloniki.

The (almost) six hours that lasted the two sessions, provided me an avalanche of information about film making, the techniques used, the hidden meaning behind the scenes, clues to look for to find this meaning, the different ways directors may use to express what they have in mind and much more. It was as if I was inside a building and suddenly the walls and ceiling started to become transparent, revealing little by little the surrounding landscape.

UnChienAndalouJust to give an example: “Un chien andalou” (The Andalusian Dog), a film by Luis Buñuel, explicitly designed to have no plot (see the history of the film), was explained through psychoanalysis to have a meaning.  The analysis made scene-by-scene was really amazing.

The Element Of Crime It also, never occurred to me, that the first five minutes of a film, like “The element of crime” of Lars Von Trier may be partially analyzed for forty-five minutes in such a depth!

My experience with such an approach is non-existent, so I am not the expert to judge whether it is one of the best across Universities etc. However, I did admire the passion for the cinema and dedication with which the teacher was trying to convey its experiences, concepts and ideas to the students, always trying to keep the “line open” for input from them.

To which degree may a student at the age of twenties really understand how rare this is and how fortunate he/she is to have the opportunity to have such a teacher? May be the mere fact of the large degree of students attending and the participation in exchange of ideas during the course is such an indication of such an understanding. Another one might be if everyone would arrive on time in order not to interrupt the course once it begun :).

So, I wish everybody there, a beautiful voyage in the sea of film making :).