The Definition of a Tortured Soul: Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire Review

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Shake Hands With The Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire is a 2004 documentary film about Romeo Dallaire and his struggle to continue after living through the horrors of the Rwandan Genocide.This documentary is everything you could want and expect it to be. It’s an utterly astonishing story - parts of which will be sadly familiar, plus a few new jaw-dropping revelations (the Belgian politician with the gall to try and spin the blame for one of the key events back onto Dallaire at a press conference, for one), but it’s the day to day details, and the staggering that will stay with you. We’re shown humanity at its worst, and not just when Rwandans are killing each other - but there is also the nature of recovery, both personal and on a wider level.


Perhaps what’s most commendable is the restraint on display. There’s no agenda, and there’s certainly no Moore-aganda antics. This isn’t a retelling of the whole catastrophe, it’s very much a personal account, and it’s here that Shake Hands succeeds by focusing on the task at hand so resolutely. Dallaire – still largely unrecognised for his valiant efforts in the absolute worst of situations, is revealed to be a great man disguised as an ordinary one. Honest, straight talking and back from the brink of madness, the former General is initially hesitant about returning to his former post, but ends up keen to tell his story to his wife at his side, to the survivors, and to us, with all the tenacity of an obsessive-compulsive trying to scrub away the stain of a guilt that isn’t his.


There are graphic images – notorious footage of roadside machete killings in the middle distance of a hidden camera’s wide frame is used, which should absolutely be seen (perhaps then it will stick in people’s minds and prevent us from ignoring the next genocide attempt… yeah right).


Sure, it’s heavy going. The opening credits show a UN vehicle having to drive around both pieces of a beheaded corpse lying on a road, and by the end of it you’ll be ashamed to be a human being, but remarkably, you won’t be without hope; if Romeo Dallaire can, a decade on, survive the demons of what he tried – and failed – to do, then there’s a chance for us all. And that really is one of his more redeeming qualities.
 

As far as actual movie aesthetics, the film did its job in regards to captivating the audience. Documentaries are not exactly known for their elements of narrative, so I can’t really deliver a verdict on anything of the sort. But I did appreciate the cut scenes where Dallaire was speaking to the camera – his emotion really gave a good insight into his experiences in such a horrific circumstance.

Given that, adding insult to gravest injury, the First World sent only token delegates to the tenth anniversary memorial of an incident they would prefer to forget as easily it was ignored in the first place, this story deserves a fully focused place before a brightly burning spotlight. 

Stars: 3.5/5

The Men That Define ‘Cojones’: Hotel Rwanda/Shake Hands With The Devil Joint-Review

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The Rwandan Genocide will always be remembered as one of the biggest human rights failures in the history of men. A country was divided, innocent people were viciously and systematically murdered, people lost family, and soldiers stood by and did absolutely nothing. In Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) struggles with housing hundreds of Tutsi refugees with the Interhamwe Army breathing down his neck, all whilst doing everything he can to protect his family. On the other side of the spectrum is Shake Hands With The Devil, is a grim recollection of Romeo Dallaire (Roy Dupuis), the U.N. officer in charge of UNAMIR, who struggles through being the bystander during the genocide. While they may be from two completely different cultures, and completely opposite from the other, this traumatizing event still impacted both of them heavily. Both films are strong in the portrayal of the genocide; they just portray it in two different ways. In Hotel Rwanda, the viewer gets a more personal point of view, through the eyes of a Rwandan citizen, a family man. In Shake Hands With The Devil, the viewer gets a much more informative point of view, one you didn’t get with Hotel Rwanda, because it effectively portrays that sense of abandonment by the superpowers involved in the conflict, which further emphasizes the realism and the consequences because of these actions. Personally, I liked that watching the two different perspectives, because it allowed me to see that whatever side of the conflict you were on, you were damaged by it in some way. In regards to which one I preferred, I would have to say that Hotel Rwanda was the more impactful film. It might have been the production, but something about how heart-wrenching and personal it felt made me able to connect to it better. There were times in the film where my heart stopped in fear for the family, and that emotional connection allowed me to comprehend the whole tragedy in a better light.

            Both films effectively portray the genocide in their own ways; one is more the fear and danger of being a part of the victim caste, and the other is the emotional anguish of being a bystander to such a terrible crime. In Hotel Rwanda, the personal connection that the audience makes with the protagonists is the stepping stone to understanding the realness of the dangers of the genocide. There are many heart-stopping moments in the film where the Rusesabagina family is in danger, and the audience wants them to survive so badly. When Paul has to negotiate with the Interhamwe soldiers for the freedom of his family, you have no idea how he is going to be able to give them enough money to free his entire group. Thankfully he does, and the viewer is able to see the difficult situations people were put in; a lot of people were force to trade money and valuable for the lives of their loved ones. There is also the times where Paul is looking for Tatiana and his kids, and he believes they have jumped off of the hotel, only to realize it is another family in hiding. The emotion behind after all Paul had been through, for him to lose his family at that point would’ve been devastating. In Shake Hands With The Devil, the genocide is seen as more of a political issue, rather than a personal issue. It is more about parlaying information to the audience, rather than triggering emotion (although, it does do that). Shake Hands With The Devil goes in depth with Dallaire’s detail, his dealings with high-up officers in the different factions fighting the civil war, like when he met with the Interhamwe leaders, General Bizimingu, and later with General Kagame. It also shows his relations with other U.N. officers, from countries like Belgium and Bangladesh. But, it also does show the emotional terror that not only Rwandans dealt with, but the horrors the U.N. soldiers (especially Dallaire) experienced. The scene where the woman slips on a pool of blood seems to keep replaying in Dallaire’s head. The concept of that situation ever coming to be is haunting Dallaire, and the audience can clearly tell he is troubled. There is also a brief scene where Dallaire is cutting his upper legs to relieve the pain of his experiences. Overall, I think Shake Hands With The Devil was able to portray the genocide better, as it was able to include both factual and emotional elements in to it.

            Personally, I think that viewing two different perspectives of the genocide was key in fully understanding the events as a whole. In Hotel Rwanda, as mentioned earlier, you get the personal element to it. But there are definitely minor things within that give more detail to what it was like during the genocide. In Hotel Rwanda, there was more of an idea of what it was like daily for the hotel and it’s refugees. Food was very sparse for the majority of their hiding; Paul had to pull some big favours to ensure that everyone was fed. His wife, Tatiana, was in constant fear throughout their hiding, and she can be used as sort of a generalization for what it was like for most Tutsi families, as they were dealing with the idea of constantly being hunted by the Interhamwe. Speaking of the Interhamwe, they were metaphorically constantly knocking on the door of the hotel, trying to get at the refugees any way possible. Hotel Rwanda gave a picture of what it was like to be a refugee during the time. As for Shake Hands With The Devil, it gave good insight to the politics of the genocide. The big thing was that Dallaire was constantly pleading with the super powers, like the United States, to help in Rwanda as they were helping in the Balkans. It showed how the Belgians weren’t backing Dallaire either, and later how they were only in Rwanda to extract the Belgian expatriates. There were also the relations between Dallaire and the leaders of the different sides in the conflict. Between the two films, there were a lot of scenes that depicted general treatment of Rwandan people in more rural areas. There were parts in both films where soldiers were executing innocent people, or scenes where dead bodies were strewn throughout, and those scenes really emphasized how grand of an event this was.

            Both films were absolutely excellent; they were well casted, well scripted, and they both delivered a powerful message about the genocide. However, if I had to choose which of the two films I preferred, I would have to choose Hotel Rwanda. I preferred it to Shake Hands With The Devil for two reasons; firstly, the overall production and filming made the film a lot more engaging. Secondly, Hotel Rwanda was much more relatable to, meaning I got more out of the film because I was more intrigued in it. Hotel Rwanda was a Hollywood film, and it showed through the atmosphere, the music, and the acting. Don Cheadle played the performance of a lifetime, portraying a real underdog and winning the hearts of the audience. There was a greater intensity in hotel Rwanda, it seems very blockbuster-like, compared to Shake Hands With The Devil. The personal levels that were reached in Hotel Rwanda also gave it a slight edge, as I felt closer to the scared, fighting-for-their-lives family than the PTSD-afflicted General. I just felt more emotion for things like Paul leaving his family to stay with the hotel, over things like Dallaire peering through the church with hundreds of corpses in it.

            Both Hotel Rwanda and Shake Hands With The Devil both captured the essence of what was one of the greatest failures in human history. While I personally preferred Hotel Rwanda for it’s heart-wrenching plot, Shake Hands With The Devil gave much better factual information in to the genocide, which was useful for someone who didn’t know too much about it. In the end, they both did it in their unique ways, with each film bringing something different yet important to the table, and watching them together gave a clear picture into the genocide as a whole. 

Stars:

Hotel Rwanda: 4.5/5

Shake Hands With The Devil: 4/5

Don’t Kill Me, Japan: Godzilla (1954) Review

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It usually takes a lot for me to really dislike a film; I mean really, I sat through The Room and I thought it was substantially better than the 1954, and original rendition of Godzilla. I truly haven’t had such a dislike for a film since three years ago to this day, when on a mild Halloween night I went to go see Matt Damon in The Informant. And that was the exact same night I lost all respect for Matt Damon as an actor.

                Now let’s get one thing straight; just because I’m about to dig in to one of the most classic films of all time, doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. I mean, the millions of people who simply adore this film and the franchise built around it can’t really be wrong. I guess what you’re doing right now is listening to the insane ramblings of a high school senior who knows absolutely nothing about the essence of film. But, in my defence, I’m a part of that generation that has films with explosions and car chases and Girls! Girls! Girls!, so maybe films pre-1970s just don’t pander to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the entire film is in Japanese, and I’m just too lazy to read subtitles. Then I realized that both of those theories are completely irrelevant, considering movies like North by Northeast and Wizard or Oz and Ocean’s Eleven are up there as some of my favourites of all time, and foreign films like Die Wielle and Metropolis are up there as well. There’s just this essence, this feeling I get whilst watching Godzilla. I have no clue, really; maybe it’s just how… cheesy the film is. And I know, it’s a Japanese film, there’s no Hollywood backing, so it’s not going to be as pleasing as an American film.

                But maybe, that’s just it. Maybe my generation and I have become too entranced in these blockbuster Hollywood films of the 2000s. So entranced, that when we see a film from before our time, we get bored too quickly because these older films don’t have all of the stuff we look forward to in the blockbusters of today.

                When it comes to Godzilla itself, there are a few key points where I lose interest. The dialogue, for one, is sub-par. And no, not because it’s in Japanese, but the speaking, it’s so… slow, and boring. Not once did I sit through a conversation and think “Wow, I want to know more about these characters/that plot point”. The message was pretty lame as well. I get that this film is culturally important to the Japanese because it symbolized the destruction of World War II and how the capitalist pig Americans destroyed their once beautiful land. But I just can’t make the connection between the two ideas.

                In the end, I have a mass amount of respect for this film and its fandom, but it just doesn’t click with me. Maybe if it had a Dean Martin cameo, I’d reconsider it.

Stars: 1.5/5

Michael Caine is amazing… Clive Owen’s okay too, I guess: Children of Men Review

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Children of Men Review

          Children of Men is a 2006 dystopian science-fiction film directed by Alfonso Cuaron starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Pam Ferris, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Some time in the early 21st century, women stopped having babies. No one knows why, they just stopped. It’s now 2027, science is powerless, governments are in shambles, and society has dissolved into complete anarchy. None of it matters. The suddenly wholly infertile human race will die out in the next sixty or seventy years. While the rest of the world has collapsed, Britain soldiers on. As the world’s only remaining government, the UK is a last bastion of civilization. Or is it? The British government maintains order at great cost. The hordes of refugees struggling to escape the flames engulfing the rest of the world by running to Britain are caged, imprisoned, and killed. The country has become a police state; terrorist bombings are constant and common. Britain soldiers on, but nobody seems all that happy about it.

          The setting in this film is without question the thing that most develops the atmosphere within the film. The one thing that stands out the most is that the entire film is grey scale. There are absolute zero points in the film with any vibrant scenes, the colour is so stained, but it does it’s job in that it develops how sad and depressing and hopeless the whole situation is; human life is dead and it seems as though nothing can be done about it. Even at Jasper’s hideaway, Jasper being a very bright and optimistic and colourful man, the once vibrant yellows and reds in his house have been suppressed. The physical environment is also effective, as the metropolitan streets of London have been ravaged by the conflicts occurring, showing the war-torn effects of the revolution. Everywhere there are signs and warnings, surveillance cameras and security patrols. “The world has collapsed,” a public service announcement trumpets, “only Britain soldiers on.”

          The sounds of the film were also an integral part of the overall production, and the effective use of levels of sounds at certain times were sometimes the best part of the film. In the scenes depicting intensity, there were times where the realism of the sound carried the scene. When Julian was shot, there was no music, no explosions, only a muted version of the real sound. It’s something not seen very often, as usually when a climactic or impactful seen has loud noises or intense music.

          Finally, the shot composition in the film was revolutionary of sorts, as there were many scenes throughout the film in which it would be one single shot over the course of a very long period of time, contrary to the norm of shot composition, where it is revolved around a bunch of quick shots to make up a scene. Especially when Kee is captured, and Theo is chasing after the Fishes, the scene seems to drag on for four or five minutes, but it captivates the essence of the scene as a whole, showing his journey and his point of view in full. The deeper meaning really is a secondary thought for me however, as I think that the importance of the technique is that it was a technique that is usually unconventional, but was plugged in and used creatively.

What’s most impressive about Children of Men is the way it so staunchly avoids becoming a traditional thriller. It might have been easy to turn it into just another chase movie, after all that’s what I’m describing here. Theodore ends up on the run with the world’s only pregnant mother, pursued by the military, the cops, rebel terrorists, and nearly everyone else in god’s green creation. But Cuaron refuses to let this turn into a post-apocalyptic rehash of The Fugitive. Instead, the film seems more interested in exploring the consequences of a future in which man is done for, and conversely the effect hope can have on a world and on individuals who are truly and completely hopeless.

Stars: 4/5

Guy Fawkes Kicks Ass, Takes Names: V for Vendetta Review

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V for Vendetta is a 2005 action thriller film directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowskis (formerly the Wachowski Brothers), that stars Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry. The story revolves around Evey Hammond (Portman), who encounters V (Weaving), a suave and daring revolutionary who is looking to dismantle the totalitarian Norsefire Party, who lead the United Kingdom in the late 2020s. The story has two major storylines which it follows; Evey’s complex relationship with V, and V’s ideologies and quest for revenge. V for Vendetta is also strong in that it delivers powerful messages about a lot of different social, political, and personal issues – individuality, homophobia and racism, and the threat of a real totalitarian society.

Acting will always make or break a film – and in this film I believe that it was really that pushed it over the top. Hugo Weaving did a stunning job portraying V – a feat made more impressive by the fact that he could not been seen behind the mask. What this means is that Weaving was able to effectively portray a hero solely based off of body movement and dialogue. The way he spoke, whether it was inspiring monologues or quick quips to an imminent victim – he engaged the viewer with the fluidity and coyness in his voice. The suave that is embodied by V makes you want to know more about him; and you do not want him to stop talking, because he always has interesting things to say. For the other protagonist, Evey Hammond, Natalie Portman brought her character to life through her emotion. In scenes where she was scared, Portman was able to convince the viewer effectively through the tone and clearness in her voice, or through her body language (things like wide eyes, shaking when crying). The audience makes a personal connection with Evey Hammond, making an emotional connection with the scared girl on screen. Antagonists were able to display powerful emotions as well – whether it was Creedy being cold and stoic, or Chancellor Sutler being demanding and ruthless.

The setting is always an integral part of a dystopian film, whether it is in the form of a smooth, clean futuristic society, or a dirty, poverty-stricken apocalyptic society. In the case of V for Vendetta, it is neither, really. The interesting thing about the general setting is that it seems fairly similar to the current United Kingdom. Streets and buildings remain the same, cars look like current autos of today. However, there are more minor settings that accentuate certain points in the film. V’s Shadow Gallery is a cultural haven, and the darkness and Victorian style further add to the mystery behind V. In places like Larkhill, the grim and sinister lighting and conditions add to the ideas of the horrors that occurred at the detention centre. When the centre catches on fire, it all aids the idea of V’s fury. The boardroom, in which high end officials like Finch and Creedy meet with Sutler in gives off a very dark and evil feeling, highlights the proceedings which are being discussed in the scene.

There are copious amounts of social and political undertones throughout V for Vendetta. The most important thing about these undertones, however, is the medium in which they are discussed through; discrimination. Usually seen in dystopic societies, certain taboo ideologies and subjects are either suppressed by the governing power, or they are seen with consequence. In V for Vendetta, one of the bigger ideas discriminated against is homosexuality. Not only is it seen as taboo in current society, but in the film it is seen as illegal; this is shown through when Valerie and Rose are arrested based on their sexuality, and when Gordon Dietrich is captured and killed when homoerotic photos are found in his secret backroom in his house. Another repressed idea is religion. In the film, it is shown that Christianity seems to be the only withstanding religion, with other religions not even being mentioned. On top of that, Gordon is also condemned for being a practicing Muslim, and for having a Qur’an found in his secret room as well. Finally there is the idea of racism, and the extermination of minorities. This is a somewhat common theme in dystopian works, even in Children of Men racism was a very big theme. But in this film, it is a lot more subtle. If you pay enough attention to it, you’ll notice that all of the main characters, even all of the supporting characters- are Caucasian Anglophones. There is not one African, Asian, Indian, Hispanic person in the entire film. The only time there is, is when they are seen in the detention centers being sent to their deaths. In contrast to modern day London, one of the most diverse cities in the world, this is a very shocking observation, only furthering the idea of a totalitarian regime being prejudiced.

In short, V for Vendetta portrays the surprisingly real fear of a totalitarian government one day ruling society, and the implications that follow with it. It also shows the steps we are unknowingly taking towards this type of world. It has all of the elements necessary to make it a proper dystopian film like societal undertones to give it that twisted, dystopian feel, and it uses elements of narrative, like acting, setting and physical relations to give it that cinematic feel any good film needs. V for Vendetta is an absolute masterpiece in that it develops a clear and powerful message, all the while keeping the audience entertained throughout.

Stars: 5/5

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