Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs ★★★★

Image result for Silence of the Lambs title screen

    There are some images acquired from watching the medium of film that are sketched in our minds and memories forever--Hannibal Lector is one of those said images. Lector is a chilling portrait of a man who is completely insane, yet exquisitely intellectual. He can parley with the most brilliant of minds and devour a portion of skin from your face in a matter of seconds. Although Lector's presence may seem negligible in the 1991 thriller entitled "The Silence of the Lambs," he is undeniably the man of the hour.

    Clarice Starling, the other half of our yin and yang, is an FBI Academy trainee with an illustrious record and buoyant future. It is for this reason, along with the fact that she is an attractive young woman, that ultimately sees to her assignment of interviewing Dr. Lector. A menacing serial killer, nicknamed "Buffalo Bill," is on the loose and the FBI is under the impression that the former psychiatrist and killer can profile a suspect.

    The scene in which young Clarice first meets Hannibal Lector is arguably one of the most vehement exchanges of dialogue in the film, which sets up for this peculiar, yet beneficial relationship. Starling is brimming with self-confidence and professionalism, that is, until Dr. Lector profiles and dissects her lowly and rather harrowing upbringing. Nevertheless, Lector will provide Starling with a clue and a profile under the circumstance that he is transferred to another facility and that she participate in a quid pro quo session, where Lector exchanges information on the suspect for tidbits of Starling's past.

    Jodie Foster is the ideal actress to portray the poised, yet inexperienced agent Starling. Foster displays a sense of genuine emotion and instinctive mannerisms throughout the film, which highlights some of her finest talents; her exchanges of dialogue with Lector are impeccably crafted. Foster's character is a very intuitive individual, who also exhibits a perfectionist mentality. She has to find this killer while overcoming a dreadful past and the mind games of her new colleague.

    Subsequently, "Buffalo Bill" abducts a senator's daughter via tactics used by the very real and abominable Ted Bundy. This increases the urgency to find the killer, who could essentially murder his new victim at any moment. After Starling is forced to make a falsified offer to Lector, he finds an offer of his own directly through the senator. Lector is flown to Memphis, Tennessee, where he ultimately degrades the senator, but not before giving an invented name for the killer.

    This point of incarceration will become the opportunity Lector needs to escape confinement and become one among society once again. As for Starling, she will have to exercise all of her training and knowledge of this case to at last come face to face with the fugitive.

    Hannibal Lector is played by the one and only Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins performance here reiterates the fact that the casting of this film was nothing less than brilliant. I will never imagine another face to be Dr. Lector. Hopkins provides us with a very keen and sincere delivery of lines and emotions. (The reflection of Lector's dark and veiled face on the glass barrier of his confinement instills a sense of trepidation in us all.)

    This is a very difficult performance to endure; it is widely known that Hopkins only appears on-screen for a limited time; therefore, his delivery must be perfect. His role essentially makes this film. Lector acts as a confidante and mentor to Starling and, without his presence, all direction in her character would be lost. Starling needs Lector just as much as he requires her. These characters become a single entity and will continue their dance of intellect and subtle actions in subsequent films.

    "The Silence of the Lambs" is one of a handful of films to sweep all five of the major Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. Regardless of its popularity among mass audiences, this film is a genuine testament to the importance of characterization. Without a compelling set of characters, all interest becomes lost, and the significance of the plot will ultimately remain futile.

    This is a picture that will punch you in the mouth with its suspense and intrigue; it is a staple in a genre that seeks to blend horror with the captivating structure of a thriller. The last scene in this film sets up for a sequel, although when it was made there was no motivation for such undertakings. The final shot of Hannibal Lector merging into a faceless crowd, while stalking his prey, is the pinnacle of fear.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Noah ★★1/2

    Within the medium of film, there is an abundance of Biblically constructed movies, each containing or consisting of disparate portions of the Holy Bible. There is much to be said when these films come into existence, simply because they are held dear by some and are straightforwardly seen as epic storytellings by others.
    We must never forget, however, that because film is an art form, it is thereby realized that new releases (such as the 2014 film "Noah") may have been altered to some extent and will thus not yield a faithful version of the unfolding events at hand; they are essentially an interpretation. This film is a biblical exegesis of Noah and his perilous journey to save the innocent creatures of Earth from the cataclysmic and forthcoming flood.

    Noah, our protagonist, is a man of integrity and wisdom. He lives by his loyalty to the omniscient creator and leads a loving family of three boys and a single girl, Ila, who was found by Noah's traveling family after an attack on her people left her orphaned. This event leads to a deep-rooted and heartfelt love for the young girl in Noah. He cannot help but feel commiseration, for at a young age he had to witness his father's death at the hands of Tubal-Cain, who, subsequently, will be the only man standing in the way of Noah and his ultimate goal of breeding new life on Earth.  

    The prestigious depiction of Noah in this film is portrayed by the ever talented Russell Crowe; Crowe provides us with a frail and broken portrait of Noah, who is haunted by the burden of this great task. Although Crowe brings an acute sense of sophistication to this particular role, we are ultimately left with a one-dimensional character, whose one track mind is enveloped with only the ambition to complete the creator's task. It is not until the resolution of the film where Noah finally breaks free from this constrained and rather fugue state of mind to question his intentions--despite the fact that our interest has already been consigned to oblivion.
    After dreaming of morbid images bearing flood and death, Noah decides to seek out his grandfather, Methuselah, played by the ever-wonderful and talented Anthony Hopkins. As Methuselah, Hopkins induces Noah into a state that will produce vivid perceptions of seemingly otherworldly manifestations. It is now certain, for Noah has to build an ark to safeguard the guiltless inhabitants of Earth. Thus, Methuselah provides Noah with a seed that will sprout a forĂȘt of monumental proportions. This will give Noah a plethora of lumber to finish the undertaking. All proceeds without impediment until Tubal-Cain and his callous following of individuals demand to be saved from the impending doom. However, Noah informs them of their destiny to remain on Earth, which lends an opportunity for the only antagonist of the film to come to fruition. (Besides, of course, the inner struggle of Noah and the probity of the creator's intent.)

    Other notable mentions include Emma Watson, who steps into the role of Ila, Noah's adoptive daughter. Watson is best known for her role in the "Harry Potter" series of films though I presume she intends to shed the previously innocent and virtuous image of Hermoine Granger. (As is the stumbling block for most actresses attached to a particular set of films.) Watson provides an emotionally charged performance, which is a refreshingly favorable contrast to the dreary temper of Noah.

    This is a film that does not live up to the esteem that it selflessly permeates. The storyline leads to a less than stellar climax, and the scene in which the mass population of computer-generated animals pour into the ark is quite monotonous. Love stories are fashioned and forgotten; characters are unwelcoming and unappealing. Nevertheless, there is an insufficient amount of positives, including the vivid images of the delightful Garden of Eden, the throbbing of the desirable apple, and the luring of the ever inveigle serpent.

    I have always deemed Noah to be an unassuming man; one who does not engage in the decipherment of the creator's wishes. He does not fully comprehend the purpose of the ark and the intentions of the ominous flood. In any event, no matter how one views this character, he is to be respected. This film would have been better off without the linchpin on vacuous entertainment, and, instead, a focus on the in-depth elucidation of Noah's magnetism.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Body of Lies ★★★

    Masterfully articulated spy films are a spectacle to behold and a pleasure to indulge upon. Films of this nature are innately suspenseful, and they indubitably lure the viewer in with their labyrinthine constructed plots and a charismatic set of characters. "Body of Lies" is a 2008 action spy film that consists of all of these aspects, yet it cannot thoroughly compel us to believe its ostentatious and rather inconceivable construction.

    Roger Ferris is a perspicacious and devoted agent to the Central Intelligence Agency. Apart from a blood sucking divorce that weighs on his conscience, Ferris finds himself on the ground in Iraq, where his current mission is to uncover the whereabouts of Al-Saleem, a fictitious jihadist terrorist. Ferris engages in human intelligence methods to infiltrate the inner workings of this faction and, with the help of a local associate, he has found a man prepared to speak in exchange for asylum. However, this plan goes awry when the informant is captured, thus forcing Ferris to assassinate him in fear that he would reveal his identity. Another off target bust, which ultimately leads to an RPG shootout, will force agent Ferris into an alliance with Hani Saleem, the stern and perceptive head of the Jordanian intelligence.

    Of course, although it seems as if Ferris journeys through the treacherous Middle East alone, support does reside in the form of Ed Hoffman, a superior agent who sits cloaked in the darkness of a CIA headquarters operating room with a vast array of technology at his disposal. Hoffman is the driving force of this "results-driven" company and, in stark contrast to Ferris, he spends most of his time completing daily routine endeavors, such as dropping off the kids at school and catching his daughter's soccer game. Hoffman will only grace Ferris with his presence if situations become defiant, otherwise sticking to manipulating procedures that undermine the integrity of Ferris. Add in Aisha, a Jordanian nurse and love interest for Ferris, and "Body of Lies" becomes the fully invested thriller that we ultimately hope for, despite the fact that we are left with a subpar resolution.

    The performances on display in this film consist of a blend of subtle interactions and swindling tactics. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Roger Ferris with a sense of style and dignity that we are ordinarily accustomed to seeing from this highly respected actor. DiCaprio portrays the preeminent qualities of this lead character on screen, who, at length, trusts his own instincts in lieu of the orders spewing from Langley, Virginia. Ferris is a man who leans on his intricate knowledge of terrorist behavior and the relationships formed through mutual understandings and trust.
    Russell Crowe is Ed Hoffman, a one-dimensional character who sloths through the film like a stick in the mud. There is nothing admirable (or even remotely captivating) about this individual to hold our interest. Nevertheless, Crowe extracts as much substance from this character that is humanly possible, even if he is just the epitome of a customary CIA employee, who flounders at sociability and mistimes photographs of family functions. In addition to these well-known faces are other notable performances, including Mark Strong, who steps into the role of Hani Saleem. Strong is noted for playing cold and distant villains, and he provides roughly the same range here although this time he is an ally. The relationships of these three men essentially spur the development of the plot and provide the backbone to this manhunt for terror.

    There is the notion that this film will be masterful if not simply for the lending hand of sensational director Ridley Scott. The celebrated director has produced several masterpieces in his time, and he is best known for his attachment to the genre of science fiction. However, this is quite the unfamiliar territory for Scott, who is best left to methodical and subtle camera motions that grip viewers tighter than a carnivore clasped on the body of its prey. "Body of Lies" is a film that relies on fast-paced action sequences to enthrall its audience, which is an unflattering sentiment toward Scott's directorial style. The eerie atmosphere produced by the gelid depths of space cannot be replaced with the desolate ambiance of the Middle East.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From Hell ★★★

    "From Hell" is a 2001 film that centers on the inexplicable murders that terrorized the fog enshrouded streets of late nineteenth-century London. This film is loosely based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore. Ultimately, this fictionalized account, which follows the events and slayings of Jack the Ripper, will frighten and intrigue until the final curtain falls.

    Our film begins on the cobblestone streets of the Whitechapel district of London circa 1888. The camera guides us through numerous dreary filled images until it rests on the pale face of Mary Kelly--a female prostitute who lives and works in this impecunious district of England. Subsequently, Kelly and her circle of associates witness the kidnapping of Ann Crook, a friend and once prostitute herself. This event will coincide with the first of many killings targeted at these street level female workers, which puts the city on edge.

    These new and rather gruesome murders eventually gain the attention of Frederick Abberline, the local Whitechapel Police Inspector. Abberline is an eccentric man who spends his time in smoke-filled opium dens and downing glasses of Absinthe that have been laced with Laudanum. The effects of these intoxicants allow Abberline to succumb to "visions," which detail these grisly homicides and foreshadow events yet to occur. After enlisting the help of the royal family's physician, Sir William Gull, to aid in his quest to learn the identity of the murderer, Abberline discovers that it will take his brilliant investigative mind and a "trust no one" mentality to unveil the killer and restore peace to the streets of London.

    The performances in this film are a testament to the continuity and credibility that the actors portraying the characters have presented over the course of their careers. However, they lack the heart and soul that this film desperately needs which would ultimately make it a must seeJohnny Depp portrays Frederick Abberline, who was one of the most important investigators in the real life homicides caused by the notorious Jack the Ripper. Depp is a fine actor and displays his best qualities on-screen with an eloquent delivery of dialogue and mannerisms. Abberline may seem like a daft and utterly reckless human being, whose only ambition is to gain a release from everyday life. (This was an aspect of the film that the original writer of the fiction at hand, Alan Moore, discredits entirely.) Nevertheless, Depp is an essential component of the positives that brim from this story, and his performance is justifiably the sole reason to watch.

    The supporting performances lack the intrigue that surrounds the character of Abberline although they deserve an honorable mention. Heather Graham brings her illustrious career into the fold with her portrayal of the one-dimensional character of Mary Kelly. If you are familiar with the actual events of these slayings, then you will recognize her name as the last on a short list of victims and for being the most revolting murder of the crimes. Graham essentially guides the plot and dialogue in the direction it needs to go--and although she becomes the love interest of Abberline--it is very much short-lived. The role of Sir William Gull, which is also an element of the real Jack the Ripper case, is played by Ian Holm. Holm is a distinguished British actor who brings a certain sense of wisdom and maturity to the production, and it enriches the overall experience.

    This film essentially proceeds as a horror picture, which puts the viewer into a "who will die next" mode of reception. "From Hell" is not a film for the weak stomached, as there are many repulsive and grotesque images that are intended to give a realistic depiction of these murder scenes. At length, this is an interesting perspective into one of the darker moments in human history, even if it is a fictionalized account.
    Jack the Ripper's identity will virtually never be known, and the debate is destined to linger in the minds of anyone who remotely has an interest in this portion of history. The conclusion is dissatisfying to say the least, and this film would have been better served with a focus on the behind the scenes investigations that boggled some of the most brilliant minds of any nineteenth-century police force. Yet, there is a certain attraction to these dark and decadent filled streets of London. It is only natural that we, as human beings, become enticed by these spine-chilling tales of mystery and murder, even if unpleasant thoughts are inevitable.