Sunday, August 24, 2014

Triplets of Belleville

            What a lovely oddity. Triplets of Belleville is one of those films that are both easy and hard to describe.  It easily the weirdest animated family film of all time; then again, that implies if kids are actually patient enough for it.  For one there are only about two decipherable lines of dialogue in this film, though it does not really need them. The story is like a Don Bluth film, which is about a kidnapped cyclist being saved by his heroic grandmother, their dog, and three jazz singers, yet the filmmakers prefer to linger on the moments between the plot beats than creating a tight narrative. The film is so surreal that it can feel baffling yet it is these style choices that makes this film it so poignant. Whereas some say “it is about the journey and not the destination” Triplets of Belleville goes even further by being about the people that support the journey.
            It is a testament to the talent of the animators that they can be so surreal yet so expressive that little dialogue is needed to make a sensible and engaging story.  The film reveals how much a viewer can take visuals and sounds for granted by greatly emphasizing the former over the later.  While jarring initially, it is funny and inspiring to see the cyclist evolve suddenly from a round kid with a tricycle to this stringy man with watermelon crushing thighs.  The animation is also why the lingering bit work so well, seeing an old lady tune and play the refrigerator like a harp is cooler than any car chase because of how idiosyncratic, intricate and more importantly character defining these moments are the characters more fascinating than the journey itself, which is encapsulated by an ending that brings warm nostalgia for family and friends that have left or passed on.
            Triplets of Belleville is a strangely brilliant film, not just because the odd animation is fun to watch but also because of its ability to incite a very personal nostalgia. Not the tacky nostalgia that like a 80s hair metal revival band concert but the kind that will make people want to call up their parents to say “thanks.” It is a painful but warm film that sticks to the head.

(Triplets of Belleville is available on Netflix and DVD)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Raid 2 (aka The Raid 2: Berandal)

            The first film in The Raid series was something akin to getting adrenaline shot directly into heart. Just pure non-stop action including guns, gore, as well as some of the most hard-hitting and spectacular martial arts ever filmed.  It was the best action film of the new century and it seemed like nothing would ever top it… then The Raid 2 came along and slapped that title away. But in all seriousness, Goddamn is it relentless! The Raid 2 takes the ultra violent action of the first film weaves it into this cool crime drama in order to create a stylized epic that would have made Bruce Lee and Jean-Pierre Melville proud.
            The most polarizing bit about The Raid 2 is the plot because it is very simple for a two and half hour film. The Raid 2 takes place moments after the first film where our hero Rama, noble rookie cop/martial arts savant, is ordered to infiltrate a national crime syndicate and kicks ass^2 until it all burns down. The plot is not much different from some of John Woo’s films but it transcends that crutch with very intense, expressive, and diverse visual style. The film has a surprisingly sharp-dressed sense of cool, similar to films like La Samourai and Drive, but with the violence of said films being brought to the forefront instead simmer underneath its atmosphere.
             Many of the major plot points in the film are emphasized through the use of huge fight sequences.  For example, when a crime lord hires an assassin, instead of following it with a sneaky kill, it cuts to a fight sequence between the assassin and a dozen targets on the streets.  Anyone looking solely for story will think the fight sequences are excessive, which is like complaining that Singin’ in the Rain has too many well-executed songs. Unlike The Raid, where the premise is admittedly an excuse for fighting, The Raid 2 instead uses violence as a way to enhance the plot. Many characters in the story talk about ambition and “reaching beyond one’s limits” which, in the crime world, means killing off the competition, cops and et cetera. The martial arts, while amazing in its own right, becomes rather poetic by provide a very literal parallel to this theme of ambition.
            The Raid 2 is ultimately a lot more of the original film plus some things that were never expected from a martial arts film. The fight scenes are amazing as usual but it is pleasant surprise to see the action serve the plot and not the other way around.  It borrows stylistic ideas from a huge assortment of films in such a manner that it becomes a unique salad of a film.  If anything the biggest flaw of The Raid 2 is that the way it expands from the first films and experiments tone and pacing may just make it even more alienating for most people. It is easily the most violent, ambitious and daring action film of the year, which is what most aficionados would expect from this series, but whether this will appeal to anyone else is difficult to say. Nevertheless, as a pure action film, The Raid 2 exceeds the high as heaven expectations laid by its predecessor with an identity that is clearly its own.

            (The Raid 2 is available on Blu-ray and DVD)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune

             Filmmaking is a rough business where even the most efficient filmmakers can lose their dream project due to things like weak funding, disinterested buyers, or even bad weather. It is rough but as Jodorowsky’s Dune shows is that failing to finish a project is never a complete loss. Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary about director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 3-year attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune only for no American studio to actually pay any interest in it. But the documentary surprisingly not about regret as it examines the people of the Dune crew created some of their best art based on their experience working on it and how that inspiration swelled over the decades.
            The true subject and star of Jodorowsky’s Dune is arguably Jodorowsky himself. Alejandro Jodorowsky is less an avant-garde filmmaker than he is a cosmic wizard that wants to reveal the pain and beauty of the universe but humans fail to understand his space lingo.  This is a man who is not just inspired by LSD; he is the kind of guy who will slip it into his special effects supervisor and say, “make that.” His methods are insane but what the film reveals is that he produces brilliant results. When creating the film Dune he completed the pre-production phase with a script, storyboard, as well as a cast and crew including H.R Giger, Dan O’Bannon, Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, MĹ“bius and even Orson Welles.  Jodorowsky’s insider tales alone makes this film a wonderful experience because he bursts with the type of extroverted charisma that anyone, let alone artists, would yearn to have.
            Ultimately, Jodorowsky’s version of Dune never went past the pitch meetings but the experience that this collective had was clearly cherished. For example Dan O’Bannon went on to write Alien and H.R Giger became the art director for it, both of them drew inspiration from their work on Dune. Jodorowsky’s Dune could have simply been a stark reminder of the fickle business that is filmmaking but it subverts that idea to become a loving homage to struggling artists.  One of the most painful thoughts in life to believe everything that one creates or does is useless. But Jodorowsky’s Dune is a film that argues that even the broken pieces of the worst kinds of disasters are still salvageable and who does not love that?

            (Jodorowsky’s Dune is available on Blu-ray/DVD. Also, if anyone knows if Jodorowsky had ever published a Dune concept art or story-board book, could you send me a link? That would be awesome.)