I'm Irish. Racism Is Part Of My Culture: The Guard (2011)

Many a films have dealt with the issues of what happens when the rural meets the urban, particularly when concerned with crime dealings.  However, when this concept is put in the hands of John Michael McDonagh, perhaps the most underrated director working right now, viewers are given a completely irreverent reversal of the traditional characters we expect in such a film.  Instead of the urban detective being foul-mouthed and slightly corrupt, The Guard decides to make the rural Irishman the person traipsing the line of good and evil, which when we consider the nature of society, this seems like a slightly more believable situation.  Nothing, and trust me I mean nothing, is bad about The Guard, like McDonagh's other masterpiece, In Bruges, this film is funny throughout, never collapsing to notions of political correctness, but also managing never to be in bad taste.  McDonagh plays up on racist ignorance and stereotypes in a more general sense in many of his works, but manages to always undermine them, while also providing voices to individuals who more often than not lack a representation in cinema.  As is always the case with McDonagh, viewers are offered a brilliant narrative that is riveting, tense and always rewarding, often flipping the entire understanding of who is to be trusted throughout the film.  Characters are always flawed within the film, but somehow it is easy to come to love them nonetheless, even the bad guys who inhabit The Guard are either so philosophically bad ass or madly insane that you cannot help but love them.  I know I could receive a lot of flack for making a suggestion such as this, but John Michael McDonagh, exists within the same vein as Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie, but manages to be way way cooler when all is said and done.  So if you have not figured it out by now, I am enthralled by The Guard and find it to be everything one could want from not only a comedy, but a solid piece of cinema in general.

The Guard centers on the life of Seargant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) a foul-mouthed local cop who has no qualms exploiting the petty criminals of his small island town, with the intent of taking drugs, engaging in sex with prostitutes and dismissing his co-workers until he dies.  It seems as though Boyle will get away with his hazardous life of carefree exploits, until he is assigned a new partner Aiden McBride (Rory Keenan), who is young and gung-ho to fight crime.  When an inexplicable murder occurs, Boyle's new partner demands that they pour everything into getting to the bottom of it, Boyle mocks his eagerness and continues on his daily gallivanting as though nothing occurred.  Things change drastically though when FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) enters the picture.  Wendell brings news of a large scale drug trafficking case that involves men from London and Dublin who have taken up residence in Boyle's small island community.  Forced to become involved with the case Boyle moves through the motions of an investigation, only become more concerned when McBride is inexplicably assassinated.  The result of McBride's death is the forced cooperation of Boyle and Everett which leads to a series of uproarious encounters, most predicated on Boyle's latent racist ideologies, something for which he never apologizes.  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes evident that the entirety of the Irish police force is being bribed to turn a blind eye to the going-ons, something that Boyle becomes aware of after his own blackmail.  The only person unaware of the corruption occuring is Everett who succumbs to a lack of evidence and plans to leave for The States the next day.  Boyle assumes no role to inform him of his misinformation, until he himself is threatened by one of the criminals, something that sparks a nerve in Boyle to do the right thing.  After killing his captor, Boyle informs Everett of what has occurred and undertakes a revenge and destruction of the drug lords, eventually accruing the help of Everett in the process.  Boyle is lost at sea during the shootout and we are left uncertain of whether he survives, but the ending suggests that Everett has come to respect Boyle not only as a cop, but as a friend as well.

As could be said about any of McDonagh's work, The Guard occupies a variety of different points of criticism and in a rare occurrence I have decided to list a few of them as opposed to focusing on one specifically, it is just such a rich film that to pick specifics would be an injustice.  First off, as I noted earlier in the introduction, McDonagh often focuses on voices that fall to the way side in cinema, particularly crime thrillers.  In the case of The Guard voices are given to a black cop, a gay male, and even a Croatian woman, collectively this combination does not exist in any other fictional film that I am aware of, and certainly not one with such global appeal.  Furthermore, The Guard is a study of the relationship between viewers and how they live through the characters depicted.  Like a Pulp Fiction or  a Fight Club, viewers cannot help but adore the characters created within the film, however, one must also reconcile the actions undertaken by the characters.  While we can come to love a person like Boyle nearly instantly, the narrative constantly reminds us that he is insanely flawed and incredibly troubled, something that manifests itself most obviously with the relationship between himself and his mother.  Finally, The Guard, as is no surprise, considers the idea of ethic and moral relativity.  Boyle clearly exists in a problematic divide between good and evil, in that he is a cop, but also engages in a slew of illegal activities.  Furthermore, the films villain's reside in a problematic gray area, particularly their leader who is philosophical about his actions and clearly avoids violence and murder when possible.  The film ultimately suggest that good and evil is not a matter of the action, as much as whether the behaviors hinder the liberties of others, a profound statement for a blatantly comedic film.

Key Scene: Let's just say it involves a John Denver Song.

Buy It, Buy It. BUY IT!


There Is No Happy Love: 8 Women (2002)

The tagline for this move was simple: 8 Women, 1 Murder.  I will admit that it is not the greatest of taglines and led me to be a bit dismissive about the French work initially, however, it is seriously a film about the murder of one male and eight women who attempt to come to grips and find the culprit.  With that being said, 8 Women is fantastically quirky and completely beyond anything I could have possibly predicted.  The opening title sequence is rather frilly and almost tacky, perhaps intentional on the part of director Francois Ozon and delivers a commentary of what the film will be, a group of women acting in the most dramatic and frivolous ways possible as they attempt to make somewhat tacky excuses to their various misdeeds.  A combination of slapstick humor, musical numbers and snide humor, 8 Women is a  film that has inevitably redeemed my faith in French comedies.  Somewhere between the hipness of Godard and the whimsy of Almodovar lays 8 Women.  A colorful film, with a mind of its own, provides a complete reimagining of what we, as viewers, have come to recognize as a thriller.  Furthermore, despite the narrative being heavily involved in the notion that women are inherently deceptive, one cannot deny that it should be praised for having a cast that is composed nearly entirely of women, and the one male present only amounts to maybe a minute of screen time.  If for no other reason than because the film is riotously fun, it is a must-watch movie.

8 Women, as the title suggests, follows a group of 8 contentious women who are all recouping with the recent announcement that the familial head, patriarchal figure Marcel (Dominique Lamure), has been the victim of a murder.  This leads the house into unrest, initially with Marcel's discovery by his youngest daughter Catherine (Ludivine Sagnier) who constantly vies for the adoration and acknowledgement of pretty much anyone.  Catherine's sister, and Marcel's other daughter Suzon (Virgine Ledoyen) also become involved with the plot as she has recently returned home from college.  Marcel's wife Gaby (Catherine Deneuve) is also present, although she makes it clear that their relationship was strained.  Marny (Daniell Darrieux) is also in attendance as the mother in law to Marcel, she lives with both Marcel and Gaby in her old age.  Gaby's sister Augustine (Isabelle Huppert) is also a resident of the house because she suffers from a variety of heart issues making living alone inconceivable, add to the mix two maids and Marcel's own sister and paranoid claims arise instantly.  As each accusation flies it becomes clear that deception has existed within Marcel's household far before his recent death, ranging from affairs, to back door card games and a series of problematic business dealings that seem to put the biggest amount of strain on the entire family.  As the plot thickens, or falls apart depending on a persons interpretation, it becomes evident that each woman involved has a considerable secret they are hiding and combined together results in an unfathomable amount of deception, all that is blown away by a new fact about Marcel's death that will even surprise the most versed of film viewers.

It is hard to completely praise the film for its depictions of women in main roles as much of what is shown is egregiously problematic.  First off, the film clearly posits that women are amongst other things hysterical, deceptive, sex-crazed and vampiric in their craze for money.  None of these of course are factual claims about women in general and merely serve as a means of narrative continuation, played up to comedic proportions.  Furthermore, it is an issue that a film depicts women distrusting one another, but that again serves as narrative advancement and simply just needs to be acknowledge.  What the film does right is depict a group of women together, one in which they completely possess the narrative.  It is a woman-centered film, with women in it and only lacks a female director to complete the trifecta.  I would have to revisit the film to see if it passes the Bechdel Test, because considering that Marcel's death does serve as an overarching factor it is possible that it fails the test on the grounds of nobody having a conversation without mentioning a male figure.  Another notable factor of the film is that it approaches issues of gender, class and race simultaneously in a film, something I have only seen done one other time in French film via Black Girl, a film I highly recommend.  I hate to go with the statement that some acknowledgement is better than none, but in the case of such a fun and enjoyable film as 8 Women I cannot recommend it enough and praise it for what it does accomplish critically.

Key Scene: The initial song and dance number is most excellent, probably due to the fact that it is so unexpected.

8 Women is a film well worth renting and viewing, if you are an ardent Francophile then purchasing might be an option as well.


You Know What To Do When You See A Shooting Star?: Wings (1927)

A rather large burden comes with laying claim to being the first film to ever win a Best Picture Oscar.  Such is the case for the 1927 silent film Wings, directed by William Wellman, a prestigious filmmaker who would go on to make a name for himself in the era of talking films as well.  If one is to completely detach themselves from the historical relevance of a film like Wings, it is easy to dismiss the work as simple melodrama with a love story that would become standard issue within Hollywood for decades to follow, however, it is too simple to deny the films it place in history, as a magnificent work of cinematic experimentation and storytelling.  It would be unlikely that I ever place this film on a short list of my favorite silent films, yet, I cannot deny that if I were to compose a rather lengthy list of historically pertinent films that this would make the cut.  Wings is exactly the kind of film you hear older scholars and aging moviegoers refer to when they describe the golden age of filmmaking.  The star-studded film, is a spectacle to view between the ethereal acting of Clara Bow and the pristine condition of the high-definition transfer, tragically though, the film simply has not aged well.  I, as a viewer, found myself constantly dismissive of the narrative, one that seemed far to steeped in the political ideologies and societal norms that are all but antiquated.  That is not to say the movie is not well made and worth watching, I simply argue that it does not stand the test of time as many other works of the era managed to do, like The Jazz Singer, Wings is a film that is necessary viewing, but not necessary to keep around for future viewings.  With all this being mentioned, I cannot express how many moments of sheer cinematic magic occur within this film, it possesses a series of amazing battle scenes that would be lost to CGI in the technology-laden world of filmmaking these days.  Wings is a great movie, nobody can deny that fact.

Wings, as many war films do, focuses on two small town rivals.  The first begin the good ol'boy Jack Powell (Buddy Rodgers) who is so in love with the neighborhood beauty that he fails to realize the girl next door is completely infatuated with him.  Second, there is the dashing well-to-do David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) who gains the affects of the towns ideal woman, much to the demise of Jack.  It seems, without knowing the plot of the film that Wings will play out as a romantic comedy, however, in a near jarring fashion, warfare overtakes the narrative as both Jack and David become recruits to the U.S. Air Force.  Realizing that this war allows her a chance to win over the heart of Jack, Mary Preston (Clara Bow), his neighbor, joins the motor division of the war effort, something females were allowed to engage in during The Great War.  During their training, Jack and David emerge as bitter rivals, often tricking one another into messing up during various activities, yet as the training continues and each proves their efforts, the two end up becoming friends and realize their combative natures could be far more well applied to the war effort.  The two pour their days into fighting German aircrafts, while witnessing a variety of loss, most notably that of Cadet White, who is played briefly and masterfully by a young Gary Cooper.  During one particularly grueling assignment the two risk their lives to fight German planes, David is shot down and assumed to be a casualty of war, while Jack returns safely and is awarded a heroes welcome for his endeavors.  His actions allow him to take a leave in Paris, one that is suggested to be full of drinking and fornication.  Despite being promised extended leave, Jack is called back to service, an action that is undertaken by Mary, who due to bad timing is caught naked in Jack's room, resulting in her dismissal from service.  Jack begrudgingly continues with his service and continues fighting Germans, all the while David, who is still alive, manages to steal a German aircraft and attempt to return home.  Unfortunately, Jack mistakes David for a German and shoots him down during a firefight, a mistake he only realizes while on the ground.  Jack subsequently returns home to apologize to David's parents, who are clear to blame the war, and not Jack, for the death of their son.  As is the case with such films, Jack has a prophetic realization of his love for Mary and the two are shown united in the films closing.

A variety of commentaries are available when discussing a film like Wings.  The first that I wish to mention is something that I have brought up whilst discussing a previous silent war film, Flesh and the Devil.  In this post, I provide a lengthy analysis of how the two male characters posses a homosocial bond between one another that borders on a sexual nature.  While it is certainly not as cataclysmic for the women involved within the narrative of Wings, a homosocial bond exists within Wings, particularly between Jack and David.  While the two are at odds in the films beginning, their forced cohabitation together leads them to become close on an emotional level, which leads to an undeniable amount of intimacy.  It is especially hard to deny the implicit sexual component of such a bond, particularly in David's death scene, an instance in which Jack literally fondles David and plays with the locks of his hair.  This is clearly the overarching criticism available within a film like Wings, yet it is also notable for its depiction of women in the war effort.  This activity was something that was somewhat nonexistent within war films, prior to World War II when allied forces depicted women in a variety of films engaging in war related activities, whether at home or on the war front, perhaps the most well known of these being So Proudly We Hail!.  The smart choice of the narrative to depict Mary in the war effort is historically accurate, while they may not have been fully involved with work within the motor pool they were certainly present as nurses and the fact that the film even acknowledges her presence is something of note.  It is an issue that the film dismisses her from service because of assumed sexual promiscuity, yet it is certainly indicative of then contemporary ideologies.  Problematic as it may be it is certainly worth praising for breaking a movie mold.

Key Scene: The entire Paris club scene is cinematic inventiveness at its finest.

While this is a great film, it is certainly not something that needs to sit on your shelf and collect dust.  Renting the bluray will be more than justifiable, as it needs to be seen, if purely as a piece of history.  Also, it happens to have a bit of Pre-code nudity on the part of Clara Bow, something that surprised my upon viewing.


Big Atonement For Big Sins: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (2005)

It is all but official; Park Chan-wook is the auteur to be admired most amongst the South Korean directors.  With a broad global following and a clear aesthetic, it is hard not to love everyone of this magnificent filmmakers works.  Between the sheer abrasiveness of Oldboy and the minimalist brilliance of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance Park knows what he is doing when it comes to releasing socially pertinent thrillers that beg for continual revisiting.  His work Sympathy for Lady Vengeance is not his best work in my opinion, but it is certainly superior to most other films with similar concepts and certainly stands on its own as one of the best movies of 2005.  Between the on-point acting delivered by a slew of well-known Korean actors and the experimental filming, it is a profound study of redemption and an interesting reflection on women’s power within contemporary Korean society, and as has been the case with many of Park’s works, it raises far more questions than answers, never leaving the viewer with complete certainty of what actually occurred within the dense narrative, furthermore, as the commentator on the bluray noted, it has one of the best endings to a film in the past decade, something I agree with wholeheartedly.  Essentially, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, causes me to drive home a point that I have said with just about every Korean film review posted her on my blog, they simply excel at genre films, particularly those relating to the horrific and the vengeful.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, like Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, focuses on an individual obtaining justice for a wrong enacted on them, always relying on methods outside of the law in order to obtain revenge.  In the case of this film, the focus is on Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young Ae) a woman who has recently been released from jail after being incarcerated for the murder of a young boy.  While in jail, Lee made a reputation for being both incredibly kind and completely indifferent to destroying an individual who harmed her, as evidenced by her killing a sexually abusive inmate through months of slowly poisoning her food, of which she volunteered to feed to her.  This reputation also causes Lee to gain a large amount of respect from the inmates who are let out after their sentences are completed.  Through their assistance, Lee is able to plan a revenge on Mr. Baek (Choi Min-sik) a teacher, who viewers come to discover is actually responsible for a series of child murders and blackmailed Lee to take the fall for him by threatening to kill her own daughter.  Besides planning on asserting revenge against Baek, Lee also attempts to reunite with her daughter who was placed in foster care in Australia, making for one of the more hilarious sequences within the film.  Furthermore, Lee takes up a relationship with her coworker, a young man who is eerily close to the age of the boy she murdered.  After undertaking the kidnapping of Baek with the help of his current partner, whom he is abusive to, she takes him to a dilapidated school and ties him up with the intent of shooting him with a gun.  However, upon discovering that he is indeed responsible for multiple murders, Lee calls upon the parents of each child to collectively exact revenge upon Baek.  In perhaps the most gruesome moments of the film, Lee and the others take a variety of weapons to Baek, killing him and then burying him in a hole behind the school.  This is all done under the watchful eye of a detective who accepts that their actions are far more fruitful than anything the bureaucratic system of law could provide. The film then comes back to Lee as she interacts with her daughter and young lover, she offers a white cake to her daughter to eat as snow falls on her and the others, signifying perhaps forgiveness or the dismal coldness of her future.

Park Chan-wook gained recognition as a film critic before becoming one of Korea’s most well known directors.  This fact helps to explain the non-linear narrative of Park’s films, particularly the clear fact that they lift from some of the world’s best directors, a bit of Hitchcock here, some Kurosawa there and a complete control of his works, much like Orson Welles.  While Park does borrow from some of the greats he certainly brings his own flares to the table, particularly in his approach to themes of revenge and redemption.  Rarely, if ever, is there a completely perfect character, even the protagonists within Park’s films possess their own problems.  For Lee, it is a clear inability to accept her own past and obtain self-esteem that troubles her, something that she never fully deals with, as is apparent when she refuses to taste the white cake at the end of the film, instead she simply slams her face into the cake and begins to sob, perhaps hoping that by throwing herself into something will help to provide her with the answers she so desperately seeks.  This desperation clearly influences her actions throughout the film, whether it be her desire to travel to Australia to see her mother, or to pour hours a day into obtaining a lavish fire arm with the intent of killing Baek.  It is almost as though Lee seeks validation for her own personal wrongs and expects everyone to simply adhere to them; this is at least the case with her relationship with the younger man.  Park is careful though not to completely lose the viewers by making his characters completely nonredeemable.  Whether it be Oldboy, Lady Vengeance or Mr. Vengeance the characters have moments of realization, all be it brief, that help them to accept the absurdities acted upon them, for Lee it occurs when she is able to shoot the already dead Baek, even if it was an act of frivolity, it displays Lee obtaining control her life again, something powerful and evocative and it is completely acceptable, because Park has asked us from the onset to have sympathy for Lee’s desire for revenge, and to some degree redemption.

Key Scene: It is most certainly the group revenge scene, try watching it without grimacing…I dare you.

This is one of the more well-known of Korean films on a global scale, the bluray looks fantastic and apparently possesses a fade to black and white version that I cannot wait to check out.  Park is a director to share with friends and well worth getting a copy of to watch repeatedly.


Experiments In Film: Trash Humpers (2009)

Reeling from the headache that would prove to be working in a corporate film setting, controversial and cult-adored filmmaker Harmony Korine went about making something so completely of its own world that watching it is an experience nearly inexplicable.  His work Trash Humpers is about exactly what it states, people dressed in masks who hump trash.  Jumping on the popularity of found footage films, Korine admitted to setting up the piece to seem like something found in a home video collection, and even claims to have contemplated just leaving the work on a VHS tape somewhere on the side of the road.  The abrasive piece of arthouse grunge cinema is arguably unwatchable as a series of masked individuals travel down back roads and side alleys of some unnamed American town, perform crude sexual acts on trees, mocking various citizens and lighting a ton of fireworks at all hours of the night.  At no point during the hour plus movie are we told why exactly these people engage in their actions, nor is their a linear evolution to their behaviors, they simply do crude actions and seem to find crude behavior amusing, as is evidenced both in their hiring of multiple prostitutes and in their discussions with a self-proclaimed comedian who relies on racial and sexually demeaning commentary to get laughs.  It is at a quick glance tantamount to shock cinema, however, when one truly engages the work and reflects on its possibilities, Trash Humpers is something far grander than John Waters style shock.

The film is crude and abrasive and at multiple times throughout the film I found myself fully aware that my jaw was dropping completely at what was being depicted.  Between the absurd dialogue and eerie gutural laughing it is hard to find anything appealing within the context of a few people banging plastic garbage receptacles, however, even with the use of gritty, technologically inferior video recording devices, Korine manages to catch a handful of absolutely beautiful moments throughout the film, every once in awhile a streetlight will catch the dirt and reflection in the camera in such a way that makes film more surreal than horrific, almost Bunuelian in its existence.  The question that most viewers will likely bring up when watching this work is a singular and resounding "why."  It is hard to explain why the group does their actions and even more difficult to justify them, but our answer to this question comes in the closing moments of the film, as one of the masked people explains that they enjoy living free from the chains of conformity, citing jobs, religion and other social norms as being problematic.  He claims that he finds their illogical order and refusal to break from the desired mold far more inexplicable and sad than his own behavior.  It is a profound statement and one that still has me considering my own engagement in society long after viewing the curious work.  However, Korine does remind us of a very real fact, even the most bizarre of individuals have ties to those they love, even the meanest and wickedest of person may be a mother, and that role is always taken with a high level of seriousness.

For more information on Harmony Korine or to find a copy of Trash Humpers, click on either of the images below:



This Isn't A Novel, This Is A Film. A Film Is Life: Weekend (1967)

My last review of a Godard film was less than positive.  I find the director to be more pretentious and less accessible than he has been in previous decades and appears to have no concern with making any sort of relationship with his viewers.  This problem appears to have really occurred within the past two decades and only seems to worsen with each of his subsequent films.  With that in mind, there was a time when he was a master of non-linear cinema that pushed the envelopes of the profane image in film and what political purposes a piece of cinema could provide.  Weekend, one of Godard's more difficult to obtain films, and perhaps his most curious works.  I would by no means place it above my personal favorite Alphaville, nor would I say it is better than Breathless or Contempt, however, it would most certainly find itself jostling for the fourth or fifth spot on a list of his key works.  At this point in Godard's rather controversial career, he had yet to have fallen completely out of regard to many critics and had one of his more respected followings second only to his heightened fame during the French New Wave.  Politically speaking, at this point in his career the outspoken filmmaker was mastering his Marxist heavy voice, one that was at times critical of the contempt directed at the bourgeois, while also being completely aware of the legitimate suffering faced by many foreigners and working class persons of Paris during the late 60's.  In a fashion that could be called Godardian in its creation, the director manages to take what we assume to be a comedy for a better portion of the film and completely drop it on its head, ultimately becoming a dark horror film about societal disconnect and a literal man eat man mentality that emerged with the obsession with consumerism that popped up in the mid-1900's.  If we were to take this solely on its political ideologies and how the narrative pokes fun at French history in order to advance his point, this would be Godard's masterpiece, however, it lacks a complete character evolution that has become so integral to the filmmaker.  To be fair though, the character count in this film is quite large and he does manage to make each person interact substantially with the world around him and for that Godard should be praised.  Ultimately, Weekend is a film that exudes the temperament and concerns of late sixties commentaries while still managing to possess a timelessness, perhaps the most Godard thing about each of his films.

Weekend, for what contextual narrative it possesses, focuses on a bickering married couple known as the Durands.  There is Corinne (Mireille Darc) a soft-spoken housewife who may or may not partake in bizarre sexual encounters in her free time and Roland (Jean Yanne) an explosively angry man who clearly suffers from impotent rage, something he takes out on various individuals throughout the film.  The Durand's are attempting to make it through the French countryside to make it to Corinne's dying father with the intent of racking up a huge inheritance.  However, the two also have the intention of killing one another in order to reap the money for themselves and each of their respective lovers.  The tension that results from such underlying confrontations influences how they engage with the various characters they meet on their pseudo-pilgrimage.  The people they encounter range from the mundane, such as two politically fueled garbagemen to a Mozart praising pianist who claims to be the worst musician alive, as well as the completely absurd as is the case with a man who claims to be the love child of Alexander Dumas and God or the ditsy version of Emily Bronte and her mentally challenged friend Tom Thumb.  A large portion of the interactions within the film end in rather violent means often in shootouts, wrecks, and even incineration, clearly the result of the couples unfulfilled desire to murder one another.  Not only are these interactions clearly frustrating to both Corinne and Roland, they also prove as time wasting endeavors that ultimately mean that they are unable to meet up with Corrine's father and obtain their inheritance.  This failure leads to the couple running into a group of cannibals that eventually kill Roland and cook his body, along with that of other people and a pig, making the statement on Roland's character blatant.  After a seemingly inexplicable shootout between feuding rebels Corrine is depicted returning to the cannibal camp and engaging in a meal, one that includes the flesh of Roland stating that she will eat more of him in a little bit.

It would be easier to comment on what Godard does not comment on in this film than what he does decide to criticize.  It is clear throughout the narrative that the controversial director intends to poke fun at bourgeois privilege, Marxist revolutionaries, guerilla warfare, capitalist frivolity, neo-classicism and racial pride amongst other things.  Furthermore, as is always the case with Godard he clearly intended to deconstruct the notion of cinematic language, so much so that he breaks from his traditional modernist leanings into the post-modern realm and breaks the fourth wall by allowing for the characters to acknowledge their own presence within the film, going so far as to note that they only meet crazy people within the film.  I could go into detail about each of these notions within Weekend, but I am far more inclined to discuss how influenced Godard was by video and television production within this film specifically.  First off, Godard's choice of Darc and Yanne as lead actors reflects his preoccupation with the still new form of media as both of the actors were well regarded for their roles on television by this time in the sixties, but this is only relative to what serves as a stylistic component to his entire film.  Composed as a series of vignettes, Weekend often fades to black inexplicably and repeatedly, something closely associated with cutting to commercials in television.  The genius here comes when Godard simply cuts to more footage of the film.  To Godard, Weekend, film in general, and society as a whole existed in a vacuum of commercialism and television was simply the newest venue with which to tap into the capitalist venture.  With this notion in mind it is somewhat easier to understand where Godard is going with the various diatribes portrayed in the film, almost nonsensical in composition, these various commentaries reflect the fast-based and often jarring style of commercials during television breaks, each does not necessarily preceed or proceed the other, yet they all exist within the same vein of trying to influence the subconscious to desire a particular product, in the case of Godard, to adhere to a particular ideology.  However, as Godard was clever enough to make many of the commentaries contradictory, as is the case with commercially fueled capitalist outputs.  Nothing coexists with the world of Weekend, it is a fabrication to our own world of capitalism, in which no two ideologies can exist simultaneously, because to do so would ruin the competitiveness inherent to the practice.

Key Scene: The traffic jam tracking shot seen is almost incomprehensible in its magnitude and the payoff is well worth the wait.

I was lucky enough to see this a few days ago at a local theater, however, for most people this film had existed in a region lock trap of inaccessibility.  Fortunately, as of a two days ago the film was announced as an upcoming title for The Criterion Collection and should prove to be a great purchase.


This Rock Has Been Waiting For Me My Entire Life: 127 Hours (2010)

As I  mentioned only a few posts ago, I am a huge fan of Danny Boyle's work.  I plan to do a complete analysis of his entire body of work at some point in the future and still have a considerable amount of his works to get through.  The most recent viewing was that of 127 Hours, the one film that worried me in his oeuevre, considering that it did not receive very much critical praise and stars one of my least favorite actors, James Franco.  To be honest as the movie began I was rather skeptical of its validity, aside from some brilliant cinematography and unusual narrative it seemed to have very little going for it in a completely fillmic sense.  I should have known better though, considering that the work was by Danny Boyle, as is so often the case with his works, he takes a situation and places it within normalcy and waits ever so patiently to take the viewers comforts away by large slaps of suspense, we see this in works like 28 Days Later... and to some extent Slumdog Millionaire.  Furthermore, I was in awe of how well delivered James Franco's performance was, and while it certainly does not cause me to place him in a tier of great actors, it was a pleasant surprise to find his presence in scenes anything but grating.  Perhaps the greatest element of this film is that it is grounded in a factual experience.  Having heard about the film for a great deal of time I knew the twists within the film, yet found each piece of narrative rewarding and engaging from his initial departure to his climactic return to civilization.  I am starting to gain some certainty about Danny Boyle's place in the filmmaking word, considering that one of his lesser films still proves to be leaps and bounds better than most of his contemporaries.

The film, as stated is based on the experiences of Aron Ralston, a carefree climbing enthusiast who spent a traumatic 127 hours trapped beneath a bolder in the canyons of Utah.  The film begins with Aron (James Franco) leaving for his trip while making his plans and location a secret to his boss, girlfriend and even mother.  It appears as though his trip will be of little difficulty, particularly considering that he runs into a duo of women hikers who he wins over with ease by showing them a cool hidden crevasse containing a pool.  While the two women clearly display interest in him, Aron is aloof to their advances and continues on his journey with indifference.  It is not much farther into this journey that he meets tragedy by slipping on a rock and becoming trapped underneath its mass.  It is at this point that he begins to panic and struggle for freedom, drinking much of his water in the process.  In a matter of hours, Aron's surival instinct kicks in and he begins using his small amount of items to help obtain freedom, as well as protect him from the constantly changing weather.  Water proves to be Aron's greatest concern, so much so that he begins to drink his water in panic, to the point of needing to rely on his urine for a small amount of hydration.  As delirium sets in, Aron begins to reflect on his life and his mistakes, something he keeps track of in his film journal.  His visions range between his tumutuous relationship with his girlfriend to his rather distanced one with his mother.  He attempts to beg for forgiveness, although he is doing it to the silence of the canyons.  He even begins to see visions of his future, a time that involves him hanging out with a yet unborn son.  After amputating his arm, Aron finally escapes the canyon and is helped by hikers in the canyon.  The closing shots explain that Aron's premonitions came true, even the one about having a child.

127 Hours is a film about self-reflection and overcoming turmoil.  However, it is unusual in that the entire process takes place within a single individuals world.  For a better portion of the film, we are only shown the experiences of Aron.  Even the moments that involve other people are stationed within his own consciousness, a fact that clearly influences the narrative.  Furthermore, what makes 127 Hours particularly unusual is that the character within the film is far from perfect.  Aron has many moments of failure and lack as a human, in most other films of that nature each action engaged in by the protagonist would be heroic.  Beyond this, Boyle's film does not shy away from some of the more gruesome and brutal elements of its story.  The film goes to great lengths to show the pain involved with amputating ones arm and Aron by no means deals with the act coolly.  Even the action of him drinking his own urine is made intense by his constant bickering and concern.  The ultimate seen of his pre-evolved materialistic nature is when he wines about the multitool his mother gave him, since it proves completely useless in helping him escape, however, he quickly realizes that when he was gifted the item he, nor his mother, could have ever imagined it would be used for such a task.  With his heroism in question, it is important to remind readers that he is quite brave and acts with strokes of genius frequently throughout the film.  This is clear when he manages to use each of his items to keep him warm in the cool desert nights, as well as his expert execution of a tourniquet, in one of the films most gruesome scenes.  Ultimately, it is not a film that intends to make Aron an unquestionable hero, but one that simply tells his story for what it is, something so completely unbelievable that it seems fictional, were it not for the presence of the person alltogether.

Key Secne: The initial urine drinking scene is done in an experimental nature, as much of the film is, but is at its best during this portion.

For those who love Danny Boyle, 127 Hours is a must own work, for those who are unsure please rent it at least, it is well worth a viewing.


God Made Me For A Purpose, But He Also Made Me Fast: Chariots Of Fire (1981)

While the film is probably best known for its theme song, Chariots of Fire did indeed win the Best Picture Oscar the year of its release.  While I know have  been critical of such a claim giving a film validity, I figured with the recent closing of the London Summer Olympics there was no time like the present to revisit this film, which as you may know is about British track athletes.  I knew the movie was going to be a traditional sports narrative of characters overcoming some social or physical obstacle in order to deliver a stunning feat of athleticism.  What I did not know going into this work is how terribly British the film would be overall.  While I have not seen Kes yet, I cannot help but suspect that this will serve as the penultimate definition of British filmmaking to me; however, there are a slew of Hitchcock films and David Lean works that could suffice.  Overall the dialogue and choice for what made the narrative cut simply is not that of an American sports film and in a surprising way the film really has very little to do with Track and Field and much more to do with individuals identities and their confrontations with a society that simply does not accept things that are different.  Chariots of Fire, is of course excellent as far as soundtracks are concerned, but beyond that obvious fact lies a well acted and incredibly shot film that inevitably causes viewers to reconsider their notions of a sporting film.  At a very basic level, it is a movie about competitive running, on a grand scale it is a commentary on human strife fully realized.

Chariots of Fire is set in the early twentieth century, beginning a few years before the 1924 Olympics which will be held in Paris.  The narrator of the film, Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Ferrell) serves as the eyes and voice of the story, although as it is made quite clear from the onset, his roles simply to observe and report the actions of Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), a fellow Cambridge classmate who happens to also be Jewish, a label he caries with contentious pride.  Abrahams desires nothing more than to prove the deans of the school and pretty much the whole of society that he is just as capable as any other Englishman of competing in athletics and that his ethnic existence does not cause him the slightest disadvantage.  On the other side is and out of the narrative gaze of Montague is Eric Liddell (Ian Charleston) a famous Scottish rugby star who is devoutly Christian and finds joy and harmony serving as a missionary.  However, due to some rather forceful nudging by a family friend, Liddell is convinced to also compete for a spot on the Olympic team, something he deems acceptable because it will prove as a form of glorifying God.  The two men begin their quest for Olympic competition as they compete in various track meets eventually facing one another in a race.  Liddell wins by the slightest of margins, losing as he later discovers by making the mistake of turning to check on the place of Liddell in the race  Abrahams is quickly approached by the professional trainer Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm) who helps advance the young athlete considerably, despite the disdain of Cambridge's deans.  The two eventually  make the Olympic team, along with Montague and a handful of other Cambridge students and head off by boat to compete.  It is at this point that Liddell discovers his race will fall on a Sunday, his day of rest, a fact that causes him to refuse to run.  He is moved into a slot in the 400m race, which means that Abrahams has a clear shot to win his 100m race, something he does with vivacity.  All that remains is for Liddell to win his race, despite being far from a favorite in the sprint he manages to also win.  The narrative then ends with the two of them returning to their daily lives as new Olympic gold medalists, forever cemented in the history of Britain.

Interesting enough, for playing so heavily into the differences between Liddell and Abrahams religiously, it is quite surprising that the film does not cause this to be a point of division between both athletes.  While there are certainly moments of clear problems between the two culturally, they nonetheless manage to create a bond through athletics that makes them friends.  Considering this fact within the narrative, it is clear that Chariots of Fire is about the transitive power of sports to merge seemingly divided groups of people.  In a non-sports setting it would be improbable that Liddell would ever meet Abrahams, let alone engage with him in more than passing terms.  Furthermore, the placement on a national and global podium allows for both men to share their stories and personal opinions in such a way that the world is forced to acknowledge their concerns.  This is evident with Abrahams throughout the film, but comes full frontal when Liddell refuses to run on the Sabbath an action that makes national headlines.  By doing so he is praised by fellow Christians and is even allowed to deliver a sermon at a prestigious church as a result.  While the face of such abilities have change in the new century, one only needs to revisit the countless moments of courage and confrontation that occurred during the past few weeks of the Olympics.  Individuals like Oscar Pistorious and Kirani James used their moment in the global spotlight to give a voice to paraplegics and impovershed peoples respectively.  In a sense, they are this eras Abrahams and Liddell, both were out to prove something and both did so with great results.

Key Scene: Abraham's final race is an editing spectacle.

Chariots of Fire will always be a piece of must-see cinema, I suggest doing so while the aura of the Olympics is still fresh in your mind, however, owning this film is not necessary and renting it will more than suffice.


I Promised The Secrets Of The Universe, Nothing More: Men In Black 3 (2012)

I went into the latest, and what I imagine to be the last installment of the Men In Black franchise with rather low expectations.  In fact, the only reason I even decided to see the film was because of the nostalgic memories I have of the previous two films, movies that I watched multiple times as a kid.  With my incredibly low faith in the films possibilities, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed this film.  My amazement was quickly explained in the credits upon discovering that Ethan Cohen was involved with the screenplay and that it was littered with just enough cameos to make the flow of the film entertaining.  However, the greatest part of the film was easily the new philosophical focuses tied into the narrative.  The series had always concerned itself with commentary on the frivolity of human suffering on a universal scale, as you may recall with the ending of the original film, one that suggested that the Earth was merely a fragment within a galaxy that served as a marble to a game for much larger, godlike creatures.  Yet, Men In Black 3 is preoccupied with a Eastern Philosophy and Buddhist rhetoric that influences the entire narrative flow, something that can certainly be credited to Cohen helping with the screenplay.  Of course, the jokes about the alien nature of contemporary society never hurt either, nor does it hurt that the film's story is set mostly in the late 1960's, allowing for jokes to be made about many of the absurdities of the hippy generation and passing suggestions that Andy Warhol himself was an undercover agent for the Men In Black.  Essentially, Men In Black is not a perfect film and is certainly what you would expect from a summer release, but it also has moments of glimmer and shine that make it a bit more than a simple sci-fi action film.

Men In Black 3 begins with a scene on Lunar Max, a high-security prison on the moon, one that is known for housing alien criminals.  We are shown a call-girl of sorts delivering a cake to a prisoner named Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement).  While the guards are initially reluctant to allow the delivery, they agree mockingly and let the woman into Boris's cell.  The choice is instantly punished, as the cake is holding an alien creature necessary to the destructive nature of Boris.  After escaping from the prison, Boris claims that he is out to get Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) for shooting his arm off over forty years ago.  We are then cut to familiar scenes of Agent K, along with Agent J (Will Smith) zapping memory erasing lasers at citizens of New York to cause them to forget about seeing alien ships.  Despite their success as agents, J cannot help but find himself concerned with K's distant nature, constantly inquiring as to why he is so surly.  K continues his stoic nature and their lack of communication comes full frontal, as K becomes victim to an attack by Boris who intends to travel back in time to kill the aging special agent.  Even after this confrontation, K refuses to come clean to J and the two separate for the night on bad terms.  K attempts to reconcile with J only to be scoffed at and the night ends with K disappearing out of nowhere and J suddenly feeling inexplicably nauseous.  J wakes up and attends work to confront J, only to realize that J is a figment of the past to everyone involved, particularly Agent O (Emma Thompson) a person that K clearly shared a past.  After continual confrontation, O finally admits that K died in the past and in all likelihood J is the victim of a break in the time continuum, something that is clearly the fault of Boris The Animal.  Once provided with the information to an antiquated time travel device, banned decades ago by the intergalactic federation, J travels back to 1969 in order to prevent the murder of K.  During this time, K meets a flurry of past figures, including a Younger K (Josh Brolin) and Younger O (Alice Eve) who are initially dismissive of his claims, but discover his issues to have validity.  What ensues is a continual confrontation with time and space continuum issues that are helped by a alien guide named Griffin (Michael Stuhlburg) who is capable of seeing five dimensions of possible realities simultaneously.   In order to not ruin the film I will simply leave it here as to suggest anything else would completely ruin the integral piece of plot to the entire film, needless to say it involves confronting a handful of classic images of 1969, including the first ship to land on the moon, a portion of the narrative that plays an integral role. 

I mentioned in the introduction that the film was clearly influenced by Eastern philosophies, particularly those of Buddhism.  The time travel element within the film has the characters, particularly J, commenting on their actions as they relate to the grander schema of existence.  J is attempting to save the life of K, who at this point has no close relationship with him, thus making it near impossible for J to explain why he is helping him.  This notion is rather Eastern in its origins, although it does reflect the Golden Rule to some extent.  He helps Younger K, despite his misgivings, simply because it is the right thing to do.  Griffin is then to be seen as a sort of enlightened individual, his ability to see one and all outcomes at once allows for him to provide nearly prophetic, yet vague advice.  He constantly reminds J and Young K that their actions will result in an outcome, although it is nearly impossible to say for certain what the outcome will be because each minor occurrence plays into an infinitesimal amount of possible outcomes, even something as minor as how a baseball was made can affect the outcome of an entire baseball teams season.  Furthermore, the design and concept of the Arc Net, a device that is intended to protect the earth from violent alien attacks reflects something like the universal circular motion of protection.  It is quite Buddhist in its existence as well; a thought that everything in the world is part of a rounded continually connected set of movements.  Finally and most surprisingly, K even represents a Eastern philosophy in his clearly Confucian existence.  The tenants of Confucianism adhere to accepting ones role in a set of social constructions and never questioning them, as well as adhering to the positive and negatives of life with a straight face, never complaining in the process.  K is absolutely Confucian in that he never complains about his job to anybody, even when it means the possibility of losing his life, or the love of his life as well.

Key Scene: The scene involving J's watch at the end is absolutely perfect.

Men In Black 3 is obviously a movie to be seen in theaters, it is just now making a run through the cheap cinemas and is well worth paying for, although I am quite certain little will be lost watching it on Bluray.


To Her, He Was A Son: Ballad Of A Soldier (1959)

Russia, historically speaking, has cemented themselves as a stark contradiction to the American film style.  Whether it be the prolific Man With A Movie camera, or the entirety of Eisenstein's ouevre, narrative dissonance and non-linear editing are their thing, so when I approached Ballad of a Solider, I assumed these would be traits of the film, however, within only moments of viewing the clearly melodramatic film, I was baffled to find its clearly American composition.  Between long reaction shots, use of music to emphasize emotion and the focus of redemption within the narrative, Ballad of A Soldier is not entirely Russian in its composition.  Now that by no means makes this a terrible piece of cinema, in fact, it is quite great and clocking it at just under ninety minutes, the film is accessible and earnest.  Furthermore, the films is neither a clear condemnation of war efforts, nor is it set out in praising the validity of warfare.  The narrative of Grigoriy Chukhray's film, which he both wrote and directed, is as the title suggests about a soldier and is certainly a ballad at that, considering its lyrical nature. It focuses on one character and his vision of a slowly eroding nation, one that evolves from foolish youthful ignorance to adult disillusionment.  If it were not for films like Forbidden Games and Ivan's Childhood, I would define this as one of the greatest coming of age tales ever composed, but mind you if I ever were to make a list of the top ten, it would certainly make the list.

Ballad of a Soldier, begins immediately as action is depicted while the credits begin to roll.  We are provided with an image of an elderly woman wandering towards a dirt road that leads to her rural village.  The film's narrator quickly explains that she is waiting for her son, a soldier, who will never return, because he like so many his age, were casualties of World War II and was lost to a haunting memory.  The film then enters into a flashback, which introduces us to the films protagonist, Alyosha (Vladimir Ivashov) a wide-eyed private who has recently received praise for single-handedly destroying two tanks.  When offered medals for his feats, he counters with a request to simply visit his mother and help her repair his homes leaking roof.  Agreeing to his request, Alyosha's superior grants him six days to complete his task and return to his battalion.  Gracious at the amount of time he has been allotted, Alyhosa leaves camp ecstatic and heads towards his hometown.  His obstacles start immediately, however, when he is stopped by a fellow soldier who begs that he deliver a gift to his wife, who resides on a street quite close to a train station in which he will make a stop.  Alyosha in his kind manner, agrees and continues on his quest.  During his first stop via train, he also helps a crippled soldier, only to discover that he plans to leave his wife upon returning home, with the help of a station agent, Alyosha convinces the man to stay with his wife, unfortunately, his task means that he will miss his scheduled train.  After bribing a guard, he is able to ride on a cargo train and eventually meets a young woman named Shura (Zhanna Prokhorenko) for whom he immediately falls.  This quick romance fills in the remainder of the travel narrative as she comes with him to drop off the gifts to the soldiers wife, only to discover that she has left him for another man.  After a bittersweet departure from Shura, Alyosha affords just enough time to visit his mother briefly, giving her a kiss and the gift of a headscarf before leaving back to the war front, a place that the narrator reminds us will be his final resting place.

I stated that Ballad of a Soldier is not blatantly a condemnation of war and am quite certain of that assertion.  While it certainly shows the casualties and destructive nature of battling in the name of politics, the narrative suggests that it is simply part of human nature and necessary for individuals to understand that the world is indeed divided into good and evil.  While this certainly would drive Nietzsche into a fit, it seems much more appropriate for Russian tradition.  With heavily existential motifs a part of their cultural history, Ballad of a Soldier is certainly similar.  Alyosha represents an individual who adheres to the good nature of the world, despite being constantly shown that people are inherently bad, particularly those with power or those out of the eye of condemnation, as are evident in the demanding train guard or the cheating wife.  Yet, even in these moments of despair, Alyosha does meet people inspire him to do right, a notion that is initially implanted in him by the general who allows him to take leave.  Now the issue arises with Ballad of a Soldier in the death of Alyosha, something that is depicted off screen.  If we were shown the death of the young soldier on screen, we would be provided with something that would either confirm or deny his existence, yet the film closes with him leaving into the horizon.  The notion of a soldier like Alyosha is a memory, something that you can praise in a ballad, yet something that exists in an incomprehensible world.  Ultimately, Ballad of a Soldier is not a commentary on war as much as it is a nostalgic reflection on a generation who lost their youth.

Key Scene: The initial meeting between Alyosha and Shura is so well shot and acted that it seems to be documentary footage.

Yet another brilliant offering from Criterion, Ballad of a Soldier is a must own and I doubt it will get a bluray upgrade so there is no time like the present.


You Know Billy, We Blew It: Easy Rider (1969)

When the powers that be that controlled Hollywood from the onset of the silent era to well into the 1950's fell out of control, what happened to American filmmaking would forever change viewers understandings of cinematic narrative.  With non-linear narratives and Soviet style montage sequences American moviegoers, thirsty for something revolutionary were enthralled by the psychedelic and cool stylings of New Hollywood filmmaking and while Easy Rider was not the first film to offer such imagery and commentary it has, undoubtedly, come to represent the era more so than any of its contemporaries.  Between its drug-induced soundtrack, Odyssey-like quest story and its purely disparaging commentary on the state of youth in America, it represents the 60's masterfully and manages to still say something honest and uncomfortable about the state of society, regardless of being almost fifty years old.  One of the many contenders on my "coolest movies" list, Easy Rider makes you want to jump back in time and strap on an American flag leather jacket and simply cruise the highways of America, not because you are out to prove yourself a bad-ass, but because you truly hope to find the meaning of everything between a cup of coffee in a diner and a revelatory trip on lsd next to some cacti.   However, just like Jack Kerouac's prolific novel On The Road, Easy Rider takes away the coolness of nostalgia, by slapping on a harsh reality that the ideal world of the past is easily disrupted by those who interfere out of irrational hostility and a loathsome fear of change.  Easy Rider is hardly a story of redemption and it is certainly not intended to be taken lightly, but between the magnitude of such a low-budget film and the fact that it was ever produced in the first place is something to celebrate in itself and let us not forget that the film is in the AFI Top 100 film list for a damn good reason, it is with little argument one of the most American films ever released.

Easy Rider follows the exploits of Wyatt (Peter Fonda) who also refer to himself as Captain America, in honor of his motorcycle and jacket adorned with the stars and stripes and Billy (Dennis Hopper) a leather jacket long haired hippy who is preoccupied with making money and getting stoned.  After a successful drug sale, Wyatt and Billy decided to take their newfound fortunes and travel across The United States, with the ultimate intention of stopping in at Mardi Gras.  Along the way, they meet a variety of individuals who provide them with details about the American experience, one that is clearly muddied by disillusionment.  The first individual they encounter is simply known as The Stranger on the Highway (Luke Askew) and asks for a ride to his compound in the desert of the Midwest.  There Wyatt and Billy witness an "off the grid" community of youth that have left the city in hopes of ascending their corporeal existence into something more spiritual.  However, it is clear that their existence is more focused on orgiastic free love and heavy drug use than anything else.  Itching to get to Louisiana Billy cuts their stay there short and they continue on the road towards the southern state.  Along the way the are arrested for interfering with a town parade and are forced to spend a night in jail, there they meet a functional alcoholic named George Hanson (Jack Nicholson) who just happens to be a well known lawyer and helps the duo out of jail in exchange for tagging along with them on their trip.  Donning his old football helmet, George becomes a pseudo-guide through the south and all seems fine until they enter into a local diner, only to be ridiculed and ignored by the servers due to their unconventional attire.  Distraught the three spend the night in the woods outside the town and are eventually attacked by a group of locals, which results in the death of George and injuries to both Wyatt and Billy.  Enraged the two continue on their quest to New Orleans and eventually make it to an infamous brothel. There they meet two girls and spend the night together, partaking in acid and having a crazy trip.  After this experience Billy and Wyatt hit the road again and have become quite upset with the state of their trip and decide to call things off completely, however, before they can return from where they came they are gun downed by two rednecks who think it a fun game to fire a shot gun at the passing motorcyclists.  The film then ends not with a nostalgic remembrance of the two travelers, but instead, just an image of the flaming motorcycle as the screen pans out in an incredibly reflective moment.

Easy Rider is not the first motorcycle movie released by any means, nor is it even the first movie with either Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper that places its central focus on the experiences of motorcycle driving rebels.  What Easy Rider is the first to do, however, is to condense all the concerns, commentaries and dilemmas that plagued young America post-1968 into one film and boy does it make a lasting impression.  While it is never fully acknowledged, we can come to assume that Wyatt is a Vietnam veteran, his choice to wear the American flag being an ironic homage of sacrifice to an ungrateful nation.  His relatively clean look suggests a man traveling cross-country in the hopes of finding an answer to his existential sense of loss.  He seems to interact earnestly with each person he encounters; hoping that they will provide him a reason to continue on, sadly this never seems the case.  In opposition then, is Billy, whose constant state of intoxication and anger suggest a man who is trying to outrun something.  If we find ourselves confused about Wyatt's past, even less is known about Billy aside from the fact that he really wants to get laid and retire with money in Florida.  In fact, it is quite clear that many of the characters within Easy Rider combine into a pastiche of the collective disillusionment of sixties America.  Whether it be the stranger who desires a complete disconnect from technology, or George who is so overwhelmed by his parental expectations that he spends his days drinking himself into oblivion, simply because he cannot stand to reside in the harshness that is reality.  The film is problematic in that it only focuses on the narratives of white males, but there is certainly a possibility that Hopper intended this as another layer of commentary on the issues of America during the time, it is impossible to say, but worth considering.

Key Scene: The drug trip scene in the New Orleans mausoleums, as filmed by Laslo Kovacs is hands down the best drug sequence in a movie ever....and I mean ever.

I was ecstatic when Criterion released its box set of the "America: Lost and Found" series and was finally able to purchase it about a month ago.  This is one of many films in the set and is well worth purchasing, the Bluray transfer of Easy Rider looks phenomenal.


There's Nothing Out There: The Mist (2007)

Let me get this out up front.  I am a huge proponent of director's intent.  I loathe Ted Turner's push to "colorize" classic films like It's A Wonderful Life amongst others.  Furthermore, I am completely opposed to when production companies force directors to sacrifice their visions in the name of ticket sales and accessibility.  This was the case for Frank Darabont's adaptation of Stephen King's novella The Mist.  Darbont's intent was to release the film in black and white for a variety of cinematic and thematic reasons, yet; his producers refused him this right and demanded that it be in color.  While I cannot speak to it being the reason it fell to the wayside that year for horror films, I strongly feel as though its critical acclaim may have increased considerably were he allowed to film it with the chiaroscuro elements of black and white present.  Luckily, for cinephiles, the most recent DVD release includes the black and white version of the film as an extra disc feature and it is the vision that this post shall review, because I am simply going to pretend the color version does not exist.  With the choice to remove color, The Mist becomes a much more astute social commentary that emits moments of abrasive imagery that makes viewers cringe in discomfort, much like Tony Kaye's seminal documentary on Abortion titled Lake of Fire...a term that to no surprise emerges on at least one occasion within The Mist.  If it were not for Kubrick's version of The Shining, Darabont's adaptation could well be my new favorite take on a Stephen King work, although it appears that at least one movie a year is an adaptation of the prolific writers work, so that statement could change quite quickly.

The Mist focuses on life in a rural Maine town following a storm of cataclysmic proportions.  Painter David Drayton (Thomas Jane) serves as the films main character, as he attempts to make amends with his neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braughber) after a tree from his yard destroys his boathouse.  Realizing the frivolity of the entire situation, both David and Brent, along with David's son Billy (Nathan Gamble) head to the town grocery to gather supplies to begin repairing their respective houses.  While the power is out at the grocery things seem relatively normal and each begins doing their shopping, however, things become unusual as military police begin showing up and demanding that a group of young recruits cut their leave short to help in clean up.  Things grow suspicious quickly and are only worsened when a town resident runs out of the mist into the store claiming to have viewed something in the dense fog.  This event begins the flickers of paranoia within the grocery store, which will provide the setting for most of the films remainder, as David leads an expedition to the stores docking bay, which proves the claims of a creature being in the mist to be true.  A tentacled beast and many mutated bugs exist in the fog and begin preying on the various people within the grocery.  At this point, things begin to fall apart within the store, people begin arguing over whether or not to stay, which ultimately proves to be the dividing point between David and Brent.  Furthermore, a fire and brimstone spouting woman begins to convert followers with her claims of the mist and the beasts as being a sing of the end of days.  While at first her claims are dismissed, with the death of various people and the continual attacks of the monsters she begins to recruit followers, eventually becoming so maddened as to suggest sacrificing Billy to the creature.  David reacts quickly and with the help of a handful of other people escapes the grocery store and grabs a truck to escape.  On their drive out of town, toward Portland, they see the various creatures, most notably a gigantic spider like beast roaming above them.  Along the way they run out of gas, completely incapable of doing anything, David uses a gun to take those travelling with him out of their misery, including his own son.  He is left alone without any bullets to linger in loneliness.  As David steps out of his car to scream in agonizing defeat, military vehicles drive by him to rescue survivors and burn down the infestations of the monsters, if only his group had waited ten more minutes they would have survived the entire ordeal.

The Mist, as Darabont has stated himself, is not about the monsters that exist in the exterior world of the film, but instead those that exist in the interior minds of the people within the film, whether it be David's own struggle to assert himself as a respectable father, or Brent's concern with proving himself as a respectable outsider, even if doing so means legal actions.  Even the narratives secondary characters find themselves battling inner demons, most notably Ollie (Toby Jones) the stores assistant manager who constantly struggles to assert authority despite being of small stature and his being victim to continual ridicule by his superior.  King's work also exudes the issues of religious proclamations in the face of troubled times and in Darabont's adaptation it is clearly suggested that the religious zealot Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden) is doing more harm than good by proselytizing to the individuals trapped in the store.  However, Darabont also chooses not to depict her character's imminent death, perhaps as a bleak commentary on the future of religious extremism in America.  Finally, the film has a certain timelessness about it, something that Darbont admitted to intending within the film, while David certainly possesses as cellular phone, everything else within the film suggests a an America from various generations, whether it be the 80's style vehicles or the 50's feel of the town grocery.  The struggles and turmoils of an American unity is central to the film and The Mist reminds viewers that a constant demand for opposition only hinders America.  I am unintentionally on a kick of "storm as a metaphor" films, but I do not mind that considering that, they have all been enjoyable and it seems as though the paranoia of something worse to come is pertinent in the rhetoric of the upcoming political election, as well as the continually worsening state of the world economy. 

Key Scene: The scene in which David finds his wife after leaving the grocery store is incredibly oneiric.

The Mist in black and white is something to be viewed, while it is not an incredibly important film it is quite enjoyable and worth renting, although make sure to get the second disc, because that is where you will find the black and white version which is the one you want to watch.