In these trying cinematic times, the role of the documentary has taken many many different forms. Whether a documentary film is utilized as a soapbox, a history lesson, or even a guiding light; it’s up to the film maker to decipher which role his doc will take. Now take into consideration a truly fundamental historic tragedy such as the Holocaust, a documentary on the subject can go many different ways. In the film “No Place on Earth,” the director Janet Tobias took all three of the former documentary formats and blended them into one hypnotic and horrifyingly intriguing story of a very strong group of five families that survived the Holocaust. The film starts off to show a cave explorer Chris Nicola discovering a deep cave in the Ukraine, what he finds in this cave is something he’s never witnessed before. Proof of life and and underground survival littered the cave, and explorer Chris takes matters into his own hands to solve the mystery. It turns out that back in the 1940s, five Jewish families escaped from their Gestapo-infested towns and found safety and sanctuary in the deep pitch-black crevices of an enormous cave. I was not even aware that caves existed in Eastern Europe, but the film No Place On Earth proves to show the heroic and unbelievable sanity and survival skills of these family members and what they endured while hiding in this cave for almost 2 years during the Holocaust. The film does a great job recreating the time in which the family hid in the cave, and then fast forwards to present day, showing the kin of these families exploring the cave for the first time. The nostalgia factor in this movie is deep and anyone interested in the human condition will surely take a lot out of this epic documentary, No Place On Earth.
*article by Pouya G. Asadi
Mud – A brand new young American storytelling film maker has broken the ice between indie and Hollywood films. That director is Jeff Nichols, and his latest film Mud arrives in grandiose fashion; a love letter to nostalgia. Mud is only the third feature film by Jeff Nichols, and it proves that not only can he write one hell of a movie, he can cast and direct the living shit out of it as well! Tour-de-force performances by Matthew McConaughey and the two child actors litter the entire film with such poignant brilliance. The nuances that these child actors bring to Mud are stunning. Tye Sheridan (only his second film, first being Tree of Life) and first time child actor Jacob Lofland prove that very young acting can be taken to new levels. The human condition has never been so strong in such a simple story about an outlaw and these two children trying to help each other out while discovering new things about themselves. The standards of a “Coming-of-age” film have been raised so high with Mud that this film makes ‘Stand By Me’ look like a Lifetime Channel movie. Jeff Nichols has truly done something very special here, and he even throws in a hilarious cameo with his long-time friend Michael Shannon. Mud is a such a perfect summertime flick, it will go down as a timeless classic and it’s already launched Jeff Nichols’ career into undeniable heights. Mud secures a good time for the audience, taking a dull dreary Arkansas-set background and turning it into a literal adventure-land. This is the type of film that I wish I had seen as a child, but it will be amazing to watch this with children of my own one day. We at Sound Colour Vibration can only hold our breaths and wait for what Jeff Nichols has in store for us next, as he has secured his next film with Michael Shannon and Warner Brothers, very promising times coming in the future. In theatres now, go see Mud this summer!
by Pouya G. Asadi
Find out more about the film by clicking here.
Cinema in the year 2013 has been promising so far and Universal takes first stab at the summer season with sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion. Oblivion is a fantastic display of the future of science fiction. Tom Cruise has helped create another epic film under his franchise name. Film maker Joseph Kosinski has come a long way from simply directing television commercial ads and the like. Oblivion proves that Kosinski is here to stay in Hollywood while being a bright young talented director. The film portrays Cruise as veteran repairman Jack, assigned to extract Earth’s remaining elements… but in reality he is just another blue-collar worker. In Oblivion, what you’re seeing is Earth 60 years after a global war against Scavengers from another planet. Jack lives in a tower high above Earth’s atmosphere and performs routine maintenance to the soldier-like drones that inhabit the land below. Kosinski and crew have really mutated the way a cliché science fiction film executes plot lines while ‘throwing a monkey wrench in the gears’ every now and then. Kosinski has taken a camera and front projection technology that was first mastered in Kubrick’s 2001: Spacey Odyssey while injecting his own trademark set and massive props that are seen throughout Oblivion. For only being Joe Kosinski’s sophomore feature effort, Oblivion breaks sci-fi boundaries and further promises the career of this young talented film maker.
Oscar-winning film maker Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 days later, 127 Hours) is at it again, this time utilizing cinema to enter the world of art heist and hypnotism. Trance is the outcome of this and quite a rather bold attempt at that. The 100+ minutes in Trance are filled with scenes starring Simon (James McAvoy), Franck (Vincent Cassel) and Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson). It takes a lot of balls and someone like Danny Boyle to leave it up to actors such as those 3. Almost every scene is full of closeups of these characters’ faces, so you better start liking the way they look. Simon (McAvoy) is a private art auctioneer who handles classic paintings worth more than any of us can dream of. Franck, the leader of thieves, plans a heist at Simon’s auction; furthering the infamous typecasting of villainous actor Vincent Cassel. Things go sour at the heist and Franck ends up knocking Simon out via pistol-whip. From here on out in the movie, Danny Boyle uses his signature stylistic film making so that the audience enters Simon’s head. We, as the audience, collectively suffer from a concussion thanks to Franck’s gun-whip. The rest of the film is life through a trauma victim’s eyes; memory loss, mixed hallucinations, bad dreams and the like.
For avid Danny Boyle fans, the aesthetically pleasing Trance brings about nostalgic shots and cuts from his very first film, Shallow Grave. It’s nice to see the subtle parallels of Boyle’s first film and his latest in Trance. The film also deals with plenty of vibrant monologues from the devilishly engaging hypnotist Elizabeth (Dawson). She gives a tour de force performance as an apparent deity of a woman, almost to a mystic level. Elizabeth is definitely in control in this film, and her potent gaze and words deliver strong There are really not enough words to describe something as intricate and confusing as Trance, but the experience is worth it. If you are a fan of any of these actors or Danny Boyle’s films, Trance will be a powerfully good time.
*article by Pouya Asadi
Harmony Korine has become somewhat of an elusive/loved yet hated relic in the world of independent cinema. Whether you are introduced to his work via his first script for Kids, or through his directorial 1999 debut, Gummo, you can tell he’s not your average artist. Harmony presents taboo subject matter in his films that most people are not comfortable witnessing. Yet, his cinematic presence is incredibly powerful and infamous because of this. Look at history, when Harmony was 18 he wrote Kids, a film depicting the gritty rape culture found in the east coast. Even in the news today, rape culture has become underlined and it should be noted that Harmony tried to universally embrace this cold topic in his script for Kids, almost 20 years ago! The organic and psychological approach that Korine takes to his films are always heavy and leave you thinking about the subjects for days, sometimes months, hopefully years. Harmony’s closest followers have noticed that he has been preparing for something big. Over the past couple years Korine has been releasing raw and intrusive short films, the most notable one “Umshini Wam” which featured acting and music from Die Antwoord. Another short he did with the guys from the Black Keys. Some may say that these short films were sort of a ‘test run’ for this spectacular new feature that Harmony was preparing for. The spectacle being none other than Spring Breakers, a film about a feeling; rather than an expose on youth. The sheer craft that is found in Spring Breakers is proof that Harmony Korine is constantly evolving in his storytelling. The film is about 4 girls, but throughout the film it truly feels as if these 4 female characters are one entity. They all represent the same brutally honest angst that’s found deep inside today’s youth. In the film, the girls come up with dangerous ways of stealing money in order to travel to spring break mecca, St. Petersburg Florida. Harmony has created a motion picture that truly encapsulates the feeling of spring break. The film literally looks like it was lit by skittles, the colors bleed through and are literally candy to your eyes. Don’t be fooled, this isn’t a digital production, Spring Breakers was filmed on 35mm film so perfectly it’s honestly a mindfuck. Thanks to cinematographer, Benoît Debie (who has worked on all of French auteur Gaspar Noe’s films) Spring Breakers should be shown in film schools around the world. Between the lighting, cinematography, and colors I truly feel as if film students can learn from Spring Breakers. Not to mention the all-too-human feeling of the film’s editing, catapulting scenes into the viewer’s psyche. This is an exceptional production and a masterful piece of film making by Harmony Korine, someone who is so extremely hated and so undeniably loved simultaneously in the film world. Thank you Harmony, for teaching us something new about cinema and the lessons we can learn from taboo subject matter.
Side Effects is a wonderful and mysterious film that was released this year by futurist film auteur Steven Soderbergh. The masses are worried that this film will be the final “retirement” effort by Soderbergh. If that were to be true, Soderbergh really saved the best for last. Side Effects instills a subtle paranoia in the audience from minute one. Soderbergh maintains a certain ambiguity that crosses all the lines and blends different elements of narrative into his final feature. The degree of realism presented here is duly notable, but the moment the viewer assumes anything while watching; their world is flipped. Steven Soderbergh has brought back a fresh new look to the idea of cinematic thriller, something that’s been missing from these films for quite some time. SCV is proud to recommend Side Effects while the film plays nationwide. Below is the trailer for Soderbergh’s final film.
*Article by Pouya Asadi
Outliers is a special breed of documentary, what some may be so bold as to call an “art-doc” – which does not simply imply that it is a doc about art. Art-genre prefixes are as uncommon as the creative genres that they lend a hand towards describing.
Open Mike Eagle has coined the ambiguous, if not illusive, term “art-rap.” On one of Mike Eagle’s tracks Hannibal Buress jests, “If there’s art-rap then there’s gotta be art in other genres…“
Art-doc seems to best explain Outliers’ alternative approach to defining what a documentary can be. This is part of what makes it so strong as a documentary. In other words the creativity of the doc best delineates the creative record that it is trying to establish.
The foundation of the film is built by a multitude of creatives: two diametric photographers, a film collective and one musician. From here we have a four man film crew including the two main photographers Tim Navis and Kim Høltermand, Los Angeles based Mush Recording artist Deru and the Chicago film collective known as Scenic (Anthony Ciannamea, Mark Wisniowski, and Ryan Sievert). The narrative of the doc chooses to neglect directly mentioning the cameras and the men operating them; who are as much apart of the creativity of the film as the other three more renowned subjects.
The two professional photographers come from very different backgrounds and have very different fathers to their style. Denmark based Kim Høltermand shoots isolated landscapes with a bleak gloaming form that radiates a hidden beauty both in architecture and land alike. On the other end, both stylistically and geographically, is the sun washed portrait photography of Tim Navis from Los Angeles.
The third frontman of the journey is LA based electronic musician Deru, born Benjamin Wynn. Deru curates the audio visual shoulders which the film carries you on. He scores the film with astounding audio bits that he recorded throughout the trip: rocks falling down a mountain, water washing ashore, wind blowing, and other naturally occurring trip specific noises. He is also responsible for bringing together a handful of electronic musicians who have donated their songs to the project. The philanthropic musical lineup includes: Asura, Goldmund, A Lull, Shigeto, Sweatson Klank, Joby Talbot, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Eskmo, loscil, Son Lux, Heathered Pearls, and Opiate.
The doc is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign headed by Scenic for a series of short art films to be shot in Iceland. The doc seamlessly jumps from brief biographical narratives to musical short films. These short films verge on the edge of music videos, picture a music video made by National Geographic but throw in some abstract CGI design work and some beautiful electronic music compositions.
The succinct briefness of the narrative allows the viewer to maintain a sense of familiarity without lessening the aesthetic of the Icelandic countryside. There are very few narrative moments in which the artists have to talk about or explain themselves. In fact nearly all of the interviews are shot on location, outdoors in Iceland. Finally, there is the scarce, sobering narration provided by Deru to tie the film together.
This art-doc excels at focusing more on the artistic exposition of Iceland than it tries to focus superficially (perhaps pretentiously) on the simple fact that theses are artists in Iceland. The film successfully places the viewer next to the artist, which allows the viewer to share a glimpse inside the artistic perspective. From inspiration to creation, the audience is invited on a rare trip through the artistic processes of seven very different artists.
It is extremely rare to be able to accompany an artist on their creative quest. This invites the audience to come a step closer to understanding how creators transpose obscurities into art.
Take this for example, we see the creators on a rocky shore. We see a rocky overhang then we see Tim snap a photo. Next, Tim’s photos of the same location fills the screen. In this instance we see the artist approach the natural beauty, then we see him frame his shot and finally we can meditate on the result of his creativity. It’s the over-the-artists’ shoulder moments like these that allow us to vicariously enjoy the art of the land; but more importantly to start to see the art for ourselves. The brain nearly ponders, “What photo would I have taken?“
The viewer is transposed from the theater into this limitless world of creative beauty. The doc does not suffocate the viewer with an onslaught of the artists perspective, instead it provides just enough to suggest their perspective but still allow the inner artist in the viewer to shine.
The doc is shot on an array of cameras. From tiny Gopros-weather resistant action cameras-which can be seen littered throughout the film, attached to cars, gear, and musical instruments; To dslrs that are both photographing and filming the journey. There are even brief moments of 8mm film thrown into the mix. Sadly, the motion film is not taken nearly as seriously as Tim’s Hasseblad is. The 8mm footage seems to be treated more as a novelty than as a tool in the artists kit.
Deru’s words, taken from the film, best explain the filmmakers’ perspectives and goals of the trip:
“…I’m with six other guys and everyone is capturing everything everywhere we go. So we get to a location and everybody has a job to do and they all take out their cameras, or their video camera or in my case my field recorders and we just go, and we kind of like carpet bomb the place. Just, capture everything we can, you know. That’s why we’re there. And that’s been interesting because it’s just like taking all this input from our environment.”
The innovative execution of this contemporary doc allows it to fit just as well in a museum as it would in a theater or even a living room. Definitely worth supporting if you can. We need more genre bending film and art projects in our lives like Outliers, Vol 1: Iceland.
by Erick Wilczynski
Outliers Soundtrack Info
Deru is curating a full-length soundtrack compilation of tracks contributed specifically for the film. Artists include:
• Shigeto (Ghostly International)
• Loscil (Kranky)
• Goldmund (Unseen)
• Asura (NonProjects / Leaving Records)
• Tycho (ISO50 / Ghostly International)
• Joby Talbot
• Ryuichi Sakamoto
• Take (Alpha Pup)
• Thomas Knak/Opiate (Co-Producer of Björk’s Vespertine)
• Heathered Pearls
• Eskmo (Ninja Tune / Warp)
• Son Lux (Anticon)
Django Unchained, the latest film from living legend Quentin Tarantino hit theaters Christmas day 2012 to critical acclaim from many of the leading media outlets. Despite the intelligent move by Spike Lee and a few others to garnish public recognition through this films first promotion stages and initial release, Django Unchained has become an instant cult classic in the spaghetti western genre.
Django is filled with beautiful open landscapes of the country, middle of the journey remote canyon fire camp scenes, long and emotionally exchanging dialogue between all of the characters, the darkest of humor, epic bloody gun fight scenes with precision shooting and death upon injury at the center of every one of these frames. Love, like most any other determining emotion behind any drastic behavior, is at the root of why Django pursues locating his wife and comes into contact with all of the characters outside of Dr. Schultz. The film also contains some of the most frightening realities of slave life mentality and reality portrayed on the big screen. Dogs ripping a man a part, various slave punishment techniques, the different styles and intricate nature of labor forced, the dynamics of the big house lifestyle, how cruel a slave master can take it upon himself to be, the over-usage of the ‘n’ word and the overall design and results of how racial divisions were created in those times are elements that are woven into the fabric of this new western.
On the most basic of levels in terms of the nostalgia of spaghetti westerns achieved, it’s a tale of an unlikely yet very powerful hero who rises to the top despite the odds set against him. It truly brings back a form of Clint Eastwood’s 60′s and 70′s presence that has been greatly missed from modern film. The landscapes are given the extreme treatments of the seasons, showing the progression of Django’s story between a summer, winter and the spring following it. With a direct timeline and lack of juxtaposition that is a trademark in the time schemes to many Tarantino films, Django Unchained is a classic western film on every level.
CNN could not have stated it any better when they mentioned in their review of the film a week ago, “Django Unchained is brilliantly acted across the board.” Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington star in this new age western masterpiece and all turn out some of the most charismatic and memorable characters on the big screen in 2012. Christoph Waltz plays the role of Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter who takes on partnership with a slave he has freed, Django (Jamie Foxx), as his assistant bounty hunter. He also helps locate Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) in his attempt to pursue the biggest bounty warrant collections he has acquired knowledge to. Django and Broomhilda were separated after their marriage, which is given a proper explanation in the films beginning stages.
The raw nature of the films vulgarity, violence and depiction of slave life on both sides of the fence adds to the compelling representation of an era where America was falling right before the Civil War. In terms of the dialogue alone, I felt a sense of time travel occurring as everyone really make an authentic case to how they respond to their characters role. The amount of quotable lines is endless, something that lives up to the legacy of the best westerns ever made.
The style of filming has that Tarantino stamp all over it and was captured in his preferred medium of filming: 35mm. There are many moments where decay from the reels is present for a very brief moment, adding to the feeling of an older film created well before the time it really was. I love those little additions captured naturally in the analog realm. Django Unchained was shot over a 130 day time span that included filming in California, Wyoming and at the National Historic Landmark Evergreen Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, outside of New Orleans between 2011 and 2012. With many elongated scenes, you feel exactly where you are at, never pulling you away from the setting in place. I love when a film makes its environments as memorable and lasting as is achieved with Django Unchained.
Editing duties were headed for the first time on a Quentin film by Fred Raskin, an assistant to many of the editing jobs Sally Menke did for Quentin over his career. With Menke passing away in 2010, the torch has been successfully passed down to Raskin as he conveys the same style and feeling that is in all of Tarantino’s works. The film has a plethora of scenes shot in the night with low lighting used and the filming is beautiful in every one of those moments. The day scenes are bright, glowing and extravagant in tones, creating the alter ego of the film that sheds much needed light from the heavy imagery and language that is a constant theme.
Jamie Foxx’s plays Django who is the main character and is in my book now one of the greatest modern western actors, despite his background lacking the genre entirely on the big screen. His authenticity to pull off this characters presence is astonishing and shows how good of an actor Jamie Foxx really is. The script being as superb as it is gave Jamie Foxx the right platform to really show off his acting skills in the highest of levels. His gun shooting form, his cold and disconnected heart from anything besides finding his wife and the overall persona he brings to the table is nothing short of amazing considering his background and past works. It’s inspiring to see an actor step this far outside of his legacy and create something so natural and humbling.
You can feel how powerful Jamie Foxx wanted to make Django feel to the audience at the end when he is looking at the devastation he created for one of the harshest slave owners in the south. With many scenes carrying a lot of dialogue and adding in close up facial shots, the dynamic of his character is set in stone on every scene. When he is curious and almost child like while Dr. Schultz tells him about the German old tale of Broomhilda, who Django’s wife was named after to the moments when he is walking down the bloody stair case of the Candyland plantation and is cool, calm, collected and a killing machine. Jamie Foxx fulfilled the multiple emotional settings asked upon him on every level imaginable and his talents should be recognized on every platform possible.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Calvin Candie is one of his darkest yet, playing a prosperous slave owner, Mandingo fighter and owner of the infamous Candyland plantation. Unconfirmed in the history books, Mandingo’s were said to have existed in the slave times as a means for some slave owners to make African’s fight in grueling battles to the death. The inclusion of this barbaric sport is a integral piece into how Django, Dr. Schultz and Calvin Candie meet one another and serve each others fate. The partnership in the eyes of Calvin Candie between Schultz and Django comes in the disguise of a Mandingo expert (Django) and someone looking to get in the Mandingo fighting business (Dr. Schultz). This is a really clever and tricky element to the film that was executed in perfect form. Leonardo DiCaprio leaves no time in showing a character role that is all sides evil with the twisted state of charisma that makes a man look separated from himself.
His character is reflective of the sickened and poisoned state religion and law allowed men to invest their hearts and minds to in order to justify slavery in their souls. This trickery from Django and Schultz when realized sends Calvin Candie into a psychotic rage that goes beyond conventional acting. He plays the role so well that I lost all remembrance of any of his past films for large stretches of time as the cruelty of his actions is nothing like anything he has portrayed through the big screen. You can see Calvin Candie split into two as he tries to respect the honor and integrity of civility that his family intrusted he would always behave with in the big house along with the sheer insanity and violent psychosis that rests in his brain. His face and how he holds his hand out at the moment when he tells Dr. Schultz they must shake on their business deal for it to be set in law is priceless and shows how far he went for this character.
Christoph Waltz has worked with Tarantino before, most notably his position in the 2009 film Inglourious Basterds, and his inclusion into this film is a perfect dynamic and bridge to why the movie takes the path it does. With Waltz serving on the side of the Nazi’s in Inglourious Basterds, his German pride remains intact in Django Unchained but with an entirely different end of the spectrum present. He proclaims his despising view of slavery and has a very welcoming personality, unlike the brutal over the top nature of his work on Inglourious Basterds. It’s nice to see Quentin reverse Schultz’s purposes with his German bloodline and country roots and how that dynamic is interwoven into the fabric of Django Unchained. Waltz plays a very elusive and entertaining bounty hunter whose charming and intelligent character role gives a lot of depth to the film and adds the right response mechanism for every starring actor to feed off of. His use of the German language is just one of the many unique elements he brings to this spaghetti western. In the opening scenes, his over the top methods at obtaining his bounty collections finds his path with Django and a scene I will never forget. Django is one of the few people that he found out can point out a few of the bounty hunts he has set out for. You know right off the back that despite Schultz’ polite and charming appearance, he is nobody to be messed with or taken lightly.
Samuel L. Jackson is the actor whose role as Stephen is just as, if not more important than any of the other supporting actors. Spoiling the genius scheme of Schultz and Django to get back Broomhilda and one who is an interesting take on the head house slaves persona, Stephen is the reason that the entire plot twists the way it does at the end. There is a very dark sense of humor that he carries with the bearing weight of turning against his own for a small sense of entitlement that is heavily centered in his role. It’s these small underlining themes in each character that addresses elements of slavery many people don’t want to acknowledge from focusing on the big picture when studying the history. Samuel L. Jackson was responsible in helping to bring Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction to legacy status and his contributions to Django Unchained are of a similar but less obvious weight. With his role entering after the halfway mark, you start to realize he is even more sinister and evil than Calvin Candie, a reality few people acknowledge about these kind of men during that era of history.
At a lengthy two hours and forty-five minutes, every moment of this film was stunning and ushered in a mind blowing world of the best spaghetti western elements in film history. A lot of mainstream film has strayed away from the history of slavery and Django Unchained in the most subversive of ways opens up some dialogue and windows into the cruelty and injustice nature of slavery. It’s one thing to read and understand this history through books and institutions of higher learning but film serves as one of the most potent influential factors in this world. It’s an influence that goes beyond a direct purpose.
At the core of Django Unchained is a man who will stop at nothing to get back something he loves more than anything in this world. It’s this honest approach to the plot that removes all veils of the past and reflects the totality of human emotions outside of time and condition. If you love something that deeply, it goes beyond everything else. Film making doesn’t get much better than Django Unchained.
by Erik Otis
*Check out all of the official press stills courtesy of Andrew Cooper / The Weinstein Compan by Clicking Here
Some notable articles and sites to check out in the media hemisphere for Django Unchained
- IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1853728/
- NY Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/antoine-fuqua-calls-spike-lee-tarentino-film-article-1.1230298
- CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/24/showbiz/movies/django-unchained-review/index.html
- Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/30/weekend-box-office-django-unchained-les-miserables-the-hobbit_n_2385330.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment
- LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-walton-goggins-django-unchained-justified-conversation-20121230,0,4367844.story
- San Francisco Bay View: http://sfbayview.com/2013/minister-farrakhan-on-django-unchained-its-preparation-for-race-war/
- Cinema Blend: http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Quentin-Tarantino-Talks-Music-Django-Unchained-Soundtrack-Commentary-34851.html
- NPR: http://www.npr.org/2012/12/24/166898958/tarantinos-genius-unchained
- Examiner: http://www.examiner.com/review/django-unchained-throws-off-shackles-on-way-to-greatness
By now most of you are familiar with the European acrobatic-contortionist travelling mega-group, Cirque du Soleil. When you hear the name Cirque du Soleil, what often comes to mind is Las Vegas, bright lights, high jumps, enormous stunts and plenty of “ooh’s” and “aah’s.” In a sense, they are taking the carnival experience and turning it into something new, expensive and a little more thrilling. Performances by the Cirque group are always gravity-defying, nerve-wracking but ultimately beautiful styles of dance and acrobatics. One minute you are watching a performer swing from a 100-foot rope diving into a pool on stage, the next minute there could be performers balancing on a swinging life-sized boat onstage. The stunts tend to get real serious but definitely worth the time and amazement that one invests. If you are the type that is not as financially adventurous, yet your family still begs for a chance to witness the marvel of Cirque du Soleil; your time has come. Filmmaker Andrew Adamson and team have captured and delivered the glory and thrill of this European circus with the brand new 3D movie, Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away. Now if you’ve seen any of the live action shows by Cirque, the 3D movie Worlds Away brings back some fond memories…and then some. Worlds Away is a fine cinematic journey that blends the wonder and hard work of all the Cirque du Soleil performers, giving the audience a chance to experience these captivating stunts/performances first-hand. Instead of being in a big tent hundreds of feet away from the action, this film takes it one step further and invites you to take place in the magic of Cirque du Soleil. Andrew Adamson and team have done a tremendous job with 3D technology to truly bring this magic to life. In theaters now.
Holy Motors, by french filmmaker Léos Carax, is this year’s most riveting ‘arthouse’ foreign film. Holy Motors is a type of cinema that begs the audience for them to absolutely invest in every emotion possible the minute they sit in their seat. The 24-hour odyssey that film auteur Leos Carax encapsulates in a mere 115-minute running time is just straight-up groundbreaking. When you have talent such as the multi-tasking brilliance of actor Denis Lavant, there is really no denying that your final product will be anything less than exceptional. The film begins and ends within the life of a certain being of existence, a male being simply named “DL.” What then proceeds is 24 hours in the life of this being and the extraordinary obstacles/tasks/roles that he must complete throughout the day. There is something very visceral about this type of story-telling. The dream-like photography of Yves Cape & Caroline Champetier paired with the film’s surreal music truly creates a sort of ethereal cinematic experience. I don’t remember the last time a film has created this certain sort of innate feeling that Carax and his team somehow conjures up. If you are interested in the study of certain human emotions, a certain shade of id that exists in all of us, then Holy Motors is definitely a film to invest yourself in.
by Pouya G. Asadi
all photography by Yves Cape & Caroline Champetier
There comes a time in one’s life when they feel the need to live their very own dreams. It’s a certain time where one will realize that in this present day, pretty much anything is possible. After watching Ang Lee’s latest masterpiece, Life of Pi, I came to the conclusion that Lee has found this certain something. Whether one likes adventure films or not; the digital innovation showcased in Life of Pi portrays an urgently paced dream-like journey for all to see. The story is about a family of zookeepers who decide to transfer their zoo from India to North America by boat. The tale revolves around their intelligent and opportunistic son, Pi. His path is a very long and brutal one, but a beautiful journey nonetheless. The digital work in the film is truly ground-breaking and will absolutely win countless awards. The lush colors of everyday life, the terrifying power of a freak storm, all these types of incredible cinematic moments are brilliantly captured and created by Lee and his team. Life of Pi not only captivates the audience but inspires people to stay forward and keep searching for your dreams. Thank you Ang Lee, and thank you to the entire team behind Life of Pi, for teaching us something new about cinema.
by Pouya G. Asadi
The directorial debut The Man With The Iron Fists from Wu-Tang Clan leader RZA is an impressive beginning to the film career RZA has been involved with over the last 15 years or so. From Sunset Park to Kill Bill, the musical voice of this young creative mind can be heard in dozens of films since the 90′s and now we find RZA coming full circle and in the directors chair. The fact that RZA took on such a heavy load for creative responsibilities on the film with co-writing, acting and directing reveals a man whose energy was made to be the commander of such a ship. The Man With The Iron Fists is a stunning martial arts film that details many areas that make a martial arts film classic in the first place: a unique plot where all death is divine, extravagantly exotic costumes and sets, the spiritual connection to the principles and studies of the ancient worlds, remarkable concepts in weapon design, highly stylized choreography and fight scenes that convey a large body of the martial arts spectrum. RZA utilized many of the essential elements to a martial arts film in a world based around 19th century China and added all those elements you would expect from a member of one of the leading hip hop groups in the genres history. Time elements interchange the settings and characters in the slightest of ways though, touching on influences that you could only find in the time RZA has been on this earth.
The Blacksmith as played by the RZA plays a very important role into the evolution of the story, showing his unwavering dedication to the women he is trying to free from prostitution and the weapons of death he is forced to create for the people who come to his village. As the plot changes and Silver Lion (Byron Mann) becomes the main enemy for multiple parties in the film and the entire village at large, RZA’s role again becomes a product of his surroundings and his importance never changes. I couldn’t help but pick up on the Prince vibe actor Byron Mann gave to the personality of Silver Lion, creating one of the most interesting and odd foes in martial arts history. This has little importance to the high level of martial arts he brings to the film.
What makes The Man With The Iron Fists such an entertaining and rewarding film experience is how many emotions, styles and remarkable plot outlines the film took me through. The earth shattering devastation of a character like Brass Body, played by former WWE world champion Dave Batista, the spiritual mantra like power of the Blacksmith as played by RZA, the sultry, seductive and otherworldly presence of Madam Blossom played by the illustrious Luci Liu and the menacing yet comical rogue state of actor Russel Crowe in his performance as Jack Knife are just a handful of examples of how many personalities come together to make this film what it is. Instead of following a man of an obvious destiny, the story was cleverly written as to define the purpose and relationships all of the characters hold together and how every person is just as important as the next. Even small children play a big part in making this film work and for the plot to continue. Some could draw these relationships as unlikely or impossible but in the vile and immoral state of the Jungle Village, the town this film is based in, it works seamlessly and righteously. With Lucy Liu and Russel Crowe having the most presence in the film for current mainstream success in films, both had a commanding feeling to their character roles that elevates the film beyond the guidance and control of the Blacksmith and his eventual fate. You can feel their presence on camera and the way each character holds themselves through battle, humor and overall character building elevates the film far beyond many of the other actors. You would expect that from two seasoned people that have been studying and making successful films for years now.
I have always been a big fan of how fight scenes evolve through a martial arts film and how much purpose these fights have for the overall plot. Every fight scene in The Man With The Iron Fists was pulled off superbly, diving into a very diverse array of filming styles, camera techniques and stage set ups. Some of the fights are chaotic with how the camera cuts into each new angle, showing a stunning visual representation of the type of feeling one must encounter if ever in a moment of this type. Other fight scenes are as serene and surreal as they come, showing the small subtle features in full glory as time slows down and the fighting is more examined through the lens. Fingers being cut off, heads chopped off, bodies crushed into grinders, stomachs being cut open, eyes punched out of sockets and arms severed, it’s as much of a shock as it is wonderfully executed. The Blacksmith has my favorite weapon as it is the most unique weapon I have ever seen added to a martial arts film. The Blacksmith crushes through matter with the help of his newly built iron fists. He has that added chi power that he obtained after being saved from a ship wreck by Buddhist monks. When you have studied a film like Fatal Flying Guillotine, it comes with a very big evolution in weapon type when you are more impressed with what that film achieved. The aesthetic on each weapons destructive power is a focal point to many of the fight scenes and how they are filmed, showing the barbaric nature of what RZA makes you feel with every attack and eventual murder. Every fight scene made me sink into the seat a little more as I was watching bodies be dismembered in ways I never thought possible.
Another element to the film that really intrigued me was the narration RZA did for the film. Adding a calming and spiritual tone to the film, you get a really clear idea of how much RZA gave to this film with this added measure. When RZA goes into his background and why he was brought to Jungle Village, you get an idea of the spiritual essence the film strongly connects to. As most of the film sets around a brothel house, feuding clans and stolen gold, rogue assassins of very separate worlds unite for one of the most unique plots in martial arts history. The soundtrack is also a piece of the film that adds a really interesting cross dimension to the 19th century setting of China and what RZA has stood for with the Wu-Tang Clan and 20th century hip hop. Kayne West, a reworked version Shimmy Shimmy Ya from ODB that opens the films first fight scene, John Frusciante, Wu-Tang Clan guest appearances, The Black Keys; these are a small example of the beautiful collection of eclectic sounds that comes together over the course of the movie. The audio sounds that are not musically driven are just as crisp and powerful as any martial arts film, especially when bones and bodies are being crushed and severed. The soundtrack is situated in direct response to the type of state the film is in. When the brothel house is first introduced and the clans men are staging a small scale war, the music is full of grime and gusto. Once the emotional stage shifts, the music falls in line perfectly as can be seen when RZA explains his slavery background to Jack Knife. RZA’s work on the soundtrack for the Kill Bill series and Ghost Dog were crowning achievements in his film career and The Man With The Iron Fists takes his film legacy to another level. It’s a soundtrack that was truly made for all periods of martial arts film and gels with this film so well.
When I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help but have that big smile on my face and look over to the person who attended with me and state how much I loved every moment of the RZA’s The Man With The Iron Fists. If this is his start as a director, it’s going to be mind blowing to see where he reaches his apex in the film industry. If you love the fantasy and spiritually driven art of war through martial arts, you have to see RZA’s twist on this genre of film making. It’s incredible to see a young talent of this level give so much of himself in such a glorious and true way, despite any technique flaws that one could pick out of the film. It’s truly like diving into the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers for the first time. The Man With The Iron Fists is definitely one of the best of the year.