Friday, September 17, 2010

American Beauty (2001)

So I came across this blog post on American Beauty and decided his "deconstruction" of the dinner scene was done poorly. I opted to give my own thoughts on the scene. Hopefully it's cogent.

I think that this “deconstruction of a scene” is done poorly. What is it about Thora Birch’s presence/placement in the scene represent? How does the sound and the lighting add to the film’s main themes? How does the dialogue play out? What do Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey overlap & deliver their lines? What does the blocking accomplish?

Thora Birch’s mere presence in the dinner scene (and Spacey’s insistence that she stay to witness it) demonstrates that she fully comprehends the facade that her parents put on outside of the walls of their “home.” She understands the dysfunction that each of her parents exhibit privately & hide publicly. Her placement at the dinner table was mentioned but not elaborated upon. She sits between Spacey & Bening, signifying that she is the only thing that is keeping the two together. She is the bridge between the couple that have nothing more in common.
The “Lawrence Welsh shit” playing in the background implies some sort of air of civility & sophistication that is contrasted greatly by the bickering between the married couple. The use of candles versus fluorescent lighting embodies Bening’s artificiality already alluded to by the background music’s presence. It also darkens scene (obviously), and gives the whole scene a somber mood. The dining room itself does not have too many adornments on the walls, so it shows that beyond the beautiful facade, there is little substance there, reflecting the “lie of a happy marriage” motif recurring throughout.

Spacey politely asks for the asparagus, yet his requests are unheeded. Bening interrupts him with her frantic ranting about her own anxieties. Birch says nothing but a declarative statement of detachment, mirroring her own distance between each parent.

Spacey is the only one who breaks the space of the other two characters in the scene. The horizontal space of the scene can be split into thirds, with Bening, Birch, & Spacey going from left third to middle third to right third, respectively. Spacey cross occupies all three thirds to get the asparagus he so fervently wants & is denied.

What could this indicate? Spacey’s Lester Burnham is on a quest to find efficacy in his comfortable, suburban world. He is crossing boundaries a normal suburban dad would not otherwise. He transforms. This turning point is where it’s so evident.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Frenzied Narcissism's Post "On Progress"

I was reading Frenzied Narcissism's Post "On Progress", and it got me thinking about the US's foreign policy & what it means to be American. Recently, I've been pondering the US's role in the rest of the world.

Upon reading FN's post, I was reminded of my Sophomore year in high school when my World History II professor stated, "We had it coming to us." Sometime later that week I came home and repeated what I had heard in class. My venerable step-father (an older, conservative type) quickly trounced my pronouncement that maybe the US's aggressive foreign policy had provoked the attack. Having been shut down, I put those thoughts to the back of my mind. It has recurred ever so often, but I think that after having learned a little more about the US's exercising of power in the post-WWII world, I'm still on the fence about whether we "deserved" such a horrific act.

In Frantz Fanon's work The Wretched of the Earth (or the Wikipedia article), he discusses how the disparity between the haves & the have-nots (a more simplified term for what used to be the colonizer & the colonized) results in a pressure-cooker type of situation where the colonized majority need to release the frustrations of their life of servitude under the colonizer minority. Frantz Fanon is a French-trained, Martinique-born psychiatrist and presents his arguments within a psychological framework. His book discussing the process of how the colonized would revolt against the colonizer is studied at West Point in classes on combating insurgencies, paradoxically enough. Needless to say, Fanon argues that colonizers need to be more equitable with the colonized (or leave the space entirely) since colonization (& its resultant manifestation of subjugating the masses) is a bad thing. In the first chapter "On Violence," Fanon discusses how decolonization is a violent event; it is not a "rational confrontation of viewpoints", but an "impassioned claim" that the colonized is not like the colonizer (& doesn't want to be). Basically, reason is required of the colonized by the colonizer in order to "procede forward" with negotiations. The interesting point to make is that subjugating another class of people is not a rational thing either. We will agree that slavery is a bad thing, but alternative mechanisms of control have been designed in order to subjugate groups of people, all the same.

This is where the United States's form of neo-imperialism & reactions against it come to head. The US learned that occupation of a territory (a la the Roman, British, or Spanish empires) was not the way to operate effectively. As a result, the US created an economic mechanism to control small, more dependent nations. This is the world we live in. The US has the largest economy, military, and consumer spending in the world. The United States dictates the terms of its trade with less-powerful nations. And the citizens of the United States benefit from these negotiations. We get $3.50 for a gallon of gas. We pay $2.99 for a gallon of milk. We get our widgets for cheap & raise our standard of living at the expense of the livelihood of the citizens of foreign countries.

Global institutions have a very difficult time trying to be autonomous of the US government's sphere of influence (at the very least), when the policies & terms for financing economic growth. Joseph Stiglitz went to great lengths to deride the grip that Washington Consensus had on "global" institutions like The World Bank, the IMF, and the United Nations. I'll meet his arguments somewhere on the moderate end of the spectrum and say it's "very difficult" for these institutions to be independent. So what does this say about the flow of people/ideas within the world and their relevance to the United States?

In Jude Wanniski's book The Way the World Works (or a Wikipedia article), he takes a resigned stance against the flows of philosophical movements, relating it to a neoclassical approach to the economic & political. It's a neoliberal stance that assumes there's some sort of Invisible Hand guiding the people's decision, either for the good or for the bad. All decisions made "by the people" are done so because they wanted it. In order to not be so conspiratorial, I will assume that most of the information available out their about particular social or economic policy is known by the masses. (In truth, I feel there is a lot of obfuscation and reliance upon the decentralized & conflicting sources of information by the financial/political elite. It's not a room full of people who meet every 11th of the month at 11:11 am, but I believe it's smaller than one would think.) Given that the masses to which Wanniski refers have the majority of the information needed to make a "correct" voting decision, the vox populi will go (& vote) where it wants the nation to head. Evidence of this fact is the election of Barack Obama by an electorate that had less understanding of his policies but more passion contra George W. Bush & his Republican Party. Barack Obama, from a public perception standpoint, had a lot of negative publicity against him during his campaign, but somehow, none of it ever stuck. He was still able to pull off 53% of the popular vote and 68% of the electoral vote. People wanted "change", and Obama's campaign gave them that, without understanding what "change" actually stood for.

So where does this leave us? I've brought up Frantz Fanon's book on the subjugation & reaction of colonization (and implied that it still applies to the modern age of seemingly, autonomous nations). I brought up Wanniski's book on how the people of a nation will flow wherever they desire (and want legislation to satisfy their needs). So did 3,000 US people deserve to die? It seems like I haven't answered that question.

I've resigned myself to apathy & ambivalence really, but I will put forth something that is uncomfortable for me as an American. I feel like we are complicit in aggressive foreign policies that push nations to maximize profits & minimize the benefits to their own citizens. The citizens of the United States subsist in their bubble reveling in ignorance of the suffering that occurs elsewhere in the world. We shrug off the toil caused by our government's economic policies as mere flashes of light coming from not-here. This is how anger & frustration is displaced onto the public by radical terrorists. This is why I think "we deserved it." Any group who feel their lives (political, social, & economic) have been hijacked will react with angst. Despite the cowardly nature of their attack (which is cowardly only because I am of the opinion that dying is easy, living's hard), I can come to understand how an ignorant group of religious extremists can believe they're fighting the "colonizer" with a devastatingly symbolic act "for the cause". No one deserves the bad things that happen to them, but the perception of how these "bad things" manifest themselves is greatly contended & debated. I will argue that bridging the divide between have & have-nots must be the American people's directive. We should not "spend more," but "think more/question more."

What would other countries do that had this sort of absolute power over us? Probably the same thing, realistically thinking. Would I be willing to pay more for gas/food/etc. in order to be more equitable with people I've never met? Probably at first, but then I'd hit the "Ctrl+Z" button to get out of my overly idealistic wonderland. Where's the middle ground between maximizing profits and minimizing anguish in the world? My ambivalence & apathy comes from the fact that I have no answer to these tough questions.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

12 Angry Men (1957) vs. 12 Angry Men (1997)

12 Angry Men (1957) vs. 12 Angry Men (1997)

What makes a classic? Why do we feel the need to reproduce something that occupies this status in our psyche? Gus Van Sant did this with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Wolfgang Petersen did this with Ronald Neame's 1972 The Poseidon Adventure.

And William Friedkin did this with his 1997 rendition of Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men.
A classic is a piece of work that endures through the test of time. Sand washes over this piece of atistry and the obolisk reveals not a swipe of erosion. A classic speaks to audiences over time due to the fact that it pertains to themes that are universal to audiences, regardless of the time period, technology, or geo-politics affecting them. I guess it's premature for me to keep considering this mise-en-scene as "universal", but its universality is proven by the fact that I was moved by this film when I was 14. A classic is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. We find it to be a full-bodied creation where the audience's interpretation come in multitudes, and the audience feels like it should impart this experience onward through the masses.

Where I feel my essay's thesis resides is in this latter issue. Why can't we leave something alone that works? Why do we as a community have to try and redo something that isn't broken? It makes sense to me that the people who bankroll and direct these revisions of the original classics feel like the public is in need of experiencing the film yet again.

This is what I feel went wrong when they decided to remake Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men. Alright, this remake WAS a made-for-TV movie, but I don't believe that this lower budget doesn't mean that the cast of twelve couldn't deliver a better performanace. Jack Lemmon as the crusader standing firm against the crowd of 11 dissenters was poorly cast. His entire performance seemed like he was an enervated person weighed down by a life of misery. Where Henry Fonda stands tall, Jack Lemmon flopped. George C. Scott seemed to fill the Lee J. Cobb role quite well, which led to their 1999 remake of Inherit the Wind (i.e. another TV remake of an old classic which they performed quite well in).

I think that the vision the creators had for revising the 1957 classic of 12 Angry Men probably arose from its 40th anniversary as well as the desire to add modern sensibilities". {I usually would add more money and more technology, but that doesn't fit in this context.) By modern sensibilities, I mean that the 1957 film really should be titled 12 Angry White Men. This aspect is the only thing that could be criticized within the classic, but it doesn't detract from the classic's awesomeness. The 1997 version added men of all creed and color to really put across the notion of the universal nature of pursuit of truth. This was readily apparent, but beyond that, there was no extension of themes to deal with our modern, less-homogenous society. The 1997 scenes seemed like they were being played by children playing house, words unaware of the full force being their meanings.

I'm not a movie snob by any accounts. I have the favorites I remember watching when I was younger (Judge Dred, Money Train, among others), so I'm not beholden to enjoying only the best fo the best like some people. But when I see 12 Angry Men in black and white, I see a lot of authenticity and belief in what they're putting on scene. The camera work is unfangled yet effective. The editing paced out the narrative in such a way that it didn't seem like they were taking anything away from any shot. The 12 Angry Men in color doesn't add realism or a "more modern take" to the old work, it demonstrates that a classic is to be built upon, never copied.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lauryn Hill quote

From: NPR's All Things Considered

In response to "Why did you stop putting out music?"

"There were a number of different reasons," she says. "But partly, the support system that I needed was not necessarily in place. There were things about myself, personal-growth things, that I had to go through in order to feel like it was worth it. In fact, as musicians and artists, it's important we have an environment — and I guess when I say environment, I really mean the [music] industry, that really nurtures these gifts. Oftentimes, the machine can overlook the need to take care of the people who produce the sounds that have a lot to do with the health and well-being of society, or at least some aspect of society. And it's important that people be given the time that they need to go through, to grow, so that the consciousness level of the general public is properly affected. Oftentimes, I think people are forced to make decisions prematurely. And then that sound radiates."

Fuck(!) that's a good answer to that question I've been curious about since I heard her album 5 years ago.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Message - Video

Here's a still from a video of me performing a second slam piece from the past. I think it's officially my third "finished" piece ever, so yeah. It's incredibly dense conceptually and lyrically. I personally think I was trying too hard. I still do the same thing basically, but I know more of the limits of the audience. I guess the best way to say is that this was more matured in its envisioning. Regardless, here's the text for the spoken words.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Digging for Memories - Video

I was bored and inspired by watching some YouTube videos, so I decided I'd just perform some of the pieces I've written in the past on-camera. Click here to see the YouTube upload. Here's the written version. It's on this blog, but it would take you forever to find if you didn't know what to look for. Either way, enjoy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Untouchables (1987)

I was completely astounded that this movie has been surrounded by so much hoopla given the fact that it left much to be desired. The Untouchables is not about 1930's U.S. government battle against Prohibition-funded organized crime. The Untouchables is about the war on drugs. It shares a lot of parallels between the drug trade and the black-market alcohol trade. For a few reasons I'll enumerate below, this movie serves as propaganda to rid American streets of the scourge of drugs plaguing its glorious population.

Brian de Palma did a sufficient job of presenting the viewer the events according to Elliot Ness, the U.S. Treasury Department officer pursuing an arrest of Capone, along with the rest of the federal government. Really, the movie reeks of American exceptionalism channeled through the idealistic government official Elliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner (which is bad enough in itself). Ness is constructed to be 100% correct in his mission to take down Capone. Sean Connery's Jim Malone served as the sage adviser nudging Ness along toward the unavoidable pragmatism we always expected of Ness at the offset. Charles Martin Smith's Oscar Wallace is the brains of the operations, and Andy Garcia's George Stone is a street-hardened gun to protect Ness. All of the representations of each character play themselves out in predictable.

The pragmatism Ness learns is the way of the gun. Obviously he doesn't shoot Capone, but to get to the point where the U.S. Government could prosecute Capone, Ness had to rely on violence. Never, at any point in the film, is the arbitariness of Prohibition discussed. Due to the fact that the legitimacy of the law is never approached, by either party, I feel this movie is more about the War on Drugs declared by President Reagan in the early 80s. Despite this problem among others, I found an issue manner in which the film looked like a cheap, dated 80's B-film, rather than some timeless classic about taking down the mob, which is what it was built up to be.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rough Week

[Editor's Note: Why the author posted the rant on Creative Output yesterday.]

Inspired by: http://www.onesentence.org/stories/3621/

I was laying in bed with a box of wine and seven dirty glasses by my side when I realized I have been saying, "I'm just having a rough week," for the past twenty weeks. I roll around in bed while listening to New Order on my iPod with my lights on trying to figure out what I actually need to clean my wine glasses. After enough pondering, I come the realization that I have been showering with shampoo and conditioner, the Pert Plus all-in-one version for the past three weeks. I had run out of dish soap maybe two months ago. Laundry detergent even before that, and soap about three weeks ago. I had gotten out of the habit of washing my hands before or after anything. I only ate things that came frozen in plastic pouches and required four minutes in a microwave. As a result, hygiene wasn't really necessary, but I just rolled with it anyway out of nostalgia. Or practice. I mean, I kept combing my hair despite the fact that I had nowhere to go or anyone to see. I was alone. I was finally alone. It was all I ever wanted: pure solitude. Time to think. Time to get things done. Time to work on my projects. I had spent enough time catering to the needs of my girlfriends and my friends and my bosses and my schoolwork. But all that was over now. I'd been out in the real world for a year now, and I was finally getting things done. My career was off to a great start. The road ahead seemed like it was filled with great prospect. I was trying to be the guy I had always wanted to be, but was never able to since I was always required to be something else for them. This was my time to shine.

After about six months of working at the agency I am currently employed by, I came to the realization that I was an adult now. The real world had slowly crept up on me, in the way it normally does. I was an adult in the world, and I needed to act like one. The realization came when I was out with a group of my work colleagues, and I ordered a beer at a nice restaurant. I made the grievous error of asking if they had any Bud Light. They obviously did, ut the waiter looked around before answering my question. It took me until almost the end of the meal when I was urinating in the r steak house's bathroom, when the attendant who handed me my towel to dry my hands. I suddenly gasped as he handed the towel to me. He thought he had done something, and that his shitty job was over, when I had to clarify why I pretended like someone just plucked a hair from my scalp.

I started to look back on my life before graduating from college. I saw everything, and everyone, that was important to me. I saw her,, most of all. I saw my buddies. The many nights of drinking. The hijinx we pulled. But it always came back to her. Her smell. Her hair. That time we were nude and made faces at each other in bed, and shadow puppets on the walls instead of getting breakfast at House of Pies. We ended things so poorly, that I didn't talk to her anymore, and what was initially a feeling of liberation came to be formulate as yearning. I felt trapped by myself. I decided that I must grow up. It was my time to find new friends. To be on my own. To suffer for my sins in the real world.

I exited the bathroom, thinking I should be drinking wine. But I had no experience with wine. I went with the kind I had always seen throughout college. That Franzia that I always saw at parties. Sure, I figured it wasn't probably the finest wine I could try, but I assumed that I had to crawl before I walked. So I stuck with what I knew. I pretended not to be a snob or to know what I was talking about. What ended up happening was that I started drinking all different types of massified wines. I tried to many varieties of wine in a box: Franzia, Black Box Cab, Macon. I ventured into the Carlo Rossi wines. Those last quite a while. I even got to some five dollar wines. I erroneously, and obstinately, decided that I would only try the cheap wines until I tired of them. I did the same with beer that I drank. I started out a Lone Star, Keystone Light drinker, until I classed it up my Senior year with Bud Light or a Hefeweizen. Maybe Blue Moon. Maybe a Pilsner Urquell to really impress a girl. They never heard of it, nor did they like it. But I told them that it was what refined beer drinkers preferred. Using this line at a nerdy school like Rice University worked enough for it to be a gimmick I decided to refine.

Fast forward many months of this vertiginous (that's a four-syllable word) path, and I felt no better of a purveyor of wines. I felt more like an ersatz aficionado. All of this testing only left me hung over every night. My recollections helped none at all with progress through the week. I felt less and less control of my life. Things just happened around me. I missed a couple of deadlines at work, and my new boss informed me that I was on probation until I shaped up or he would ship me out. I nodded a lot, and stood in silence. Silence was rare for me, but I decided that the whippings would take less time if I decided to just stand there and take the pain. So that's what I did.

Monday's started off easy enough. I made list of things to do at my desk early Monday morning. I usually arrived by eight AM in order to show the boss I was committed. I wanted to "get a jump on the week", or so my boss though by an early presence Monday morning. I made this list and stuck to it. Usually, though, the list ran out by Wednesday noon.

Tuesday's were just as busy. Not busy, but occupied would be a simplistic enough manner of presenting the story. I usually had tuna on Tuesday nights since I came home and worked out after working out on Tuesday evenings. I worked out from 8:00 pm to 10:00, and felt the need to fill my body with protein. The tuna was cheap enough. And simple enough to make.

Wednesday started off boring, but only because I was stalling to not finish what the last two items on my weekly list. No one had shouldered me with any work. I planned on spending the last half of my day pretending to work fastidiously, but saw no reason to feign after 3 pm. As a result, I spent an hour bouncing between four different departments. I was tired of it all. I drove home, dreading the rest of the week. Ideally, I should've been happy that I was 60% through with the work-week. These simple thoughts didn't assist in assuaging me of my misery after leaving my office at 6. Then came the prospect of Thursday morning... and a Friday morning and afternoon. I was thinking about maybe working out again, but the pay-off from such an endeavor did not glow bright enough for me to want to attend to it. I sat in my room, waiting for the A/C to cool down the entire room. Summers in Houston are tortuous for this sole reason. You're hot and uncomfortable all the time. It was unavoidable. And I'm such a cheapskate, that I always opted to turn off my A/C when I wasn't using it. It seemed idiotic to use it when I wasn't there. Maybe I was right. Maybe not.

Then I glanced at the the wine glasses on my bedside table. The stack of Black Box in the corner. Was it taller than my bed? I couldn't tell from where I was laying. I thought about my pantry. Empty. I thought about my shower. Empty. I looked at my floor. Cluttered with clothes and trash. Dirty work socks. Dress shirts half un-buttoned and wrinkling on the floor stretching one arm out to try to crawl to the hamper. Pants that relied on gravity to fall to the floor, looking like I jumped out of them, leaving them without a skeleton for support, and as such, crumpled on the floor. I rolled over onto my stomach and saw an Ozarka water bottle between my bed and the adjacent wall. I reached my hand out but had to stretch slightly to wrapped my fingers around the white top of the bottle. I pulled it up. It was two-thirds full. I put it to my mouth and felt the sharp sting of the water in my mouth; it was vodka. I gagged but swallowed it anyway. I settled back into my original repose on my back and waited for the A/C to affect me. I closed my eyes wishing for more time.

Sunshine Cleaning (2009)

Sunshine Cleaning is a film I know a lot of people watched. It seemed adorable. It was marketed to remind the public of Little Miss Sunshine, which was a runaway hit. I thought it was a good film, but there was nothing spectacular about it. I feel like it was a well made film with a solid cast. There was a cute, precocious child. There was drug use throughout. The family unit was close-knit(ish) but dysfunctional. It had clever editing. It was a cute, quirky film. Unfortunately, that's all there was. In attempting to draw in the viewer into understanding the motivations for its idiosyncrasies, they failed to strike a chord with me (a representative of the proletariat?). My theory is essentially based on the fact that the majority of all the shots within the film were static shots. At times during a conversation, the editing would switch with reverse angles, which reminded me of a soap opera by its uninventiveness.

Oh, Alan Arkin forming a relationship with his grandchild, despite the fact that he looks like S.R. Hadden from Contact. He stole that from Little Miss Sunshine too.

I thought the character development was apropos, but not well demonstrated through the visual medium. I feel like I had correct assumptions about what the characters were going to do by the end of the film, but couldn't understand from the visual projection why they were getting sent in that direction. As a result, I feel like the film failed where Little Miss Sunshine succeeded. I also feel like the film wasn't given enough time to develop these relationships to provide the audience a sufficient amount of evidence to make the connections. As a result, I felt like my assumptions (made in the moment) were unsubstantiated. When everything fell apart, I was happy, but realized that I just got lucky. With my notes, I had nothing to lead me to believe that what happened was going to actually happen in the way it is. So yeah.

Friday, May 21, 2010

2012 (2009)

Oh, Roland Emmerich. I completely hadn't watched The Day After Tomorrow in about two years, and I guess I needed a refresher. That's what 2012 is. It is simply another environmentalist-agenda'd film. He helped pen both, so it comes as no surprise that there are a lot of parallels between the two scripts. Even a few elements overlapped:

  • Troubled marriage resulting in divorce, whose differences are resolved by a cataclysmic event
  • Children unifying the divorced couple
  • Two diametrically opposed characters: one Machiavellian and the other almost naively idealistic
  • Masses of people who perish by natural disaster without any sorta pause by other characters
  • Closely paralleled presidencies to the current presidencies
  • Highest levels of leadership are eradicated
  • Ironic inversion of the status quo of the new order (comes at the end of both films)
  • Lots of CG (duh)
  • Destruction of a wide breadth of international cultural symbols
  • Ironic destruction of Californian metropolitans (since all Hollywood filmmakers want to destroy their houses on-screen)
  • Failure of scientific models which do not accurately predicting the cataclysmic event (i.e. occurs quicker than predicted)
  • Plot centers around a scientist with "the truth" talking to the obstinate mid-level government official and denied access to the real authorities.
  • The science-sounding premise is really unsound (even to a Liberal Arts major like me)
  • An international cast of characters superficially touched upon
That's really all I wanna to with this movie. I think I spent more time on The Blob. If I didn't, then that's fine. If I think of more, I'll add them.

¿¡The Eleventh Commandment!?



A girl from Rice friended me one time because my sister was working with (for?) her father, and she felt like she had met me at some point. She probably had. It was around Junior Year (i.e. my 3rd Year) at Rice, which I believe was during my time in college; as a result, I was most probably very doused in some sort of fermented liquid. [Editor's note: Yeah... he just used a semi-colon.] I had the ruinous habit of repeating this deleterious action when Selene's cold blanket wrapped the sky with its dislucent sheet and Helius navigates the Oceanus River absconding himself within his cup. It was always me trying to prove something, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, I met this girl at some point when my memory was most precarious, and she later feigned as if we knew each other more than we did (for what end I still remain baffled). After maybe a few days, or needing to follow up her claim with digital truth, she friended me on Facebook. I was confused, but she was cute. Friends with some of my friends. Religious, though (::ugh::). But she had this blog where she wrote poetry. Only like 30-40 pieces, but still... she was sorta keeping up with it. She has some good imagery or phrases that I wanted to accroach as my own. I usually am so lackadaisical about the whole thing that I snag without pronouncement. In order to win brownie points (1st mistake), I messaged her (2nd mistake) in order to laud her for (a) her creativity and (b) to let her know I was going to take some of her words and incorporate it into stuff I was working on (or use it as inspiration for new pieces). This was a Thursday mid-afternoon. I don't get a response until Sunday around 7 pm, and, boy!, was I taken aback.

I mean, I write a lot (or did at the time), but I felt no attachment to my words... not at such a nascent stage of writing. I had lots of stuff I liked, but never did I feel the impetus to protect my work in any way. I apologized (for some odd reason), and told her I would not use her words. I didn't believe I was snarky, but I wanted to be. I later complained to my girlfriend at the time about it, to which she responded, "Well, it makes sense that you shouldn't steal. How would you like it if someone did the same to you?" I was stupefied. "Well, if my poetry was good enough for people to copy, I would've probably been able to publish something by now" should've been what I said, but I didn't give that retort since I was a pussy at the time. The thought that anyone could consider the sequencing of words together by amateurs likes us as plagiarizing seems laughable.

"What do you mean stealing?" was probably what I said. I usually require definitional explanations like this (for some reason), and it makes sense the notion of stealing was not on my head. I was only borrowing as inspirational source material. She was my Muse, nothing more. I didn't see what was so wrong with that.

Was I to ask permission from the random girl that rode her bike around campus in a short skirt, a derby hat, and a cigarette on the edge of her lip if I was allowed to us the image she'd so readily composed of herself?
Was I to ask the two guys who were always at each others side, but in a non-gay, endearing way if I'd be able to write about two buddies who get themselves into a quandary?
Was I to ask my girlfriend if I could use a story of hers from high school as the basis for a character I wanted to include in a short story of mine?

Does this not make sense that if publication is not an end-goal in-sight (even within the distant future), why should a true artist not search for inspiration wherever they may find it. I probably would've messed up the original version of hers so much, it would've been unrecognizable. Well, I shouldn't say "probably" since I did alter the original so much, it was unrecognizable.

Do you know what was recognizable? A line (and the title) from the piece I was most interested in. She must've never heard of Bruce Springsteen before (but who has?) since she was so keen on not plagiarizing because the poem was titled "Blinded by the Lights". Real original.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

El Mariachi (1993)

Alright, I'm going to get this off my chest. I loved El Mariachi. This is the movie that started it all for Robert Rodriguez. He spent $7,000 on the movie and became a Hollywood sensation overnight. He wrote a book about it to rake in more dough. I had no idea about any of this until I watched the film. I went into the film knowing only of it being the first part of the Desperado-Once Upon a Time in Mexico series. Only after reading about it, do I understand what I was thinking during my viewing of El Mariachi.

To provide the context for this viewing, we'll have to go back to a simpler time. A time when Y2K was but a speck on the public's radar, we thought the Internet was showing its true bullshit nature, the world first started mainstreaming dick-sucking jokes via the mere mention of a Jewish surname, and Justin Timberlake was just another pretty boy in this new group N'Sync. I was twelve and it was 1998. I rented Desperado and came to the conclusion that it was one of the best movies I'd ever seen in my life. So yeah. I'd seen it a one dozen or two times for the next 5 years, and let it lie while other obsessions took root: mainly in the form of females and driving. Now I just watched Desperado the other day, and had recorded El Mariachi out of sheer nostalgia. I wanted to know where Desperado got its start. And I found out.

El Mariachi, an observation I made in the moment, is basically a valiant first try by Robert Rodriguez. It is a poor man's version of Rodriguez's tale of mistaken identity. It is a young filmmaker's attempt to make a movie mimicking everything he'd experienced as a child and being bound by one indisputable factor: money. I saw a lot of Desperado in El Mariachi. The element of his love interest owning a business (in El Mariachi, a bar, and in Desperado, a bookstore) and living above it. A sequence where she mends his wounds. The apparition of a child as a symbol of innocence. The presence of Reinol Martinez's Azul, replicated and improved later by a scarier Danny Trejo as the heinous, cold-blooded killer. The white-linen wearing, white-skinned drug lord, horrendously acted by Peter Marquardt's Moco but improved by Joaquim de Almeida's depiction of Bucho. There was also a shoot-out in the same bar in both movies, the second of the two being one of the better shoot-outs I've seen. Some other elements paralleled between Desperado and El Mariachi, but I didn't take notes on the film, so you'll have to do without these extra examples.

I only mention the overlap in plot and characters because I read a few critiques that argued for different interpretations of the film. I see Desperado as a second pass at elements that Rodriguez thought worked in El Mariachi. He polished the camerawork and the acting, with the help of more financial backing, and made the editing less distracting. He created more turmoil for the actors, by giving them more time to squirm under the tension. Despite what is lacking in El Mariachi, it is a simple story told in a grandiose way and this is where its awesome-ness lies. That is what attracted American distributors to the film. There is a simple moment with the Mariachi, amateurishly played by Carlos Gallardo, walking along the side of the road when a turtle races across his path, while the camera sits on a tripod at knee height. The foreshadowing of the protagonist with some unforeseen conflict is evident, and contrasted to the moment when the Mariachi passes the camera's location. With a bird's eye view, the camera observes the protagonist pass underneath. With the wobbling of the camera, you just know that Robert Rodriguez bought the only ladder available to him, and climbed up on top in order to capture this wide shot of the protagonist and the vastness of the road ahead of him.

Sure, El Mariachi is sloppy. Camerawork seems rushed. The acting is atrocious. The villain's Spanish is awful. At time there are shots that could have been re-done, but were used despite perceptible flaws. The audio seems contrived at times. The editing is not concise enough and distracts the viewer from the plot progression. Despite its kitsch factor, El Mariachi succeeds in being awesome and drawing the viewer into its over-the-top B-ness.

Midnight Express (1978)

Better than Birdman of Alcatraz, better than Papillon, better than Escape from Alcatraz, better than The Great Escape, better than The Shawshank Redemption, better than Murder in the First (but not by much), Midnight Express does a great job of demonstrating how institutionalization can make an inmate go insane due to the atrocities & injustices one encounters there. Max devolves into nothingness in the Section 13 for the criminally insane. Billy loses it when Max is arbitrarily carted off to be beaten and thrown into Section 13. Billy's final act of vengeance finally caps how people truly go insane in prisons like these, devoid of humane treatment: loss of human contact. Billy loses his closest friend by unjust means. Now, not having control in a prison is one thing, a natural thing, but the unjust manner in which Billy Hayes has no control is the decisive factor in how he slowly devolves. Near the end, there's a scene where Billy's girlfriend comes to visit him, and he mumbles for her to take off her blouse so he can masturbate with it. Despite his unkempt hair (which obviously is supposed to indicate how the mental overgrowth has taken over), this is not the insanity the viewer is supposed to understand. When he asks his girlfriend to reveal herself so he can masturbate, the viewer can believe he does has finally slipped over the edge.

The scariest thing about Midnight Express, regardless of the prison setting is how Billy Hayes' story is true. As you're watching this film, realizing that this is a true story makes it all the more heart-wrenching. I found myself twisting and turning in my seat since neither Billy nor any of his Anglo friends knew how to maneuver through the Turkish prison. Discrimination was the most difficult thing for the group to overcome. Billy's friends Jimmy Booth played by Randy Quaid and John Hurt's Max were strong supporting actors. The ending was awkward and anti-climatic. A sly escape at the last minute seemed unrealistic, but I just went with it since it was a true story.

The film finished with B&W stills showing his return to America and being greeted by his family. It was a nice touch to give exposition while not having to develop that aspect of his return. A clever way to avoid running time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Blob (1958)

I will try to watch more B-horror movies in the future because of this film. There are some common elements visible within films like The Blob and The Flesh-Eaters. The two films are divergent in the component of a villain. The Flesh-Eaters has a singular villain dispatching the differing cast of victims, while The Blob plays out more like small-town disaster movie. The central focus of the film is a group of teenagers witnessing all of the movie's main action. It begins simply enough with Steve McQueen, playing a character named 'Steve", and Aneta Corsaut, playing Steve's dutiful girlfriend Jane, trying to have an intimate moment on the out-skirts of the small town. They see the shooting star, and Steve wants to get the rock for Jane. They are unsuccessful, but the goo-ey material inside the extraterrestrial rock finds a nameless victim (in the form of an aged farmer) who finds the teenagers and asks for help from them. The rest of the story sorta plays out like Arachnophobia, where the Blob material gets out of control under the noses of the authorities, while risking the livelihood of the entire country if it escapes the town's city limits. The entire story operates on the assumption that teenagers are the only ones who are able to believe other teenagers. The town's cops are indiscriminate adults who don't trust the youngsters for their previous pranks (utilizing the "boy who cried wolf" theme), so the teenagers have to rely on themselves to prove the gravity of the situation to the town. Once the town realizes the problem, it is basically American drive and ingenuity that stem the stop The Blob from spreading. What I found interesting from this 1958 horror film is that the expounding of the "American way of life" (via the town's isolation, its perseverance, its wholesome youth, and its requisite submission of youth to adults) has such an inverted understanding of how the town should respond to the crisis, through collective struggle. For me, it only makes sense that the group has to unite in order to keep the Blob from spreading even further, but this sorta message in the era of McCarthyism prevalent in the late 1950s seems odd. Steve McQueen was good in the movie, but nothing near the cool he exudes in The Magnificent Seven, Bullet, or The Thomas Crown Affair. Either way, I'm a fan of The Blob, but probably wouldn't spend too much more time on it then I already have.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monkey Business (1931)

Being a "die-hard fan" of anything based solely on one piece of work is a tricky thing. You encounter the difficulty of running into other (for all intents & purposes: real) die-hard fans who discuss the artist at length and analyzes the different minutiae contained within the wide breadth of their body of work. Usually, there are swings of artistry, brilliance, and harmony which contrast greatly with the lows of any artistic endeavor. Being privy to only one hand on the body of work of a comedy troupe works in the same way, where you don't really understand the group as an organic being. You see them (as we see our other idolized heroes, be they rock stars, politicians, or actors) in a highly compartmentalized form, detached from the ebbs and flows of being human.

I encountered this realization upon seeing Monkey Business, the 1931 comedy by the Marx Brothers. It was their first film after having moved to Hollywood. Groucho didn't think their move from New York would last as long as it did, so he treated it as temporary. Understanding that there is a change of their location probably attributed to what I saw as an adjustment to the "Hollywood scene". [Editors' note: Obviously, the author is projecting what an adjustment would be like since he's only visited L.A. once. And despite what he may claim, he has had no exposure to what he's dubbed the "Hollywood scene", but the reader should understand that any well-studied extrapolation should suffice after seeing enough movies and working out in the real world. It's easy to understand how one sees people as a means to an end, instruments to leverage like a new tool increases profits. This would be no different in Hollywood, where people are the materials utilized to construct these speaking pictures so popular with the hoi polloi. This would be the main assertion the author is trying to convey. Please excuse his cursory, and recalcitrant, writing style.] The film is a grand work, what is befitting a long move across the country. This adjustment will be elaborated upon in a moment, but Monkey Business is nowhere close to the brilliance evident in Duck Soup.

The film begins on a boat heading from Europe to America. The Marx Brothers play characters titled after their stage names who stowaway on a cruise-liner, fleeing the ship's crew throughout the journey. This cat-and-mouse bit works time and time again, getting the Marx Brothers into different situations that require "clever" maneuvers to escape. Usually, this only includes the circumvention of the ship's crew through surrealistic, implausible moves. It provides the audience with laughs that leave them rolling around. Furthermore, circumlocution of Marx and Chico allow the characters to exercise their puns and double-entendres on the unsuspecting group of innocent victims of their chicanery. The film's action moves off the boat into a ballroom gala, where the film plot is developed to have the Marx Brothers operating on the periphery. The are the focus of the film's attention, but the plot really is placed somewhere else, since the Marx Brothers act like fairies in a Shakespearean play: forever commenting and jibing at the main actors. At the gala, the Marx Brothers find themselves weaving in and out of the the normal action, having changed the tone of the film, from cat-and-mouse to party crashers, wrecking havoc on the gala's civility. The film concludes in the interior of a barn. I found it befitting how the film ended here since the Marx Brothers seemed at home with all the animals and their removal from civilization. The juxtaposition of tuxedos in a barn was quite evident.

By an adjustment period, it is evident that there was a conscious effort to fit the Marx Brothers in an equation that was ill-fitting of their humor. Obviously, my only experience with the Marx Brothers was Duck Soup, from 2 years later, so this is my gauge for the genius I see in their style of comedy. As previously alluded to, the film has two grand elaborate sets constructed and a third one as a nightcap on the film. The ballroom gala scene contain two seemingly awkward sequences of Chico playing the piano and Harpo playing the harp (... oh, I get it). The film has an element popular at the time of Prohibition, the presence of gangsters, a la Scarface or Little Caesar, but turns this topic on its head by inoculating the evil of the gangsters in lieu of a flustration & naiveté seen in an older next-door neighbor. It's unbelievable since the gangsters still pretend to be gangsters, despite every indication that this is not the case. The gala sequence only provides the Marx Brothers a carte blanche of silliness in a setting of high society, which only adds to the potential of laughter. I only say that this equation is ill-fitting of the Marx Brothers since it relies too heavily on the development of one cogent plot to serve the characters in their linear progression from a beginning to an end. What works so much better in Duck Soup is the lack of cohesion between the different scenes. There is a single plot-line: the election of a new president in a bankrupt nation with a foreign power vying for a surreptitious takeover. Duck Soup is disjointed with all the different scenes placed together to make a whole film, unlike Monkey Business which seems like it is a two giant pieces presented choppily.

The humor's the same. It's physical. It's verbal. It's vaudevillian. It's sharply self-referential. It requires no sound at times. But the manner in which the Marx Brothers allow their humor to take flight seemed to take some time to polish in the Hollywood setting.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a different sort of film from those normally expected from Woody Allen's pen. The film is narrated by a third-person omniscient observer, who crosses over the action and segue-ways all the action together. The film feels like it begins in media res. The characters are introduced within the first 5 minutes, and the viewer pretty much knows all they need to know about the two main characters, Vicky and Cristina, played by Rebecca Hall and Scarlet Johannson, respectively. It's been a while since I've seen a Woody Allen film, but I felt like he sped up the pace in order to get the character development going. I'm pretty sure the first ten minutes has Javier Bardem, playing the bohemian artist Juan Antonio Gonzalo, propositioning the two for a trip out of the city and possibly a night of hot love-making.

Vicky is overly analytical and trying too hard NOT to have a good time in Barcelona. Vicky is jealous of Cristina since she cuts her down way too often for it to be purely based in honesty, especially when in Juan Antonio's presence. Vicky's ambivalence is a little more absconded than Cristina's since she's interested in obtaining a Master's in Catalan identity but cannot speak Castillian Spanish, which is horribly contradictory. Also, her truculence is easily inhibited by Juan Antonio changing his tactics in order to conquer Vicky. She considers and decides upon every decision she makes. She is the logos of three females in the story. As a result, Juan Antonio uses her own words and logic against her. Once he conquers her with argument, he conquers her with penis (and balls). Vicky's rejection of Juan Antonio's invite demonstrate that she never says what she feels.

Cristina feigns being a free-spirit, but really is just getting all of this liberal ideology out of her system while she's young. I feel Cristina's need to be a free-spirit comes from her dissatisfaction with what she's known. Cristina is counter-intuitive about her love since she only knows what she doesn't want. She is the pathos of the trio of females in Juan Antonio's life. Her logos is less than that of Vicky's, and this intellectual pandering is always visible by her just following Juan Antonio. The dissatisfaction is what allows her to live in such a non-Puritanical relationship. The insanity of it all seems to be mediated by Cristina's deep-seated feelings of inadequacy about "her art". She doesn't "think" her art is that good. This is evident by the beginning of sexual relations between Maria Elena and Juan Antonio where Cristina has to force the idea that this is an "okay idea" for Juan Antonio and his ex-wife copulate since it's "only a carnal thing". Only when thoughts take precedence over feelings is Cristina able to make a choice to leave the sexual relationship she has with Juan Antonio and Maria Elena.

Since Vicky is logos and Cristina is pathos (and I decided to use these terms), I'll go ahead and say that Maria Elena, played by Penelope Cruz, is the ethos of the story. She throws out moralistic conclusions about Cristina, before knowing her ("Of course I went through you're luggage!") and after knowing her ("Chronic dissatisfaction is what you have."). Juan Antonio repeats a concept of hers at least twice ("Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.") and is introduced new ones ("You're still searching for me in every woman."). She tests Cristina on her Chinese. She holds a gun against everyone. She is the limiting factor in the relationship, its guiding principles.

I had issues with the editing of the film since there were somewhat off-putting since they detracted from the overall tone. In the scene between Juan Antonio and Vicky after listening to the guitarist, the slow-motion of the film speed made the kiss really kitsch. A simple fade to black would've sufficed in this instance. Don't get me wrong, though, because I liked how the film was shot. The camerawork in the scene between Vicky and Judy worked well with its slow-paced pans back and forth between the two. It didn't seem like a day-time drama of shot/reverse-angle shot, so this back and forth was given a fresh originality. Overall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a great movie with good characters and sharp dialogue. It's sorta like any other Woody Allen film, but its displacement in Barcelona gives all the characters a certain amount of pretension that permeates throughout the film and adds to its theme of being incomplete.

Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

[Editor's Note: THIS WHOLE THING IS A SPOILER. DON'T READ IF YOU WANT TO BE SURPRISED. IT'S AN EMOTIONALLY MANIPULATIVE FILM, BUT STILL GOOD ENOUGH TO WASTE 90 MINUTES ON. Y BASTA.]

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the 2008 Holocaust drama exploring the man-made structures of destruction. The film would like to make you think it's about a friendship between two "equitable" eight years-old, one in a concentration camp and the other the son of the camp's kommandant. The film begins in Berlin at some point during the Nazi regime, which you come to find is around the implementation of the Final Solution (circa 1942-43). You're introduced to the blue-eyed eight year-old Bruno, the child of a high-ranking Nazi officer who is going to be assigned to rural Germany as a promotion, who is the youngest in his four-person family unit. He is introduced as completely carefree and innocent, demonstrated by his pretending to be a flying airplane with other boyhood friends throughout Berlin. This theme of flight recurs throughout the film (we'll get to that later), and I enjoyed how they kept revisiting it.

The film would like to be about the innocence of children and how they are able to cross the man-made borders proscribing behavior. The movie begins with one of those epic fonts that slowly dissolves onto the screen and then away, so we're primed to see the world through this child's eyes. Bruno's obliviousness to the world is captured in these first moments where he's playing "Airplane" since during this time of WWII, there will be many people who perish in the same manner in battle or as civilians at the hands of a fighter pilot. This comment wouldn't be necessary if someone important wasn't latter killed by a plane themselves.

There are a lot of allusions throughout the film of the physical crossing of the camp's fence which occurs at the finale. First off, you associate Bruno with flight since he plays "Airplane" with his Berlin chums. He tries to do this once he leaves Berlin, but it doesn't make sense since he's alone. He does the airplane while heading out to the camp's fence on multiple occasions. It's symbolic of the freedom of his innocence, but on another level, flight itself is the most liberation one can achieve. There is another image of flight which recurs as well. The country home where Bruno's family lives is fence in with chain links between concrete columns. In the foreground at many different instances, the eagle which tops a column at the entrance gate is visible, with significant action or necessary establishment in the background. These parallels seemed readily evident, which ties into a third item visible on multiples occasions: the smoke from the chimney stacks. Despite Bruno's father's and mother's attempts to keep him inside the compound, the smoke is able to cross all man-made boundaries. Bruno sees it and inquires about it, demonstrative of Bruno's propensity to violate lines of demarcation, and Bruno's mother's discovery that the smoke consists of incinerated Jewish prisoners is a plot device that drives a wedge between her and her husband. The smoke comes to signify the limits of man being able to control everything in life. This topic of flight speaks to another theme that brings the film to conclusion: access to the forbidden.

The idea of flight, and its ability to cross borders, brings about the concept of entry to and exit from. In this film, access to the outside (constructed as "unsafe") is seen only as small holes leveraged against the huge construct of limitation. With Bruno, it's the window in his room to gaze at the concentration camp. This is boarded up after it is seen as a way to inhibit his parents' control. He also finds his only escape via a door adjacent to the house, out of view of his parents. Bruno's complete escape requires one more escape through a small window from a shed which lies on the periphery of the compound. The only reason this theme of inside/outside should be commented upon is because it parallels quite nicely with the innocence/grim reality that the filmmakers thought they were making a movie about.

Almost, from the beginning, the viewer can perceive how Bruno is already going to cross the fenceline. The viewer's first impression of the austere, modernistic, symmetrical country house made completely of concrete, surrounded by a chain-link fence, is that the house itself will be a prison. Later plot development where parents forbid exit of the compound reinforce that initial impression. Upon first settling in the house, Bruno is depressed since it has nothing like his Berlin house. Bruno is seen seated midway down the staircase with one side adjacent to the wall and the other open to the main foyer. Bruno stares down despondently at his family behind these vertical slats which serve as an aesthetic addition to the stairway's side open to the foyer. He stares down at the rest of his family, says nothing, and returns upstairs. Even his ability to first gaze at "the farm" is through a window in his room through some horizontal slats. One right after another, you can think of Bruno on one side of this prison, and everyone else on the other.

All of this banter only serves to comment on the fact that if you cross these man-made lines of demarcation (whether legitimate or not), you will be destroyed. Karl does it and is exiled. The Kommandant does it and loses something important. The Kommandant's mother does it and loses something important. Bruno does it and loses something just as well. His mother, though, stays within the confines of "acceptable" behavior and nothing happens to her.

Now to say all of this set up for the ending... that'd be stretching it. But, I applaud the creators for going there. Kinda awesome. Also, the boy in the striped pajamas ends up being Bruno, not Shmuel, like you would think. I just didn't buy the whole drama of the script since the movie is basically about a boy who has no friends after moving to a new place. Wah wah wah. And the Jewish boy in the concentration camp is the only one who can fill that hole. It's just a dumb premise to begin with since it's like talking about how a rich person has a difficult time being rich among all the plebians. Vera Farmiga and Asa Butterfield, as the Mother and Bruno, respectively, did a great job. The movie revolved mostly around them, and they did a good job of carrying the film's main thrust of acting.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Foxy Brown (1974)

Foxy Brown was the answer to the hyper-masculine Black male represented by the likes of Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. One can understand how a genre set on maximizing their profits would try to expand the genre to touch upon each segment of its demographic. To try and gain more female viewers, or perhaps to provide the female half a space for expression, movies like Coffy and Foxy Brown star the powerful, sexy Pam Grier.

The movie starts like a James Bond film, with Grier's silhouette dancing to a solid backgrounds of varying colors. So from the get-go, Grier is the object of sexual desire. The film begins with a good enough hook as Foxy Brown's brother Link is mysteriously being pursued by two henchmen. We come to find out that she's the more stable of the two, with Link owing money to a shady organization for drugs, and she lays down the rules in the strict, authoritarian fashion. Link represents this overly ambitious Black man whose been negatively affected by white media. The quote for his drug dealing is seen when Link says, ""What do i do with all this ambition I've got? Media's gotten me so worked up."

Contrast Pam Grier to her nemesis for the film, Miss Katherine, the female leader of a drug trade organization. Miss Katherine is a slender plain-looking brunette. Early on, you know who's in charge between Katherine and the really pretty male, Steve Elias, in the room when she requests that he kiss her. He hesitates for a second before doing it, and you know that he's not as into her as she is with him. Almost the next scene is Foxy Brown with her man, Michael, as they wait alone in a hospital room and copulate a little. This contrast is readily apparent as to the desirability of Katherine vs. Foxy. We come to find out that Miss Katherine uses sex to get what she wants, but not her own sexuality. She exploits other females in order to gain protection for her business. Foxy uses her sexuality to avenge the murder of her lover. Foxy uses deception to gain access to Miss Katherine organization and destroy it internally. As she pretends to be a prostitute for Miss Katherine's organization, Foxy attracts the attention of Steve Elias, having the ability to conquer Miss Katherine's sexual prowess. In an attempt to correct all the wrongs, both of the community and of personal import, Foxy finally removes all of Miss Katherine's sexuality by destroying her prostitution/drug ring and castrating her boyfriend. She doesn't kill Miss Katherine or her lover, but allows enough mercy to show she's a

There is an obvious emphasis on the degradation of the urban community via drugs trade. Dope dealers are dealt with by the neighborhood "Anti-Slavery Committee" who exile any one who disseminates drugs into the community. There is a problem with Foxy's adherence to the laws of the community, that of ridding it of its plague, i.e. dope. Foxy's brother Link is not exiled after having dealt dope to the point that he's in debt to the distributors. This betrayal to the "laws of the land" probably is what results in the death of her lover, Michael, at the hands of her brother. She couldn't cut the cancer out of her life, so it came back to get her. Once she avenges Michael's death by exiling her brother, Link still doesn't leave the city, but stays to meet his own demise.

The placement of action inside/outside of the urban is an interesting theme since the blaxploitation movie is centered within the city. In terms of working with the theme of urban space, I'd like to think that it must share some traits with that of other gangster films. Criminals who want to destroy the subjects living within the city are not killed but exiled by the collective. The aforementioned lack of adherence to these rules leads to Foxy's tragedy also deals with urban space. Foxy is apprehended within the city and sent out to the countryside to be injected with heroin and raped by some bubbas. Despite being out of her element, Foxy Brown has the resolve to escape her captors and avenge the injury they've caused her. The final showdown doesn't take place in the city but outside in the country. With the help of the neighborhood committee (the power coming from the collective), whom she had to convince to help her, she is able to destroy everything important to this organization.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Invincible (2006)

Invincible is a 2006 period inspirational film starring Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, a layman admitted into the Philadelphia Eagles football club via open tryouts. It has Greg Kinnear as the Eagles coach Dick Vermeil, trying to shake things up for the Eagles, who are suffering a major winning slump. The movie itself is some nice fluff. Basically, the film rides off of Wahlberg's smile and Kinnear's good acting. Basically, it rides on the current wave of isolationism the US is feeling, but depicting a 1976 Philadelphia experiencing the woes of the outsourcing of industrial jobs, higher energy prices, and union strikes detaining anyone from working. The film is about the common man trying make his impression on the world. Since Vince Papale was left by his wife, who didn't believe in him, we're supposed to feel great enthusiasm for the white red-blooded American male who doesn't let anything get him down. Only by being such a Rudy Ruettiger-esque character is Papale able to achieve his destiny by recovering a fumble to win the Eagles' first win against their rivals the New York Giants. It's emotionally uplifting, but manipulatively so.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yojimbo (1961)

Yojimbo is the 1961 period drama directed Akira Kurosawa introducing the roaming ronin Sanjuro played by Toshiro Mifune. The film has the same look and feel as your normal Western only because the Western film genre were so influenced by Kurosawa's cinematography and transferable storylines. Yojimbo is the story of Sanjuro who finds himself on the path to a country town torn apart by two warring factions. Sanjuro's (not really referred to by his name at all during the film, but I'm using it for convenience) arrival in the town is as happenstance as it could be: by throwing a stick up in the air to figured out which path to take in a fork in the road. He finds himself encountering a situation that could use his assistance and goes about playing both sides from the middle in order to slowly tear down the two gangs. Everyone is eating out of the palm of his hand, attributable to their country bumpkin-ness, until the gang leader's younger brother, Inokichi, arrives in town. Inokichi carries a gun in his kimono (his weapon of choice), and is suspicious of everything Sanjuro does/says. This modern sensibility makes him a worthy adversary but not a stronger fighter. The wandering warrior theme is something touched upon. Despite his surly demeanor, you can tell early on that Sanjuro's a kind person.

Cinematographically (?), it's hard for me to see how great the shots are. I wasn't blown away by any one way in which the film was shot, but I was impressed with the wide variety of conditions that Kurosawa shot under. Night. Day. Indoor. Outdoor. Long. Medium. Short. Action sequences. Dramatic dialogue. The tone was always spot on, and I found myself not thinking about the way the shooting. Another thing I was impressed by wast he economy of some of his sequences. Quick pans or camera pivots were all that was necessary to have up-close drama switch to long-range action. Despite the fact that a lot of the film took place in the town main drag or in the restaurant/bar of the old man, it seemed like the interiors were always kept fresh with different angles and distances. Exterior aerial long-shots gave a nice perspective of Western show-downs ready to occur. My conclusion would be that Kurosawa worked really well with the space he had to keep the viewer entertained.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

I've made my mind up about this film. I've grown up with the Terminator. He and his catchphrases have seeped through many levels of culture. I first saw Terminator 2 when I was maybe 10 years old. And obviously I thought it was one of the most awesome movies I'd ever seen. I've grown up, though. My sensibilities have refined (somewhat), and I have come to a pretty solid conclusion about this James Cameron and his creation: it sucks.

I need not introduce the 1991 sci-fi action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, and Robert Patrick. You already know about it. If you don't, then fuck you because I know you're putting me on. If you're one of those people who were sheltered when they were young or foreign, then here... and sorry.

Watching the film the other day late at night, I noticed something of particular significance about the film. It's got a crappy story. And crappy dialogue. And crappy acting (mostly). So why was the movie so popular? Because it's so freaking cool to see things blow up. Robert Patrick's oozing everywhere was pretty sweet too. And that knife arm thing he always did. That's really the main pull of the film, I believe. I think the pure magnitude of the film's topic as well contributes to audiences loving it. One little thing on the film I read mentioned that the film actually took place in 1995, but it should have taken place in 1999 to have the actor playing John Connor be an older person with more agency and more ability to be a badass, instead of a whinny little bitch. I sorta buy that argument. Plus, the possible actors would have been better than Edward Furlong, aka the bad actor who played John Connor.

Technically (as much as someone like me can be "technical"), the film is a really sloppily constructed film. Watching it after having viewed lots of different films, I find myself seeing through the film's composition. The film's storyline is very choppy since its sequences just seem thrown together. Linda Hamilton's narration of the Number One's previous actions is well placed with the road at night, but it just seems like the dialogue was written in order to get from action sequence to action sequence. That's where I see the biggest hole in Terminator 2. The fact that the seams between scenes is readily apparent proves to me that James Cameron just wanted to make big things go boom or just tell computer geeks to work harder to make a better Abyss. I guess the artistry that usually hides those flaws is lacking in this film. Or something. So yeah.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Black Gunn (1972)

Blaxploitation film was a response to Hollywoood outputing Anglophile culture. The civil rights movement had come and gone, and all of the social strife involved in the actual implementation of desegregation was coming out. Blaxploitation was a stage for black voices to be heard. According to IFC's Dcoumentary BaadAsssss Cinema, the official reason for the emergence of blaxploitation films was a drying up of funds with white Hollywood films. The black urban market was seen as a way to possibly make money at a time when the rest of Hollywood's demographic had closed its pocketbook. According to Flak Mag, "And struggling studios like MGM suddenly shot back to prominence making millions off low-budget black offerings like Shaft. The point is made that white Hollywood decided to stop making black-oriented movies once they saw that black people went to The Godfather and The Exorcist. But it would seem that blaxploitation might have continued if anyone was still paying to see it."

Black Gunn seems to embody all of the elements of your standard blaxplotitation film, a strong, black antihero, a man of the Community. The antihero is always placed in the Ghetto, the city of Watts, California in this case, where its subjects are trying to find its own autonomy. This independence is exercised in response to outsiders. The acting is nothing too spectacular, which can only be expected from any B-movie. There is an instance where a white congressman and his lackies are trying to enter Gunn's, the eponymous protagonist, bar/nightclub, but they are being denied entry. In this very symbolic reversal of roles, you find redemption for a community's resentment for being rejected for all those years. He is pursued by the cops, but they make sure to have both a white cop and a black one in order to display that Gunn is not being scapegoated by a racist organization, but he is such a badass that he has to skirt the law.

Let us return to Gunn. Gunn is played by Jim Brown, the American Football star. Gunn typifies all that the American male is defined by. Gunn himself is a successful, Black man who knows how to defend himself. His success is characterized by his white, flashy car that's extravagant and lush. Gunn is a powerful, immutable Black man. He knows he knows, and he will not waver. Because of this, he is an alpha male who exudes sexuality. He is such a macho that his pure sex magnetism attracts both white women and black women. But he's always able to stay true to his special lady, Judith. There is a scene where Gunn is having to ride off with the Black Power Gang on a bunch of motorcycles, and he has to share a motorcycle with a female. It's her bike, but Gunn grabs her off from the front seat and puts her in back. This sort of male chauvinism is visible throughout the film. In trying to depict a male that is fully autonomous, it's necessary to make him hard as nail against whites and women. So you get a sexist, racist Gunn. Racial slurs are dealt a fist to the face, something unseen normally due to historical discrimination. In a chase scene, the villain is crouching while escaping through a parking lot, ducking beneath the view of Gunn, while Gunn stands up straight scanning the parking lot. This difference in posture alone demonstrates the basic difference in what the director wants from each character. Later, Gunn is able to locate the villain and uses deceptive tactics to outsmart the villain. So, the antihero is also clever and smarter than his white counterparts. Basically, the ideal that Gunn represents is that he is able to call a white on all his bullshit. He calls an ace "an ace", and that's what apparently is so desired by the Black urban consumer in the late 60s/early 70s. Example of this is when he is asked by the white politician, with whom he has a good rapport, "You do believe what I'm telling you?" to which Gunn responded "A white congressman? About half of it." Short. To the point. No bullshit. That's Gunn.

And all the above to some fast-tempo funk music.

Black Gunn is a alright movie, but it still is a B-movie. If you'd like to see the perceived problems of Black urban market (script penned by a two whiteys), this would be a good movie to see these problematics dealt with.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Score (2001)

The Score is a heist film directed by Frank Oz, starring Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton. DeNiro plays the cautious, aged professional thief Nick Wells who is trying to get out of "the life". Norton plays Jack Teller, a young and talented criminal who's overly anxious to "jump the gun" on many different aspects of the heist process.

Before starting out, I must admit that this film was difficult to analyze. It still is. I enjoy the way this film was constructed so much, that it's hard for me to concentrate enough on the films components to break it down appropriately. You'll see a lack of objectivity in my analysis.

First off, it was weird seeing DeNiro as a cold, hard sneaking thief. Just a change from the norm. He plays tranquil, but it's the sneaking around aspect to his persona that was difficult to buy, only because DeNiro so freaking cool.

Among other crime dramas, this movie maintains a lot o the same elements as do other heist films. The requirement that these heists take place in the city. Unlike a movie like Rafifi or Mission Impossible, DeNiro comes out into the storage facility from underneath instead of from above. There is the preparation time, which in this case is the entire movie. The theft itself is probably the 20 minutes. There's no real fallout like there usually is in heist movies. It's almost as if all the preparation we've seen ensures that no one will be caught unless they want to. The mapping out of time and space is also part of that preparation, a very important aspect in heist movies. The theme of "not really knowing your partner" is added to the mix since this is a new team working together for the first time.

The film is about the clash between tried & true and young & restless. DeNiro is in command of the heist, since he's the one with more practice and the skill to break into the safe. He's calm, cautious, patient, and exacting. DeNiro represents knowledge and time (maybe it consolidated and dubbed "wisdom"). Norton is the one who set up Max and Nick for the heist, and is the one responsible for gaining most of the intel. He's talented, smart, ambitious, and free-thinking. Norton represents knowledge through talent. There is a conflict between DeNiro's Nick and Norton's Jack the entire film since Jack keeps trying to do it his way, instead of yielding to Nick's advice.

The entire film, Jack is slowing being emasculated by Nick's commands, despite the fact that he agreed to that condition before partnering with Nick. Norton keeps circumventing the rules to do what he wants. The relationship is fragile: always that push and pull. Norton keeps pushing the boundaries of their professional relationship by doing instead of asking. Nick is a boring thief compared to Jack's imaginings for how it should be with an old professional. Jack thinks he's got Nick figured out, which is a problem for their dynamic. This is most readily apparent in the jazz club scene when they discuss going for long shots. Jack asks Nick what his motivation is behind this complicated job, and figures it's Nick's love interest Angela Bassett's Diane. Here, Jack thinks he's got Nick pegged, and wrongly assumes he can get a leg up on Nick. By the end, Jack thinks he's being set up to take a sucker's share (and he is), but that's the way the rules go in this hierarchical world. Breaking the rules for "how it goes" is what gets Jack in trouble. Despite the initial revelation that Nick is being betrayed the audience is given a clue that he's not one to be outdone by a young gun. Nick readily has advantage once you see that he has another escape route and he's in a car, while Jack is running around Montreal to get to the bus station.

Frank Oz did a good job of pacing out the story to give it a calm mood. I wasn't really worried or frantic throughout the film. It was almost a contemplative film the way the plot developed so slowly and organically. Oz also had some changing of perspective and sequencing out within the editing to give the viewer a belonging within the film. This might be why I liked it so much. When the alarm is struck at the end, a moment of panic is established with quick camera moments, jerky handheld shots, and quick cuts. A calm movie turns out wild in the end. The audience is not used to this quick pace, so the effect was even more accentuated. There's a lot that's unseen on the screen. It's alluded to but unseen. The logical conclusion, upon a second viewing, is that Robert DeNiro must be preparing in his own way. He's too old to not be taking care of these little details we're presented from the outset. The calm presentation of the film allows one to assume this about Nick's preparation away from Jack and the camera, that's how sly he is.

The location for Max's revelation to Nick in the Third Act was extremely appropriate. Nick wants some answers from Max about the real reason for the heist and he finds Max in his basement pool, which has a lot of symbolism in it. Nick sees that Max's house is being surveilled by some mobster henchmen, and finds his long-time friend sitting at the end of an empty pool. The basement itself has exposed wires hanging down in the middle of the empty area. This broken down infrastructure represents how Max is having financial problems. The dialogue the ensues proves me theory that this film is about and old guy trying to get out of "the life". Nick doesn't want to do the job since it's gotten too complicated and his intuition is telling him it's a bad idea. The audience finds out that Max is a scared old men worried about losing his secure life when he says "I can't stretch it out anymore. Gotta have some slack." This sums up what Jack assumes is Nick going-out-on-a-limb versus Nick trying to rid himself of all his worries with one last job.

Despite my lack of objectivity, I found it simple enough to decipher the motivation in each sequence except one: the scene during the heist where Edward Norton makes Robert DeNiro wait:
To set up the scene, Edward Norton is working in the customs house where the priceless item is being held. He has to be in control of cutting the cameras and shutting off the alarms while Robert DeNiro is responsible for physically breaking into the vault. At this point of the film, has bypassed many different things to get to the point where he's is suspended above the vault (out of view of any security cameras), waiting for Norton to cut the security cameras. Norton basically leaves DeNiro there for a protracted period of time while he just idles around at his control station. There is a very simple symbolism of Norton's randomly keeping DeNiro waiting on him, since he's literally leaving DeNiro hanging.

This scene was always a mystery to me. I never could understand it. I still don't understand it, but I have some good guesses.

That scene is meant to convey that Norton is trying to either tire DeNiro out so he's less on his game or seeing if he's fully committed. DeNiro realizes this in the moment that Norton only responded when DeNiro told him he was aborting the mission. Great mindfulness by DeNiro. Or the scene is meant to convey that Norton is debating whether or not to betray DeNiro. He's deciding whether or not he's going to mess up the whole plan and do it his way. This second one is less possible, but still valid given all of the visual cues. Either way, it's an ambiguous scene wonderfully executed and expertly arranged.

Again, The Score is a great movie that's a realistic heist film with intellectually stimulating characters and action.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Duck Soup (1933)

Duck Soup is a wonderful comedy from the Marx Brothers. In it, Groucho Marx plays Rufus T. Firefly, the president-dictator of the bankrupt nation of Freedonia. He gets put into power by the wealthy Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, who's loaned enough money to the nation to be considered its official Treasury. This movie is essentially a political satire intended to mix the comedy parts with the politics.

Last time I saw it, I was too young to really understand what was going on in between the lines. Now I'm older and wiser (I think), and I love the Marx Brothers. It reminded me a lot of Will Ferrell movies (only example due to recency), where Will Ferrell is given his screen time to just fuck around while plot is really secondary. The absurdist aspects of film work the same way Mel Brooks films do (e.g. High Anxiety): the level of other characters' unawareness of their surroundings is pretty high. This allows the Marxist (and Brooksian) characters the freedom just perform all their antics unabashedly, while the non-Marxist characters have to just deal with this ranting and their chicanery and then move on.. In the case of Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, Firefly's first appearance on-screen has him doing his vaudevillian routine with a character who finds no irregularity with what he's saying. She is completely stoic and somber with her acting, while the silliness of Groucho is hysterical and indulgent.

Adding to the comedy of the film are two scenes with a dance numbers. They're gratuitous. It seems like the Marx Brothers were told they had to include these numbers in the film, rather than some desired, scripted reason. Apparently the "God's Chillun All have Guns" musical number was all improvised.

When I first saw the famous mirror scene (@4:00) when I was thirteen/fourteen, I felt like I had seen it before. Now I realize that's probably because everyone was copying these guys. The slow pace at which the comedy develops is what makes sets up the scene for a lot of zaniness. What makes the scene work best is the array of things Groucho makes Chico do (who's pretending to be his reflection). Also, the viewer gets tricked a couple of times when they first see it, not expecting to get snookered themselves. This makes the scenes even funnier. With this scene, I came to understand that Marx brothers must've done sorta silent vaudeville before doing the talking pictures. It completely needs no sound for it to be funny.

The whole fight sequence with the Lemonade Salesman between Chico and Pinky is so circular and insane, it's ridiculous. I can't imagine that there were people capable of doing a routine that concisely comical.

Within the framework of the plot, Firefly's country, Freedonia, goes to war with his arch rival's country, Sylvania. As scenes keep switching from Sylvania to Freedonia scenes, Rufus T. Firefly switches his military uniforms in the sequence as follows: a musical number where Groucho's wearing an American Revolution/Napoleonic uniform; a battlefield scene where he's in a Union soldier's uniform and his subordinates are wearing WWI uniforms (some dressed like British soldiers wearing Brodie helmets while rest are wearing the French Adrian helmets), a Confederate general's uniform, a Boy Scout troop leader's uniform, a Revolutionary War-era British general's uniform, and a Davy Crockett-style outfit. Regardless of the seriousness of the topic, Groucho deals with everything with the same irreverence.
Enemy General: "There's a machine gun here near Hill 28. I need it cleaned out."
Chico: "Alright, I'll tell the janitor."

Messenger: "A message from the front, sir."
Groucho: "Oh, I'm sick of messages from the front. Don't we ever get a message from the side?"
[Groucho proceeds to open the envelope, read the letter, but apparently can't read/decipher what it says.]
Groucho: "Uh, what is it?"
Messenger: "General Smith reports a gas attack. He wants to know what to do."
Groucho: "Tell him to take a teaspoon of bicarbonite soda and half a glass of water."
Done. Don't bother with real topics, because they'll get a slapping from my witty banter as well. Gotta love it.

The film ends with them capturing their enemy's leader and restraining him. Then they have him surrender by throwing fruit at him. Once victory is announced, Mrs. Gloria Teasdale begins singing in a high squealing soprano, so they turn their fruit-throwing to her to shut her up. Trumpets blare the Freedonia National Anthem, and the Paramount Pictures logo displays on screen.

The humor is a basic vaudevillian recipe of sharp, quick dialogue combining the following elements (that I know of): play on words, divergent tengancies, double entendres, puns, irony, spoonerisms, and mishearing of words. Duck Soup is labeled as an anarchic comedy, which is exactly the right description of it. This complete abnegation of rationality is what makes the movie stand the test of time. Worth the 68 minutes to really learn what comedy can be.

P.S.: Random fact from IMDB: Groucho Marx offered the following explanation for the movie's title: "Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup the rest of your life."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

Zack and Miri Make a Porno, the 2008 comedy written and directed by Kevin Smith, surprised me. The movie stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as the two eponymous slackers who try to earn enough money for bills by making a porno (pretty obvious from the title). This movie was of the first movies since Chasing Amy where Kevin Smith was able to mix his intelligent dialogue with a cohesive, attractive plot and amiable characters. Supported by a good cast of Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Jeff Anderson, among others, the duo begin their little journey trying to get their bills paid in a very realistic fashion. They enlist the help of friends. They get a loan from the ever funny Craig Robinson. They awkwardly start trying to delve themselves into the world of pornographic filmmaking. Kevin Smith knows how to write people talking, and I think he did a great job of mixing his own odd flavor of crude humor with very intelligible characterizations. The believability of the development of Zack and Miri's relationship was what I liked about the film. It was foreseeable, yet still well paced.

Really good, simple symbolism in having Elizabeth Banks hit on Brandon Routh's Bobby Long, a high school crush who always rejected Miri, since her present is so much more valuable than anything that could be accomplished to reconquer the past's inadequacies.

Additionally, Miri and Zack have established parallels throughout the film. They have no living family. They are each other's families as indicated by their Thanksgiving plans together. Their living together symbolically constitutes everything in a marriage/relationship lacking only sex. To guy a like Kevin Smith who is very simplistic and reductionistic (not a word?) about relationships between men and women, this means that the two are meant to get together in the end.

Some of Kevin Smith's stylistic choices appeared throughout. These examples are well done and effective. I've listed a few:
  • Gratuitous display of gayness between Justin Long and Brandon Routh when they have their fight in front of Zack.
  • His departure from reality to visualize Elizabeth Banks licking the beer bottle right when Zack realizes how the two can solve their money problems.
  • Showing Jason Mewes penis
  • Seth Rogen asks for a handjob in the girls' locker room from Roxanne, an old high school acquaintance. As they later exit the girls' locker room, Seth Rogen goes "Sorry about the elbow."
  • When Justin Long introduces the fact that he is an gay porn actor, he begins subtly by stating he's in films with all-male casts. Seth Rogen goes "Like Glen Gary Glen Ross?", to which Justin Long responds "More like... Glen and Gary Suck Ross's Meaty Cock and Drop Their Hairy Nuts in His Eager Mouth."
So yeah. It's a great film that everyone should watch to listen to Kevin Smith do his thing is a more mainstream manner. I love Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma, but Zack and Miri Make a Porno seemed to achieve something that the others lack. I think it's better character-driven dialogue versus simple banter.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Step Brothers (2008)

Step Brothers is another great slapstick comedy in the repertoire of Adam McKay. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay created the screenplay from a story written by Ferrell, McKay, and John C. Reilly. You can really tell when Will Ferrell has a lot of creative control in films since he usually inserts a lot of gimmicks allowing him the opportunity to really ham it up. The comedy really is just a display of how silly the two can be together, and how dysfunctional the world can be when two 40-somethings are given free reign. The genius is treating the brothers like they're 15 years-old. Personally, the best part of the film is watching John C. Reilly's dad, Richard Jenkins, wig out and curse like crazy. The amount of ludicrous things that occur are given verisimilitude by Jenkins shouting "Shut the fuck up!!" in frustration. It's just funny to hear normally calm and patient parents thrash out at their ridiculous children. So yeah. That's it. Nothing too profound. But neither is the movie.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spy Game (2001)

Tony Scott's espionage thriller Spy Game is a clever cat-and-mouse game. The movie details the formation of the relationship between Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, as Redford mentors Pitt to be a spy for the CIA. This narrative from the past is organically interwoven into the present action of Redford's Nathan Muir explaining how Pitt's Tom Bishop came to work for the CIA. The relationship started with a Black Ops where Muir got stuck with using Bishop, and Bishop's smarts were visible from the outset. From this first operation, the friendship was formed, and Muir went after Pitt. There's an interesting father-son dynamic created between the two as a result of Muir's mentorship. Despite the appeal between the duo as well as the purpose of the whole film's plot, I saw this relationship depiction as only an explanatory device for the Muir's actions during the majority of the plot. I saw this film as one about an old-timer who was trying to wiggle his way through the bullshit organizational policies that plague everyone's lives.

Spy Game is about a guy who's been trained to manipulate people so well that he's able to get by with it within the very organization that taught him those skills. First off, the relationship we're witnessing on-screen is being given to us by Muir. He's not recollecting it. He's telling the story. You can tell by the way in which he brings up his multple wives, which are interrupted by the suits interrogating him. Second, Muir's maneuverings through the web of surveillances consist of the majority of the action. It's the most captivating part of the film. The camera follows that the most.

Lastly, the story is about some out-of-touch paper pushers who have no experience in the field. Only after having served his time in the field is Nathan Muir having to work in the Langley office, but he's really a field-based case handler. The lessons he teaches Bishop only serve to explain how he's able to get by the office staff in the CIA Headquarters. It also goes to explain what Bishop really means to him, since he forfeits many of his teachings to rescue him.

To argue against the notion that the film is about two men and the bond they form, I'd offer only one little tidbit of a logic: we know nothing about Nathan Muir. All we know about him is what he's told us (and his office bureaucracy) and his conclusive feelings for Bishop from Operation Dinner Out. What we know about him is highly suspect since he's running a con on the office collars trying to rid themselves of a headache. In the end, we are left knowing Brad Pitt's Tom Bishop, and that's it. Nathan Muir maintains his phantasmal existence as he vanishes from the office and from everyone else's radar. It's crazy to think that the person who's carried the plot is undeveloped, but it's completely true. Not totally undeveloped, but enough for it to irk the viewer into reconsidering what the true film is about.

As to the cinemagraphic tone of the film, it seemed like the classic construction of a Tony Scott-handled narrative. Times were digitally displayed on the screen. Locations were beeped out onto the screen. Dramatic pauses in the film were accentuated with still shots being immediately desaturated into a B&W color schemes. Long aerial shots either tracking in or out were sped up as anyone who's seen Déjà Vu would be used to. Given the time constraint that Muir was working under, Scott's editing style seemed to work perfectly. I've come to the conclusion that this is one of the perfect screenplays for Tony Scott to have undertaken in this manner, given its topic, narrative structure, & tone. Despite my boredom with some of Tony Scott's film, Spy Game's the clever editing complemented the action and Redford & Pitt were very affable, personable characters.