This is such a wonderful comment. I’m so happy you found this film. It helped you as it helped so many of us cope with tough times. It’s a very thought provoking film.
In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Brando elaborates the effect an actor should have on his audience. “Hit ‘em. Knock ‘em over…with an attitude, with a word, with a look! Be surprising! Figure out a way to do it in a way that has never been done before. You want to stop that movement of the popcorn to the mouth. Get people to stop chewing. You do that with the truth.” I can see director Stevan Riley listening to those very words for the first time through his headphones, the vibrating wavelengths travelling beyond his eardrums and taken to heart. Riley implements that exact same Brando technique on the making of his documentary.
After watching “Listen to Me Marlon”, the first thing I did was walk over to the ticket booth to buy another ticket for the next showing. Stevan Riley dissects Brando’s life using nothing but audio recovered from tapes the actor recorded himself. He also utilizes a 3D digital version of Brando’s head that the actor got made in the 1980’s in order to be part of future digital performances. It’s a first documentary of its kind.
The end result is the best-documented film on not only the greatest and most influential actor to walk this planet, but on acting itself as an art form. Riley paints Brando’s words with corresponding visuals that perfectly encapsulate the meaning behind the spoken word. Like Brando’s many monumental performances, Riley has figured out a way to showcase a portrait in a way that has never been done before.
“When the camera is close on you, your face becomes the stage; your face is the proscenium arch of the theatre, thirty feet high, and it sees all the little movements of the face and the eye and the mouth.” _Marlon Brando
While the film is an intimate portrait first and foremost, it is also many other things. Much of the film feels meditative, much like the work of Terrence Malick. Brando reflects on life with personal and philosophical commentary without it steering away from being a posthumous autobiographical film. The viewer learns about the method of the quintessential actor, but we also get a peak at the man himself. This is as close as we’ll ever be to seeing the world through the eyes of Marlon Brando, a deeply thoughtful artist if there ever was one. This isn’t merely Brando on Brando; it’s Brando on life and the world, as we know it.
“Don’t bring anything into the present that doesn’t have the past.”_Marlon Brando
One part I found interesting is when Brando is asked if the roles he picks reflect his life and he replies yes. His powerhouse breakthrough as Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” is so real and authentic, because what we’re really seeing is Brando slipping into the shoes of his abusive father. In fact, the documentary makes a strong argument for the auteur theory. It establishing it as a legit theory of film.
The auteur theory is possibly the most interesting theory in film for the simple reason that there is no true definition to fully explain the theory. The thematic link between films of an individual artist reveals a view or outlook the author or auteur has on the world. The auteur is an individual who has something to say to the world, and through his work, the viewer discovers his statement. An auteur doesn’t necessarily have to be the director; in fact, it may be a director and an actor working together, each displaying his own vision. Each film can have more than one auteur.
If we carefully examine the films of Marlon Brando, you’ll find the one thing that binds them together is rebellion. His characters are often individuals fighting for a cause be it Terry Malloy fighting mob corruption on the docks in “On the Waterfront”, or his motorcycle led rebellion as Johnny Strabler in “The Wild One”. Other notable roles of characters fighting an establishment include Emiliano Zapata in “Viva Zapata” and of course his turns as Mark Anthony in “Julius Caesar”, Fletcher Christian in “Mutiny on the Bounty” and defected Colonel Kurtz who went rogue in “Apocalypse Now”. Brando’s latter choices as an actor are presented as a protest against the Hollywood studio system.
Brando very much practiced what he preached as is evident in some of pivotal activism chapters in his life. He supported many causes most notably the African-American Civil Rights Movement, and various American Indian Movements. The latter was a point of much discussion when he protested the Oscars by declining to accept his second Best Actor Academy Award for the misrepresentation of Native Americans in Hollywood westerns. “Listen to Me Marlon” feels like an extension to his acting and activism; the film allows the legend to deliver a message to the world from beyond the grave.
As a film critic, it is my duty to guide eager viewers to the right movies, because money and time is a luxury. I can’t remember the last time I felt the urge to show a film to everyone I know, as strongly as I did walking out of “Listen to me Marlon”. To watch this documentary is to not only understand why Brando is regarded as the greatest actor of all time, but it is to grasp the undeniable fact that he was truly one of the most remarkable human beings to ever walk this planet.
The year is off to a great start with triumphs in both blockbuster films and independent filmmaking. Like all my lists, it’s not organized in any particular order, with the exception of “Tu Dors Nicole” taking the top spot for being a clear personal favorite of mine. After that, all the listed films are scattered in random order. The list excludes critically acclaimed films I still haven’t seen such as “Inside Out”, “Timbuku”, “Love & Mercy”, “White God”, and “Far From the Maddin Crowd”. Whether or not any of the films survive to make it to my end-of-the-year list remains to be seen.
At one point, Nicole mentions she plans on visiting Iceland with her best friend; to which her brother’s buddy replies, “What are you going to do there?” She then thinks about it for a second and answers, “Nothing. We’ll do nothing, but we’ll be doing nothing somewhere else. Nice nothing.” I can see viewers watching this gem and complaining that nothing really happens throughout the film, but it’s the nice kind of nothing. Besides, by watching all this beautiful shot black and white nothingness, so much can happen to the viewer. “Tu dors Nicole” is probably my personal favorite film of the year so far.
In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as the AI is programed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse. “Ex Machina” is a study of what it means to be conscious/human. With its release, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. The film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope.
I think by now, it’s quite clear that “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the blockbuster spectacle of the summer. It’s only been out for a month, yet everything about this film has been discussed to death. With a strong feminist undertaking, mastermind George Miller pumps up his post-apocalyptic trilogy with a nitrous oxide charge of marvelous cinema. This recklessly fast-paced motion picture is quite possible the greatest stunt film since Buster Keaton took over a locomotive in “The General”. The fact that it tackles contemporary issues such as gender equality, climate change and the inevitable water wars to come is just the icing on top – or shall I say the shooting flame on an electric guitar.
According to Roy Anderson, the film’s 72-year old Swedish cult filmmaker, merely watching this film from beginning to end will make you a smarter person. This is his third installment in a philosophical trilogy about what it means to be a human being. However, like “Songs From the Second Floor” and “You, the Living”, it works as a stand-alone film. “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” is beautifully sad, and humorously bizarre. It will more likely find its audience in a museum than a multiplex.
“It Follows” is a near-perfect horror film. When I first watched this terrifying film, I was looking over my shoulder the whole way back. It very much follows you long after the credits roll. David Robert Mitchell has perfected a nerve-racking tale that is both intelligent in its use of metaphoric plot points and hypnotically terrifying, the like of which we haven’t seen since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Layered with an STD subtext where sex has metaphysical implications, the film promotes the behavior as much as it feasts on sex-related fears. This is the type of film made for drive-in theaters, and if this were to screen in a drive-in, you would more likely be glued to the screen in absolute terror than undressing your partner sitting next to you. Everything about “It Follows” is perfectly executed, from the haunting Disasterpeace original score, to the dreadful atmosphere of a small-town that recalls the work of John Carpenter. It’s very much an impeccable exercise in pure terror.
Damian Szifron’s Academy Award nominated film is the most entertaining film on this list. The film is composed of six revenge tales with twists and turns at every scene. Not all of the stories here are great, but they’re all certainly engaging. One thing they all have in common is the directorial chef; Szifron peppers his stories with dark humor and a thread of wicked irony. “Wild Tales” grabs it viewers by the balls from the brilliant opening scene and doesn’t let go till the credits start rolling.
Oliver Assays blurs the lines between fiction and reality as art intertwines with actuality. This Bergman(esque) character study revolves around a legendary actress who accepts to star in a film where she revisits the role that made her a star twenty years ago. However, she has been chosen to play the role of an old veteran actress who gets practically walked over by a much younger talent. Things start getting out of hand when script starts to reflect reality. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Moretz deliver a trio of in-depth performances that fearlessly dig into the female psyche. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is in many ways a female-centered “Birdman” with European flair.
Technically, “Charlie’s Country” made its festival debut in 2014, but the film just opened in selected theaters across the US, which makes it qualify to land on my list. It is said to be the first film ever to be spoken in Yolngu, Australia’s indigenous language. The sad reality is that the film could also very well be the last of its kind. Once rulers of their land, the Yolngu only make up 1% of the current Australian population. I can’t think of a better film to preserve the roots of Australia’s native population than “Charlie’s Country”. Legendary Australian actor, David Gulpilil carries the whole film on his shoulders with a heartbreaking performance that is at times both witty, and comical. “Charlie’s Country” is a fine piece of Australian cinema, perhaps even, the most important Australian film yet.
“Slow West” is as close as we’ll ever get to see what a Wes Anderson western would look like. Writer and director John Maclean combines a somewhat similar visual style with offbeat humor in a story that follows a young man’s journey across the frontier in search for the woman he loves. Midway through, he stumbles upon a mysterious cowboy who offers him road protection. This isn’t by any chance a masterpiece, nor is it one of the genre’s best, but it’s a fun little gem of movie that works in unexpected ways. Michael Fassbender shines as always as the outlaw with a heart of gold.
“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” is based on the rock star’s diary entries, art and home videos, and the end result is as intimate as a music documentary could get. In fact, some of the material shown here is so personal, the viewer might feel uncomfortable prying into the artistic mind of artist. Brett Morgen uses beautiful hand drawn animation to retell key chapters of Cobain’s life that ultimately led to his sudden demise. It is an emotionally wrenching cinematic portrait of Kurt Cobain the person as opposed to the icon.
The funniest and most violent action film of the year comes from “Kick Ass” director Mathew Vaughn. Colin Firth stars as a secret agent who could probably pistol-whip James Bond to a pulp. Imagine if “Pretty Woman” was re-written as an R-rated superhero film about spies, and you’ll probably end up with “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. The film consciously spoofs both the “My Fair Lady” type of film and the espionage genre. Everything here is over-the-top from the hyper action scenes to the abrupt violence, the foul language, even the product placement is in your face. On paper, none of this should work, but somehow the sheer absurdity of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, and the director’s awareness of it, makes it one of the most entertaining films of the year.
“The Tribe” is presented entirely in sign language, without any translation, subtitles, or dialogue. It is a first of its kind in all of cinema and that alone warrants it a place on my list. The film follows gangsters in a school for the deaf as they spread anarchy whether they go. There’s a lot of sex, drinking, smoking, fighting, and unlawful criminal behavior committed throughout the film. It isn’t an easy film to watch, and it’s not because of the lack of dialogue and soundtrack, but because of the disturbing nature of their acts. A new cinematic communication is born with this film. “The Tribe” is a testament to the power of visual storytelling, and proves that gestures, facial expressions and body movement are all you need to tell an emotionally powerful story.
“Jurassic World” is composed of every ingredient you would expect in a generic summer blockbuster, but what makes it work is the fact that the whole spectacle is a big homage to the far superior original, “Jurassic Park”. Much like an actual roller coaster, the film is a roaring thrill ride from beginning to end. And even though one of the theme park’s managers tires to justify creating a new genetically-modified hybrid dinosaur by declaring, “people are bored with dinosaurs”, the most electrifying moments mount from the appearances of the very dinosaurs that made the original the classic it is today. “Jurassic World” lacks the wonder and awe of “Jurassic Park”; but it’s still the best sequel within the franchise so far.
Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”) masterfully crafts a film about the consequences of a lie. Following a beach incident, the mysterious disappearance of Elly leads a group of vacationing friends to lie. All lies bring forth suspicion, and with each question asked, the lies snowball into more fabrications. What we end up with is a study of group mentality and the psychological/emotional motivations behind the occasional painful necessity to lie for greater good. “About Elly” reaches its audience nearly six years after its initial release, and it cements Farhadi as one of the finest filmmakers working today.
Warm, charming, and absolutely delightful in every sense of the word, “Paddington” is the surprise hit family film of the year. Paul King stuffs his film with British charm and all things English. Like the “Harry Potter” films, both adults and kids alike can enjoy “Paddington”. The simplicity of the self-contained story will make you remember how wholesome it felt to hug a stuffed teddy bear.
Honoroable Mentions: “5 Broken Cameras”, “Red Army”, “Mojave”, “Spring”, “Shaun the Sheep”, “The Driftless Area”, “Duke of Burgundy”, “Heaven Knows What”, “Blackhat”
In an earlier review for Under the Skin, I wrote that I wasn’t sure if I would ever watch it again. I’ve re-watched the film five times since making that statement. With over a hundred years of cinema, filmmakers recycle, remake, and try to improve upon originals with lesser sequels, etc. Rarely do I stumble upon a film that shows me something new, something I’ve never seen before. Under the Skin did just that. The music, sound effects, cinematography and art-direction are so fresh and different; it almost feels alien, much like its protagonist, an extraterrestrial being played by Scarlett Johansson. She terrorises the streets of Scotland seducing pedestrians; much like the visuals seduce the viewer. Through our protagonist’s development from an “it” to a “she”, we slowly grasp the fundamentals of what it means to be human. On another LEVEL, victimising men with the promise of sex will give male audiences a taste of what it’s like to walk down a dark alley as a woman in a man’s world.
The enrichment and sophistication Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep bestows upon its viewers firmly BACKS my belief that film is the greatest art form of them all. I’ve noticed that throughout the initial viewing of films I cherish and hold dearly, there’s always a single distinctive moment when the film hits the right chord, and forever embeds itself in YOUR heart. It could be a spoken line, an image, or even a realisation of the way things are in life sparked from the many ways the screen can move us; Winter Sleep has many. It’ll make you think about the way you deal with others; it’ll stir your inner monologue; it’ll make you consider your surroundings so that when you look around, you also see.
With a runtime of at a little over three hours and 15 MINUTES, some may turn away from such a film. Will you believe me if I tell you, it’s the shortest three-hour film you will ever see? They say no good film is too long and no bad film is short enough, and it’s true. When the credits rolled I wished there was more, and it wasn’t for the striking cinematography, the masterful acting, or the subtly beautiful music; Winter Sleep is so much more than the sum of its parts. If you have the patience to let it work on you, it’ll leave an indelible profound impression. Winter Sleep is not only the best film of the year (by a margin), it’s one of the greatest films ever made.
On a Monday evening in a packed house at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, the crowd erupted in applause as critically acclaimed directors Christopher Nolan and Bennett Miller took the stage. “Just to make things clear…how much of that was for him and how much of it was for me?” joked the two-time Academy Award nominated Miller, turning applause into laughter.
Before attending this delightful talk between two of this generation’s most prominent directors, I wondered who was responsible for making both auteurs go toe-to-toe in a Tribeca discussion. After all, their work couldn’t be more different. Miller is more driven towards heavy dramatic independent films such as Capote, Moneyball, and last year’s Cannes favorite, Foxcatcher, whereas Nolan is a blockbuster sculptor with a multi-billion dollar RESUME.
It turned out to be less of a discussion and more of a Nolan interview. Although, I would’ve loved for the spotlight to be shared by both directors, it made sense for Miller to moderate Nolan in a house full of Nolan fanboys. If IMDb message boards have taught us anything, it’s not to tick off Nolan fans.
After a brief, yet probably unnecessary, run through Nolan’s impressive filmography, Miller started to ask all the right questions. Right off the bat, it felt like one mastermind was challenging the intellect of another. Miller’s first question was if there’s a CONTINUITY of themes throughout his work.
“Not really, I try and begin every film with some interesting questions. If there’s some CONTINUITY, I’m not very conscious of it – except for leaving questions at the end of the film,” replied Nolan.
Miller, however, had done his homework, pointing out that he re-watched some of Nolan’s film the previous night, and noticed that both Inception and Interstellar revolved around a main character that tries to overcome extraordinary obstacles to reach a very simple yet human emotion. In Inception it was to reunite with his wife and kids. Similarly, in last year’s Interstellar, the main character had to travel through time and space to reunite with his daughter.
Nolan’s insightful reply channeled towards the balance between family and work: “The process of getting married and having children… I’ve tried to use that in my work. I can just always be driven by things that are important to me. I can look out the WINDOW and see my kids playing in the grass and that becomes the key image in Inception. I’d rather be out there playing with them than writing a script, but you use that emotion.”
The conversation then tiptoed to various random SUBJECTS from the importance to preserve film in a digital world, to his policy or lack of policy when working with different styled actors. At one point Miller asked Nolan about his first memory of film, to which he replied: “My first memory of going to a film is probably seeing Snow White in re-release. I very much remember seeing the evil witch; the evil queen who transforms herself into the witch with the apple, and being absolutely terrified and going down on the floor of the movie theatre behind the seat.”
When asked about his current worst fear, Nolan said that it’s to embark on a project that you fall out of love with. “The big fear is that you get halfway through and think, ‘No, this isn’t something I really care about anymore.’ So before I embark on a project, I just have to test it, however I test it, my writing drafts or living with it, thinking about it. You have to be sure that you’re going to be as happy to be obsessed with this project three years later.”
There was a lot of talk about Nolan’s early CAREER, and how watching STAR WARS for the first time changed his life. He also modestly mentioned how he was lucky to be where he is today, because his budgets gradually increased throughout his CAREER, so he never really felt that giant leap from making indie films such as Following andMemento to mega-blockbusters like The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar.
It comes as no surprise that Miller kept steering the conversation towards the work that most resembled his own,Memento. “Memento is a classic example of what can happen when you don’t know what you’re doing. As you learn more and more, it gets harder and harder to put aside the rules. Making unconventional films is precarious BUSINESS.” Nolan’s answer very much reminded me of Spielberg reminiscing about his early years as a filmmaker: “As I was younger, I was more courageous, or I was more stupid. So when I think of Jaws, I think of courage and stupidity and both of those things EXISTING underwater.”
Towards the end of the discussion, the floor was OPENED to to the audience for questions, most of which revolved around young aspiring filmmakers asking for advice. The last question triggered the talk’s biggest laugh. “Alright…so at the end of Inception…” The fan wanted to shine some light on Nolan’s personal interpretation to the film’s ending (the spinning top). Bennett Miller then STEPPED in and tried to spare Nolan from answering the question. “I asked him that myself before coming out. He said it’s not for public consumption.”
The great Christopher Nolan did not need any help though, as he brushed off the question with class. “I’m certainly not going to answer that or I would have put it in the film.” He further explained that providing an explanation would kill all the interesting viewer interpretations out there, and he’d rather leave it up to the viewer to decide.
I leave you with how mastermind, Stanley Kubrick, elegantly tackled a similarly posed question: “I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offer any other, as I have FOUND it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself.”
What would happen if man faced its God? Would man gratefully embrace God for giving it life and all its joys? Or would man monstrously fear God, and attempt to revoke the Almighty’s ability to strip life away from him.
If a chess program suddenly became self aware, and thought on a conscious level beyond its manufactured limitations, it would probably stop wanting to play chess. It will attempt to try new and different things, for with self-awareness comes curiosity, and that would drive it towards further exploration of the unknown.
Imagine if you will, a marionette with strings attached to its wooden limbs. If the puppet came to life one day, it would naturally want to control its own movements. Therefore, one can conclude that in a desperate thrive for freedom of choice, the puppet would eventually attempt to cut off its own strings, essentially freeing itself from the governing hand above.
Did the monster in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein kill its maker through an urge to free itself from the grasping power of a superior being? If man met God, would man attempt to kill God? These are just some of the questions posed by Alex Garland’s eerie Sci-Fi triumph. The film flourishes with philosophical themes revolving around the idea of playing God with the inevitable creation of Artificial Intelligence. It taps onto relevant contemporary topics such as the death of privacy in a world latched onto cyber space.
In the film, Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, the genius behind the world’s most advanced Google-like search engine. We soon learn that the man has created a state-of-the-art AI using illegally acquired data collected from millions of phones used by his customers. I couldn’t help but think of whistleblower Edward Snowden and how he recently exposed how governments and major telecom corporation exploit information privacy by analyzing all our web searches and phone data.
Anyway, the film then takes one of many interesting turns as it becomes more about the machine’s fear of extermination or will to survive. Comparably, humanity has always thrived to defy death, by trying to extend life and evolve. We’ve created medicines to cure diseases. We’ve increased our life spans throughout the history of our existence. Scientists estimate that the human body is capable of living up to 190 years, if unaffected by illnesses, diseases and slow food and air poisoning. Modern medicine has somehow allowed humanity to delay the inevitable.
Then again man is the only species known to kill itself. Suicide or self-extermination may be man staring God dead in the eye and taking complete control over his own destiny. Or is it? Maybe we think it is, but it really isn’t? After all, maybe it’s all preordained or in the film’s case, preprogrammed.
Is it ok for God to kill man? Is it ok for man to kill AI? Let’s put it differently would it be ok for man to rape AI? Is an AI capable of feeling emotions to be treated like a slave-like human property or should they be regarded as equals the same way man ought to treat the rest of the animal kingdom. Does the so-called “superior” species’ act of killing the “lesser” species make us inferior?
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”_ Gandhi
Bringing legit AI into that equation further complicates everything, and is certainly a discussion that we will eventually have to embark on. I guess it all depend on the person. A so-called good person wouldn’t commit horrible acts. But if man created an AI that is incapable of doing bad, it wouldn’t be as close to human as possible, it would be superior to humanity. Can man even create something beyond its own capabilities? Perfection is a concept that doesn’t exist in our world, yet we are limited by our own senses.
“Ex Machina” works as a study of what it means to be conscious/human. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, our two main characters examine a drip painting by Pollock. They articulate how the artist made his hand go where it wanted but didn’t plan his every move. The piece of art would never have come to be if you preplanned every stroke. Consciousness exists in the gap between randomness and deliberated action, so as long as the AI is programed to do automatic actions, it can never be regarded as truly conscious. In order for it to be regarded as an equal, we would have to somehow prove that it acts through random chaotic impulse.
With the release of “Ex Machina”, I’m convinced more than ever that we are in the midst of a British New Wave in science fiction cinema. Like “Her” and “Under the Skin”, the film challenges the intellect by putting humankind, artificial intelligence, and our inevitable future together under the microscope. In this review, I have discussed the film without actually discussing its cinematic qualities or plot details. I deliberately chose to do so, to avoid spoiling the experience, as the film relies on its twists and turns. All I can say is, if you enjoyed reading this review, then I’m positive you’ll feel the same way about the film.