Top Ten Thursdays: Animals in Movies

As I surf the net with Dunston Checks In playing in the background, I was quickly inspired for a new Top Ten Thursday.  I have decided to focus on top ten animal characters from films.  Sadly Dunston did not make the list, however, the ten I choose are certainly their own beasts in the world of cinema.

10.) The Goats - The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)

While they only serve a minor importance in teh film, the goats from this star driven comedy are an excellent addition to an expertly crafted comedy.

9.) White Mane - White Mane (1953)

An intensely sentimental film that is both achingly beautiful and heartbreaking.  For more info check my previous review.

8.) The Gopher - Caddyshack (1980)

Only a mechanical snickering gopher could stand counterpoint to the hilarity of Bill Murray.

7.) Mr. Fox - The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

He truly is one fantastic fox.

6.) The Creatures - Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Sure they are not technically animals, but their bestial nature is justifiable for inclusion on this list.

5.) Kong - King Kong (1933)

"The eight wonder of the world!"

4.) Balthazar - Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

The saddest movie involving an animal ever, Au Hasard Balthazar is an existential film about peoples triumphs and tragedies as seen through the eyes of a donkey.

3.) The Falcon - The Maltese Falcon (1941)

"It's the stuff that dreams are made of..."

2.) The Monkeys - 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Serving as a connection between the evolution of technology, the monkeys in 2001 are as human in their expression as they are barbaric in their understanding of the monolith.

1.) Gojira - Gojira (1954)

I picked Gojira almost entirely for his death scene, it is so oneiric and truly serves as an example of the tragedies present in nuclear proliferation, at least as they relate to the natural world.

Honorable Mention

Blanche - House (1977)
The Zoo - A Zed and Two Noughts (1986)
Dug - Up (2009)


Excuse Me…Who Are You?: Perfect Blue (1997)

Upon approaching this Perfect Blue, I had heard multiple statements claiming it to be the anime equivalent of a Hitchcock film.  While this is certainly true, it is a tragic understatement to how truly unique and dark this movie really becomes.  It is an intense, morbid and visually striking animated film that is condensed into eighty minutes of glorious madness.  It still does not top Akira, but truth be told this is one of the best pieces of animation I have ever seen.  It is making me consider reworking my previous Top Ten Thursday list.  I cannot express the surreal and oneiric qualities of this movie, but it is a must watch film and is perhaps the best piece of anime available to discredit notions of the genre being full of childish Disneyesque films.  Incidentally, the storyline for Perfect Blue is arguably more disconnected than the surrealist offering that is Fantasia.

Perfect Blue focuses on the crumbling celebrity status of Mima, the lead singer of the J-pop trio Cham.  She has decided to end her time with the musical group, against her wishes, in order to pursue a career in acting.  It seems as though Mima will acquire a decent amount of success as an actress, making cameos on crime shows and still maintaining her associations with her pop star past.  This is the case for a short amount of time, however, as her producer is suddenly the victim of a mail bomb intended for Mima.  At this point the film begins to immerse itself into a world in which reality and dreams are no longer differentiated.  This occurrence is spurred by Mima being introduced to a website called Mima’s Room which recounts her daily activities.  Mima is distraught by this discovery because she is certain that she is not the one writing this website and is the victim of another persons fanatical obsessions.  Her paranoia is not benefitted by the fact that the show she is starring on is concerned with a serial killer.  As her confusion increases Mima is incapable of separating her reality from that of the killer she plays in the film, often acting violently without explanation.  The plot continues to become more desoltary and murky ending with a twist that would make Hitchcock proud and put Shyamalan to shame.  I promise you that without spoilers you will not see the ending coming, it is that well delivered of a narrative.

I am going to for go an intense critical analysis of this piece and instead talk about how it serves as an example of what animated films can do that reality cannot (This is excluding CGI films).  A film like Perfect Blue has the power to portray dreamlike states and desolate landscapes in a way that escapes believability in the world of live action.  Even a perfectly executed dream sequence, like those in Inception, fails to grasp believability because we know as human being that we are incapable of fighting in a world void of gravity.  However, when approaching works that are animated we are certain from the onset that it does not in any way reflect reality and subconsciously we allow ourselves to view it in a surreal alternative reality.  Another good example of an animated film that allows us this venue is Richard Linklater’s study on dream states Waking Life.  Sure, it seems like a simplistic argument, but it is hard not to become captivated on a different level with something like Perfect Blue, because while you can disconnect as a viewer you cannot ever truly escape the depravity of the film.  You cannot remove yourself from the surreal in the same way you can the real, it eats away at your subconscious whether you allow it to or not.

This film is rather hard to come by, but well worth owning.  If you can throw the money around and like animated films then I would strongly encourage you to get a copy.  For those who are uncertain about anime, this is probably one of the best places to start


Blood Brothers, Flowers and Crackling Ice: Flesh And The Devil (1926)

Every time I believe I have found the penultimate silent film something comes along to challenge all my assumptions.  The Greta Garbo driven Flesh and the Devil is one such example.  The acting, narrative and cinematography have brought me a state of awe that has not occurred since first viewing Metropolis.  What makes this particular viewing experience even better was that I was able to attend a viewing of the film with live organ music, giving me a faint idea as to what it may have been like to attend a film in the twenties.  Sadly, it was blatantly obvious that my girlfriend and me were the youngest couple there and were probably half the age of the next oldest person there.  I wish yet again that persons my age had a love for the beauty of silent era filmmaking, but as this events showed, it has yet to happen.  Regardless, I am enthralled by Flesh and the Devil and am making it a mission of mine to become much more versed in the MGM titles that were released during this golden age of cinema.

Flesh and the Devil follow a handful of characters as they interact in a lavish and old-world German village, particularly the relationship between two long time friends Leo (John Gilbert) and Ulrich (Lars Hanson).  They are shown as compatriots whose single concern is assure that they advance forward in unison, even if it means occasionally shoveling shit for the other, in the most literal sense of the term.  Their bond appears to be sturdy and incapable of divide.  This inextricable connection changes, however, with the emergence of Felicitas (Greta Garbo) a sultry women who exudes a sexuality so strong that Leo become instantaneously enamored with her.  Their budding relationship seems perfect, until it is brought to Leo’s attention that Felicitas is already married to Count von Rhaden (Marc McDermott).  In an attempt to assure Felictas’ love Leo duels and kills the count resulting in Leo’s exile to avoid severe punishment.  During his long leave of absence, Leo thinks fondly of Felicitas, literally envisioning her name in his dreams.  Felicitas, however, has moved on to wed Ulrich who is completely oblivious to the past relationship between Leo and Felicitas given its secretive nature.  Ulrich in a moment of celebration is able to bring Leo back early hoping to share his good news.  Much to Leo’s dismay he was hoping to marry Felicitas.  The film then focuses on Felicitas and her attempts to seduce Leo without leaving Ulrich.  As Leo, and the village priest make ever apparent, such a polygamous relationships is impossible and more importantly sinful.  The misunderstanding almost leads to Leo and Ulrich attempting to kill one another, an action Felicitas attempts to be indifferent towards.  In a climactic ending Ulrich realizes that Leo was only attempting to regains his love and that in reality it was Felicitas whose actions were tantamount to betrayal.  This deceit is punished, however, because while attempting to stop the shootout Felicitas falls through a thin piece of ice, leading to her cold and lonely death.  Ulrich and Leo are reunited as buddies once again to move freely through the world without the burdens of a competing sexual threat.

In a joking manner I left the screening saying that I had no clue why Brokeback Mountain was so controversial, this film was much “gayer.”  I meant that jokingly because the characters of Leo and Ulrich are very intimate.  The two are shown as an inseperable entitiy, often predicting the others actions and preparing to make each others movements go through with relative ease.  In such a scenario their coupling represents the finest example of the homosocial bond I have ever seen in film.  While the leading males never enter into a traditional homosexual act (they do come damn close at the end), they are obviously attracted to one another, in so much as they believe themselves deserved of one another’s blood.  Their attraction, according to the homosocial bond, is not sexual in nature but more narcissistic in their desire to be with some one that equally represents them.  Both Leo and Ulrich are white males who are relatively well to do.  It is not only desirous for them to partner with one another, but ideal in terms of survival.  In the simplest terms they are friends due almost entirely to likemindedness.  With this in mind, it completely changes the purpose and image of Felicitas.  Unlike the femme fatale the film portrays her to be, she is instead a threat to the power advantages of Ulrich and Leo’s homosocial bond.  She represents an opposing ideal, which would mean severing their unity that assured mutual safety.  Luckily for the duo and problematically for the film, their homosocial bond transcends Felicitas and her feminine interference.  Such an ending is obvious an early twentieth century equivalent of the rather degrading term “bros before hos,” but clearly represents ideals prevalent in the 1920’s.  Watch the film with this discussion in mind, seriously it is really obvious and almost tragically humorous.

I want to reiterate how spectacular this film is, particularly the acting and cinematography.  Both were revolutionary and far superior to many films that are made today.  It is well worth seeing and owning and I would suggest getting a copy as soon as possible, as it only exists in the outdated world of VHS.


I Like You, Clarence. Always Have. Always Will: True Romance (1993)

This movie has everything going for it, a Tarantino script, poetic fight scenes and a veritable who's who of 90's actors.  One could quickly imagine this concoction failing miserably, but luckily, the film is treated with finesse in the hands of Hollywood big shot Tony Scott.  It takes an impossible storyline and makes it ever so believable, even though such a story could not exist in a reality outside of cinema.  It is fun, fast and intense and has all the sustenance one would expect from a film involving Quentin Tarantino.  However, what is perhaps most surprising about this film is that it is that Christian Slater's parts are enjoyable, an occurrence that seems impossible in many of his other films.  It is hip, over-the-top and celebratory of a culture from days gone by, it is what a blockbuster popcorn and soda movie should be enthralling to the point of inducing catharsis amongst its viewers.  True Romance is a film that you will become consumed by and not realize you have been watching a film until the credits begin to roll.  A contemporary classic if ever one existed, True Romance is just plain enjoyable.

The narrative, as one comes to expect with Tarantino, is garnished with hipster cultural references and healthy doses of kung-fu films, particularly those of the great Sonny Chiba.  Furthermore, the films characters are inextricably attached to these references, most notably the protagonist Clarence (Christian Slater) who fancies himself a modern day hybrid of Chiba and Elvis that dons Hawaiian shirts and a lax attitude to the world around him.  Clarence appears content to waste his days away employed at a comic book shop until he is brought into a seemingly chance encounter with Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a call girl hired by Clarence's boss to show him a good time on his birthday.  It seems too good to be true, and almost is, until Alabama confesses to harboring legitimate feelings for Clarence, causing her to instantly reject her job as a call girl.  This is easier said than done particularly since her pimp is a faux thug by the name of Drexel (Gary Oldman).  The threat of Drexl does not disturb Clarence, however, and he takes it upon himself to personally kill Drexl.  In a rather comedic moment, Clarence confronts Drexel, ultimately killing him and running off with a suitcase that he believes to contain Alabama's personal belongings.  Clarence quickly discovers that the suitcase actually contains a very large amount of cocaine, something to the tune of a million dollars worth.  Realizing both the problems and possibilities of his new acquisition Clarence contacts his father for advice and then heads out to Los Angeles, where he believes he can get rid of the cocaine quickly for a decent amount of money.  The rest of the film sporadically deals with Clarence as he tries to unload his drugs.  The film includes cameos from Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, and James Gandolfini amongst others, all culminating in a gorgeous shoot out that is both obnoxiously grandiose and minimalist simultaneously.  It is an action film nerds dream and is pretty much flawless.

I recently finished reading bell hooks' Reel to Real: Race Sex and Class at the Movies and was thoroughly impressed by hooks' concise, yet astute criticisms of many of Hollywood's contemporary films, particularly her brief discussion about Pulp Fiction.  In an piece titled "Cool Cynicism" hooks points out the issues of problematic images in the films of Tarantino, particularly demeaning images of racial stereotypes, homosexuality and spousal abuse.  In Tarantino's films, he makes it a note to state that these are problematic, but rarely are these issues dealt with.  In fact, the cool characters often only receive slaps on the wrist for their bad actions.  Take Marcellus Wallace for example, he is a very bad person, yet his stature and bad as a motherfucker attitude reward him with survival and the ability to castrate his homosexual pursuer.  He is chastised for his negative actions, but in no way reprimanded.  The same case can be made for True Romance, in so much as the film core focuses on the transferring of a very large amount of illegal drugs.  True Romance is only concerned with people who legitimately benefit from drug trading, the dealers and big wigs.  It, with the exception of a few black dealers who die, ignores the lower class individuals who are victimized by drug wars.  By doing so Tarantino's script once again wags a finger at drug use, but fails to note the truly devastating effects of the drug trade, for a better expose on this issue check out Steven Soderbergh's Traffic.  Sure most of the characters involved in the trafficking die, but Clarence and Alabama survive living their life out with the help of a large amount of dirty money.  In Tarantino's eyes, they used corruption to their advantage, which is great for them, but still sucks for those being dealt unseen damage by said corruption.  It is a classic case of cinematic cynicism, masked in a cool and engrossing narrative.

All things considered, this is certainly one of the best movies released in 1993.  The film is a bit dated at times, but still has a timelessness that will make viewers instantly enamored with its wry dialogue and cultural fluidity.  I recommend getting a copy and making a viewing night of it with friends.


Top Ten Thursdays: The Criterion Collection

It has been nearly a month since my last one of these, and I figured nothing better than doing it on my ever favorite DVD supplier Criterion.  It is a dream of mine to one day provide my list on their website, but until then I will just have to do it here on my blog.  I will be providing the spine number for these films, as opposed to the usual year of release.

10.) The Seventh Seal (11)

This is one of the first films I purchased from the collection, and perhaps one of the ones with the most lasting impression.  I will forever have the dance of death burned into my mind.

9.) Paul Robeson: A Portrait of the Artist (369)

I am choosing this particular box set more for its historical relevance.  Not only does this set of films include of of Robeson's finest works, it also includes a film by Oscar Micheaux the often overlooked and highly underappreciated African-American silent filmmaker.

8.) The Last Temptation of Christ (70)

"It is accomplished"

7.) The Night of The Hunter (541)


6.) House (539)

This movie will change everything you understand about cinema, perhaps for better, but probably just for worse.

5. By Brakhage: An Anthology Volume 1 and 2 (184 and 517)

Stan Brakhage is one of the most important figures in the history of film, and only the Criterion Collection could do is films justice.

4.) Hoop Dreams (289)

Probably one of the most critically acclaimed documentaries in the collection, Hoop Dreams will break your heart.

3.) Hardboiled (9)

Long out of print, this John Woo film is one of the most sought after in the collection and it is deservedly so.

2.) Kicking and Screaming (349)

"We eat cantaloupe..."

1.) Do The Right Thing (97)

As I have noted before this is my favorite film and it should be no surprise it is also my favorite in the collection.  The supplements for this release are outstanding.

Honorable Mention

Alphaville (25)
The Harder They Come (83)
 Le Samourai (306)
La Jetee (387)
The Milky Way (402)
Chungking Express (453)
Last Year at Marienbad (478)


Perhaps So, I’ve Brought The Apple Anyway:…And God Created Women (1956)

The world was never the same after the introduction of Brigitte Bardot and cinema has this film to thank.  Perhaps more well-known for his cult classic Barbarella, Roger Vadim’s film is a sexual romp through the French coast that is as sultry as it is sentimental and serves as one of the fleeting moments of brilliance that existed in France prior to its filmic upheaval that would be the French New Wave. It is at times funny, while at others tragically serious, but despite its wavering it never manages to loose its illustrious Technicolor flow fashioning itself around a young vixen whose on screen presence would forever change the way sexual promiscuity was framed worldwide.

While Juliette (Brigitte Bardot) is the character the films title references, the actual narrative is more concerned with the small Tardieu family as they attempt to secure their living amidst the ever contentious demands of a sleazy businessman whose interests also lie in dominating the young Juliette.  An orphan, Juliette fills her days with lackluster work at a bookstore and dancing into midnight, actions which eventually lead her foster mother to banish her, stating that she is to return to a far off boarding school.  Realizing her imminent loss if she were to be relocated, Juliette prays on a the middle brother of the family, using his shyness against him and becoming a femme fatale of sorts, ignoring the death associated with the character as it relates to film noir.  Her seduction of the middle brother is partially for self-perseverance, but it also is intended to exact revenge on the family’s oldest brother who unknowingly admits his attempts to use Juliette at a late night party.  The film then spirals into a abyss of infidelity, double speak and business, which witnesses the Tardieu’s dismissing their land with the promise of earning off of whatever is built.  In a fleeting moment, the oldest brother and Juliette engage in an act of intercourse, which ultimately destroys the rather close relationship previously existing between the Tardieu’s.  In the classic femme fatale fashion, Juliette remains relatively unharmed and appears to have learned very little from the endeavor making the men’s unrestrained desire the problem, as opposed to the innocence of a young vixen.

The critiques of this film are vast and varied, but I find the most obvious ones to emerge when approaching it from a feminist lens.  The first issue is the most blatant, it is a film preoccupied with the male gaze.  Our first introduction to Juliette is of her legs as they emerge from behind a dangling sheet.  The film then cuts to an old man approaching her with a toy, yet in a moment of cinematic genius it then cuts to a far off house to show that yet another man is gazing at the young girl.  In this sense, Juliette cannot escape the gaze of men within the film, let alone the gaze of the films viewers.  Furthermore, the film relishes in the notion that Juliette is a sexual object.  The eldest son Antoine (Christian Marquand) is never punished for his open claims of desiring to degrade Juliette and, in fact, he is rewarded by eventually claiming her sexually.  This lack of concern for Juliette is only furthered by how little is known about her past.  It is evident that Juliette is the black sheep of the community, but her association with disdain is rarely elaborated on and instead appears to be from deep seeded jealously on the part of the women in the community, yet another problem addressed by feminist.  Jealously is solely the result of a patriarchy that demands women be sexually desirous, an obvious undertone in this films narrative.  To put it succinctly the film does not treat women well, but is certain to chastise the men for their actions, perhaps it’s only redeeming feature (besides the luscious Technicolor of course).

This is not one of my favorite Criterion releases by any means, but it is quite good.  I would only suggest snagging a copy if you are a CC fanatic and want to one day possess the entire collection.


Put A Chain Around My Neck And Lead Me Anywhere: Out Of The Blue (1980)

After falling off the face of the directing earth for most of the 1970's Dennis Hopper stumbled into directing Out of the Blue after its original director dropped out at the last minute.  This matter of happen chance could not have produced better results.  A film that had been banned for years finds itself popping up in three pack DVD collections, truck stop rental booths and perhaps least surprisingly Harmony Korine's top ten film list.  The films is not so much graphic as it is desolate, given that a relatively large amount of the film is set within the punk scene of Canada, while the rest centers around a bird infested junk yard.  It is a film that signifies all the scathing criticism evoked in Easy Rider, yet given that this particular film was made for television it uses subtle acts of deviance as its source of inspiration.   The film is likely unwatchable to many viewers, but those with a knack for the avant-garde and a love for the late auteur Out of the Blue will be quite the cinematic excursion.

The narrative of Out of the Blue is rather disjointed, but this should come as no surprise given the directorial styling of Dennis Hopper, what is for certain is that the film focuses on the tumultuous life of the young Elvis fanatic Cebe (Linda Manz) whose preoccupation with being a punk ruins her ability to excel in school or garner legitimate friendships.  The second factor hindering Cebe's success is her unhealthy attachment to her father Don (Dennis Hopper) who has recently ended a stint in jail for drunkenly crashing into a bus full of children, an accident in which Cebe was present.  To make matters worse, Cebe's mother is a heroin addict who is incapable of standing up to Don and is oblivious to the troubles her daughter is experiencing.  With this set of forces working against her, it is no surprise that she is sexually confused, inclined towards drug use and inextricably attached to the rebellious imagery of punk rock.  Cebe finds solace in hours of drumming away and playing guitar, while constantly quoting her idol Elvis.  The film for the most part only continues to survey the problems evident in Cebe's life, particularly her particularly problematic idealization of her father, who is perpetually drunk, destroys work property and at one point attempts to rape his daughter to assure her heterosexuality.  Through all of this Cebe continues to adhere to her ideals of punk rock rebellion, ultimately leading to an act of self-destruction that kills her self, as well as her mother, claiming that she like Sid Vicious must take away the ones she loves form the cruel and unjust world in which she lives.  Her rebellion burns brightly and quickly, only to fade away in the films closing credits.

This film is brilliant in its study of the decaying of American familial ideals.  Sure, the film was made in Canada, but it is obvious that Hopper had his eyes set on contradicting the emerging conservative ideals of family as they related to America particularly.  Cebe is by no means a heterosexual character, in fact, she often morphs her sexuality for certain situations, donning a dress at one time to please her father, while wearing jackets and button up shirts to assert authority in a male-dominated world of music.  Similarly, the drug addicted nature of both Cebe's parents reflect growing issues of substance abuse that would emerge in the 1980's, an issue that the Reagan administration would approach with little to no success.  Finally, the film deals in great length with problems of poverty and the barriers it produces.  Cebe is arguably homeless, often spending nights sleeping in the wreckage of her father's accident and much of her daytime is spent at her mothers job.  In fact, the only images of Cebe in a home setting involve her playing music, implying that any semblance of a home life immediately results in her desire to escape, making her homelessness both literal and metaphorical.  The structure of nuclear family does not exist in Out of the Blue, and if Hopper's ending is indicative of anything, the possibility of rebuilding such a family is very, very unlikely.  Out of the Blue burns with opposition to anything and everything conservative, and is a faint flame to its predecessor Easy Rider.

Please buy this film, it is a shame that only poorly produced copies exist.  I am certain that if the right company cleaned this film up its critical acclaim would expand.  It is not a matter of curiosity, but necessity that you check this movie out.


I See, You Too, Are An Innocent Man: Down By Law (1986)

The films of Jim Jarmusch have an unwavering hipness that is often borrowed, but never successfully recreated.  In sorts, Jarmusch is the Tarantino of independent filmmaking.  His 1986 masterpiece Down By Law certainly has all the cool wry wit of his other films, along with a smooth soundtrack and some very impressive acting on the part of the enigmatic Tom Waits.  Down By Law is a film that is colorful, despite being filmed in black and white and complex, despite centering around a small cast of characters, and beautiful despite being set in the most desolate portions of New Orleans.  It also presents a diverse set of characters whose lives intersect inexplicably and tangentially, yet seem almost preordained or something far more meaningful than coincidence.  Down By Law is for lovers of cinema, and is a staple in the canon of independent filmmaking as it relates to the United States.

The plot is surprisingly coherent for a Jarmusch film, perhaps being accredited to it following only three characters, whose narratives intertwine in a New Orleans jail.  The first being the broken down radio DJ Zack (Tom Waits) whose recent drunken stupor lands him in jail, after unknowingly agreeing to transport a dead body.  The second is Jack (John Lurie), a pimp who is tricked by a rival conman into approaching an underage girl about prostitution and finally Roberto “Bob,” played masterfully by director Roberto Benigni, an Italian immigrant whose miscommunication during a poker game leads to his accidental murder of an opponent.  The three men appear indifferent to one another as the story unfolds, each seeing their imprisonment as unjust and resenting all things related to the prison, including one another.  However, after bonding over a riotous moment, inspired by Bob’s lack of English, the men begin to trust one another and Bob hatches an escape plan.  The group escapes from the prison with relative ease only to discover the treacherous nature of Louisiana swampland far more formidable than prison.  The group eventually finds shelter in a boathouse that is eerily similar to their prison cell, only to venture out in a faulty boat that quickly sinks.  Luckily for the trio, they stumble upon a road that leads them to a coffee shop.  Zack and Jack realize the perils of walking into a public place still donning prison garb and send the culturally oblivious Bob into the place as a sacrifice.  Bob, however, fails to return after many hours.   In a moment of confusion Zack and Jack approach the house to see Bob being treated to the hospitality of an Italian woman, leading them to quickly enter the house and join the fun.  The group is treated as though they are any other guest by Nicoletta (Nicoletta Braschi), given that she fails to realize their uniforms significance.  After a night of drinks and conversation the three split ways, Bob decides to stay with Nicoletta, while Zack and Jack leave at a crossroad, only offering words of sarcasm as they diverge.  The plot thus ending in simplicity, a sentimental film for Jarmusch that is as simple in its narrative as it is profound.

The brilliance of Down By Law is its study of imprisonment, particularly as it relates to its metaphoric sense.  Each of the trio is imprisoned by something and it takes the happenchance encounter and subsequent literal escape from prison to help them free themselves figuratively.  For Jack it is a matter of freeing himself from apathy, particularly as it relates to his belief that he could be better than a pimp, but has not been given a fresh start to change this action.  By breaking from prison and reemerging into civilization, Jack is able to recreate his image, free of a problematic and undesirable past.  For Zack his troubles stem from his own self-loathing and inability to ask others for help.  His standoffish ways are broken as he is forced to perform his DJ routine face-to-face with Jack, as well as save Bob who is almost captured do to his fear of swimming.  Ultimately, Zack finds freedom in his wit and recognition that his own happiness exists partially from accepting that those around him can be happy as well.  Finally, Bob is imprisoned by language, a barrier that seems impossible to transcend throughout the film.   It is not until he is able to accept his Italian ways in the face of death that he is freed, this acceptance of his difference is validated by meeting Nicoletta who shares his identity, thus freeing him from loneliness.  Each character ends the film in solitude, but in this instance, it is void of self-imprisonment.

Buy this film.  Jim Jarmusch has an excellent relationship with Criterion and it is reflected in the dvd supplements.  A copy is necessary, share it with your friends, or anyone you remotely care about.


You Can't Win A Marathon Without Putting Some Bandaids On Your Nipples: Horrible Bosses (2011)

I am often wary of Hollywood big budget comedy, as it is often recycled humor and politically correct jokes that assert no sort of risk to viewers sensibilities.  I had heard a few murmurs of Horrible Bosses being something entirely different and exceptionally funny.  I entered the movie theater with a fair amount of skepticism and continued to hold this feeling through much of the film.  Then something happened, the movie became hilarious and grew a pair of comedy legs that I was not expecting.  To my surprise Horrible Bosses turned out to be a brilliantly humorous film that I kept discussing with my friends long after leaving the theater.  I am not certain whether it was the clever pairing of three contemporary comedic actors or the fact that some of Hollywood's biggest names were debasing themselves in the name of comedy, but it was an excellent and refreshing romp in all things funny and even revived my belief that every once in awhile a good movie can come from a big budget studio and still make me laugh.

Seth Gordon's film is, as the title suggests, about having a really shitty boss, which proves to be the case for three buddies whose experiences compose the film.  The first being Nick (Jason Batemen) whose boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) is psychotic and overly expectant of his employees, particularly Nick who he claims to be prepping for a senior VP position.  Harken berates Nick for every action including being late by two-minutes, despite coming hours earlier than his co-workers.  Next there is Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) who has an excellent relationship with his boss, until he dies of a heart attack leaving his coked up son Bobby (Colin Farrell) in charge.  Finally, and perhaps most humorous, is the recently engaged Dale (Charlie Day) who is constantly harassed by his boss the overly-aggressive cougar dentist Julia, played half-heartedly by Jennifer Aniston).  The trio is shown multiple times fretting over their futures whilst getting drunk.  It is during one of their drunken stupors that the group decides to off their bosses, but given that the three are off white, middle class sensibility, they decide to approach an urban neighborhood with the hopes of finding a hit man.  It is during this excursion that they meet Dean "Motherfucker" Jones (Jamie Foxx) who suggests that they simply kill each other's bosses, removing the possibility of motive from the situation.  Without giving away a rather well thought out and executed plot it is safe to say that the attempted murders do not go as planned, leading to humorous relations between the trio, each of their bosses and the innocent bystanders involved.  Fortunately, for the group the problem is resolved, with a relatively light amount of bloodshed, allowing each person to achieve his ideal job, free of a horrible boss.

The film is both funny and terribly problematic, an issue that often emerges with comedy.  The most blatant issue is the inherent "whiteness" of the film.  Nick, Kurt and Dale are all white, middle class males whose disdain for their bosses appear to be their only worry.  They apparently have unlimited amounts of money given their constant presence at a corporate restaurant in which they spend heavily.  The film ignores the fact that many people are genuinely unemployed and would desire a job, even if the working situations were not ideal.  I felt the commentary of removing oneself from employment rather insensitive, especially given the abysmal state of employment in the United States at the moment.  Furthermore, the group attempt to hire out a person who is from the lower class and black to do their dirty work, implying that illegal work and undesirable work is in some way attached to race and class.  The other issue is the films "maleness" as it relates to the character of Julia, whose aggressive sexuality is indicative of male fantasy.  Dale is ridiculed for complaining about being harassed by his boss; despite having a legitimate reason for concern...he loves his fiance and does not adhere to patriarchal ideals of sexual conquest.  While sexual harassment certainly happens to both men and women, it is far more a concern of male domination over females, an issue that is completely ignored in the film.  If the roles were reversed, the film would have been a drama, not a comedy.  The issue is that by mocking Julia's sexual aggression the film desensitizes viewers to the very serious issue of harassment in the workplace.  It is a problem that is never addressed and perhaps the biggest flaw in the film.

Social criticism aside, Horrible Bosses is a genuinely enjoyable comedy.  I would highly recommend catching it while it is in theaters.  Bring some friends, but be mindful of the liberties the film takes, because they are at times very problematic.


Without Discipline We Should All Behave Like Children: Black Narcissus (1947)

The works of Powell and Pressburger, as they related to Archer, are cinematic feasts.  Most everyone one of their films are in glorious Technicolor and incorporate expensive special effects that translate beautifully for being over sixty years old.  Not to mention the famous directing duo has an ability to make melodrama seem admirably understated and expertly extravagant.  Their 1947 work Black Narcissus does just this, while mixing religious guilt and sexual longing into the mix, creating perhaps one of their most controversial films, second only to the nightmare that is Peeping Tom.  With a stellar cast, including a young Jean Simmons and the always-amiable Sabu, the imagery seeps seduction and subversion.  It is, however, not an entirely problem free movie, in fact, as can be expected of a film released in the late forties, it deals with issues of race, gender and class rather flippantly.  Needless to say, Black Narcissus is a glorious bit of filmmaking that is right inline with my previous review of The School of the Holy Beast, minus the blatant sexual exploitation of course.

The film follows a group of young nuns who have been tasked with creating a self-sustaining convent in the uninhabitable Himalayas.  Their already difficult task is made exponentially worse by a insolent general whose whimsy with newly formed religious outposts causes the group to find the task of caring for locals more burdensome than divinely rewarding.  Regardless, the group is led by the young, but keenly devout, Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr).  In youthful ignorance, Clodagh refuses to see the mission as an inevitable failure.  Along with a group of fellow handpicked nuns, including Clodagh's rival Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron, the convent opens rather successfully.  This success, as should be no surprise, is short-lived, particularly with the emergence of the suave and cunning Mr. Dean (David Farrar).  Dean, despite being an Englishmen by birth, is an expert in the Himalayan people and advises the nuns on the best methods to assure harmony with the locals.  Clodagh, as well as Ruth, find themselves incessantly drawn towards Dean, often associating him with memories of their relationships prior to their convent life.  As if to make matters worse, their dreams of intimacy are enacted physically between the general's son (Sabu) and a sultry local girl named Kanchi (Jean Simmons).  The unfulfilled desire, as well as a growing animosity between the convent and locals, results in a climactic downfall of the convent that results in one of the most mesmerizing and heart-pounding death scenes I have ever witnessed in a movie.  The film closes with voice-overs and panning shots of the now abandoned convent, employing all the key genre elements of melodrama, in sweet, aching subtlety.  Black Narcissus is a film that simply ends with its characters left desiring and worse because of it.

This film takes liberties with its idyllic portrayals of race, gender and class.  This is evident from the seemingly synchronous relations of the nuns to the smiling faces on the natives accepting their colonization, but as I noted earlier this is a style very evident of the eras filmmaking, particularly as it relates to British works.  This film reminds me of two other British films, the first being The Thief of Baghdad, which involved Powell and a handful of other directors, and an earlier work titled Gungadin, starring a young Carey Grant.  The films collectively deal with issues of colonization, whether it be racial, sexual or economically.  Gungadin exploits Indian soldiers in the name of expanding the British empire, while The Thief of Baghdad exploits the racial uniqueness of actors such as Sabu and Rex Ingram to give the film an exotic feel, while relying on a white actor to play the major roles, this is done in Black Narcissus with Kanchi, as Jean Simmons is basically applying yellow face to play the part.  These are all tragic actions reflective of film prior to the Civil Rights and Women's Rights movements of the late sixties and early seventies that cannot be denied.  It is not to dismiss the movies entirely, but instead to make viewers more self aware of what they are taking in when watching a film that is in all other respects flawless.  I would use this same critique on Gone With The Wind, a critique that many people I know are unwilling to acknowledge, because they are scared of tarnishing its "classicness."  I want people to love Black Narcissus, but I do not want them to take its historical relevance for granted either.

Black Narcissus is a Criterion blu-ray if ever one existed and well, well, well worth owning.  Buy two copies, one for yourself and one for a friend...it is just that good.


The Big City Is, Uh, Is, Is Trenton?: Rocket Science (2007)

Everything from the loquacious and witty dialogue to the orchestral cover of Blister in the Sun implies that Rocket Science will result in a brilliant film.  While this film is certainly enjoyable, it leaves viewers wondering if they were given an entire film or simply a series of thoughts weaved into one young adult’s absurdly tragic coming of age.  Jeffrey Blitz, better known for his documentary Spellbound, offers a movie that is almost brilliant, yet lacks the little bit of webbing to assure a life.  Rocket Science has a faint heartbeat, but obviously needs life support to remain conscious.  A general feeling of above-averageness comes along with this film, whether it be the varied levels of acting, some superb and others over-the-top.  With that being said, it does have moments of cinematic magic, whether it be the eagle eye shot of the main character riding his bike, or a sentimental conversation between a father and a son on the philosophical yearnings of love, Rocket Science is a good movie, that just happens to suffer from a lack of polish.

The film delves into the hap-hazardous and rather improbable life of Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) who suffers from a socially crippling stutter, making even the simplest task of ordering pizza impossible.  Hal’s lack of voice is only made the more severe by his belligerent and berating older brother Earl (Vincent Piazza).  The film portrays the brothers as being confused by their parent’s recent separation, which is quickly worsened by their mother beginning a relationship with their neighborhood friend, and closeted homosexual Heston (Aaron Yoo).  It appears as though Hal is destined to fail at overcoming his disability, until a young girl and classmate named Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) offers him a chance to join the school debate team.  Hal is instantly infatuated with Ginny for both her looks and her acceptance of him as a person.  Ginny even shares a moment of flustered intimacy with Hal in the janitors’ closet, causing Hal to become completely intoxicated with desire for Ginny.  Hal then joins the debate team as Ginny’s partner only to discover that his inability to speak is still a hurdle to his success.  His stuttering issue is only worsened by the realization that Ginny is transferring schools and only invited Hal to join the team as a means of sabotage.  Bewildered Hal goes into a severe state of depression, which involves drunkenly vandalizing Ginny’s residence and becoming indifferent to the world around him.  Fortunately, through a clever act of revenge and the support of a previous debate champion Hal finds his voice, realizing that even with his stutter he never lacked a voice, but instead simply failed to realize his voices existence all along.

While the film certainly pokes fun at the futility of words when used in a performative manner, it does draw upon a very strong notion when it comes to acknowledging a voice.  It is reminiscent of a third wave feminist notion that demands a representation for the most disenfranchised of peoples.  Although Hal is a white male, usually the most privileged of persons, his stutter makes him a social pariah and thus he is overlooked in favor of more “normal” persons, Ginny being the example in this film.  In the early portions of the film, Hal places his lack of voice in other people, living vicariously through both his brother and Ginny, assuming that they have his best interests at heart, a belief that proves untrue very quickly.  Even when Hal believes he has found a voice in the hip and rebellious Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D’Agosto), he realizes that the newfound role model is more concerned with personal revenge than giving the overlooked Ben acknowledgement, because as he asks Hal to tell him why they did what they did one day in the future.  After this last failed attempt at passively voicing himself Hal accepts his own and walks about the streets of Trenton by himself, eventually finding the gumption to order pizza from a local restaurant, an act that he is well-awarded for doing.  Provided with self-confidence Hal is able to finally confront his father about life and is given a voice to explain that life, even for a seemingly well-to-do person, is as confusing as “rocket science.”  This movie is an earnest call to accept the harsh realities of life, some that may very greatly contingent on class, race, gender or even unseen disabilities.

I am still on the fence about this film.  I reflect on it since viewing it and feel it to be brilliant, while at other times I find it to be uninspired.  The best I can suggest is to rent a copy and create your own opinion.  Feel free to provide your own impressions on the film; I would love to hear your thoughts.


I’m Here My Whole Life, And I’m Like A Disease: Sixteen Candles (1984)

In many cinephiles eyes, John Hughes is the ultimate eighties filmmaker.  His often raunchy and always sentimental teenage angst films film viewers with nostalgia for a simpler time when the woes of not being sexually attractive or popular outweighed the financial burdens of adulthood.  His small-town American imagery was always ideal and implied unity amongst the most unlikely of friends, and his 1984 film Sixteen Candles is certainly no exception.  However, what separates this film from his later works, particularly The Breakfast Club, is rawness.  The dialogue, cinematography and general feel of the film leaves viewers with the impression that Hughes made the entire film on the fly, apparently using improvisation and accidentally good footage as his inspiration.  In a way Sixteen Candles could be seen as Hughes’s Breathless, it is equally philosophical and certainly as problematic.  Despite having class, race and gender issues the film is the piece-de-rĂ©sistance in high school, given that it precedes The Breakfast Club and contains actors who would soon become icons of the 1980’s, most notably the films star Molly Ringwald, who would find little success after The Breakfast Club (The comparisons with Jean Seberg seem eerily convenient.)  Ultimately, Sixteen Candles is sweet, quotable and a feel-good movie if ever one existed.

Sixteen Candles centers on the troublesome life of Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), a distraught girl whose sixteenth birthday turns out to be every expanding disaster.  The film opens with Samantha claiming that she feels no physical change with her newly found age, noting specifically that her breasts are still unnoticeable.  This self-esteem issue is only heightened by her own family’s failure to acknowledge her birthday due to their preoccupation with their other daughters impending wedding.  Bewildered and depressed, Samantha heads to school and decides to fill out a secret sex survey, one in which she admits a strong desire to sleep with the school stud Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling).  Believing that she has passed the information to another girl, Samantha’s luck worsens when she realizes that the note in which she mentions Jake’s name has actually fallen into his hands.  She beliefs her chances with the dreamy senior ruined.  Beyond this, Samantha is incapable of shaking off the unyielding advances of a young man simply known as The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall), who, along with his posy, which includes a young John Cusack, attempt to win her heart.  In the meantime, Jake admits his own fascination with Samantha and confronts The Geek about his feelings, creating a rather unlikely duo.  The Geek agrees to end his pursuits of Samantha and accepts Jake’s attractive, but socially inept girlfriend as an exchange.  After all the shenanigans and sexual proclivity of a high school comedy, Samantha finally meets up with Jake and they are shown celebrating her birthday atop a coffee table in one of cinema’s most iconic moments.  All is happy, but not all is without problems.

John Hughes may be known for making brilliant films, yet his films suffer from a heavy amount of ethnocentricity, particularly in regards to white male ideology.  The film from its imagery to its dialogue seeps white middle class America.  It is difficult to spot any character who is not white, a problem that reemerges in The Breakfast Club.  This is of course excluding the stereotyped character of Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) whose exaggerated antics and misunderstanding of English is more of a hindrance to Asian-American actors than an advance.  Similarly, the film seems to applaud the objectification of females.  Jake and The Geek are obviously pursuing sexual conquest, the former for a new fling and the later for social advancement.  While Jake and Samantha are shown in a closing, moment of intimacy little is noted of Jake’s fidelity, particularly given his willingness to drop his previous girlfriend instantaneously, despite her rather outlandish antics.  The Geek is even more problematic given that his desire for acceptance leads him to lie about sleeping with Samantha, using her underwear as proof, making the importance of the act contingent on an object.  Furthermore, while it is never blatantly stated it is assumed that The Geek takes advantage of Jake’s ex when she is drunkenly incapacitated, which is tantamount to date rape.  Tragically, Samantha, the character capable of transcending this act, is equally inclined to these acts of objectification, gazing at Jake’s girlfriend in adoration desiring, not her personality, but instead her body.  This desirous gaze dually objectifies the girl, as well as Samantha.  The film lacks a voice of reprimand, a problem that arguably plagues the other works of Hughes.

So I know my critique makes the film seem unviewable, but to be honest it is still a good movie, it is just problematic.  It is a classic and a must see eighties film.  It is not superior to The Breakfast Club, but is still great and any film buff should own a copy.