Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Fall (+ BD Live) (2008)

The FallI remember the days when I had stories read to me. I remember how it made me feel. Me and about twenty other kids would gather at the teacher's feet, and I would actually imagine the story unfolding as she read aloud. I think we all have those memories buried somewhere within, those wonderful moments when the spoken word transcends mere speech and becomes a definite vision. Tarsem's "The Fall" works in much the same way, not only for the characters, but also for the audience; reality and fantasy are interchangeable, not separate. People from our world appear in the story, and characters in the story are broadly drawn from the people in our world. It's much like the whimsical dreamscape of "The Wizard of Oz," in which Dorothy awakens in Kansas and realizes that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and the Wizard were actually people she knew, therefore with her the entire journey.

But the dreamscape of "The Fall" is much more compelling than anything conjured out of whimsy. It's a character-driven fantasy that uses both its brain and its heart, with a story so compelling it doesn't let us escape. We don't much want to, especially if we hold true to the power of imagination and the hope of redemption. Paradoxically, it takes the imperfections of human existence to reach these perfect ideas; the characters of this film are flawed and vulnerable, far from a series of walking clichés. Many are manipulative and selfish. The main character is innocent, but at age five, she's also incredibly na├»ve. She sees and hears everything going on around her, and while she doesn't understand most of it, you can tell that she's trying to. Her name is Alexandria, and she's played by Catinca Untaru--she was so receptive to the material that I never once believed she was acting. She was living it.

Taking place in 1920s-era Los Angeles, "The Fall" actually opens with the aftermath of a bad fall, and we see a man and a horse pulled from a lake, having tumbled off a railroad bridge. Soon after, we meet little Alexandria, an immigrant worker hospitalized after breaking her arm picking oranges. Always with a box full of things she likes, she travels the hallways and wings of the hospital, mentally gathering the sights and sounds. One day, she wanders onto a lower floor and meets Roy Walker (Lee Pace), a bedridden, emotionally broken Hollywood stuntman; after some initial banter, Roy begins telling Alexandria an epic story of five men seeking revenge.

Over the course of the film, we see that the characters of Roy's story are reflections of the people in or around the hospital: a one-legged actor becomes Luigi (Robin Smith), a master of explosives; an orderly becomes Charles Darwin (Leo Bill), a naturalist who travels with a monkey, searching for an elusive breed of butterfly; the hospital's ice delivery man becomes Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), a former slave; an orange picker becomes the Indian (Jeetu Verma), who lost his intended so horribly, he vowed to never stare at another woman; Alexandria's dead father (Emil Hostina) initially becomes the Masked Bandit, but he's replaced by Roy when Alexandria says her father shouldn't be in the story. With the help of a tree-dwelling mystic (Julian Bleech), the five bandits journey across exotic lands to find the ruthless Governor Odious (Daniel Caltagirone), drawn from the hospital's Dr. Sinclair.

As the story progresses, we quickly realize that the characters aren't the only things mirrored from reality--the entire plot is a stylized reinterpretation of Roy's recent life. To say more would give too much away, but here are a few things to consider: (1) Roy periodically pauses the story and has Alexandria steal medicine for him; (2) he closes his eyes at one point and tries to guess which of his toes she's holding on to, and we're not sure if she tells him a lie; (3) he gets increasingly unwilling to see the story through to the end. Even when Roy's situation is finally explained, we still wonder what would possess him to do the things he does. For him, telling Alexandria a story is not his way of escaping into fantasy, but of gaining the upper hand. And yet we deeply care for him; we believe that a decent soul lies beneath the anguish, waiting for the right time to emerge.

At the same time, we're taken aback when Alexandria wishes to never get better. She seems to have formed a special bond with Roy, most likely because she doesn't know she's being manipulated. She probably doesn't even know what manipulation is; she does what she's asked without stopping to consider why she's doing it. With her, it's not about being sneaky but about experiencing life, and this is despite the limitations of young age and the confines of hospital walls. Keep in mind that we never see her playing with the other children in the pediatric ward; we suspect that she imagines things at a much more mature level, considering how well developed her communication skills are. She doesn't always have the words, but she somehow finds a way to get her point across. This kind of character development is rarely seen in today's movies; most are bogged down by predictable plotlines and mass-produced special effects. "The Fall" is a refreshing exception to the rule--a visual masterstroke with an engrossing character-driven plot. It's definitely one of the year's best films.

The wordsmiths of Amazon have enlightened us all much better than I could at what a masterpiece this film is, so the obvious question for me was how the transfer would sustain. Without any hesitation this BD and film mandate ownership; I feel comfortable in saying that no other film (as a whole presentation) comes close in color, detail, clarity or saturation than Tarsem's preserved vision here.

I have been playing it in the store for several days on the HD display, and without exception it captivates the attention of everyone, even at the slower scenes.

The two documentaries on the BD (directed by Tarsem patriot Nico Soultanakis) prove there is something to be said for no talking heads or glossed over narrations in making behind the scenes films. Both are 30 minutes long and are produced identically to the main film, so expect lots of jumping around (literally) and heartfelt moments. The picture gallery is exclusive to the BD and contains 71 beautiful pictures of the cast and filming locations. The two deleted scenes were amazing (only a minute long) in scope and would have been great to see in the film.

The quality of the transfer is superb, and even the "night" shots on the island sequences looked perfect. Outside of the black and white intro, the heroes traveling through the badlands-style mountains tested the contrast/clarity the best (especially the deleted sequence of the same scene).

I hope the small volume of negative reviews and other detractors on the Net and elsewhere do not keep one from seeing this incredible film.

Buy The Fall (+ BD Live) (2008) Now

This little sleeper (and I use the word with a shiver) succeeds in more ways than I could have imagined.

Its visuals captivated, especially in the first half. Whoever composed the imagery had a knack for the very plain and very dramatic the kind of thing you might call elegant, if it didn't knock you on your butt. Even if the rest of the movie wandered, that would have been enough for me.

But it didn't wander. It starts with a chance friendship between a man and a cute little girl. Mutual confinement in the hospital made it possible, a happy child's natural friendliness and trust made it work, and the others around (staffers and other patients) made it as safe as that simpler time would suggest. The man promised her stories, and spun tales of wonderful people and dramatic deeds for her. And, as the stories moved forward, her small and real person appeared within them. Maybe the fantasy wasn't real, but it contained scraps of reality and became real for her.

Behind it all, the man lay in smiling despair not dishonest, but too defeated to let an unhappy look invite unwelcome concern. All he wanted was for his pain to end. Think about that: in a world with miracles every day, love in so many unexpected places, an infinity of hopes and possible futures, and people with hopes and feelings of their own, he wanted one thing. The pain to end, no matter what. If magic comes from power, that's a dark magic with huge power.

See it through. No linear telling will capture this story. Its emotional tone runs across a gamut that some viewers won't recognize well, knowing what it means has a serious cost. It ranges up and down, it presents itself in simple images with dramatic color and composition, and ends with the lines blurred between fantasy and reality more than ever.


Read Best Reviews of The Fall (+ BD Live) (2008) Here

Imagine a cross between "The Princess Bride," "Pan's Labyrinth," and "Spirited Away." Now add even more stunning imagery that evokes the most beautiful Dalí paintings, and some excellent acting performances and direction, and you will come close to "The Fall."

I saw this movie a few days ago, and it has instantly become a favorite of mine. I won't go into a synopsis of the story here, as you can find that elsewhere; instead, I'll let you know about some of the things that make this film truly special. First, Catinca Untaru's performance is one of the best and most realistic from a child that I've ever seen on film. Surely a lot of this must be attributed to the director. When she appears on screen, it feels as if we're watching sincere interaction with a child rather than a child actor who has ever seen a script.

Visually, of course, this movie is one of the most amazing I've ever seen. I would actually consider ordering prints of some of the stills from this film to hang on my wall--it's that beautiful.

While you can definitely follow the story if you aren't giving it your full attention, focusing on the details of the story is rewarded throughout with some very subtle storytelling that rings completely true to the perspective of a child's imagination while being told a story.

The relationship between Alexandria (the little girl) and Roy (the stuntman telling her the story) is complex and heartbreaking at times. Their interactions allow them to reveal their characters very naturally, and you end up loving them with all their faults.

I don't understand why this movie has an R rating, though. There is some violence, and some of it is a little graphic, perhaps. There is no profanity (that I can recall) or nudity. There are some "adult themes" I guess involving morphine, though I won't go into the specifics here.

I also don't understand some of the reviews I've read online. It seems that most reviews I've seen have either loved or hated this movie. Obviously, I get the ones that love it. I just don't understand that ones that pan this movie--it almost seems like some of those who have reviewed it badly must not have been watching the movie or paying any attention to it at all (if that's the case, then why review it?).

Anyway, give this movie a try if you're looking for something helps you recall your own childhood imagination.

Edited later to add: I just watched the film again and was reminded that there is a bit of graphic violence and a curse word or two. I suppose this is why it got the R rating.

Want The Fall (+ BD Live) (2008) Discount?

A troubled young man, recuperating from a suicidal stunt and a broken heart, meets a precocious little girl with a broken arm. He begins to tell her a story, but is secretly intending to use her to get morphine that will allow him to take his own life.

The Fall is one of those rare films that is both a unique work of cinematic art and a crowd-pleasing gem. It is both beautiful to look at and has depth that is not apparent on a first viewing. For beauty and depth and for its approach to its theme The Fall deserves to be compared to Pan's Labyrinth, and really deserves the level of acclaim that film received. The film is an intensely personal project undertaken by its director Tarsem, who spent his own money over several years to make it, after studios refused to participate.

Critics, however, including those who have reviewed it here, have been divided on the overall merits of the film. Everyone agrees it is pretty, sometimes astonishingly pretty. Some critics think that the story is a bit lame -that the story serves merely as an excuse to present breathtaking visuals. If that were true, it wouldn't be so bad, but not as good as it could be. I think such critics are missing the point.

What makes the film so remarkable to me is the interaction between the overall story and the story within. Just as, in The Princess Bride, it was the interaction between the story and the "metastory" that added to the charm and allowed the audience to suspend disbelief, it is the interaction between scenes in the hospital and scenes in Alexandria's imagination that add to the charm of this story. There are, however, significant differences between the approach of these two films.

As the man tells little Alexandria his story, it comes to vivid life in her imagination. It is very much a child's story -told at the level of a six-year old girl whose world is already a combination of make-believe and reality, who has not fully distinguished between lies and truth. That fact alone may account for some of the reviews that treat the story as "hokey" and "undeveloped" -it is supposed to be an improvised tale told to a gullible girl. That makes it very different from, say, "The Princess Bride" where the story within the story is supposed to be written down. What makes this film so rich, however, are the ways in which elements from the everyday life of the girl are integrated and transformed into the imaginative world of the story she hears. In fact, the film makes clear that what she sees as she listens is quite different than what he intends: he speaks of an Indian and a squaw, for example, and she envisions a man from India in a turban and a woman with a veil. As he tells the story, he makes mistakes and forgets things or includes elements she doesn't like and part of the delight of the film is the playful interaction that develops between them as she interjects and he alters his story and the characters of her imagination look confused for a moment.

What makes the story rich in my mind, and not at all simplistic, is that this naive little girl comes to see gradually that he is telling his own story and struggles with him to ensure a happy ending. I saw this film twice in theaters and it was even better the second time -it is definitely one that I will treasure as part of my dvd collection.

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