Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Babysitters (2007)

The Babysitters is an indie film about a high school junior who turns herself and her friends into a prostitutes who service the married men of the community. The plot follows Shirley Lyner, played by Katherine Waterston, as she recounts how she and her friends started pimping themselves out to a bunch of middle-aged suburban men. Katherine Waterston is the anal retentive Lolita to John Leguizamo's suburbanly ennui'd Humbert. John Leguizamo's deficient acting is complemented by Cynthia Nixon taking on the role of John Leguizamo's devoted housewife.

The film begins in media res during an orgy scene and then jumps back to a boring, simpler time in Shirley's life. Like everything else in this movie, this beginning 5 minutes of introduction to the film's premise is indicative of what the rest of the film's hook is: female teenage promiscuity. All the girls that appear in the film are DTF, and so much so that they're willing to do it for money with older males. It objectifies these girls in the name of independent cinema, and really does not depict males other than in a hopelessly despicable light. By this, I mean the males in the film are almost without agency due to their situation as providers of multiple dependents. They are driven to these female muses since their domestic life sucks ass. I don't buy it. I've been there (sorta), and I'm not buying what they're selling me. The Waterston/Leguizamo scenes seemed lacking in the chemistry department, which undercuts the impetus for the entire story. There wasn't enough development of the connection between the two. This would've added only like 5 minutes of footage (2-3 minutes of dialogue at most), but would have made their love connection more believable and more understandable (vs. something that is purely carnal).

It's completely a male fantasy, and I'm against the entire concept of the film since it does nothing to build upon a topic already fraught with controversy. One of the things I do find good about the film is the use of Katherine Waterston as the lead. I googled her and found that she looks really good with shoulder-length hair. But in the film, she wears long, flat hair and jumped back and forth across the ATTRACTIVE line. Most of the times I thought she was attractive was when she was about to have sex, having sex, or shirtless. The verisimilitude of this mediocre-looking being the one who brings about all the risky behavior is believable. It's the theater kids who have the most sex and are the ones who have done the most stuff by the time they get out of high school. They may have acne. They may drive a POS Volvo (sorry See/Read). They may have a shitty job at a bagel shop. But they are getting down more than the bourgeois cooler, richer, attractive-er kids in their grade. That's where this movie sorta makes sense. It's a complete fantasy that the good-looking middle-age man finds some gorgeous Venus with whom to copulate. They bring it down (just a notch) have John Leguizamo score a semi-attractive, anal retentive girl. Because it's never the really hot girl who's mature enough to maintain a relationship with an older man, since she's so hot she doesn't have to be anything for anyone until later. The Babysitters a good watch to check out indie film cinematography, but nothing much more than that. Oh yeah... that and some boobage.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)

It's pretty. Really pretty. That's all I can conjure when thinking about Korean Park Chan-wook's romantic comedy. The protagonist, Young-goon, is a female who believes she is a cyborg and is institutionalized as a result. Soon enough, she finds a love interest, Il-sun, who exposes her to the different corners of the mental institution. By her side is a oafish female patient who selfishly advises Young-goon around. The camera will wander off from the Young-goon plot line to follow some of the other patients as they wander the halls and garden of the institution. One feels like Young-goon and Il-sun are meant to be together in the end, but the surreal aspects of the film meander their way through initial contact, courtship, and eventual pairing.

When I stated that the film was pretty, I meant that the ballet of action occurring in the background seemed to demonstrate how much can be done with a scene to add to the tone of the film. There is a certain aire about the film that presents a non-logical world to the viewer. Due to this surreal aspect to the film, Park Chan-wook is able to give the audience a narrative that jumps linearity the least bit. Point in case is the opening sequence that glides the camera around the uniformed Korean women working in an electronics factory only to hover over certain Korean script. Despite having no literacy in Korean, one is able to understand that the script within the frame is probably related to the plot and/or credits. This insertion of the real world into the film obvious breaks that fourth wall. Another instance where rationality is usurped occurs while Young-goon is first brought into the mental hospital and carted around introductorily, the camera begins a steadycam-dolly shot with Young-goon in the center foreground, with her presumptuous tour guide behind her pushing her hospital bed, and with all of the lunacy in the background. Normally, one does not have to try so hard to demonstrate the lunacy of an insane asylum, but Park Chan-wook achieves this feat with a wonderful majesty. Bodies enter and exit the frame like fireworks during the 4th of July. Some characters stand out, others do not, but the visual stimulation is gratifying.

In the end, I bought into Young-goon's storyline and insanity. She licks batteries instead of eating since she believes this is how she get replenished. Il-goon is cute and likable, while not too flat of a character to be boring. He has enough of an edginess so that his interactions with the other patients intrigue the viewer and leave them wanting more. The curious use of homemade masks made my mind go wild with possibilities for my own arts and crafts projects. The other sprinkling of interesting characters keep you intrigued.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reefer Madness (1936)

Reefer Madness is your typical exploitation film used be propaganda against a chemical substance that is repudiated by the bourgeoisie. The narrative begins with a principal giving a Parent-Teacher Association meeting the horror story of how marihuana anecdotally ruined the lives of certain high school students. It closes with a condemnatory message directed at the audience. Since the film is an inflammatory tale of the perils of this new substance, deemed worse than the gangsters who sell it. Since their goal to stir the public to out of its inertiatic slumber. How they frame different undesirable aspects of the country determines how they subtly insert different characterizations and subtextual messages. Below I have different examples of the values the creators hold. There is an obvious split between public space and private space, but I don't want to write about that now.

Divorce:
Ralph is a great guy except he's from a bad lot, divorced parents who don't live in their American city but are from France, the epicenter of liberality and decadence. Bill's got a family.

Bachelors from Urban Centers:
The males are reprehensible while the females are passive subjects without agency. The Drug Dealer, the Drug Boss, and Ralph represent how unattached males in the city are dangerous since they are without a female.

Jazz music:
Condemns jazz music by consistently pairing the decadent youth with Jazz dancing. Only Jazz music would bring out in a musician (like the piano player) a horrible disease of urban decay.

Curiosity of youth:
Adventurous Jimmy invites his friend Bill Harper to go drive around (first establishes Jimmy as a good driver) and get a soda with him. Jimmy = likes to be moving; preference for steadiness precludes problems with marihuana.

Peer Pressure:
Bill forced into going. Rotated camera angle up-close shot with pianno player. Maniacal look. Mae has undiscriminating tastes for Bill Harper (takes word of the Blanche).

No agency of youth:
Bill Harper and Mary Lane are the image of perfect youth who may wander but are innately good. Showing them doing a scene from Romeo and Juliet to show their wholesomeness Bill's got a family, and as a result is able to learn the benefits of self-control.

Greed:
Covetous grasp of the marihuana cigarettes. Did the Production codes disallow the characters from smoking fake marihuana on screen?

Lust:
Lechery of the impressionable, naive youth of America. Blanches' sexual desire for Bill push him to keep visiting Mae's apartment and getting involved with the drug pushers, not the drug addiction like with Jimmy.

Preying on the youth:
The Boss wants to sell to kids without an scruples. The film shows him at his desk with a calculator and nothing on the walls. This set design signifies how unconventional and unidentifiable this drug boss is.

Powerful grip of foreign substances:
Ralph plays his character really jittery, as does the Piano Player.

Dangerousness of private space:
Those marihuana smokers have their own language. They keep referring to people as "Okay", in order to communicate internally among the people in the know.

Purity of American youth:
Ralph takes advantage of Mary, and Mary is the pure, innocent ingenue. Mary is only searching for Bill's whereabouts but maintains her good judgment despite using some marihuana. She is not as reprehensible as Bill since she doesn't lose her senses.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

The Man Who Knew Too Little is a parody of Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. A light-hearted, zany comedy with Bill Murray at the helm as Wallace Ritchie. His co-star is a Joanne Whalley's Lori who does a good job of bringing in reality to the situation. Ritchie is insistent that the whole charade is the birthday present his brother got for him (this of The Game, but less awesome), but Ritchie begins his foray into some British government officials trying to restart the Cold War with the help of some Russian counterparts.

Wally mistakenly answers a call from a phone booth and then begins his trek throughout London. This story play entirely on the dramatic irony of this mistaken identity. It is silly. It relies on the gullibility of an American buffoon. Bill Murray makes it work, though. Murray's ability to switch from a true buffoon to feigning smugness is incredible. That's why the film works for different audience and makes the most sense for market distribution: its inane slapstick and intellectual situational irony. It rides a nice line between the two sides of comedy gracefully. It's a little purposefully awkward, but they make it work.

Peter Gilbert does a good job as his uptight, all-business younger brother. Alfred Molina makes an appearance as Boris the Butcher. Apparently, he does a pretty believable Eastern European accent.

Do I think this film is well done? Yes. Is Bill Murray funny as ever? Yes. Was I laughing uncontrollably the entire movie? Yes. Is that all I can write about the film? Yes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Burn After Reading (2008)

Joel and Ethan Coen again deliver a film that leaves the viewer wanting more. I think they didn't do as good of a job as we're normally used to. This mostly comes from the fact that the movie takes a sorta anti-denouement approach to creating the conflicts between the different characters. The whole piece made me think of a Greek tragedy being recounted by two travelers crossing paths. Despite the fact that these two witnesses have a bird's eye view of the entire plot, there is a still a comedic tag team reminiscent of Vaudevillian tendencies in delivering lines between two characters.

Every actor in the film delivers a solid performance. The dialogue is quick, witty, and incisive, as can be expected. I think it's the dialogue that shines the most throughout the film and is the most important thing to focus on. I would go into it, but that means I'd have to watch the film again to cite specific examples and argue those points. I'm a busy guy, so I'll pursue a different path. What I believe is the most deficient aspect of the film is the wandering plot and the last of finality within everyone's conflicts. It played out more like a wandering comedy that wanted to be a short diversion for its viewers, but that's where I intellectually see how it linearly stands within the Coen Brothers' body of work.

Obviously, this comedy is nothing new for the Coen Brothers. It contains the same type of dark comedy of Fargo and the idiocy of The Big Lebowski. I can see why they constructed the film the way they did, riding off the success of No Country for Old Men and utilizing a slew of A-list actors, it pulls the rug out from underneath the Hollywood system and its admiring audience.

So, this "anti-denouement" moniker that I am so glad I inserted at the beginning of this rant really signifies what the audience and the Coen Brothers most need to get out of the film: its lack of packaging the film in a nice, neat bow. So, the majority of those that could sit through it were able to witness No Country for Old Men. The obvious darkness of Chigurh's character and the intricacy of the three plot-lines that never really cross paths were for me the emphasis of the filmmaking process. Also, its economy of visual and audio stimuli (as if economy of scenes were not a concern with every filmmaker) also was very evident to me, which is where the mastery of the Coen Brothers resides. Anyway, we've all seen it in all its greatness/grotesqueness.

I think after doing a film like that, a director doesn't mind kicking back and saying "Fuck it" to all of this cerebral, art-house cinema that engages the mind to ponder the ambiguities of human morality. Burn After Reading accomplishes a light-heartedness throughout due to the Coen Brothers' ability to juxtapose scenes with contradictory tones. Think of John Malkovich's acrimonious Osburne Cox waiting for Brad Pitt's idiotic Chad to make the exchange, and Chad rolls up awkwardly on a bike to the exchange dressed in a suit. He hits the curb uncontrollably and takes the time to fumble and lock it up. Think of right after that scene when Frances McDormand's resolute Linda Litzke screams at Chad to mount the vehicle so they can drive after a fleeing Osbourne Cox (whom the duo are blackmailing). Chad says, "Hey, what about my bike?" Think of the scene on the Osbourne Cox's sailing boat with his father where he keeps pretentiously saying the word "meh-moi" (silent R) when discussing future plans after having been fired by the agency. Think of the female-friendly seat that George Clooney constructs so secretly and so blithely unveils it to Linda Litzke on one of their first few dates. Think of Tilda Swinton's cuntily efficient Katie Cox who brusquely brushes away Clooney's amorous pitch for sex and hastily drives away.

[Spoiler Alert:]
The film ends with J.K. Simmons as a CIA Director (one of the two travelers) saying "Jesus fucking Christ. What did we learn? ...I don't fucking know either. I guess we learned not to do it again. ...I'm fucked if I know what we did. ...Jesus fucking Christ".

Simmons closes CIA folder and a bird's eye camera shot quickly track zooms out above the folder, out of the building, and into the sky like a Google satellite gazing downward. Emphasized by the movie's score (which plays throughout to create the faux-spy thriller emotionality), this music juxtaposes with the insanity of the story's plot. The nihilistic ending serves to tell the viewer that, along with the CIA file on this whole incident, the audience should Burn After Viewing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Jerk (1979)

The Jerk seems to be a classic within the comedy genre. It is a rags-to-riches tale of a buffoon who tries to finds himself after leaving home for the first time upon learning he's not the natural-born child of his (apparently) adoptive parents. It's close attachment to Steve Martin seems to fill it with the credibility of his comic genius, but I have enjoyed some of his other works. The Jerk is really just chaos on film. It's not quite as fool of mayhem as a Mel Brooks film, but it makes sense how a lot of those films were being conceived of. Breaking with conventional depictions of narration. Heavy use of dramatic irony. Inattentive character surrounding the protagonist, being the protagonist himself. It doesn't seem to me like anyone really caught on to how idiotic Martin's Navin R. Johnson really is. The obvious gimmick of having Navin's family be black is a post-Civil Rights comment on how universal we all are, but beyond that simple appearance, there doesn't seem be much behind it. It takes the "you're not one of us" plotline and turns it on its head but without showing how to stay that way. Additionally, the businessman who sells Steve Martin's invention demonstrates a ludicrous notion on how one can become rich and famous in this country. It makes the comment that one only has to have the good idea and the rest will come to you. Or it's stating that only idiots that get lucky are able to make it in this country. The rest have to fight and squabble. Maybe the retribution for the hard-working middle class vying for richness comes after the ludicrous lawsuit is filed.

Now, the moments of absurdity within the film run aplenty. But I've become split myself as the whether this is truly a "funny" film. I believe what was so good about The Jerk was its constant silliness. I believe what was so bad about The Jerk was its constant silliness.

How contradictory!

Yet it's such a mirrored phrasing, you don't know how to react!

I know. It's confusing. Let me help you out..

Out of the many comedic moments the film covers, there is an explicit depiction of Navin Johnson's innocence/stupidity (really, it could be both at the same time... but whatever). There is little going on with the plot. It's a movie fool of gimmicks. The gimmicks come and go. They make you laugh out loud. They're ridiculous. They're non-sequitur. They're funny! But they never stop long enough for a believable characterization of Navin to come out. He kinda stays the same throughout the film. He's just as innocent and/or stupid as he was at the beginning of the film as he is at the end. And actually, it's his family that bails him out of poverty in a use of deus ex maquina to create the happy ending. So if Steve Martin had invested a little more time into some sort of character the audience could identify with, maybe there'd be more attachment to Navin R. Johnson. Then maybe the gimmicks might sit better with me, if they were founded in someone believable. Despite this cerebral critique, I enjoyed the movie and partook in the bedlam that it's insanity created.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vendedora de Rosas (1998)

La Vendedora de Rosas se trata de un grupo de unas niñitas que viven por la calle. La historia desarrolla durante la Noche Buena cuando la mayoría de la gente se reúne con su familia. Hector Gaviria hace un yuxtaposicion entre las chica que han tenido formar su propia sistema familiar con las otras olvidadas y el lujo y comodidad de una celebración tradicional. Un símbolo que me gustó es el uso del pegamiento para permitir el escape de los chicos de la calle. La textura que tiene símbolo es la exposición de una vida que se trata de un vagabundeo general. Pero, para escapar la realidad de una vida sin conexión a sus raíces, los chicas inhalan el pegamiento. Cuando los chicos usan están en un estado separado de lo normal (sea colocados o dormidos), ellos piensan en los recuerdos de su casa. Tratan de recoger lo que han perdido. A mí, este símbolo sirve para emfatizar lo que todos necesitamos en la vida, una conexión y una estabilidad. En relación al espacio urbano, es evidente que Gaviria quería mostrar al público las consecuencias de la urbanización que suporte una descentralización del nucleo familiar. También, la urbanización como un ley aceptada universalmente tiene su contrapunto en el modo de que ella crea muchos problemas en aggregar esa gran cantidad de gente.

The camera-work and the use of non-professional actors must also be discussed since it such an integral part of the storytelling that Gaviria is doing. He's giving the marginalized in Colombia a voice of their own. And this low-production value visible within the film demonstrates how commercially nonviable projects like this are. They're real; they're in your face. They're part of the what makes film-making so powerful, but it's the audience that is weak and unable to deal with these radical changes. We want our fantasy. We want our own bottle of glue to sniff, just like the kids stuck out on the streets. It's unavoidable. I'm all for the revolution and all that, but this is a difficult film to watch, even if the people on-screen really are experiencing the things depicted. It's not that it's too close, but it's just not done well enough. I don't even think it's the low-production money spent on the film, it's really the actors who don't seem like they're really able to act. I'm not one with a highly discernible eye, but I can tell that this acting is pretty crumby.

All in all, this is not one of Gaviria's stronger films. I think Rodrigo D. No Futuro is a more beautifully done film. This later work of his just continues the Latin American appropriation of Italian Neorealism cinematic techniques. To prove that I'm not a Gaviria hater, I will highly laud him on one aspect of the film that is encouraging and productive to the discourse of this third world cinema: it's females. Rosario Tijeras is a blatant sexualization of the misery created by the neoliberal economic policies in Latin America, leading to structural poverty wrecking shop everywhere. The Rosario character in that film is a femme fatale that is hyper-sexualized to elicit the sexual desire out of Spanish-speaking males eager to be controlled or dominated by a woman more powerful than they (to use Freud's Oedipal discourse). Films like Virgen de los sicarios makes more of a move in the direction of subverting the chauvinist discourse contained within Rosario Tijeras, by inserting a young, homosexual boy in the role of killer and lover and eventual sacrifice.

What I think this film did well was the use of a large cast of young, pre-pubescent girls to further develop the discourse of a patriarchal system within the Latin American city. Nothing is sexual. Despite the fact that the girls because the objects of desire from the many lecherous males (be it familial abuse by fathers/uncles or reprobates on the streets). The characters are obviously emulating the value system handed down to them by their elders, but this sorta of comportment is completely transparent since the audience feels like they're watching a cast of children pretending to be adults on-screen. Maybe there's a little bit of a disconnect between the socio-economic, geographical upbringing I had versus what Latin American audiences are used to. Perhaps they view this behavior as normal, but Gaviria's depiction of this perverted state of existence for these forgotten children cannot be coincidental. Gaviria is trying to demonstrate how fucked up it is within the city and it's impoverished people. Because it's not solely the fact that the structural poverty keeps people hungry, but it keeps families from being able to be families. And it's all fine and dandy until one actually sees what kinda society these discarded children have to create for themselves.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shattered Glass (2003)

This was a painful movie to watch for me. I used to be a Stephen Glass. I got by with a lot... a lot. The story of Stephen Glass is one of lying and deception taken on a scale grander than anything I would have ever considered supporting. Glass is manipulative; he's everything I've tried to get away from. The editing of the sequences where he repeats certain phrases and techniques are obvious techniques used to manipulate the people around him. The "Are you mad at me?" line really struck true for me. I never used it to manipulate people like he did, but that sorta affectation reminds me of something I would legitimately be concerned about. Glass uses it because he affects that sorta obsequious persona that he really doesn't feel.

More abstractly, he's an example of what can be accomplished when everyone likes you and when you feign humility. Despite all of his deceptions, he's still telling us a story, and we're willing to hear it. You can only think that this is a fabricated storytelling session with the high school students. You can only assume it has to be a moment in his mind since he's searching for validation from the outside world where all of these stories occurred.

I don't think there's much going on cinematographically. The only hook for the story is the plot. I thought the original story would be about Stephen Glass, but I was surprised to find myself more motivated by Chuck Lane's development. I saw through Stephen Glass, and felt sorry for him for not being able to realize he was heading down a dark path. The viewer knows Stephen Glass is a liar too (bc that's the premise of the film), so the downfall of the main character only makes sense. I found the story tragic but satisfying. It's unfortunate that there was no way to make Stephen Glass a more relatable character, but perhaps it's more a commentary on the state of the publication business and the public's relation to printed word. It seems like the message of the film seemed to transmit a non-understanding as to why they were able to produce a Stephen Glass. I think that the pressure built up is not comprehended by a public that demands the most veracity from the voracious newspapermen. The ire inspired by the weaknesses of Stephen Glass seemed unwarranted. Yeah he was manipulative, and yeah he feigned a lot of different personalities in order to slime his way ahead of the crowd, but the film does not even closely approach an explanation as to why. This flatness of Glass is what proves to me that the writer of the story (a writer of fiction, mind you) has no sympathy for someone who fabricates for his career's advancement.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Truth About Charlie (2002)

Apparently, this is a remake of the Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant movie called Charade. It's so stylized and eclectic that this makes sense since the plot devices seem to be a little lacking. The original was a comedy-thriller, and this remake is a romantic-thriller. Stylized with a lot of raw filters, handheld camera, rotated camera shots, close ups in shot reverse shot sequences, and quick cuts.

It's odd seeing Mark Wahlberg do anything really delicate, so that's really my only contention with this movie. He acts as best as he can, but I've seen him too many times, so I know what his little bad habits are. Thandie Newton is as glorious as ever both visually and dramatically. Tim Robbins plays the close-to-the-chest informant for Thandie's Regina Lambert. Newton and Wahlberg do have a little chemistry, though, so that helps push along the believability of their romance.

The premise is simple, and the intricacies are aplenty. I just kept thinking about how the film shows off an unseen Paris. It's good brain candy for an hour and forty-five. It's light-hearted at some points, and a little more dramatic at others. I'd recommend this movie to see what is quintessentially commercial in the French New Wave movement.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Some things came to my attention last night as I watched The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Bronson and Rene Russo.

First off, where is Rene Russo now? She was such a strong, smart, sexy female lead, but now... nothing. Not a word. Maybe old age has not dealt her a good hand, but I can't believe that it happened overnight. I can only assume she, nor anyone else, want to keep playing strong female roles. Also, Hollywood has decided not to give out these sorta upper-thought type of roles.

Second, this is the 1999 John McTiernan remake of the 1968 version with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. This remake took a more benign approach when creating the Thomas Crown character. He didn't rob banks and stick up innocent citizens. For some reason, that comportment for a M&A finance executive doesn't sit right. So they made Pierce Bronson a more sublime type of thief.

My third and most pertinent comment is my belief that the remake tries to take this scene and expand upon it. The whole remake is a cat-and-mouse play between Russo and Bronson. It's the chess game as soon as Rene Russo steps into the scene. It's intricate. There's a lot going on behind-the-scenes. Russo's Catherine Banning confronts Bronson's Thomas Crown at a gala and reveals that Crown is a suspect in the Monet theft. She also uses her feminine wiles to retrieve Crown's house keys. For a while, you believe Banning holds all the cards to an unsuspecting Crown. The viewer doesn't realize how much scheming is going between the two until Banning illegally recovers the "stolen Monet" from Crown's apartment. Soon the audience discovers the stolen Monet was painted over Dogs Playing Poker. Then it's on. You realize the Thomas Crown is just as scheming as Catherine Banning. The two are a perfect match for each other, and you can't wait to see the end game.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

1941 (1979)

1941 is a special movie for me. It stands an odd relic in Steven Spielberg's past. Post-Jaws/Close Encounters of a Third Kind. Pre-Indiana Jones/E.T. This WWII-era comedy has no discernible plot. It plays out with a bunch of slapstick sketches with cardboard cut-out characters. It's an interesting moment in Spielberg's career due solely to the zaniess of the entire work. This film has more of an Animal House feel to it than anything close to what Spielberg has done. I think the Spielberg magic plays itself out in the Swing dancing scene where Treat Williams and Bobby Di Cicco run around the dance floor. The sequence is accentuated by the arrangement of swing dancers bopping around the room with vim and vigor. You can see the whackiness that later came out in Temple of Doom. What I really think about when seeing this movie is that Spielberg's innate desire to reproduce the wartime films he saw as a child was mixed with the commercial success of the sketch slapstick comedies in the late seventies. The thing worth mentioning with regards to reproducing old wartime films should be that a lot of sequences spoofing idealic compositions. That's probably where the film gets a lot of appreciation from me.

After seeing this movie, it was commented to me how clever and well-conceived the sexual humor was back in the day. Oddly enough, the only real plot arc is the Tim Matheson's Birkhead trying everything he can to score with the General Stillwell's daughter. She only will sleep[ with someone if they're on an airplane. Birkhead has no idea how to fly (got kicked out of flight school), yet decides to keep pursuing this this female. It's pretty crazy, but this Meatballs-esque plotline works.

Things worth noting: Slim Pickens playing some bodunk pro-American kidnapped by Japanese naval expedition crew who ends up escaping. John Belushi reprising his role as John Blutarsky having been drafted as Captain Wild Bill Kelso who drives his motorcycle off a pier to a Japanese sub & jumps into it demanding for it to stop. Treat Williams playing the hound-dog Army officer who can't keep his hands off the bombshell blond of the group who ends up chasing her all over the suburban household of her parents, the USO dancehall, and the riotous street of LA. The Robert Stack's General Stilwell who wants to see Dumbo really badly. Why? I don't know, and that's what's so good about this movie.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Oda a la Cuchara

¡Oh, Cuchara!
Déjeme enumerar
las razones
por la admiracion
que tengo para Usted.
Su redondez metálico
que mece la vida
de un tazón que me llena
con calidez
La única feminino del trio,
tú ahuecas las manos
como una madre nutriendo sus crías.
Y como el Hijo,
Jesús trae sus manos
a servirme agua
cuando tengo sed.
Curvas como una mujer,
su piel suave sutilmente
hace señas para que se acerco.
Ud. agita mi corazón
como si fuera una taza de te.
Ud. cava a mi alma
afuera de un carcel.
Ud. cabe mi lengua
como si fuera hecho para la.
No tan agresivo
como los cuchillos y tenedores masculinos,
apuñalando y tajando la carne del orgánico.
Se desliza adentro de mi boca con resignación benévolo.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Barton Fink (1991)

Introduction:
Now, I have to give Barton Fink some time to ponder. I finished it last week, but with catching up to classes, I feel it to be a herculean task to finish my review of Barton Fink. There's just so much to say about it. Normally, I like to keep these reviews short and sweet, but this will be an extended one since I feel so mentally invested in this film. I had never known that Barton Fink was a Coen Brothers film. I only knew it as John Turturro film since he graces the cover with his gorgeous mug. It always would taunt me at the video store with the distraught Turturro staring at a mosquito hanging in mid-air. Upon seeing on the U-verse info with Joel & Ethan Coen, I promptly pushed the Record button.

Direction:
What has struck me the most about the film is the slow pace of the editing. The unraveling of the plot seems so slow and steady that the pace is awkward to the normal viewer expecting something a little more fast-paced or quicker revealing. The Coens seem to do a good job of restraining the audience from knowing too much about what will happen next. This slow pace plus the ominous soundtrack presents itself in the same manner a horror film slowly develops into an jam-packed action fest of running and screaming. With neither running nor screaming, John Turturro whiles away time in his "common man" motel room during which he tries to conjure a story he needs under his contract stipulations. The appearance of Barton Fink's shoddy motel room versus that the extravagant Hollywood offices should indicate enough how this gap between Barton Fink's mentality and theirs will never be bridged. Fink works in a low-budget/humble room with a mosquito representing his inability menacingly hovering overhead.

The high harmonic violin brings a shrill suspense. When Barton first enters the Hotel and rings the bell, the bell holds it ringing forever with an Eraserhead-type of disorienting effect. Contrast this high pitch tone to the initial introduction to Hollywood and New York by the Coens' showing waves loudly crashing against a jagged rock on the shore. Deeper in pitch, but no less violent and jarring like the ringing bell. It is evident that this film will stir us inside and out.

Characterization:
The introductory scene where John Turturro is sitting in a tuxedo while tightly clasping the playbill should be indicative enough of Fink's mentality. Barton Fink has a theoretical concept of what an artist and writer are supposed to be, yet this concept does not work when it comes to the utilitarian aspect that Hollywood operates. Barton Fink wants a "real success" to have a "new, living theater of and about and for the common man" filled with intellectual concepts not befitting the "common man". From the beginning, I should have figured out that Barton Fink would not have fit within Hollywood. He is a disconnected writer who feels like a observer able to bring radical change to the elite through his un-realistic depictions of the common man and his plight.

On top of the Tony Shaloub as the antagonistic studio handler, John Goodman as the traveling salesman confidant, John Mahoney as Faulkner-inspired role model for Fink, even Steve Buscemi as the lowly motel bellhop all do a wonderful job of supporting John Turturro in his portrayal of the tormented artist.

Production:
Now, the main set used within the film is the motel room and its outside hallway. The fact that Barton is staying on the 6th floor (usually signifying evil in the Christian tradition) connotes the evilness, while John Goodman is staying in room 623, which can be read as a allusion 666. There is an obvious contrast between the representations of Fink's sparse homestead versus the luxurious one of his studio head Mr. Lipnick.

Symbolism:
Steve Buscemi as the bell hop comes out from the ground upon Barton's first entering the Hotel Earle. When Barton signs the Hotel's check-in book, it seems like the pen he is holding is signing over his soul to the devil, given the vertiginous feeling of the bird's eye view of the check-in book. "A Day or a Lifetime" on the Hotel Earle's notepad seems demonstrative of the film's intent to portray Barton's new Los Angeles home as hell on earth.

Conclusion:
It seems like Barton Fink is not any one film. At first you think it's going to be a lame drama of an artist's struggle, but it has a lot of elements of horror. It's noir, but it's light-hearted (morbidly so). And it all serves to swing the reader into unknown territory, as if the Coen Brothers are trying to questioning the viewer's belief that an artist has to be any one thing, like inspiration that just hangs there in mid-air, waiting to be swatted down and captured.

Monday, February 8, 2010

High Anxiety (1977)

High Anxiety follows the normal over-the-top whimsical silliness of every other film Mel Brooks has done. Contrasting a serious plot (ploy?) with silly characters and their unhinged motivations seems to be Mel Brooks M.O. Usually, the vaudevillian delivery relies heavily on timing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lex-Mvj9xU). In this story, Mel Brooks stars at the main character who is placed (ironically enough) within the confines of an insane asylum as the new director. Overall, High Anxiety is a great example of Mel Brooks humor. Most of the humor involved necessitates a lot of inattention being paid. The viewer gets a laugh while the other characters don't witness any of the tomfoolery.

Mel Brooks' parody of the shower murder scene from Psycho is an great reproduction of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Obviously there are other frame-by-frame reproductions of Hitchcock films, but my inexperience means I am unable to tally all the different instances of them. The Psycho sequence was funny and well placed. You can kind of tell when there are moments when he's imitating, and when Brooks is doing his own engineering. Really and truly, he isn't a very distinctive director, but his control has to deal with arranging the composition of the shot and the blocking/sequencing of the actors. That really his strong suit.

In one scene, Mel Brooks' character, Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, is supine in a therapist's office being worked on by a Sigmund Freud-looking therapist. The therapist is trying to get Thorndyke to make a breakthrough and tells him "to fight" his anxiety. Thus ensues the insanity (@8:55 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8SXOrb_5rU) (until 0:30 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbcdFxlEQLQ)
Scenes like these clue you in as to how influential Mel Brooks was at forming the comedy we have nowadays. It's non-sequitur, absurdist, and surreal, and Mel Brooks has made a whole career out it.

Obvious part of the equation under which Brooks operates is the quality of actors he selects to play the different roles. Due to the surreal nature of a Mel Brooks' movie, you almost have to have comedic actors with a wide range. Harvey Korman delivers a great performance as Thorndyke's nemesis, Dr. Charles Montague. In Blazing Saddles, he was the conniving Hedley Lamar. Unlike in the other film, in High Anxiety Montague has a few different roles he plays in terms of persona and emoting. I was more impressed with his ability to be silly and zany in High Anxiety than in Blazing Saddles, where he's more of a conniving little weasel. Cloris Leachman (the Grandmother in Spanglish) as Nurse Diesel does a terrific job as a sexual deviant/strict authoritarian nurse. She plays the part really internally. It's evident that there's more going on underneath the character, but her visible sinisterness is only the tip of the iceberg.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Oda a La Silla

O, Silla!
No recibe respeto
sino lo que recibe
en forma de nalgas.
Tiene que dar
su esfuerza
enteramente
en suportar nuestra comodidad.
O, Silla!
Su cuartos piernas y su asiento
suportan
nuestros culos
como el supremo
perro domesticado.
O, Silla!
Siempre se queda donde le dejamos.
Nunca se nos aparta
porque
está bien devotada
Cuando deseamos usarle,
Usted está allí de ayudarnos no caer.
Como una madre
que siempre nos ama
y
nos queremos lo mejor.
O, Silla!
Como la matriz de una madre,
nos mece como si fueramos en una cuna.
Y como una madre,
nos quedamos
hasta que queremos dejarle.
Lo que buscamos
de nuestra infancía,
encontramos en su
diseno en forma de L
También,
le olvidamos tan pronto como
nos lleva no más.
O, Silla!
Como un Atlas
de la sociedad civilizada,
nos lleva en tus hombros.
Los hombres del universo
y de la universidad
se dependen en sus tronos
de sentirse el poder
[como si fuera el trono que se lo dio]
Que no se depende del tiempo
sino más de C(h)ronos.
O, Silla!
La hambre saciada
se circula el globo,
Y como uno
se eleva en el aire,
nuestros cuerpos se sienten erguidos.
Y pensamos en nuestra postura
Sin pensar en la suya.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

I seem to have lost my notes on Midnight Cowboy, so I'll just have to recap what I remember from memory.

Jon Voight plays Joe Buck in the this John Schlesinger's 1969 American classic. He, along with Dustin Hoffman as Ratso (a performance he later channels into Raymond Babbitt) naively tries to comb New York City in order to try and make it big as a male gigolo. Joe Buck isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and he encounters some difficulties. After he meets up with Ratso again, the duo begin their journey to try and make some money to get by. Living in a condemned building, the two pursue women in order for Joe to bed them. This takes place in the 3rd Act of the movie, which is ironic since in the 1st Act, Joe Buck actually pays a woman for sex so he doesn't hurt her feelings. In this instance, he mistakenly beds a rich, Manhattan housewife without explicitly stating his intention of receiving payment for services rendered. In the 3rd Act, with the help of Ratso, he's able to procure a female for paying for Joe Buck's services. Coincidentally enough, this occurs at the bottom of a stairwell after Joe Buck and Ratso are leaving a Andy Warhol-type party in 1960's Soho (i.e. run-down abandoned factories being used by NYC artists as studios/apartments).

Joe Buck's theme song "Everybody's Talkin'" by Fred Neil seems to be a great way in which to impart the naive mentality that Joe Buck suffers from. First off, it speaks to the musical zeitgeist of the 1960s: a folk rock melody with self-conscious lyrics. I thought the choice was incredibly well done, and think that it's repetition throughout the film works.

Cinematically, the whole movie really has a gritty feel to it. There seems to be a big difference between the first third of the movie and then the rest of it. This process from clear, bright scenes to the more darker, grittier scenes demonstrate the transition of Joe Buck's new apprehension of what really entails a newbie gigolo lifestyle. The grittier, underground aspects of the film are shown in the dark motif of the latter part of the film.

The editing is great since there is constantly a noise element of the city brought into film. Be it Joe Buck's radio, the soundtrack, or just the noise of the city, you get a real feeling of the constancy of noise within the big city. Also, the sequences of Joe Buck's tortuous past with his one love being raped and taken away to the mental hospital add texture to a man who the audience can't really identify with. With these non-sequitur splicing in of past memories, the chaos of the city really is transmitted through the visual medium.

The ending of the film is incredibly symbolic from a couple of readings. First, Ratso's continuous sickness seems to symbolize the erroneous conceptualization of the modern urban metropolis. Ratso is from New York. He was raised there. He lives there, but the city does not afford him too many opportunities. Even as a hustler-thief, Ratso is unable to keep himself healthy enough to fight off sickness. He knows The City intimately, but is still not physically powerful enough to leverage this knowledge to thrive. Joe Buck, an outsider from Podunk, Texas, comes in and has his money taken by not knowing how to operate within this new setting. Together, Joe Buck's vitality from living outside of The City and Ratso's knowledge of what to do seem to complement each other enough to make them a good duo.

The death at the end, for me, seems to say that a the city can become so inextricably intertwined with its subjects, that leaving it serves only to their demise. It's like, The City is created by the people, but because it is a lackluster construction built by Man (taken from the Christian theological teachings that anything made by man will only be an uncontrollable monster, vis-a-vis Frankenstein vs the Pygmalion). As a result, The City seems to be killing its subjects, but leaving The City serves only to kill its subjects quicker. So the choice is that those dependent on The City can't escape it due to the profound amount of disillusionment, decadence, and decay experienced there. Maybe The City is where people's dreams come to die, while those of young, innocent outsiders are able to be re-shaped and reformed by visiting The City.

The whole movie can be read from a neo-Marxist perspective that interprets the contrasts between rich and poor as indicative of the despair that is created when The City is created. Huge disparities of wealth are evident from the beginning (with Joe Buck's encounter with a 5th Avenue socialite) and Joe Buck's descent into the seedy underworld of selling sex only demonstrate the amount of inequality that is propagated by The City's structures. Also, it's the Andy Warhol-esque party that demonstrates the differences in class. Ratso is trying to steal food from these artsy, partying types, and they question him why he is swipping the food when it's free. Ratso has no response since he knows that these pleasures are only transitory, only to be replaced by more want. Oddly enough, it was this social commentary aspect of the film that warranted it's X rating, thus limiting the viewing audience more so than an R rating.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Easy Rider (1969)

Easy Rider was... very good. I thought it is a gem of a movie to cap off the crazy 1960s. It is counter-cultural. It's a monumental movie. It's the perfect form of expression of the hippie/drug/communal movements that were vexing the country's established elite. From the beginning scene, you know this is not a movie that your parents would've been happy to have their children watch. First off, it's great that Dennis Hopper directed and Peter Fonda produced the film. Secondly, the cinematography is really good. What struck me the most about Dennis Hopper's directing (I don't know where he decided to go off the reservation) was the quick cuts between different scenes or the transitions that were like a stutter stepping between scenes. When transitioning from the motel scene to the campfire, Hopper cuts over to the campfire shot then quickly back to the motel shot and then back to the campfire shot for a longer beat and then back to the motel shot for a shorter beat then onward again until the scene settles forward at the campfire. In transitioning between scenes, this was first disorienting but then became something endearing and befitting the movie's theme.

Hopper seemed to utilize random 1st person POV shots when transmitting how the characters felt after getting high. There is an exploration of the human psyche as this 1st person POV shot creeps along gazing at the sunlight through the decrepit roof of the abandoned building seems to mirror the characters' lack of protection from society's rain. Or maybe I'm being too metaphorical with the imagery and Peter Fonda (through the eyes of the lens) is simply observing a society who's innards have been shown wanting. Again, symbolism is found within the two elderly ranchers having to re-shoe their horse while Fonda and Hopper replace the rear tire on their bike. The allusion is now made and the torch has now been passed from the archaic symbol of individualism (the ol' Western ranchers) to the new one (a drug-smoking/counter-cultural Fonda & Hopper). Not only is the whole of society being blamed (found mostly within urban centers), but there is also much fault attributed within the hippie commune where the hippies struggle to simply feed themselves. There are "city kids" who came unprepared for life in the wilderness and are on the brink of starvation due to their reliance on their ideological presumptions about living. The hitchhiker who brought the duo to the commune commented that he left the city since "all cities are alike" and its citizens always want to be "somebody else" while Fonda responds "I've always wanted to be somebody else".

There is a symbolism when Billy and Capt America ride through a small-towns parade through the local high school marching band. The duo ends up being thrown into jail. Symbolically this makes sense since they are a random component not fitting into the normal society marching along in regimented formation. Here in the jail, they encounter Jack Nicholson, a reputable citizen in the town who enjoys the bottle a little too much. Jack Nicholson represents how "normal" people can relate to the counter-cultural movement of his cohort and the potential for change that Billy and Capt. America can effect. An instance is where Jack Nicholson's character first encounters marijuana and has his fears of addiction (and those held by the majority of American society) overturned by Billy and Capt. America. The murder of Jack Nicholson's character obviously symbolizes a misdirection of the ignorant hatred of the many aimed at those counter-cultural groups.

The acid trip was obviously a jarring sequence for any viewer. I found myself more confused by the quantity of shots and their quick editing cuts then feeling vexed. Already, you would expect the two druggies to be able to partake in the revelry of Mardi Gras, much less with paid prostitutes. I guess what probably was the most disturbing for the audience could've been the complete mental breakdown of all four characters. Hopper slowly descended the viewer into the world of a counter-cultural hippie with this sequence. You can't help but feel as if you took the drop of acid yourself.

The cold-blooded murder of both Bill and Capt. America at the end of the movie is alluded to near the end of the film, but comes only as a predictable finale for two characters created to be so free and unabashed by the norms of society. Throughout the history of The Western, many of its heroes have been shot and killed. As times ticks on, the prominent within these lawless times have found themselves with the spotlight on them, allowing them to be either loved or loathed for their supposed belief systems. The only ones left in this modern world are those who lived a moderate life under the radar of society's rancor. That's a personal reading to the movie's promulgation that absolute freedom does not exist in this world, even in the most free nation in the world. Every society operates under its own rules, and sometimes there exists subjects who seemingly violate every rule. Those aberrations represent a threat to those who hold that their beliefs are immutable. These people are those who commit tangible violence in the name of abstract ideology. And those left by the side of the road feel nothing but the pangs of anguish and alienation, if they're lucky.