I Think We Both Have A Light In Our Stomachs: Goon (2012)

Another one of the films that technically borders on the line between being counted as a 2011 or 2012 release, this sports comedy falls in the later by a matter of seven days, and is yet another one of the films  that seems to be receiving a lot of hype as 2012 wraps up, particularly since this movie seems to have come and gone with little or no noise whatsoever.  I will admit that much of my ignoring of this film exists solely because it involved Sean-Williams Scott, who I had dismissed as one of the many members of the American Pie series.  However, my recent, somewhat favorable review, of the film had me reconsidering what value the typecast Scott might have, particularly in such a unique film.  Furthemore, the brief reviews and mentions I glanced at before watching this comedy, seemed to really emphasize how out of the norm Scott's performance proved to be, not to mention some rather excellent offerings from Liev Schreiber and Eugene Levy as well.  I could attempt to tell you that this is a film about hockey, and that it is a well-written, all be it incredibly raunchy comedy, however, I am quite concerned that explaining that will do little to cause you to want to see the film.  If we are being honest, few sports comedies manage to transcend their focused audience, and when they do it is because they really are not sports comedies at heart, take Talladega Nights for example.  Goon contests what narratives and images can occupy a sports comedy and manages to do so with a zeal and vigor so perfected that I often thought I was watching Major League.  Now I will admit, certain of the dismissive condemnation I may receive from some, that I have never seen Slap Shot, which could well affect my immediate liking of this work, however, should I get around to watching that I will keep Goon in mind whilst creating a review.  At the moment, Goon stands to be a considerably enjoyable movie, with just enough of a heart beat not to be middle of the road, hell if I were to ever create a top ten sports comedies list there is a pretty good chance that it could sneak onto the list.  Goon is no Caddyshack, but its hard hitting style should not be overlooked.

Goon centers primarily on the experiences of Doug Glatt (Sean-Williams Scott) a super-kind, if not a bit brain damaged, bar bouncer whose life seems headed nowhere fast, much to the condemnation and dissaproval of his adoptive Jewish parents Dr. Glatt (Eugene Levy) and his wife Mrs. Glatt (Ellen David).  If it were not for the endearing support and admiration of his foul mouthed friend Pat (Jay Baruchel) it would seem that Doug would have little of value to push him through his meaningless days, however, during a minor league hockey game, Doug attacks a player who comes into the audience hurling homophobic slurs, as he sees them as a direct insult to his gay brother.  This trouncing of a brutish hockey player causes him to catch the eye of a minor team that hires him to be their goon, eventually leading to his being moved up one division higher to protect a hyper-paranoid wunderkind named Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) who has been off his game since receiving a concussion from league bully Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).  At first, Doug's concern for friendliness and  simple-mindedness seem destined for failure, yet after a few moments of dumb luck and the eventual support of an intimate partnership with a newly found girlfriend named Eva (Alison Pill) things finally come together for Doug.  This journey still takes time, however, especially since Xavier is initially jealous of his loss of respect on the team, however, once he realizes that Doug only seeks to assure the larger teams success he and the team come around to Doug's place as a goon, as well as a hockey player.  Of course, the emergence of Doug as a new superstar is not complete until he faces of with Ross Rhea, which serves as the films climax, an intense fight, not of violence means, all though it is quite bloody, but one that passes the metaphorical torch from the old school bruiser to the young goon.  It is done out of respect, so much so that Ross demands that the referees stay out of the way.  Doug eventually lands a devastating blow to Ross, despite taking heavy damage himself and we are shown his team scoring the necessary goals to make it to the playoffs.

Sports movies often lack considerable critical depth beyond promoting an underdog story of sorts and this fact is extended exponentially when considering sports comedies, which possess heavy amounts of satire, yet Goon is so unusual in the ways with which it deals with Doug's evolution and growing up that it is a very backhanded bildungsroman of sorts, in so much as it is as much about the underdog proving himself, as it is about Doug creating his self-identity and learning to navigate the world around him.  In one of his conversations with Pat, a disparaged Doug admits to desiring to find the one thing that makes his life worth anything, which he accomplishes via being a bruiser for a semi-professional hockey team.  His identity is not solely formed by this experience alone though, much of his evolution occurs with his initially problematic relationship with Eva, who must break-up with her boyfriend to be with her new found love, of course the veritable nice guy, Doug overs his cheeks to Eva's ex who bludgeons him in frustration.  In this moment, Doug learns when to accept punishment, something he had been giving out up until this point.   Also, one could agree that travel is a very large part of formulating one's experiences and is quite often present in the traditional bildungsroman and it is certainly something that Doug engages in during the narrative, both moving between borders of national creation as well as spaces in which he is welcome and unwelcome, at times by his own accord, while at others as a result of external forces.  Combining these things together, one cannot ignore the evolution Doug goes through within this rather fast-paced film and what could seem like ninety minutes of punches and curse words actually is a well thought out study of a person's coming of age story, even if it is a bit late in the game.

Key Scene:  The final fight scene between Doug and Ross is legitimately on a cinematic level equal to that of Raging Bull.

Yet another offering via Netflix you should do yourself a favor at watch this soon, perhaps with some friends as a few cold Canadian beers.


I Just Had The Clearest Thought: The Grey (2012)

While I admitted to Django Unchained being the last film I am likely to see in theaters before the new year, that does not mean I am by any means finished trying to catch all the films from last year, as I made the mistake of creating a top ten list far to early and realizing that either half the movies I thought I liked really were not that great, or that the considerable amount of films I failed to see, truly were quite good and knocked many out of the list, most notably Take Shelter which moved all the way to the top of my list of favorite films of 2011.  I intend to may a concerted effort to watch all of the major contenders for best film before the Oscar's and then provide a list of what I find to be the best films.  I figure this provides me an opportunity to see many of the films as they still circulate in theaters as well as catch the rest when they eventually come to cheap theaters or bluray, namely some of the blockbusters that I just did not care to see with a large group.  One such film on the list of greatly desired viewings was The Grey, which seems to have come and went right at the beginning of the year with little note, save for a handful of serious recommendations from friends and a surprisingly in-depth interview of the film one of the various NPR programs.  Since this point, The Grey has lingered in my mind as something I have wanted so very much to view, and as others are beginning to form their top lists of the year I was quite surprised about its consistent representation on various blogs, ones with distinctly different film tastes and preferences.  As such, I sat some time aside today to visit this film and was expecting something quite exceptional, yet, much to my surprise, The Grey went well-beyond exceptional and provided for a surreal, surprisingly experimental, reconsideration of what one considers in the survival thriller genre.  While Joe Carnahan is perhaps better known for his heavy handed action films, The Grey stands out as something fresh in filmmaking taking the very real primal fears of classic survival films and peppering them with fair amounts of magical realism resulting in a work surprisingly similar to that of Valhalla Rising, yet completely detached from any degree of mythology.  While a few readings of the film could draw out some on-the-nose metaphors and commentaries, it is hard not to overlook these small issues and spout overwhelming praise towards this unconventional film, it stands to reason that it is getting much love as the year winds down because it damn well may be the most overlooked film of last the year.

The Grey centers on the life of a group of oil riggers living rather mundane and disillusioned lives in Alaska, particularly Ottway (Liam Neeson) who is shown contemplating suicide before being distracted by the sounds of wolves.  We are then shown Ottway and others preparing themselves for a flight to some desolate portion of Alaska to do work, all the while Ottway seems distracted by some memories of his wife, so much so that he does everything but yell to convince another passenger, Flannery (Joe Anderson), to leave him in solace.  As the plane travels it becomes quite evident that they are stuck in quite heavy turbulence and when the lights go out the passengers flip out as the plane spirals downward.  Ottway awakes to realize that few survivors remain from the wreckage, and the few who do are already injured or in some degree of shock.  Amongst the sole survivors are the likes of Flannery, the hyper-cyncial Diaz (Frank Grillo), the veritable unifier in the group Talget (Dermot Mulroney) and the unusually quite Hendrick (Dallas Roberts).  If it were not enough that they are suffering from the troubles of maintaining warmth and finding sustenance, it becomes quite apparent that they are directly in the center of a den of wolves who are not at all thrilled that their territory has been compromised.  Of course these are not simple wolves, but some incredibly dangerous gigantic breed of wolf that could only exist in this uncharted portion of the Alaskan wildlife.  Ottway demands that the group moves towards the treeline, as to avoid being surrounded by the angry wolves, this dangerous act inevitably results in the loss of members from the group, whether by wolf attacks or sickness.  As they get farther, individuals wits are tested and their personal struggles exposed, even the seemingly incorrigible Diaz has a turn of heart, however, survival is near impossible and only Ottway remains in the end, and it is while he is arranging a makeshift set of grave markers for his lost companions we realize his previous consideration of suicide is in response to his wife dying in a hospital bed.  However, in the films closing moments viewers are shown a Ottway ready to fight, even in the face of insurmountable odds.

I noted the rather obvious commentaries within this film, ones that could easily be drawn in a variety of different survival narratives, whether they be the notion of penance, an act each of the characters goes through to some degree or another, or the deconstructing of stereotypes and class/racial barriers something which seems to finds its earliest origins in World War II war films.  These are certainly fully present within The Grey, yet I cannot help but rest upon this particular survival films refusal to adhere to the comforts of salvation in the time of fear.  The film certainly uses a purgatory like method of narrative, as we are shown a group of varied sinners existing somewhere between the pain of death and the comfort of life, eventually all but one losing the latter.  Hell, even the pronunciation of Ottway within the film sounds similar to Yahweh, a commentary that must not be ingnored, however, it is precisely this character who denounces the notion of a diety, in this case God, providing last minute salvation.  It is clear from the moment that the crash occurs that Ottway realizes his job is to sacrifice for others as a means of the previously noted penance and he certainly does this, perhaps to a larger degree than is ever necessary.  Yet in one of the films closing scenes Ottway finally denounces God as he demands through a barrage of expletives that he prove his existence.  This, of course, never occurs and Ottway is left with the terrible realization of his own singularity.  It is at this point that he ends up coalescing understandings with the others in his party who have already come to this realization and begin embracing the fleeting memories of their own lives, this occurs most poetically for Talget specifically.  The outcome then with this blatant disregard for Christian based salvation then becomes one of an embracing of the now and a celebration of the memories in the physical, one with its photographs and surreal moments of warmth.

Key Scene:  I have seen a few people favor the tree jump scene as the best moment, I am in no position to argue.

It is a shame that I missed this bit of brilliance in theaters, however, it is available to stream on Netflix, which is a considerably cheaper option.


He Is A Rambunctious Sort, Ain't He?: Django Unchained (2012)

Quentin Tarantino has over the years become one of the handful of directors whose works are sure to become points of media contention, whether it be for their complete disregard of historicism or as a result of what some find to be problematic appropriations of racial or gendered identities.  These controversies aside, I place Tarantino in a special category of filmmaker, one where I go somewhat out of my way to assure that I see his films in theaters, and while I have only been able to see his two most recent works in theaters, I am always keeping an eye out for retrospectives of his work to emerge.  Like the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, I feel that Tarantino's films exude an undeniable amount of cinematic outpouring that demands they be viewed on the biggest screen possible, although viewers are often awarded a more lively experience with the latter director, in so much as he provides such high levels of action and comedy that it is impossible not to become enthralled with its magnificence.  Of course much can be said about the manner with which Tarantino glorifies violence and revenge to push his narratives along, however, Django Unchained is a particularly well written piece by the always absurdist director, one that does indeed display some of the more intense moments of the direness of slavery, while also infusing it with the wily and revolutionary elements so inherent to the tradition of spaghetti westerns.  This heavy tie to the spaghetti western genre is apparent through out various cinematic references, although I found some of his nods to classic silent film directors rather impressive most notably to the grandeur of D.W. Griffith, as well as to Eric Von Stroheim's tragically lost classic Greed, what with a giant ass tooth flailing around in some of the opening scenes.  I am thoroughly impressed by everything offered in this film, although I will admit that it proved to be exactly the film I expected going in and really runs within the same vein as Inglorious Basterds.  Basically, Django Unchained will probably prove to be the last thing I see in theaters this year and I am happy for that to be the case.

Django Unchained it what may prove to be Tarantino's most straightforward title since Kill Bill, focuses on the events surrounding slave Django (Jamie Foxx) receiving his freedoms from the hands of German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who employs Django to help him find a set of slave overseers with criminal records.  After realizing that he will be provided with his freedom for helping Schultz, Django informs Schultz that he desires nothing more than to save his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from slavery after they were separated for being caught as runaway slaves.  Schultz immediately seeing the connections to Wagner's Ring Cycle cannot help but offer his hand in aid, mostly because he is fully aware that Django's status as black, regardless of freedom will not allow him anywhere near the slave trade insiders.  Suggesting that he train with him as a bounty hunter, Schultz creates an elaborate plan to pass as "mandingo fighters" in which Django will pretend to be an expert in the subject, accepting that he is only performing a theatrical role of sorts.  This plan leads them to the world of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose post-modernly named Candieland is a centrifuge for a variety of slaves, including Broomhilda whose markings as a runaway mean that her relatively privileged status as a house servant are quick to become that of a comfort girl.  Calvin is of course incredibly protective of his world and wealth and picks up on the possibility that Schultz and Django may be playing up a ruse.  However, it is the head house servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), and his over zealous desire to be liked by his white owners, that picks up on Django and Broomhilda's loving glances.  Blowing the lid on the ruse, Calvin demands that Schultz pay the amount of twelve thousand dollars for Broomhilda.  Schultz quickly agrees and while attempting to leave Calvin demands that Schultz shake his hand, as a form of southern tradition, which leads to Shultz shooting Calvin.  This ultimately follows with a huge shoot out and an extra final act of retribution in the films closing that is hyper-violent and destructive, but to be fair it is right in line with what fans of Tarantino have come to expect.

So the major question circulating around Django Unchained is as to what degree of racism occurs within its construct.  This critique is not new to Tarantino, as theorist bell hooks has often been critical of the director's lack in providing for revolutionary spaces within his films for characters with intersectional oppressions to transform and transcend their suffering.  This is true, in so much, as characters often either accept that they have become part of a larger system and simply find their own means to navigate said system, without deconstructing it or seeking its removal.  One could make readings like this apply to Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Death Proof with little difficulty.  However, the criticism circling around Django Unchained, specifically, seems to be the Tarantino's use of racial epithets and slavery in an exploitative manner, to revel in revenge, much like that of Inglorious Basterds.  There is a degree of validity to this claim, however, I think unlike Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained really drives home the questions and reflections on how illogical slavery was, in that  it provided one group of people with unbridled power over another based on various degrees of misinformation, most notably the illogical nature of phrenology, which Calvin seem preoccupied with throughout the film.  Let us not forget that this film is mostly about a slavery getting his freedom and obtaining the freedom of his wife, one that begins with him attempting to navigate through the oppressive world according to the oppressor's rules, which occurs in some of the earlier mentioned works.    As Audre Lorde would suggest, "one cannot dismantle the master's house with the master's tools," however, in the alternate absurd world of Quentin Tarantino this is completely possible as Django obliterates a slave master's house with weapons.  To be fair in all this I am a white male watching this film so my reading is informed by certain elements of privilege and a back catalogue of film viewing that includes some truly racist cinema.  I look forward to reading other criticism of the film  as it becomes more watched and reflected upon, however, I am not looking forward to more blind anger directed towards the film by people who have flat out refused to even consider its existence.

Key Scene:  The Cleo Lounge scene is incredibly intense and exceptionally sobering and reflective of a new level of seriousness on the part of Tarantino, a reminder that he may make a film with exploitative elements, yet be fully aware of the historical seriousness of his subject matter.

As I argued earlier, Tarantino films were born to be viewed in theaters, do yourself a favor and catch a matinee this week.


No Man Is A Failure Who Has Friends: It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

When people start talking about the "best" films for various occasions, themes and genres debate immediately arises as to what one uses to define each situation, particularly when such categories engage in multiple decades.  However, when it comes to debates about the best Christmas film of all time it seems nearly universal that people believe Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life to be heads above any of its competition, a surprisingly interesting phenomenon to emerge, considering that it is hardly a movie solely centered on Christmas time and, further, it has such a heavy element of darkness and sadness that one would be hard pressed to play it without concerns for shedding a tear or two.  However, after having the great opportunity to see an high definition transfer of this seminal work, I am more than willing to give all the credit to this film for its general well-regard.  Of course, It's A Wonderful Life certainly exists within a history of cinema which was incredibly exclusive, focusing primarily on a white middle class society, with a male at its helm.  Yet, the inherent likability of Jimmy Stewart, paired with a narrative so simple and direct that viewers nearly have it ingrained in their memories from birth, making for a film which causes generations to pass its perfection on from one age to another.  Seeing this film now, for the first time since childhood, also allowed me to appreciate some of the more experimental and revolutionary elements of a film that I figured to be wholly melodramatic, whether it be the fade from grey to blurry to normal picture as we are introduced to George Bailey for the first time, or the talking stars bit...something seemingly more appropriate for Night of the Hunter.  Also, for as oft quoted as the bit about bells and wings has become, I was surprised by how little of the narrative centers on the famous scene.  Essentially, viewers are provided with one of the greatest single character studies in the history of film, so directly focused on understanding the intricacies of human suffering and sacrifice, without engaging in any level of pretentious preachiness.  Even the latent Christian elements of the film appear to take a back seat to karma like understanding of human existence.

The story of It's A Wonderful Life is extravagantly simple, we are dropped in medias res on the town of Bedford Falls praying for the well-being of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who from what the film suggests is suffering from a bit of bad luck.  Quickly viewers are transferred an image of the cosmos as spectral stars discuss a means by which to save the ailing George who is about to commit suicide, agreeing to send an angel in need of wings named Clarence (Henry Travers), the film through the angels begins to recount the experiences of George, in an attempt to explain why he has been driven to the point of seriously considering the end of his life.  Beginning with a moment in which he saves his younger brother in a sledding accident to only lose hearing in his ear, we are shown a hard-willed George who is also incredibly self-sacrificing when his actions assure that others will be aided.  Progressing at a perfect pace through George's growing older we are led to believe that George has given up aspirations of world travel in order to help maintain his father's business, save his town from being bought out by the terrible capitalist Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), or assuring for the comfort and well being of his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and their children.  Yet even after these varied forms of sacrifice, a bit of trouble financially on Christmas Eve and an accidental misplacement of money by his uncle at which he risks losing everything causes him to toss away hope and stand on the local bridge with thoughts of ending it all.  However, when a loud splash is heard, George jumps to the rescue of none other than Clarence, who explains openly that he is an angel and after George exclaims that he wishes he had never been born, provides him with such an experience, one in which all his friends are miserable under the ruthless and greedy hands of Mr. Potter.  Taking joy in realizing that even in this moment of misery that he has helped countless members of his community, George pleads to return to his life, one which leads to his return home to the open arms of his family and the monetary support of an entire community, George realizes that his unquestioning willingness to help others has proven more bountiful than he could have imagined.

As the young Woody Allenesque theater manager at my local theater suggested when introducing the film, viewers are led to seriously consider what "a wonderful life" truly is while watching this film, which is certainly true, but such a reading is far too simple since the film makes it quite clear that it is going to undermine capitalist desires and American individualism within nearly every scene, at times even vilifying its existence via Mr. Potter.  Instead, I really think the film, despite its latent Christian metaphors and imagery, asks viewers to consider, at the very least, the philosophy they use to engage with daily life, one that is not centered in materialistic obsessions in the slightest.  While George Bailey certainly does not find himself void of physical desires, particularly in his younger years, he is not obsessed with money or physical signifiers of success like his brother, business patrons or even his wife at times, but instead his own happiness, which proves far to intertwined with the happiness of others.   This approach to the world is nearly identical the that of a zen buddhist, in so much as he often tosses away worldly desires with the hopes of making sure others are comfortable, while also engaging in some seriously positive karma.  One could see him as a fool for such actions, but that would suggest that he engages in them with assumptions that he will receive compensation at some point, however, it is clear from the onset that he offers help out of earnest, not out of ulterior objectives.  Of course, one cannot completely ignore the Christian elements to George, as he is exceptionally Christlike in his endeavors.  Of course, George's form of Christianity is a far cry from the nonsense and bigotry seemingly tied to so many contemporary sects of this particular belief system.  While I am not a Christian myself, I would make a strong case that It's A Wonderful Life exists as a transcendent example of exemplary behavior both in a religious and social context.

Key Scene:  The world without George scenes are stellar and really become more intense of the big screen, culminating in a moment where Jimmy Stewart's scare visage consumes the screen...I felt my heart leap considerably.

So apparently this film comes on television some 300 plus times a year.  Watch it at any point, although it is a bit mesmerizing on the big screen and well worth watching in that context if possible.


The Shit's Chess, It Ain't Checkers: Training Day (2001)

There are quite a few movies that you and your friends plan on watching well ahead of time, usually these works are reserved for the real classics of cinema, whether they be a solid Hitchcock film or Woody Allen, or one tends to lean in the direction of a cult classic film, often pulling some Tarantino off the shelf, or popping in a solid horror genre classic.  However, there is such a time when you and your friends engage in a night of pretty solid partying and the next day results in you all moving sluggishly around whatever abode you all have crashed in and agree to do nothing more than watch a few movies and order in deliciously unhealthy Chinese food.  The movies which tend to emerge in these situations are quite often some of the best revelations one can encounter in cinema, famous cases from my past including such greats as In Bruges and The Wrestler.  I was fortunate enough to have one of these days today when being talked into watching Training Day, a film with which I was initially hesitant to pop in and pushed hard in the direction of a comedy.  Much to my surprise, being outvoted into watching Training Day proved quite fruitful and I was able to consume a generally brilliant work and do so with little to no distraction, which is quite necessary when dealing with such a subtly complex piece of film.  Director Antoine Fuqua makes something profound with the cop thriller that incorporates some beautiful moments of experimental filmmaking along with an onslaught of intensely filmed and edited action sequences to produce a movie both visceral and contemplative, never once provided viewers with a moment to rest and assess the situation.  Dealing with the very tumultuous world of narcotics, Training Day packs a veritable punch of madness and ethical reappropriation in a way that helps me to understand precisely why it has come to gain such a significant reputation.  Considering all this, if you still find yourself uncertain as to why this work is so well received and remembered please refer to the performance by Denzel Washington, it is pretty damn close to perfection.

As the title suggests, Training Day is condensed within a singular days events, all focusing on policeman Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) who is undertaking his first day as a narcotics officer in Los Angeles.  Hoyt's trainer is the hot-headed and somewhat unethical detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) who sees it fit to train Hoyt in the ways of the streets by a variety of hands on experience. It is also quite clear that Harris has no qualms regarding the means by which he obtains confessions or information to drug cases, using duplicitous words and physical means to draw a confession out of an individual and within his undercover car seems intent on taking drugs and consuming alcohol as a means to get into the role of a narcotics officer.  Even when Hoyt goes out of his way to save a girl from being raped, Harris chastises him claiming that within the narcotics division he cannot be the gun wielding, live saving cop style he preferred before.  However, as the day continues and Harris becomes more involved in problematic actions, particularly those involving planting of evidence and the buying off of search warrants, Hoyt begins to rebel against the seemingly omniscient Harris whose ties to corruption go as high as district attorneys.  It is when Hoyt finally confronts Harris about his misuse of power and corruption during an unjust raid that things become intense, in a gun heavy standoff Harris eventually claims that it is a greater form of justice to attack high level drug pushers through non-legal actions than traditional forms of justice and that the law has little sway over people with such levels of power.  Seeming as though he has finally made some sort of agree to disagree relationship with Harris, Hoyt agrees to go with him to a gang house, where Harris quickly ditches him to die at the hands of gangsters.  Yet upon his being beaten it is discovered that the girl he saved earlier was one of the gangsters nieces leading to his immediate forgiveness to which Hoyt takes up hunting down and exacting violent revenge on Harris, ultimately, ending with his being gunned down by Russian mobsters to whom he owed money, while Hoyt returns home from what will, undoubtedly, prove to be his most troublesome day on the force.

Justice is a frail subject, one that is often malleable but always at the risk of being completely shattered by a multitude of problematizing examples.  I am fairly certain that notions of this have emerged on my blog before, especially in the handful of films I have reviewed previously which center to some degree on law enforcement, however, notices of justice and ethics are particularly interesting within Training Day because we as viewers are asked to consider what degree of comfort and trust we place in law officials to do their jobs, especially when their jobs require dealing with high level criminals as multiple near death dangers in a single day.  Harris is not necessarily a bad individual, all be it, he does appear to engage in heavy drug and alcohol use and an extramarital affair.  He admits openly that part of being a successful undercover agent is to look and act the part of an individual in the narcotics world, which means being willing to be familiar with the drugs being peddled on the streets to the youth specifically.  It would be a pressing issue if one were to discover the level of tax dollars being directed at such methods of crime prevention, especially since on a quick cursory glance one would assume that law enforcement was using community money to fund their own drug use.  Furthermore, the film is quite aware of what problems arise when a police officer attempts to use violence or threats as a means of coercing a suspect into confession or provide information.  Both Hoyt and Harris are careful with how they extract information from individuals who are fully aware of their rights and protections under the law, this is seen rather effectively when they approach a wheelchair bound crack dealer.  However, there are moments of clear transcendence regarding justice as it relates to human identity regardless of a cop or criminal mentality.  The act of attempted rape is deemed bad by every individual involved and at one point provides for a moment of unity at its being prevented, of course another issue arises when considering the notion of male protection and what role the trauma of female experience plays into this, but that is another post and discussion all its own, perhaps more inclined for whenever I get around to watching I Spit On Your Grave.

Key Scene:  The moment when Hoyt begins having hallucinatory experiences as a result of inhaling PCP, is done with a certain experimental poise that makes for an interesting moment of slow pace and serenity in an otherwise heavy and fast paced film.

This movie is a surprise and intensely watchable, the bluray is considerably cheap and well worth the investment.


Romantic Love Is The Last Delusion Of The Old Order: Anna Karenina (2012)

Much hype circulated around this recent adaptation of Anna Karenina, which of course has proven to be a staple of film, for many decades, seemingly having some adaptation for pretty much every decade within the history of cinema.  It is hard to justify creating a new version of such works, especially when it is arguable that nothing new can be provided on the subject matter, however, Joe Wright does manage to exact something that is fresh both in terms of the age old material, as well as in regards to cinematic production as well.  This particular version, similar to one of my favorite films Dogville, immediately demands that viewers accept the world of their film to exist within a distinct and minimized space.  While it is certainly not as diluted as in Von Trier's work, Wright's adaptation of Anna Karenina is seemingly set within the confines of one theater, which proves both expansive and restrictive, much like notions of love and intimacy so ever-present within Tolstoy's seminal novel.  Many critics, specifically the guys at Filmspotting, seem decidedly split on Wright's vision, a few arguing that it brings a much desired vibrance to the antiquated text, while others seem content to claim its showy spectacle as a distraction.  I would venture to say that an argument could be made for either, although I favor the new life argument and happily embrace Wright's vision, although it could be influenced heavily by my deep adoration for his breakout hit Atonement.  Of course, this adaptation of Anna Karenina is not perfect and certainly has a handful of flaws, especially in regards to embracing consistency within the rather condensed diagetic framework, however, when this minimalist approach coalesces perfectly with the grandiosity of the cinematic narrative magic does exist on a nearly unprecedented theatrical level, and to Wright's credit he manages to evolve and appropriate specifics of the novel to an contemporary audience, which results in a quite an enjoyable film and one of the deserved stand outs from this year in film.  Furthermore, it never hurts when a movie incorporates stars from the hottest show from across the pond, which, as you certainly know, is Downton Abbey.

The story of Anna Karenina is all to familiar, even for those who have not read the novel or seen an adaptation earlier, the premise and plot has been adapted and reworked to fit a variety of films and other cultural outputs, regardless, a rehashing of the plot is a bit necessary as it is a dense work with many characters moving throughout the narrative.  Essentially there are two intertwined story lines, the first focusing on Matvey (Eric Maclennan) a wholesome pseudo-aristocrat who has taken to a life of hard labor as a means to become closer to his employment, as well as those that work for him, much to the demise of his family and his dear friend Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen).  Despite his troubled identity, Matvey is quite resolute in his adoration of Dolly (Kelly Macdonald) a baroness who is the object of many suitors, specifically Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) a soldier who helps tie in Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) the somewhat vapid wife of Russian diplomat Karenin (Jude Law).  Dolly refuses the marriage pleas of Matvey because of her infatuation with Count Vronsky, however, Vronsky's eyes wander to Anna upon their initial meeting, a desire that is shared by Anna who despite her position of power as it is tied to Karenin engages with Vronsky and becomes his mistress.  Needless to say their improper engagement leads to levels of distrust and infidelity ones with very serious societal and political consequences, eventually leading to the ruin Vronsky's military career and Anna's being shunned by proper social groups.  In the wake of being left by Vronsky, Dolly returns pleading forgiveness from Matvey who embraces her desires gladly and their life begins with dueling sacrifices intended to display their mutual loves, which proves beautifully successful.  In sharp contrast is the relationship of Anna and Vronsky one that has detrimental effects mentally on Vronsky and enacts clearly physical changes upon Anna, one of which being her eventual death.  However, even in her lack of existence, the narrative suggest that her presence lingers on even in the most subtle of situations.

The beauty of the metaphor of a closed space within this version of Anna Karenina is not easiliy lost and, in fact, is quite welcome.  The notions of politics, polite society and infidelity are often intimately tied together.  Hell, look at the recent General Petraeus scandal and its aftermath, not so much for its degree of shock concerning its effects on how we understand privacy and the value of respect associated to public figures.  Wright's adaptation certainly plays into these ideas in how we are led to view characters like Anna and Vronsky, whose relationship does have an element of sincerity and legitimacy, yet the very clear acts of infidelity and disregard for other individuals makes it loathsome, especially since in the confined spaces of this particular narrative many of their acts of betrayal occur while the other individuals are literally standing within eyesight, take a dance scene for example.  Incidentally, this notion of close quarters also allows for guilt and paranoia to consume those engaging in acts of betrayal, as well as those being betrayed, which happens with near cinematic perfection when we are shown Karenin leaving his house, only to look through a glass window to see not his reflection, but that of Vronsky, a cruel reminder that exiting the stage does not mean that the terrible and bothersome actions are occurring any less.  This moment is almost hypermeta, in that Wright questions what is lost when acknowledging that a character in a play, despite being off stage, in all likelihood still hears words and actions occurring on stage as they are often in earshot.  This is doubly exposed in the moment of Anna's death, which while exceptionally graphic is more so intense because the characters close to her appear to fell the physicality of her passing, not on a ethereal level but one of a very real factor, because it is occurring in the rafters above the theater, at least the diagesis of this work would lead us to believe such things.  Beyond these moments of brilliance, Wright also makes nods to The Rules of the Game and Children of Paradise that cannot and should not be ignored in this specific reading.

Key Scene:  The horse raise is really fucking intense, so much so that the expletive is necessary to drive the point home

This film is cinematic and meant for theatrical consumption, fortunately for everyone it is still in theaters and quite deserved of your money.  Drop what your are doing and go watch it immediately.


You Bought A Used Jacket? What Are We Poor?: Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

I am a huge proponent of reconsidering the classic eighties films that for one reason or another managed to become second rate to their more successful contemporaries, particularly when the films manage to achieve a certain cult status, which is certainly true for a personal favorite of mine in Repo Man, as well as the recently reviewed Earth Girls Are Easy.  Of course I cannot love every film and certainly am not adoring of everything produced, although I tend to be pretty favorable for most works reviewed on this blog, however, I occasionally just do not enjoy a film, 1985's Desperately Seeking Susan stands to be one of those films, which is not to say it is bad or anything, but is simply nothing I found profound or deserved of its seemingly unquestioned cult status.  While the film certainly possessed a degree of quotability and a rather stellar cast for the era, including many of my favorite actors from the works of Jarmusch and Lee, it falls short so obviously that it cannot justify a high level of praise.  Furthermore, the main factor in me not completely dismissing the film resides in its being directed by a woman a feet that was rare in the 80's and still proves quite uncommon even today.  In fact, I find myself perplexed as to its sustained popularity, perhaps it is due to some brief nudity on the part of both lead actresses respectively, although if one were to seek a piece of media solely for a naked Madonna, it seems as though this rather forgotten film of the eighties is a bit out of ones way.  To be fair I did read a handful of reviews on the film as a means to attempt to sway my feelings towards the "cult classic," and while this did not prove successful I have been led to believe that Desperately Seeking Susan does reflect the wild and wily ways of the hip crowds and individuals occupying upper class New York during the time something I find myself surprisingly turned off by, as was the case with Metropolitan a film of which I should have loved, but found off putting in its distancing.  Honestly, Desperately Seeking Susan is not an awful film, it is actually considerably decent, however, the world portrayed and the methods of narration enacted were far from something I desired to embrace

The film, taking the famous lines of newspaper classified, expands on this notion to suggest that somewhere in New York City a couple uses this unusual form of communication to meet up on rendezvous, in this case the appropriately named Susan (Madonna) and Jim (Robert Joy) whose relationship is considerably strained since Susan appears to be a part time prostitute, while Jim is clearly preoccupied with seeing his band succeed, nonetheless, the duo manages to make things work, while becoming engaged "accidentally" within mob activities.  Enters Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) a rather disillusion housewife, whose husband Gary (Mark Blum) engages in the selling of pool and spas and rarely pays attention to his wife, who according to other may have suffered from a severe lack of sexual satisfaction.  In an attempt to add variety to her mundane life, Roberta decides to tag along to one of Susan and Jim's classified adds, in which she hopes to meet the lovebirds and undertake a bit of vicarious happiness, yet through a rather tragic twist of fate and the obtaining of one of Susan's signature clothing items only days earlier, Roberta is mistaken for Susan, leading to her being attacked by a mafia hit man.  After slipping and hitting her head, Roberta loses consciousness only to awake to Dez (Aidan Quinn), a friend sent by Jim to meet Susan and not having any memory due to her brief unconsciousness, she assumes herself to be Susan, causing Dez to take her back to his place and protect her from the unknown attacker.  The rest of the movie, suffice to say, focuses on the issues of the miscommunication by everyone involved, particularly since everyone appears to have an issue to hide, all of which explodes in a final and admittedly hilarious confrontation, involving humorous use of Madonna's own music, in a tip of the hat moment of meta filmmaking.  Also something involving a stolen pair of earrings seems pertinent to the larger story, all be it a bit forced.

As one could expect from a major film of the eighties, especially such a liberal leaning, feminist oriented film (again it would seem a perfect film for my palette) the narrative focuses on the tragedies of capitalist desires and conspicuous consumption, most blatantly in the character of Gary, who demands that everyone at a party view his commercial, which of course has a unique place in Marxist rhetoric in that it is a product with value that is designed to promote another product with a value.  Yet no amount of financial comfort or clear monetary success seems to prove fulfilling for Gary, let alone Roberta who suffers from another level of dissatisfaction.  In contrast we have Susan, engaging in prostitution, which is popularly known as the worlds oldest profession, but something with no quantifiable value, save for unfortunate cases involving STD's, which problematizes notions of capitalist associations of monetary value when it is purely for a qualitative act.  Yet, even Susan who engages in the problematic act of prostitution consumes conspicuously, however, she uses a bartering system to obtain her desire items, in the case of the narrative a jacket.  Her free movement from house to train station, also contests notions of capitalist power, because much of value is predicated on possession of private property.  If the film played more into these commentaries and the issues surrounding them, perhaps then I would be completely enamored with Desperately Seeking Susan, tragically none of this proves to be the case and instead the film plays too much into burgeoning or suppressed sexualities, without really even revolutionizing the discussions around both.  Perhaps the real tragedy of the film is its desire to comment on every problem in America without properly approaching anything specific.

Key Scene:  I guess if one were to be picked I would go with the train station scene involving Susan initially as it is a considerably solid introduction to the characters lifestyle and subsequently their psyche.

This is a film to avoid for the most part, although I know many people do love it quite a bit, as such I will leave the decision up to others.


Always Look Ahead And Above Yourself: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011)

As many a documentary filmmaker seem to agree, Albert Maysles specifically, the purpose of the non-fiction filmmaking style is to quote reality to some degree.  A larger question arises though when we are to consider a individual or a reality so unusual or exceptional that they transcend our own understandings of the real or the factual.  This certainly proved true with the penultimate documentary Grey Gardens, directed by Albert and his brother David, however, it also proves to be grounds for many other documentaries, although in most instances filmmakers manage to find exceptional subjects, only to completely drop the ball on creating their world, or as suggested earlier, visually quoting their reality.  This is certainly the case with I Like Killing Flies, a work with a incomprehensible figure that flails to cinematically reflect on the vibrance of the subject.  In contrast, exists what has come to be the standout documentary of last year, 2011's Jiro Dreams of Such, which focuses on world famous sushi chef Jiro Ono, who in his eighties still attends work regularly and delivers a product to his diverse customer base that he acknowledges changes and, hopefully, evolves everyday.  The traditional Japanese food offered by Jiro is not flashy or fusion heavy, but, instead, simple traditional sushi perfect.  Filmmaker David Gelb who both directed and shot this documentary does the idea of quoting reality justice within his visual study of the iconic sushi chef, taking vibrant but subtle angles and deep focus lenses to capture the slow artistry at work in the art of making the cuisine.  Often the film simply rests the camera on the piece of sushi as it occupies a minimalist space on a dish, or will use a series of overlaps and cuts to show time evolution and the notion of memory simultaneously.  The documentary exists both as a provocation on the state of fish-based food industries in Japan as well as a endearing reflection on the life of an accomplished and hard-working individual.  The film is exceptionally well-executed and deserved of the near universal praise it has managed to accrue.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi, as noted previously centers on aging sushi master Jiro Ono, a prominent figure not only in Tokyo where he resides, but on the global scale as well being the oldest chef, and one of the few sushi chefs to receive the prestigious three star rating from the Michelin Institute in France, an accolade one food critic quips in the documentary makes it worth going to said country simply to eat at that restaraunt.  At the time of this film, Jiro is eighty-five and shows no signs to considering retirement, going so far as to awake early in the morning and leave work quite late at night, a routine he has kept up for well over sixty years.  In fact, aside from obeying national holidays and no longer traveling to the fish market, Jiro sustains the same methodologies and approaches from his earliest days in the trade.  While many of his contemporaries have either passed or retired, Jiro keeps at his job, while his eldest son, now well into his fifties works under him as assistant chef, per Japanese tradition.  Incidentally, his younger son, knowing that he will not be afforded the opportunity to take over the restaurant, leading to the opening of his own restaurant, which is a literal mirroring of his father's place considering that he is right handed.  Things seem nearly unstoppable for Jiro and most of the documentary instead chooses to focus on the mad methods incorporated by the chef to assure a quality products, ones he claims are constantly evolving and never perfected.  Jiro proves to be the most humble of individuals and clearly possesses a hidden charm that manages to rub off on all those he meets, especially his former employees and the fish market workers with whom he previously worked.  If anything is left uncertain in the future of the narrative post filming it is the state of sushi as an art form after the eventual loss of Jiro, as well as the problems with overfish.  Although it also considers what troubles Jiro's sons will face living up to their father's illustrious name, yet as the closing moments seem to suggest, this is far from impossible and may already have occurred.

Why then does a seemingly straightforward documentary about a elderly man putting raw fish onto rice seem to gain such mass appeal.  I would suggest that its seemingly universal love is a direct relation to the universal motifs and themes promoted within the film.  Jiro is probably one of the most likable individuals one could ever hope to encounter in live, yet he suffers from some of the same hardships anyone could imagine, most notably issues with addiction to cigarrettes and forming a lasting bond with his children, even his unique distancing from his parents manages to evolve in to a degree of universality.  However, larger themes than these emerge within Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the most obvious being rhetoric surrounding passion and livelihood, one would find difficulty arguing against Jiro's old age being intrinsically tied to the zeal and love he pours out into his work.  The philosophically inclined sushi chef goes so far as to say that the moment a person curses their employment proves to be the exact moment in which they cannot produce a decent product.  Of course, Jiro also struggles with a variety of issues, whether it be technological changes, adapting to a market inundated with quick consumption sushi or changing demands in customer service, however, the zen like patience of Jiro always adapts, as he does when serving each customer, whether it be adjusting portions to unique paces or serving the food on the left hand side to help a customer who favors that hand.  Jiro Dreams of Sushi seems to answer the ever present question of why humanity exists and how one should engage life, if we are to take Jiro's actions to heart, it seems to be to find something we love and continually strive to perfect that, even if said perfection comes in embracing its simplicity.

Key Scene:  There is a moment when Jiro's work is compared to a piece of music that would be on the nose in any other work, however, given the artistic magnitude of this surprisingly minimalist film it fits in all to perfectly.

This is an exceptional film and one of the most stellar documentaries of the past year, if not the past decade.  It is a beautiful work currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly, there is no justification for missing its perfection.


Don't Worry 'Bout A Thing: Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)

If it were not for the swooning music of the opening credits, one could instantly describe Somebody Up There Likes Me as Cool Hand Luke version zero, as it essentially shares the same lead actor, as well as eerily similar moments in which that character fights, is imprisoned and escapes from jail, yet Somebody Up There Likes me, an offering from Robert Wise, whose diverse oeuvre is perhaps best known for the snap heavy West Side Story, which like Somebody Up There Likes Me focuses near microscopically on the world of inner city existence, one specifically concerned with those moving between the unseen and lesser spaces of that already othered world.  I would suggest, however, that what makes something like Somebody Up There Likes Me so pertinent and familiar as that it takes many of the singular moments from other films that were its contemporaries, as well as serves as a clear inspiration to so many of its predecessors, that it becomes saturated with a near deja vu quality, only made the greater by the fact that so few people have seen this truly classic work, especially considering that it includes not only a very young Paul Newman, but an equally young, uncredited Steve McQueen.    Entrenched within the traditions of a boxing film, Somebody Up There Likes me is preoccupied with promoting the image of the underdog overcoming difficult odds, in this case particularly insurmountable.  It is also a master's course in chiaroscuro filmmaking, in so much as I can think of only a handful of films with better use of black and white as a construction for mise-en-scene.  The film could seem a bit lengthy in its dialogue heavy nature, yet to construct an appropriate vision of the life of a boxer, the films under two-hour frame is more than watchable and almost lacking in some of the main character's back story, of course this could all be influenced by the fact that Paul Newman is playing lead and it is near impossible not to love the guy, even when he is still finding the correct delivery for is still unestablished acting chops.

Somebody Up There Likes Me, a boxing movie through and through, centers on Rocky (Paul Newman), who is of no relation to the other famous boxer of the same name.  Rocky, as the film shows from the opening scenes, lives far from the stellar life, becoming an occupant of New York street life, as a result of a problematic relationship with his ex-boxer father, whose alcoholism leads him to be somewhat aggressive and always demeaning.  His distancing from his father and his fear of disappointing his mother, leads Rocky to a life of crime, one that allows him to look after his mother, without also giving credence to authority.  Of course, he is eventually caught and placed into prison, although he becomes equally infamous for his ability to escape prison.  However, upon release he is eventually drafted to serve in World War II, a task with equal problems considering that he loathes authority, which results in his going AWOL and finding work in a boxing ring, in which he briefly serves as a sparring partner before managers realize his physical prowess, unbridled rage and relentless make him a machine of a boxer.  After a few bouts, he is caught by Army detectives and forced to serve time for dishonorable discharge in which he is placed on the Army boxing team for a brief time prior to release, in which he returns to boxing with considerable success.  However, even after these issues a past crime figure reemerges and blackmails Rocky to take a dive, for which he is eventually barred, yet again, from boxing.  However, realizing his eventual innocence, Rocky is able to get a rematch for the championship title by boxing in Chicago, a task that proves a success to him, all the while inducing dread in his wife Norma (Pier Angeli), as well as his mother.  After winning he is received with open arms by his community as a local hero, making his somewhat tragic and troubled life justifiable as he celebrates his success by stating the words of the title, although ever cautious to remember that his current athleticism and prowess will fade with age.

The film is poetic in its approach to the common man and his struggle.  Of course the film is incredibly problematic in its portrays of everything from African-American's to Jewish-American's not to mention its unfortunate display of women, but we must keep historical context in mind when viewing this work.  Nonetheless, through a rather stellar boxing picture Wise is able to show the genuine hardships of an individual whose life has centered around petty thief and the rules of the street, so much so that even when they attempt to make a genuine change in their lives, past issues and a history of trouble invariably reemerge.  Rocky is a person who simply wants to survive and do right by those he loves and trusts in his life, he sees thievery and violence as acts that are necessitated by his own safety and the certainty of comfort for those he cares about.  We realize that even upon his initial engagement with boxing that he sees it as a simple act to get by until he can find higher paying, in all likelihood crime related, work.  It is not until he is able to provide legitimate money to his mother that he realizes the value of his gift as a pugilist, although he must stew on its value while locked in a military work camp.  Upon his release his common man story then centers on trying to reappropriate his image to be wholesome and that of a family man thus expanding the narrative from the common individual to the common collective, all be it on a considerable microcosm.  Nonetheless, as the story progresses it becomes clear to viewer the differences between individuals making an earnest attempt to succeed, whether they be Rocky, his mother or his mangers and those set on ruining others for their benefit as is the case with Rocky's father and his former crime associates.  While the film clearly has a Christian leaning religious context, one cannot help but consider karma when reflecting on Rocky's eventual success.

Key Scene:  There is a great moment, a montage of sorts, in which Rocky returns home from various bouts to his wife and daughter, in each scene the daughter reacts differntly to her father's damaged face, up until a certain age in which she and her mother reverse roles.  It is a great scene to show the physical and emotional effects of boxing on Rocky, as well as a means to advance the narrative considerably.

This is a magnificent work suffering from a severe lack of awareness.  While there is not a bluray in the works at the moment it is well worth owning.  DVD's are not the cheapest ever, but owning it is more than necessary.


What's Wrong With A Stroller?: Away We Go (2009)

In the wake of the seeming success of Skyfall, a film I have yet to watch and as reflection of the relevance American Beauty seems to lose as the decades continue, I was somewhat surprised upon beginning Away We Go to discover that it was directed by Sam Mendes, who has director credits for the previously mentioned and critically celebrated films.  I am uncertain as to why Away We Go managed to accrue much less praise considering that I found it to be incredibly provocative, well-executed and perhaps one of the most difficult films to watch without immediately exuding a heavy emotional response.  It combines all the sentimentality, quirkiness and obscure guitar heavy music one could desire from an indie film, yet with a director like Mendes at the wheel and well established comedic actors the film transcends this genre cornering both in its mainstream qualities as well as its vibrancy.  The actors in this film, most of which are playing considerably self-loathing characters, deliver performances of such a high degree that it cannot, and should not be ignored.  I would venture to pair this film with something like Up In The Air, although Away We Go focuses on a considerably younger group of people, nonetheless, it manages to tap into the life force of those it studies with such earnestly and vigor that it makes for a insanely watchable film.  It also does not hurt that the film is visually alluring and delivers some of the most jarringly beautiful cinematography one could ever excpect from a film which sells itself as a light comedy.  I actually wonder if it is not the terrible misappropriation of this film as a comedic piece that caused its initial demise, because while I certainly laughed loudly at moments throughout Away We Go its larger context and motifs reflect the most tragic of human moments, ones that seem doomed to continue and it suggest that only those with the strongest of love can transcend the absurdity, however, escaping such physical attachments still takes little account of the emotional and mental strains such a framework causes.

Away We Go begins with a couple discovering that they are to have a child, the couple Verona (Maya Rudolph) and Burt (John Krasinski) remain unmarried, although they are clearly mad about each other, an act that is a direct honor to Verona's parents who died when she was only twenty-two.  The realization that their lives will change irreversibly after the birth of their child, Verona and Burt plan a trip accross The United States and into Canada with the hopes of discovering the perfect place to raise their child, a decision heavily influenced by the announcement that Burt's parents will be moving to Belgium well before the birth of the child.  This trip allows for both Verona and Burt to reflect on their own relationship and what they have achieved with their young adult lives, which becomes quite blatant between each group they meet.  The first two people, one of which was a former coworker of Verona consume alcohol feverishly and demean their kids as they clearly live through their own disillusionment, blaming everyone but themselves for their unhappiness.  Verona's sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo) seeks solace within her sister, while also displaying some degree of jealousy towards what she sees between Burt and Verona.  In a meet-up with Burt's half-sister LN (Maggie Gyllenhaal) the couple realize the disaster that is "new age" parenting, a method in which LN and her partner Roderick (Josh Hamilton) seem far more concerned with embracing their own miseries and desires than providing any sense of normalcy for their children.  When they meet another couple, old college friends, they witness the problems of miscarriage and desire to fill a void of loss.  Even during an unexpected trip to Burt's brother adds a layer to their understanding of live, as they help him through the devastation of his wife's unexpected leaving of him and his daughter.  Defeated and more confused than ever Verona and Burt fall asleep on a trampoline and awake to decide that their best course of action is to return home and raise their child, although we are not quite sure in the closing moments of the film where exactly that home may be.

This film poignantly captures the woes of growing up in a world that problematically embraces individualized misery.  The characters noted above, all exist in their own severe depressions and become so preoccupied with the disdain that it causes them to distance themselves from one another.  This causes each to resort to some degree of false fulfillment, whether it be alcohol or hyper-protective parenting.  Even with some one like LN, viewers are shown a person who is so concerned with creating a cozy and unified existence with their child that they create a humongous bed for the who family to share, not realizing the irony in making such a large sleeping space, an act that has inherent intimacy about it.  Of course,  the exception to this action within the film comes through Verona and Burt, and while they are certainly individuals, there actions are often extensions of one another.  It is only when Verona reflects on her parents death that she steps away from Burt for any length of time, often waiting until he is either on the phone with clients or sleeping as to not suggest a separation from him.  It is actually their incredible closeness blended with an ability to organically separate and unify as necessary that allows for Burt and Verona to move throughout the film, eventually growing above everyone else pain and suffering.  They often contest whether they are growing up properly and worry about their futures in relation to those they have viewed, yet, one cannot help but feel as though their reassurance and comfort allows for fears to be quickly overcome and shared happiness to be explosively shared, as we see in the closing, heart-wrenchingly beautiful scene.  They choose to go about their lives, in both misery and happiness together, as opposed to the individualized concerns of those they encountered previously, made all the more pertinent by the fact that they are able to do so even without the ties of marriage.

Key Scene:  The closing moments of this film are exceptional and a worthy conclusion to such a fantastic and criminally underrated film.

The bluray for this is quite magnificent and incredibly cheap, a copy is essential.


He's A Nowhere Man: Yellow Submarine (1968)

The story goes that the animated film, centering around the alter egos of The Beatles, known as The Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was made purely as a means to get the famous group out of their undesired movie contract, yet once they viewed the final product that was Yellow Submarine they were so enthralled and happy by the outcome that they agreed to provide a live-action epilogue as a pseudo thank you.   It takes only moments into this spectacularly psychedelic film to realize why exactly The Beatles would come to love such a film, one that is absolutely extraordinary in what it achieves via hand drawn animation, as well as societal commentary.  It is no small task to make a successful animated film, let alone one that is decidedly geared towards an older audience, yet in the careful hands of George Dunning viewers are provided with something spectacular.  While The Beatles  music has never been begging to be visualized it is clear that Yellow Submarine evokes the words, social outcries and existential angst that came to so obviously signify the work by the group for the latter portion of their career.  Like many of the great films, Yellow Submarine suffered from existing as nothing more than rotations on British television, yet when this particular piece of Beatles nostalgia was revived, a rekindling and remembrance of how truly spectacular this work was emerged.  Furthermore, the accessibility, universality and certainly the trippy nature of Yellow Submarine resulted in a whole new generation coming to love and appreciate The Beatles in a way transcendent of their music, and with a recent bluray upgrade, it only proves that more people will have a chance to discover this seminal work.  A mix of tragedy and celebration, Yellow Submarine exudes a poetic nature that demands its viewing, multiple times and with multiple people, as it truly proves to be something far grander than a film made by The Beatles to get out of an undesired movie contract.

Yellow Submarine begins with an introduction to the world of Pepperland, in which people sing, dance and exist in merriment to the tunes and beats of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The idyllic world of Pepperland, however, comes under attack by the scrutinizing and condemning eye of The Meanings, a group of blue persons who live to causes sadness and depression, while always answering "NO" to any question raised.  Their wave of malaise sweeps over Pepperland causing all those existing within its colorful landscape to turn blue and freeze in time, including SPLHCB, who are specifically trapped in a bubble.  The only person who escapes the onslaught of this attack is Old Fred (Lance Percival) a wily elderly man who in a state of befuddlement takes the town's Yellow Submarine and travels to what we can assume to be Liverpool, since it is there that he meets up with The Beatles.  Of course, this vision of England, shown while Eleanor Rigby is playing, reflects the current state of Pepperland, as each of the band members moves through the streets and houses with a sense of desolation.  After many failed attempts to understand Old Fred whose phrases are nearly intelligible, the group agrees to join him on the submarine and travel to Pepperland.  This journey takes them forwards and backwards in time, even passing their past selves on the journey.  Along the way they pick up a mask wearing rodent whose name is Jeremy Hilary Boob, PhD., or as the members of the group suggest a veritable Nowhere Man as he spouts off poems, ideas and feelings that have no logical grounding.  After losing Ringo at least once, the group eventually makes it to Pepperland where they take on The Meanies, at first finding little success with their music, yet when they release the SPLHCB from their prison and realize that they have an uncanny similarity to them, they attack The Meanies with great success and bring vibrancy and life back to Pepperland.  The film then closes with the song All Together Now, as unity seems to be the suggested course of action for the future.

Yellow Submarine is, as should be obvious, inundated with the feelings and advocacy of social revolution so seemingly inherent in the sixties, especially 1968.  Primarily, this is a film that contests the notion that disconnect and social malaise are positive, particularly if said distancing is the result of heavy conservative values that dismiss any sort of revolution, whether it be rioting in the streets or speaking out politically.  The freezing of SPLHCB represents political suppression to some degree, especially since it is done by The Meanies, whose "NO" spouting ideologies represent the most dangerous variations of conservatism. One can extend this consideration to incorporate the pointing hand that is a weapon of The Meanies.  Its judgmental connotations, reflect another element of conservative values, ones in which individuals find scape goats for their problems, signifying difference as a means to separate, even if their actions harm nobody, or actually suggest egalitarian ideals or progressive actions.  Jeremy/Nowhere Man then becomes an interesting figure in this context because he exists both as a voice to transcend conservatism and the social malaise overtaking Pepperland (The Western Global Community), yet he has become so disenfranchised and disillusioned that any of the theories or ideas he promotes are so incoherent that they seem absurd or almost mocking.  This only makes The Beatles eventual love of their film that much greater, because it shows that they realize their place as musicians to provide commentary to society, one that advocates love and unity and answering "Yes" when possible, and doing so "all together now."

Key Scene:  It is a dead tie between the Eleanor Rigby and Nowhere Man scenes,  both of which are incredibly sad and poetically transcendent.

This movie will surprise you, and if you have not seen it in some time revisit the work, especially post-restoration, it is seriously a thing of beauty.  Grab the bluray immediately.


They Came Home. And With Them My Life Of Details: The Bridges Of Madison County (1995)

I have, much to my shame, gone for quite a bit of time without seeing a film directed by the prolific Clint Eastwood, who, politics aside, is a nearly indomitable figure in Hollywood history.  Furthermore, as a friend of mine suggests he is one of the only classicist directors still working, something that is quickly evident in what I have seen of his trailer, as well as his directing of The Bridges of Madison County.  For whatever reason, perhaps the fact that my memories of it emerge from being eight or so when it came out, I assumed this film to be an absolutely sappy and unbearable chick romance flick, one that I would never in a million years have attached to the hypermasculine Eastwood.  Of course, when I found this film again I had not realized that it was indeed directed by Eastwood and remembering that it was well received, or at the very least popular upon its release, I decided to give it a whirl.  The earnestly, beauty and intimacy with which Eastwood brings Robert James Waller's film to life, makes every lackluster adaptation of equally uninspired Nicholas Spark's books seem frivolous and ill-intended, A Walk to Remember excluded, a film for which I am quite fond.  The chemistry between Eastwood and Streep on film is palpable and instantaneous, a performance that would garner Streep one of her seemingly countless amount of nominations.  The films is not perfect by any means though and does suffer from a considerable length issue, mostly the fault of the somewhat unnecessary inclusion of the children's reading of their mothers account of infidelity.  However this minor criticism aside, The Bridges of Madison County is a magnificent work that forces viewers to reconsider their notions of first love, ageist assumptions about romantic intimacy and the degree of "infidelity" that occurs when an individual is stuck within an unfulfilling  marriage or relationship.  If we consider Eastwood to be a classicist filmmaker, which I do, it is in the way of melodramatic subtlety, a phrase I use intentionally for its oxymoronic quality.

The Bridges of Madison County begins with two adults meeting in the home of their late mother Francesca (Meryl Streep) to go through her personal belongings and undertake the enactment of her will.  The two children Carolyn (Annie Corley) and Michael (Victor Slezak) become particularly confused and reluctant when it is revealed that their mother request to be cremated and have her ashes strewn off the side of an old bridge near her house.  They make particular note of the fact that their father Richard (Jim Haynie) purchased to parallel graves to lay together in for eternity.  However, as a set of journals reveal, when the children and their father spent a week away at the state fair, Francesca engaged in an affair with a National Geographic photographer named Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood).  Michael is furious with the news, while Carolyn shows a considerable degree of intrigue beginning to thumb through the journal and see how such an act evolved.  It becomes clear, as viewers are situated into the initial encounter, via flashbacks and the diagetic narration of Francesca that the events unfolded in the most innocent of manners, first with Kincaid inquiring about the location of bridges then to Francesca offering to tag along as a guide.  Even when they spend their first evening together it is not sexual but simply the act of enjoying one another's company, over food and some brandy laced coffee.  It is the second day, after some suspicion by towns folk that Kincaid and Francesca are more weary, yet after purchasing a new dress for the occasion the two spend the evening together, eventually engaging in intercourse.  All the while we are shown Carolyn and Michael's reactions which evolve from outright discuss to deep understanding.  The night between the two is notably fleeting and despite Kincaid's demands that Francesca join him, she chooses to stay and welcome the return of her family, a painful moment that she accepts like a martyr.  By possible chance, Francesca sees Kincaid in town one last time and even has to suffer through sitting behind his truck at a red light, clutching the handle to her husband's truck as she considers fleeing into his world.  However, she does stay and instead asks in the notes of her diary that her children acknowledge her request, as it is the least they can do in return for her sacrificed happiness.

The fact of the matter with The Bridges of Madison County is that it is a first rate romance.  The love story depicted between the two aging idealists is something for the ages and is never forced.  I would suggest that it represents the simplest and most realized moments of burgeoning love.  It is hard not to see the pangs of initial attraction occur, when Kincaid first steps out of his truck, and it is certainly realized when Francesca discusses the erotic attachment she feels to Kincaid simply at the thought of ouccpying a space in which his naked body had resided only moments earlier, however, intercourse aside the evolution of their romance is youthful in the fullest of terms.  It begins by playful interactions in a car, leading to Kincaid picking wildflowers for Francesca, reminiscent of many a summer loves follies.  Furthermore, Kincaid's recollections on his brief experiences in a small town in Italy which Francesca originally hails, causes her to return to a youthful state, one that allows her to open veritable romantic floodgates.  If we then consider the location of their moment of sexual encounter, it plays beautifully into the youthful nature, in that it does not occur in a bed, but on a rug because of outside forces "condemnation" and interference.  However, romance of youthful hearts is obliterated with the reminders of Francesca's very adult responsibilities, ones that she must commit to and mean that their love must wait till the otherworldly to be fully celebrated.  In the end it causes the two adult children to reflect on their own love lives, which result in their acting with purposefully youthful zeal.

Key Scene:  The moment at the red light in which Francesca clutches the handle of the door seems to drag on forever, but it should as in her memories it went on for an eternity.

This was a stellar film, but not one I find absolutely necessary to own, yet should you enjoy romances this is top tier stuff.


I'll Show You The Life Of The Mind: Barton Fink (1991)

I have seen quite a few films involving The Coen brothers, even going so far as to describe No Country for Old Men as an example of the rare perfect movie.  While I am used to their films being incredibly comedic and intensely centered in action heavy moments, Barton Fink provided me with an entirely different viewing experience, that while not the norm for the Coen's certainly proved to be enjoyable and incredibly intense.  Combining some stellar performances by both John Turturro and John Goodman, a film about intelligence, accessibility and the delving of one's psyche into the paranoid evokes the greatest of emotive responses one can imagine while watching a film.  I find this to be one of the most complex and introspective films in the Coen oeuvre and place it second only to A Serious Man in what I would claim to be my favorite film by Joel and Ethan.  Perhaps it is the centralization of character evident in both these works that make me love the films, or the complete lack of concern for spatial formality, but something about the magical realist nightmare evoked in Barton Fink makes for a stellar two hours of film viewing.  While this is somewhat early in the Coen's filmmaking career one can, nonetheless, find moments of their soon to be traditional touches, whether it be cameras focusing on events occurring outside of the room in which events are filmed, or fixation on seemingly arbitrary objects.  I personally could not help but pick up on some clear similarities to the world David Lynch creates in his seminal work Blue Velvet.  Barton Fink is a magnificently realized work that explodes into a much larger film than one will initially expect.  The work considers how we consider factual events in a biased narrative, as well as what role we place on creativity in a writer's output, especially when their work is always influenced by outside forces.  While many a films have been made about making films, I would place Barton Fink in the highest of rungs.

The film centers on a character of the title's sake Barton Fink (John Turturro) a New York based playwright who has found recent success with his gritty and minimalist plays focusing on the common man.  While we are shown him enjoying lavish dinners, he is offered high paying work to write screenplays in Hollywood, an offer he finds slightly offensive and counterproductive to his guttural desires to speak for the working class.  Agreeing as a means to gain money to pay for multiple plays in the future, Barton flies out Hollywood and stays at the surprisingly dilapidated and unoccupied Hotel Earle, with the exception of the the under zealous bellhop Chet (Steve Buscemi).  Once situated in his room, Barton attempts to begin writing a gritty "wrestling picture" only to undertake insufferable writer's block, a problem exacerbated by the distraction of continually peeling wallpaper and the constant interruptions by Charlie Meadows (John Goodman) a talkative, rotund life insurance salesman.  Barton seeks inspiration outside of the hotel, eventually running into a idol writer of his W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), who it becomes quite clear has spiraled into alcoholism, much to the disdain of his wife Audrey (Judy Davis), for who Barton begins to take a liking.  Eventually winning over Audrey and earning an extension on his script writing, Barton convinces her to spend time with him, however, upon awaking he realizes she has been inexplicably murdered.  Seeking help from his only friend Charlie, Barton disposes of the body, only to become a key witness in the investigation of Charlie, of who viewers learn is actually "Mad Man" Munch an infamous serial killer.  Needless to say, Barton's daily life becomes absurd all leading to an intense run in with Charlie/Munch that, nonetheless, allows him to burst through his writers block and provide Capitol Studios with a script, one that is instantly despised and leads to his being put on restriction, although he is told to stay in Hollywood as he is still on contract.

One of my favorite elements of Barton Fink are the multiplicities of interpretation allowed for this work.  Of course some of the more obvious interpretations center on the creative process, or class consciousness.  However, it is many of the more obscure yet equally tangible elements of the film that I find intriguing.  It almost has a The Shining element in that one  can pick up various possibilities for commentary.  One element of note is the suggestion of a critique of Fascism within the narrative, particularly in that it represents a clearly Jewish character in Fink avoiding the suppression and attacks of fascist nationalism.  This is overtly emphasized when he is accosted by detectives Mastrionatti and Deutsch whose clear German and Italian ties draw upon Fascism.  Similarly, a reading involving ideas of slavery has emerged, citing the singing of slavery songs and spirituals as an example, although a connection to notions of possessing intellectual property could certainly add some validity to this specified reading.  Finally, and of course most notably is the fact that this could all be an imagined film, which begins with the fact that we are shown moments through the eyes of Barton, especially since it begins with him watching his own play, a fact that is never verified to exist outside his own mind, a quick cutting to a near point of view of him entering into a ritzy restaurant almost solidifies it, if not at the very least helping to rationalize the absurd moments in which he witnesses a hotel become engulfed in flames only to seem fine moments later.  We are never sure what his rejected script consists of, but perhaps that has been what we were shown up until this point, after all there is a wrestling scene between Charlie and Barton that could serve as the inspiration for the script, amidst all its latent homoeroticism.

Key Scene:  For the key scene please refer to the quote in the title of this post.

I watched this on Netflix via Watch Instantly, but was so enamored with it that I intend to purchase a copy and would certainly urge you to do the same, although I would hold out for a bluray release.