Bowie and the Death of Rock: A Review of the Rocky Horror Picture Show

On the extreme ends of the spectrum, there are possibly two kinds of moviegoers: those who watch a film for fun—taking it at face value; and those who watch in silence and appreciation of the deeper art—dissecting every bit of the picture to pieces until nothing is left for consideration. There is simply nothing wrong with leaning with either the former or the latter because both are part of the experience. Rocky Horror Picture Show engages this duality: one can either enjoy the music and pay no mind to the nonsensical plot or uncover the layers of allegory hidden underneath.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Magenta (left), Dr. Frank-N-Furter (center), and Riff Raff (right) performing “Sweet Transvestite” (Image courtesy of Collider)

The film by Jim Sharman is an adaptation of the musical stage play, The Rocky Horror Show. The musical is a comedy romp of outrageous proportions. Newly engaged couple, Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), experiences a car breakdown in the middle of the rain. Meeting a dead-end and having passed a mansion, the two decided to turn back and ask for a telephone call. Their demure, country demeanor, however, is no match for the surprises that lie therein as they then subsequently meet a series of colorful characters, including the handyman Riff Raff (Richard O’ Brien), the domestic Magenta (Patricia Quinn), the groupie Columbia (Nell Campbell), and the mysteriously weird Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry). The couple is just in time to witness the unveiling of Dr. Frank’s creation, Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood), who is basically a man in a very suggestive state of undress. What follows next is a sequence of musical numbers and outlandish story twists-and-turns, including the murder of Eddie (Meat Load), an ex-delivery-boy-slash-former-creation, and the arrival of Dr. Everett V. Scott (Jonathan Adams), a rival scientist. The movie ultimately leaves the audience with a what-in-the-freaking-hell-did-I-just-watch sort of reaction in the end.

Yet despite being outrageous, Rocky Horror Picture Show still engenders a feeling of uncertainty for the discriminating moviegoer. There is simply something behind all the silliness.

I say that the plot bears no sense because Rocky Horror Picture Show does not center on storytelling but rather on, upon closer inspection, a more meaningful secret. Of course, all movies have a story to tell. Rocky Horror Picture Show, on the other hand, basks in the bombast of its narrative with allusions to the era’s pop culture. It is by no means a bad thing but rather a clever ruse: hiding music history in a musical drives the audience’s attention to the pomp—or even discordance—of tunes, which often is the motivation of making musicals. The devil indeed lies in the details.

Right from the start, the disembodied lips singing “Science Fiction/Double Feature” provide an overview of what is about to come: an unfolding of something that must hearken to Hollywood’s science-fiction heydays. The song is filled with mentions of iconic sci-fi cinemas, from Forbidden Planet to The Day the Earth Stood Still. Then it opens to a wedding in front of an American Gothic parody—a parody of the parody of the humdrum rural life, which essentially reflects on Brad and Janet. The ennui is further emphasized in the contrast between Brad’s and Janet’s lively “Dammit Janet” and the lifeless deliveries of Riff Raff, Magenta and Columbia (posing as somebody else) interjected into the lyrics. The transformation of the hero and the heroine from boring to hip will not start until “Time Warp.”

The movie was released in 1975, during the height of glam rock. Before Lady Gaga, there was David Bowie or, to be more specific, Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy was, in all sense of the word, bizarre but his appeal rested on his mystery and otherworldliness. Dr. Frank is very much the same. He is a cross-dressing alien, both figuratively and literally, from Transylvania, as per his opening number “Sweet Transvestite.” He is also a scientist who happens to have created a man, named Rocky Horror. Rocky and Eddie, Frank’s previous creation, embody the rivalry of the time between rock-and-roll and glam rock. Eddie questions in “Hot Patootie—Bless My Soul,” “What happened to Saturday Night, when you dressed up sharp and you felt alright?” Indeed, the entrance of a new form of glittery rock was an altogether radical and sharp turn for music. From being laidback, everybody was suddenly entranced with the “cosmic light” of glam. And the fact that Eddie is a partial brain donor for Rocky certifies that Rocky is, for the genre’s fans, an enhanced derivative. Rocky’s version of rock is sexier and more sensual than Eddie’s muscle-challenged naiveté. As a result Frank murders Eddie, signifying the annihilation of the rock.

Hence also is the importance of Brad’s and Janet’s transformation. The new initiates are thrown in a frenzy of sexual encounters, most notable of which is discernible in Janet’s “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me” wherein she expresses her surrender to the intimate and animalistic allure of the newfound experience; she “has tasted blood” and hungers for more.

The movie culminates in the “Floor Show.” Columbia, lovesick from Eddie’s death and disillusioned by Frank’s glamour, screeches her dislike for the new Frank; Rocky Horror embraces his birthright, that is, of “an orgasmic rush of lust”; Brad warbles his confusion; Janet asserts her sexual empowerment; and Frank encourages everyone to “don’t dream it, be it.” The four, Rocky, Brad, Janet, and Frank, eventually consummate their desires of “absolute pleasure” with an orgy while Dr. Scott implores everyone to escape from Frank’s licentious web “before this decadence” robs them of any sanity.

Yet as with everything else in this world, all good things must come to an end. Riff Raff and Magenta overturn Frank’s control, accusing his lifestyle of being “too extreme.” Ziggy became too big for Bowie, so he decided to kill him. Those caught in the whirlwind rise and decline of glam have nothing left to do but to question what happened. As with “Super Heroes,” Brad, Janet, and Dr. Scott share such confusion. It is the job of the Criminologist (Charles Gray) to pick up the pieces. But even he reaffirms the reality that the human race is “lost in time, lost in space, and meaning.” Sometimes there is nothing more to do than charge everything to experience and move on.

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Consummation by Fire: A Review of Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso

Alfredo (left) and Toto (right) sharing their love of film (Image courtesy of Facebook)

The Bildungsroman has been adapted quite a number of times in film. In a typical coming-of-age story, the main protagonist, usually male, must undergo the process of growth, which entails maturity, wisdom and even sexual awakening. Cinema Paradiso, from director Giuseppe Tornatore, tells the story of a young man Salvatore “Toto” Di Vita who goes through such process. The movie, however, strays from the cookie-cutter by incorporating an interesting narrative: the love of film.

The story is told in flashbacks, which starts with a phone call telling the death of Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret). The news eventually reaches adult Toto (Jacques Perrin) and the scene cuts to the World War II era and the Golden Age of Hollywood. Throughout the film, Toto’s journey towards adulthood is clearly outlined and related with great focus on his passion for movies. Young Toto (Salvatore Cascio) starts his love affair with the moving pictures in the town’s theater, Cinema Paradiso. There he meets Alfredo, the projectionist, and their relationship as mentor-apprentice begins. In typical coming-of-age fashion, Toto undergoes struggles that tested and hardened his moral fiber and, sure enough, his love for movies. He becomes a dedicated projectionist while experimenting on making his own using an 8mm camera. Adolescent Toto (Marco Leonardi) then weaves through his teenage years where sexual exploration and romantic ties are par for the course. His dramatic departure from the town of Giancaldo provides the film with the closure it needs for Toto’s meanderings toward personal maturity.

Cinema Paradiso is simple yet complex in the way it presents its theme and overall narrative. The story of young Toto is by far the most interesting part of the film for it clearly outlines all the characters that would help him in his development. The movie is explicit in providing the audience with a view of Toto’s love for film in two scenes: first, when he sneaks in the theater, Cinema Paradiso, to watch Father Adelfio (Leopoldo Trieste) reviews the matinee line-up for any morally offensive scenes, which mainly involve kissing; second, when Toto improvises dialogues for the cut outs of reel he picks up in the projection room.

One-half of the main character is Alfredo, the theater’s projectionist, and the archetypal Old Sage. He serves as Toto’s main guide throughout his early years, teaching him the ways to manage the theater’s projector and giving him nuggets of wisdom. Alfredo is the “wizard,” separated from the community by his solitude high up in the projection room. Yet his skills allow him and the rest of Giancaldo to meld seamlessly together in joyful—or tearful—consummation of movie-watching.

Another strong point of the film is its expert use of space. Michele Haneke used space in Caché to create a cinematic divide between the characters of the film and the audience that transcended the physical bounds of reality and therefore creating, in what many theorizes, an effect that “breaks the fourth wall.” Tornatore makes it literal by filling the movie with symbolic spaces. First, we have the projection room, the mysterious tower. The room is complicated, filled with movie posters and discarded reels. It is where the magic of film is produced and only the entitled projectionist, the hermit, in a sense, holds the power to bring forth its wonders. Second, the theater, Cinema Paradiso, provides a distinct political atmosphere. Seated at the top are the elites, uncondescending, privileged and entitled; the masses are at the bottom. Yet the theater brings together these people from diverse walks of life in a unified activity. Regardless of the status they hold, both those seated on top and those on the bottom are equal. Lastly, Toto’s room near the end is an altar of his childhood and adolescent years. It contains forgotten relics that serve as remembrances of what had been and what is. The apparent disparity of adult Toto and the room serves to encapsulate his journey.

Finally, dissecting this film is not complete without unraveling some of its symbolic mysteries, and Cinema Paradiso is fraught with meaningful symbolisms. The most apparent and explicit is the lion’s head where the projection light goes through. Lion is a beast with utmost ferocity and passion. The sudden animation of the lion’s head serves to foreshadow what will be for Toto and Alfredo. Passion is the fire that awakens man’s deepest desire, and that fire will consume both main characters in a dichotomous fashion: Alfredo’s being caught in a frenzied blaze in the projection room after a mishap; and Toto’s fervent passion for film and eventually filmmaking.

Even the most subtle of scenes can bring forth the most meaning. After Toto’s enlistment in the army, he goes back to Giancaldo and finds it unchanged. Alfredo asks him to take him to the beach where probably the turning point for the movie is revealed. There, sitting on the rampart and surrounded by rusting anchors, Alfredo tells Toto that there is nothing left for him in Giancaldo. He appeals to him to go back to Rome and find himself a future. Alfredo’s monologue draws parallel to the anchors that surround them both. The rusting iron serves as Toto’s attachment to Giancaldo: old and decaying. Realizing that he indeed has to move on and break away from the ties that bind him in the now lonely town, Toto decides to leave and the movie veers toward its most tearful moment.

Cinema Paradiso truly shines in its expert use of cinematic elements that do not draw away from the general storytelling. All scenes and shots, no matter how short, contribute to the larger story. In its final moments, we are entreated to seek out our roots and remove any fears of gravitating in the melancholy of remembrances. And like a ball of yarn, our experiences serve to enrich us and must therefore unravel to connect what is and what was.

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Love in Less Than a Day: A Review of Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise is a delightful romance journey from Richard Linklater, the same director who brought us the trippy A Scanner Darkly. Before Sunrise differs from that more recent psychedelic rotoscoped foray yet the links between visuals and themes remain distinct. Whereas A Scanner Darkly tells the decent to drug addiction with the vibrancy and otherworldliness one undergoes during induced euphoria, Before Sunrise is a moving portrait of romance framed in the muted milieu of reality—reality as the audience sees and experiences it.

One of the best things about watching a film is its ability to transport us and suspend reality. Before Sunrise is as closest to reality as possible and it certainly succeeds. The film tells the story of Jessie and Céline, two strangers sharing a train from Budapest who decided to explore the possibilities of their connection in a spontaneous decision to get off in Vienna. There is no huge action in this film nor does it have any elements of thrill, save for the anticipation of how their romance would end or continue. The story unfolds in the same way as the characters reveal themselves: through dialogue.

The entire film is carried by Jessie’s and Céline’s conversation. Their banter holds them together as they seek themselves from one another through an excursion toward discovery. At one point an idea of split soul is brought up. Whether this is homage to the myth of Aristophanes about man’s yearning to find his other half throughout his life, a concept brilliantly encapsulated by yet another film called Hedwig and the Angry Inch, it is a welcome hint to the movie’s central theme of finding fulfillment in another person amidst our mundane and unembellished actuality. This discovery is further emphasized with their pretend albeit endearing phone call where they reveal intimate sentiments of one another.

Before Sunrise

Jessie and Céline sharing calling each other. (Image courtesy of The Guardian UK)

The minimalist take on a romantic story works well for Before Sunrise for it prevents the attention of the audience from wandering off. It is a story of two people trying out love punctuated by witty tête-à-tête and adorned with mitigated, self-restrained passion. It separates itself from the maudlin and overwrought tear-jerkers or the dull and oft humorless romantic comedies. Nor is it a movie with too much gravitas. Before Sunrise is narratively unassuming; everything can be conjectured the moment their minds met at the buffet car. Yet while sexual tension is evident, the film handles it expertly: foreplay that culminated in implicit lovemaking.

It is crucial to underline the importance of Jessie and Céline for they are the drivers of this film. We go wherever they go. We meet whoever they meet. We accept whatever they share. Everything else is temporary and transitory. The few people they meet are unimportant. The film breaks away from any superfluous scene by introducing these side elements without extensively exploring them; doing so would not add anything substantial.  They are just there to make Vienna as real as the main leads are to us. They are the tiny cogs that propel the story and leaving them out would not put a dent to the overall storytelling. Other romance films want in focus and Before Sunrise triumphs in it. Such focus is even visually noticeable in several scenes where the camera lingers on a composition with just the two of them, a style, although less used in Before Sunrise, reminiscent of Haneke and Ozu.

Finally, it is worth noting the use of the word “transitory” because it encapsulates the entire film. Before it ended, the film revisited the places Jessie and Céline went to like a friend sending postcards to another. The train is symbolic of the temporary nature of their romance. Whether their romance endures is moot. The certainty is that everything we experience, even love, is ephemeral at some point. The question is whether we allow it to linger or to be tucked away in the deep recesses of our subconscious unlike Jessie and Céline who outlined their feelings for each other thus escaping the temporal barrier of one night and cherishing their intimacies before the sun rose.

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Revisiting Kubrick’s Thirty-Year-Old Masterpiece

I don’t remember the last time I watched The Shining. I am certain it was more than ten years ago, around mid 90’s. Then again, the date doesn’t matter since my appreciation for movies then was virtually nonexistent. I devoured movies like my meals: thoroughly enjoyed them long enough until the next one comes, and the cycle and experience start anew. Watching it now after many years, though, awakened new senses and made the movie far more palatable. There are new flavors of which I was unaware before. These flavors allowed for new discoveries and demanded greater attention. I took each, chewed, swallowed, and reveled with an overabundance of satiety.

Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, The Shining is one of the most well-known horror masterpieces. Although I haven’t read the book, many who have almost never fail to mention how much Kubrick deviated it, further evidenced by King’s aversion to the movie and decision to make a mini-series. Kubrick used the central plot but made the movie on his own terms. It is, in essence, his. His notoriety for perfection oozes from every scene and every line. But for me, one core element of the movie that made it effective in evoking fright is the score. From beginning to end, Kubrick’s masterful use of the background score sent shivers down my spine. It is the perfect capstone.

The Shining is unlike any of today’s horror movies, which are mostly manufactured in the same formulaic shock-factor. Instead of using horror clichés, the movie opts for subtle but deeply effecting psychological torments, again, accompanied by a haunting score. Case in point: Danny’s game-room scene. He’s playing darts and after throwing each to the board, he routinely pulls them out. Close-up of his face, and we immediately know something unexpected and horrifying has just occurred. Eyes widening, we feel an acute sense of dread as the score hits a harrowing tempo, enduring for seconds until the objects of horror is revealed. In some movies, the effect of such a reveal would be ineffective and, thus, novel, often receiving plenty of eye-rolls.

Another example would be Wendy’s discovery of Jack’s ‘writings’. Other horror films would predictably employ the oldest trick in the horror book: the scare-you-from-behind tactic, in which an unsuspecting victim is caught of guard by a voice from behind, causing the audience to jump from their seat. In The Shining, though, a more effective version is used. We still see Wendy but we also see where Jack is going to emerge from. There is no surprise for the audience, making Wendy’s reaction much more authentic and appreciated instead of gratuitous. And Jack’s, “How do you like it?” is equally disturbing in its delivery.

The Shining is marvelous from every direction. While others claim it to be deeply self-indulgent and (gasp!) boring, the human mind’s descent to psychological distress is not actually abrupt. Each line contributes to the collective, used as an efficient tool to drive the plot forward, and not as fillers to an otherwise empty scene. Every line is memorable and effecting, and so are the performances.

Jack Nicholson is wonderful. I know that’s glib, but it’s also an apt description of his work in the movie. The child who played Danny, Danny Lloyd, delivers quite a performance. But the true gem is Shelley Duvall. I had my misgivings about her role as the inept wife and jejune mother. But she really shone and exemplified authentic terror. Her transition from happy homemaker to terrified victim is delectable I could almost taste her fear. I know many would disagree with me in this, but Shelley’s Wendy is, for me, the best character in the film.

All those elements fueled a marvelous story. And the way that story was told is both timeless and peerless. The Shining is open for interpretation, especially with the ending. That kind of open-ended finale is bound to create plenty of opinions. I’m aware of the deleted scene, which probably shed some light on the film’s ending. However, the exclusion of that scene made a very efficient mystery which instilled an allure.

And while movies of this caliber are increasingly becoming rare, no matter how things change and how the movie industry’s definition of horror evolve, The Shining will remain a remarkable gem in the genre of psychological thrillers.

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Oscar 2010 Nominees

Best Picture
Avatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up in the Air
Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges — Crazy Heart
George Clooney — Up in the Air
Colin Firth — A Single Man
Morgan Freemn — Invictus
Jeremy Renner — The Hurt Locker
Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon — Invictus
Woody Harrelson — The Messenger
Christopher Plummer — The Last Station
Stanley Tucci — The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz — Inglourious Basterds
Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock — The Blind Side
Helen Mirren — The Last Station
Carey Mulligan — An Education
Gabourey Sidibe — Precious
Meryl Streep — Julie and Julia
Actress in a Supporting Role
Penelope Cruz — Nine
Vera Farmiga — Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal — Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick — Up in the Air
Mo-Nique Precious
Animated Feature Film
Coraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells
Up
Art Direction
Avatar
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Nine
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria
Cinematography
Avatar
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon
Costume Design
Bright Star
Coco before Chanel
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Nine
The Young Victoria
Directing
James Cameron — Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow — The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino — Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels — Precious
Jason Reitman — Up in the Air
Foreign Language Film
Ajami
El Secreto de Sus Ojos
The Milk of Sorrow
Un Prophete
The White Ribbon
Makeup
Il Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria
Visual Effects
Avatar
District 9
Star Trek
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
District 9
An Education
In the Loop
Precious
Up in the Air
Writing (Original Screenplay)
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Up

As promised, the Academy has increased their Best Picture category to 10 nominees. What’s interesting is the inclusion of Up. After the Academy snubbed Wall-E of a Best Picture nod, they finally came to their senses. Now that Up is among the nominated film, I’m curious how this is going to play out. Avatar, The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds are serious contenders of that category, but I hope they don’t give it to Avatar. Even with it’s monstrous success in the box office, the numbers don’t always translate to cinematic gold. The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, is a masterpiece with its superb directorial control. Inglourious Basterds is quite excellent as well but I’m guessing it’ll fit more on the Writing category. Up in the Air was good but not Best Picture worthy, IMHO. A Serious Man is just plain complicated and masterful; it’s going to be the dark horse of this category. I haven’t seen Precious and An Education but they also received quite some buzz last year especially on the acting side, so a Best Picture is unlikely — but! — since I still haven’t seen them, I don’t want to conclude anything; the same with The Blind Side.

I seriously hope that Kathryn Bigelow wins the Directing category. She won this year’s DGA award for feature film against James Cameron and other heavy-weight contenders. Her directorial control in The Hurt Locker is superb (second to none, according to Jason Reitman, whom I completely agree with).

Jeff Bridges will be tough to beat in the lead actor category. He received plenty of kudos from critics for his role in the Crazy Heart. Jeremy Renner is also a possibility for his role in the Hurt Locker. He delivered his role excellently in that movie. I haven’t seen A Single Man (the film directed by Tom Ford) and Invictus, so I cannot opine anything on Colin Firth and Morgan Freeman.

As for the lead actress category, Meryl Streep, as usual, was fabulous as Julia Child. Critics also lauded Sandra Bullock for her role in The Blind Side — quite a turn around from the disastrous All About Steve. Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is also tough to beat for her role as Precious. Carey Mulligan, though, I’m not quite sure but many hailed her performance in An Education. Honestly, I still cannot believe she’s the same girl from 2005’s Pride and Prejudice.

Supporting role, IMHO, should be given to Christoph Waltz and Mo’nique. Costume will be given either to Coco before Chanel or Young Victoria; I’m leaning on the former. White Ribbon is a shoo-in for Foreign Film, and Star Trek for Makeup. Visual effects is no doubt going to Avatar; the movie is visual eye-candy from start to finish. As for Original Screenplay, it’ll be either Inglourious Basterds or A Serious Man. But I got to say that Up’s being in that category makes the choice even harder to make.

The Oscars will be held on March 7. Year 2009 has given us plenty of excellent films and performances, so I’m pretty much psyched how this is going to play out. Visit the official Oscar website here for all the nominees this year.

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Legion: Hail the Army of Plot Holes and Frivolity

Paul Bettany as Michael

When one reduces God’s benevolence to ambivalence and angels to poltergeists, one gets Legion. The movie is a see-saw ride: only the audience gets to be the one at the bottom while it regales itself on top as if to say its message is all-important. The day when God says He’s “tired of all the bullshit” is the same day when a biblical apocalyptic movie fails.

It begins with the musing of our female protagonist, Charlie (Adrianne Palicki). She’s pregnant and stuck at a godforsaken desert with no one else but a couple of deadbeat father (Dennis Quaid) and son (Lucas Black), and a black one-handed cook (Charles S. Dutton). Five minutes into the movie and we see these dark and colorful characters seemingly embellished with depth but are only mere caricatures and clichés used to give the movie a reason for pointless and ludicrous monologues. There is the affluent family-of-three (Jon Tenney and Kate Walsh) with (of course!) a rebellious teenage daughter, Audrey (Willa Holland), whose unruly past we imagine during the brief slatternly smirk towards Kyle (Tyrese Gibson). Then there are the angels. Of the millions of heavenly phalanxes we are taught to believe exist, only two are given screen time: the merciful Michael and the righteous Gabriel, whose wings, I might add, are the only redeeming quality of the movie. I could go on with how his fighting techniques—wings, mace and all—almost gave the movie a brief high point but I will not. Alas! Let us concentrate on the bits and pieces of the movie’s scattered plot all over the floor of the diner.

By this time we know that Charlie’s baby is going to save mankind, but of the reason, we know nothing. All we know is that the angels are possessing (Michael used the term “vessels”) weak-willed humans to kill it. May I remind that they are angels not demons? One has to wonder then if God was really able to create such malevolent and loathsome creatures. Nevertheless, even the all-knowing Michael forgot to give the audience a reason for the baby or for the prophecy they spoke of. Oh, yes. The entire plot is driven by a prophecy at least I have been waiting to be explained until the credits rolled, and all was lost in dazed confusion and plot holes big enough to fit Horton’s pachydermal butt.

Legion is a movie of failed parallels. It tried miserably to make Joseph a faithful and cowardly mechanic; Mary into a wench; Gabriel into an armor-clad killing-machine; and God into a frivolous child-killing Herod. It is a biblical story fit for the modern time, except it’s not. The bible is reduced to a silly reinvention devoid of soul and potency. Worse still is its attempt to compare its murderous Divine Intervention to the Great Flood. In the end, I mused over Hell and its mischievous residents: Their lack of representation must have been insulting but I am sure Satan is laughing, as I was while watching this farce.

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The Magic of Akahige

Akahige is probably–no–it is the best movie I have seen with superb character development. This solemn epic of morals, virtues and the real meaning of maturity is about one of the greatest I have seen. Once again, Kurosawa teaches his audience of the basic virtues we learn at home on screen but with such profoundness and magnanimity as to stamp a mark by the time the film ends. It is a timeless cinematic tour de force and one of my highly regarded films.

Otoyo (Terumi Niki), Noboru (Yuzo Kayama) and Red Beard (Toshiro Mifune)

The story revolves around a young doctor fresh from Nagasaki, Noboru Yasumoto, played exceptionally well by Yuzo Kayama. It is his story and a whole lot more. We watch as he discovers the true meaning of dedicating a life in the service of others, of what it’s like to be a doctor. Noboru, hesitant at first, learns all the lessons of life. And like us, we appreciate the reality that even though there are those who malign others, “There are good people, too.”

He is slowly experiences the real world and taught by Dr. Niide, the clinic doctor known only by a single eponym — Akahige. Toshiro Mifune is flawless. In every scene he is in, I cannot help but focus my attention to him. He demands control  from every scene he is at in the movie and does it ever so expertly. Many would argue that Takashi Shimura would have been perfect for the role of Red Beard, maybe because of his amazing role in Drunken Angel, but those who have seen the movie cannot deny the fact that Mifune was exceptional as the hirsute doctor.

Watching Akahige is a magical and humbling experience. Every scene is perfection. From the Mantis to Sahachi and Okana to Otoyo and Chobo, all the characters play an important part in pushing the plot forward and enriching the story. Even the abrupt love story between the nurse and Handayu is a critical point of the movie. Those three minutes is but one of the many striking moments of Akahige. And the well shot is expertly done.

Akahige is sincere and deeply rejuvenating. It is a breath of fresh air that everyone must experience.

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