franco nero

8

Dear Claire,

“What” and “if” are two words as non-threatening as words can be. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: what if? What if? What if? I don’t know how your story ended but if what you felt then was true love, then it’s never too late. If it was true then, why would it be true now? You need only the courage to follow your heart. I don’t know what a love like Juliet’s feels like – love to leave loved ones for, love to cross oceans for but I’d like to believe if I ever were to feel it, that I will have the courage to seize it. And, Claire, if you didn’t, I hope one day that you will.

All my love,
Juliet

Letters to Juliet (2010) dir. Gary Winick

The Lost City of Z is an Otherworldly Experience

    There’s a deep irony in a film as gigantic The Lost City of Z being distributed by a company like Amazon.  We live in an era where it is easier than ever to watch new movies without having to go to a theater to pay for a ticket.  Companies like Netflix and Amazon are soon to be releasing critically acclaimed movies like Mudbound and The Big Sick on streaming that will be in contention for next years awards.  

  There’s something worth admiring about this, more people than ever can watch new releases without having to pay lots of money to find small, art house theaters.  Staying at home to watch big films is definitely more convenient.  

  But with this change in the way we view in cinema, I wonder if something is lost?  Since the dawn of filmmaking, the vision has always been creating this otherworldly, interactive experience between the movie and the audience.  There’s magic in the idea of walking into a giant dark room with complete strangers and sharing a work of art together.  Some films don’t deserve to be seen for the first time in any other way.

  If you disagree, I recommend seeing James Gray’s new movie The Lost City of Z.  It’s a film based on the true story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a British explorer who went searching for the remnants of a missing ancient city in the Amazonian Jungle. He faces scrutiny from his peers for his bold theories, but with the help of his wife (Sienna Miller) and colleague (Robert Pattinson), he goes on three expeditions to find the city until his mysterious disappearance in the jungle with his oldest son (Tom Holland) in 1925.  

   I have no previous experience with James Gray’s filmography, but having seen his latest picture, I am driven to find every movie that this man has made.  The Lost City of Z is a film with a deep understanding of what it is that makes us connect with the movies.

  The film is as if James Gray is taking the best elements of various styles of movies and heightening and then combining them in this film. The Lost City of Z combines the breathtaking majesty of old studio epic, the subtlety of a period drama and the breathtaking thrills of an adventure movie, constantly playing with these three things to produce a movie that feels complete.  

    The Journey Fawcett goes on is larger than life and spans two decades.  We see everything from Fawcett’s first mission into the Amazon to a speculation of what happened to him after he went missing and the result is a movie that is long in pace, 140 minutes to be exact.  

  There’s a confidence, an indulgence to Gray’s work in this film that’s missing from most modern cinema.  The director isn’t afraid to make a movie that basks in the grandiose scale of its story and demands the respect of its audience.  He knows that the story he’s telling is huge and he allows for a flamboyance that never seems overbearing or unearned.       

    Gray successfully pulls off this level of cockiness with the help of cinematographer Darius Khondji and composer Christopher Spelman.  Staying true to its similarities to the movies of an older era, The Lost City of Z is shot on film and boy is it ever. The darkly lit ballrooms, the strange glow of a boat going down a river and the shots of Fawcett walking through the forest with the tribes of the areas he explores, are almost indescribable in their beauty.  It’s as though we are right there with them and we are getting a clear glimpse into this world that no longer exists.  It’s like observing a painting where each images has such richness and texture.

  Film can provide an authenticity, a naked honesty that a lot of digital movies still can’t provide and Gray plays on that here to provide a work of art that’s simultaneously out of this world and ingrained in our world.  The fight between digital and film is one that film is clearly losing, but similarly to the fight between seeing something on a laptop and seeing something in a theater, Gray is making the case for it while he still can.  

  And my god, I haven’t even begun to describe the music.  Khondji’s music leaves such a lasting impression on you after the film has ended. There isn’t a single beat that isn’t meaningful, that doesn’t feel designed to create the ultimate love letter to a forgotten craft paved by artists like Bernard Hermann and Ennio Morricone.  

  Hearing the soundtrack to a movie like The Lost City of Z only makes me resent the laziness put into composing the music for a lot of modern films.  Sometimes you hear the music for a recent biopic or action movie and you would think they only thought about it for ten minutes.  The music in this movie has heart put into it and helps carry the viewer further into this unknown land that we are watching.  

   But to praise the technical elements of this movie for too long feels disrespectful to so much of what this movie is able to accomplish beyond that.  I have highlighted a lot of excellent things in this movie but making a truly great epic is more than just making a film that’s big in scale with flawless technical qualities, it’s about displaying a story that demands the effort.  The Revenant can be as long and pretty look as it wants to be, but that’s a film I still find pretentious and dull because it contains nothing of substance beneath the surface.    

  I remember reviewing Pacific Rim in 2013 and being unimpressed by the lead performance by Charlie Hunnam.  After seeing his performance as Percy Fawcett, I don’t necessarily see him as an amazing actor but I finally understand his appeal.  Within his performance, he conveys the confidence and masculinity featured in old performances from actors like Charlton Heston. But with this role, he’s also allowed to provide an intimacy and a modern tenderness that’s missing from more classically trained actors.  

   This contradiction in Hunnam’s performance, the line between rugged individualism and quiet comforts of life is the battle at the heart of The Lost City of Z.  The movie argues that Percy Fawcett’s continued obsession with going into the Amazonian Jungle and finding his lost city was in part his attempts to escape his place in the world.

  In England, he lives a quiet, ordinary life for a man of his time period.  When he’s home, he’s bound to same rules and restrictions that tied down most people living back then.  He’s forced to fight back against people who look down on him for his social class, he’s forced to fight in a war that he doesn’t want to fight in and he must argue the case for why the tribes living within the Amazonian Jungles are an advanced society to people brainwashed by racist colonialism.

   But his escape is more than just an attempt to ignore the limits of his society, his escape is an attempt to ignore the limits of himself.  Despite being progressive for the time, he has a sexist view of women that allows him to ignore the hopes and dreams of his wife. He chooses not to be there for his family, his children grow up while he’s far away.  He preaches that he’s proud to be an outcast and he doesn’t care about rank or medals, but he’ll gladly receive awards and praise from his colleagues for his work.  Even his treatment of the tribes of the Amazons is questionable.  His biggest secret is that he’s not much better than the people around him.  

  With this, Fawcett’s journey into the vast unknown is his way of going to the limits of his world.  By charting these unknown lands and experiencing these things that have been done by no one like him before, he is trying to avoid the fears that he will become just another person lost to space and time, another person who live, die, and be forgotten within the miniscule amount of time that we are given.  In his missing city, he sees redemption from the flaws of being a human being.  

  Fawcett’s final attempt to find his lost city is perhaps the ending to his story that he always wanted.  Fawcett never dies, he simply vanishes without a trace.  In disappearing, he finally becomes the thing that he has been searching for, transcendence from his reality.  Like the city, he becomes a legend that will never be fully discovered, only leaving bits and pieces behind for others to search for.  

   In writing this review, I realize how smug and hyperbolic my review of this movie is, but I think that fits with the film.  In the spirit of recent works like Hayou Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises or Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, The Lost City of Z is about the defiance of time, both in the story and the storytelling.

    Entertainment is changing and we are seeing a changing of the guard.  In many ways, I choose to accept this.  With the death of old Hollywood comes the death of many of the flaws within it, the lack of diversity, the tyrannical directors, the misunderstanding of low budget films and the discomfort that comes with refusing to give in to easier, modern day techniques.  There’s so much about embracing new forms of entertainment and having new ways to watch entertainment that genuinely excites me and has me looking forward to what the future holds.    

   But, James Gray’s The Lost City of Z plays like the final argument for saving a dying art.  He uses the best elements of classic cinema to show an epic story about what it means to live life to the fullest with no regard for the consequences.  Every shot, every sound, every word is like an artist who’s at the final stage, playing their instruments like they know that it’s all crumbling around them.  This is a film about doing as much as humanly possible with the little that we are provided.

 Five years from now, ten years from now, the world will be different than what it is now.  So, like Fawcett diving into the piranha and disease infested waters of the Amazonian jungle to reach something just within his grasp, take time to find things that are worth exploring in the present while you still can.   

Final Rating: A+                

Nazis, aliens and Cyborgs! Worth a watch for Franco Nero fans: TOP LINE review

I bought this film on VHS after seeing the cool cover art with a muscular Indy-like Franco Nero swinging on a vine and squeezing a hot blonde. In the background there is a ship wreck, a cliff and something that looks like flames or lava. Often in the old days, films didn’t deliver what the cover art promised. But I’m happy to announce that Franco Nero actually has a sexy girlfriend (or three actually, but one of them turns into lizard), he finds a shipwrecked vessel, he dangles over a cliff and he fights evil bad guys. There isn’t any lava in the film though. But Franco does battle aliens. And with that in mind, I think the flame-like light on the cover might be a glare from a UFO.

Top Line is about a writer (Franco Nero) at the bottom of his bottle, who travels to the Columbian jungle and meets Alonso (William Berger) who tells him of a lost treasure in a hidden cave. He investigates, finds the cave, discovers something not of this Earth and gets in trouble with the police, CIA, KGB, the mafia, nazis, aliens and… a Terminator. A Terminator? Why? Aw who knows? Italian 80’s b-movies like this are perfect on days you just want to lie on the sofa and watch some pointless fun. The best thing about these kind of films is that they’re cheap but well made. They’re straightforward and there’s none of that over-polished CG bullshit that destroys a lot of the charm of today’s movies (and causes them to last for over two… yaaawn… hours). Top Line is an old-school adventure movie with charming 80’s effects and aliens that can transform into sexy ladies. It’s not exactly a rip-off, but the film borrows some stuff here and there from big Hollywood movies – it’s also known as Alien Terminator.

Top Line
Release year: 1988
Country: Italy
Director: Nello Rossati
Starring: Franco Nero, George Kennedy, William Berger