28.2.12

Guys Like Me Are Born Loving Women Like You: Young Adult (2011)

I had the highest hopes for a film that was written by Diablo Cody, she is perhaps the only writer who I have come to know by name excluding Aaron Sorkin and it took multiple movies for that to become the case.  Given this, I was thoroughly excited to see her name attached to Young Adult, as I knew it would be a witty, hip narrative that required a vast cultural awareness to appreciate.  While this can certainly be said about the narrative, it still manages to fall short as a film.  I felt the film to lack several layers of believability and any amount of sincere honesty.  I cannot blame this on the acting, because each actor delivers their character with skill and subtlety and void of the self-reverence present in Cody's previous film Juno.  I am more inclined to blame the films overall lack on the filmic composition of the narrative, we are given little back story throughout the film to understand the characters, but nowhere near enough to empathize with them, regardless of their various levels of pity.  Simply put, Cody tries so desperately for us to find her characters troubled, yet endearing that it becomes obnoxiously obvious to the point that their self-loathing, particularly the main character, is disgusting.  I applaud Cody for removing the wit of her work from the script, as it would undeniably serve as a crutch, yet she as a writer has not evolved enough to find a replacement for the wit and the Young Adult suffers heavily from this failure.


Young Adult follows a ghostwriter named Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) who is having an existential crisis concerning her impending 30th birthday and the realization that her former boyfriend was having a child.  As a result undertakes a quest to return to her small town of Mercury, Minnesota to flaunt her popularity and win back her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson).  Mavis, a functioning alcoholic, who spends her days knocking back buckets of Ben & Jerry's and watching reality television thinks, that her plans will happen instantaneously and that everything in Mercury will be precisely as she left it a decade ago.  When she enters the now suburban city, she is disgusted by its corporate consumption and seeks out shelter in a popular local pub named Woody's.  There she runs into Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) a former classmate of Mavis's who was badly injured by classmates who beat him up after falsely assuming him to be gay.  Mavis in a drunken stupor explains her plans to Matt who instantly dismisses her reminding her that Buddy was married with a child.  Mavis ignores his warnings and schedules a meeting for drinks with Buddy, who agrees to the date simply out of kindness.  It is at this point in the narrative that viewers realize how far gone Mavis is mentally.  Her meeting with Buddy is clearly awkward and brief, yet Mavis is assured that she has won back her former lover and agrees to meet up with him again to see Buddy's wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) play a live show with her band, aptly named Nipple Confusion.  In the process every thing falls apart for Mavis.  She wrecks her vehicle, has an awkward confrontation with her mother and drunkenly sleeps with Matt before waking up to realize the delusion she is facing.  She leaves Matt's room and after having a talk with his younger sister about the place of her life in relation to Mercury and drives off to return to Minneapolis.  It is implied that Mavis finishes her book with a new and bold perspective on life, one that is completely distanced from her past.


Young Adult is a decent movie, but I cannot begin to attempt to analyze the varying problematic portrayals within the film.  The film is drenched now with what one would call "first world problems," a phrase made popular by the rise of tumbler based websites.  These problems refer to anything that is a seeming inconvenience to an individual that are reflective of their obvious comfort, for example a person complaining about their favorite restaurant changing the menu would be first world in that a considerable part of the global community struggles to gain proper, if any, nourishment.   While the film's examples are by no means this extreme, they certainly are rather arbitrary.  Mavis complains of her job as a ghostwriter and her lack of hip restaurant choices to the people of Mercury when it is clear that her lifestyle far exceeds any of those she encounters, particularly that of Matt who has become a cripple based solely on fictitious rumors spread by ill-willed teenager.  Her job and lazy lifestyle are the thing of dreams as made apparent by the longing gazes of the women she encounters in the film, making her complaints seem bitter and illogical.  Similarly, Mavis is self-destructive, abrasive alcoholic who is never judged in the narrative for her actions.  Instead, the film simply ends with her comfortable in her own shoes, implying that her truly destructive ways are in the past, along with the people she inevitably destroyed.  Aside from suffering from Trichotillomania there is really no explanation to Mavis mental state, thus making her actions simply bitter and hateful, not acts of a person who is suffering mental instability.  While it may seem this way, Mavis is an unkind person who never receives narrative punishment for her problems.  This is perhaps the inherent flaw in the film that explains is ultimate lack of enjoyability.

I know my critique makes it seem unwatchable, but the film is not terrible.  If anything, you should watch it just to see the excellent performance by Patton Oswalt...trust me it will surprise you.  It is still in the cheap theaters making it worth a theater going experience.

24.2.12

Recorded At A Subsonic Level Is A Mantra, Lose...Lose...Lose: The Cooler (2003)

2003's The Cooler had all the makings to be an incredibly popular film, whether it be the quotable dialogue, the lavish scenery of Las Vegas or the excellent acting of both William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin.  Yet, when it comes down to it the film simply does not deliver what one would expect to be an extraordinary film.  The Cooler is great in its own right, but fore a multitude of reasons everything appears contrived and forced, making its watchability decrease considerably, not to mention the original cut of the film was reedited due to demands by the MPAA, which felt the films depictions of sexuality to be far too graphic.  Ultimately, The Cooler becomes a run of the mill Las Vegas story that the viewer will recognize through the other gambling movies of days gone by and the scenery that is so familiar to filmic and cultural history that even though it is cleverly executed and well spaced still seems like nothing more than b-roll footage from a travel channel expose on casinos.  Perhaps, the best word to describe a film like The Cooler is, despite masking itself in what should be a stellar film, average.

The film centers on Bernie Lootz (William H. Macy) a down-and-out cooler for the Shangri-La casino.  Bernie, who is apparently the unluckiest man alive, serves as their financial control by passing his luck on to players winning big at the casino partially as a means to make money, as well as a way to pay back past debts to the casino's owner Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) who broke Bernie's knee in a fit of rage only to offer him a job as a means to assure a financial return.  Bernie, finally free of his debts, explains to Shelly that he is leaving the city for something new and no longer desires to work as the casinos cooler.  This news upsets Shelly, as it comes simultaneously, the introduction of a group of men demanding that Shelly change his casino tactics to reflect modern times, as opposed to his mafialike tactics.  As a result, Shelly hires one of the casinos drink girls Natalie (Maria Bello) to feign interest in Bernie in order to give him a reason to stay in the city.  Initially, Bernie is confused by the advances and assumes he is being tricked, however, when Natalie continues to pursue him, he invites her into his world.  Natalie, easily wins Bernie over with her sultry ways and unyielding advances, but much to Natalie's surprise Bernie's good nature and honesty begin to take hold of her.  The two fall madly in love and all appears fine, until it becomes apparent that Bernie's recent luck with Natalie is affecting his job as a cooler.  Enraged, Shelly takes it upon himself to break the couple apart, however, no amount of physical punishment or ill-will can separate the couple and after some confrontation they come close to leaving.  Unfortunately, due to some other bad decisions and an attempt to protect his punk son, Bernie accrues a larger debt making it impossible to leave without Shelly following.  In one last hurrah, Bernie tries his hand at craps, betting eighty thousand dollars on a single game.  His luck having changed allows him to win and he is able to leave the casino debt free and in possession of a substantial amount of cash.  Shelly is left to face his fading empire with rather fatal results.

The Cooler, while not an incredibly meaningful movie, does have one thing going for it.  The film is an excellent example of game theory as it concerns film criticism.  I will attempt to elaborate on game theory here a bit, but Fredrik on Film provided a far more substantial bit a few months back, concerning the theory.  In essence, game theory posits that life as it exists is a series of games in which rational people engage one another in outcomes in which they will either win or lose with an assumption that the net amount will result in equilibrium.   This excludes, however, those who are adapted to play certain "games" better or have disadvantages that will assure their constant loss at a game.  These two sides of the coin are represented in this film through Shelly and Bernie respectively.  Shelly is a hardheaded businessman who has a set of methods that appear to work for him in the long run, whether it be his brutal means of dealing with cheaters or his clinging to archaic means of casino running with the promise that the customers will be loyal.  He knows how to win the games he engages in, yet as the film proves, he is due for a loss and the equillibrium hits Shelly heavily given that the odds had for a considerable time been in his favor.  The same works for Bernie although his case is the opposite, it appears as though nothing that Bernie engages in is fruitful, yet with time and the help of other rational game players, such as Natalie, Bernie is able to accrue a few wins and help out his equilibrium.  One could look at game theory as a rationalized version of karma, except that good or bad deeds have nothing to do with out come, but that a person is destined to an average number of wins and losses over their lifespan, regardless of their ethical engagement in said life.  The Cooler, as well as many film noir masterpieces, provide the most fruitful examples of the game theory as it relates to film.

The Cooler is an enjoyable film, it will not blow you away with excellence, yet it is not a burden to watch.  This is a straight-out rental movie and one of many concerning the brutal, Darwin fueled world of Las Vegas.

21.2.12

Please, A Lady Never Admits Her Feet Hurt: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

The more Technicolor films involving Marilyn Monroe I watch, the more I realize their rather grand influence on the whole of cinema.  Whether it be the obvious examples like the cultural knowledge of a song like "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend," or less obvious things like Howard Hawks making a veritable lesson plan on how to direct a musical.  Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is as much a textbook example of how to make a musical as it is something entirely detached from its lavish and extravagant predecessors.  It is easy to attach an explanation to its lasting success, because simply put it is one of those rarely made films that are in essence perfect.  Ignoring the possibilities for social criticism, all of which can be chalked up to the societal standards at the time of the films release, there is hardly a flaw to be found in a film like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.   I found myself relishing in the glorious colors, zany dance numbers and down right hilarity of the script more than I tend to for musicals of this era.  It is certainly a feat of filmmaking and easily one of the best films to emerge from America in 1953.  However, what is perhaps the most important attribute of this film, like The Seven Year Itch, is its ability to help me detach myself from the cultural ideal of Marilyn Monroe to better understand her as the marvelous actress she was, without the lingering tragedies of her life off screen.


The film opens unabashedly with two showgirls performing on stage. These women are Lorelei (Marilyn Monroe) a woman who is almost entrepreneurial in her quest for wealthy men and her friend Dorothy (Jane Russel) who is longing to find an intimate relationship with a man that is both meaningful and void of false pretenses.  The duo is about to engage in a trip to France that is sponsored almost entirely by Lorelei's beau the foolish and rich Gus Edmond (Tommy Noonan).  Before the trip, Lorelei hopes that Gus will propose to her only to discover that he plans to hold off his asking.  While boarding the ship we are shown Gus Edmond Sr. (Taylor Holmes) demanding that private investigator Ernie Malone (Elliot Reid) watch over Lorelei to catch her in an act of infidelity.  Ernie agrees to this task but also admits to an instantaneous attraction to Dorothy, who he begins to engage with the moment they both are on the ship.  Once the ship sets sail it is apparent what the two girls are after, Lorelei is after a new suitor and Dorothy is on a quest for love, which seems impossible despite having a ship full of male athletes.  Ernie continues his quest to frame Lorelei, a task that is proving rather simple given her recent attraction to a wealthy diamond tycoon appropriately nicknamed Piggy (Charles Coburn), despite the ever-invasive presence of his wife.  However, Ernie fails to efficiently trap Lorelei in the act of infidelity, because of his preoccupation with Dorothy who becomes aware of Ernie's double life quite quickly.  Lorelei succeeds in convincing Piggy to give her a diamond tiara which belongs to his wife, an action with dire consequences as it results in both Lorelei and Dorothy's banishing by Gus to the streets of Paris with not money or residence.   Trying to free himself of trouble Piggy manages to steal back the tiara, although this does not happen before Dorothy attempts to pass as Lorelei in court, making a complete mockery of the judicial process.  Piggy manages to free the women of their assumed guilt by appearing at the courthouse with the tiara.  The women leave court and are later approached by Gus's father who is irate with Lorelei for her desire to marry his son, although Lorelei in a moment of brilliance states that her desires are no different from men wanting to marry a pretty girl, it is a matter of social status.  The film then closes on a rather high note in a double wedding of Lorelei to Gus and Dorothy to Ernie, implying that, despite their new relationships with men, the girls will still engage in their wily ways as independent women of the world.


I had the fortune of reading a few insightful articles regarding Gentlemen Prefer Blondes after viewing the film.  Both were excerpts from an older edition of Issues In Feminist Film Criticism, which focused on how positive the film was concerning its images of women.  One would be surprised to discover that the individuals that authored these articles found the women to be positively portrayed.  It would seem that the overarching patriarchal dominance that closes the film would nullify any sort of liberated image, but this is not the case when the film is taken as a whole.  As one article argued through a Marxist lens, the film is about trading commodities, and the character of Lorelei should not be seen as a woman using her body sexually for money, because it was simply a respected job for a fifties era woman.  Lorelei should be seen as an entrepreneur who engages in business transactions, all of which she gains financial advances, without ever officially giving up her commodity, which is in this film her body.  The other article discusses the two women's relationships to the filmic space, noting that they both dominate it throughout the film and serve as the focal point for most every scene in the film.  Take for example the dance and song number in the swimming area, it is clear that Dorothy dominates the men in the scene and is aggressively pursuing sexual power, a truly liberating act for women in this era.  Finally, I have mentioned The Bechdel Test on here before concerning women's images in films and it may surprise you that this film passes all the sections of the test, something films still fail to do, but something that rarely happened in 1950's films.  It is amazing to section a movie like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in such a pro-feminist place, because when one looks at a movie poster or simply recollects this era in Hollywood it is easily assumed that this occurrence was impossible.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a majestic film from the fading years of Hollwood grandeur.  It is a Technicolor masterpiece that has tragically yet to be released on Bluray.  Given this, a regular DVD will have to suffice for this must have film to any respectable collection.

20.2.12

You Destroyed Your Spirit In A Waste Of Shame: Red State (2011)

Kevin Smith has always brought a certain level of serious societal criticism to his films, whether it be a his hilarious romp through the fallacies of organized religion in Dogma or his clearly autobiographical look at lost love in Chasing Amy.  Smith, however, always manages to keep his films staunchly comedic endeavors, rarely going wholly dramatic in his approach.  This fact is what helped to make his newest film Red State something completely out of the ordinary.  Instead of being a comedic film with dashes of drama, Smith's 2011 film is the complete opposite and its very much an action/drama film that is light on its comedic hits.  One could quickly assume that a director completely stepping out of his comfort zone would produce dire results, yet to my surprise Red State is a very watchable film.  It will never make the short list for the best Kevin Smith films by any means, but it is an excellent change of pace for the director, particularly given his apparent decreasing relevance to contemporary indie discourse.  Regardless, the film is fully realized and a fresh take for Kevin Smith, not to mention given its clearly liberal leanings it was not entirely difficult for me to enjoy its scathing attack on the illogical horrors exacted by religious fundamentalist extremism.

Red State is rather bizarre in its plot, but one that seems entirely possible in American society.  The initial portion of the film focuses on three boys Travis (Michael Angarano), Randy (Ronnie Connell) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) who are unpopular in their high school, making their quest to get laid seemingly impossible.  This quest is overshadowed by their community dealing with the absurd protest of the Five Points Trinity Church at a recently murdered gay student's funeral.  Despite this, the boys are able to chase down a possible sexual encounter via a craigslist style website for sex.  Planning ahead, the group is able to get one of their parents car and travel to the location in the country outside of their small suburban town.  On the way to the encounter, they accidentally sideswipe a car which is occupied by the town sheriff and a gay prostitute.  In a panic, the group flees the scene and continues on their quest.  They quickly reach their point and find their meet-up point, which happens to be a trailer occupied by a woman named Sara (Melissa Leo).  The nervous boys adhere to Sara's demands without question, which includes downing multiple beers before stripping.  It is at this point that Sara chastises the group for attempting to engage in sodomy.  Befuddled the boys begin to lose consciousness and pass out, only to wake up to haunting spirituals and a realization that they are victims to the previously mentioned Five Points Trinity Church.  Witnessing the murder of a gay man at the hands of the church led by the maniacal, yet eerily friendly Abin Cooper (Michael Parks) the boys try to escape.  Their efforts seem futile, but luckily, the upset sheriff has sent a deputy to search for the car, which leads him to the Five Points compound.  The deputy after realizing that the situation is quite suspicious attempts to call in reinforcements, only to be shot by a member of the church.  This shooting leads to the sheriff, despite threats of blackmail by Abin, to call in the help of the ATF.  The film then enters into its second act, which focuses on Agent Keenan (John Goodman) who is a specialist in the plots and going-ons of Five Points, particularly their accrual of weapons and explosives.  Attempting to make the confiscation and removal of members from the location amiable, Keenan sets a stakeout point, only to have the sheriff ruin the plan by shooting one of the fleeing boys leading to a full-on shoot out, which leaves many killed in the process.  After much fighting and a constant changing of plans by the government the member of Five Points evacuate their facility after hearing what sound to be trumpets.  Thinking these sounds to be the act of God, Abin walks up to Keenan defiantly only to be subdued with a headbutt.  The film then cuts to Keenan at a federal hearing to justify his actions, in which he is scolded on camera, only to be told off camera that his actions were perfectly reasonable, if not hilarious, and would result in his promotion.  The film closes with Abin jailed for engaging in intended terrorist activities, with an ironic assumption that the gay acts he loathed so much would be enacted upon him frequently in jail.  It is in this closing shot that we get the most Keven Smithesque jab of the entire film.
So this film is not initially what one would expect form Kevin Smith, with that being said it is still easy to pick up his little offerings throughout the film.  The first and foremost is the raunchy characters, while they are not on the level of Jason Mewes, the young boys foul mouth and sex-crazed minds immediately place the film in the world of Kevin Smith.  Second, the film is incredibly detailed both in its narrative and in its physical world.  The characters statements, including the seemingly insane ramblings of Abin are realized and quite reflective on what an individual in such a role would say.  Furthermore, Smith's attention to details with his set is one of his best creations to date, from the civics classroom covered with quotes, pictures of presidents and reminders to the church complete with a large metal cross, children's drawings and food for a post-rapture world, this is a world that exists as a plausible reality.  It has always been a concern of Smith since his filming of life in a convenience store to promote believability and Red State certainly adheres to this notion.  Finally, and perhaps the hardest to connect between the collective works of Smith are his moments of prophetic clarity in his works.  Perhaps the most prolific of these occurs in the diner conversation between Ben Affleck's character and Jay and Silent Bob, in which Bob breaks out of his muteness to explain the woes of love and how every individual has to "chase" their own inaccessible love.  This moment of clarity occurs in the closing of Red State during the interview between Keenan and the government agents, in which Keenan realizes that the blaring horns, which actually from a practical joke played by neighboring college students, were so unexpected and illogical that such a thing as divine intervention occurs in the world, even if the source is not literally divine.  It posits the possibility of karmatic punishment and reward, without directly tying it to a deity.  It is a profound moment in a film about hateful and ignorant blindness, and one that could only come from the mind of Kevin Smith.

Just like my previous review of Restless, Red State is another great film for the year of 2011.  It is certainly not Kevin Smith's best, but one well worth owning nonetheless, particularly given the gritty beauty of the bluray release.

18.2.12

We Have So Little Time To Say The Things We Mean: Restless (2011)

I have distinct memories of watching Gus Van Sant's Elephant a few years back before I had become heavy in film viewing and critical analysis.  Despite this I remember reacting to it with awe, because I knew it was something different as far as filmmaking goes and was completely enamored by its presence.  Little did I know that Gus Van Sant was a prolific director or that he would go on to make the Oscar favorite Milk.  Needless to say, over the years I have come to appreciate Van Sant's work, particularly those dealing with the experiences of gay individuals, most notably and perhaps powerfully in his directorial debut Mala Noche.  However, when I heard about the plot for Restless I was a bit skeptical given that it was severely deterring from the usual themes of Van Sant's work in that the film concerns a heterosexual relationship.  The film though is something captivating and magnificent and certainly representative of the cinematic nature expected from Van Sant.  It is obviously inspired by The French New Wave as well as the work of Yasujiro Ozu, yet manages to contain a flair of Van Sant's honesty and approachability.  Like so many other works released in 2011, Restless suffered from competing with excellent films, this review is here to help shine light on a film that will certainly be overlooked despite being one of the better composed films I have seen in quite some time.


Restless is a love story of sorts focusing on a young man named Enoch (Henry Hopper) as he lives his life rather indifferently, playing the part of a voyeuristic funeral crasher.  Enoch's life is quite mundane and he only makes contact with his adoptive aunt Mabel (Jane Adams) who agreed to take care of him after the death of his parents.  Aside from Mabel, Enoch's only other point of contact comes from his relationship with the ghost of a WW2 Kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase).  Enoch seems destined to exist in a rather desultory life until he runs into a young woman at one of the funerals he crashes.  The woman, dressed rather androgynous, introduces herself as Annabel Cotton (Mia Wasikowska).  Enoch realizes almost instantly that Annabel is far different from any girl he has previously met.  It is clear quite quickly, however, that her difference stems heavily from her recent diagnosis with a cancer that has given her only a handful of months left to live.  Enoch, enamored with Annabel, makes it his quest to assure that she enjoy her last days of life to their fullest and help her to experience love, even if it is only momentarily.  This endeavor, however, is not void of problems.  In the process, Enoch is forced to cope with his own emotional pain of losing his parents, as well as accepting his unhealthy fixation with death, as is evident in his relationship with a non-physical entity.  Even Annabel is forced to make realizations about her passing, specifically the acknowledgement that those around her are suffering and that her own fears cannot allow her to ignore their pain.  Ultimately, Annabel passes, and in this moment Enoch transcends his past leaving Hiroshi, in a heartwrenching scene poetically filmed, and helps Annabel prepare for death.  In the films closing shots Enoch is shown preparing to speak at Annabel's funeral as a montage of memories flicker on the screen.  Instead of speaking, Enoch simply smiles as Nico's "Fairest of the Seasons" plays through the credits.  It is sweet, subtle and sentimental, without banging the viewer over the head.


I mentioned my initial concern coming into this film given that Van Sant was clearly stepping away from his traditional focus of homosexual characters.  The film certainly is not concerned with promoting a homosexual couple, although it is good to note the films large inclusion of gay actors.  With that being said, the film is quite preoccupied with focusing on unconventional notions of love and the view such love faces in a conservative society.  This has led me to reconsider Van Sant as a director who promotes multifaceted notions of romance.  While many of his films are about love between gay characters, it seems to be now, with the inclusion of Restless to his catalog, that Van Sant simply wants to focus on the fragility of love in the face of obstacles.  These obstacles to Van Sant are not simply societal norms; they can be incredibly tangible thinks like sickness, or philosophical issues like love of country.  Each are noted directly in Restless, whether it be Enoch's constant wrestling over committing to Annabel given her impending death or Hiroshi's longing for an unnamed girl who he failed to express his love to before dying at Pearl Harbor.  Incidentally, the scene in which Hiroshi's letter is read is easily one of the most sobering moments of filmmaking I have witnessed in years.  To Van Sant the tragedy of having your heartbroken is not as great as the one of never having been able to experience love.  It helps explain the closing scene of the film in which Enoch simply smiles, because one can try to explain the grandiosity and simplicity of love through words and images, yet as the closing montage reminds viewers, it is always a personal experience and one that betters a person.

I am infatuated with this newest offering from Gus Van Sant, again it does not stack well next to some of the other movies released in 2011, yet it is still spectacular.  I cannot stress enough that a copy is well worth buying, if only for the reading of Hiroshi's letter.

17.2.12

Experiments In Film: 14 Video Paintings (1981 and 1984)

For some time I had it set in my mind that nothing profoundly artistic could occur as a result of home video recording.  Simply put, the gritty, blurry and amatuerish quality of such a format was not intended to be used cinematically.  This was the opinion I felt until stumbling upon a set of experimental films created by ambient music pioneer Brian Eno.  His filmic studies titled Thursday Afternoon and Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan are perhaps some of the most portrait-like pieces of cinema I have ever seen.  Created by slowing down recordings of his New York skyline and women engaging in everything from smoking to bathing, Eno's work is meant to be enjoyed by multiple senses in an almost unconscious manner.  The film image moves quite slowly and each little details pops and fades as though it were an impressionist painting.   It would be quite fair to call Eno's works ambient, because like his music they are meant to on the atmospheric elements of cinema, as opposed to the narrative or singular aspects of cinema.  It is meant to be something that can be enjoyed slowly and obsessively without distractions, as well as passively in the background of a party or other activities.  In essence, it is purely experiential cinema that is viewable in a variety of manners.

The mastery of Eno's experimental cinema is that it works as a literal piece of art.  Mistaken Memories incorporates notions of landscape painting, while Thursday Afternoon is clearly a rethinking of portraiture.  However, what separates Eno's work from a traditional painting is that it does in fact move, even if the movement is nearly undetectable.  Furthermore, the simple placement of ambient music to his pieces elevates the work to a new level of experimental art in that it is a hybrid of visual and aural experience that simply does not occur enough in the avant-garde community.  Finally, and perhaps most surprising is Eno's use of filters and camera effects in Thursday Afternoon to distort his images.  This technique was so overused with the onset of home video that I had become disdainful of anything involving its use, however, as should be little surprise Eno makes it seem poetic, provocative and fresh.  Simply put, Eno is, as with his music, very aware of each subtle detail in his films that it becomes a thing of both grand beauty and obsessive minutia that is fantastically mesmerizing.  I know that I am gloating on Eno's films to great length, but having already loved his music, 14 Video Paintings only makes me admire the man more and more.

For more information on Brian Eno or to watch an example of his work click either of the film stills below.  A warning that Thursday Afternoon technically contains nudity, although it is more in lines with a nude painting:



 

16.2.12

Top Ten Thursdays: Women In Movies That You May Not Know About

So as my blog may reflect, I am concerned with films that promote alternative narratives.  One of the most important of these narratives are those regarding women.  It is tragic that the voices of women do not occupy a larger place in cinematic history both on screen and behind the camera.  I am offering a list of my favorite movies involving women as the main character, or the films most prominent character.   However, instead of pushing the usual list of films that would undoubtedly include Alien, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Kill Bill, I am delivering a list of films that you may not have heard about until now.  They are all excellent and among some of my personal favorites.

10.) Damned If You Don't (1987)

Su Friedrich's experimental film is part rereading of Black Narcissus and part critique of Catholicism.  It is a film in the realm of its own that is well worth watching.






9.) Mother (2009)

A film about a mother defending her mentally challenged son from an accused murder, this South Korean masterpiece is a stellar thriller.









8.) Black Girl (1966)

Remember all those notable films which focus directly on the experiences of black women...I thought so.  Well her is one of the few examples, and it was released in 1966 no less.









7.) The Lady Eve (1941)

Barbara Stanwyck is spot-on as a lady con artist making Henry Fonda look like a fool.












6.) The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

A more sensuous movie does not exist, yet the movie has absolutely nothing to do with burgeoning sexuality...theoretically.








5.) Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961)

There have been a slew of cancer narratives since the release of this Agnes Varda film, yet none of them manage to touch the subject with such subtlety and transcendence.







4.) Perfect Blue (1998)

Few anime films deal with women in a positive manner and dismiss them as fodder for men.  Perfect Blue focuses on the tragedy that ensues from such ideologies.






3.) So Proudly We Hail! (1943)

American World War II propaganda films like Bataan and Casablanca are the reason this excellent film is overlooked, which is a shame because it is star-studded and spectacular.









2.) The Girlfriend Experience (2009)

Soderbergh's low fidelity film about a call girl, played by porn star Sasha Grey, is an excellent study in the paranoia of infidelity and the gritty realities of human sexuality.






1.) Viridiana (1961)

My favorite Bunuel film, Viridiana is a prolific realization of the problematic fetishization of nuns and the virginal woman.








Honorable Mention

The Blue Angel (1930)
A Nos Amours (1987)
Boarding Gate (2007)

15.2.12

I'm Gonna Shoot Straight, You Guys Aren't Famous Anymore: The Muppets (2011)

I heard a variety of opinions concerning the newest offering from The Muppets franchise, some individuals gave it unprecedented praise calling it one of the best children's movies to come out in ages, other called it a disgrace claiming that it did an injustice to the franchise and that Jason Segal had no businesses involving himself in what was rightfully the world of Jim Henson.  I went into The Muppets cautiously knowing better than to let any single opinion cloud my judgment.  Given this though, I would definitely have to side with the former opinions, what The Muppets offers is a fresh take on an old staple of kid's movies and it does so without losing its contemporary audience or its loyal fans of years gone by.  I found myself unusually emotional towards the film, not because it is particularly sad, but because it is so loaded with nostalgia that I could not help to become tied to the story in a very honest way.  Sure Jim Henson's touch is missing to the film, it was going to from the beginning, but with the help of Jason Segal the film and the franchise maintains its exceptional mixture of slapstick comedy and post-modern magnificence that one has always associated with The Muppets.  Not to mention for being a pseudo-musical it has some catchy music, which is a blend of old favorites like "The Rainbow Connection" as well as some new songs, most notably Jason Segal's wonderfully grandiose song "Man or Muppet."  To be fair the film is not for everyone, but it would take a really cold heart not to enjoy some aspect of this charming movie.


The newest addition to the franchise approaches the Muppets traditional plot a bit differently in that it has sequestered all the old Muppets into the background and instead focuses on a new Muppet named Walter, who lives beside his non-Muppet brother Gary (Jason Segal).  The brothers have grown up together avid fans of all things Muppet, although it is made quite clear that Walter has a much stronger connection to the show, given his literal puppet physique.  Walter and Gary live a happy life in Smalltown, where Gary spends a large amount of time with his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) as they plan their trip to Los Angeles.  Although Walter is happy, his life is clearly unfulfilled because no matter how friendly or accepted he is it is obvious that he is different.  Gary realizes Walter's pain and despite Mary longing for alone time with Gary, she agrees to allow Walter to tag along for their trip to Los Angeles.  Walter makes it a goal for their first stop to be the now dilapidated Muppet Studios.  Disillusioned by the nostalgia, Walter overlooks the dire state of the studios and sneaks into Kermit's office.  During this, he overhears a plan by wealthy oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to buy the studio and drill for oil, thus destroying the studio and any remnants of cultural memory concerning The Muppets.  Enraged Walter bust out of the studio and demands that he and his brother do everything in their power to assure that the studio remains intact.  This process is quite difficult given that it requires Walter to not only reunite The Muppets, but to make them culturally relevant, a task that their agent Veronica Martin (Rashida Jones) notes is almost impossible, without obtaining the endorsement of a relevant celebrity.  After the rather burdensome task of reuniting The Muppets and gaining the unwilling support of Jack Black, The Muppet Show is aired once again to national audiences in the form of a telethon asking American's to raise money for the purchasing of the studio back from Richman.  Richman, however, makes this no easy task and engages in various acts of sabotage throughout the telethon.  When it appears as though The Muppets have gained just enough money to regain their studios an accident occurs, which reveals a glitch in the system.  The Muppets fail to gain the money and the studio is handed over to Richman.  Fortunately for the group, a stray bowling ball knocks Richman unconscious and upon waking he has a change of heart and returns the studio to its rightful owner.  Furthermore, in the process both Walter and Gary come to understand their place in society, Gary being "a Muppet of a man," while Walter is "one manly Muppet."  It is sweet, endearing and an excellent lesson in self-acceptance for all those who view the film.


So after exiting the theater I could not help but be intrigued by how pertinent of a film it was, particularly for its release in 2011.  Leave it to a children's movie to do the best job at capturing the sentiment of American ideology as it relates to this past year.  While I am not a staunch supporter of all ideologies posited by Occupy Wall Street, I certainly shared many of their sentiments as they relate to oppression by the corporate world onto those less fortunate.  This film studies that ideal intensely and places Tex Richman in a role as oppressor and The Muppets as protestors of his oppression.  Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, The Muppets are initially unsuccessful in their revolt and fail to topple the corporate powerhouse, however, when it is revealed that an insurmountable force has gathered to support The Muppet it is apparent that no amount of financial strong arming can overcome their desires.  I mean it is no coincidence that the film's closing scene is inundated with people holding signs with words of support for The Muppets.  It may seem relevant to the plot, but it certainly has a connotation of the many protest signs seen last year.  Furthermore, the film focuses on the narratives of an "overlooked" group, in this case The Muppets serve as this overlooked people, and it is not until they receive the support of those with privilege that they gain relevance.  In this case, it is the seemingly unending offering of celebrity cameos in the film, all of whom join the cause to help make The Muppet name relevant.  It is reminiscent of revolution as far as media coverage is concerned, a protest may make news if it gets violent or large, however, the addition of a celebrity or person of power to a cause almost always guarantees it a media presence.  The film does this and it does it with great poise.  It is a film that is both blatantly and subtly in unison with the ideals of revolution from the past year, and I direct my praise to James Bobin for masking it in a children's movie with such brilliance.  I am now less confused as to why the film has almost a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

This is a film that is enjoyable on multiple levels and well worth watching with friends.  It is still making its run through the theaters and there is no reason not to jump at the chance to view it in that setting.

They're Just Flying Around, Looking Dangerous, Getting By On Their Looks: The Informant! (2009)

I remember hearing about this film during an NPR interview and being instantly intrigued by how bizarre the film sounded.  At that point in time, I was not quite versed enough in film to associate the work with director Steven Soderbergh, despite having seen all the Ocean's movies and even owning his genius comedy Schizopolis.  When watching this film I could not get over how absurdly fictitious the film was, yet so incredibly believable.  I assumed it to be some excellent fabrication of all the worst problems in The United States as seen by Soderbergh.  This was how I was feeling until the film ended and I realized that it was by no mean fictitious, but indeed a very real story, on that had occurred right underneath Americans noses in the nineties.  What is delivered with a film like The Informant! is a story so fantastical and reprehensible that a viewer can only make light of it, for to take such a story serious would be an incredibly depressing endeavor.  I want to refer to the film as a piece of conspiracy cinema, because it is so entrenched in a anti-government paranoia, yet the fact of the matter is that the main character was deserved in his concerns for he was legitimately engaging in illegal behavior.  Perhaps it is Matt Damon's excellent performance or the possibility that the film only works in the crafty hands of Steven Soderbergh, but damn if this is not one of the most overlooked films of 2009.


The films focus is on Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) a wholesome agricultural engineer turned businessman at Illinois based business ADM.  A pedantic, walking encyclopedia, Mark discovers that his company is engaging in illegal price fixing affairs and draws this to the attention of his superiors.  Rather confused by the claim, Mark's superiors take his accusations seriously and bring in the FBI to begin an investigation.  The FBI agents, played spot on by Scott Bakula and Joel McHale begin questioning a considerably helpful staff at ADM only to be informed by Mark that his superiors are indeed lying to the government.  At this point, the agents recruit Mark to help with their investigation as a sort of inside man to the going-ons of ADM on a global scale, particularly their relations with their Asian affiliates who appear to be the most active in the price gouging.  As the case grows bigger so do Mark's accusations and inabilities, when asked to provide specific details or to tap conversations Mark consistently evades the tasks, claiming that he either cannot perform the task or has obtained a sudden loss of memory to a situation.  Faltering between incredibly jovial behavior and insanity Mark clearly suffers from delusions of grandeur, which come to fruition when it is realized by an investigator at the now closed ADM that Mark himself had been engaging in his own illicit monetary scams and had indeed used the entire gouging accusation as a distraction for his own transferring of funds to the tune of nearly ten million dollars.  Even when Mark is faced with the blatant facts that he has committed serious fraud he smiles and claims that his actions were rather arbitrary compared to his superiors.  When told that their actions were indeed fabricated and that he would have to spend time in jail, Mark becomes furious and claims that he was nothing more than a puppet for the FBI.  In his fury, he attempts to bring down the agents he aided, by claiming they assaulted him and is successful in removing one of them from service before being jailed.  The film closes with an interview with Mark from a decade later as he is leaving federal prison, in the interview Mark asks for a presidential pardon for his unjust criminal record and claims innocence from all wrongdoing.  The film then closes with an explanation that it was later realized that Mark swindled a larger amount of money than even the government initially realized.  It is a stellar display of the many faces of corruption, which at times can be incredibly friendly.

I am tempted to go into detail on corruption and big business as it is one of the integral themes of the film and obviously a large concern for Soderbergh, however, I feel as though the film speaks to this a great deal and to elaborate would be redundant.  Instead, I want to discuss the casting choices for the film as they help to elucidate the absurdity for which Soderbergh's film attempts to portray.  Excluding Matt Damon, who is simply an excellent actor and the character of Ginger Whitacre played by Melanie Lynskey, better known for playing opposite Kate Winslett in Heavenly Creatures, the cast is meant to be comedic.  Actors like Tony Hale, Patton Oswalt and Joel McHale comprise the film, not necessarily, because they are excellent at acting overall, but because they are capable of committing to images and actions that are so far gone from logic without the slightest inclination of it being ridiculous.  One only needs to think of Tony Hale as Buster Bluth to realize how good Hale is at delivering the absurd, which is what allows him to play Mark's lawyer with equal parts ease and theatrics, without the entire performance seeming forced.  The viewer will instantly feel for Hale's character that is simply attempting to defend a crazed man, but has only begun to realize how truly gone his defendant has become.  Even the choice of Scott Bakula as Special Agent Brian Shepard is intentional, because as viewers will instantly recognize him as Quantum Leap's Sam Beckett.  Given the rather unconventional plot of the sci-fi show, it is no surprise that Bakula brings an earnestness to the character of Shepard despite the narratives seeming unconventionality.  As a character, Shepard is asked to believe some rather implausible things, and Bakula makes this seem easy.  With all this being said a large amount of the praise should be given to Matt Damon for his performance.  The film is easily one of the highlights of his career and it is a shame Damon was beat out by a handful of serious films for a Best Actor nod.

The Informant! is a fine example of the multiple faces of Soderbergh as a director.  It is easily his funniest film and a refreshing contrast to his more conventional Hollywood releases.  I cannot urge you enough to get your own copy.

12.2.12

He Want's You To Disappear For A Little While: Boarding Gate (2007)

Olivier Assayas has become a popular name as far as art house filmmaking is concerned.  His film Summer Hours received a large amount of critical acclaim upon its release and his miniseries Carlos while controversial has become the definitive biopic of the past few years.  I knew this before picking up my copy of Boarding Gate and was thoroughly confused by the cover and general concept of the film.  It simply did not looks or sounds like something that the acclaimed French director could have possibly conceived.  I was still uncertain as the first few minute of the film occurred and it was apparent that Michael Madsen phoned in his entire performance.  However, as the film became more complex and surreal I started to pick up on  Assayas's style and the film intrigued me and when the ambient tones of Brian Eno kicked in I was consumed.  The movie is an unpredictable and unusual approach to deceit and infidelity in a way that stand alone.  Not to mention the movie is incredibly self-aware about its sex appeal, without making the film glossy in its sensuous approach.  It is gritty and reminds viewers, like Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, that intimacy is a very real thing that can have very tragic results.


The film focuses on the intertwined relationships of a group of people engaging in activities that would be described as illegal.  The first person introduced is Miles (Michael Madsen) an aging adviser for a security company who has admitted to a partner that he is selling his shares in the company because of some mismanaged money.  It is uncertain about where this money could have possibly gone, until Miles is informed that he has a guest in the lobby.  This guest is ex-prostitute Sandra (Asia Argento) who is also Miles's former lover.  She has come to explain to him that she has found a new job and is far removed from relying on his wealth.  Miles is skeptical of Sandra's claims, but allows her to leave contingent on her agreeing to stop by his place later.  Sandra is then shown working at a shipping company with her friends and employers Lester (Carl Ng) and Sue Wang (Kelly Lin) who are married.  It is also apparent that the shipping company is cover for drug smuggling that turns awry when a deal goes bad involving Sandra.  Fortunately, Sandra is rescued by Lester who then has an awkward sexual encounter before leaving her to her own devices.  Sandra also engages in her meeting with Miles, which involves her dangling her sexuality over Miles before killing him in half defense and half rage.  This murder leads to Lester offering help to Sandra to travel to China to hide.  However, given the illegal nature of her act Lester demands that she avoid contact given that the authorities would certainly be after her.  The trip is secretive and leads Sandra to the underworld of China and multiple near death experiences, one of which involves Sue trying to exact revenge for her infidelity with Lester.  However, due to her streetwise nature Sandra is able to escape from the situation and receives aid from Kay (Kim Gordon) an enigmatic woman who appears to have complete control of the reigns that are underworld China.  Sandra then attempts to exact revenge on Lester by following him to a restaurant.  She is only moments away from stabbing Lester when she witnesses him exchanging briefcases with the man Miles had originally talked to at the films opening.  Every characters' intertwined experiences result in Sandra realizing that revenge is arbitrary and that she can do more good by succeeding ethically. 


The film is excellent as far as narrative is concerned.  It is somewhat difficult to watch the acting at times given what seems to be the director's inability to direct actors outside of his language.  It can be insufferable at times, but the overall quality of the film far outshines this flaw.  What I specifically love about this film is the international nature of the film.  It involves actors from The United States, China, Italy and other nations as well as a director who is French.  The film is set in multiple locations, centering heavily on the narrative as it occurs in Beijing and Paris.  It may seem like a rather arbitrary thing to make a huge deal out of, yet it is simply not a common occurrence that a film crosses as many boarders as Boarding Gate does.  The multiple nationalities involved in the film certainly add another layer of relevance to the films title.  It is a veritable boarding gate of a film in the constant intersections of culture and identity in a way that forces individuals to acknowledge their previously ignored presence.  This also helps explain the abrupt ending to the film that leaves films considerably unfulfilled.  Sandra could have exacted revenge to Lester thus completing her already brutal spree of murders.  However, as she watches Lester leave the restaurant and enter his car after engaging in what are most certainly illicit activities, she realizes that her attacks against others are only acidic to progression.  She changes her behavior to reflect somebody who desires to engage in the world stage productively, even if those intersections only occur in passing.

Boarding Gate is an excellent film, but not a piece of cinema.  It fails to gather cohesion enough to deliver an entire concept and seems much more a series of scattered statements than a fully realized philosophy.  With that being said, the film is worth watching via rental.  Also, it has one of the coolest credit songs I have head in awhile.

10.2.12

What I Believe In Is Called The Constitution Of The United States Of America: The Ides Of March (2011)

Sometimes you can tell by a trailer alone that a film will be fantastic, this is certainly the case with The Ides of March.  I am sure that a large constituent of people dismissed this film solely because it was directed by George Clooney or because it was a political film, however, those who instantly disregarded this film are missing out on something special.  The Ides of March is an honest film about the deceitful and theatrical world of political performance and the unforeseen effects such illusions of normalcy have on the private lives of those involved.  It is a film so intertwined with the desires and beliefs of each character shown that is becomes almost impossible to choose a character that you like, or can even tolerate.  It is clear from the onset that we are to side with certain individuals, but even with this information, the viewer cannot help to disdain their involvement in unethical endeavors, even if they are simply doing so to survive in the Darwinian inspired landscape of American politics.  I know those past few sentences seem like incoherent ramblings, yet it is the best I thing I could provide to even begin to explain the intensity of this film.


The film centers mostly on the actions and experiences of Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) a up and coming speech writing prodigy for the democratic governor Mike Morris (George Clooney)  who is seeking the candidacy of president.  Myers is keen at his job as in a major factor in assuring that Morris receives the nod from his party, despite facing tough competition against a senator named Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell).  Assisted by weathered political adviser Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) the Morris campaign is invincible and even has the assistance of the media via New York Times writer Ida (Marissa Tomei).  Everything seems set to work brilliantly, until Myers receives an unusual call from the competing campaigns adviser Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) requesting that they get lunch and discuss things.  Myers is justifiably suspicious but agrees to meet with Duffy regardless.  When he engages in this meeting, he quickly realizes his mistake, as Duffy attempts to recruit him to Pullman's campaign.  Upset and confused Myers leaves the restaurant and decides to take up a dinner invitation from one of the interns for the Morris campaign.  The young girl Myers has dinner with is one Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) whose father heads the Democratic National Committee.  Regardless of the blatant problems with sleeping with Stearns, Myers decides to pursue a relationship with her because he finds her exceptionally intriguing.  Their romance seems to be probable until they are together and Myers accidentally picks up a call for her from Morris.  Realizing the inherent issues in his discovery Myers demands that Stearns ceases all contact with the governor.  However, this request is not simple given that Stearns has become pregnant as a result of her encounter with Morris.  This all comes in the face of the Morris campaign discovering Myers recent meeting, which leads to his removal from the campaign.  His removal is quickly trivialized when it is discovered that Stearns has overdosed on prescription drugs, one that she received after the realization that her recent abortion was more about Morris's political image than her own comfort.  Myers seizes this opportunity, with some emotional turmoil, and uses his knowledge to regain access to the Morris campaign, in a backroom shadowy scene that is reminiscent to Network.  The film then closes on Myers reengaging in the Morris campaign with a new look in his eyes; one that is a combination of disillusionment and disdain for all that is political.


I mentioned the film being an incredibly personal look at the effects of politics on individuals, which perhaps helps to explain the uncomfortable detachment I felt as a viewer.  It helps truly elucidate the impossibilities of any political figure truly representing the ideals of every individual, because what is relevant to one person may completely illogical or counterintuitive to another.   Take for example the candidates desires to win over the Democratic senator Franklin Thompson's (Jeffery Wright) nod of support.  Both realize that the endorsement of his voters, if only verbal, could be the single factor in influencing the actions of the remaining election.  However, they also realize that in order to gain such support they must be willing to provide a substantial offer in return, in this case cabinet positions.  It may seem as though Thompson's actions are conniving and dishonest, however, the simple fact is that he is concerned with his future in politics, which rest on assuring his place in a political position.  Similarly, Myers reacts to the announcement of Stearns pregnancy with little joy and, in fact, much disdain.   Myers is justified in his concern, because as he notes a politician one can get away with pretty much anything, but sleeping with interns is the obvious exception.  Myers is reacting out of concern for Morris's political image, which inevitably means his future employment.   In an idea situation Myer's would prefer what is best for Stearns, however, politics muck up everything and often have very dire and fatal results.  The film shows how quickly politics concerning the repressed on a large scale disappear simply because each individual has an insurmountable amount of ulterior motives.

The Ides of March is yet another movie from an outstanding year of filmmaking, to call it middle of the road would be true for 2011, yet if it were released in any other year, it would be one of the best movies of the year.  Grab a copy and watch it, it is an intensely real film experience.

9.2.12

Top Ten Thursdays: Cool Movies

Cool is such an distinct word when it comes to film.  What makes a cool movie?  That is a question that could have a distinctly different answer contingent on the person.  Furthermore, so many factors go into a film being cool whether it be soundtrack, characters or quotability it is a distinct mixture that results in a successful cool movie.  This list will cover my personal choices for the hippest of the hip in film and remember that when it comes to cool, everything must be chill.

10.) The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (1966)

This is easily the coolest western to date, and the shootout is an exercise in how to edit.






9.) Chungking Express (1994)

A surrealist love story, Wong Kar Wai's film is as cool as it is honest in its approach to finding love in a technologically distancing world.








8.) Easy Rider (1969)

If it were not enough that this film is a veritable who's who of 60's coolest actors, the soundtrack is a historical document of the era.








7.) The Long Goodbye (1973)

Robert Altman's neonoir redefined what it meant to be a cool detective via the laid back performance of Elliot Gould.












6.) Hardboiled (1992)

Violence rarely justifies a cool movie, yet when it comes to John Woo's films, something about shootouts in hospitals overrules the previous statement.







5.) The Big Lebowski (1998)

Sometimes the coolest thing a person can do is abide.













4.) Breathless (1960)

When it comes to cool, the pentacle of french filmmaking runs circles around every other story of foreign love to date.












3.) Pulp Fiction (1994)

Any movie that incorporates a scene just to have Christopher Walken provide a monologue is in its own category of cool.









2.) Le Samourai (1967)

When you read the description of this film it would be hard to believe in its hipness, however, this lone wolf story is about as cool as they get.







1.) Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Please refer to the film's title for any questions.










Honorable Mention

The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Withnail and I (1987)
Mystery Train (1989)
True Romance (1993)

8.2.12

If You Haven't Noticed I Am A Woman Now. I Wear A Bra!: Angus, Thongs And Perfect Snogging (2008)

I do not make it a method of mine to frequent young teen movies unless they have in some form or manner received critical acclaim.  Usually such films are entrenched in humor for their adult audiences as well, most teen films fail to do this and this failure makes them unbearable to watch.  I was somewhat concerned when approaching Gurinder Chada's Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, given that I was somewhat certain that it would fall into this dreaded category.  However, the films heartfelt simplicity paired with teenage visions of their lives little occurrences being grandiose in importance results in an enjoyable film that is both hilarious and poignant in a study of both first love and lasting love of older generations.  To say that this film is not concerned with its adult viewers is both a true and false statement.  The references and cultural setting are certainly intended for a young audience and in no way cater to adult sentiment, however, the thematic overtones concerning love; lust and romantic honesty are surprisingly adult in their demeanor.  It is what a well-budgeted film for teenagers should be, yet it to my knowledge stands apart from many of its contemporaries and predecessors for that manner.


This coming of the age tale centers on Georgia (Georgia Groome) a teenage schoolgirl facing the woes of puberty in a seemingly perfect English school.  Along with her group of politically correct diverse friends, she undertakes the goal of finding a boyfriend who will provide her with a perfect snogging, which in this film refers to making out.  Georgia finds her love interest in new boy from London named Robbie (Aaron Johnson) who, along with his brother, has moved to her town to help run their mother's organic grocery store.  Georgia begins to undertake a plan to win over Robbie, which involves everything from playing up on their shared affection for cats to separating Robbie from her snooty girlfriend Lindsay (Kimberly Nixon).  Along with the help of her friends, which inevitably results in jealousy and betrayal that almost divides her friendships.  It seems for a good portion of this film that Georgia is so blindly preoccupied with Robbie that she cannot concern herself with maintaining normalcy with any other thing in her life.  This lack of concern is most problematic in facing the problems of her parent's seemingly crumbling love life, which is a combination of her father's sudden moving to New Zealand and her mothers obvious infatuation with a recently hired interior designer.  All seems tragically lost for Georgia until she wakes up from her delusion and realizes it is of far greater importance to rekindle her familial relations than to win over Robbie.  Fortunately for Georgia, in what are perhaps the most formulaic moments in the film, she succeeds in reconnecting her parents and also wins over Robbie, not to mention that she regains her friendships.  All of this is done prior to her birthday party, which proves to be a huge success and an assurance that her future teen years will be fun and minimal in stress.

The excellence of this film is its rather adult study of relationships for being what is consistently a teenage movie.  To put it bluntly, Twilight wishes it could be this astute.  Georgia, and her friends for that matter, all appear to exist in a rather middle class world, yet they face relatively unconventional issues, whether it be the case of some characters dealing with issues of minority or others apparently lacking a parental guide whatsoever. Georgia even faces the very real possibility that her parents might end up divorced, which helps her to realize her distress over Robbie to be a thing that lacks relative importance.  The film, however, never really bangs the viewer over the head with the issue, sure Georgia makes note of the ridiculous nature of having to up and move to New Zealand or that her mother appears to be throwing herself at another man.  Yet, it is not the major portion of the dialogue that is occupied by her lust for Robbie.  However, the scenes involving reflection on her current status with Robbie almost always occur following a new realization about her parents love.  During the opening scenes, she is disgusted by her parent's intimacy, which parallels with her own ignorance about relationships and love.  This changes as her parents relationship becomes tumultuous, when her parents are fighting, her own relationships crumble.  Fortunately, it becomes apparent that Georgia's parents very much love each other and it is during this realization that her own love life blossoms, because she is capable of understanding how to love not just psychically, but emotionally as well.  Again, it is an incredibly profound bit of filmmaking for being a traditional teenage romantic comedy.

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging is a great little film.  I do not know that it is necessary to own, but it is a must watch.  I also encourage you to compare Angus the cat to any felines you own, it is almost impossible not to, also the soundtrack is pretty awesome.

6.2.12

Chopping Wood and Shooting Prostitues: Revanche (2008)

I am starting to realize that a trend exists in European cinema that appears to have began around the mid-nineties with emotionally and visually jarring films such as La Haine.  This style of cinema is one that adheres to gritty and often brutal stories of the underworld of Europe and often portrays such narratives with little concern for viewers comfort.  These often urban films are different from their film noir predecessors in that they are not emotionally detached from their subject, but instead very much involved in their story to the point that one viewing this type of film begins to empathize with a character even if they are completely detestable.  Gotz Spielman's Austrian thriller Revanche is such a film, however, unlike its predecessors; it takes the urban experience and forces it to collide rather chaotically with the rural and suburban world.  The result is a poetically abrasive film about people moving in and out of the dredges of society and the relationships they share that are both life affirming and life changing in the process.

The film focuses directly on Alex (Johannes Krisch) a recently released convict who has found employment as a bounder/errand man for the owner of strip club and brothel.  While working at the establishment, Alex begins to formulate a relationship with one of the employees, a Ukranian prostitute named Tamara (Irina Potapenko).  Their relationship, while secretive appears to be working, until Alex's boss takes a personal likening to Tamara, offering her a job as a high end escort.  Realizing his boss's ulterior motives Alex hatches a plan to rob a bank and flee to Spain with Tamara.  This occurs simultaneous to the film depicting the relationship of grocery store employee Susanne (Ursulla Strauss) and her cop husband Robert (Andreas Lust) whose marriage has been rather rocky after the realization of Robert's infertility issues.  These two narratives seem distinct were it not for the fact that Susanne and Robert's closest neighbor is Alex's aging father Hausner (Johannes Thanheiser).  The robbery that Alex undertakes appears to be successful, despite taking Tamara along with him for the heist, however, due almost entirely to chance Robert is the person on duty during the robbery and approaches Tamara out of suspicion while Alex is committing the robbery.  When Alex still wearing his robber's mask returns to his car he finds Robert questioning Tamara and in a fit of panic forces Robert to drop his weapon and lay on the ground.  After Alex and Tamara make a getaway Robert shoots at the car in an attempt to blow the tires, unfortunately, his gun misses and hits Tamara in the head.  Realizing that the cops will search for him Alex ditches his car and heads to hideout at his father's house under the guise of helping him with some large scale chores, the biggest of which is his cutting of wood for the fireplace.  During his time there he realizes that Hausner's neighbors are indeed Susanne and Robert whom he recognizes instantly as Tamara's killer.  Alex then spends the rest of the film plotting revenge on Robert, which in Alex's eyes means death.  However, Alex certainly does not shy away from the opportunity to sleep with Susanne as a point of revenge.  This portion of the film is lengthy and drawn out purposefully, but as it ends we witness Susanne using her infidelity as a guise for successful pregnancy, while Robert unknowingly confesses to Alex his guilt upon accidentally murdering Tamara, which leads to an unspoken forgiveness.  In fact, Alex seems to be free of any association to the robbery were it not for Susanne's discovery of a photograph of Tamara in Alex's possession, which leads her to piece all the events together.  She realizes though that to turn Alex in would be to forfeit her newly rejuvenated relationship with Robert, something she cannot bear to do.  As such the film closes with Alex picking apples up outside his father's house continuing in his life with a fresh start, even if the new life came at a dire cost.

Revanche is spectacular in its unconventional approach to a revenge film.  This is a revenge narrative with an incredibly slow burn.  Compare Revanche to a film like Taken in which the character is all out in his actions and scenes are incredibly violent and occur frequently.  The violence in Revanche is minimal, but the threat of it is ever present.  The unusual nature of this plot can be tied directly to the fact that ethically speaking Alex does not have a justifiable reason to seek revenge.  In the case of Tamara's death, it was a legitimate accident and one that could have been prevented had Alex simply told Tamara to wait for him while he engaged in his theft.  This leaves the viewer in an interesting scenario, because they cannot simply support Alex's decision.  Reading the film in such a way makes actions like his involvement with Susanne all the more intriguing.  His decision to take advantage of her sexually is unusual, but somehow manages to seem more appropriate as a means of revenge than killing her or Robert.  It is as though he is making a mark for Tamara, without destroying anything.  In fact, as the film implies he could very well be responsible for Susanne's pregnancy.  If this is the case than Alex has delivered the ultimate form of revenge and only himself and Susanne will be aware.  Furthermore, Alex's continual chopping of wood becomes a sort of penance for his misdeeds and an attempt at meditation on his life up to this point.  In the end, Alex is left to accept the error of his ways and engage in a life that assures loneliness, but also the impossibility of reoccurring heartbreak.

I had the pleasure of viewing Revanche on 35 mm print.  It is certainly not feasible to do so for everyone, thankfully the folks at Criterion released a bluray version that is probably almost as nice.

4.2.12

My Film World: Vampires and Violets: Lesbians In Film

This will be a rather quick post as I am pressed for time, but I just wanted to take a moment to make note of a book I read recently concerning the image of lesbians in world cinema.  The book titled Vampires and Violets: Lesbians In Film From The Crossdressing Stars, Dietrich and Garbo, To The Vampires Of The Late 60's, To Silkwood And The Color Purple.  The title itself is rather all encompassing, which nicely reflects the broad nature of the piece.  Author, Andrea Weiss, better known for her documentary After Stonewall, takes great care to discuss both the blatant and repressed images of lesbians in film.  The work is concise and approachable and truly considers what actresses were projecting in their roles, as well as approaching the notion of what gay women would have felt watching these projected images.  Perhaps the best part of the entire work though is Weiss's persistence in being extremely critical of the imagery she discusses.  Instead of simply noting the existence of such films, Weiss intensively breaks down the problems and products of each image, often arguing that even the most liberal of lesbian imagery is entrenched within patriarchal oppression.  Fortunately, Weiss finds optimism in the films closing chapter as she discusses the power experimental films have had in the previous two decades.  It is an honest read that is neither preachy nor indifferent.  I cannot recommend it enough, snag your own copy and enjoy.

   (Su Friedrich's 1987 film Damned If You Don't receives heavy discussion from Weiss, and deservedly so because it is a truly intense portrait of repressed lesbianism.)