Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Random Reviews - September 18, 2012

Lost, Fringe, Person of Interest

I recently finished watching all six seasons of the television show Lost (2004-2010) - thanks to the wonderful technology of video streaming.   For the sake of those who have not seen show, I have tried to avoid listing specificities that would ruin the plot. In a nut shell, Lost tells the story of a group of survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 marooned on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Lost is clearly one of the top television shows of recent years. The show covers many themes, such as science, religion, and family. But probably the topic given the most attention is the question of fate.  Here, the writers do a great job keeping us wondering if there is a greater purpose for the survivors of flight 815. Lost's puzzle narrative structure helps to underscore this notion.  Some random notes (after all, this is a random review): Michael Giacchino's beautiful score; the diversity of characters and different representations of races; and cinematography, editing, and acting-all work very well.  Lost deservedly won a bunch of Emmys.  But I was surprised that none of the women were nominated for their work.  Lastly, there are some fantastic stand-alone episodes.  I particularly loved "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead," which some critics, apparently, did not like.

I am finding myself drawn more and more to J.J. Abrams' fictional Universe.  I recently started watching Fringe - another great show of Abrams'. Fringe is like the scientific version of the Twilight Zone.  If Rod Serling gave us existential reasoning for the show's strange happenings, Fringe attempts to scientifically solve them!  Topics covered are telekinesis, shapeshifting, spontaneous combustion, and suspended animation, to name but a few.  Walter (John Noble), the eccentric scientist, does a convincing job to prove the scientific validity of these strange happenings.  Noble's humorous antics also help to balance out Fringe's graphic imagery.

 All of these shows strikingly share a commonality: a depiction of a post 9/11 society of paranoia. These shows, in many ways, are a microscope into our culture of rapid technological innovation, speed, and surveillance.  Abrams and Matt Reeves really tune into these features in their frantic, science-fiction, disaster, monster, digital cinema film Cloverfield (2008).  I guess in certain ways these shows can be compared to the paranoia films of 1970s, such as Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).  This is not meant to be a generalization.  But I like that the writers of the show address these issues.  Finally, I recently read that Star Trek 2 is heading into production which begs the question: does J.J. Abrams sleep?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Random Reviews - September 7, 2012

More random reviews...why not?

The Dead, John Huston, 1987

John Huston's last three films before his death in 1987 is a tour de forceUnder The Volcano (1984), Prizzi's Honor (1985) and The Dead - three outstanding films made respectively within a period of three years.  I highlight his final film - The Dead which is based on James Joyce's short story from The Dubliners. The film closely follows Joyce's story, providing viewers with vignettes of the yearly gathering of the Morkan sisters in January of 1904, which include singing and dancing, a piano performance, and recitation of poetry. There are many wonderful moments in The Dead, particularly the serving of the goose and all the different courses of foods during dinner.

The Dead is a beautifully slow and meditative non-narrative film.  It takes place when the western world was beginning to witness social and economic changes due to modernity.  Of course, Joyce's style of writing would later become associated with the broad movement of modernism. The film hits upon a number of issues, such as the political tension between Ireland and England, conversation about opera, discussion of about literature and clothing fashion of the time. There is also a sense of loneliness that pervades the story.  We eventually find out that what lies beneath this gathering is an unspoken tension between Gabriel and his wife Gretta, performed wonderfully by Huston's daughter Anjelica Huston, who had recently won a supporting Oscar for her supporting role in Prizzi's Honor.    

This is extraordinary filmmaking from man who began his career in the golden age of Hollywood - a time when a film like The Dead and its non-narrative style of would have been hard to find. The ending of The Dead has to be one of the most beautiful and power passage of prose I have ever read.   And Huston wonderfully captures this ending sequence of Gabriel self-reflecting on the fleeting nature of memories, the cosmos, "and the living and the dead."

49th Parallel, Michael Powell, 1941

This is a compelling propaganda war film made by one of Britain's finest filmmaker, Michael Powell, who also directed films with Emeric Pressburger, such as A Canterbury Tale (1945), Black Narcissus, (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and Pepping Tom (1960).   

After the sinking of their U-boat in the Hudson Bay, six Nazi sailors must evade capture as they travel across Canada. They meet different groups of people that challenge their Nazi rhetoric. One scene in particular is the Nazi speech by Peter (Anton Walbrook), the leader of the group, who tries to spread Nazism upon the peaceful Hutterite community--a group of people who happened to be of German descent.  Peter's speech literally scared me to the bones.   

This is a powerful film made during the time before U.S. entered the war. The final sequence of the film clearly alludes to this - a strong message to America to break with its isolationist stance. The poignancy of film's title addresses this as well: the geographical divide between the U.S. and Canada (the 49th parallel) - a divide that may have had no meaning or purpose for both countries if America did not join the Allies.

Most of the film was shot on location, which gives the film a realist quality.  Laurence Olivier plays a great role as Johnnie the trapper. 49th Parallel also deservedly won the best screenplay Oscar in 1941. This is clearly one of top films of the war genre.  It is great that Criterion released this one.