Cynicism Is Overrated

If you watch television these days or pay attention to many of the most well received movies of this past year, odds are you will notice a reoccurring trend amongst them. Shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Game Of Thrones” alongside movies like “The Wolf Of Wall Street” offer a much darker, disturbing and cynical point of view. 
These shows and movies are not afraid of taking a touchy subject like creating meth or presenting characters who are outright douche bags, like Jordan Belfort, and showing the brutal depictions of their lifestyle. They are unrelenting, unforgiving and at times do not care about how they’re seen by others.
And this gets old very fast. 
The main problem with cynical television shows and movies is the kind of mindset that it brings forth and how it is, believe it or not, cynical. When I watch “Homelands,” even though I’m enthralled in the story and the nervous-wreck characters, it does turn me off that these people are doing so many terrible things. They will torture and kill to get their way, even if they believe their way is best for everyone. After a while, that gets depressing and often leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 

This wouldn’t be such a big problem if there wasn’t so much of it in entertainment these days. It seems like every time a new show has caught the public eye, it’s one that isn’t afraid of death, violence and darker side of our humanity. 
For example, a recent one is Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” which features the Headless Horseman and Ichabad Crane being transported to modern times and the Horseman now having access to our weapons, including machine guns and bazookas. 
Since when did the Headless Horseman become the Terminator?
Yet this show has become popular enough to warrant at least another season, so there has to be a fair amount of people watching it. Now, I’ve only watched a couple episodes, but I can already tell that it is not my cup to tea. It seems like they wanted to update “Sleepy Hollow” in a similar way to what the BBC is doing with “Sherlock” but they’re really overdoing it and making it far more complicated than it needs to be. It takes most of the fun and enjoyment out of watching the show when it comes off like they’re trying too hard.

Which is another problem with all the cynicism. It really comes like these shows are removing the fun out of watching a really good movie or television show. Sure, they can still captivate you with their stories and put you on the edge of your seat, but they will never quite leave you with the same affect. 
When you watch Walter White have to murder someone just so that he can continue to cook meth, ruin the life of Jesse and all in the name of his family, try to ask yourself some questions. 
What am I feeling? How do I feel about what I just watched? Am I comfortable with it? How am I going to look back on what I just watched?
Many of these shows and movies are going to leave you with the same answers. Occasionally, that kind of show can be refreshing and off up a change of pace. But when everything is like that? It gets depressing, stale and disturbing in no time at all. 

Don’t misinterpret what I am saying here. I am not saying that shows like “Breaking Bad” or “The Walking Dead” are bad. They are quite excellent programs. It’s just that you won’t find me watching these kinds of shows more than once and certainly not together. 
There is a time and place for “Inside Llewyn Davis” or “Prisoners” but that is not the kind of place you should always be in. Cynicism leaves the mind unimpressed and dulled by everything, so it makes nothing look good by comparison. Optimism and a good attitude create an inviting and explorative environment, where anything seems possible. When something is truly good and impressive, it can bring a smile to your face and make anything bad melt away.
Look at some of the timeless programs and movies that have been around for decades and are still enjoyed today as much as they were upon their release. “The Wizard Of Oz,” “Rocky,” “City Lights,” “Toy Story,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the Indiana Jones trilogy, the Star Wars trilogy, the works of Hayao Miyazaki (“Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro”), “Modern Family” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
These are just some of many that not only tell intriguing stories with equally fascinating characters, but also make me feel good to be alive. These help me to appreciate everything I have in life and want me to hug and thank everyone I know. 
The best example of this comes from the final scene in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” where the town of Bedford Falls has found out that George Bailey, a selfless man who has always chosen to help others before himself and he gets stuck with nothing, is in trouble. Without hesitation or even thinking, the towns people repay George for years of kindness and love with everything they had. They’re more than happy to do it and they did so without even asking George. They did it because it was the right thing to do. 

“To my big brother, George. The richest man in town.”

This ending never fails to make me cry. I could watch just the last ten minutes of the film on its own and bawl my eyes out. Not because its sad or depressing, but because it is so heartwarmingly happy. Those types of scenes leave a much bigger emotional affect than any other type of scene I can think of. 
While you may watch something like “The Sopranos” and think about how good your life is, you’re really only thinking about it in comparison to the lives of these terrible people. You may be saying you’re lucky to be alive, but you are only doing it because some guy who didn’t hurt anyone just got sent upstate. 
So ask yourself, what are you more inclined to watch? Bedford Falls repay George for years of sacrifice and selflessness? Or someone being tortured for information on “24”?
Yet, I also feel there is an interesting middle ground between cynicism and optimism. Stories that have darker and grittier elements to them and often use it to heighten the drama and danger, but ultimately come out of it with a positive attitude and thus makes the whole journey with it. 
Movies that stand out with this approach include most of the works of Alfred Hitchcock and the Coen Brothers, especially “Fargo” and “No Country For Old Men.” The tales of those who live in a corrupt and unforgiving world, yet still have enough moral strength to fight for what they believe in, even if the world has given up on them. 
Someone like Marge Gunderson from “Fargo” doesn’t let the worries and pities of others stop her from enjoying her happiness. She may not be perfect or live a glamorous lifestyle, but she is perfectly content with who she is and where she. Which is why throughout the movie, she fights to defend that way of life and give others the same opportunity. 

“Heck Norm, you know we’re doing pretty good.”

In “Rear Window,” the two main characters (played by James Stewart and Grace Kelly) have many insecurities and don’t seem to fully trust one another. They want to be in love, but they just can’t be happy with one another. But, as they put the pieces together that eventually spell out “murder” the two realize the other is much stronger and wiser than they gave the other credit for. 
In a weird way, films like these are able to be both pessimistic and optimistic at the same time and become fascinating examples that show the strengths of both sides. They have no problem bouncing back and forth because both are equally apart of life and offer up a balanced slice of life. 
Part of the fun of cinema and television is that it is not just a source of entertainment, but can also be a direct reflection of our own lives. Showing either a darker or lighter side than what we are normally use to and offer up viewpoints and perspectives that we may have never seen otherwise. 
Much like in these shows and movies, life isn’t all black and white. Everyone in their life time will experience happy events, depressing moments, awesome events, excitement, heartbreak and many other things in between. That is part of the reason we get such a variety of shows, ranging from “Breaking Bad” to “Modern Family” to somewhere in between like “The Twilight Zone.”

The way I see it, there are three types of shows and films: The optimistic ones, the cynical ones and the ones which walk the line between those two. Each of these categories has their strengths and weaknesses. They are all viable forms of storytelling, can all be as much thought-provoking as they are emotional and can offer a perspective that you may have never considered before. 
It is when there is too much of one side that the flaws and cliches become intolerable. So perhaps that is why I prefer optimistic and kindhearted stories over the pessimistic ones. To see those shows and films dominate the publics attention is not disheartening in its own right. Just that there are so many of them and a real lack of anything in between. 
Oh well, at least it is not entirely Michael Bay-plosions or lame and unfunny “parody” films all the time. 

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” ~ Winston Churchill

The Hopper #7

As we approach the end of the best movies that 2013 has to offer, I should say that this has been a very good year for films. While I’ve yet to see a film that stands out above all others, this year has been consistent and continually provided good film after good film. 

“47 Ronin” (2013)
Keanu Reeves has an interesting relationship with Hollywood. Once the poster boy for many action films and comedies, due in large part to his success with “The Matrix” and the “Bill and Ted” movies, Reeves has now decided to follow the route of Ben Affleck and become a director.
Unfortunately, unlike Affleck, Reeves only seems to understand how to make one type of movie: Asian action pieces. Not even very good ones at that. 
His first attempt was “The Man of Tai Chi.” If you’ve never heard of it, then count yourself lucky. A bland and forgettable kung-fu film that has maybe one or two lines of laughable dialogue that becomes what you remember the most about the film.
Which brings us to Reeves’ newest film, “47 Ronin.” A film that tries so hard to be taken seriously, yet never seems to get past its laughable premise and in the end becomes an unremembered work directed by the “Constantine” guy.
In Feudal Japan, a young boy by the name of Kai (Reeves) appears out of the mysterious forest where the magical and deadly Tengu dwell. Kai is taken in by the shogun leader of the nearby town, but is shunned by everyone but the shogun and his daughter for not being full Japanese.
One day though, the emperor comes to visit the village, when the leader is possessed and attempts to assassinate a visiting Lord Kira. The shogun is killed shortly after by his own hand, but his replacement suspects that witchcraft was behind it all. The emperor then orders that Lord Kira become the new ruler of this village, and that the replacement shogun be sent to prison and Kai sold into slavery. Now it is up to the new shogun, Kai and 45 others to take back their land and defeat the evil Lord Kira and his magic wielders. 
The main problem of this film comes from there not being enough attention on that which deserves attention. For example, in films like “Seven Samurai” and “13 Assassins,” both of which are Japanese and focus on a struggle to take back land from a warring faction, you get to know every one of the samurais and assassins. You know their quirks, strengths and why they’re on this mission. “47 Ronin” however never takes the time to tell us the names of each of the ronins, let alone their personalities. 
How are we supposed to care about this brave and courageous group of misfits fighting to take back their homeland and their pride, when I have no idea who even five of them are?
On top of that, it falls into a trap of explaining everything instead of letting the characters develop personalities. Many characters speak only in exposition, relaying information on the plot to the audience, rather than telling us how they feel. Entire scene will go by between Lord Kira and his magic wielders where they talk about the enemy advancing, but not what they think about any of that. 
Is it really too much to ask for Kai to say, “I feel like this is a bad idea?”
An interesting note that I was unaware of until the films’ end was that this film is based on true events. Not that there were actual magic Tengu warriors or shapeshifters that could turn into dragons, but that there were 47 warriors that stood up to an actual Lord Kira. There is even a graveyard of these warriors which still stands today in Sengaku-Ji, Japan.
In that respect, I feel like “47 Ronin” is a watered-down “300.” Supposedly based on true events, but have taken artistic and thematic liberties to add elements of fantasy and make-believe to their work. 
The difference between the two films though is that “300” embraced its silliness and never attempted to be serious and was kind of fun to watch in that regard. “47 Ronin” on the other hand takes itself far too seriously, and is so bogged down in explaining events and exposition that it doesn’t have time to enjoy the situation that it presents. 
Overall, “47 Ronin” attempts to be like many films, including “300,” “The Matrix,” “Princess Mononoke” and “Seven Samurai” but is never able to get off the ground from its own premise. Keanu just can’t catch a break, can he?
Final Grade: D

“The Wolf Of Wall Street” (2013)
Part of me really wants to hate this film. Another part of me adores this film. I feel like love is winning over hate. 
If you know much about Martin Scorsese or have seen his work, then you know that he really enjoys gangsters and that he attempts to make them look like normal guys who chose this lifestyle, instead of other filmmakers who make them out to be bad guys. His work in films like “Goodfellas” and “The Departed” are a good example of that. 
Now that we’re in the 21st century, the depiction of gangsters has changed drastically, much to Scorsese’s irritation, I’m sure. The humble and soft-spoken days of Don Corleone and Tony Soprano are long gone. The gangsters of old are no more.
Yet it seems like Martin Scorsese has found a way to keep telling those stories, but though a new type of gangster: The stockbrokers. 
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) owns the largest estate in New Jersey, a yacht that is so huge that it can store a helicopter, the fastest sports car imaginable, can afford $25,000 dinners on a whim, has a wife that has been dubbed “The Duchess of Bay Ridge” yet constantly cheats on her with million dollar hookers and still has enough time to take drugs at nearly every interval in the day. 
All of this because of his illegal business in the stock market. 
The film follows Belfort from his humble beginnings as a call-taker on Wall Street, to his power hungry and money-obsessed moments of success, to the FBI hunting him down and his attempts to evade them at every turn and continuing to live his exuberant lifestyle. 
If you’ve seen “Goodfellas” then you can probably guess why I want to hate the film. Because this is the same movie, even down to the dramatic narration that takes specific care to mention why their lifestyles are so fun and addicting and speaking directly to the audience. Heck, Dicaprio even has a nearly identical voice to Ray Liotta. 
It moves like “Goodfellas,” talks like “Goodfellas,” and has the same life philosophies as “Goodfellas.”
Yet, for that very same reason, I kind of enjoy the film. Since when was it a bad thing to feel and act like one of the best gangster movies of all time?
This film takes the time show us why Belfort would choose this way of life and why it can be so rewarding. Not just the money, because he’s willing to throw that away like garbage, but because of the power. He feels like he could do anything he wanted and get away with it, even bribing a federal officer to get him off his back. 
Like “Goodfellas,” the characters of this film believe that they are in their own little world. That those who live in the “normal world” like us are sad and pathetic losers who are essentially waiting for handouts instead of doing it ourselves. They’re so caught up in what they’re doing that they can’t see anything other than their own ego.
This makes them the best kind of douchebags imaginable. 
The kind that are so self-absorbed that they are fun to watch and keep you guessing on how events will unfold. They’re not relatable or sympathetic, but they’re not supposed to be. They just want as much power as they can get, which is admirable. At the same time, you still want to see them get their comeupins. So it’s the best of both worlds. 
The people in “The Wolf Of Wall Street” are scumbags who rip off those less fortunate than them and don’t care about anyone other than themselves. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Final Grade: A
“American Hustle” (2013)
I’ll keep this brief: The majority of “American Hustle” went right over my head. Half of the time, I had no idea what was going on. 
It is not because of the period or the plot itself, but because of its execution of the plot and how the characters whisper important plot points and never mention them again. 
The plot revolves around a trio, consisting of an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) and two con-artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams), attempt to outsmart a politician (Jeremy Renner) and to find out just how corrupt his office really is. Along the way, they have to face difficulties through trust issues, fellow con-artists, developing romantic relationships and Bale’s crazy and obsessed wife (Jennifer Lawrence) revealing their plans to the politicians. 
Part of the problem might be that the movie has an incredibly fast pace, with some scenes going by so fast that they leave you wondering what just happened. Even worse, the film never attempts to slow down and explain itself, never allowing those who get lost, like me, to catch up and understand the plot. 
So if you miss even one plot point or important factor that effects the outcome of events, then be prepared to stay confused and disoriented. 
This is made even more difficult when Christian Bale feels like mumbling or whispering the majority of his lines. While that certainly builds up his character, it also does not help the story and the coherency of the film. 
To be fair, when the movie isn’t trying to be about corrupt politicians and trying to coax information out of them, the film seems rather gentle and sincere, especially with scenes involving Bale and Adams. The beginning of the film shows the two slowly falling in love and how they feel about each other, with Bale showing Adams that he is a con-man, only to find out that Adams is wonderful at conning as well.
These scenes are simple and straight to the point, which is why they stick out over any other scene. It’s a shame there are so few of them.
This movie might improve upon multiple viewings and with subtitles. Yet with just one watch where the movie moves too fast for its own good, “American Hustle” does not turn out well.
Final Grade: D+
Final Thoughts: 

Even though “47 Ronin” and “American Hustle” left me cold or confused, there were parts that I enjoyed about both them. 
I wish “47 Ronin” opened with a narration saying it was based on true events, because that would be have watching certain struggles of the Ronin against hordes of samurai much more impressive. I thought it was a good-looking fantasy with some neat designs, but then it pulled the “this film was based on true events” card which changed my whole outlook of the film.
As I mentioned, “American Hustle” did well with scenes near the beginning involving Bale and Adams, but also was nearly flawless at replicating the look and feel of the 1970s. This film did not once feel like any other period in time and it was greatly appreciated. 
Still, the clear winner this time around was “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” with its almost satirical look at the lust for power and how far some men will take it. DiCaprio gives it his all in this performance, often screaming at the top of his lungs, and it really does look like he is enjoying every second of it. He is a joy to see whenever he is on screen. 

Greatest Films – 1920s

Film is a medium that has multiple interpretations and meanings, which is one element that makes it so interesting. I tend to see cinema is a mirror of our reality. As a way for us to convey our deepest emotions and inner thoughts through images and celluloid. Like life itself, a film can be exciting, poignant, bleak, thrilling, horrifying or anywhere in between. 
Of course, some movies use this bridge to describe reality better than others. Some don’t even try to blur the line, while others just aren’t made well at all. This is why there is a significant difference between good movies and bad ones. It is also why people keep track of the greatest films of all time. 
Now I will attempt to throw my hat into the ring by creating my list for the greatest movies ever made. I’ve racked my brain and resources, thinking of every movie that I considered great in one way or another, which made it stood out from other works of cinema. In the end, I was able to come up with 225 films, all from a different range of eras and countries, made by a wide assortment of filmmakers.
There are a few things which should be known on what I’m about to present. First of all, I will be presenting these by decade, along with a few thoughts on each interval of time. Along with that, there will be clips to accompany each film that I can find.
Second, these are what I consider the greatest works of film. I will give a brief description for each film, explaining why it belongs here. As such, there will be films that others may adore and cherish but just don’t make it on my list. 
Third, this is an incomplete list. I have not watched every film ever made, nor have I even watched every well-received movie ever made. One of my policies on film criticism is to not talk about a movie that I’ve never watched. To save criticisms and judgment for after a film is finished.
So if you feel I missed a particular film, it’s most likely because I either haven’t seen it or feel that it isn’t all that special. I will do my best to remain objective with this, but I’ve always believed that it’s impossible to be completely objective with cinema. Like telling a joke, if a film doesn’t work, it doesn’t work for that particular person and there is little that can be done about it. So please, if you have reservations with me or what I have to say, know that this is merely my opinion.
Greatest Films of the 1920s:

Watching films from the 1920s is an incredibly interesting process nowadays. This is due to the majority of well-known films from this era being silent, relying entirely upon images and the emotions on the actors faces to tell the story. This is part of the draw of silent cinema, as this opens up a world of possibilities for ways to tell the story.
It can also be a hinderance, because filmmakers back then did not hold the same moral and filmic values that we do. Some movies just don’t translate well, while others are timeless classics that show they don’t need sound to tell a good story. It’s really about how they use their lack of noise and their presentation. For example, every film listed below is an excellent example of not only silent cinema, but moviemaking. There are a diverse range of stories, each with a unique way of telling their tale, while others have cinematography or techniques that are still impressive to watch. Such is the power of silent films.

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari” (1920)

This is the height of the German Expressionist era, where reality seems warped and dark, as well as the characters. In a story where a mad doctor uses hypnotism to get others to commit crimes for him, the setting of a small German town works wonders, especially when you’re unsure of what is real or not. Effectively using color filters to add atmosphere, it also works as a thriller when the main character is dubious of his own actions and what really lies in the doctor’s cabinet.

“The Kid” (1921)
Ah, Charlie Chaplin. Always finding that perfect ground between comedy and drama to convey a multitude of just the right emotions. This is one of Chaplin’s first attempts at a full-length feature film, rather than his usual shorts, and it is one of his best, where his classic persona, The Tramp, takes it upon himself to raise an abandoned child. This works so well because of a very young Jackie Coogan, who plays the kid, and his relationship with Chaplin. He’ll mimic the Tramp but still laugh at his crazy antics, all with the most innocent of looks. The film hits all the right notes and remains a great example of Chaplin’s work.

“Nosferatu” (1922)

The first film attempt at telling the story of Dracula, without ever mentioning the word “vampire.” This film works so well because of atmosphere alone. Because of the lack of sound, the film relies on its striking cinematography and landscape of Nosferatu’s castle. Just his stance and shadow alone is enough to give me nightmares. And because of the lack of vampire, the film keeps you guessing what Nosferatu really is. Is he a bloodsucking creature of the night? Or is he an eccentric pale-faced weirdo who loves to kill? 

“The Battleship Potemkin” (1925)

I’ll freely admit that I don’t exactly care for this one, as the story is nothing groundbreaking and I can’t remember anything about the characters. This one makes the list because of how it revolutionized the way in which films were shot and edited. Sergei Eisenstein, the film’s director, always pushed the boundaries of what a film could do. Before this film, most filmmakers would shoot with the actors in the center of the frame and end the shot when it had served its purpose. Eisenstein would focus on the specific body parts, like the head or hands, and make many quick cuts to signify a characters’ thought patterns. This may seem like nothing now, but we owe many filming techniques to this film, whether we know it or not.

“The Gold Rush” (1925)

Another Chaplin piece, this one being a bit more ambitious than “The Kid.” This time, the Tramp travels to Alaska in the hopes to strike it big by finding gold deep in the wilderness. What is most memorable about this one are the set pieces and the large variety of gags that come from it, including scenes where the Tramp must eat his own shoe and does a wonderful dance with two pieces of bread. Though this may not be as touching as “The Kid” or as funny as other Chaplin works, this one is certainly memorable for defining just who the Tramp is.

“Faust” (1926)

Wow, this film looks amazing. Right from the opening scene with the devil’s wings closing around an enormous city, only to be saved by the light of a gigantic angel, I can’t help but be impressed. Not to mention, the story of an angel and demon fighting over a man’s soul is simplistic yet right at the core of the human struggle between good and evil. Faust, the man whom the deities are fighting over, wants to do the right thing with the power given to him, but is overcome by his own greed and pride. The film works with both its story and cinematography to make for an experience that won’t be forgotten.

“The General” (1926)

Buster Keaton is one of the greatest entertainers of all time. The man perfected silent comedy, with his stone faced approach to any situation and an athletic ability that might only be matched by Jackie Chan. “The General” is his best work, because not only does it have a plethora of excellent comedy, but also has an intriguing story of reclaiming lost love during the Civil War. Plus, Buster Keaton taking down an entire fleet with just his train. But let’s be honest, we all know he would have won the war anyway. 
“Sunrise” (1927)

This film does something that I thought was impossible. It tells a compelling and heartfelt love story, without ever saying a word. I don’t mean because its silent, but because there are large breaks in the film where the two romantic leads never say anything to one another. These two, who had drifted apart and the husband attempting to kill his spouse for another woman, merely spend time together and relearn why they fell in love through each other’s company. Shots were the two smile at one another go a long way in this innovatively shot romance.

“Metropolis” (1927)

Other than a film that we’ll look at in the 1930s, I consider “Metropolis” the greatest silent film and is certainly one of the crowning achievements of science-fiction filmmaking. Nearly every shot of this film is impressive and breathtaking. You really get an understanding of the landscape and scope of this futuristic world, whether the future means improvement or deterioration. “Metropolis” is able to find the best of both silent worlds, by doing what “Faust” did with its cinematography and the thrill and suspense of “The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.” Furthermore its emotional core and message still speaks true nearly 90 years later, making the film even more powerful than Fritz Lang intended. 

As I said, the 1920s can be an interesting watch these days, since silent cinema can really shine through and surprise you, or it can leave you unimpressed and wanting more. This is mostly due to being around so many great films that differ from the ones that stand out in 1920 and growing up with a different set of values. Still, there are plenty of films that have stuck around and still continue to entertain audiences to this day, for one reason or another.

Seeing Is Believing #2 – "Ikiru"

What would you do if your doctor said you only had six months left to live? Would you spend it with family and friends? How about doing everything you’ve always wanted to do, but never could? Or would you attempt one last meaningful act that others would remember you for?
This is the dilemma for Kanji Watanabe, the middle-aged protagonist of the 1952 Japanese film “Ikiru.” It is also the driving force behind why “Ikiru” is a film everyone should watch at some point in their lives.
In Post-World War II Japan, Kanji Watanabe is the head bureaucrat of Tokyo City Hall. His job entails sending the same cases back and forth through other offices that ultimately come back to him. Nothing ever gets done. Watanabe has held this position for 30 years, and has never missed a day. 
“He just drifts through life,” the narrator describes. “In fact, he’s barely alive.”
After a few days of stomach pains, Watanabe visits his doctor, only to find out he has gastric cancer and has roughly six months to live.
Watanabe, not sure what to do with his life, drifts aimlessly through the city. His impending demise only serves to remind Watanabe that he’s done nothing with his life. No worthwhile memories or achievements. Nobody to remember him for who he really was. Even his only son thinks of him as a source of money, rather than someone with emotions and feelings.
“I just can’t die,” said Watanabe. “I don’t know what I’ve been living for all these years.”
He runs into a novelist at a bar, who takes Watanabe to Tokyo’s Red Light District, in the hopes of finding happiness. They go to pachinko bars, dance clubs, a strip show and even hook up with a few ladies of the night. By the end, Watanabe still feels empty and without purpose.
It isn’t until Watanabe is found by a young female coworker that things change. He’s happy around her, because of her optimism on life. She wants to leave the bureaucrat business to work for a toy company, because knowing the toys she makes put smiles on children’s faces gives her purpose.
She tells Watanabe, “Why don’t you try making something too?” 
Suddenly, there’s a flicker of light in his eye. A smile comes across his face. “It’s not too late,” says Watanabe, as he rushes out of the restaurant to pursue one last meaningful act before he dies.
“Ikiru” is directed by Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, who also directed “Rashomon” (1950), and the influential films “Seven Samurai” (1954) and “The Hidden Fortress” (1958). While “Ikiru” does not contain a samurai, the film’s message and meaning are just as powerful today as they were in 1952. 
We all strive to have purpose in our lives, and to ultimately be remembered long after we have departed this world. That our actions can be seen by others decades after we have turned to dust, and for those people to picture someone whose life meant something. 
“How tragic that man can never realize how beautiful life is until he is face to face with death,” says the novelist.
The emotional core of “Ikiru” lies here, and its something that I believe everyone on the face of the earth can relate to and understand. No matter your ethnicity, age or gender, there is something in “Ikiru” for everyone to latch onto. We are all like Kanji Watanabe. We seek meaning and fulfillment. We fear death and what it will bring about. We strive to make our lives matter.
I first watched “Ikiru” during my freshman year of college in 2008. I had just begun to gain an appreciation for films, and could hardly tell the difference between great films, like “Jaws” (1975), and terrible films, like “Transformers” (2007). As “Ikiru” unfolded before my eyes, I saw a film that went to an entirely new level of storytelling and filmmaking that I didn’t know existed. Few films have reached that same level.

Seeing Is Believing #1 – "The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre"

No matter how much we learn and try, humans beings often end up making the same moral mistakes and end up falling into the same holes repeatedly. The Seven Deadly Sins are probably the best example of this. We can try our whole lives to be the moral and goodhearted people we possibly know, yet we will often fall pray to things like pride, envy, lust or even greed.
Have you ever wanted something so bad that you’d be willing to do anything to get it? Congratulations, you just experienced a feeling of greed. Granted, most people feel this way when they’re young and desire a new toy or their favorite box of cereal, even though their mother says it’s bad for them. What if you were an American living in 1920s Mexico, shortly after the Mexican Revolution, and you have little more than the clothes on your back?
This is the dilemma of three down-and-out characters in John Huston’s 1948 film “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.” These three characters are Fred C. Dobbs, an American who can’t catch a break played by Humphrey Bogart, Bob Curtin, a more happy-go-lucky type played by Tim Holt, and Howard, an experienced grizzled and old prospector played by Walter Huston (as in the director’s father).
The film starts in a bustling Mexican city, where Dobbs asks every American he can find to pay for his next meal, which ends up being the same guy three different times. Dobbs ends up mostly buying things like a trip to the barber shop and as much whiskey as he can get his hands on. By the end of the day, he’s flat broke again and finds Curtin at a homeless shelter. 
The next day, Dobbs and Curtin find work helping a “wealthy” Texan build houses. When it comes time for the Texan to pay up, he bails out and refuses to pay a cent to anyone. Dobbs and Curtin find this man in a bar and pulverize the man to get the money that was coming to them. 
The problem is, now they have no idea what to do. They’re surely going to be reported to the police and they’d run out of their money eventually. Suddenly, a stroke of golden fortune hits them, when they recall talking to an old coot in the shelter about an area not too far away that was nearly untouched and had gold as far as they eye could see.
Dobbs and Curtin find Howard back in the shelter and all three put up all of their money to buy the necessary supplies, food, water, mules and guns to go hunting for the treasure of a lifetime in the high mountains of the Mexican terrain. 
One of the main draws to this film is its portrayal of how much greed and paranoia will effect a man’s mind and soul. At the beginning of the film, Fred Dobbs seems like an average relatable guy. He’s in a difficult situation by being an American in a town full of people who just finished a revolution and don’t want to associate with outsiders.
“Some town to be broke in,” says Dobbs. “You know, if I was a native, I’d get me a can of shoe polish and I’d be in business. They’d never let a gringo. You can sit on a bench ’til you’re three-quarters starved…you can beg from another gringo…you can even commit burglary. You try shinin’ shoes in the street, peddlin’ lemonade out of a bucket, and your hash is settled. You’ll never get another job from an American.”
As the film progresses towards the mountains, Dobbs becomes more relatable as bandits try to rob the train and begins to boast about how many of them he shot down, while Curtin remains rather unaffected by the whole ordeal and Howard just moves on like nothing happened.
It isn’t until the signs of gold start to appear that Dobbs takes a turn for the worst. After their first full day of work, he immediately asks to start splitting the gold into three even piles, and that each man should be responsible for his own stash, including hiding it from the other two.
“This is the country where the nuggets of gold are just crying out for you to take them out of the ground and make ’em shine in coins on the fingers and necks of swell dames,” says Dobbs.
The man that was relatable at the beginning of the movie has turned into a twisted greedy and sort of evil caricature of his former self.
“I think I’ll go to sleep and dream about piles of gold getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” says Dobbs. 
The thing that suddenly makes the film a bit more scary and intense is that Dobbs transformation into this monster is realistic and feels like it could happen to someone if they were put in similar situations. Nearly anyone would do the same thing to get that much gold and be set for the rest of their natural lives. It’s the impulsive need within all of us to be greedy.
The scene that personifies this feeling is when one of the three gold hunters has to go into a nearby town for supplies, but none of them are willing to go, especially Dobbs. He’s afraid that if he goes, he’ll be gone for a few days, giving the other two ample time to find his stash of gold. Howard points out that he should take his gold with him then, but then Dobbs becomes paranoid about the lurking murderous bandits nearby and that the gold would only give them more of a reason to rob him.
“If you was to run into bandits, you’d be out of luck anyway. They’d kill you for the shoes on your feet,” says Howard.
Dobbs replies with, “Oh, so that’s it. Everything’s clear now. You’re hoping bandits will get me. That would save you a lot of trouble, wouldn’t it? And your consciences wouldn’t bother you none, neither.”
Critics often regard Fred C. Dobbs as one of Humphrey Bogart’s best roles, which has tough competition from other classic Bogart films, such as “The Maltese Falcon,” “In A Lonely Place,” “The African Queen” and “Casablanca.”
Eleanor Quin of Turner Classic Movies describes Bogart’s performance as, “[A]n opportunity to shed his suave leading man image created seven years prior in The Maltese Falcon. His character undergoes a moral metamorphosis – from a congenial, average guy to a murderous monster gripped by paranoia.”
By the end of the film, Dobbs reflects on some of the terrible actions he has done to get the gold that he feels rightfully belongs to him, leading to a soliloquy that Roger Ebert believes is up there with many things William Shakespeare wrote. 
“Conscience. What a thing,” says Dobbs. “If you believe you got a conscience it’ll pester you to death. But if you don’t believe you got one, what could it do t’ya? Makes me sick, all this talking and fussing about nonsense.”
“The Treasure Of The Sierra Made” is a film that John Huston wanted to work on personally since 1941, but because of World War II, it had to be put on hold until after Huston returned from the war. Upon returning, Huston almost immediately flew down to Mexico and wanted to film nearly the entire movie on set, much to the dismay of Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers, who has funding the movie. It also didn’t help that the film went way over budget, costing more than three million dollars by the end and took much longer to film than it was expected to. 
Yet Warner was still willing to let Huston continue to make the film his way, mostly because he trusted Huston as a director and because he believed that what they were making was “definitely the greatest motion picture we have ever made.”
While it took more than twelve years to make the film, the result was a film with diverse yet interesting characters, a tight and focus story with a crisp and realistic approach, balanced and superb acting from the three main cast members and a message that spoke directly to the human condition of greed and paranoia. That year at the Academy Awards, Walter Huston won the award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Howard, John Huston won for Best Director and Best Screenplay, making it the only year in Academy Award history where a father and son both won awards on the same night.
When I first watched “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre,” I wasn’t entirely impressed by it. As time went on, I began to appreciate the subtly and underlying tones and themes of the film, as well as the well-written dialogue throughout the film. It was very pleasant to hear and came off very naturally and powerful.
“A thousand men, say, go searchin’ for gold. After six months, one of them’s lucky: one out of a thousand,” says Howard. “His find represents not only his own labor, but that of nine hundred and ninety-nine others to boot. That’s six thousand months, five hundred years, scramblin’ over a mountain, goin’ hungry and thirsty. An ounce of gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that went into the findin’ and the gettin’ of it,”
Ultimately, there is something for everyone to enjoy in “The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre,” wether its the action and suspense throughout, the witty dialogue, the fantastic acting from Bogart and Huston, or the underlying message of how greed can turn respectable and regular people into psychotic and crazy monsters.
“I know what gold does to men’s souls,” says Howard. By the end of the film, you will know what it does as well.