Monthly Archives: May 2011

IMDB Top 250: Patton (1970)

My challenge to watch the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site continues. This is my 5th review, 121 films remain.

Today, it is my pleasure to review yet another movie that greatly deserves to be ranked among the best films of all time.

The movie is “Patton” and it follows a man: the famous general George S. Patton during the allied offensive of WWII.
Unlike other contemporary war films that concentrate on the human drama on the ground, this movie is a character study of the famous General Patton who found, in war, his natural habitat.

Patton is a film that, for most of its running time, remains behind enemy lines, away from the front line action, but intimately close to one of the protagonists of the conflict.
The complexities and nuances of a man that was vital in the success of the Allied offensive was masterfully captured by the underrated George C. Scott. It is, without a doubt, an epic performance, almost theatrical in its grandeur. Scott’s portrayal of General Patton achieves, despite the larger-than-life scale of his character, a great believability. He played a man that did not see war as his obligation to his country or as an opportunity to test his manhood, but as his ultimate purpose, his only cause, what truly defined who he was as a man.

Patton as most other generals, spent a significant amount of time politicizing and framing inside make-shift offices the destiny of WWII. He saw it as a necessary part of war, one he was not particularly good at. In fact, while his victories on the field were impressive, politics were not his forte and often, he found himself at odds with the High Command. What is shown in the film are not so much his struggles on the field, but rather his shortcomings as an off-the-field officer. He is often stuck as a spectator to what he considers to be the chance of a lifetime due to his controversial political persona. It is in the midst of this situation that the film takes off, showing us a man ridden with a sense of helplessness and frustration that is in sharp contrast to his incredible confidence on the field.

As a character study, Patton constructs enough of an image for us to place the rest of the missing pieces of the puzzle. We get a sense of what he wants or desires, but there is always an element of surprise in his actions that make Scott’s General one of the most excitingly complex and mysterious film characters ever.

As it often happens with other great films, a rather unlikable character manages to grow fonder in our eyes as the film progresses. Patton himself admits to be the target of hate and fear among the men he commands and we can sure see why. However, we fall in love with his passion and conviction to defeat his enemies, which is portrayed, without much restraint, over the course of an unforgettable biopic.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues…

Among the 8 films I have been able to watch pertaining to my top 250 challenge, none other has left a bigger impression on me as the wonderful french movie “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” by director Julian Schnabel.

The movie is based on a true story that depicts the horrible fate of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine. One day a successful and womanizing business man, and the next a man who has suffered a massive stroke that has rendered him almost completely paralyzed. We meet him at the hospital, struggling to wake up from a coma. Soon, a parade of doctors and nurses hover above him and we realize that he is still a completely rational man who is trapped inside his “diving bell” of a body with only his left eye left to communicate with others. He blinks once to say yes, twice to say no, and repeatedly to express a more specific desire. The viewer spends a good part of the movie inside him looking out, sharing, to some extent, the sense of claustrophobia and helplessness Bauby must have had to endure.

The director, Julian Schnabel, treats the story without grand gestures or manufactured uplifting moments. Schnabel’s effectiveness in this film comes from his simple and honest depiction of great adversity. We get to inhabit Bauby’s paralyzed body, relive some of his memories in order to understand the man before the tragedy, and we take part in the asphyxiating situation he is in. Schnable trusts the power of his story to speak for itself. Bauby is a tragedy but also a triumph since he was able, against all odds, to compose a memoir using only his left eye to blink as a nurse recited the alphabet, painstakingly constructing words.

Of course, the movie would have floundered if it wasn’t for a simply wonderful cast. Mathieu Amalric, whose performance as Bauby, is as complex and accomplished as I have ever seen. Almaric embodies the spirit of a free man who loves life as convincingly as he captures the painful reality of Bauby’s paralysis. His father, played by Max Von Sydow is equally moving and wonderful. The rest of the cast acts in a manner that is so natural and honest that it allows us to forget we are watching a film.
Released in 2007, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly enriched a rare year for movies that was full of quality films. This wonderful French movie greatly deserves its place among the best that year but also among the best films of all time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)

Niels

My life through videogames (part 1)

I have had a video game console for as long as I can remember.

My first was the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), the asian version that is. Seeing my dad bring a big box into the house in the middle of the day for my 6th or 7th birthday still constitutes one of my clearest and fondest memories of early childhood.

For the NES I probably amassed a collection between 5 to 10 games. The one I remember more clearly was the ultimate classic: Super Mario Bros. I can still remember it being very challenging, as it still proves to be for later generations of gamers. In fact, it was one of the few instances in which I required my dad’s help in defeating the last few levels of a game, especially the interminable and labyrinthine 8th level of Bowser’s Castle. I can also picture grasping the NES pistol that served one and only one purpose: to kill as many ducks as I could in the other NES classic: Duck Hunt.

Of course, as every other kid, I quickly evolved to the subsequent Mario adventures. The first was Super Mario Bros. 2 which I think is severely underrated and, of course, the gran daddy of all NES titles: Super Mario Bros. 3.

My adventure with the Super NES is a little more clear in my mind, and lasted a bit longer. As it often happens, the newer generation made the older obsolete and my original NES quickly started to gather dust in the shelf. It was a gift masterminded, once again, by my dad, who would start not long after this, to be wary of my ever-increasing addiction to gaming.

At that time, I developed a friendship with a neighbor whose collection of games greatly surpassed mine in number. I, unlike him, was forced to select my games very carefully and methodically due to my parent’s hesitancy to continuously fund my new gaming fanaticism. As a result I was left with only a couple of games to choose from and I was forced to use this friendship, like any selfish kid would, to expand my gaming horizons by constantly borrowing some of his games. I remember times in which I conveniently ceased to visit him for weeks or sometimes even months in order to avoid returning one of his games.

With Super NES I greatly enjoyed games like Super Mario RPG which is one of the lesser known titles involving the famous plumber, but still incredibly fun and interestingly different to its predecessors; Doom with its cool levels, bosses and constant gunfight; Megaman X with its cool and interesting concept; fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 3 and other lesser known tittles like Super Tennis in which I completed the lengthy “tours” several times and spent countless hours developing fictional tournaments; much like I did with Super Soccer in which I managed to beat the very difficult special team simply called “Nintendo”.

My true favorites

Above all other Super NES games was the true classic: Super Mario Kart. It is probably the first time I can say with certainty that I was severely addicted to a video game in a way that is hard to describe. It was the kind of addiction that launched me straight to my room after I got back from school, often disregarding the food that was sometimes waiting for me at the dinner table (even if I was hungry). With Mario Kart I developed an affinity for racing games that I still have today. As an only child, I was left to race mostly by myself, using this time to improve my skills to use them later against friends and family. I practiced constantly and, with that, came an expertise that I had never reached up to that moment. I was clearly superior to anyone who dared to race me, often putting them to complete and utter shame. I remember my favorite character/driver was Koopa Troopa and my favorite track was Bowser’s Castle 3.

With Super NES there was also a game that I hold dear in my heart for personal reasons. The title was Ninja Gaiden and it was a game that brought my dad and me closer, frustratingly trying to beat it together without much success. In fact, the game, as it is known in gamer circles, is famous for its crafty story lines but especially because of how challenging it was to beat it. I still have mental pictures of some of the imagery, even though I haven’t played in at least 15 years.

To be continued on another post….

Niels

A view of our world through Google

As many people know already, Google has been developing their world maps using a nifty tool called “Street View” which offers a 360-degree street level imagery of our world. The tool has been expanding progressively from the great metropolises, to also show smaller towns and exotic locations.

“Street View” has now sparked the interest of “e-artists” like Jon Rafman who has explored countless of locations to find unique images. The site is 9eyes.com and, in there, you can find all sorts of incredible pictures that range from the tragic to the simply baffling.

Apparently all of the images are taken “as they are” directly from Google’s Street View and, to my amazement, I have double-checked a couple of them and they have proven to be true (unless they are some kind of elaborate hoax manufactured by the people at Google).

Follow this link to Jon Rafman’s page. Enjoy !

Note: this was taken from today’s AOL homepage….but I thought it would be nice to share some more

Niels

IMDB Top 250: 12 Monkeys (1995)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues….

Among all of the top rated films of the site, there are few that received as little recognition by the public as 12 Monkeys.

The movie, directed by the underrated Terry Gilliam, touches upon a subject that is much too common in contemporary cinema: the extermination, or near extermination of the human race due to a virus that either kills humans completely or partially (zombies!).

In 12 Monkeys, we are presented with a grim future of civilization. 99% of the human race has been completely wiped out and the remaining few now reside in a subterranean world, far away from the virus that has contaminated the air. A good part of the merit of this film can be attributed to the artistry behind the design of this futuristic world, one in which animals roam the surface freely unaffected by the virus, while humans live away from the sun, no longer populating cities and crowding the planet’s resources, but in cages and laboratories. It is a dark world, where civilization is only a shadow of its former glory, trapped indoors, defeated by the circumstances and alienated by its horrible fate.

In this context, we are introduced to James Cole (Bruce Willis), a man secluded in a cage, punished to live like a rat due to his history of aggressive behavior. On a day like any other, James is randomly selected to explore the surface and collect evidence that could continue to lead scientists to find a cure and piece together the events that led to the extermination of the human race. Despite his supposedly delinquent past, James strikes me as one of the more “normal” humans of this virus-ridden world, since even those who sit at the top of this world seem to be caricatures of humans, strange obsessive scientists that have clearly been mentally affected by their inability to find a cure. In James they find yet another rat lab in which to deposit their hope of finding a way out.

After a few successful trips to the surface, the scientists present James with a unique opportunity. He is to travel to the past, using a time machine, right before the first case of the virus was detected. He is told this is an opportunity to find answers and be the hero. Without many options, James starts a journey that takes him to the early 1990s, in the midst of a society that feels foreign to him. His inability to understand his surroundings and adapt to this world quickly put him in a mental institution where he faithfully meets Jeffrey (Brad Pitt), who is to play a major role in the destruction of the human race.

It is at this moment that James starts shaping not only his future, but the events that would follow, finding himself, sometimes accidentally, in the middle of the situation that led to the spreading of the deadly virus.

From here on, the movie presents us with a dual reality, one rooted in the future, and the other in the past. These worlds are obviously very different, but it is in their similarities that the film makes a strong statement. To James, the future clearly sucks, but the past does not feel all that great either as he witnesses a chaotic society full of vice, corruption, crime and poverty. He is, despite his tendency towards aggression and violence, the only one that seems interested in saving civilization, always struggling to find his voice in a world that does not believe in his doomsday theories. Eventually, James finds a confidant, his psychiatrist Kathryn (Madeleine Stowe). She, unlike the rest starts to listen as he proves, time and time again, that he is too rational and strong-willed in the pursuit of his goal to be crazy. As she starts to trust and support him in his quest, James finds a small escape from the huge burden of responsibility and, in doing so, he begins to make us doubt about the real purpose of his quest, making us question if he already feels he is destined to fail, or even more tragically, whether his mission is real at all.

In this sense, the film finds its force in the uncertainty of the plot. The way it works itself out is not only richly complex, but it also makes us doubt, giving the audience a reason to think about the very nature of the conflict, and whether or not the struggle to save humanity is real or simply the wild imagination of a man consumed by paranoia.

With enough twists and turns to make you dizzy; with a familiar yet original way of approaching a familiar movie genre; with a very convincing and entertaining cast; and a great amount of artistry in its portrayal of the past and the future; 12 Monkeys is one of the greatest and most accomplished sci-fi films of all time. I recommend anyone to watch it before a virus kills us all !

Rating: 4 out of 5 (great)

Note: Initially I had 125 films left to watch of the TOP 250 of IMDB. I have now seen 5 of the films and I have reviewed three. Expect a couple of reviews in the coming days exploring “Gran Torino” and the classic “Casablanca”.

Niels

My early thoughts on blogging

After almost 2 months of having created this blog, I have come to realize that it is harder to keep it alive than I had previously predicted.

For me, blogging has becomeĀ an exercise in writing, in artistic exploration and stimulation, but above everything else, it has become a form of self-discipline. In fact, I believe it requires a certain kind of person to keep writing when there is absolutely no pressure to write. To keep this blog alive I only depend on my own perseverance, and my desire to prevent this “e-object” I have created to fall into the very large annals of orphaned blogs that plague the web. In this sense, blogging has quickly become a part of what I do with my time, yet another responsibility of my young adult life.

Every post that has been uploaded has demanded a significant amount of time. They have all required countless updates to improve the writing, but also to make sure every post flows in an organized and intelligent manner. From my film reviews to my architecture studies, every post has required some research and self-examination. There is also a lot of self-imposed pressure to keep things interesting, fresh and rich in content and variety, which demands not only time but also a great deal of imagination.

After a promising start, I have lagged a little as of late in terms of the frequency of my posts. The intent is to keep the frequency of uploads as high as possible, but never over-doing my capacity to put out intelligent, well-written content. I think a healthy goal is to upload new posts at least once a week, if not more. Another on-going attempt to improve the quality of this blog will be to expand my horizons and touch upon a greater variety of subjects, but never forcing an issue or a theme for the sake of posting something new. Every post and every sentence has to come out of an unique desire to write and stimulate my need to be creative and feed my appetite for knowledge.

So far, I have two on-going projects that I have started and that I intent to finish whilst not sacrificing my desire to explore other subjects.

Mission to watch the top 250 films of IMDB

My goal here is to watch and share my opinions on the top rated 250 movies of the site IMDB (the internet movie database) in which film fanatics from all over the world have contributed by assigning a star rating to movies they have seen. The highest rated movies of all time are displayed in a special section in the site simply called “top 250“. For years now, it has become one of the most quoted and trusted sources to find the absolute best of cinema.

The start date for this mission was March 22nd and I gave myself a deadline of two years to view and review the 125 films I have yet to watch.

My mission comes as a fun challenge that will introduce me (hopefully) to some of the best films of the history of cinema that I have yet to see and give me the opportunity to share my opinions on them. It will be my responsibility to watch but also post a review of each one, whether it is in praise or in a disappointed tone.

So far I have seen 5 of those movies, but I have only reviewed 2: The King’s Speech and Blade Runner. The promise is to post reviews of “Casablanca”, “12 Monkeys” and “Gran Torino” in the near future while keeping up with the list.

Searching for the perfect Chicago Skyscraper

Perhaps a bit more challenging than the previous goal given the fact that it has proven to be a bit more intellectually demanding. The series has now 3 parts and will probably end up having around 10.

So far I have analyzed some architecture failures in the city that saw the birth of the skyscraper, but I have also managed to shed a light on some of the great accomplished high-rises that have permeated the city in over 100 years of history.

I do not know how this series will develop exactly, but I hope I reach some sort of surprising conclusion in which I either select my so-called “perfect” Chicago skyscraper, or I establish a rich encyclopedia that sets the base for what represents good high-rise architecture and which might be the best examples of that in Chicago.

To find my series, go into the “architecture section” of my blog

Niels

2 years with Arcade Fire

I was first introduced to Arcade Fire through an ex. I am not exactly sure when, but I am pretty sure it was in his car heading to God knows where. My ex had the habit of stashing a big pile of CDs in his car, some of which would often end up in the floor, hiding bellow the seats or even falling as we opened the doors. As avid fans of Radiohead and anything that has had any relation to the band at any level, my ex and I often agreed in terms of music taste. While his music preferences had started to evolve away from alternative rock and more towards indie-dance, he still kept a small selection of indie-rock within his stash. Among them was Arcade Fire and the CD of theirs he would so casually pick was Neon Bible, their sophomore LP.

There was something about the music that I listened to that day that immediately intrigued me. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but there was enough in my first few listens to drive me to continue to listen with increasing affection. After a week or so, I remember Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible had become a customary part of all of my car rides, even when my ex was not exactly thrilled about my new-found love given that his liking for the band had begun to subside.

In Neon Bible, I would find solace in its profound lyrics, embedded with layers of meaning that accompanied me through my break-up (it had nothing to do with my dictatorial control over music, just in case you’re wondering….). Songs like “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” or “Antichrist Television Blues” just had an intrinsic quality to them that moved me, often taking me to a place of sadness, but also of inspiration.

Fittingly, my ex was also responsible for the introduction of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, a few months after we had consummated and even accepted our separation. It turns out he gave me the band’s first album as a “gift” in an attempt to make amends and salvage at least a friendship out of our long relationship. I accepted his gesture and, to this day, I hold on to his CD, although the gesture did not pan out to be more than our last musical exchange, a memoir to a relationship that wasn’t meant to be.

Funeral, as he had told me many times, was a better album. For as long as I kept listening to Neon Bible, I simply had refused to expand my horizon into what sounded to me, after very short listens, as a far more pedestrian LP. It wasn’t long in my new found solitude that I found a friend in Funeral, an even better friend than Neon Bible. The album was simpler, with less grandiosity but far more meaningful songs that bordered on the “simply gorgeous” stature. The first and best song “Neighborhood (Tunnels)” painted a picture for me like few songs ever have. This was a picture of nostalgia for childhood, for family and for a long lost love. Like the rest of the album, “Neighborhood” was coated with an aura of sadness and unfulfilled desires that I related to. Funeral, unlike its follow-up, allowed the band’s front man Edwin Butler to excel with his tuneful but always nostalgic voice, never truer than in the gloomy “Crown of Love”.

As it was the case in Neon Bible, Funeral leaves some of the best for last. While the first had the grand but effective “My Body is a Cage”, Arcade Fire crowned the exquisite Funeral with the beautiful voice of Butler’s wife, Regine Chassagne, in the introverted and meaningful “In the Backseat”.

It would be a long while before I had the chance to put my hands on new Arcade Fire material since, once again, I found myself trapped by one of their albums and I was reluctant to explore beyond, perhaps wary of possible disappointment. Nevertheless, my desire to listen to new tracks eventually dissipated my doubts and I downloaded (legally I might add) their third and last LP to date: The Suburbs.

Once again, I was pulled into a world of powerful lyrics, with moving melodies that ranged from the grandeur exhibited in Neon Bible, to the more quaint and simple quality of Funeral, but also introducing a type of in-your-face rock side to their music they hadn’t shown much of. Some songs were truly refreshing and different within their brand of music, while others were familiar but even more polished and triumphant than in their previous work.

The Suburbs is, in their relatively young career, THE album that every indie-rock band wants to make. The album is the evolution of their brand, taking the very best qualities from their previous two efforts and putting them all together to create a repertoire that could easily end up being their “magnus opus”. In fact, it is hard to think of an album by their making that could reach superior heights, but then again, they have always managed to surprise me.

From the very first track that bears the title of the album, passing through “Modern Man”, “City with no Children”, “Deep Blue” and “We Used to Wait”, the album remains steadily great, rarely encountering weak moments that are more commonly found in either Funeral or Neon Bible. It is on that consistency of sound, of being able to grab, keep and elevate your attention that The Suburbs feels superior than anything I have heard for a long time.

I can only say I hope more of the same comes and that Arcade Fire remains at the same level, never settling for less and, even though I am doubtful about their ability to continue to outdo themselves, I can at least hope for more high-quality albums that deserve all of my love and attention.

Niels

Film review: Skyline (2010)

There are some movies that are just awful, lacking any redeemable qualities to be appreciated at any level. Skyline, released as the latest incarnation of the Alien invasion movie sub-genre, is certainly one of the truest examples I can remember of utter mediocrity.

I came across this disastrous movie on a night of boredom, lacking the drive to find something original to do and even with the knowledge that the film I was about to rent had received dismal reviews from critics and viewers. However, I decided to give it a chance not only in a desperate attempt to relieve my boredom, but also because it is almost always possible (but not in this case) to find something of value within a film that most people deemed as terrible (no two minds think alike !)

Having past the first five minutes of the movie, Skyline had already lost me. The film begins midway in the story only to take us back, as many other movies do, to the events that led to the moment we first witnessed. It turns out that it was important for a movie lacking any credible emotional or rational substance to try to establish the setting or back-story for lifeless characters we end up not caring about. It could have actually worked better if the film-makers had just made a movie about Aliens killing humans we don’t know the names of. As it turns out, I was relieved that the Aliens were clearly winning and that the characters presented to us were being eliminated swiftly and without much opposition.

Movies such as these do not fail because they lack the funding (Skyline was made for a quite modest $ 10 million) to support the usual grandeur that such a genre tends to require, they fail because they try too hard to be grand and accomplish many things, failing miserably in every level. In addition, we have seen that Sci-fi films about aliens or UFOs can be made for relatively small budgets and accomplish good results, which was the case of the original Alien, District 9, 12 Monkeys and many other great films.

Rating: 1 out of 5 (very bad)

Niels