For Your Awareness: Greed (1924)

I am not feeling up to a full on review tonight and have decided to offer another reflection on a film that is rather hard to come by.  Many of those reading this will without a doubt be familiar with Eric von Stroheim given his notable roles in both the French classic The Grand Illusion and the American masterpiece Sunset Boulevard.  However, what you may not know is that von Stroheim was also a director.  His 1924 film Greed is an epic study of all that concerns monetary lust and the great lengths people go to possess financial power.  In its original form the film spanned well over 9 1/2 hours and focused on a large set of characters.  Tragically, at the suggestion of his friends and the demands of producers he was forced to cut the film to just over two hours in length.  This meant that almost seven hours of footage were left unsalvageable on the cutting room floor.  I only mention this, because what is left of the film is magnificent and film preservationists, historians and critics alike are beckoning their friends and all film enthusiasts to watch what remains.  The film often appears on critics Top 100 lists and receives rave reviews for its innovative cinematography and complexly heartbreaking narrative.

I too have had an opportunity to view the film in its most complete format and found it to be stunningly well made and an honest, yet brutal, study in human fault and the illusion of financial happiness.  Unfortunately, my route to finding the film was less than stellar and I was forced to rely on what little the internet offers in scenes from the film along with a combination of stills that TCM have provided to fill in gaps in von Stroheim's narrative.  My experience was like that of watching Ken Burns fill in the blanks to the films missing narrative, yet it was still spectacular.  The still imagery was fantastic and makes due to advance the story.  So I am sure you are wondering why the hell I am expounding on this film in great detail if it is forever lost to producers interfering with the complete film.  The answer is simple, and was discussed in my previous post on The Rules of the Game.  It is a sin that directors are told to cut their movies, or that their work is censored in the name of public decency.   In the case of Greed, the effects were dire and make the movie seem incoherent at times.  The fact of the matter is that its incoherence was due wholly to a director being told his vision was too grand and that viewers demand something far simpler.

The whole point of this post is simple.  Do not be a film viewer who promotes simplicity and mediocrity in filmmaking, because you will be given just that.  Do not be the individual at The Tree of Life groaning every two minutes, or the person who only attends the umpteenth installment of the Scream franchise (not that I am knocking it entirely).  We as moviegoers, and subsequently consumers, can demand greater things from studios and a tragedy like Greed will never happen again.  With that being said, watch what exists of this film by any means necessary, it is truly mesmerizing.


Diets I Can Accept, But Not Obsessions: The Rules Of The Game (1939)

Jean Renoir's incandescent films have a way of sneaking up on viewers.  His oeuvre reflects slowly paced films that manage subtle brilliance and narratives that are always well acted.  Renoir's 1939 offering The Rules of the Game, considered his masterpiece and one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever, is precisely this and involves perhaps his most complex set of characters and most scathing critique of bourgeois excess prior to Luis Bunuel.  It is a reminder that in regards to French cinema there was a glorious time prior to the New Wave and that Renoir is possibly the greatest French director to date.  Furthermore, it is a staple of what makes the Criterion Collection so respectable, their transfer of the film is excellent and I cannot wait to check out the newly released Blu-Ray in the near future.

The Rules of the Game, as noted earlier, follows the exploits and decadence of an upper class French family and friends.  It is part comedy and part drama in its approach showing that bourgeois pride is often fatal.  One of the film's central characters is a pilot named Andre Jeruix (Roland Toutain) who has recently flown a lengthy record-breaking trip.  However, instead of gloating on his achievement he takes his moment in the spotlight to confess his desires for a unnamed woman.  Viewers discover this woman to be the aristocrat Christine (Nora Gregor), who is married to one of Andre's close friends Robert (Marcel Dalio).  This romance plays the central role to the film; however, it is much more convoluted than this simple love triangle.  For example, Andre has his own affair occurring with a maid and spends most of the film attempting to hide his infidelity through the purchasing of elaborate music players.  Similarly, other characters pine for Christine's affections, while a variety of other infidelities occur.  Tragically, the deceit and hidden advances lead to one character's sudden death as a set of servants incorrectly assume their masters wife to be partaking in an act of cheating.  I would make this all much clearer, but to do so would undermine an incredibly well executed narrative.  I can only suggest watching the film, particularly the back half of the film, which spirals into an oneiric spectacle of comedic misfortunes.

The Rules of the Game has a rather interesting history.  The film is obviously magnificent, yet upon its initial release it was derided as being a slanderous look at upper class Paris.  It was so intensely disdained, in fact, that restoration was impossible for quite sometime given that it was believed that the original negative was destroyed sometime during World War II.  Speaking from a purely formalist view, the loss of this film would have been tragic because Renoir's use of editing, angles and focus all result in a film the burns off the screen.  From an artistic standpoint, it is an offense that people demanded its removal from cinemas.  Their are far more controversial films than this and it only shows the tragic obstacles filmmakers face when producing movies.  In reference to this film, I want to expressly state the necessity for open narratives in artwork, particularly filmmaking.  While there are certainly clear boundaries between the filmmable and the profane, I strongly advocate the necessity for open venues for all film themes.  It is a tragedy that Passolini was executed for his controversial film Salo and it is absurd that Harmony Korine still lacks a critical respect given the rather abrasive nature of his film, and I do not want to even go into length about my rage over the editing off Eyes Wide Shut.  The rise of internet filmmaking certainly holds promise for more challenging filmmaking and I am sure a complete removal of a film negative will likely never happen again, but one only needs to watch the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated to realize that censorship occurs, even if it is not enacted in such a physical manner.  In short, The Rules of the Game is great, and had we not been lucky this work could have been lost forever.

If I have not sold you on the film yet, let me reemphasize its masterful nature.  It is not my favorite French film, but I can safely say that it is the French equivalent to Citizen Kane.  A perfect gem of a film that should be high on any film scholars must watch list.  Go spend your monies at Criterion to get a Blu-Ray copy and feel free to let me know what you think.


It's A Bad Day To Be A Rhesus Monkey: Contagion (2011)

The masterful filmmaking that has become synonymous with Steven Soderbergh, makes his recent retirement announcement all the more troubling.  However, that has not stopped me from enjoying the work that he is still producing.  His paranoia inducing and Hollywood heavy film Contagion is a pseudo sci-fi masterpiece.  It is apparent at this point that Soderbergh has developed a style that is both accessibly mainstream and avant-garde in its visionary cinematic advances.  With a stark opening, techno fueled montages and rather conventional character development Contagion is a work of composed brilliance that manages to create a shockingly accurate landscape for a global pandemic.  It manages to honestly confront both the large scale and intimate issues of a rampantly spreading disease without losing sight of sound movie making.  It is a shame that this film was not popularly received because it is considerably better than many of the films released this year, excluding The Tree of Life of course.  A few directors and whole genres of filmmaking could take a few notes from Soderbergh's playbook before endeavoring to make their own dystopic thrillers.

Contagion, as the title suggests, follows the spreading of a disease through contact.  However, the disease in question proves not to be a simple flu bug, but a seizure-inducing virus with fatal effects.  In classic Soderbergh fasion the film involves several narratives that loosely intersect, but never seem to fully connect.  The characters in the film are all attempting to avoid contracting the virus while also assuring their own personal goals whether they be like the character of Mitch (Matt Damon) whose major concern is the safety of his daughter or Alan (Jude Law) who sees the virus as an opportunity to unmask government conspiracy while also cashing in on paranoid internet users.  Others like Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) employ their scientific understanding of disease prevention full force in an attempt to subdue the virus.  However, as these, and other, characters realize their personal goals are made nearly impossible in the face of a growing global pandemic, which leads to illogical and often barbaric behavior ranging from small scale robbery to fully enacted kidnapping.  Problems are only heightened by the realization that a vaccine for the virus cannot exist in a large enough amount to assure immediate availability.  This leads to an even larger amount of rioting, global political confrontations and a considerable amount of class consciousness.  Ultimately, and rather unusually for Soderbergh, the film reminds viewers that with time things will eventually become normal and diseases can only spread so far when people are consciously preventing their occurrence.  A nice moral message blanketed by a well-made thriller, yet it is in no way obnoxious, a difficult feat to perform, take my upcoming review of Birdemic as an example.

I tossed around what type of critical reflection to provide for this film, given that so many critics have drawn upon the films realistic portrayal of the rise and fall of a global pandemic.  I considered mentioning something else about this film, but all I can do is offer a resounding agreement to these claims.  The film does a damn good job of focusing on the cogs turning as a simple case of virus related deaths turn from something personal to a large-scale issue that involves large scale government actions both privately and publicly that posses dire consequences.  Contagion absolutely catches the bureaucracy of dealing with an invisible disease both in regards to politics and science, while reminding viewers that sometimes the best action for an individual or even a group of individuals does not necessarily mean that it is good for the whole.  This is clear in the approach to dealing with quarantined victims in the film.  It is made clear that quarantine is necessary to the safety of cities in the film, yet the problems of financing said quarantine have bureaucratic strings that must be tied in order to provide services.  Furthermore, the act of providing vaccines would prove terribly problematic, as it does in the film, given that limited supply would inevitably lead to arguments over who "deserves" the first right to vaccination.  It is a film about the problems of dealing with a problem, a very pertinent commentary given our current economic state.  Contagion reminds us that when it comes to dealing with world issues neither bureaucrats or Occupy Wall Street members have the idea entirely correct.

Go watch this film now...It is terribly underrated right now and I am begging you to help that change.


Top Ten Thursdays: Food In Movies

First off, let me wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  I figured the best way to celebrate was to do a Top Ten Thursday on the best food scenes in movies.  My list may be a bit biased given my rather young age, but here are ten movies with food scenes that I think are particularly good.

10. Pulp Fiction (1994)

From faux-fifties diners to a "Royale with cheese" everything about food in Pulp Fiction is hip and necessary of acknowledgement on this list.

9. American Pie (1999)

"It feels like warm apple pie..."

8. Do The Right Thing (1988)

As should be obvious by now, I never shy away from a chance to mention my personal favorite film.  However, this film is justifiable in its inclusion as Sal's Pizzeria is the center for much of the action in Spike Lee's heated drama.

7. Waiting... (2005)

While it is by no means the best movie ever made, Waiting... does provide a rather accurate looking into the Food and Beverage industry and is certainly respectable for that aspect.

6. Cool Hand Luke (1967)

"No man can eat fifty eggs."

5. Chungking Express (1994)

One of Wong Kar-Wai's masterpieces, Chungking Express focuses on a group of lovers whose lives intersect around a small, but deliciously stocked take-out booth.

4. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

While Bunuel's late work is undeniably political, this dark satire focuses on a group of wealthy individuals who attempt to sit down for a meal only to find themselves constantly blocked by a variety of forces.

3. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)

A truly psychadelic work, this movie is a nightmarish blend of candy, childhood longing and a masterful performance by Gene Wilder.

2. A Woman, A Gun, And A Noodle Shop (2009)

This Chinese remake of Blood Simple has one of the coolest cooking scenes ever filmed....ever.

1. I Am Love (2009)

If you ever find yourself curious about how an individual should go about filming food, watch I Am Love.  It is an aria on film and its shots of preparing and consuming food are veritable cinematic feast.

Honorable Mention

Chocolat (2000)
Super Size Me (2004)
I Like Killing Flies (2004)


He Survived All Those Storms To Be Washed Away By A Few Plastic Lottery Balls: Waking Ned Devine (1998)

I am inclined to say that it is possible that no sweeter movie exists than Waking Ned Devine.  The 1998 offering from director Kirk Jones will tug at your heart, even if you consider yourself the least emotional of person.  A film focusing on the most rural and antiquated of communities, Waking Ned Devine mesmerizes viewers as much as it confounds its characters, making for a movie that sneaks up on you by becoming not only a pitch-perfect comedy, but also a masterfully thought provoking film on love, death and everything in between.  The film takes advantage of the ethereal landscape that is rural Ireland and makes the character interact with it in such a way that they seem to grow from its ground and exist only as a portion of its natural changes.  In essence, Waking Ned Devine is not an art house masterpiece, but it is a fun movie that I cannot imagine not enjoying.

Waking Ned Devine, as noted earlier follows the lives of a group of rural villagers as they engage with one another in their daily lives.  The characters, mostly elderly range from husband and wife Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) and Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) and their dandy friend Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) to the foul-smelling, yet likeable pig farmer Finn (James Nesbitt).  The entirety of the community seems destined to adhere to stereotypes and assume individuals are standoffish, until they discover that somebody in their community has won the national lottery.  This discovery changes everything as the townsfolk begin treating each other suspiciously nicely with hopes of inheriting a reward from the unknown lottery winner.  Jackie and Annie throw a party with hopes of outing the winner only to discover that the winner, Ned Devine, failed to attend the party.  Jackie plans to confront Ned only to discover the elderly fisherman dead from shock.  Jackie shares his discovery with his dear friend Michael and the duo sets out on an elaborate plan to pretend that one of them is indeed Ned Devine with the intentions of claiming the prize.  The duo, with the unwilling help of Annie, sets out to convince the town that they are capable of pulling of the illusion and plan out their elaborate hoax.  This, as should be no surprise, comes with many obstacles and a healthy amount of laughs.  I would explain in detail, but that would ruin the enjoyment of viewing the film.  Needless to say, it proves to be a bonding experience for the entire village.

The film, though sweet, certainly deals with some heavy issues, most notably the existential understanding of death.  The tragedy in this film comes when the village realizes Ned Devine's relevance only after his death, and even with this occurrence his life is only questioned, at first, because of a financial boon.  The value of a person's life, throughout most of the film, is equated to purely economic standards, which is very capitalist in its nature.  This is surprising given that the town is rural and appears to run off antiquated economic systems of bartering.  However, even such a small community cannot escape the capitalist arm of a nation, which is reflected in the lottery.  This ties inevitably into death in the film, because it is ultimately the nation who must verify Ned's life, or in this case existence.  I am SPOILING the film here in saying that the national lottery fails to realize that Ned is indeed dead and values the life of another as his.  Fortunately for the village they see the error in the nations ways and celebrate Ned's life right in the face of the nation and value it as something far greater than his financial gift.  It reminds us that the gifts that people leave us in death are often far more than physical and, in fact, the loss of one person can often cause divided factions to unite, which is of a value far grander.

Waking Ned Devine is an accessible movie that is meant to be watched, and enjoyed, by many people.  It is not perfect and by no means revolutionary; however, I would suggest renting it and watching it with some friends.


I'm Wildly Unhappy, And I'm Trying To Buy It, And It's Not Working: Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Crazy, Stupid, Love is a decent film.  It is very funny and incredibly well-acted, but it will inevitably suffer from falling to the wayside in the face of a rather respectable season of film releases.  It is incredibly star heavy and a surprisingly well-executed plot that takes a frank, and considerably post-modern, look at the decaying of the American nuclear family.  This subject has certainly been worked and reworked, however, I am here to tell you that Crazy, Stupid, Love is a very enjoyable film and well worth watching if only for the humor.  However, I am also here to say that this is perhaps Steve Carell's best performance since Little Miss Sunshine and I would not be surprised to see the comedic actor snag some Oscar nominations for mature performances in the coming years.

There are a lot of characters present in this films so I will attempt to discuss their presence and role in the film, as opposed to simply relaying the plot, because that would not only spoil the film.  It would also miss a lot of what is going on in the film, which focuses heavily on the effects of a person who is acting crazy and stupid as a result of their love.  The main character of the film Hal Weaver (Steve Carell) is faced with the news that his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) is seeking a divorce from him because she feels that not only has their love gone sour, but also she has found herself becoming intimate with a suave and rather toolish co-worker named David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon).  Both Emily and Hal are severely depressed with their lives which in effect, cause their own children to become socially troubled causing their daughter Molly (Joey King) to become in essence a mute and their son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) to smart off at school and create an unhealthy attraction to his babysitter Jessica Riley (Analeigh Tipton), who incidentally has formed her own crush on Hal.  In the same film, the viewers are introduced to Hannah (Emma Stone) a up and coming lawyer who is expecting her pretentious lawyer boyfriend Richard (Josh Groban) to finally propose to her upon her graduation.  Finally, and perhaps most hilariously, there is the character of Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) who is a young, attractive man who has created the perfect formula for attracting women and spends his evenings making quick work of sleeping with them.  Now if this is not a diverse set of narratives, I do not know what would be such.  Now imagine all these characters interacting in various manners often undermining and supporting each other as it proves necessary.  I would love to tell you how brilliantly they all end up connecting together, but that would ruin some rather excellent plot twists...so I will just leave it up to your viewing, I promise it will make you laugh during multiple instances.

So, I mentioned this being a post-modern focus on familial decay and I feel as though this would be an excellent time to elaborate on the post-modern portion of that statement.  It is not post-modern in the sense that a film like (500) Days of Summer narratively speaking, but I cannot help but feel that the casting choices were intended to reflect such a notion.  The film is drenched with notable actors, whose careers outside this film severely contradict the characters they play.  The obvious is the rather implausible relationship between a person like Steve Carell and Julianne Moore given that she is considerably more attractive than he is, and in this instance his character is by no means charming thus making the relationship even more unlikely.  Next is the character of Jessica played by former America's Next Top Model competitor Analeigh Tipton who is considerably well-spoken and social aware, unlike her character in the film.  This is and added level of absurdity considering a character like her could obviously find affections outside of members of the Weaver family.  Finally, and perhaps most post-modern is the casting of openly staunch feminist Ryan Gosling as a womanizer.  He plays the character expertly, yet with a subtle sense of absurdness as though he is telling viewers it is all a big hoax.  It is not breaking the fourth wall technically, but it is certainly implied.

This film is solid, but probably not a necessary purchase.  I would suggest renting it from one of the various sources it is available and watching it with some friends.  It is likely to be right outside of many critics top ten lists for 2011.


I've Always Been Stupid, But I'm Good At This: Breaking The Waves (1996)

Regardless of your opinion of Lars Von Trier as a filmmaker and a human being in general, it is hard to deny his cinematic presence.  The Danish auteur exists in his own world of filmmaking that focuses on the depravity of human existence its failure to advance forward in even the most basic scenarios.  Like the late Italian director Passolini, Von Trier's works are on the farthest outskirts of what is acceptable in filmmaking, and his  mid-nineties masterpiece Breaking The Waves is certainly no exception.  Although it is considerably less brash and abrasive than his later works, it is a tough film to handle and its minimalist leanings, excluding chapter screens, make it difficult for the viewer to find any sense of comfort in the films two plus hour narrative.  It is a film of desperation that offers no resolution, apart from a vague implication of something better in the afterlife, but as Von Trier makes blatantly apparent, this afterlife is restricted for only the most saintly of persons and that the general population is full of "sinners" whose own selfishness and debased behaviors assure that they will forever rot alone in darkness, with no sense of self-worth.  These ideals, paired with a blistering cinema verite style, spurred by Von Trier's Dogme 95 movement, create a film that is so poetically desperate that it borders carefully between being inescapably good and infinitely unwatchable.

A concise epic of sorts, Breaking The Waves follows the seemingly mundane life of a mentally troubled woman named Bess McNeil (Emily Watson) who is preparing for a marriage to a man named Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgard).  This would be rather normal, were it not fro Bess's close ties to a devoutly religious group who appears to have secluded themselves to a small community on an indiscriminate English isle.  Despite a resounding disapproval from the village elders Bess continues with her marriage and enjoys a lovely wedding day with the rockstaresque Jan.  It is late into their wedding day that Bess demands Jan make love to her in a church bathroom, which results in Bess's sexual awakening and the subsequent issue at the center of the entire narrative.  Viewers are now shown the true severity of Bess's mental illness, particularly her grand delusions that she hears the voice of God.  Bess, despite being ever thankful to God for her gift of Jan's love, is reminded via the voices in her head that the lord can give anything he takes away.  Soon after this "discussion" with God, Bess is informed of Jan's injury at his job on an offshore oil rig, assuming fault for being too carnal in her desires, Bess makes it her goal to do whatever is necessary to rejuvenate her ailing husband.  Unfortunately for Bess, Jan's injury has caused him to display his own set of mental issues which include an unrestrained sexual desire and he demands that Bess goes out and has sex and returns to tell him about her experiences.  Jan believes that by doing so he will be able to obtain sexual gratification tantamount to their previous relationships.  Sadly, Bess's inability to understand the seriousness of such actions and the depravity of male sexuality result in her murder at the hands of pirates who molest and then kill the woman.  Jan, upon recovering, realizes the errors of his mental incapacitation and arrives at Bess's funeral in time to remind the elders that they are incapable of judging her actions and that she lived a far more sanctified life than any of them could claim.  The film closes with an image of bells ringing in the sky, implying that the late Bess now shared her joyous ways in heaven and that those remaining were left to live a worthless and meaningless existence away from the ethereal joys of heaven.

Von Trier is not one to shy away from criticizing society, his work Dogville, my personal favorite by the director, takes on the issue of whether or not corrupt individuals deserve to live and at what point do individuals claim the right to execute those who have done wrong by them.  While Dogville ends on a very disparaging note, Breaking The Waves is slightly more optimistic.  This is of note given that as a director Von Trier has become considerably bleaker with each film that he makes, often attacking other directors for their inability to remain relevant, which occurs most notably in The Five Obstructions.  Regardless, Breaking The Waves focuses on the problems of sexual repression, particularly as they relate to religion.  Von Trier makes it rather obvious that Bess's own instabilities are a result of both her mental illness, which the village ignores given its rather impure nature and her confusion as to what constitute love another fault of the suppressed teachings of her cult like religious group.  This becomes an even greater problem when she faces an individual like Jan whose understanding of sexuality is completely liberated and sees it as nothing more than a physical act that is easily began and even quicker to end.  This disconnect helps to explain why Bess would agree to such absurd requests on the part of Jan, her lack of knowledge on sexuality leads her to assume that infidelity is permissible, and in this instance even ideal as it provides her husband with happiness.  It is obvious that if Bess were provided with a better understanding of sexuality, as opposed to being left completely ignorant to its existence that she would have avoided the issue altogether.  The film ends implying Bess's innocence and dismisses her as being forgiven, while the remaining group, Jan included, are left to ponder their own failure and acts of repression which led to the untimely death of such a loving woman.  It is a convoluted critique of sexual oppression, but a critique nonetheless and in this case, I have to applaud Von Trier for trying.

This DVD is rather hard to come by, but I strongly encourage viewing the film.  It is a challenging, yet rewarding experience and if you can afford a copy buy one for yourself and feel free to send me a copy as well.


Appearances Can Be...Deceptive: Burn After Reading (2008)

I am coming to realize a very tragic flaw with The Coen Brothers as they relate to popular cinema.  This being that their most provocative and provocative films have proven to be the least well received to regular cinemagoers.  Their Oscar winning film, No Country For Old Men, while spectacular is far inferior to their existential drama A Serious Man, which failed to prove as profitable as the previously mentioned film.  The same fate occurred with Burn After Reading, which was released shortly after No Country For Old Men and proved relatively unsuccessful as far as the Coen's films are concerned.  Burn After Reading is certainly not as thrilling as No Country For Old Men and arguably lacks the same unique characters, but to dismiss this film entirely is certainly a tragic action.  What is offered from the Coen's with Burn After Reading is a very intimate look into a group in American society that many seem to deem unfilmable.  Yet as this film shows, this group, which I will discuss later, provides some of the most joyously fantastic humor available in a dark comedy and it really makes me want to revisit the entire Coen Brothers' oeuvre to find similar subject matter.

Burn After Reading, like so many of Joel and Ethan's movies, involves multiple narratives which by some unseen fate become cruelly intertwined.  The film opens with an aging CIA agent named Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) discovering that he is being asked to resign from his job, due to various reasons, most notably his continually problematic alcoholism.  This announcement comes at a terrible time for his wife Katie (Tilda Swinton) whose vanity becomes threatened with a sudden cessation of money.  Instead of supporting her ailing husband, Katie decides to pursue her affair with Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), a sex-crazed employee of the state department, who dismisses not only Osbourne, but his own wife Sandy (Elizabeth Marvel) as nothing more than an author of tacky children's stories.  This entire narrative of infidelity is arched by the discovery of Osbourne's memoirs at a local gym by two mundane employees, the jockish Chad (Brad Pitt) and the aging Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) whose desire to get plastic surgery challenges even Katie's vanity.  This group of characters began to cross each others paths', assuming that large scale spying is occurring and that Osbourne's memoirs are a major component to refueling the Cold War ideologies in the United States.  Despite being arbitrary, Osbourne's memoirs being leaked, prove to lead to larger amounts of infidelity, murder and political corruption.  All of this blows up in the faces of the characters involved and proves rather tragic.  Yet as the film shows in its closing monologue of a CIA Superior (J.K. Simmons) while  stating that the group "tried its best" that the lives of those men and women involved in this conspiracy were indeed full of sound and fury, but as always signified nothing.  It is a truly existential film that has an equally bleak ending, similar to its predecessor No Country For Old Men, but so much funnier.

As I noted earlier, this film is concerned with a very specific group of the American demographic.  Burn After Reading is preoccupied with middle-aged ennui, a great subject given that it likely reflects The Coen Brother's own personal struggle to stay relevant in an ever evolving world of cinema.  Burn After Reading is all about individuals staying relevant when younger generations are vying to take their place.  From the onset Osbourne reflects this given his removal from the CIA for younger agents.  Instead of proving his worth to the CIA, he quits and commits to discussing the better days of the agency, a classic action of middle aged individuals to become nostalgic as opposed to relevant.  Similarly, both Katie and Linda find themselves loosing their relevance in very physical terms, a particularly notable issue given that both of the characters are women.  Yet, neither attempts to adapt to the situation, but instead rely on medical advancements to rekindle their youth.  Finally, even George Clooney and Brad Pitt's characters, which are implied to be relatively young, are preoccupied with being hypermasculine to a fault, with Clooney being a philanderer and Pitt being fanatical about working out to a fault.  The ultimate problem in the film is that each character's desire to remain relevant becomes hazardous to the group as a whole causing very physical problems in their realities and their inability to acknowledge that they are not indeed "doing their best" is a very dire problem.  With that being said, I should note that I think The Coen's are doing their very best at their age and their relevance is undeniable, certainly in their ability to reflect on a film of ages gone by and rethink it for a new generation, this being of course their glorious adaptation of True Grit.  Burn After Reading is a call to adapt, or else flail in a new generation with differing ideologies which manifest themselves in a variety of forms.

This is an excellent Coen Brothers film that I strongly suggest owning.  Getting a cheap copy of this film is relatively easy and you will not regret it, I promise.


For Your Awareness: The Silent House (2010)

I have often noted to my friends that the horror genre is in dire need of continual innovation if it is to ensure any staying power in contemporary cinema.  Currently it seems as though the Paranormal Activity franchise is the only horror film series to get this memo, along with a recent Uruguayan release called The Silent House.  A considerably short horror film given its 89 minute run time, the brilliance of this foreign horror film is that it contains on continuous shot that spans over the course of 72 minutes.  Drawn out shots are nothing new particularly given the magnificent feat that was The Russian Ark or John Woo's famous 2:42 scene from Hardboiled.  However, incorporating the rather tedious film style to suspenseful filmmaking is a completely different story.  The Silent House manages to do so with utter brilliance and careful composition.  At times it is easy to predict a moment of shock given that the camera pans off for a lengthened time, but even the most veteran of film goer will find themselves anxiously waiting a moment of horror, because in this film the horror is drawn out and the viewer is never finds a moment of relief.  There is one particular moment that you will not see coming and many that you will, but I can assure you without a doubt that it will scare the crap out of you.  If the sheer horror of the film were not enough, the plot is rather complex and certainly leaves the viewer with a larger amount of questions than answers, which is amazing given its rather short run time.  I am going to shy away from elaborating anymore on this as it is very much an experiential film and one that needs to be seen sooner rather than later, particularly given its upcoming American remake that will assuredly fail to do it justice.


I Do Hope You're Going To Favor Us With Something Special Tonight: Singin' In The Rain (1952)

I mentioned this when I reviewed King Kong a few weeks back and want to take a moment to mention this again.  There are a handful of movies that I assumed I knew everything about before viewing and expected to find little enjoyment when watching Singin' In The Rain.  Was I ever wrong.  Stanley Donen, the genius behind Charade, brings forth something that is not just fantastic, but monumentally brilliant.  I can definitively say that I was, and still am, more enamored with this musical than anything made before or after.  It is the perfect combination of wit, musicianship and narrative that keeps the viewer occupied, and for being a musical made in the early fifties, it is pretty well-acted.  Gene Kelly is a hilarious actor and I am shamed to say that this is my first experience with the late actor.  If none of these elements were not enough, the film is magnificently shot in technicolor and edited to make the hectic and frantic narrative seem illustriously extravagant, while maintaining a very composed structure.  Somehow, Singin' In The Rain manages to adhere to all the traditions of a Hollywood Musical while simultaneously being one of the most avant-garde musicals ever made, excluding Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music In The World of course.

Singin' In The Rain, for those unfamiliar with its plot, is set up as a memory play of sorts, focusing on Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) a well-respected and much-loved silent film actor who is finding difficulties transitioning to a life in talking films.  Furthermore, his leading lady, and unwilling companion, due mostly to media speculation, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) is having greater difficulties transitioning given her grating voice and inability to adapt to new technologies.  Luckily for Don, his long time friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) comes up with the idea to change their newest picture into a musical, allowing for Don to exercise his performance skills which granted him his breakthrough in Hollywood.  This is good news for everyone except, Lina whose singing and dancing are even worse than her acting.  Don, however, has recently discovered a young dancer named Kathy (Debbie Reynolds) who he thinks is perfect for the part and sees this role as a chance to return his own luck in Hollywood, as well as a chance to win Kathy's affection.  A problem arises when Lina explains to the producer that her contract allows her near omnipotence over the film despite her failure to perform up to expectations.  Realizing her control Lina demands that Kathy sing her vocals and voice over her acting scenes while receiving no credit for her actions.  Reluctant to do so, but realizing that she has no alternative, Kathy succumbs to the demands and rescinds to her leading role in favor of keeping the love and affection of Don.  The film, titled The Dancing Cavelier, is a huge success and both Don and Lina are asked to give encore performances.  In a moment of hubris, Lina blows her guise and it is revealed that not only has she been lip-synching, but that her voice is unbearable to the audience as well.  Don quickly rushes on stage and reveals Kathy to be the real star of the film to which the audience celebrates appropriately.  The film ends on a joyous note for everyone involved, excluding Lina of course who has learned a very valuable lesson about the ever-fading nature of beauty.

The real magic of Singin' In The Rain comes not in its story or musical numbers, but instead in its editing and post-filming elements.  Sure, it is well-acted and beautifully shot, but the composition of images and use of sound make this film something special.  I would imagine that audiences viewing this film in theaters had the same sort of awe-inspiring experiences as those who viewed The Jazz Singer, a film that is mentioned constantly within Singin' In The Rain, perhaps to let viewers know that Donen was creating an homage of sorts.  It was something new and amazing that lacked explanation, Singin' In The Rain is the truest example of magical cinema.  The perfect hybridity of editing with story telling occurs during the scene when Lina and Don are attempting to film, the then titled The Dueling Cavelier and find the burdens of recording sound unbearable.  The film track often drops out during their speeches to reflect the microphone being out of range and during one scene Lina moves back and forth constantly and the sound wavers with her movements, a moment that was undoubtedly very difficult to recreate in the sound studio.  Having a bit of experience with contemporary sound editing I can confess that this is still a difficult effect to recreate.  In fact, the only film I can recall that even deals with sound in a similar manner is Blow Out.  Furthermore, the entire pace of the scene is frantic, between the constant jump cuts and re-creating of the same scene it is hard to fathom how many takes this scene required.  Despite this, the scene seems flawless and is perhaps one of the most enjoyable moments of the film.  Such dedication to perfection reflects the work of Stanley Donen and he is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors despite having made mostly musicals. 

I am baffled as to why there is no Blu-Ray for this piece of art that is a film.  However, I imagine that they may do something in the upcoming year to celebrate the film's sixtieth anniversary.  I would suggest holding off until that release, but if not, purchase a copy, because it is a landmark film that I wished I had seen much earlier in my life.