30.11.12

Well I See Split Ends Are Universal: Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)

I will start this off with a question I posed while watching this film, followed by a statement.  Is there an era where Jeff Goldblum does not look amazing? Probably not, and along with that thought I want to state that Earth Girls Are Easy might well be one of the most underrated comedies of the 1980's if not one of the most underrated films of the entire decade. With a healthy amount of influence from the New Wave movement of the 80's, a cast of actors who would be stars only years later and some of the best musical numbers, in terms of zaniness since Little Shop of Horrors, this has got to be one of the most misunderstood and overlooked films ever, certainly not deserved of the ungrounded 5.0/10 given to it on IMDB.  An argument could certainly be made that the films is dated, considering the costuming, cell frame animation and surfer dialogue spouted by most of the characters, but like my somewhat recent review of Clueless, I think a lot of the films magic comes in its rather exceptional satire.  Under the directorial eye of Julien Temple this film does not shy away from a visual metaphor and, indeed, embellishes ever moment to use a prop or sign to reinforce or undermine what is occurring on the screen.  Hell, some of the more intense scenes exude an almost Lynchian quality.  It is impossible to watch something like Earth Girls Are Easy without a wide smile and wider eyes, the character commit to the absurdity of what is going on, and even Jeff Goldblum's detached smugness manages to work beautifully within the musical.  With an equal number of SNL and In Living Color actors involved on this production the humor is rather obvious, however, it is no surprise that many of the laughs come from unexpected moments.  A film that uses both The B-52's and Depeche Mode in its soundtrack while also deconstructing notions of otherness, male sexual promiscuity and vanity cannot be easily shirked and it should not be as unloved as it stands to be at the moment.

The premise of Earth Girls Are Easy is as such, Valerie (Geena Davis) is rearing for what she hopes to be the inevitable marriage to her ideal husband the doctor Ted (Charles Rocket) despite their love live having gone to the dumps, made all the more problematic by his wandering eye.  Valerie's coworker Candy (Julie Brown) suggest that she undertake a makeover as a means to rekindle things with Ted, unfortunately, her act is a little too late as her attempts to surprise Ted, result in her catching him in an act of infidelity.  Meanwhile, in the expanses of outer space three aliens, in desperate hope of getting laid botch their controls and crash land on earth, in of all places Valerie's pool, only hours after a fight with Ted has led to his being kicked out.  The three aliens Zeebo (Damon Wayans), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and Mac (Jeff Goldblum) emerge from the pool to a frightened and uncertain Valerie.  Yet after much misunderstanding and a realization that it will take at least a day for her pool to be drained in order for the spaceship to be removed, Valerie agrees to take the aliens in and hide them.  However, their colorful furry bodies will not pass as humans, and she recruits a befuddled Candy to help.  Upon cleaning them up to make them look more human, it is apparent that they are not bad looking, least of all Mac who Valerie takes a liking to instantly.  Obtaining a surprisingly substantial amount of information and language from one afternoons worth of language, the aliens fit nicely into the absurdity that was the West Coast in the 80's.  Yet, Ted returns into the picture when he realizes the error in his ways and while seeking forgiveness has a falling out with the aliens, leading to their eventual arrest and placement in a hospital.  Ted sees the aliens as the medical break through that will assure him success, while Valerie only possesses concern for their safety and after much back and forth she is able to return the trio to their ship, realizing that it is best for Valerie to stay with Ted, Mac uses his alien techniques to cause the couples hormones to run wild, yet it proves unsuccesful as Valerie now loves Mac.  Elated Mac invites her to join them as they return to their planet.

A couple of brilliant things are going on in this film, the first being the clear condemnation of the America under the hyper-conservative eyes of Reagan.  Ted represents an individual who wants all that wealth entails as well as an unbridled masculine privilege, particularly in regards to those who work under him, as opposed to Valerie who appears to want to exist in a state of self-expression and enjoyment as her employment at Curl-Up and Dye suggests.  The film contrast this image of hyper rigidity with an equally problematic free hippie liberalism via Woody (Michael McKean) whose demands that every one chill and be cool push a varied form of conformity.  Aside from the "otherness" of the aliens as a commentary all its own, perhaps suggestions of interracial love or at least communal unity, the intense observation skills of Mac, Wiploc and Zeebo display a commentary on the necessity for listening and learning, particularly for an assured unified society.  The aliens succeed in companionship because they, better than the humans in the film, pick up on cues in the world around them and in any instance that their actions may be seen as violent or aggressive, it is always the result of  ignorance or misunderstanding on the individual they are engaged with.  In fact, if any person in the film is incapable of evolution it is Ted with his philandering ways, a habit he shows no intent of altering.  Only Valerie is able to obtain the drive to learn from the aliens, something that comes to fruition when she leaves Ted to join Mac on a new planet.  This is a migration to the unknown on an intergalactic level, transcendent of the woes of late 80's America, yet all to keen in its inherent suggestive nature.

Key Scene:  Dat reveal of Jeff Goldblum!  You will know what I am talking about.  I was prior to this film gay for Brad Pitt, but I might add Mr. Goldblum to that list as well.

This fim needs a revival and I hope at least one person who reads this takes my reviews earnestness to heart.  Either purchase a copy or watch it on Netflix.  Who knows maybe this vibrant an cinematic film will get an HD upgrade if enough people show interest.

29.11.12

In Order To Find, You Must First Learn To Hide: Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

There are two things I can say right off the bat when talking about this film.  Firstly, it is perhaps one of the best literary adaptations I have witnessed to date, although that should be no surprise considering it was in the ever caring hands of Francois Truffaut.  Secondly, I am pretty sure that Tommy Wiseau of The Room infamy took all his acting cues from Oskar Werner, particularly in the manner of uttering names.  Although, this adaptation of Ray Bradbury's canonical novel is sadly one of Truffaut's lesser works, it manages to exude so much of the style and substance we have come to know and love about the director, managing to make it one of my favorite of the director, second only to Shoot The Piano Player.  It captures all the greatness of a dystopian nightmare while still managing to be cinematic, understated and surprisingly fresh.  It is no small matter to make a film about a person who burns books and exists in a society that has, essentially, become inundated with mind-numbing television programs whose vague dialogue and open-endedness manage to blindly lead the "cousins" of some unnamed future city into believing that they are happy with meaningless dribble on a flat screen television, one of Bradbury's more eerie visions to prove true and other consumerist oriented items.  Friendship is a vague thing in this film and deservedly so, because Truffaut's reimagining of the work, emphasizes the separated nature of this paranoid world in which reading a book is a crime, on the grounds that to engage with written work is to invariably cause one to be sad.  Firefighters now cause fires as opposed to putting them out, although an argument could be made as to them putting out the fires of revolution through censorship.  This film somewhat serves as a counter to Godard's vision of what television would do to society, and as I have mentioned far earlier in this blog, Godard and Truffaut had a rather unfortunate falling out only years prior to this films release.  Truffaut sees a world where we can still escape conformity through the memories of wonderment, while Godard manages to see all going to hell via mass technologies, something he makes contentiously clear in Film Socialisme.  I am always in the favor of Truffaut's vision because it has a care and earnestness for human success and, honestly, who can stand to be as virulently depressed as Godard all the time.

For those of you not terribly familiar with the novel, let me first suggest reading the book before even continuing on with this description and if you have already had the pleasure of engaging with Bradbury's work the plot should be a nice refresher.  We are shown a firefighter named Montag (Oskar Werner) whose job as stated earlier is not to put out fires, but to burn books, donning a badge that reads 451, the temperature at which paper ignites.  He is, as the story begins, the ideal employee and up for promotion, something that makes his wife Linda (Julie Christie) quite happy, because it means that they will, amongst other things, be able to finally get another wall unit with which to watch more television shows.  Things seem aligned to work perfectly until Montag is approached by a woman named Clarisse  (Julie Christie) who confronts him about the reasons behind burning books and asks him if he had ever actually read one of the books he is so quick to destroy.  While Montag is initially quite dismissive of this suggestion, a growing concern for what makes these books so cherished causes him to crack into a copy of David Copperfield, an act that changes him forever, causing him to become filled with an insatiable desire to read, an act that leads to a distancing from Linda.  Montag, nonetheless, continues his job all the while secretly reading, until he witnesses a woman choose to die engulfed with her books rather instead of living in a world without them.  This realization that books do reflect something much larger than words on a page, Montag can no longer contain his desires and even while he is forced to watch his house burn down, he steals a book and flees to the outskirts of the city.  There he finds a commune of people who have dedicated their lives to memorizing a book, thus the words on the page possess a living identity, he reencounters Clarisse while memorizing The Collected Short Stories of Edgar Allen Poe.  The film closes with the members of the group walking back and forth reciting the books they have committed to memory.

I mentioned that it was a rather bold act to make a film version of a book that is essentially about a society becoming disconnected from the written word.  Of course, Bradbury's concern was more with television and even more so a society that censors all things that could make them reconsider their social place.  Yet, Truffaut manages to use the film as a provocation of what the novel already was and creates it is in such a jarring and intense manner that it does exactly what good literature should and what bad television fails to do, it incorporates thought provoking moments throughout and Truffaut a film scholar at heart uses his medium as much as a form of literature as any great author.  Furthermore, there are momentary tricks and brilliant cinematic doublings simply not possible in the book  The obvious one being the playing of both Linda and Clarisse by Julie Christie, which suggests that it is not infidelity that drives Montag away from Linda, but a desire to escape monotony and a fascist oppression.  Similarly, we are able to witness the actual act of book burning, which while describe quite magnificently by Bradbury in the text, helps with its literal incandescence on a screen.  Various other tricks throughout the film, whether they be edited zoom-in shots or the reversal shots allowing for Montag and other to slide up a fire pole ad layers of filmic metaphor and emphasis on the absurd world in which this dystopic state exists.  I would argue that this is not necessarily an alternative work to Bradbury's original, but almost a add-on to the ideas professed in the novel.  Truffaut clearly has a close attachment to this fascist idea of censorship and wants to attack it in his own artistic medium.

Key Scene:  While the book burning moments are intense, nothing is quite as well executed as Montag's first moments of reading David Copperfield.

This is how a literary adaptation should be made and it is now one of my favorite Truffaut works, perhaps in need of a push out of obscurity.  Cinematically and metaphorically it serves as everything one should desire from film.  Getting a copy, all be it a bit pricey, is a must.

28.11.12

You Called Me A "Pompous" Windbag The Other Night: Smart People (2008)

Smart People, the directorial debut of Noam Murro, is not a particularly brilliant film, nor is it an awful movie.  Essentially, a film like this perfectly defines a middle of the road movie, one with some exceptional performances, particularly on the part of Dennis Quaid, and some endearing moments.  Yet, the sum of all this films parts do not equal a whole.  It is perhaps a bit to distancing of a film to be accessible to all viewers, admittedly I found many of the high-brow jokes quite amusing, but at a point in the film the believability of every characters ability to throw down these one liners about existentialist woes and post-modern intellectual rhetoric became absurd.  The problem is that the film wants to be relatable to every viewer, unlike Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming or Stillman's Metropolitan, which both posit themselves as films about pretentious people existing in a pretentious world.  In opposition is Smart People, which so desperately seeks to be liked by the average viewer, even including non-intellectual characters into the narrative mix, however, feels that these moments are always forced and relationships do not necessarily prove organic, but instead quite forced and unbelievable.  Perhaps if Smart People were two distinct movies it would prove less problematic and much less tenuous. I do credit Murro for not placating to demands of normal narrative structures, in accessible characters, but simply wish that his vision of disillusioned intellectuals fit into their spaces properly, instead of trying to force themselves into moments without logical connections.  Furthermore, much is made of the quirks and absurdities of each member in the family, yet no explanation is given as to how these acts evolved or emerged, especially in regards to the families traumatic loss prior to the narratives emergence.  Ultimately, Smart People is a film focused on one man's reconciling with his life up to a point, but the means by which he engages in his change, and the path we are asked to follow as viewers simply does not provide for any sort of lively provocation or reflective sentimentality.


Smart People centers on the failings of Dr. Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) a self-righteous professor of literature who has all but disconnected from society after the loss of his wife years earlier.  He has very few friends and is despised by both his students and colleagues.  After forgetting his briefcase in his car that was towed, Lawrence attempts to retrieve the item without paying a fine, unfortunately, he falls off the fence while doing so, causing him to have a seizure and end up in the hospital.  There he is cared for by Dr. Janet Harigan (Sarah-Jessica Parker) who it is later revealed was one of his students over a decade earlier.  Janet admits to having had a crush on Lawrence, despite her despising him for giving her a C on a paper.  The seizure Lawrence experiences causes him to become reliant on others to drive him about and his wunderkind daughter Vanessa (Ellen Page) refuses to do so as she is in her senior year of high school and preparing to move off to college, while his son James (Ashton Holmes) is distanced from his overbearing father and simply extracts himself from commitment.  As such Lawrence is forced to rely on the help of his adoptive brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) who is unreliable and relative to his lifestyle quite unsophisticated.  The narrative then splits into two stories the first being Lawrence navigating the paths of romance with Janet, an initially unsuccessful task considering that his own surly and pretentious ways make it near impossible to connect on a human level, while the other portion of the narrative centers on Chuck attempting to convince Vanessa that there is far more to life than being an exceptional student.  Of course, despite some moments of climax, the film wraps up nicely with everyone bonding, although James becomes noticeably irrelevant by the films closing, serving more as a plot advancer than anything else.

A question then emerges on how to portray intellectuals on screen, a task that can be troublesome and often impossible.  Take for example the world of Godard's films, something I have both praised and criticized, is Godard's characters.  His more contemporary works create intellectuals who profess, but do not exude intelligence, which is what appears to be the case with Lawrence in Smart People.  That is not to criticize Dennis Quaid's performance, which was quite exceptional and unexpected, where it placed within any other film it could likely have earned him an Oscar nomination.  Regardless, Lawrence does not learn to adapt his intelligence to equate to being liked, but instead learns to create two spheres to engage with the world, one where he is privately less intellectual, and another the public where he remains the same.  The closing scene of the film with him in the classroom should not be read as him learning to engage with the students simply by sitting on his desk and asking them where they are from, because he has not actually suggested that they are capable of engaging with him intellectually means that his evolution is not complete.  Succumbing to the release of his hyper-pretentious You Can't Read book also affirms this notion.  Furthermore, he learns to accept Chuck as a family member, but it appears as this is the limitation of his desire to bond with his non-biological brother.  Finally, even when he becomes tied to Janet it is predicated on her pregnancy, suggesting that it is more out of social necessity and respectability than love and desire.  I have not seen Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting but I hear they portray intellectuals in a different light, perhaps I will reconsider this idea in relation to one of those films later down the line.  Until then, just know that Smart People is not a great depiction of the intellectual in cinema.

Key Scene:  Perhaps the sweetest moment in the film occurs when Chuck and Lawrence are perusing Costco for baby items, but even then it is not a particularly brilliant moment.

I have no real reason to suggest watching this film, unless you like any of the actors involved.  Instead go watch Kicking and Screaming or some other properly intellectual film.

26.11.12

I Am Beginning To Realize I Don't Realize What I Am Saying: Simon Of The Desert (1965)

There is seriously something about Bunuel's more heavily religious films that makes me think I am really overlooking elements of Christianity that can be both deeply philosophical and contentious.  If Simon of the Desert, one of Bunuel's black and white work from the sixties is not a dark horse for his most surreal film, it is certainly the winner for his most semantic.  Sure he made The Milky Way which uses words from the bible, catechism and theological debates to frame nearly all of its narrative, but something about a guy justifying his standing on a pillar in the desert for no apparent reason other than to suffer, makes for some great dialogue, especially when he finds opposition from not only a feminine devil, but from fellow clergymen as well.  I can imagine that this is one of the main films Bunuel received criticism for and a reflection of the reason he was, for quite sometime, banned from Spain.  An ignorant and intentionally repressed reading of this film would lead an viewer to think that Bunuel was outright mocking all forms of penance and fasting, however, that is simply not the case.  Instead, a film like Simon of the Desert exists to consider the purpose and validity of sacrifice, especially when it is raised upon a literal pedestal and appears to have no value beyond personifying piety.  In the matter of forty or so minutes, Bunuel deconstructs an entire characters existence, suggesting that even though he resides upon a religious throne, he is prone to the same failings as a lesser being, or in the rhetoric of this film a sinner.  It would also appears, in the opening scenes that one could only creatively shoot around a large pillar so many ways before repeating, yet Bunuel, along with Gabriel Figueroa make the stone object serve as a variety of metaphors and memories throughout the brief satire, and knowing that the two worked on The Exterminating Angel only years earlier helps to ground its explosive surrealist tendencies, yet like the namesake of the film, notions of elevation and groundedness constantly battle narratively and visually throughout the film.


Simon of the Desert centers on a fictional rethinking of a real life saint named Simeon Stylites who spent 39 years of his life sitting on a pillar as an act of devotion to God.  His particular form of penance known as asceticism, in which one engages in severe self-sacrifice as a devotion to God.  In the film, Simeon (Claudio Brook) is only engaging in the act for six years, six months and six days, a not so sly stab on the part of Bunuel.  His act has led him to become a point of prayer for locals who see him as a miracle worker, at one point literally healing the missing hands of a farmer.  However, his recent rewarding of a higher pillar by a gracious town elite, leads to his flailing and doubting about his own relationship with God.  Furthermore, the accidental gazing upon a woman by a praying monk leads to Simeon's own temptations with the flesh, longings that manifest themselves in a wish to return to the care of his mother, as well as consume lavish and non-sustaining foods.  Along with his own personal struggles emerges The Devil (Silvia Pinal) who tempts Simeon with actions of the flesh, dressing in fetishized outfits and even offering its nude body to the stalwart Simeon.  Unfortunately, no amount of dedication or penance can seem to get Simeon to retain his original focus.  Even after trying to stand on one leg, Simeon begins to lose his credibility.  His followers mock his statements as they become more and more illogical and his own visions begin to fail miserably, he starts seeing images of The Devil in the nude and it is upon her eventual arrival in a casket that Simeon falls apart.  He sees the arrival of an airplane which whisks the two of them into modernity as they sit in a hip psychedelic club watching young people dance to a song aptly titled "Radioactive Flesh."  Simeon has failed to maintain his piety and now resides in a moment of frenzy and physicality that will only lead to his impending unhappiness.  In brilliant Bunuel fashion, this absurd closing bookends the film with no explanation and no logic, in what his friends of youth would have called and "ultimate surrealist act."


While the explanation is certainly up for analysis and a point of ambiguity within the film, it is much more important to consider the meaning of the pillar, after all I realized it to be the most important aspect of the film.  The obvious go to for the surrealist element is the phallic nature of the film, after all it begins with Simeon being provided a larger pole to stand on, clearly a means of sexual identity.  Yet, it is the notion that the ascetic becomes attached to desires of the flesh that affirm this possible reading.  He cannot engage in sexual conquest do to oath, as such the large pillar represents his affirmation of power, in a metaphorical sense.  I will note that I have had some loving criticism as to my constant reference to psychoanalysis here on the blog, so I will offer other interpretations as well.  Another possibility comes when discussing tradition.  Bunuel clearly considers what role such a form of penance has in 1965 when luxury and visibility are much easier obtained than in the 4th century.  The pillar a clear hearkening back to ancient times serves as Simeon's attachment to the past, one that would reward his seemingly illogical act, yet he cannot escape the frenetic and non-stoic nature of modernity, as the films closing could suggest.  The third possibility is that the pillar is a performance piece, in which a man of rather lacking faith uses an object to literally heighten his importance.  Aside from curing the sick, an act that is never fully of his doing, Simeon does little to aid people directly, instead he relishes in his superiority and falsely earned admiration.  He places himself in an elevated stature to avoid actually helping those on the ground, yet his own foolishness leads him back to the bottom as the film ultimately depicts.

Key Scene:  There is a moment when Simeon is laying in his mothers lap while the back ground depicts a shot of Simeon simultaneously standing on the pillar, it is surrealism 101, yet in the hands of Bunuel it is magic.

This is a great film one of Bunuel's lesser known works that is available both on Huluplus and in DVD from Criterion.  Pick either and here is to you enjoying it as much as I did.

24.11.12

The Truth Is, We're All Fighting For Salvation: George Washington (2000)

My recent review of Beasts of the Southern Wild heralded it as something so uniquely its own that I praised it incessantly suggesting that it was indicative of something new in filmmaking.  While I still thoroughly enjoyed that work and still think it reflects a grand change in independent cinema, I had never had the great pleasure of viewing George Washington, a directorial debut by David Gordon Green, whose, unfortunate, movement into stoner comedies has led me to never look into his ouevre.  However, George Washington sat as one of the early works I desired from the Criterion Collection and thanks to a recent subscription to HuluPlus I was able to watch this poetic film.  As for critical opinions there seem to be two fields of thought towards this film, the first suggests that it is a prententious exploitative film that borrows far to heavily from the playbook of Terrence Malick to be considered artistic and a second group who finds the cinematography, storyline and sheer atmospheric magic of this film to be indicative of rural southern life during its movement into a new millennium.  I am firmly within the latter grouping and found George Washington to be an exceptionally beautiful film about coming-of-age in a world of absurdisms, one that causes an individual to have a magical realist outlook towards the world, while also dealing with some intensely real issues.  The images in this film melt off the screen, at times literally peeling away and flow so smoothly despite changing subject matter that the comparisons to Malick are obvious, yet to suggest that this film rips his work off is to both discredit Malick and to misunderstand Green's film.  There are things such as the breaking on the filmic space by causing the image to distort that do not fit within the stylings of Malick, while the poetics and free floating narration of the film are clearly similar.  Yet, where Malick seems to go further into pondering, Green finds answers in the present, all be it ones equally ambiguous.  Furthermore, there exists an underlying humor to George Washington that is currently extinct within the work of Malick, but from what I understand he is to be making a comedy in the coming year...so that could all change.  Regardless, George Washington is a thing of beauty and incredibly visceral, yet understated.  You may have seen moments of this film elsewhere, but its collective offering is purely its own.

George Washington centers around everything but the first president of The United States, and while the main characters name is indeed George (Donald Holden) nothing else about him is presidential, of course this is 2000 well before the election of Barack Obama.  George is a young African-American boy who lives with his fiery-tempered uncle and subdued mother, and voyages around his rural Southern town wearing a football helmet, because of a rare skull condition that makes heavy contact and wetness detrimental to his survival.  His friends include the wise-cracking Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), who has an unusual penchant for wearing a velociraptor mask, Buddy's off and on girlfriend Nasia (Candace Evanofski) and Vernon (Damian Jewan Lee) a large boy who uses his authoritative figure in very few situations.  Aside from the young groups explorations and pontifications we are also provide a semi-regular glimpse into the some of the lives of working class young adults in the community, focusing specifically on Rico (Paul Schneider) who is often seen engaging in conversations with the youth.  The life they young people lead is not particularly easy and constant references to their lower-class living pop up throughout the film and, as such, their adventures often lead them to unusual places whether it be conversations in the pews of churches or the recitation of Shakespeare in a dilapidated community recreational hall.  One of these unusual encounters occurs in a bathroom, in which, George furious at Buddy for knocking him into the wall, pushes Buddy back, ultimately, causing him to slip on some water and bust his head open, an accident that proves fatal.  Panicking the group attempts to hide the body of Buddy in an abandoned house outside of town, only for George to feel guilty and eventually place the body in the river to be later discovered.  While the group never confess to their accidental murder, Vernon, along with a young girl named Sonya (Rachael Handy), who was also present at Buddy's death attempt to steal a car and escape from the city, with terrible results.  On the other hand, George attempts to counter his actions by going out of his way to save lives, donning a wrestling leotard, cape and his helmet he becomes a super hero in his mind.


George Washington manages to catch so many social reflections and philosophical inquiries within what appears to be a rather limited narrative net.  We as viewers are asked to ponder both the state of social equity as it relates to class, race, gender and even regional difference, but most importantly what role one's age has on their ability to confront the tragedies of the world, both affecting them and their loved ones.  George's room is by no accident adorned with a photograph of a smiling George H.W. Bush who appears to linger over his every reflection and action.  As is now well known, Bush, and his successor, failed to properly provide concern for the southern rural poor, despite playing heavily on this identity to earn votes.  By extension, however, George learns of these oppressions by not experience them himself, but seeing them through the pain and suffering of his psychologically troubled uncle, brilliantly named Damascus (Eddie Rouse).  Even George's interactions with Rico problematize notions of oppression, because while Rico is certainly quite open-minded in his race relations, even dating a black girl during the film, his progressive ideals do not necessarily reflect that of his entire town.  When George saves the life of a young white boy, the mother comes to thank George personally, and it is impossible to ignore her trepidation as she approaches the house that to her clearly houses the other.  Yet these elements of the film are entrenched within the eyes of the youth who are its subject, death, poverty and racism are not facts to them, but moments of uncertainty that are better explained by notions of fantasy and humor than grounded reason.  It is perhaps Nasia's professing on challenging god or Buddy's brilliant dinosaur Shakespeare monologue that manage to show that not all their ignorance is unintentional, instead; they choose when to ignore tragedy in life, as some awful things simply must not be acknowledged because no amount of explanation and maturity can justify their existence.

Key Scene:  The film has many, but I will constantly remember the one of Buddy quoting Shakespeare in a velociraptor mask.  It is forever burned into my memory, quite welcomely I do admit.

I watched this on Hulu and while it was a great introduction I cannot wait to purchase a copy and neither should you.

23.11.12

Experiments In Film: Karel Appel, Composer (1961)

From the opening scream in this rather sound oriented experimental documentary film, one is jarred by the realization that they are given a film whose sound, is unusually dominant within the space of the frames.  Despite having a considerably striking set of visuals, this work by Ed Van der Elsken is surprisingly oriented towards what can be done with sound, as opposed to what is shown on the image, as loud screams, grating sirens and a slew of other industrial sounds drown out the voices of everyone within the film, including Karel Appel, the painter turned sound engineer who is the featured subject of this unusual work.  Of course it is no surprise that Appel's paintings also fill the screen, in both moving images of him at work on a particularly abstract piece, as well as still frames of him mid stroke on a canvas, in what is perhaps some of the greatest chiaroscuro I have witnessed in an experimental black and white film, aside of course from Chris Marker's La Jetee.  While I could find dozens of individuals hard pressed to call this short work a documentary, it essentially takes the subject matter of the film a painter turned composer and considers his transition, using the filmic space as a means to reemphasize these ideals.  The film is frantically composed and seems to capture the madness we are to assume correlates to Appel, particularly scenes in which the reels of soundtrack stack up around him, at points consuming himself and the floor he works on, in cinematic terms, this brief film captures the identity of a mad artist, so succinctly and accurately that its obvious obscurity is a surprise to myself, especially since it seems so brilliantly post-modern as to suggest my love for it.  Such a jarring piece of experiment film has never looked so beautiful.

I have not had the opportunity to see some of Godard's documentaries, particularly the ones concerning the labor unions in Britain, as well as the history of cinema, but from what I have read it appears as though he is equal parts concerned with the role sound plays into cultural output, as to that of its visual appeal.  An incredibly deconstructionist thought in its emergence, one cannot help but attach similar notions to Van der Elsken, who clearly wants to consider the tumultuous relationship between sound and image and how merging the two can lead to madness.  However, the film also reminds those who watch it that an initially confrontation combination of two separate artistic endeavors can often coalesce into something perfected.  One only needs to pause the film to realize that the image detached from the sound remains stellar, or close their eyes to hear a glimpse of industrial rock coming into existence to realize that if a viewer/listener combines their senses they will be provided with something truly profound.  Of course the separate moments are nice on their own, one only needs to check into some of Appel's artwork to realize this, experiment film, however, always allows for these boundaries to be tested.

To find out more about filmmaker Ed Van der Elsken or to view Karel Appel, Composer click on either of the images below:





22.11.12

A Whole World Realized On A Single Boat: The Bow (2005)

If I define a film as being poetic realism one could certainly assume it to be Italian or French, if I add that it is set on a boat with noticeably sparse dialogue one might narrow the field down to a Scandinavian offering.  If I add that it deals with some heavy issues of patriarchal oppression and problematic ties to the womb, it might be situated within the Spanish filmmaking tradition.  However, if I include all of these factors and mention that the film climaxes in a moment of violence that has an inherent tie to sexual awakening then it is highly likely that the film is probably comfortably residing within the New Korean tradition.  Ki-duk Kim, who has been reviewed multiple times on this blog manages to create such a film in The Bow, something so surreally poetic that I felt moved in a way emotionally more indicative of melodrama.  I have not encountered a soundtrack so perfect for a film in quite awhile, both in is serene almost ethereal quality, as well as its constant intersections within the diegetic world of the film.  The acting in this movie, for being a somewhat absurdist plot, is well-executed and quite believable.  It manages to take a narrative space that is quite condensed and spread out a message about humanity, or at least the South Korean notion of humanity, throughout the film.  I am coming to realize that when one discusses the work of Ki-duk Kim one must necessarily consider a multitude of narrative possibilities, as well as an incredible intersection of identities.  While it is not as diverse in The Bow as it is in some of his earlier works, one must nonetheless contest a variety of class, gender and race identities before truly configuring the message promoted by the popular and controversial filmmaker.  I have been dabbling in finding specific Korean directors to write lengthier research pieces on an realize that Chan-wook Park is far to mainstream, while Chang-dong Lee proves to obscure.  Perhaps with a few more films by Ki-duk Kim under my belt I could go with his oeuvre, because it is equal parts problematic and revolutionary, a great trove of research to any burgeoning scholar.


The Bow focuses on life as it occurs on a small fishing boat, somewhere in the non-descript waters surrounding Korea.  The young girl (Yeo-reum Han) finds herself a member of a crew that aside from her only consists of an old man, played magnificently by Seong-hwang Jeon, who appears to be keeping a schedule of her aging, with the intent of marrying her upon her seventeenth birthday.  Viewers are provided with little context as to why she resides on this boat, aside from her initial arrival some ten years earlier.  What is made quite clear is the old mans severe protection of the girl from the lecherous advances of other fishers, going so far as to ward of their lingering touches with warning shots from a steady and precise bow and arrow.  Furthermore, the old man provides fortunes via firing the arrow as they young girl swings back and forth, narrowly dodging the missiles as they whiz by.  It seems as though the old man will receive his reward for stalwart patience, until the emergence of a particularly dashing young man sends the young girl into a infatuated tizzy, one which is clearly shared by the man who provides the young girl with some of her first glimpses into the technological world outside the boat, via a walkman and cell phone.  Of course, the old man contests this and makes certain that she is distanced from him, only to be threatened that he will return with the girls parents to save her from the boat.  When the man does return with news that her parents are indeed seeking her out, the young girl becomes confused and grows weary of her place on the boat, pushing the old man away despite his best efforts.  Agreeing to have his fortune read, the young man discovers that he is not the rightful owner of the young girls heart, but, nonetheless, demands that she be allowed to leave her prison.  Reluctantly agreeing to this the old man attempts suicide only for the young girl to return and marry him and act that is never consummated sexually, at least in the traditional sense, a carefully placed arrow might say otherwise.  The film then ends with the boat sinking into a bottomless darkness, the girl waving all the while.


The criticisms run deep for this film, not unlike the ocean which the boat floats ever so stagnantly on throughout the narrative.  Specifically, as they relate to notions of oppression, all of which are enacted upon the body of the young girl.  Firstly, as a female body she is a point of objectification to the various males throughout the film, firstly, the old man who has sexual intentions for, problematically, guised in earnest care.  However, the various men who come and go from the boat seem to desire conquest or sexual satisfaction, undertaking acts that range from innocent snuggling to foul placement of fish bait.  No protection is provided for the girl that is not predicated on another's own sexual desires.  She is clearly the othered body in the narrative, as far as sexuality is concerned.  Beyond this, she is also oppressed in terms of class presence, as a surrogate daughter to a fisher she lacks wealth and is invariably unable to expand her worldview, this is reaffirmed when she is given headphones as a gift, only to use them without realizing that they provide no sound when not attached to an output.  Furthermore, one can find points of oppresion that emerge from the young girls lack of education or apparent muteness as a handicap.  These forms of restraint are eventually broken in the closing moments of the film as she explodes in a near orgasmic manner in her troublesome sexual awakening scene, yet what her minds opens up to is likely far more than purely sexual notions.

Key Scene:  Pretty much any of the moments involving the bow violin music are aurally and visually pleasing.

This is a solid Korean film and perhaps the most arthouse of any seen to date, with the exception of some of Ki-duk Kim's earlier work and is well worth owning.  A new copy of the DVD is not terribly expensive either.

21.11.12

I Told You I Want A Spotlight Right Here!: The Broadway Melody (1929)

With the emergence of sound to cinema, the musical became a staple of Hollywood, so much so that one could say Broadway existed as a means of film, instead of the theatrical world we have come to expect it to be, especially considering that major studies essentially made musical review films in the numbers.  This is certainly the case for The Broadway Melody, one of the earlier musicals, which would go on to have remakes in the two following decades, however, it would not find the success of its original, which, much to my surprise, won Best Picture that year.  I say I am surprise, not because I have seen any of the films from the same year, but because The Broadway Melody is not especially good.  It clearly has the desire to be a musical review, that happens to have the base story necessary to call it a film, the story is trite and the performer were clearly not hired for their acting.  Of course this is early in sound filmmaking and means that the demands and expectations for such a film were different, yet only two years earlier, blackface aside, The Jazz Singer was released to much success and with a far  higher level of production value and only a few years later 42nd Street would be released, which is a spectacle of a film and one of my personal favorites in the underviewed category of musicals.  I think much of my disdain for the film comes from its glaringly stagnant camera work, often resting on two people talking, failing to do so much as even cut to reactions or even slightly alter an angle within a scene, which is more surprising considering that director Harry Beaumont also made Our Dancing Daughters, film, while silent, nonetheless, manages to avoid all the pitfalls and failures of The Broadway Melody.  Of course, the music in the film is another matter, it is of a high-quality and many of the more instrumental based songs reflect a level of high musicality that is certainly lost in contemporary musicals and as such provides as the sole factor for what I found agreeable in the film.  I certainly do not hate this film and am glad to have viewed it, but it is something I am unlikely to revisit again.  I will be far more judicial with what I chose, likely sticking to either things involving the cinematography of Busby Berkeley or Astaire/Crosby era works.


The story of The Broadway Melody is noticeably straightforward, considering that the film does everything in the interest of moving the story along, although the opening shot of the New York cityscape via helicopter suggests something cinematically vibrant.  Instead, we are show Eddie Kearns (Charles King) preparing a new song, sharing the title of the film, which he hopes to have released in an upcoming musical review.  While producers are eager to put it in the hands of their star actresses, Eddie has the idea to provide the song to two girls he knows personally, his fiancĂ© Hank Mahoney (Bessie Love) and her sister, Queenie (Anita Page), who much to Eddie's surprise is far more attractive then he remembers.  After pushing and prodding, the girls are given a chance to perform, only to get booted from their initial act much to their dismay, considering that they are living paycheck by paycheck, yet it is the eye of Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thompson) that allows for Queenie to become the ingenue of Broadway.  This thrusting into stardom creates a serious divide between the sisters, not only because of musical respect, but as they become physically confrontational over the love of Eddie.  After some time Queenie begins to see Jock regularly, regardless of disapproving statements by both Hank and Eddie, but it becomes clear that she is only doing so to help ease her mind of growing feelings for Eddie, who she knows rightfully belongs to her sister.  During a lavish party thrown by Jock, specifically for Queenie, he plans to get her alone to take advantage of the young girl, who he sees his property, considering he has essentially paid for her success.  When Queenie denies his advances he becomes physical, but in a last minute rescue Eddie enters the room attacks Jock and saves Queenie.  The film then closes after Hank and Eddie have split, finding their discomfort to large to ignore, Queenie laments that she hopes her sister will find happiness, something that seems unlikely even as she is shown with a new lover.


The Broadway Melody, while not a particularly great film, is rather technologically inventive, running across America as both a sound and silent film, something that becomes obvious by the inter-titles present throughout the film, and an eventual technicolor release of "The Wedding of the Paper Doll" scene, which is easily the most gorgeous moment of the film, even in black and white.  However, The Broadway Melody also exists as an example of pre-code Hollywood in some of the moments depicted. As most readers, undoubtedly, know, the Hayes code was implemented to clean up the filth and immorality many deemed far too present in Hollywood and while this was certainly true for a few films of the time, most were innocent and happened to depict love earnestly.  One would find some of the moments included in The Broadway Melody that were considered controversial rather humorous as they seem quite tame now.  For example, the bond between the two sisters mean that they are intimate with one another and share an on-screen kiss, not one of incest but familial love.  This act, would have in all likelihood been nixed from the film via The Hayes Code.  Similarly the character, brilliantly named Unconscious (Uncredited) would have likely been cut from the film because he is a flat-out drunkard who can barely make it standing upright, let alone complete a sentence.  The moments in this film, while seemingly inconsequential in contemporary society, would have been defined as morally reprehensible and unfit for cinemas across The United States.  Yet, The Broadway Melody exists as a moment of pre-escapism subdued right before America was to face The Great Depression.

Key Scene:  The performance of "Parson Brown" is exceptionally good irregardless of time, musical tastes and lyricism.

This is a fine film, not a great film.  I would suggest watching it only if you desire to see all the Oscar winners, or have a definite love for musicals.

19.11.12

We Deal In Lead Friend: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

To call The Magnificent Seven a remake of Seven Samurai is not to correctly identify the type of film it exists as, particularly in its considerable reappropriation of the samurai motifs of the film in order to affect genre tropes of the Western.  Instead, I like the notion, that some people have applied to this film, as being an "Americanization" of The Magnificent Seven, one that stages and executes itself with clear similarities to the original, but making notable changes to the narrative and theatrics of the film in order to better examine themes and concepts within the fictional setting.  I am not literate enough in Japanese film to say with any certainty as to the degree of stardom associated with each of the actors playing the seven samurai in the Kurosawa film, but a considerable amount of the gunmen in The Magnificent Seven were either well established actors at the time, or would go on to build respectable careers.  The film includes some of the following actors, as some may not get mentioned in the plot synopsis: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach and Robert Vaughn as well as a handful of other notable performers.  Cement this already excellent cast and respectable remake with the attachment of John Sturges and you have a near-perfect film and a masterpiece of the Western genre.  I would venture to bet that some of the bombastic cinematic excitement of the initial viewing fades after rewatching, but I was astounded, this being my first viewing of this classic, by the sheer commitment to the film on all accounts.  While it is certainly no Sergio Leone western and fails to gather the magnitude of a John Wayne driven film, The Magnificent Seven is an honest adaptation of a cinematic gem, done with such care and compassion that it has earned its own place, deservedly, within the pantheon of great cinematic works.  A film like this represents a time in Hollywood where actors would jump at the opportunity to perform together, claiming a higher place on artistic output than on monetary compensation and while this certainly occurs in contemporary cinema, it does not have near the earnest appeal as this half-century old work manages to still exude.


The Magnificent Seven, much like its inspiration, finds it setting in a rural village, in this case on the Mexican border.  The locals, also, peasants farmers, continually suffer from victimization and oppression by a group of bandits who demand their food and money as a means of survival.  After the death of a villager who attempts to stand up to the bandits, the town decides it is due time to confront the bandits, a task that requires them to hire outside help, because they are simply outnumbered, as well as inept at using weaponry, particularly firearms.  In comes the principled hired gun Larabee (Yul Brynner) who agrees to take the considerably low amount of pay simply as a result of doing the right thing.  He decides that the task will require a set of expert gunmen, and one guy who is profusely good at throwing knives, however, the obtaining of an agreeable party proves rather tedious, particularly considering that most of the men refuse to help for such low pay and lack of other forms of pay off.  Furthermore, Larabee finds difficulty with a particular recruit, a young man who is a bit of a hothead and drunkard that, nonetheless, greatly wants to join in the fight.  After some testing and prodding, a group of seven is assembled and they undertake the task of training and prepping the villagers for the next encounter with the bandits.  At first the job seems hopeless, particularly when the villagers cower to the bandits and allow them into the village to upset carefully laid traps and storage facilities.  Eventually, however, the group becomes attached to the village, one man finding happiness interacting with the youth, while another seeks solace by taking a lover.  Even Larabee seems to find solace in  the simple ways of the villagers and the lack of concern for where his next meal may come.  Battle does ensue though and many of the men are lost, only leaving three in the end, one who decides to stay and build a life with a young woman he has fallen in love with, while the other two ride off into the proverbial sunset, undoubtedly, to find new adventures.

This riding off into the sunset trope is perhaps the most obvious departure from the original Japanese film, in that the three remaining samurai remain with the villagers, their lives now inextricably attached to the lifestyle.  In typical American fashion, the opposite occurs with The Magnificent Seven, everyone is a loner, except in the moment of fighting against an oppressive force of evil.  In this way, the film plays out much like a Hollywood war film, in which you have a diverse group of men coalescing on an agreed moral action, only to disperse after its completion.  As opposed to the Japanese film in which honor is a latent ideology that always and at once unifies the masculine group, to break such a code would have fatal results.  Self-sacrifice seems inherent within the Japanese context, while it is almost used as a form of pity within the American version.  Of course that is not to say that the film is to be condemned for such actions, after all the group did vanquish an evil oppressive group of thieves.  Yet, it is particularly interesting to consider that the film does not necessarily chastise the bandits, going so far as to suggest that their own hunger drives them to act in such problematic ways.  Another observation of note with this American version is that masculinity is a point of contention between certain figures in the group, particularly the hot-headed youth who seems set on proving his worth in the group constantly seeking to engage in a pissing contest with whoever will humor his requests.  Incidentally, it is no coincidence that he is the one who settles down with a woman, offering him a clear vantage point to assert his male power.  Some of these elements are also nonexistent in the Japanese original, yet it has been years since I have seen Seven Samurai so the possibility of incorrect memory is highly probable.

Key Scene:  While it is only title cards and an incredible score, I cannot recall a film in recent memory whose opening credits have managed to set a mood quite like The Magnificent Seven.

This is an awesome movie one well worth watching with a few drinks and some friends.  Owning it does not seem necessary, but I may recant that statement at some point, however, make sure to rent the bluray it really pops off the screen.

18.11.12

Art And Masturbation. Two Areas In Which I Am An Absolute Expert: Stardust Memories (1980)

I have viewed a handful of Woody Allen films on the blog since its inception, looking quite favorably upon his 2011 work Midnight In Paris, while being a bit more cautious about liking Shadows and Fog, one of the directors lesser known works.  However, I have yet to tackle one of his more well received and critically acclaimed films, in this case Stardust Memories.  Sure I have mentioned Allen's work on at least one or two occasions via Top Ten Thursdays, but have yet to really tackle one of his more interesting cinematic offerings.  Fortunately, Stardust Memories more than offers me an opportunity to deal with what can be agreed upon as some of his traditional themes.  Stardust Memories, is incredibly referential in its existence, making clear its homage status towards Fellini's 8 1/2, while also making note of Allen's direct influence via The Marx Brothers, as well as other contemporary filmmakers.  In fact, Allen is so up front in his purpose full references to the classic European directors that you can instantly forget this and realize that Stardust Memories is very much its own work, one of such sweet sentimentality and bitter regret that it does not take the constant bemoaning of existential motifs to clearly identify this as a work by the established comedic director.  Stardust Memories, is inarguably Allen's most artisticly oriented work, which is understandable because the director is clearly contesting the nature of art and its place in an individuals daily life, whether it be as an overarching metaphor to their every action or as a driving force in the manner with which they engage society.  I always laugh during Woody Allen films, I would be hard pressed to find anyone who deems themselves an intellectual that would not find his movies funny, but with this film in particular I often found my laughter to be rooted in the close to home nature of many of the main characters struggles, sure he is trying to find a means to justify his place artistically, but so much of the larger schema of the film is the character merely figuring out why he exists at all...a constant existential crisis I seem to find reemerging on a daily basis and something that appears to constantly prey upon Woody Allen to this day.

Stardust Memories focuses on Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) a well-established director who is suffering from a considerable loss of fan base because he is failing to make films that were blatantly funny, like some of his original works, instead; he has meandered into metaphor and despair as his latest work suggest, which focuses on a set of train passengers riding off inexplicably into what appears to be a garbage dump.  Despite chastising and pleading via everyone from his lovers to his producers, Sandy adamantly believes that his newer films speak more to the human condition than his earlier comedies which he finds childish and ignorant.  At the urging of his wife and company executives, Sandy agrees to attend a retrospective of his works up until this point in his career, an event held at the Stardust Hotel which proves to be essentially exactly what he expected, a series of people asking fluff questions while simultaneously begging him to either procure an autograph or agree to attend a slew of various charitable events and auctions.  The occurrences seem rather rudimentary and uneventful until a lover from his past emerges, a French actress named Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault) causes Sandy to question his life up until this point, particularly his relationship with his wife Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling) who has stayed adamantly beside him despite his clear history of infidelity and constant harping on his own existential being.  As Sandy deals with the issues his past films begin to collide far to beautifully with his own struggles paralleling his life as he flails to deal with it.  It is only after a "literal" otherworldly experience that Sandy realizes his futile efforts to struggle with a grander human existence and, instead, celebrates the most simple moments of his life, in a meta-meta-cinema moment the film within a film, which happens to also be within a film ends, with Sandy (or Woody) leaving the screening of Stardust Memories, the individuals reflecting on the films closing, asking the same questions that the assumedly fictional critics did within the films opening scenes.  In Woody Allen's world life imitates art, not the other way around.

In the hands of any other director a flat out homage to, and at some points remake of 8 1/2 would be pretentious and self-serving, yet even when Stardust Memories is clearly existing to serve the cause of Woody Allen it manages to be such an artistically sound piece of cinema that its validity and beauty is not to be questioned.  The fact that Allen is so self-aware throughout the film certainly helps to explain the work as being detached from pretension.  Sure the images of Grucho Marx on the wall juxtaposed with the violence in Vietnam could be deemed in bad taste, but I would adamantly argue that they exist in the film to display the foolish notion that an artist should always and at once be commenting on the tragedies within the world while also being accessible.  The characters in Stardust Memories miss Sandy's old funny pictures, but are incapable of realizing that the questions he seeks to answer and study are not possible within a comedic setting, because lets face it there is no funny way to deal with the now infamous image of a man being shot in the streets of Vietnam, yet some moviegoers seem to desire this occurrence, without realizing its inherent flaw in logic, as well as its overall bad taste.  Allen's films are, as opposed to someone like Jean-Luc Godard, rarely concerned with the political suffering of other countries, instead he contests the problems of guilt related to realizing you having nothing to suffer from, certainly not economic woe or physical harm.  While there is something to be said about the zealous approach to how Godard merges comedy, cinema and politics, it often fails miserably, as opposed to Allen, who in Stardust Memories manages to take a very personal guilt about lacking a critical global eye and not only mock it, but in the end justify it as a reminder that he chooses not to speak on certain blatantly corrupt acts, because his filmic medium would do no good to its level of seriousness, instead, Stardust Memories offers both a means of comedic escape as well as one of cinematic art at its finest.

Key Scene:  As it stands right now the hot air balloon scene is the second most beautiful thing I have seen shot on black and white, only to that of Godzilla's death in the original version of the film.

Tragically there is no bluray available for this film at the moment, as such I suggest waiting patiently for its release because it will only make an already gorgeous film that much nicer.

17.11.12

The Spider Web Drips With Water: The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well (1996)

Yet another Korean film and yet another piece of cinema I find myself enamored with.  While The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, manifests itself somewhat differently from many Korean films I have viewed, as well as those mentioned on the blog here, not because it is non-linear or multi-narrative, but because it is a work solely concerned within the tragic monotony of a few middle-class individuals in modern Seoul.  In that aspect, it is similar to other films I have seen in its fear and frustrations resulting from improper dealings with modernity, however, the better portion of this film just depicts a group of people failing on a large scale.  This is a poetic, highly sexual and incredibly watchable film, yet it is also a tragic film in which characters possess very few redemptive skills, lack the will to advance beyond their  insufferable existence and constantly cross behind each other back to engage in devious monetary mismanagements and a seemingly unending set of infidelities.  All that being said, director Hong Sang-soo in his debut manages to offer something so inherently realized and necessary that I am not surprised by its great success at the festival circuit and its constant mention in the various books on Korean cinema that I read.  I am a bit bothered though by its lack of familiarity on a larger cinema scale, not only on the stage of world cinema, but within Korean cinematic history as well.  Sure it is not Oldboy, or a classic Korean melodrama, but it is an opulently cinematic film that masks itself within the veneer of a gross and reprehensible set of characters, managing to create something that borders perfectly between disturbingly sparse and melodramatically grandiose.  The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, is a work that should stand as a lesson in how to produce an independent work that is always and at once well-acted, forward thinking and earnestly reflective of its previous influences.  While not one of the best made films by a long shot, perhaps a sounder made film does not exist.


The Day a Pig Fell into the Well, is a set of heavily interconnected stories about a group of individuals who exist within deceitful lives, in terms of monetary engagements, job related tasks and most importantly sexual exploits.  Arguably the largest factor within this film centers around characters going behind one another to engage in sexual acts, whether it be a writer who is having an affair with his wife, by having sex with a woman who is having an affair with her husband.  However, if this were all he was doing it would be one thing, the man also borrows money from one female only to turn around and give it to the person with whom he is having an affair.  Another segment of the narrative focuses on the cuckolded husband as he makes a trip to Seoul for business, only to turn around and sleep with a prostitute, something that leads to him getting an unspecified venereal disease, which in turn leads his wife to realize that he too has cheated, even though she is guilty of similar actions on a far more frequent basis.  We are even provided a glimpse into the writers other lover, who is head over heels about him, going so far as to buy him presents and swoon over him, yet when she comes to his apartment and finds him with another woman she becomes upset, leading him to chastise her and kick her around in the street.  Eventually, by some means of absurdism the group comes together at what is assumed to be a wake or funeral, the levels of infidelity become clear yet little confrontation occurs.  It is only in the end that the husband reasserts his masculinity upon his wife, but as the narrative suggests she has yet another relationship on the back burner.  Also some people are killed at some point, but that is almost a trope within Korean cinema at this point.


I cannot begin to expand on the possibilities for interpretation within this film, one could always touch upon the fears of modernity within contemporary Korea, a theme that I have mentioned frequently on this blog, but these are obvious critiques something not worth reiterating at this time.  I could even talk about the gender components in this film, because at times they are glaringly problematic, while in other moments they are quite revolutionary, however, I have an academic paper I am currently working on which will afford me that opportunity.  Instead, I am going to glean something from an article on the film that I have yet to read that discusses temporality and repetition in the work.  This seems to be a rather keen focus for this, film considering that it is essentially the same group of people, committing the same acts in somewhat similar spaces.  In fact, the only separating factor appears to be time a very temporal thing, but one that serves to solely sever a direct tie between each act.  Psychologically speaking this is what allows the characters to commit awful acts, ranging from money laundering to murder, a disconnect not by spacial awareness, but one of time, which I know makes little to no sense, but something about detaching oneself from a moment as it relates to spacial recognition is far more difficult than detaching oneself from a differing time period.  An obvious example is how we often overlook previous acts of genocide, because if we were not there we would not have committed them, this film suggests the opposite of that notion to varying degrees.  An individuals acts are contingent to a moment in time, we could all commit the crimes if they time, not the space allowed for its occurrence.  I know I have not hashed this theory out very well, but it is something I want to look into more and perhaps reflect on better in a later review.

Key Scene: The means by which sexual acts abruptly intercept scenes is so jarring and appropriate that it might be one of my favorite uses of intercourse in a film to date.

This is yet another film suffering from region blocks, once again, making Youtube your best viewing source.

16.11.12

I Gave Her My Heart, She Gave Me A Pen: Say Anything...(1989)

It has come to my attention somewhat recently that I have yet to see a single Cameron Crowe film, despite his having a rather notable place in cinema, more so as a writer than a director.  I am also terribly ashamed to have never seen Say Anything up until this point, although I have been guilty of referencing the scene, as well as sing "In Your Eyes" while holding my cats above my head...yeah I know.  Regardless, I look forward to seeing this film both because of its importance in being film literate, as well as my growing affection for John Cusack as an actor, I am fully aware he is by no means a fantastic performer, but when he does appear in works he always delivers a solid performance, of course, however, he is almost always playing John Cusack.  I thoroughly enjoyed the film, let me say that first, I was quite baffled though by the unusual connections in logic which Crowe uses throughout his narrative.  Sure it is a film about a guy from the wrong side of the tracks falling for the well-to-do and brainiac girl, despite everybody in their life suggesting that it cannot occur, yet in between the IRS invasion and the magical appearances of kickboxing dojo's it is hard to imagine where Crowe got off basically creating a world where anything he though appropriate could happen on a whim, especially if it helped to advance the love between a couple.  I am still amazed that even after realizing that I was aware of the writing jumps Crowe was taking that I managed to find the film not on the nose whatsoever and quite earnest in its approach.  Perhaps it has something to do with the sentimentality of young love, or Cusack's whispers and constant look of defeat, but I could not help but feel for the couple in the film, particularly when it seems as though all is doomed between the two, wholly because of the negative actions of other individuals.  Say Anything, in no light fashion, manages to be both an excellent romantic film, as well as a astute and perhaps ignored statement on class divisions in a post-Reagan trickled down economic nightmare of middle class America.

Say Anything begins in the near traditional manner of all high school romance films, on the eve of graduation, in which two characters have their whole life ahead of them.  There is Lloyd (John Cusack) the vacant young man who for unexplained reasons lives with his older sister and seems content to drift along until the sport of kickboxing becomes popular at which point he will have trained enough to win matches.  There there is Diane (Ione Skye) a profusely smart young woman who is proving quite adept even after the divorce of her parents, going so far as to obtain a prestigious scholarship to study abroad in Europe.  Despite being fully aware that she is way out of his league, Lloyd undertakes the quest of winning over Diane, something he does in the most genuine of manners, beginning with a phone call asking her out on a date.  It is at a party that they both attend that Diane realizes that Lloyd is not purely interested in sexual conquest and appears to possess a genuine desire to woo her and be with her.  Diane, while initially reluctant finds herself becoming enamored with Lloyd despite the misgivings of her dad, particularly when it becomes apparent that he is to be under severe surveillance by the IRS and FBI as a result of what may or may not be shady dealings within his recently deceased patients at the nursing home he manages.  Diane realizing that she needs to look out for her dad suggests that she and Lloyd distance themselves from one another and that she study more to prepare for her trip.  Lloyd is adamant in his refusal to agree to those terms, sending her letters, calling her incessantly and even standing outside her window playing the song from their most intimate moments together.  This all seems to be to no avail until Diane realizes that her father is indeed guilty for his actions, causing her to run back to Lloyd's arms to get forgiveness.  Lloyd attempts to act indifferently only to break apart with joy.  The two then spend every waking moment together, Lloyd even serving as an in between between Diane and her father who is now incarcerated.  The closing scenes find Diane and Lloyd together on a plane as they prepare to begin their future in Europe.


I mentioned that this film could be read to some degree as a class conscious reflection on the movement away from trickle-down economic theories of Reagan era America.  While I have not seen any other films by Crowe, and only have one memory from Jerry McGuire, which of course involves money, I cannot help but ignore the role it plays within Say Anything, all be it a bit forced by the end of the film. Throughout the narrative it is clear that Diane's dad has absolutely no reason not to like Lloyd aside form his lack of wealth and economic future, aside from those problems he is a standup guy who cares solely for Diane's well being.  Furthermore, it is not her dad's concern for her safety that eventually pulls her away from Lloyd, but his hopes of maintaining a certain level of capitalist comfort that demands that his daughter take his side as he continues to rob from the dead and on a metaphorical level rob what little things of value Lloyd has in the name of his safety.  Furthermore, when we contrast Lloyd's desires to that of Diane's father, we realize that he has little or no concern for monetary gain and, in fact, is quite befuddled by his ability to both teach kickboxing, as well as get paid to do so.  It is clear that he finds no joy in money, if it prevents him from doing what he enjoys, something that is verified when he goes on a monologue about how he wants no job relating to production in any context, a very anti-capitalist diatribe if one ever existed.  Finally, we see Diane as a mediation between the two, so greatly desiring something different from her economic success oriented life, yet finding it quite intense and scary to move away from capitalist safety at the same time.  However, in the name of all that is good she does side with a love of life over a love of money, something that seems to be a major theme in the film, although the film never really explains then how the two are to survive in Europe, although it is a romantic film, liberties can be taken with little pause.

Key Scene:  There is a moment in which Diane's father berates her about falling for Lloyd in which it cuts between three different days.  While the editing and execution are not particularly innovative, they are surprising within the context of the film, as well as the genre of romance, making it quite nice to watch.

This is a must own film for any cinephile, particularly those who love eighties films or romantic works, it is not a terribly cinematic film though, so a DVD copy should suffice.

15.11.12

Offer Relief To My Patients, With Little Chance Of Killing Them: Hysteria (2011)

The film Hysteria came and went with very little hype, despite having a well-respected Maggie Gyllenhaal and zany Rupert Everett and being directed by a woman.  Perhaps it is the subject matter of the film that proved problematic to individuals considering that it is essentially a film centered almost entirely around the invention of the vibrator.  A film with such subject matter runs a risk of being blatantly exploitative and degrading to women in its commentary, and while director Tanya Wexler certainly displays the problematic, misogynist patriarchal place of science and medicine circa 1890, this period piece is anything but exploitative.  Sure it uses a great degree of comedy to deal with discussing women's sexual awakening, but this comedy rarely, if ever, envelops the greater statement on a great moment right at the cusp of the push for women's enfranchisement.  It is a film that certainly suffers from attempting to coalesce a few too many stories and ideas into a small narrative window and can at times seem a bit trite, but I cannot help but praise its existence, firstly as a film of considerable quality by a relatively unestablished female director and secondly for handling such a important topic in women's health with some degree of respect.  It would be easy to read this film as a male dominated fantasy about what they believed to be their role in women's sexual awakening, but it is quite clear from the onset that the male figures in this film are set up only to undermine and mock, something done both within the writing and often with some very clever cinematography.  I would be cautious to call this one of the better films of 2011, particularly considering the amount of great work that did come out that year, however, Hysteria is a fantastically funny, surprisingly pertinent and incredibly enjoyable work.  I only hope it does not spiral into obscurity for the sake of its great message and for some absolutely hilarious acting on the part of Rupert Everett.


The film, while focused on the invention of the vibrator and the debunking of the term hysteria, nonetheless, fixates on the doctor credited with the devices invention Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) an up and coming young doctor who finds trouble maintaining a job in any hospital for his, then absurd, theory that germs were causing a serious hazard to medical safety and practice.  Feeling quite dejected, despite the assurance of his friend and aristocrat Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Everett) that he is more than welcome to have money from him to pursue whatever medical research he desires.  On a last chance shot, Mortimer approaches a clinic for women's health run by Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) who is known for a particular "technique" that allows women to receive satisfaction and relief form hysterical build up, of course it is quite clear that all that is occurring is that of bringing the women to orgasm, something they have not had the pleasure of experiencing within their marriages.  All the while, Dr. Dalrymple plans on passing the practice on to Mortimer, along with his prodigal daughter Emily (Felicity Jones) who studies various social sciences, as well as the now outdated science of phrenology.  All seems idyllic in Mortimer's new life, aside from serious hand cramps, until he takes an unsuspected liking to Dr. Dalrymple's less conventional daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) who runs a free health clinic/daycare/community outreach center, all while continually advocating for women's right, most notably voting rights.  After word comes to Dr. Dalrymple that he has been aiding Charlotte, as well as failing to relief his clients, Dr. Dalrymple demands that he leave his practice.  Dejected, Mortimer returns to Edmund in shambles, only to discover that the free-floating aristocrat has been toying with electrical devices, causing Mortimer to come up with a crazy notion to create a device specifically for dealing with hysteria.  This proves a rousing success, and after some problematic run-ins with the law, centered around Charlotte's refusal to adhere to gender norms, the two find success in the profits from the device called a "Jolly Molly" named after a rather "affectionate" female character in the film, Charlotte and Mortimer are then engaged happily as they undertake a task of creating a better community outreach program within their community.

This film, as I noted earlier could have been incredibly exploitative and problematic in its portrayal of the invention of the vibrator.  I say this because it could have been a far more sexualized film, one in which the male gaze would come into play and the work would play into fantastical pleasures of sexual acts. This is not the case with hysteria, in fact, there is no nudity whatsoever, and the moments of "treating" hysteria are done with a perfect combination of humor and gravitas as to assure that they are not exploitative.  Furthermore, the film makes certain that the doctors depicted are neither experts in women's sexual organs, nor adapt at performing this treatment outside of a medical setting, suggesting that it is not an act entirely to be credited to male egos.  Instead, the film very much places the invention with a context of larger women's rights issues, in this case their awakening to disillusionment and overall dissatisfaction with their sexual lives.  Furthermore, the women depicted in the film are of a diverse setting, of course all white though since the film is set in 1890 England, once again not idealizing the women's body as a means of sexual conquest for the male figures in the film, certainly not for Mortimer who takes his job quite seriously and seems to see it as a rewarding act to help women with what he believes to be a serious medical condition.  Finally, and perhaps the best argument for why this is a film detached from exploitation, is the amount of time devoted to the character of Charlotte and her quest for equality in terms far larger than intimacy.  She is an activist through and through, particularly in her concern for helping lower class individuals, as well as her demand for suffrage.  If the film were to be exploitative she would not have been considered even passingly, instead, Wexler centers her in the narrative, helping to explain some of the disjointed issues in the overarching narrative.

Key Scene:  The side panels during the credits are particularly fun and help to ground the historical narrative nature of the work.

This is a fun and informative movie that is frankly hard not to enjoy.  While it is not a must own work, it is well worth renting.

14.11.12

For Your Awareness: Kickboxer's Tears (1992)

I recall some time ago having a rather heated debate as to the value and necessity of dubbing movies, particularly those centering on Asian martial arts, a category that seems particularly subjected to problematic and often terrible dubbings. The friend I was discussing this with suggested that in a few instances dubbing managed to save a film from being altogether unwatchable, or manages to make dry plots and terrible dialogue seem humorous.  While many of his reference included some of the more obscure Godzilla spin-offs, I have come to understand his argument after my recent viewing of Kickboxer's Ters, tilted Xin long zhong hu dou, if you were to see the film in its original Chinese context.  A film that is preoccupied with the world of underground martial arts, in this case kickboxing, the movie is not of particular note and aside from some rather impressive cinematography and unusual gender commentaries manages to be lackluster and tragically dated.  Fortunately the particular version of the film I watched suffered from what may well be the worst case of dubbing I have ever encountered in a film.  I am not sure if the actors were Americans, English speaking Chinese guys trying to sound black or a set of Australians, because at not point is one characters voice consistently dubbed by the same person, nor is it delivered with a committed concept within the same scene.  I am sure some of the death scenes and moments of subtle intimacy were quite nice upon their initial release, but the reprehensible manner in which the various actors deliver the lines manages to take any sort of beauty out of scenes and any sort of seriousness out of even the most intimidating characters.  By about ten minutes into this work, I had convinced myself that it consisted entirely of b-roll footage from the television version of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, a notion that I have still not completely dismissed.


I am realizing that my "For Your Awareness" posts either take on the completely absurd or the completely artistic in their endeavor, only being connected by the obscurity factor.  Like my posts about Greed or Starcrash, I think a film like Kickboxer's Tears needs to be saved from obscurity, in this case not because it is a particularly profound piece of filmmaking, instead; because it is a thing to be viewed and pondered, much more in the vein of Troll 2 or Plan 9 From Outer Space.  Excluding the cinematic masterpiece that is obscure due to its lack of completion in Greed, each of the previous mentioned films have an aura of earnestness about their creation, it is clear that somewhere somebody was passionate about making Kickboxer's Tears, particularly the fight scenes which, while well choreographed take up a ridiculous amount of the filmic narrative.  Their are touches of Raging Bull within the film as well as some more than blatant references to Bloodsport, yet Kickboxer's Tears manages to exist as something less fantastic, certainly not aided by the previously mentioned dubbing.  I chose to mention the film though because it is so fun to watch and caused me to be surprised on multiple occasions, certainly by some of the POV camera work and some well-executed fight scenes.  Instead of offering this as a film of great cinematic value, Kickboxer's Tears is a midnight movie through and through, one that is quite deserved of its own drinking game and absurd cult following.


I would say buy a copy of this DVD, but my initial viewing of my copy was a result of discovering how valuable the disc was worth.  I went into watching it thinking I would hate it and sell it for the large profit immediately.  However, it is just too awesomely terrible to disown.  In which case I wish you luck finding a copy, mine came from a free bin at a used media store, which makes be consider the presence of a spiritual being even as I complete this sentence.  Also take note of how uneventful every persons death is within the film, it is laughably bleak.