Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jackie Brown, the Final Paper!

Yeah, here is the last of my film papers for the semester. Don't be sad, I now have more time for seeing movies, and next semester I am taking Film History 2, which covers the 50s through the present.

This paper is on Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino's interpretation of Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch. I really liked it, which kind of surprised me. I tend to think Tarantino takes to many liberties when it comes to pushing the boundaries of political correctness, but I didn't find to much to really complain about here that Leonard didn't do first.

But that's not what the papers about. The thesis is - "Tarantino uses art direction and character development to pay homage to these films and Leonard's writing."

Please note, diagetic is a word we cinema nerds use when we talk about the difference between music that would occur naturally in a scene (non-diagetic), i.e. a car radio, and music that is used to evoke emotions (diagetic), for example, the Star Wars theme.
So, here you go!

Jackie Brown vs. Rum Punch

Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown is the story of a flight attendant who trafficks money for a low-grade arms dealer, Ordell Robbie, in L.A. When picked up by the ATF, and knowing that Ordell will kill her to save his own skin, she hatches a plan to not only save herself from a choice between prison or death, but to get hold of Robbie's money as well. Jackie Brown is based on the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, the main character based on Leonard’s character Jackie Burke. Tarantino's other influence for the film, Blaxploitation films of the 1960s and 70s, gives a unique flavor to a film set (and made) in the mid-90s. Tarantino uses art direction and character development to pay homage to these films and Leonard's writing.

The fact that Tarantino had to make significant cuts to scenes and characters comes as no surprise. However, what he does include was chosen very carefully to create the proper ambiance for his characters to develop with an Elmore Leonard feel. In the scene where the law enforcement first pick up Jackie, not only is the dialog identical, but the description could have been directly inserted into the scene as well. Brown is cool and collected right from the beginning, knowing what's coming and not bothering to fight it, lighting a cigarette instead, just like in the book. Although we are introduced to Robbie and Louis differently, the gun show scene where Robbie is showing off his knowledge of guns to Louis has a similar effect. And later when Louis is described from bail bondsman Max Cherry's viewpoint, Louis is described as having “dull eyes that didn't seem to have any life in them but never missed anything” (Leonard), which encapsulates DeNiro's performance; not saying much, keeping his head low, but twitching at every sound and glancing out from behind his greasy bangs. However, although he doesn't miss anything with his eyes, he doesn't have the competence to understand what he sees, another key component to the character and the plot, both in the novel and the film. Tarantino is able to change character attributes which to some readers/viewers would seem important, such as names or race. However, because Tarantino keeps so closely to the character's personalities, their tics and their motivations, the characters come out the same.

Tarantino's use of soundtrack stands out in many ways because it is meant to be observed by the audience. He plays with the use of diagetic and non-diagetic sound; just when you think he is using the sound non-diagetically, the character pulls over, shuts off the car and the music stops, without morphing into diagetic music, remaining silent instead. In many ways this mimics the feeling of reading a book. In the novel, when Cherry comes to call on Louis, he asks what the music playing is and Simone says that it's the Marvelettes. Even not knowing who the Marvelettes are, or if they even exist, the type of music immediately pops into a reader's mind as a background for the scene. But when the scene is over there is no more background music, the scene is set anew with no 'audible' carryover, as there often is in film with diagetic sound. Tarantino also uses sound diagetically, as in the scene when Cherry bails Brown out of jail. Seeing her for the first time, he falls for her and the music is used in a classic way, the lyrics and tone reflecting the way he is feeling. The sound is also used as a tool to evoke the 60s and 70s heyday of funk and soul use in film. Before blaxploitation films, funk and soul were rarely heard, if ever, in films, especially diagetically. Tarantino pays homage to this contribution to cinema, in that “the soundtrack clearly functions quite differently from the classical Hollywood score” (Howell), just as in blaxploitation films such as Shaft or Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.

Tarantino's art direction is reminiscent of cinema of the 70s, without being condescending. It is hard to determine from scene to scene if the 70s feel comes from a use of cinematography techniques or simply the plastic materials. More often than not it's the latter. In the opening scene when Jackie Brown is traveling along a moving walkway, everything from the music to her clothes to the colors of the tiles give the scene a vintage look. Even the plane pulling into the gate behind her is the design used in the 1970s for United. Although many contemporary film goers see 70s film, and the blaxploitation genre in particular, as, at best, corny and, at worst, highly offensive, Tarantino saw this as a golden age of cinematic storytelling, one that shaped him as a person and a filmmaker. This gives him a unique opportunity to respectfully recreate some of the key elements for cinematic evolution. The end result is a timeless narration, where, while paying homage to the 70s, set in the 90s and viewed in 2008, the film remains cohesive and not in the least outdated.

When a film is inspired by a book, the idea should be to reformat the story for the screen, though some simply see the scenes and complain that they are changed from the book. Quentin Tarantino manages to satisfy both these requirements in Jackie Brown, using direct dialog and description parallels where he is able, but otherwise focusing on carrying over the overall sense of character and plot, motivation and moral.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Paper Three

This paper was supposed to be about an over arching Coen Brother's theme. I wrote about the American aspects of their film making, things that make them American Filmmakers, versus just Filmmakers.

To see this trend, it really does help to see a bunch of their films in a row (or, like me and my class, all of them)

Here's the paper! Oh, and keep in mind that I wrote this in an hour and I am not at all saying I did a great job on it!

That American Feeling

The Coens’ films have long been hailed for their eccentricity, their refusal to bow to the whims of those footing the bill, and their over-the-top, bloody plots. Sounds a bit like a country I once knew. A quintessentially American feeling permeates the Coen library. Through a combination of bleak landscapes that become characters, plastic materials that accentuate the satirical, and their ability to both ridicule and praise the American Dream, the Coens create an America that is more raw and honest then mainstream Hollywood films.

America is one of the few countries in the world that can look at the nature of anything from snowy-peaked mountains to rain forests to deserts and claim ownership. The Coens use this to give their films a distinct feeling. Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men, with their stark rolling deserts and Fargo with its mimicking tundra; Blood Simple and O Brother, Where Art Thou? with their farmlands and forests; even the skylines of Hudsucker Proxy and the suburban monotony of The Man Who Wasn't There. Dialog scenes don't always hide indoors (with the notable exception of Intolerable Cruelty), and action isn't relegated to jumping over empty parking ramps. The use of desolate landscapes is often indicative of the characters’ situations, as in Fargo, or their personalities, as in No Country, where the harsh, unforgiving Texas desert mirrors the cold nature of Chigurh. In this way, the Coens utilize all the visual advantages that come with setting a film on American soil.

Plastic material is used as everything from McGuffin to social commentary in the Coens’ films. One of the reasons Blood Simple was such a hit with cineastes was the way they used conventional cinematic wisdom. In one piece of plastic material, a lighter left on a table that had no real pay off, they were able to utilize the rule of three and the McGuffin, not to mention the way in which it gave us more insight into one of the main characters. In Burn After Reading, plastic material is used throughout as a social commentary about the Bush administration. For instance, when Clooney and Swinton are lying in bed discussing their affair and possibly leaving their spouses, the bedding is made of American flags. The Coens are ever so subtly saying that our leaders screwed around us, and then lied about it not only to us but to those they screwed around with, too. Similarly, the horrific mess that is created with Washington D.C. as a backdrop is used to comment on the fragility of our nation’s capital.

The “American Dream” is an ever-evolving phenomenon, but its basic principle is that anyone can 'make it' – it's the definition of making it that changes. In recent history, America has had a habit of making celebrities out of regular people based on their wealth and/or status, creating a false sense of intimacy with the general public, as well as a hope that it could happen to you. The Coens mock this in their films by highlighting the lives of the average person who doesn’t make it big, but still has big things happen to them. In Raising Arizona they juxtapose the story of two average Americans, Ed and Hi, with the Arizonas, who are twice famous, once for their fortune, and again from their multiple birth. (The Arizonas are not unlike the oil mogul Kardashian family or the Hiltons). In The Man Who Wasn't There, they again turn it on its head by showing a man whose life fits the American Dream almost to a tee on the surface, but who upon further examination has a lot of issues. Some of the influence for this could have come from families they observed growing up in suburban Minnesota, the crime and violence of their films a way to “compensate for the fact that [their] lives were incredibly mundane” (Coen, J. - Levine)

None of this is to say that the Coens have not been influenced by foreign film, simply that they play out their influences in a different way. With a filmmaker like Tarantino, for example, you may get a hodge-podge of American, Hong Kong and New Wave film story-lines, whereas the Coens seem to have been influenced in practice more than style or story line. With World Cinema becoming more and more accessible to a general audience, the desire to have talented and thoughtful American filmmakers has increased, welcoming the advent of a mainstream embrace of the Coens’ films. The Coens learned early on what foreign filmmakers have known for sometime – a filmmaker cannot deny that where they came from has an effect on their storytelling and therefore on their audience. Hopefully, American moviegoers will catch up, too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Paper Two

Now here's a paper that was due at the beginning of the semester and I just couldn't seem to come up with anything worth writing about, until it was past time for me to do so!

The Coen's most recent film, Burn After Reading, is pretty funny. It's not as artsy-fartsy as a lot of their other work, but really, we all need to take a break from those sorts of films, even the people who make them.

And without further ado, the paper!

The Coen brothers’ 2008 Burn After Reading tells the intertwined stories of a diverse group of people including gym workers, CIA agents, their love interests and the complete debacle they get themselves into. As with Coen films such as Blood Simple (Film Noir), Miller’s Crossing (Gangster), and Intolerable Cruelty (Romantic Comedy), Burn mimics a film genre, the spy thriller. Moreover, as in many of their films, Burn is infused with over the top characters and challenges to the status quo.

In their comedies more than their dramas, the Coens like to play with the audience’s assumptions about the complexities and non-complexities of their characters. For instance, when asked about the deficiency of their characters in Fargo, Ethan responded, “ go against the Hollywood cliché of the Bad Guy as a super-professional who controls everything he does” (Allan). Admittedly, it is hard to tell who the bad guy is and who the good guy is in Burn After Reading, and that's another Coen element in and of itself. Frances McDormand’s character, Linda, appears to be just what is expected; a shallow middle-aged woman looking to improve her appearance and thereby her chances for romance. However, Linda is the only character with any goals in the film, goals which she achieves in the end, however superficial they may be. Other characters are driven by different desires – Clooney by sex, Malkovich by recognition, Jenkins by love – but Linda is the only one who takes her desires and creates a goal, to re-invent herself, thus leading to her victory, being one of the few who lives and the only one whose desires are fulfilled. Pitt’s character appears to be devoid of even desires. He simply floats through life, much like a dog, without any concerns, and doing whatever his friends tell him to. When he first calls Malkovich, his only real intent is to return the CD-ROM, and by inspiration from McDormand, he thinks a reward may be in order. The response Malkovich gives him is expected (by the audience), but Pitt's reaction is devoid of any organic emotion – it is entirely supplied by McDormand, her emotional response at having this chance at money slip past her. Pitt's lack of motivation and willingness to be led by others leads to his sudden demise, the first killing in the film. But, here too, the Coens turn our assumptions of what an empty character without motivation looks like. Pitt is empty, but not bland. His character still has little things that make him stand out, such as his insistence on trying to be a Good Samaritan or his affinity for biking and pop-dance jams. These are the kinds of motivations a writer can give an actor to enable the actor to bring the character to life, and the kinds of motivations the Coens are so good at.

A concept often seen in CIA films is a character knowing the full story, someone who has all the pieces of the puzzle, or has at least pieced it together. The Coens play with this concept by showing the meetings between the two CIA officers ranked higher than Malkovich. The two know the entirety of what is happening, but they never quite get a handle on why. The Coens use this for a few reasons. The first, and most obvious, being a slap in the face to critics and film theorists who consistently ask why. Their point is that sometimes the ‘what’ can stand on its own – even though it never does in their films. A simple, satirical, rationale is that the supposedly sophisticated espionage professionals really don’t know what they are doing, and their overriding goal is always cover-up. Which leads to yet another advantage to including these scenes - it allows the Coens to involve a clean-up crew in their story. In some of their earlier films, questions arise; “Where are the police?” “Why hasn’t anyone noticed all these dead bodies?” Much hilarity comes of seeing the ways in which the CIA agents try to clean up this mess, a mess whose origin is a complete mystery to them. They work triage like medics in the field, taking a lot of the omnipresent power the CIA is usually shown to have, and turning it on its head.

Although Burn will most likely not go down in the film theory books as one of the Coens’ masterpieces, it contains enough of their standard elements to come out on top, containing that Coen Brothers feeling, if you will. As Ethan Coen once said, “ have the feeling you're attending a congress of misfits!” (Allan.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Catching Up

This past week I wrote and handed in four papers. Yes, I am a Strandskov, and yes, I work better under stress, thus the procrastination. But let's not harp on that point! Here for your enjoyment (?) is the first of the papers, with a mini-review before hand in case you aren't into the whole three page paper about a film thing!

The Take is a rather moving film about industrial workers in Argentina who, after having the factories they work in shut down, take them over to show that they can run them better than their bosses did. It's a pretty socialist concept, but at the same time it really make sense in a capitalist way too. One family talks about how they have to choose between paying off debts or feeding their three daughters - surprise! They feed their kids. But at the same time they miss luxury's and they definitely want them back on top of the basics. It's a pretty awesome film and, as I think I say in the paper, all the better because the filmmakers, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, are up front about their relation to the movement and their liberal ideology's...not that they could have hid it, but I give them props for owning up to it, unlike a lot of documentarians.

So, here's the paper!

The Take (Canada)

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, self-proclaimed “activist-journalists”, set out to answer the question, “What next?” when it became apparent that protesting the widespread illness that capitalism has experienced over the past decade wouldn't be enough. Lewis and Klein sought to do more than document people who were protesting outcomes of the actions taken by world leaders (political and private); they wanted to find people who were doing something about it. Enter Argentina. Factory workers in Buenos Aires created a system in which they take back the closed factories they used to work in and make them viable again. It is a very egalitarian system, with many of the factories paying every employee the same salary. Lewis and Klein don't try to hide the fact that they are on the worker's side. Instead, they declare themselves biased and then back their bias with logos and pathos.

It seems as though Lewis and Klein try to go the conventional journalism route of showing both sides of the story, worker and owner. They have an interview with one of the factory owners in what appears to be his lavish office, complete with a bottle of champagne chilling in the background. This is in stark contrast to the images of how former factory workers live, barely surviving, and practically begging to be sent back to work. So when the owner says, while reclining in his velvet chair, that the factory is his because he is the one who has worked for it, the logical response is that he is either lying or delusional, because the filmmakers have shown him only as a man of leisure and the workers as men of toil. The owner claims that the factory is his, though he is smiling throughout his interview, apparently indifferent to the fact that the factory that he worked so hard for now sits gathering dust; while the workers are brought to tears thinking of this place standing empty.

B-roll footage is used to create both logical and emotional responses in the viewer. The roaming shots of the cobweb-filled factories are juxtaposed with musically enhanced, Metropolis-like, assembly line shots of working machinery. These evoke first a logical response - “Why can't that factory be up and running?” In the industrialized world it is logical to assume that a factory with working machinery and workers who wish to work can, in fact, work. Without needing a narrator or subject to directly explain the connection, Lewis and Klein use the editing of the b-roll to force acceptance of the preposterous situation. An emotional response follows, brought on when the viewer realizes that politics, wealthy men, and close-minded views of capitalism are all that stand between working factories and working men. This is highlighted in a scene recorded outside a courtroom while the workers are trying to prove to the judge that the factory trustee has been selling off the contents of the warehouse and factory. They are incredibly respectful to the judge, but when she begins to yell at them, they recoil, saying that perhaps they are not addressing her correctly. Including this scene demonstrates the way these otherwise tough men feel belittled and removed from their own justice system. Throughout the film the workers never label themselves as anarchists or communists, even though they refer to each other as ‘compañeros.’ Most of them vote in their presidential election and happily reminisce about their previous materialistic life. Roger Ebert writes about the issue of modern capitalism versus classic capitalism in his review of The Take: “Is this sort of thing a threat to capitalism, or a revival of it? The factories are doing what they did before…but they are doing it for the benefit of workers and consumers…This is classic capitalism as opposed to the management pocket-lining system, which is essentially loot for the bosses, and bread and beans for everybody else.”(Ebert). However, the judge speaks to them condescendingly, telling them that she wants to help them get their jobs back and that she can’t do that if they keep resisting. She has a very narrow, more modern, view of how the capitalist world works, and it does not include workers running their own factories.

Emotional triggers of tears and children are used throughout the film. Made in Argentina by Canadians for a mainly Western audience, the sight of a grown man crying is more distressing than a woman or child crying because it is so outside our cultural expectations of men. The filmmakers utilize the rule of three and show men crying three separate times. We first see a man crying after being back in the factory for the first time in five years, then when Freddy Espinoza (a worker whose family story is followed during the film) is telling his story to the men gathered at a conference of workers, and finally when a man calls his mother and father to let them know that a law has just been passed to allow them back into their factory. Espinoza's wife is brought to tears when she talks about this experience robbing her husband of his dignity. But the men's tears are more effective because they show us, in a more visceral way, the pain these men have felt. Children are used as silent reflectors of this economic carnage. There are three daughters in the Espinoza family; the oldest attends a workers’ meeting with her father, silently observing; the second is given close-up treatment, drinking from a Minnie Mouse cup while her mother discusses making the decision to feed her children rather than pay her bills. In the final shot of the film the youngest runs to catch up with her father and sisters who have disappeared into the now up- and-running factory. Ending the film with a little girl running off-screen creates a Lorax effect – “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” (Geisel). For the moment her future is up in the air, with a victory for her father, but the political and economic situation still roiling.

The filmmakers of The Take use a developed-world lens to examine the turmoil created by a developing country falling in line with the demands of Globalization. Logos and Pathos are two of the oldest tricks in the proverbial book to win an argument. Lewis and Klein were able to utilize them through their imagery and editing and the end result is an inspiring, if sobering, film that gives one possible answer to their question of, “What Next?”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Chicago 10 - Documentary for the Rest of Us

I think a lot of people have this notion that documentaries have to be this grand, academically minded, serious undertaking. I disagree and I am happy to report, so does Brent Morgan, director of Chicago 10. I recently wrote a paper on the film, which I will paste here below, but in case you don't feel like reading a three page paper, here's the important part: Morgan uses "reenactments" of the Chicago 8 trial to tell this story...but the reenactments are done through stop motion animation and are, unlike many traditional reenactments, voiced by actors like Hank Azaria. The point I make in my paper is that, along with his use of 'modern' music (I really consider music from the 60's to be fairly modern, but you know what I mean), Morgan is trying to tell this story in a way that relates to a younger audience, one further removed from the police state that was Chicago in 1968. I also think he accomplishes it.

So, if you have time and patience, feel free to read the paper below, otherwise, I would suggest at least listening to the Terry Gross interview I my film prof said in his notes on my paper, "Best interviewer working today."

Chicago 10 For 2008

Chicago 10 tells the story of the eight men put on trial for conspiracy and incitement to riot at the Democratic National Convention of 1968, and the two lawyers who represented them in 1969. Film maker Brent Morgan used footage from both the time of the convention and the trials, editing back and forth between the two years. Because no cameras were allowed in the courtroom during the trial, the best access they had to telling the story of what went on behind those doors are the court transcripts. In some more conventional documentaries, writings from a time when cameras were not available will be read by actors while B roll footage or still photographs flick by. Morgan takes a different route. He took the transcripts and had actors Hank Azaria and Roy Scheider, among others, act them out while animators reenacted the scenes through use of motion caption animation. Rare audio recording of the trial shows that, much as film is edited in a documentary, the transcripts are sometimes boiled down or added to for audience clarification. From a cinéma vérité standpoint, this would take Chicago 10 completely out of the running for documentary status. However, ironically, in this instance the ends justify the means, in that Morgan is trying to tell this story not as an historical account, but rather as a way to create a dialogue about contemporary issues using the events of 1968 as a backdrop.
In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, Morgan says he “…never thought [he] was making a film about 1968…[he] thought [he] was making a film about today” (Morgan). This becomes somewhat foreshadowing, when taking into account the statement was made in February of 2008, and only a few months later St. Paul would see similar protests, riots, and police action (with legal proceedings following) at the Republican National Convention. Morgan is asking us to look at his film and relate it to our own lives, particularly the lives of a younger generation, one whose grandparents’ generation is the subject of the film. One of the ways he puts the film into a modern perspective is by using contemporary music of the early 21st Century; this is in contrast to the way many films about the sixties are made using solely the iconic songs of that era. He explains in his NPR interview that he “wanted the music to be the soundtrack of [his] audience's lives, not their parents” (Morgan). The music is meant to reach members of Generation X and Generation Millennial, sending the message that this is just as much their story as that of their parents and grandparents; that the fight for free speech portrayed in the film is still going on. The other thing that makes this choice so effective is that when he does choose to use period pieces of music, they stand out, forcing the audience to listen. This is most poignant during the footage of the march on the Conrad Hilton, in which a guest of the hotel, who happened to be a member of the British parliament, was beaten and arrested by police. As she was being pushed into the paddy wagon she began singing the epitome of civil-rights era anthems, “We Shall Overcome.” It cannot be ignored that by including this piece of footage, Morgan is highlighting the senseless brutality of the Chicago police during the riots and encouraging his audience to ask themselves if they would have spoken out against the injustice.
Another way he reaches out to contemporary viewers is through the use of animation. The idea of using animation in a serious film, be it fiction or fact, is one that some viewers may have trouble swallowing, particularly those who did not grow up with cartoons and comics as an everyday storytelling medium. If all one has seen of animation comes from Warner Brothers and involves talking animals, it becomes a confusing thing to take such a serious event and make a comic out of it. Compounding this confusion is the lack of visual education in the medium. As with any storytelling medium, one must become accustomed to its variances. Without this, the medium can be more difficult to interpret. A.O. Scott, in the New York Times, displays this kind of confusion in his review of the film in which he said, “the animation itself has a slapdash, lurching feel. More powerful are the documentary segments interwoven with the recreated trial” (Scott). One who is familiar with modern graphic novels and other motion caption animation films would be used to the “slapdash, lurching” effect that these styles can have. Morgan’s intended audience is therefore one that has grown up watching and reading various kinds of comics, giving them a sense of the ‘grammar of animation.’
Drawing connections between two eras and emphasizing learning from the past is nothing new in documentary film. However, Morgan’s goal is not simply to remind people of the past but to show them that the past is already repeating itself. By avoiding modern voice-overs or interviews, he reaches out to the audience’s subconscious through sounds and images with which they are most comfortable. The audience is made to feel that the events being shown could have taken place in any time, even our time. The message of the Yippies and MOBE was that the ends did not justify the means when it came to war, particularly the Vietnam War. But Morgan’s liberties with classical documentary style bring the audience to an end that justifies the means, showing the audience what it means to challenge your right to freedom of speech in America.


Morgan, Brent. Chicago 10 interview for NPR's Fresh Air Terry Gross. February 2008.

Scott, A.O. New York Times
—. "Semi AnimatedHistory of an Animated Time." New York Times 29 February 2008. HYPERLINK ""

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Censor-Ship is sinking

So here's the deal, a kid I know from school made a video of a song he wrote called, "Drill, Baby, Drill"...I'll just say that it is anti Sarah Palin and it's a rap song...I'll let you connect the dots. I won't post it here, because it isn't really worth it. But I am posting it on my youtube site, trying to fly in the face of fascists.

I think the song is super funny, partially cause I understand satire and partially cause I know the kid. However, a group called New Agenda, does not think it's funny. That's cool. We all have different tastes. I don't think America's Funniest Home Videos is funny, but you don't see me trying to get the show taken off the air.

But that's what NA are doing. First they managed to get the video pulled by YouTube and then MySpace. Then they posted Ezra's contact info and work info on their blog. Their defense is that this information is available on his MySpace page which you don't have to be friends with him to see. My problem with that is this: if a pedophile went and found underage girls who didn't block their info and then posted it on a website for pedophiles, would that be OK too? The bloggers went in search of this information that their readers would not have otherwise known (or cared about). What is their goal in posting his work info? Having him harassed at his movie theatre job? having that independent left wing theatre bombarded with angry so-called feminist protesters? What good would any of that do?

My biggest problem though, really, is the censorship. I don't like all the images I see in the video and the content of the lyrics doesn't make me feel happy inside, but it makes me think. And it obviously made these women think and feel something, enough to do all this work trying to sabotage a young artist. Censorship happens when someone doesn't want you to think for yourself, when they are trying to control how you see and feel about the world. I'd like to decide those things for myself, thanks.

You know who else wanted censorship?

Sarah Palin.

oh, yeah, and Hitler.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Intolerable Cruelty

Well, I finally got around to watching the movie for my first Coen brother's paper...which was due more then a week ago. I know I know, but, cest la vie, such is life!

So the movie I watched was Intolerable Cruelty, with George Cloony and Catherine Zeta Jones. It's a romantic comedy that the Coen's wrote with two other guys, and it shows. I liked it, but at the same time....well, I had to turn it off about ten minutes to the end because I just couldn't handle what was happening because, being someone who usually knows the ending within the first few minutes, I had no idea what would happen and it made me hella uncomfortable.

Basically, it is really Hollywood, ya know, "mainstream" as the kids say, which is fine, except that right at about plot point 2, approx. 90 minutes in, everything turns on its head and we get some classic Coen, bizzrro-land action, complete with a hit man with asthma and mace.

A lot of the Coen's usual suspects are present, if not in casting, then in style. The credits are delayed until an entire scene, complete with one long dolly shot, has gone by. However, the opening credits are given in a very Hollywood manner, with cartoons of cherubs and such...not the usual for the brothers grim.

Anyway, I'm not really sure what I'll be writing my paper on yet. I'll let you know!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Visitor

Tonight I saw The Visitor at our local second run theatre, The Riverview. The Visitor is the story of a professor of Economics whose self-pitying solitude is disrupted when he discovers two illegal immigrants have been conned into living in his long-time vacant NYC apartment thinking they are subletting it with the owner's consent.

The film makes some amazing comments on America and who we've become, as well as honestly examining relationships between white Americans and immigrants (illegal and legal). The silence of the film often says more then the dialog (although that was well done as well) making use of plastic materials* to illustrate moods, underlying meanings and character development.

I don't want to give anything away because I think what this film has to say is important enough that anyone stumbling upon this blog needs to see this film, but pay attention to the use especially of flags, foreign languages and flowers when you see The Visitor. Also, spend some time contemplating who the visitor of the film really is and why.

*in the grammar of cinema, "plastic material" refers to objects used in the storytelling; as straightforward as what books are on a shelf to the more obscure choices like dish patterns. Plastic materials often have great significance to the core message in a film, although the film can be enjoyed without picking up on their usage.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

p.s. Movie Preview

One little thing before I skitter off to bed...

I just saw a sneek preview for a movie called Sex Drive about an 18 year-old virgin who doesn't like it and so goes on a crazy road trip with his two best friends, a ladies man and a girl he's in love with, to hook up with an internet babe in Tennessee. Seth Green makes a really brilliant cameo as sarcastic car-fixin' Amish dude, and there is a hilarious scene near the end involving the cops and a donut suit -- I don't know why it was funny, it just was. I had tears streaming down my face.

However, I gotta say I was kinda disappointed in the film on a cinematic level. I thought we were passed making so many gay jokes (even if they end up as plot devices), fatchx jokes and the like. Although I don't care for censorship, at least the hays (sp?) code made it so film makers had to work to get their dirty jokes in. Now-a-days we can just let it all hang out...and Sex Drive does. ;l

paper musings

So, remember how I had those papers to write? Well, it's Tuesday night, and my documentary paper is due in about 15 hours. And while I'd like to say that I just copied it onto a flash drive all ready to be printed, it just ain't so.

If you just want to be disgusted, I'll understand. But, for the stronger willed, read on. I am going to attempt to (at least mostly) write my paper tonight, and I am going to start by free-flowing on the themes I want to explore in my paper. Just to warn ya, it may get long!

Aaaannnnd, off we go!

51 Birch Street tells the story of the Block family from an insider viewpoint. Documentary film maker Doug Block explores the complicated history of who his parents are and who they were. In the beginning his voice over explains that the footage we see was taken for posterity's sake; shots of his mother having a martini, getting ready for the day, his parents fiftieth wedding anniversary. Then, unexpectedly, Block's mother dies and the story begins to unfold. Three months after her death Block's dad, Mike Block, remarries -- his former secretary, Kitty-- arousing suspicions of an affair. The twist comes when, after delving into his mothers journals, Block discovers that it was his mother, and not his father, who had an extra-marital affair, as well as an unrequited love for her therapist. Block explores what can happen when you start to ask the questions you never wanted the answers to in the first place, but does so with a kind of humanity that would be missing from the story if filmed by anyone other than himself. Through his use of interview style and cinematographic language, Block is able to tell his family's emotional tale honestly. (This is pretty much my thesis, in case you were wondering)

One of the key components to the modern documentary is the interview. For a subject to share their thoughts and feelings openly, the interviewer needs to establish a repore (sp) with the subject. With 51 Birch Street, the interviewer himself is a character in the events, and so is already intimately acquainted with his subjects. However, some of the most interesting scenes are those in which those closest to Block the son and brother, seem the farthest away from Block the film maker with camera. At the very beginning of the film Block is taking a shot from the bottom of a staircase, his mother walks out of the room, enters the bathroom. He has shot her from below and when she realizes this, she yells that she won't come out because he has broken her trust. This one sentence from his footage deals with one of the more fundamental questions Block has about his film -- should he read (or have read) her journals? Has he betrayed her trust by looking into who she really was-- at least in the the "she" of the 60's when the journals were written. Later he asks his mother's best friend who hems and haws over it before saying that is exactly what she would have wanted, for someone to really know her. Another example of his interview techniques; this is a woman who has known him all his life, and yet she treats this with a composure that portrays her firm understanding that this is an interview and other people will see it, so she needs to choose her words carefully and she does. He films his mother's friend in a more classical frame, face in left hand of frame, camera on tripod, flower nicely placed in background, whereas his family's interviews are often hand held with the subject centered and the camera almost too close for comfort. He asks a young rabbi about the journals, and he admits that he would have read them, hoping to gain insight into his family and thereby himself. Again he uses the same classic interview cinematography style, putting the subject at a distance from himself and the audience to create a feeling that, while their opinions are valid, they may not be quite what he is looking for.

And so by the end of the film he realizes, through the lens, that the question of right or wrong in this instance is not so cut and dried. He shows us this throughout the film by use of plastic materials. Specifically, there are many shots of driving down Birch Street in fall. The main part of the film, excluding old family videos, takes place over the course of about four or five months-- it can't be fall all that time. Autumn represents crossroads, a time of indecision. A melancholy time that makes us glorify what summer was and what winter will be, without allowing for the reality of what those seasons were . The only shot of winter is when he his mother dies. Although his voice over talks of life going on and moving forward, it is clear through the use of trees clothed only in snow and shots of his own nuclear family sitting dejected in their apartment that he has not moved on emotionally from his mother's death. In one of only two outside the family interviews, Block speaks with a psychologist who is an expetrt on father/son relationships who points out that his issues with his father (who at this point has not been cleared of having an affair) are more about loss and the ways in which they each deal with it. His father marries another woman right away, and Block makes a movie about it.

OK, my brain might actually explode if I write much more. am going to go to bed and try and come up with something decent in the morning, and if not then...well, my prof will have to wait till Thursday or Friday and that's that. If you want to read my conclusion, look back tomorrow!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Documenting History/History of Documenting

You caught me. I haven't been posting anything for a while, and that was very bad of me. In my defense, the summer got really crazy, with not enough time for films OR blogging. But, now that I am back in school, life is settling down, and I have to watch at least two films a week in school, I am going to try and back to blogging!

One of my film theory classes this semester is Documentary History. So far we have watched some early Lumiere films -- the grandfathers of documentary's if you will -- Nannook of the North, which a lot of people think of as the first documentary, but since the term wasn't even coined yet...I think it gave us a lot of the style choices we make today when documenting nature or people in other parts of the world, but I don't think it should be held accountable for its not being cinéma vérité.

Anyway, then we watched Man With a Movie Camera and yesterday we finished our discussions on it and watched two federally funded films of the late depression era. These were really neat, with striking footage of ecological disasters. The first one we watched was The River, about the Mississippi. The narrator speaks in poetry, and the script actually won a Pulitzer Prize Award for poetry. The music, for both films, was composed by Virgil Thompson, so you can imagine what that sounded like.

One of the reasons we watched The River was that it talks about the flooding of the New Orleans area that happened in the early part of the twentieth century, and our Professor felt it was interesting to see how the government knew about these problems seventy years ago, and still we had the devastation of Katrina. Also interesting to note that the film puts almost all responsibility on Human interference with nature, and yet there are still people denying that today...*cough, sara palin, cough*.

Our first paper is due next week and I will be sure to post some if not all of it here on my blog. I will be writing about 51 Birch Street which says some interesting things about family, secrets and love. So check back for that!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Meme, for me me? Aww, shucks!

My mom, Auntie(Mommy)Knickers tagged me for this meme! I really like memes, so here you go!!

Here are the rules:

1. List these rules on your blog.

2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog.

1. I have studied Voice since I was 11.

2. The first film studies class I took was in High School.

3. The Film History I class at MCTC showed me I wanted to be a filmmaker.

4. I saw Interview With a Vampire when it first came out in theaters…I was 10.

5. My favorite film ever is The Color of Paradise. See it. Now. Please.

6. I see what all the fuss is about, but I just don’t really like Citizen Kane. There, I said it.

7. I was as excited as, if not more than, my male friends to see The Dark Knight. Eat that Chick Flick genre!

3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.

I am going to tag some people who may not even know I read there blogs!

The Crimson Rambler
Rev Abi
St. Casserole
Rebel without a Pew
Cheesehead in Paradise

Dog and God

Whew! That took awhile! Now to let them know they have been tagged!!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Admitting I was Wrong

It has been said that it takes a strong person to admit they are wrong, so, in the spirit of bettering ones self, I will attempt to make myself stronger by admitting that I was wrong about something.

I was inspired to do this when I was reading Songbird's blog, Reflectionary, today.

While my parents and I were visiting recently, my father and I were having a discussion about cameras, namely aperture, as this is something we now have in common (he does still photography and I obviously have to work with cameras for school). Somehow we got onto the topic of projectors and he said that there was some sort of little snap of darkness that closes between each frame, making the film seamless, like a shutter. I argued that that only happens in the camera, not when the film is being projected.

I was wrong.

There I said it. Daddy Hankiepants was right, and I was wrong.

Ahh, I can actually feel my biceps growing!

(click on the image to make it larger; notice the part that says "shutter"...oops.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why I'm Tired, or Don't You Love When Your Professor is Right?

I am super tired this morning because I went to the midnight showing of Batman: The Dark Knight last night. Viewers beware, it is crazy long. We didn't get out until just before 3. But, all in all, I definitely thought it was well worth seeing. Heath Ledger's performance was...astounding. And I realize a lot of people are saying that, and if you aren't really into actors or movies (although why would you be reading this if that were the case) you might think they are just saying it because this is supposed to be the film that killed him.

I may not be a very good actor, but I know a good one when I see one, and I am telling you we have lost one of the most talented artists of our time.

Back to the film itself, I won't get too lengthy but here is a little something. The editing was really good, props to Lee Smith. And so was the sound (original, by James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer)...but right at the end they lost me a little. Last semester I had a conversation with my Film and Video 1 professor about sound levels, because I was doing a lot of sound layering for my final project, and he said that when adjusting the sound levels, one notch in either direction can be critical. I thought maybe he was just trying to scare me, but he was totally right. During the denouement in The Dark Knight, there is a voice over giving a powerful speech while we see conclusion/wrap up looked great, but there was music playing behind the speaker and it was as though those notches had been reversed - I wanted it to be one notch louder for the speaker and one notch quieter for the music. It was distracting and lessened the effect of a speech I thought was needed for the film to be effective.

As a side note, for any readers who may wonder why I seem so intent on viewing violent films, it really isn't my fault! I have been watching a lot of recommended/borrowed films from HB and he doesn't really have any happy-go-lucky kind of films, it seems (except for foreign films, which as I have said, can not be watched on my tiny tv). So, I promise to try and watch some more "family friendly," or at least not so violent, films in the fall when I have money to rent again!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Raging Bull

Yesterday I began watching Raging Bull. I didn't finish it for two reasons: 1) I had to leave to go to a Poetry Slam night at the Nile and 2) I got the distinct feeling that I would enjoy the film a whole lot more (and understand it better, too) f I saw it on a better/bigger screen. So, I may set this one aside until September when I will be living in HB's new house...along with my sister-in-law and a big flat screen tv! Yes, I can't wait to be able to watch foreign films again! (the screen on my current tv is too small for subtitles)

But here are couple things I noticed already about Raging Bull. The first is that everyone always talks about how violent this film is. Now, I realize it revolutionized the way sports films, particularly boxing films, are made, and that I have a higher threshold for violence than many people. But, nonetheless, what strikes me more than the violence itself is the way it is handled.

Thelma Shoonmaker (editor) and the sound crew do a wonderful job of bringing you just past the point where you thought you couldn't handle the violence, and relieve you from it by replacing the fight sounds and background noise with classical music. It is in these moments when you are left free to disassociate yourself from the violence and context, much like the characters themselves have to do throughout their lives. The audience is also given a chance to see this groundbreaking directorial/cinematographic/editorial work, not just for sports films, but for any film with any kind of action sequencing. I also think this is one reason why 99% of the film is in black&white-- to deny the added distraction that color can bring to the audience. We are instead forced to concentrate on these characters and the fights they are in, in and out of the boxing ring.

So, that's my first take on the film, maybe I'll come back to it once I watch it all the way through!

Monday, July 14, 2008

I've Seen Enough

This weekend I saw a film that I would like to explore with you in terms of feminism.

Wanted, starring Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freemen, and some other people...

Here's what I liked: the special effects, the editing, the acting, the music.

Here's what I didn't like: the misogyny soaked dialogue, the thinly veiled display of a strong woman being victimized by herself more then anyone else


Wanted is about this guy, Wesley, who discovers that he is actually the descendant of assassins who's crummy life is uprooted when his father is killed by a rogue assassin. First off, it seems that in this world, the very worst thing you can call someone is "pussy" and to insult yourself you would ask, "why can't I just grow a pair?" Now, just in case someone stumbles on this blog who doesn't know why it is not OK to perpetuate the use of "pussy" as a derogatory term, I would like to explain it briefly.

To call someone "pussy" is to say they are weak and/or worthless. "Pussy" is also a euphemism for female genitalia. Therefore, to call someone a pussy in a derogatory way, especially a man, is actually a two-fold insult on both the person and women in general.

For a film that is solely geared at teenage boys (and those who think like them), you might say, "well, what did you expect?" Expect? I expect for films in this day and age to make a more conscious effort to stem the tides of misogyny and the degradation of society that comes with it. A teenage boy needs hear only three words (or see three images) to get him to go see this film: assassin, Jolie, and sex. If the knife wielding assassin trainer had repeated a term like "wimp" over and over again, the message would remain the same and the brilliant editing, music and pacing of the film would have carried it.

Hollywood needs to work on this. They are under the impression that their audience dictates what they film. Think about it. That's completely illogical. If Hollywood stopped making misogynistic films tomorrow, people would still go see the movies. In fact, they probably wouldn't notice anything had changed since it is so subliminal.

I was also disappointed in Angelina Jolie. Hugo Boffo remarked that it was her job so you can't blame her. No. I can't blame her for the way the film was written. However, while I agree that it would be hard to be a woman like Jolie in an industry like this one and not take part in misogynistic films, she is filthy rich! she owns a VILLAGE in SE Asia for goodness sake! She has the ability to demand appropriate language in the films she participates in. She has the ability to not work on films that shamelessly perpetuate misconceptions of women and their roles in our society.

So, here's the SPOILER: At the very end, there is a big twist and it turns out all the main assassins (including Jolie) should have been killed long before. So, the ever faithful Jolie wants to be true to the code and kills them all, then herself, with a single bullet. What a hero.

Here's my problem with that: first off, plot wise, there were lots of ways for her to save the day without killing herself. Secondly, here is yet another woman sacrificing herself to a greater good that has given her way less then she has given it (ex: it was their fault her father died because an assassin neglected to do their job, so she joins them and kills whoever they tell her to, no questions asked - kinda sounds like she gave away her humanity and free will, but whatev, maybe that's just me...this is similar to The Labyrinth in which Jennifer Connelly goes back to the real world, abandoning her chance to be queen to the Goblin King because it's the right thing to do...don't get me and HB started on the Labyrinth!)

Anyway, suffice it to say, I was disappointed. As usual. It seems I am cursed to be either disappointed in content or production...until I can make my own films...

Friday, July 11, 2008


OK, I obviously failed with my goal, but it was totally not my fault! First off, I had to dogsit and I felt like I was running all over the place...then my p-rents came for two weeks, what a whirlwind!

So the two movies I watched most recently were Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and In Bruges. Both were enjoyable, but also violent. IB is very gruesome in a couple parts (way more then The Departed, since I know MommyKnickers was going to ask!) whereas PC was just more violent then I thought it needed to be.

If you are the kind of person who expects a movie based on a book to be just like the book, don't see PC... then again, don't see ANY movies based on books! I try to see these films through a filter. I ask myself, did the film stay true to the original moral of the story? In this case, it is hard to say because it depends on what you think the moral is. I say yes, because I believe the moral is about justice triumphing over injustice, which obviously happens in the movie, and the importance of trusting your faith (I also like that they kept the idea that we can never know how things would have been if we had done what we "should have"). However, I would have rated it PG-13 for the violence I think (even though I don't really like ratings, but I also don't trust all parents). I was also thrilled to see Warwick Davis, one of my favorites, in the role of Nikabrick (you may know him better as Willow or Professor Flitwick in the Potter movies). His acting is always delightful!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


On Sunday I watched Spike Lee's semi-biographical Crooklyn. I liked it a lot, more then School Daze or Girl 6 I think. The writing, and acting that went with it, seemed very honest and I also liked the cinematography, though I am not sure I could tell you why yet.

The end is very sad, so watch out! I only tell you because if I had read the back of the box I would have been warned, but as it was, I was totally shocked and felt like my heart was wrenched out. I literally cried for the last 20 minutes of the film!

I feel like one of the things I liked about Crooklyn was the way it dealt with telling the story of this family in Brooklyn in the early '70s. I didn't feel out of place because they did such a good job of putting universality into the storytelling. For instance, when the family is facing money woes, they send some of the children off with relatives for the summer. Troy, the only girl and the main character, is sent to live with a middle-class aunt and uncle who an adopted daughter a littler older then Troy. The aunt immediately takes out Troy's braids and straightens her hair, something Troy's mother would never have allowed. Although the act of braiding vs. straightening is exclusive to African-American culture, most families can relate to a relative who disagrees with the way we were raised or the way we dress. The film portrays many such common bonds, while also giving us insight into a community we are not a part of.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Comedy, Murder and Tim Curry

I went to Target on Sunday and made an impulse DVD buy. They were selling Clue for only $5.50!!

I must have watched Clue on a weekly basis at my friends house growing up. We loved it! Especially the part at the end when Tim Curry runs around knocking people down and reenacting the whole movie!

I had to do some cleaning the other night, so I needed a movie that I didn't need to keep my eyes on the whole time...CLUE!

Following are a few comparisons between what I thought of the movie as a child compared with what I think now (perhaps in another 15 years I will watch it again and compare my thoughts then, too!)

1. RE: The scene where the cop comes and they have to hide the dead bodies from him.
As a child I thought the funniest part of this was that they are pretend-making out, followed by an amusing back and forth between Curry and the Cop where the cop tells him its fine because this is America!

As an adult, I realize the beauty of this scene is the multi-layered aspect. It really highlights the character work by the entire ensemble. For one thing, they are not just faux-making out, they are making out with DEAD PEOPLE!! and the look on Micheal McKeen's face in the background is so believable, just the right amount of shock and camp without overdoing it, something I think would have been easy to do in this film with decided silent-era undertones...

which leads me to the next comparison....

2. RE: the pace
As a child, I think the pace was just...right...for me as a child who may not have otherwise had much patience. I didn't think much of it except that it was funny when Curry ran around and everyone was falling down all the time.

As an adult, I recognize that there is a conscious attempt to mimic silent films through use of slapstick and pacing. The slow pace of the search scenes brings to mind The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari whereas the fast paced slapstick of the final scenes is reminiscent of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

3. RE: sexual humor

OK, this kind of brings me to an overall point I have about film viewing and comedy in particular.

You will only ever get the jokes you already know.

As children, we all understand sexual behavior on some sub-conscious level. That being said, when a child laughs at the French maid's cleavage, they are only doing so because somewhere , somehow, they learned that that was funny. And when I, at the age of 7 or 8, laughed at the people making out with dead bodies, I would have laughed just as hard if the people had been asleep or were actually dummies, because the funny part to me was the lie and the consequences.

Children are not scarred by watching funny movies with humor they don't fully understand. The humor they don't get, goes over their heads. This is what makes movies like Shrek and Finding Nemo so successful - because there is humor which can entertain children on one level, and parents on another. This means that a parent, or babysitter, doesn't mind watching the movie over and over (at least not as much) because they find it entertaining as well, with the knowledge that the children are not being "corrupted" by "dirty" humor.

OK, that's enough of that rant!

Anyway, go watch Clue. Or play the game. or throw a black-tie party and murder some people just for kicks...

Friday, June 13, 2008

What I've Watched thus Far

OK, so I have been negligent in my film watching and blogging. I know, I know!! It's only the second week, and I should be way more on top of this, but I'm just not. Sorry.

I have only watched two movies so far...Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and Logan's Run, both of which I got from my favorite rental place - Hugo Boffo's Hall of Film (umm, a.k.a, my brother's film collection!)

I asked HB to lend me 5 movies because I already had two of his I still need to watch. So he loaned me 7. sigh. Anyway, here are some small insights on Harold and Kumar and Logan's Run -

Harold and Kumar:
Super fun hero's journey story about two friends with the munchies on a quest for White Castle, and, by extension, the American Dream (of cheap food...). I really enjoyed this and laughed a lot, though I don't know if all the jokes would be as appreciated by some of my more straight laced readers.

I have some issues with the portrayal of women in the film, but after watching the interview with the screenwriters in the special features, I can't say I'm surprised. All in all though, it is pretty fantastic that we have a mainstream film out there about two average American stoner guys who just happen to be Indian and Asian.

Logan's Run:
Before I watched this, HB suggested I compare it with Star Wars, which came out a year later (because of the vast difference in how the film makers choose to do a Sci-Fi film). Well, I did that, and it is true - very different techniques! Still, my mind kept wandering to compare it with Soylent Green with Charlton Heston. The biggest difference is the ending, but otherwise, they are ridiculously similar, right down to the empty warehouse-like-treatment facility. In a way, I thought the LR acting was better and some of the cinematography. The friends I watched it with loved the miniature set that was used for overhead shots of the futuristic society, and I was partial to the old cat man who introduces Logan and his Lady to the concept of "family". The other big difference between LR and SG is that LR seems to have a stronger underlying moral. The hedonistic people of the city are so totally obsessed with sex, beauty and youth that they are fooled into thinking they get reborn at age 30, when in fact they just get killed in a bizarre ritual.

"Hello? 1973? Yeah, I have reality on the line for you, I'm patching it through..."

I think this is a very thinly veiled attempt at commenting on the late sixties, early seventies pop culture in America - the whole sex, love, and rock and roll movement - saying that all that is fine for a while, but at some point you need to wake up, grow up and start a real family.

OK, that's all I have for now. I plan on watching 5 more movies this weekend, so stay tuned!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Just Trying This Out

I thought since this is a film blog and part of film is image it would be nice to have something pretty to look at! So I am attempting to put a little video I made at Christmas in Maine up. Let me know if it works for you! Thanks!

Quick Ratings

Here are some quick ratings on this past weeks films in preparation for the coming weeks (I will change the side bar once I know what all the movies will be) I am going to my brother's house tonight to pick up some movies and start watching!!

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day: 3 out of 5 of whatever I'm giving. This was a solid, fun romp with just enough plot to get me through and quick enough that I was able to forget I knew how it would end!

Who Killed the Electric Car: 2. I learned a lot, but I think their next documentary should be called Who Killed the Electric Car...Movie? It was too long, and the stuff they put in to jazz it up was confusing and made it look like a conspiracy theory.

27 Dresses: Yes, a chick flick. I give it 3. It has a lot of problems, especially all this crap about sisters who act like they are out to get one another. OK, if you haven't ever had a sister, I have a news flash - you may hate her or you may love her, you may like her or dislike her, but your goals are probably not to sabotage her life! There are ups and downs to all relationships, but this was a bit over the top. Still, the costuming was great, and there were some good funny deliveries by Kathryn Heigl I enjoyed.

Evan Almighty: 4. This was better then Bruce almighty and had a nice message complete with anagram at the end. Steve Carrell is hilarious and Wanda Sykes was a nice addition to the otherwise white-bread ensemble cast as well.

Death at a Funeral: 4. Really funny, that kind of funny where you get so uncomfortable you want to leave the room but you can't look away. I also liked that there is a character played by a man with dwarfism, but it isn't made a big deal out of. The biggest thing, and it's pretty funny, is when one says (referring to the man w/dwarfism), "Maybe no one noticed him..." and his brother responds, "Oh sure, I'm sure no one noticed the four foot tall man walking around!" There is a fair amount of slapstick which is something I love about British comedies.

OK, that's it, I must stop blogging for today and go eat something!

Born Romantic

(caution: Spoiler Ahead! But really, it's a romantic Comedy, what do you thinks gonna happen?)

This weekend I also watched Born Romantic, an English film with Craig Ferguson, my favorite late night host. Anyway, this was an impulse buy at the corner store near my apartment for $2...what can I say? I can't pass up an English Romantic Comedy with a Scottish actor!

The film focuses on three men and their love interests. Frankie (played by Ferguson), a somewhat crass but hopelessly romantic divorcee has the hots for "a classy lady"; Furgus (David Morrisey) has traveled to London in search of the woman he calls his soul mate...after leaving her at the altar eight years before; and Eddie (Jimi Misty, what a name!), an amateur thief who uses chloroform to rob people, ends up falling for one of his targets, a hypochondriac who dresses graves for a living.

Two things work to tie the plots together - the salsa lounge where they all meet up, and trying to give a deeper meaning to the whole thing is Jimmy, the cab driver who lost his wife a few years before. The best thing about this script is that they kept the cabby's speeches to a minimum and his bursts of insight short and sweet, relying more on the actor's ability to use subtle facial gestures to communicate with the audience. This allowed for him to sound intelligent and insightful, vs. the side character played by Ian Hart who goes into long speeches about how women can't actually feel love and other crap (by the end, this gets tied up nicely as well). Other than that, this film's script had something lacking, and really was carried by the ensemble cast, nice cinematography and the fact that they all had accents.

My absolute favorite scene is one in which Frankie sings "L.O.V.E." in total homage to Dean Martin, Sinatra and all those dudes - and he does a good job! The accent (American) sounds funny coming from him, as it always does, but it just adds to his lovable character.

Of course, everyone gets his girl in the end...and even the cab driver starts dancing with the foxy salsa instructor as the aperture closes around their faces.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Iron Man

Hey! Here is a bit about the film I saw this afternoon with my brother, who taught me much of what I know about looking at cinema critically. I hope he will be a semi-frequent commentator on this blog, letting me (and y'all) know when I have missed the mark and when I need to dig deeper (of course, y'all may do the same, and I welcome it with great anticipation!)

So, Iron Man, with Robert Downey Jr. as Stark (billionaire weapons maker turned vigilante) and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, the no-nonsense assistant, not to mention the other famous to semi-famous actors who make an appearance. I was inclined to see this film because I actually love superhero movies, both bad and good. I also like to watch how we as a society often turn to fictional superheros when our problems get to big for us to face on our own. It's not a coincidence that Iron Man grossed over $98,000,000 opening weekend, or that several other very successful, if less well done, superhero flicks have come out in the past few years or are slated to come out soon (ex: Spiderman (I & II), Batman Begins, Hell Boy, Dare Devil, The Fantastic Four (I & II), The Avengers, you get the picture)

Within the first few scenes I thought, "oh great, here we go with another macho-man superhero who degrades women and really loves power more then he loves saving the world" There is a scene in which a young journalist from Vanity Fair wants to interview Stark about his work making weapons for the government...she ends up in his bed, and then kicked out by his assistant - "I do whatever Mr. Stark needs me to do...sometimes even taking out the trash" (Potts) And, somehow, a flight with his Air Force buddy to Afghanistan to show off a new weapon, ends with them getting drunk together and the flight attendants prancing around like go-go dancers.

But after his return from captivity, Stark appears to be changed. Not completely, which, thankfully, leaves us open for sequels with further character development. This is a general problem I have with action films - if there is no character development in the first film, there sure as hell won't be any in the second or third, but people tend to lose sight of that, what with all the explosions.

There are a lot of underlying themes, concepts, and little jabs at society, in this film that allow for some interesting DVD viewings when the time comes. I look forward to it, as well as any future sightings of Iron Man that Marvel has in store for us.

Here is an interview with Downey Jr. from April on the David Letterman Show. I think he seems really pompous (about the script re-write stuff), but some would (and did) say he is "just playing a Robert Downey Jr. character". What do you think?


Hello! Welcome to my new blog, in, aching for films, the feeling you have if you are a film connoisseur and there is a film out you simply must see...or the feeling you have as a young editor and you can feel that if you could just find that one frame that needs to be cut, this shot would be perfect...or the aging screenwriter who knows this one will be his big break...that is what aching for film is all about, my friends!

I plan to use this blog mostly for critiques this summer, in order to keep my abilities sharp, get some feedback and practice writing film analysis, which is what I will be doing a lot of next fall when I take a Documentary and Experimental Film class and a Topics in Cinema (focusing on films by the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino films) which will be about viewing and analyzing a bunch of films through discussion and papers.

I will also try to post updates on films and screenplays I or my friends are working on. Currently, one friend (who I have yet to find the perfect blog name for) is working on a short he has written which he would like me to be in, as well as help with holding the camera and such! When completed, I will either post here or add a link to it.

So, as one of my goals for the summer is watching at least 7 films a week (!), check back often for critiques, long and short, of the films I will be viewing!