Black Coal, Thin Ice – Could Have Been a Cliché, But Wasn’t

Indeed, Chinese filmmaker Diao Yinan wrote and directed the story following an inspector, Zhang Zili – played by the outstanding Liao Fan – who from 1999 (year A) to 2005 (year Z), got divorced, was fired from the Police force and became an alcoholic; a detective-evolution cliché.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.19.55Everything started in year A, when Zhang sees his wife – who asked for divorce – for the last time and the year when a first dismembered corpse was find in a coal refinery. This is a starting point of a series of murders, all of men.

Yin’s camerawork is breathtaking, some shots are extremely poetic, not to mention the transcendent photography. A sensitivity continuing, accentuating, getting warmer and darker as the movie goes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.22.38 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.23.03 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.24.37Zhang along with his colleague Wang (Yu Ailei) found a lead, which turned very wrong – into a blood bath – causing the detective his termination.
With a same amazing style and light, the director offers a real pleasure for the eye; the neons of a suspicious underground.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.29.33 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.29.44 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.31.37An ellipse flash-forwards us to 2005; a new similar murder happened. Zhang, who was in bad shape, aimless, fell into Wang, who got promoted with the years. Lucky for Zhang he got the most important info, about the case, and lead him own investigation.
What saves Black Coal, Thin Ice, from turning into a cliché, is the relationship between Zhang and the woman who’s husband was the first murdered ; Wu Zhizhen (Gwei Lun-Mei). One of the best exploration of ambiguous desire.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 8.32.32Zhang follows her, from where she works to where she lives, until they finally start to sew a weird relationship. Their evolution is combined with desire, love-like, and duty; Zhang wants to catch her in every way possible, catch a woman as cold as ice, expressionless, passive and yet very imposant.
In a very Nicolas Winding Refn-like atmosphere, the two characters are evolving around a sensitive police case, that distorts the genuineness of what, us, spectators, observe.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 10.28.49 Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 8.28.43Black Coal, Thin Ice, is a very poetic thriller, with overwhelming beauty wrapping up some scenes. It will more esthetically captivate you than catch you with its story (which is fragile), and yet, the cinematography will pushes you to focus on Zhang/Wu duo, and get the essence of BCTI.

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Wild Palms – Dream Carefully

Wild Palms is one of those TV Series, along with Twin Peaks – and Hannibal to cite something more recent – that I particularly fashioned because of theirs disturbing, hypnotizing concepts and developments. And actually, Wild Palms has the same kind of atmosphere palpable in David Lynch‘s two seasons complex thriller. 

Bruce Wagner, the brain behind this mini-series, collaborated with Oliver Stone in order to produce his creation, and this is not to ignore.
Anyway, risking to sound too pretentious, I believe Wild Palms is a TV Show that only cinephiles could appreciate in its whole, and might never forget like one couldn’t forget Inland Empire. It has complex dynamics, and a listing of art references, being the exquisite centenary wine touching the lips of an oenologist, of a thirsty cinephile. 

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 4.17.19Truce poetry. Wild Palms is divided in six parts; the pilot, “Everything Must Go” / “The Floating World covered part 1 and 2, and was directed by Peter Hewitt and Keith Gordon. We are directly introduced to confrontations such as reality and dreams, technological advance and religion, violence and mystery; Cronenberg and Lynch. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 12.57.43Harry Wyckoff (James Belushi) is our guy, he’s married to Grace (Dana Delany), has two children; a boy, Coty (Ben Savage) and a girl, Deirdre: what a perfect nuclear family. 

Harry is a lawyer, and a successful one, and until he ran into Paige Katz (Kim Cattrall), his first love, everything was almost okay. Catalyzer. Harry is introduced by her, to senator Tony Kreutzer (Robert Loggia), leader of the Synthiotic, a religious sect (parallelism with the scientology), who happened to create a revolutionary visual technology; the Mimecon; allowing to project holograms, later used in television where the news, movies, TV shows etc would happen in your living room, bedroom or whatever.

The most exciting thing, is the mini-series’ construction, as a dream, with strong blinding lights in background and blurry halos, and it emphasizes a lot on that, and technology of holograms, focusing then on perception and visual accessibility. Wild Palms is really pointing out what our eyes might see, what we can observe, how we can distinct reality from imaginary and illusions, and maybe what we can experience, like a drug experience, from those.
The character of Senator Kreutzer wants to take his technology to the next level, and enter people’s dreams, in order to conquer our unconscious, an unknown, and un-flagged territory, letting madness and ferocity burn him from the inside. 

Eccentric characters, threatening world(s), voyeurism and obsession of power, everything is basically set in the pilot. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-23 at 8.08.12Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 4.50.48Part III – “Rising Sons” directed by Kathryn Bigelow

In this episode, you are more informed about the “Fathers” and “Friends” opposed, almost-political, teams, the dictators/the totalitarians, ordered and neat and the revolutionary, scattered, and ferociously courageous. 
Obviously, Kreutzer is one of the Fathers, they are recognizable by the tattoo of a palm tree on their hands. They are vicious, perverse, they kidnap their enemies’ kids and replace them by theirs. This highlights the double connotation of the word “father” which primary meaning looses its status. 

Thus, a crucial element must be evoked here, the rhinoceros; indeed, this animal appears in Harry’s dreams, it is an image that is used by the Fathers and the synthetic church, and here the symbolism is taken from Eugène Ionesco‘s play Rhinoceros, in which people turn into rhinoceroses. It is reminding the dictatorial aspect of the Fathers, wanting to impose their power to the population, and for that has to use the control of the mass and the establishment of a kind of uniformity. 

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Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 3.26.21So, Wild Palms openly plays on references, metaphors, visual spectacles and the essence of originality and fine and unique core, is centered in the script, and of course, its transposition into images. 

Part IV and V that aren’t together, but I am only discussing something in part IV. “Hungry Ghost” and “Hello, I Must Be Going” directed respectively by Keith Gordon and Phil Joanou

I was chocked, and it isn’t quite the right word to describe my reaction when I saw “MAPS TO THE STARS” written with capital letters on a white wall in part IV. 
The cronenbergian technological advances cited in Wild Palms, reached the extent of being predicative; of Cronenberg’s new movie. The connection between those two pieces of art is more than relevant, this coincidence was extraordinary well placed. 

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 3.59.41But this is only an anecdote. Then, to wrap up, Wild Palms is a great mini-series, that would have been an outstanding movie or a revolutionary TV Show of a dozen of seasons, because of its potential, and possession of its looking-like infinite resources. It is an experience, a cinematic experience, a dystopia mixing economy, politic, religion and development. A dystopia that mixes our past, present and future. It’s an exhaustive work, translating a meticulous study on symbolism in art.

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Charlie Countryman – True Love Hasn’t Been This Wrong

Seriously, Charlie Countryman could have been 10 times greater if Matt Drake, the scenarist, didn’t try to mix up every genres; fantastic, thriller, romance, comedy; my head hurts.
Fredrik Bond, the director, is the second to blame fo being this pretentious thinking his camera could have been able to vomit a unicorn after swallowing all those genres. And most of all, he is to blame for thinking Shia LaBeouf and a Romanian/ginger Evan Rachel Wood could make a good couple; blasphemy.

Well, the story; to understand where Bond got alienated by his creativity. Charlie, played by LaBeouf, just lost his mom (Melissa Leo), who appeared as a ghost to guide him for the last time, she told him to go to Bucarest (for no reason). He took the plane, sat next to a weird guy who died, and again, appeared as a ghost and told Charlie to bring a hat he bought from Chicago to his daughter and tell him a sentence in Romanian.

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Chapter 2; Charlie meets Gabi, played by Evan Rachel Wood, with an awful accent. And from now on, nonsense actions will happened one after another.

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Charlie falls in love; obviously, but falls also into a Romanian mafia, where every one wants to kill him. Nigel (Madd Mikkelsen) Gabi’s ex-husband who is still deeply in love with her, and the head of a strip-club, Drako (Til Schweiger), and that’s not the only the only character of Harry Potter you will find:

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Anyway, road trip turning into a manhunt, where you will see Shia LaBeouf running a lot for many reasons by fear or happiness.

Fear:
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Happiness:

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The movie wants to be a sort of modern/fantastic love story with The XX playing during a sex scene, but it isn’t a success really.

The only good point I could give is for the color palette, and thus for the really beautiful photography.

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I have nothing much to say, a shame that Madd Mikkelsen’s only presence or Shia LaBeouf’s performance weren’t enough to save Charlie Countryman, really a shame.

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Still worst couple ever.

Insomnia – Guilty Conscious

I loved Christopher Nolan‘s debuts. Following, Memento and then Insomnia.
He showed all his great potential, flabbergasted us with his elaborated technique in the thriller genre.
And Insomnia gathered all the elements previously seen in his movies, elements of light, structure, and the use of human memory, or brain, through images well handled.

This 2002 film has created another layer though, something profound and complex. Insomnia deals with a feeling hard to get over to; guilt.

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Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a brillant cop, but he is discharged from a case and sent to Alaska with his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) in order to solve a “casual” homicide.
A 17 years old girl is found on a pile of garbage, dead by strangulation. From that established situation, or point, the whole movie is going in circles around that growing little sphere of suffocation.

Quickly enough we’re caught in a chase between potential killer and Will. However, chases there in Alaska aren’t really easy, they are full of obstacles, if it is not rocks and fog, its wood and water. It isn’t going to be easy.
Indeed, in the first chase in the fog, lacking of sight, Will shoots to death an armed silhouette. Unfortunately it isn’t the killer, no, it is Hap, and the killer? He saw everything.

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Insomnia really begins here. Will won’t be able to sleep until the end of the movie. He said once that a good cop can’t sleep because he misses some pieces of the puzzle, and a bad cop can’t sleep because he’s lugging something in his conscious, well now he is caught between those two situations.
The murderer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a poor writer is thus going to blackmail Dormer, and suggests a partnership; a kind of “if you don’t say a word, everything is going to be okay, and I won’t say a word”.

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What Nolan did wonderfully is in drawing thin lines marking off the difference between those two men. Lines of morals, values and ethic. A tiny little silk determining that border differentiating a cop from a criminal; when both didn’t mean to kill, but each one had a particular situation to respond to. Nolan added an equation to the movie to which we may consider two options. One would be -x + (-x) = -x and x – (-x) = +x. Are they both guilty? Or just Walter?

The director worked on a perfect composition with flashbacks, present images and effects of insomnia. The cop is subjected to hallucinations, auditive and visual. Then sounds are louder, flashbacks of Hap’s death are popping here and there, and sometimes Will sees him. Nolan updated Hillary Seitz‘s scenario (already adapted from Erik Skjoldbjaerg‘s novel) thanks to visual aids, and did a more than a respectable job.

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The graduate suspense of what each character will do is keeping you alert, and curious, even though some things are pretty predictable, you might be inclined to questioned the plot anyway.

What is useful to retain from Insomnia is that sleeping is when your conscious in cleared, but death is when your conscious is purged.

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The Killing – The Peak of Film Noir

Stanley Kubrick‘s future as a film director, was quite promising after 1956. He astonished people with his young age, and yet, large amount of experience, and potential. The Killing was the mouth-watering starter, of a nice film menu.

The filmmaker managed to transform a basic story, into a full of suspense, brilliantly mastered thriller, sprinkled by a noir atmosphere and context. Indeed, the movie deals with a group of men, going to rob a racetrack, for different personal reasons. The mastermind, Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden), wanted to escape with his lady, Val (Coleen Gray), the city but also their lousy apartment, to a more luxurious life. George Peatty (Elisha Cook), a betting window teller, was trying to impress his wife, Sherry (Marie Windson) who was clearly not in love, and complaining about their lack of resources. Marvin Vinger (Jay C. Flippen), his character was quite interesting, because Kubrick, established with him, an implicit, and discrete hint of homosexuality. Indeed, Marvin, who was maybe 65 years old, was secretly attracted by Johnny who much younger. As in the 50’s, homosexuality was quite taboo if too much explicit, the young filmmaker managed to make it light, but still very present. Well, there’s left two important characters, including a bartender at the racetrack Mike O’Reilly (Joe Sawyer) who needed money to pay for heir wife’s medical treatment and Randy Keenan (Ted DeCorsia) a gambler cop with a $3000 debt.

The fact that each one had an individual reason to steal that money, shaped the whole film noir concept. That is, based on each one’s sin (except maybe for Mike), life didn’t give them no mercy, therefore one mistake in their meticulous plan, could make everything burst into fire.
And to support the crime thriller genre, Kubrick decided to structure his movie using flashbacks, and focusing on each character when coming to take the plan into action. He added the value of time, in order to accentuate on the fact that, one mistake or lateness could ruin everything.

The Killing describes people that weren’t necessarily muggers, but people desperate to leave the country, hoping to improve their current lives, in parallel with what was going on at that time in America; the Cold War. But unfortunately, uncontrollable forces were creating situations that were grotesques, and really dumb, leading to some fatalistic turnovers. Therefore, the suspense is clearly the motif of why The Killing is a good movie. We, spectators, were craving to know how their plan will be put into action. We assisted to the characters, throwing away their integrity and seeing their, sort of, stability slipping away.

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The last thing I wanted to add, not as a feminist, but more with an objective point of view, is that women, even in Killer’s Kiss, are pains in the neck. They are wether, real vicious, manipulative, and liars, or passive and totally depending on their men. And I personally think that this image of the woman, will not really change in his future movies.

In a nutshell, The Killing truly embodies, the concept of film noir and is a great tale of how madness only lead to fatalistic ends.

Gravity – Movie of the Year?

Well, we can discuss that.

Big screen, 3D glasses, some pop corn, and here you go, projected into space, floating to some country music.
George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are Matt Kowalski and Ryan Stone, two astronauts sent to fix something with their space shuttle, named Explorer. They are suddenly ordered to be abort their mission, due to several asteroids running straight to them, and susceptible to destroy their space shuttle.
The catastrophes, kept on coming though out the film, but during approximatively the first 15 minutes of the film, except for Ryan Stone kept alive thanks to Kowalski’s gallantry, each member of the crew dies. Fear, anxiousness, accelerated heartbeat, can Gravity be more stressful?

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Nevertheless, it can be considered as Alfonson Cuarón‘s best graphic work since Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Indeed, Gravity is first of all, an aesthetic movie, with amazing graphics, an outstanding photography, and the stress felt while watching it, might come from this too-close-to-reality side of the film. Thus, spectators were so captivated, and a little messed up, once the movie ended, staggering out of the movie theater. Because, Gravity is an indisputable and astonishing tableau of space, and a well conducted disaster movie, full of technical, well mastered secrets, and yet it is not a tale about astronauts. There is no ideas, really spread out from it, there is only jaw dropping special effects. Ryan Stone, had luck, perseverances, and hallucinations; those three elements gave her strength, and courage, to struggle, and find a way out, of this enormous nowhere place, that is the universe, and come home, to Earth. This universe, that after all, we don’t know much about, is what Cuarón used in his movie, to attract, and bewitched his spectators. The fact that, we deal with an unknown place, a whole new world or collection of worlds gathered in one big plain of emptiness, is what trigger the fear, in us. The fear of nothingness, and not knowing where to go; this might sound like a quote from an emo kid, but after all, its just a feeling, that we might feel power ten, once confronted to space.

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Now, to say it is the movie of the year, I would say no. No because, it is just a movie about stunning the audience, by breathtaking and nail-biting scenes, mixing up, beauty and horror. There’s no ideas, no messages, just beautiful pictures to keep in mind. Then, what I was disappointed about, is that, is has the same impact, of a basic horror movie, that needs, technical skills, and great suspense. Not to mention, the end, a little bit fetched that seizures the pretty constant line of emotions felt until then.

If Gravity might not be the movie of the year, Sandra Bullock is certainly the actress of the year. The greatly identified the character, and embodied it perfectly. She knew how to pass on emotions, and proved strong and gripping actress qualities and gave birth to that something we can’t really put a hand on, in the movie.

However, despite this good elements, what is Gravity after all? Another brick to the wall of blockbusters.

Pi – Mathematical Paranoïa

Belief: Darren Aronofsky possesses a superior mind.

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This director never disappointed me, always surprised me. He find the slightest vulnerability of the human being, and expand on it, turning the failing element into a psychological-harmful obsession.
In Pi, his first movie, Aronofsky, focuses on a men, named Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), who’s, due to a childhood accident, developed a higher intelligence. And as a genius, he’s neither happy, nor social. Mathematician, he became little by little obsessed with numbers, trying to find patterns everywhere.
He’s then approached by both, Wall Street spies trying to extort from him the existence and meaning of a potential financial glitch and a jewish corporation, believing the true name of God, is in the Torah and possesses 216 words.
Coincidence or not, 216 has been a known number for Max, who ran on it while he was working on computerize stuff. A bug? A holy number? Madness took him, and his obsession began.
Suffering from odd crisis, triggered by over-work, and pressure, Max, had been hallucinating, and developing a sort of tumor. Nevertheless, he continued to try to find the meaning of this number, a number which haunted his life, soon resumed to this only thing.

Persecuted by both organizations, he suffered from strong paranoia and experienced blurred memories recalling. Thus, Darren Aronofsky, didn’t only torture his character, but also his spectators, victims of Max’s craziness, and the consequences of his defective mind. Filmed in black and white, the glaucous, oppressive, even claustrophobic, atmosphere, just got heavier with this color choice. We are trapped into an intern point of view, and therefore, the main character’s brain, where we’re looking desperately a way to escape, but are not finding it, and deeply, don’t really want to find it. And all the power of the hypnotic movie, is this sort of technological cage representation, which is itself, constituted of patterns we are trying to understand, and not escape. Just like Max is trying to understand what’s been around him, and not trying to runway from it. Alas, it will lead him to dementia and psychedelic physical and mental crisis.

Capitalization, power, money, Israeli-Palestinian conflict or just illness? What is it really about?  The director, is giving this freedom to the spectator to interpret Pi, as he wants. However, it stays a stylish hallucinatory thriller, captivating and stifling.