Man Push Cart (2005)

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Man Push Cart is a 2005 film directed by Ramin Bahrani starring Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, and Charles Daniel Sandoval.  This film talks about a man named Ahmad Razvi who is a Pakistani immigrant living in New York City selling bagels, coffee, and tea in a big push cart.  Ahmad wakes up very early each morning to take his push cart to a corner to sell his goods. As is to be expected, Ahmad meets some of the same customers every day.  Eventually, he meets a Pakistani businessman named Mohammad who offers him work at his home.  Once Ahmad begins work at Mohammad’s, Mohammad realizes that Ahmad is no ordinary push cart worker, but Ahmad reveals that he is the famous Pakistani singer Mohammad suspected.

One of the themes presented in this film was how “Bahrani shows one of his inspirational books in this film to be The Myth of Sisyphus which was written by Albert Camus. This story is about a man who spends his life rolling a heavy rock up a hill, only to see it roll back down again” (Roger Ebert reporting from Sundance). Ahmads life closely resembles this struggle.  Another theme presented in this film was how Ahmad seems to sometimes appear as a (working class) hero and at other times, especially towards the end, seems like an anti-hero.  The theme of life and work coinciding is present throughout.  Bahrani makes it appear as if life revolves around day to day work.  The audience is also alerted to the past of Ahmad but the plot neither dives too deep into the past nor too far into the future of Ahmad’s activities.  Another thematic element the plot introduces is that of immigrant life and how grueling and oftentimes unfair.  At other times in the film, the plot reveals how much opportunity is available in American life.

The plot of the film is very interesting and engaging.  There are many scenes throughout the film that keep the audience guessing and speculating Ahmad’s actions or those of other characters.  One of the most intriguing parts of this film was how dark, sad and gloomy life as an immigrant can be.  Another few interesting aspects of the film’s plot was how the script chose not to explore the past life of Ahmad who was a very popular singer in Pakistan and chose instead to suggest that Ahmad’s life would continue the way it has been with his push cart.  The plot provided the audience with a very dramatic couple of scenes which included a kitten dying as well as the loss of trust between Ahmad and his son.

The cinematography used in this film is great.  The camera angles and depth give the audience a real world look at the story and of the character Ahmad.  What is interesting in the film is how very few flashbacks are shown, but rather present-day scenes are shown which make the audience wonder as to the past life Ahmad once had and what lay in storage for his future.  The ending of the film provides the audience with a hint as to what the future holds for Ahmad.  For example, the ending shows Ahmad covering a friend’s push cart shift at a neighboring corner.  A customer comes up to Ahmad and asks about the usual attendant.  Ahmad replies by saying that the usual guy will be back tomorrow.  This scene is reminiscent of the beginning scene when Ahmad questions the Spanish woman about his Pakistani friend and when he will return; she replies by saying soon.  But in fact, he moves to Albany for another job.  Overall, this film provides an unusual but rather entertaining form of cinema which seemingly brings out various emotions in its audience and provides an overall balance.

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Man On Wire (2008)

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Man on Wire is a 2008 documentary film directed by James Marsh chronicling the amazing life of Philippe Petit who is a French wire walker.  The film documents the ambitious life of Philippe Petit and his ultimate desire of walking between the World Trade Center towers.  The movie draws the attention of its audience to the miraculous and daring feats of wire walking in places such as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a bridge in Sydney Australia, and of course the World Trade Center.  The plot details the beginning of Philippe Petit in his adventurous pursuit of wire walking leading up to his most anticipated wire walk between the two towers.

This documentary has a few literary themes present throughout.  One of the themes is that Mr. Petit is a persistent man who perseveres in his wire walking endeavor to accomplish his ultimate goal of crossing between the World Trade Center’s two towers.  Another thematic element used in the documentary is how the director intertwined the idea of the World Trade Center so well into the plot that the WTC brought out emotions in the audience since its destruction in 2001.  The director portrays the WTC in a positive light and gives the impression that the film is meant to somewhat commemorate the WTC.  Some of the imagery used in this film depicts Philippe Petit as a person who is walking in thin air or rather walking in the clouds.  Many of the distant shots especially from the ground level show Philippe as merely a black speck in between two protruding structures.  These scenes provided the audience with an idea of what Philippe Petit experiences while climbing.  The wire walking scenes show how brave, fearless, and concentrated Mr. Petit is during his stunts.

The documentary’s plot is interesting and creative.  The boldness Philippe has while wire walking was nothing short of amazing.  The film’s plot has a rather simplistic and realistic aspect to it meaning that the documentary is easy and enjoyable to follow.  The plot of the film basically starts as most films do in that it begins with Philippe Petit’s earliest attempts in life at becoming a good wire walker and overall entertainer.  As the documentary progresses, the audience is shown intermittent clips of preparation for his famous trek at the World Trade Center.  Finally, the film’s last ten minutes include Philippe’s wire walk at the WTC and the consequences he faced after his little stunt.

The documentary’s cinematography is quite good to say the least.  The camera movements and shots of Phillipe are great because the camera would switch from numerous shots at ground level and some shots are taken suspended while on the wire.   These feats in camera movement with their contrasting high and low angles provide the viewing audience a real life feel of actually being present at the event(s).  One positive aspect seen in this film is how the documentary includes many old news reels and old photographs of many sites Philippe Pitet covered.  Overall, the documentary/film provides the audience with dazzling feats performed on major structures and gives the viewers a special look at the life and legacy Philippe Pitet achieved in his wire walking and entertaining days.

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Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Good Bye, Lenin! is a 2003 German film directed by Wolfgang Becker starring Daniel Brühl, Katrin Sass, Chulpan Khamatova, and Maria Simon.  This film bases its plot on the events which unfolded during the fall of Communism in East Germany and ultimately the Soviet Union.  The movie begins with a young man named Alex Kerner (Daniel Brühl) who narrates to the audience how his life was in East Germany during the forty year occupation by the Soviet Union.  He explains how his mother was the sole provider of the children due to his father’s absence in the West.  Later, Alex attends a freedom of speech rally in October of 1989 where he is arrested by the Stassi.  Sadly, his mother sees the protestors at the rally and recognizes Alex as a protestor which causes her to collapse due to a heart attack.   Finding his mother to be in a coma, Alex realizes that during her absence, she would miss the collapse of Communism.  Once she awakens from her coma, Alex and his sister Ariane (Maria Simon) are told by her doctor that any extremely happy or sad news should be avoided since that could cause a relapse.  So, both devise a plan to trick their mother into believing that Communism is still alive and well.

One of the prominent themes expressed in this film was how the plot was a comprised of a body of lies.  For example, Alex and Ariane are lying to their mother about the real state of affairs within Berlin and Germany.  Sadly, Alex and Ariane have been duped as well.  Their mother, Christiane (Katrin Sass), reveals that she has been lying to them about the reason their father left East Germany.  It is revealed that he did not leave because he had a girlfriend in the West, but rather he was the first to go to the other side so that they could escape safely and meet up with him in West Berlin.   Another theme present in the film was that of loyalty.  For example, the audience gathered that Christiane loved her husband but he left so she placed her loyalty with the state.  The audience also sees loyalty in the way Alex and his sister Ariane are so dedicated to the well-being of their mother.

The plot of this film was very interesting and well designed.  The film’s storyline was intended to follow the East/West division and their differences.  These contrasts of living and lifestyle provided the audience with an enjoyable plot centering around the fall of the Soviet Union.  Another interesting element this film incorporated was its use of proper setting for the time of the unification.  For example, once East and West conjoined, Alex and Ariane bought new furniture and clothing.  Once they brought their mother home, they had to change all of their apparel and furniture back to the appearance it had when their mother was at home eight months prior.

Many of the features used in this film were quite helpful in expressing the intended emotions and information for the plot.  One of the many aspects incorporated by the director/cinematographer was how flashbacks and old camera shots to actual past events came into use.  For example, the film featured many old reels showed troops marching in the street, peace protesters in a city square, and even the “Wall’s” collapse.   These brief scenes provide the audience with real scenes which occurred at the time and basically added a realistic element to the film.  Overall, the plot was interesting and even contained a few comedic elements which added to the film’s persona of being a dramatic but comedic film about the East and West divide during the early 90’s.

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Quiz Show (1994)

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Quiz Show is a 1994 drama directed by Robert Redford starring John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes.  This 50’s themed film is based on the Twenty-One quiz show scandal which, at the time, plagued the contestants and network.  The film’s plot begins with a contestant named Herb Stempel (John Turturro) who is absolutely brilliant and seemingly knows all the correct answers.  The network producers such as Dan Enright and Albert Freedman are told by the network bosses to make Mr. Stempel take a dive so that a new contestant is able to take over the position.  The reason behind this is that the network tries to garner the highest ratings possible and for that reason must terminate Stempel because since his arrival, the show’s ratings have simply stayed nominal.  Stempel painstakingly thinks about the opportunity to intentionally lose and ultimately loses so that he could receive $50,000 cash from NBC.  These beginning scenes bring about a series of events which create an interesting storyline considering the following contestant who follows Stempel named Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes) has a different perspective on the entertainment industry and the game show Twenty One.

One of the varying themes annunciated throughout the film was that the show Twenty One was not ultimately about knowledge, but rather its ability to rake in viewers.  Charles Van Doren enjoyed his time on Twenty One.  The problem was he sought money and fame although he knew that he would be dishonest to the American viewer.  He was basically cheating the game and the other contestants by having the answers rehearsed to him by the producers backstage so that he could continue onto the next round. Once Stempel began making wild accusations about the game show, Richard Goodwin (Rob Morrow) began his own Congressional investigation into the matter.   Another theme present in this film was how seductive a celebrity status can be and how easily that status can diminish.  This film showed the viewing audience how a man such as Charles Van Doren could so easily rise to prominence and then fall so quickly out of the public’s eye.

This film is considered to be a historical drama based on the actual events which occurred in the 50’s Quiz Show scandal.  Since this film is based off of historical events, the film’s plot adapted the events which transpired during the Twenty One scandal.  The plot was not overly complex but it was quite interesting to see how the characters’ lives were affected by the game show in both a positive and negative manner.  The films plot really has the audience on the edge of their seat for the simple reason that the audience does not know which route the main characters choose.  For example, does Charles Van Doren continue his deceitful game show escapade? Or does Charles Van Doren provide the American public an honest behind the scenes look at NBC and the game show Twenty One?

The film’s cinematography is very good. One aspect that helped illustrate the film’s various character emotions were the use of close-up’s on the characters.  For example, when a scene required deep emotional reactions from characters, the camera would zoom in to show the face of a character and his/her reactions.  Other cinematographical effects employed were the way the camera would be able to capture many characters all at once.  A scene which used this type of angle was when the camera would show the emotions of two contestants along with the shows moderator.  By having a wide angle shot like what was used in Quiz Show, the viewing audience has not only the feeling of watching the game show on TV but also providing the audience with the three characters and their differing perspectives.  Overall, Quiz Show provided the viewing audience with a lot of emotions and delivered an exhilarating plot with a surprise ending.

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Cinema Paradiso (1989)

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Cinema Paradiso is a 1989 Italian film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore starring Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Philippe Noiret, and Jacques Perrin.  Cinema Paradiso is about the life of an aspiring film director named Salvatore Di Vita (Toto).  The film begins with news delivered to Mr. Di Vita by his girlfriend who exclaims that his mother has called from Sicily exclaiming that Alfredo has passed and that his funeral was planned for the following day.   Once Salvatore hears this news, he is clearly stunned and takes a moment to contemplate.  His girlfriend asks if Alfredo was a relative, but Salvatore is quick to respond and says that he is nobody.  This scene makes the audience ponder the sharp response by Salvatore.  As Salvatore lies back in bed, he begins to reminisce.  Toto begins by thinking about his earliest memories of the Cinema Paradiso, a movie theater, and Alfredo who introduced Toto to the camera and how to use a projector.

Cinema Paradiso included many themes.  For example, one reoccurring theme seen throughout the film were the religious aspects which fought the films.  The priest of the town would censor films he believed to be provocative and pornographic before the audiences were allowed to see the films.  After Alfredo passes responsibility of the projector to Toto, Toto does not censor films and therefore brings down a barrier of censorship among the film industry within the town.  Another big reoccurring theme was the numerous kissing scenes.  During the censoring of movies, kissing was prohibited, and for that reason, at the end of the film, Alfredo creates a reel full of “prohibited” kissing scenes from various movies and Alfredo’s wife gives Toto the reel as a final gift from Alfredo after his passing.  A theme which seemed quite prevalent in this film was how everything changes.  For better or for worse, change was imminent in the small Sicilian town.  Alfredo repeatedly told Toto that he better leave the town because he would be doomed to lead the same “poor” life Alfredo lead.  One fine example of Alfredo’s exclamation of change was how Toto met a new girl named Elena.  Both were lovers but as fate would have it, Elena left his life just as fast as she had entered it.  Sadly, Toto would never have the opportunity to see her again.

An interesting aspect about this film was how the character of Salvatore Di Vita (Toto) was played by three different actors.  The first actor played Toto’s early childhood, while the second played his teen years, and Cascio played the narrator/older Mr. Di Vita.  These three actors acted there parts very well in that they encompassed the appropriate emotions for a child, teen, and aged man.  The setting for this film was significant.  As stated above, the town the film focuses on is very small and was important in the development of the character of Toto.  This means that Toto realized the limited opportunities present in his small Sicilian town and had to venture to a much larger city, Rome, where he had greater accessibility to resources and jobs.

The sound effects used in this film were quite good.  Ennio Morricone, the man in charge of developing the sound track, did an excellent job of creating the lighthearted and somewhat comedic atmosphere present throughout the film.  The plots dramatic elements such as the crying and loneliness scenes had distinguishable sound effects for an organized dramatic effect on the audience.  All in all, Cinema Paradiso is an excellent film which stands out as an exceptional foreign film providing its audience with a mix of dramatic features.

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Aguirre: the Wrath of God (1972)

January 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Aguirre: the Wrath of God, is a 1972 West German film directed, written, and produced by Werner Herzog.  This film stars Klaus Kinski, Ruy Guerro, and Helena Rojo.  Aguirre: the Wrath of God is about a group of Spanish conquistadors led by Gonzalo Pizarro in the Amazonian jungle searching for El Dorado.  The beginning scene(s) comprise of Pizarro sending Don Pedro de Ursua with Don Lope de Aguirre on a trip down a river.  Pizarro’s orders are to return within one week, or else the group will be considered lost.  This opening scene sets the stage for a rather violent series of events as the story progresses.

Aguirre is an interesting film in that it encompasses many thematic elements into its plot and imagery.  One of the big thematic elements seen was the contradictory roles of Ursua and Aguirre.  Ursua is a strong leader who is extremely loyal to the Spanish crown and plans to follow his orders given by Pizarro.  Aguirre, on the other hand, plans on a mutiny of sorts and abandons the orders given by Pizarro.  Another broader thematic element used was how there was such a contrast of characters between the Spaniards and their slaves.

While the conquistadors are traveling down the river, the viewer realizes the change in setting.  The audience notices that there are no longer any mountains, but rather low jungle lands.  This represents the idea that the group had its high point at the beginning and simply went downhill from there.  In the beginning of the film, Aguirre is somewhat relaxed but hides his craziness to an extent.  As the story progresses, Aguirre changes into a madman craving power and control over not only the group, but over the “empire.”  One interesting interjection seen in the film is how the character of Ursua’s mistress, Inez, exclaims the problems when the other men will not speak out. This strength seen through Inez represents that she is not bound to the same ridicule as the soldiers, but she basically preaches to conquistadors who will not listen.

The storyline to the film is quite interesting and stimulating.  The actual filming in South America added to the flavor of the script.   The jungle setting with the costumes worn by the actors was significant because the actors played in the likeness of what the conquistadors would have appeared some five hundred years ago.   Another key feature that the plot included was how attention-grabbing the inner fighting between two groups of individuals like Ursua and Aguirre.

The camera’s positioning such as far shot’s, close-up’s, extended focus on certain landscape feature’s or person’s all mingled well with the script.  One of the first impressions that a viewer notices as he/she is viewing the film is that the cinematography angles bode well with how the director and cinematographer wants the audience to view a certain scene.  For example, the close-up shots were meant to show a certain state of being or emotion in a character, whereas a distant shot of the flowing river adds to the idea that the river will be very hard to navigate and further portrays the problems the characters are bound to encounter.   Overall, Aguirre: the Wrath of God is a visually invigorating film with its jungle atmosphere which helps develop the plots emotion of madness into something visual with its excellent cinematography and believable plot.

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Play Time (1967)

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Play Time is a 1967 French comedy directed, written, and starring Jacques Tati.  This interesting and comedic film is about the events that unfold when a group of American tourists (mainly women) and a man named Monsieur Hulot wonder around Paris.  The film’s plot centers around Monsieur Hulot and an American tourist named Barbara.  Coincidentally, the two bump into one another throughout the film.  The film presents a rather comedic side to Paris and shows how people can become lost in the new modernity of Paris.

The general theme presented in this film is that modernity can be confusing and cloud the lifestyle of traditional Paris.  One of the interesting aspects of the movie was how the two major characters, Hulot and Barbara, both wonder aimlessly around Paris while the others are conforming with either the tour guide(s) or employer(s).   This non-conformist attitude provided the audience with entertaining scenes showing various comedic feats performed by the main characters.

The dramatic effect this film had on its audience was the way the movie was designed.   This revolutionary set and design created by Jacques Tati forced him to go way over budget to complete the thematically designed set.  The conformist/obedient people within most scenes came with the use of sharp edges and turns.  For example, one of the beginning scenes shows Monsieur Hulot aimlessly wondering an office building.  In this scene, the audience can see square cubicles lining an entire floor of an office building.  Another famous scene used in this film was featured towards the middle of the film when Monsieur Hulot runs into an old friend who in turn takes Hulot back to his place to visit.  Once the proper angle is set, the audience can see an apartment complex built for four residents.  The building is built in the shape of a square with four enormous windows which reveal the inhabitants of the apartments and showing the activities taking place such as watching TV or simply talking.   This scene adds onto the thematic idea of obediently participating in an activity which other people seem to follow.

Another element used in this film which was intriguing was the costume designs.  The clothing worn by the two major characters, Hulot and Barbara, show how both are non-conformist people.  Hulot and Barbara both wear more traditional clothing and/or out of style clothing through the eyes of most Parisians.  For example, the scene when Barbara walks into the restaurant titled the “Royal Garden” shows how the average Parisian thinks about her touristy and outdated clothing.

The cinematic sound effects and music were quite in good in this film for the simple reason that the music conformed well with scenes which were humorous.  The sound effects throughout the film seemed simple but were strong enough to add the finishing touches to a strange or humorous movement contrived by the actors.  Another cinematic wonder to this film was how the camera never had any close-up shots of any characters.  Instead, the camera was at medium to far distances from the actors.  Overall, this film showed its entertaining and comedic side, all the while enlightening the audience as to a Paris which could exist in the near future.

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