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Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Most Twisting Labyrinth

Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland on David Bowie, in the 80's. The movie loves David Bowie, and it's hard not to love him as well, as he is so freaking mystical and magical. In a formal dance scene he is in fact the love interest, as evidenced by the music and camera angles, he is Cinderella. Bowie actually confirms the fact that there is life from somewhere beyond Earth. He transcends mortality and becomes something else. David Bowie as the Goblin King is the 80's, everything it stands for, everything good and bad and insane. Every other movie that seeks to encapsulate the decade is really just lying to itself.

The movie is in fact a perfect example of the hero's journey archetype, also exemplified by Star Wars. Though it is missing a few steps, as most adaptations are, it still shows it off so well that it could be taught as an example of Joseph Campbell's philosophies. Not only is a great example of the journey but it is also a great example of a mythical world that is created through fanastical imagery. However like many other films from the 80's the world is nowhere near perfect, it shows a rude and ugly world that is still magical. Interestingly some parts of the film look similar to the end of Hellraiser 2, another film with a labyrinth.

One of the main reasons these movies still have so much charm is there use of puppets for the creatures therein, as well as the matte paintings for the incredible backgrounds. This was before an era of crappy CGI and when movies tend to be creative in their designs, especially the fantasy films. Like the Neverending Story and some more surreal films like Brazil the imagery in the film is simply so out of this world that it draws the viewer into the fantasy and makes it seem real. The superb work on the visuals also helps, as puppeteers where in high demand and had high skill.

Bowie is the Cheshire Cat and is the real star of the film. Though the main female protagonist is determined she does not have much character. She has many generic protagonist traits, helping individuals in trouble, being forgiving, and determined on her task but has nothing to make her really stand out, no flaws really as she constantly resists the lures of giving up and going home. However Bowie is simply a much more entertaining character to watch because of his performance, he is so in love with himself. He also has a goal much like hers, to steal the baby forever, and it's easy to admire someone with such a determined work ethic.

Now the main difference between this film and something like Wonderland is the end goal. There is a time limit and a task that needs to be accomplished so no aimless wandering is allowed. This creates a wholly different feel and attitude towards the characters therein. The allies she meets and the party she creates form a very different story as well, , with an obvious Tolkien like progression of adventure and grandeur. Her task can not be accomplished by only one person.

Of course the music is also fantastic and add times adds some urgency or mysticism to a scene. All the songs that are sung are even better and given how odd the movie can be it doesn't seem out of place at all. At one point the film simply becomes an M.C. Esther painting with no real explanation aside from the fact that the castle is freaking weird. There are often scenes like that with so many different creatures and environments it's difficult to list them all, but some like the well of hands that form faces stand out as something that very few minds could think of, and very few decades could handle so well.

Overall it still holds up as an incredible visual and musical masterpiece, with David Bowie standing out as such an amazing actor that every scene he has he just devours, as if it were a large ham. His crotch is also a fine secondary character. Finally as the Red Queen and villain he is great, as a temptress and a seducer, no matter the sex he could do it, just like Tim Curry in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Of course in the end she devolves into madness and embraces the insanity of the fantasy world, though absent a certain eccentric musician.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Run Lola Run

Run Lola Run is a German film with has an absolutely amazing concept and almost lives up to it. Essentially the titular character has 20 minutes to make one hundred thousand marks. Unfortunately she is without a car or really any method of transport and has to you know, run to places. The reason she has to do this is her boyfriend lost all the money from a heist he helped pull, and now the crime boss wants his money, or the guy dies. It's a fairly compelling if generic motivation, and keeps it simple. The interesting twist is she runs this journey three times, each with slight differences which change the world and outcome around her enormously.

The film-making style is also interesting because to show these changes to the future there are numerous very brief montages showing what happens to the people she interacts with, though only the minor characters, the major characters' plots play out in real-time. Now the first two run-throughs of the film end disastrously, with one of the main character's dead but surprisingly the last ends fine for all involved. I say surprisingly because this is a German film, and they are not known for positive or uplifting endings, but this one is actually a happy ending. The protagonists don't even have to do anything terrible to get the money.

Another point that helps the film is the main character, who is entertaining to watch and is so determined to save her boyfriend that though their are only brief intermissions between the three 20 minute runs which showcase their relationship we understand their devotion. Also look at her hair, it's absolutely gorgeous. Due to her actions in the film and general appearance it is obvious that Faith from Mirror's Edge takes some inspiration, though Lola theoretically has no prior training or experience, and is just a normal girl who really wants to help her boyfriend. Also she weirdly has an almost supernatural ability to scream, which is brought up several times throughout the film.

A final point in the film's advantage is the incredible soundtrack which keeps up the frantic pace and speed of the film incredibly. It has a unique mix of German and English songs, and it complements the action incredibly well. Because of this the film feels like a combination of Crank and something like Falling Down, where an ordinary man is driven to extraordinary deeds  by incredibly unlikely circumstance. Of course it is a good deal more entertaining than Falling Down, though far from perfect.

That's not to say the movie is all good though, as it is periodically punctuated by awful animated segments. The quality of animation on these is just bad and it is questionable why the director put them in given how stylized and well done the normal segments are. The credits is one of these sequences and inspires little confidence for the actual film, despite its quality. The director's interesting style as well can lead to a kind of disjointed feel with all the different segments leaving out and adding parts seemingly at random.

Overall the film carries itself at a good pace, has decent characters with a very believable relationship between the two protagonists, and keeps the plot moving very quickly, though sometimes a little to quick. It is also a tad on the short side which is interesting given how packed with events the film is. Perhaps a little bit more time could have been devoted to the protagonists' lives outside of the twenty minute periods, but overall the pace works well, and it ends up ending right when it should.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


One of the most frequent relationship dynamics is that of two dudes who don't get along at first, but they learn to work together; fight crime, make some good jokes, or escape from prison. Of course inevitably they part ways after an argument, but realize they can't accomplish their task on their own, and get back together for an epic conclusion. There are a number of sub-genres, namely Buddy Cop and the more recent annoying guy destroys a competent guy's life. Of course besides films it is also a frequent theme in video-games, especially early video-games, where the two player co-op was very common.

First there are the comedic variants of this, with classics like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles with John Candy and Steve Martin standing out as exemplary examples, but there are many others which are still good, but not quite as good. It's actually incredibly easy to identify these types of movies. Look at the poster, does it have two guys, one with a comical expression? Probably a buddy comedy movie, with the same plot twists you've seen a million times, but maybe some decent comedy. Some opt for hyperbole like the Blues Brothers, though that does not follow the standard formula, as there is no conflict between the characters, creating a very different dynamic.

As stated these are simple movies, with a simple purpose, comedy. Even movies like Clerks follow this same dynamic, with two dudes who hang out together eventually having some huge event that tears them apart, but they get together before the finale. Of course in Clerks there is no real plot, so the conclusion is not exactly action packed or truly decisive, but it still works along the same formula. This has resulted in many brilliant comedies, and many lackluster impersonations. This two man dynamic is relatively easy to right and difficult to screw up, but it is the quality of the comedy and writing that makes it a good or bad movie, so that is why there is such a variance.

Now the second very popular variant is the buddy cop movie, something which has died down in recent days, but still has some appeal as shown by recent films like The Other Guys or 21 Jump Street. Classics like Rush Hour where the main proponents of this type of film, and again it uses the easy and entertaining dynamic to create a decent film. Even something like Bad Boys was still a decent watch, because the main actors work well together. Typically these types of films also have explosive finales which area  visual treat, again helping to create the basis for a very decent film, albeit nothing truly amazing.

With many of these genres the film-makers are so constrained by convention that they can't make anything truly genre-defining or defying, because often the financiers refuse to do these kind of risky projects, as they know what works and don't know what won't. This is applicable to a number of genres, but some like Horror and Sci-Fi can still put out interesting and inventive films, whereas some others like buddy and Rom-coms really can't. Genres generally constrain instead of enhance, and in many cases categorizations don't help with the best films, like Pulp Fiction or Donnie Darko. Films are an expansive and all-encompassing media, and we need to shy away from these constrictions and embrace free-form film, especially int he lower budget market.