Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

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Django Unchained

February 28, 2013

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Revenge—best served cold—is not especially a well-suited meal when the table has been to set to accommodate the USA’s torrid affair with slavery.

Do I think Quentin Tarantino is racist? Hardly. Do I think his motivation in creating Django Unchained was a political one, intended to create real, honest discourse and conversation about a terrible blight on human history? Not really. Though his original idea may have been to start a “true dialogue” about the atrocities of a shameful era, Quentin Tarantino is still Quentin Tarantino; his history is rooted more along the lines of the hypermodern, the comic violent, blaxploitation, and razor-wire vengeance. The concept of slavery takes a backseat, factually and thematically, to the revenge plot centered around Django and King Schultz. That this should come to a surprise to anyone is amusing.

  One of the first things I thought about after viewing the film was comparing it to the characterizations from Tarantino’s previous historical effort, Inglorious Basterds—that is, being the way African-American characters are handled, both in the background and in the center. In Basterds, an entire troop of nameless Jews seems to be a focal point of the film. They exist solely as the antithesis to the film’s villainous Nazis. Thusly, it is “justified” that the heroes are those who have been historically victimized. In Tarantino’s world of cinema, the victims of history do not merely wait to be saved; there is hasty, violent rebellion. Vengeance is the name of the game, and it must be slaked without question or even sensible action. Similarly, Django Unchained takes advantage of this trope, casting a black man as the instrument of justice against the trappings of the cruel Southern slave ethos. The treatment of black characters other than the titular character as part of the background differs very little from the way many of the nameless Basterds followed in step with Aldo Raine. There is, however, a disappointing lack of agency with the way certain slaves are written. After literally receiving the keys to freedom in one scene, a group of freedmen take priority in first doling out judgment on their former master, rather than undo the shackles of their containment. Slavery, in Django Unchained, is more of a plot point to move along certain emotions and junctures than an actual, consistent overbearance on humanity. There are gross missteps in who is really able to do what; some slaves are given guns, some are allowed to dine with “the 4th meanest plantation owner in the state,” and yet some are simply cast aside to be ripped apart by hunting dogs.

   Although Django is, after all, the titular character, I did find that a great deal of the story happened to follow Dr. King Schultz, seeking to tell me more about his own personality rather than Django’s. Django is a character who tends to grow and evolve due to Schultz entirely—it is King Schultz who frees Django, trains him to be a bounty hunter, and tells him the crux of his fated heroic journey. Thusly, it is in fact a white man who takes up the titular black hero of the movie, “unchains him,” and brings him to his imprisoned wife, Broomhilda. How then, can we even say Django is strong and independent—or even in direct control of his destiny? How can we shake off the idea of the benevolent white man who, partly out of fascination and partly out of duty to his mercenary contract, takes up arms with the brash Django? King Schultz, though not racially woebegone or entirely ignorant, appears more or less an observant free agent in America’s struggles, espousing “the way of the gun” and his own brand of rogue justice. He is, for all intents and purposes, the Western outlaw with a new spin; a stranger in a strange land who intends to make the most of a dirty business. However, it is also this unfamiliarity with these customs which dooms him entirely. Curiously, Schultz’s inexperience with the flesh trade and the ignoble acts of antagonist Calvin Cande are what drive Schultz towards a pithy, premature death—one which actually hinders more than helps the quest of his protege, Django. In his fiery murder of Candie, Schultz represents a “sudden, shameful white guilt” that this film perhaps might inadvertantly cater to: hasty, self-indulgent sacrifice to wash one’s hands of what one has glossed over, leading to an even bigger mess to clean up. King Schultz realizes too late that his selective sense of justice will not let him ever walk out of Candieland alive.

   The film may have chiefly followed the journey of Schultz, a white man with a wild gun and a general ignorance of the measures of Southern American brutality, but the story still does cast us with at least a parting view from the eyes of Django, as well. There is proof enough of this in how Tarantino wrote the casual branding of “nigger” at every which way Django turns—but it is here that Django Unchained becomes a bit different from Inglorious Basterds. Inglorious Basterds prefers to use other terms to describe the oppressed, and in another role played by Christoph Waltz, the comparison of Jews to “rats and vermin” is made. Jews are characterized as those who must flee, hide, and disguise themselves under false names; in Django Unchained, there is only one, consistent term, and it is universal among every plantation owner because there has been no colossal war (at least, not yet) and thus, no uprising. In the South, the “battle” has already been won and there is little to hunt; men of power already hold the cards and will not let African-American slaves forget it with every utterance of this word. There’s additional umbrage to be taken with the utterance of the casual, modern “nigga” by Django and lead house slave Stephen in the final confrontation. I’d have to say that kind of writing, while absolutely ridiculous, was merely shoehorned in to fit the newfound cadence and cockiness of Django. In fact, it is so blunt a reminder of this film’s “historical fiction merged into snarky revenge fantasy” bullet point that one might feel as though they have been given a concussion.

   I haven’t touched upon the character (or issue) of Stephen yet, but his presence alongside Django is by far one of the more interesting parallels in the film. It is for certain that Stephen is, in fact, the true puppetmaster and caretaker behind Candieland; his regular sass back at Calvin, along with his sagely appropriations about Dr. Schultz’s true intentions, provide enough evidence to that. And yet, even in spite of this power he wields over the general household, it is revealed that his affliction—his crippled leg—has been a facade all along, only just walking normally on two legs as he stares down Django for the last time. Here, we see two starkly different characters: Django, who has been taught how to act, even to a fault (as he silently refuses to protest against Candie killing an escaped slave) but all for a “greater good” to rescue his wife and exact revenge….and Stephen, who has faked his true capacities in the foreground for most of the film. Stephen carries with him not only this secret, but a hatred—of Django, who is allowed to ride horses and talk back to white plantation owners and carry firearms without proper allowance. Django is a complete oddity in Stephen’s existence where there are rules and harsh regulations. For Stephen, his way of life is the only way he knows; though it has rewarded him with a degree of power, it is not without letting others perceive him as frail, weak, and a mere manservant. To see the “one in a million” Django turn this table is inconceivable. The way in which a black man is actually utilized as the penultimate villain for Django to overcome might be explained twofold: One, that Django is effectively killing the symbolic symbol of self-repression and acceptance of one’s life being born into servitude, and Two—casting aside Candie as the true oppressor in order to achieve total neutrality in this last, grand death.

   Earlier this year, Quentin Tarantino posed for a photoshoot in W Magazine with Django Unchained actress, Nicole Galicia. Tarantino is stolid and draped in a handsome robe, hand over the hip of the nude Galicia—who played the role of Calvin Candie’s black concubine. Reading deeply into this photo, one could infer any number of things—not all of which might be necessarily true of either person in the snapshot. However, what we can rightfully infer is that the film carries an overall nature of spectacle and brashness and swagger over a dire need for a historical truth or definitive statement on the backdrop we’re given. Tarantino is the kind of guy who has told people that he loves writing strong, black characters because “black people are cool.” While this notion probably does stem from his experience with old, gritty blaxploitation flicks directed by men such as Gordon Parks and Mario Van Peebles, it does not really offer anything of historical or moral merit to the situation at hand: that of the American Pre-war South, relegated to a shallow grave for the gun of Django. Django Unchained ultimately offers many questions and interesting parallels between characters of both races—it also offers cool, terse dialogue, superb acting, and visceral thrills. It does not, however, offer us any progression in terms of how African-American people view slavery. However much I do actually enjoy this film and the collected works of Quentin Tarantino, it is my sincere hope that he does not lazily use yet another historical minefield of horror and brutality as a plot contrivance in the future.

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Kontroll

October 22, 2011


Admittedly, being introduced to this movie was one of the mitigating factors of a crazy ex—I wouldn’t have discovered this marvelous film in any other way, given its native language is in Hungarian, something she was intensely devoted to. My picks in the realm of foreign movies are few and far between; not because I have any problems with subtitles (I know some people just cannot stand them) but because I’m not exposed to them very often. All personal oddities aside, Kontroll is a fantastic story from first-time director/writer Nimrod Antal, who would unfortunately go on to merely direct a few forgettable American flicks like Armored and Predators. I hope he gets to flaunt his creativity more often in the future, because this movie is unlike anything you’ve ever seen—mainly because of the Hungarian subway system

The story takes place entirely underground, in the bowels of a Hungarian Metro line. It is here that the system is dependent not on Metrocard swipes, but a task force of ticket-inspectors who are widely reviled and disrespected by the underlings who rocket to and fro their daily motions.  The company is beside itself in striving to handle the reckless mobs aboard the trains, and hold meetings akin to war rooms—especially now that a mysterious chain of suicides is growing in number every week. Our main protagonist, Bulcsu (BULL-chu) used to be a man of some worth back on “the surface,” but no more. He eats, sleeps,and works in the Metro station hubworld, wandering the lonely tunnel network each night as the service slows and the tension of his workday comes to a dimly-lit death. And it’s in the gloom of Bulcsu’s routine that confines us to the sickly green glow of this winding, arterial world of dirtywhite fluorescence and flat colors. Antal did a fine job communicating the feeling of a hopeless existence lurking just underneath the city limits; this is clearly a place no one wants to be and it has already claimed the sanity of many a ticket inspector. The supporting characters who work alongside Bulcsu are quickly introduced but wane in their  appearances after the first half of the story, which is mainly an introduction to the bleak, dystopian realm of the Hungarian Metro.

The second half deals with Bulcsu’s waxing attitude towards his choice to lurk from the light, along with his continued dementia about a horrible stranger who seems always be present at the sites of the so-called “suicides.” It quickly becomes clear that these jumpers are actually being pushed into the oncoming trains, and Bulcsu is quickly listed as a suspect—because the villainous entity happens to wear clothing similar to Bulcsu.

Much of the film’s pacing is well-done because Antal knows exactly when to stop introducing us to the underworld and its very colorful characters, and when to press onward with the continuing disturbances therein, both inside and out Bulscu’s area of influence. A film set entirely in a metro hub of endless tunnels and stations could have easily become tired and trite, but luckily there are enough sidereels in this plotline to engage us, such as when Bulcsu agrees to a late-night “suicide run” on the tracks with a member of a rival inspector brigade, or his continued reconnaissance with a strange young woman in a bear costume who rides the lines for free.  The writing of the other players in general is very natural and there’s enough light comedy to fill the voids between major action. One of the funniest scenes occurs in the aftermath of a subway “leaper,” leading to a psychologist to evaluate the employees. The results are less than ideal, to say the least, leading to a montage of bizarre confessions not related to the tragedy in the slightest.

There are a few aesthetically demented scenes where Bulcsu’s dreams seem to weave in and out of a rave being held in the subway terminal (try to picture this in Penn Station.) that really made me scratch my head; though sudden, quick flashes of oddity are commonplace. One of the most striking things is the distinctive red facepaint the chief of police splashes over one eye; there is no explanation for this outlandish appearance, so we’re just to assume he’s a bad seed and he means business, especially in his interrogation scene with Bulcsu later on. It’s little details like that which permeate under the drip-drab depression and really leave an imprint on you.
I can’t say anymore about the character quirks or the very open-ended nature of what occurs in the endgame because it’s better seen than explained outright.  Bulcsu’s progression/regression begins as a sticky spot on your shoe which gradually becomes more and more noticeable up until the penultimate race against time—at which point we’re barefoot and exhausted.

I rate Kontroll very highly because I’ve yet to see a film like it—or at least one that comes close to achieving the same sense of despair and entrapment in the subway system, taking that pitted feeling and spreading it to the maximum level. The hubworld here is meant to be merely a passing location; a fleeting feeling of the dank and the dark. In Kontroll, it is a damning place, a kind of Tartarus one must usually inhabit in order to gain a greater sense of one’s internal flaws. At its climax, Kontroll delivers on this ethos—but not before granting us a glimpse into an abyss we traverse so easily on a very regular basis…at least, this is the case if you live in New York City. This movie is truly one-of-a-kind and I put it in my top 15, maybe even top 10 on a regular basis; truly worth the time to see.

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X-Men: First Class

June 10, 2011

I am a fan of the X-Men. The films as of the past few years? Not so much. And so, prepare for a very long review of the new X-Men film, as well as a little background behind what makes comic book movies trickle along so slowly in their genre.

I grew up on the 90’s TV series, which was one of the most well-done animated shows I’ve seen. They utilized the characters well, there was enough action to satiate your warped teenage brain, and there was a prevailing message of “they fear what they don’t understand” broadside the usual drama and interactions that you might expect from a secret faction of superpowered mutants. I won’t wax poetic, but—it worked. It took the classic Jim Lee lineup and did something fairly grounded in continuity, giving fans of the comic something truly fun to watch.

The films are a different story. It’s difficult to put a man in yellow spandex and spats and still take him seriously. This is pretty much the problem with all comic book adaptations: taking it seriously. However, the gothic, surreal Tim Burton Batman flicks and the Chris Nolan features have done exemplary jobs in showing us that comic books can indeed become a reality and not be completely silly, mainly by remembering to include the human, emotional aspect behind the leather and tights. A good example of this was Spider-Man: Spider-Man worked because the comic is, at heart, about a young man who is still maturing along with his powers and still has to worry about paying the rent in between bouts with megalomaniacal scientists. It was hard to fuck that up, though Spider-Man 3 did show us that with more comes less—that is, too many characters enjambed into one story causes a meltdown. So what happens when you have to cram an entire team into a single, 2 hour movie?

Ask anyone what their favorite X-Men film is, and they’ll almost always say X-Men 2. Sure, the first one was okay, but things really meshed together in X-Men 2. The focus of unity (I mean, it was in the damn subtitle: United) was the draw factor here, playing Magneto’s cards against the stolid Charles Xavier in a decisive match of wits and leadership. The issue of humanity’s capability to do harm or create life was the crux; things like Wolverine’s origins, Stryker’s own psionic son, and Nightcrawler’s battle with faith were admirable side-plots, as well. And the grim finale—the final sacrifice–reels in what I thought was a prevailing, almost spiritual journey. Though I still had major issues with how the writers handled X2 as yet another “Wolverine and Friends,” pushing aside Cyclops and Storm and a hammersmash of minor cameos, it was a fun story. There was a great deal of movement; I enjoyed it. I just hated that they minimized so many roles.  Why does everyone hate Cyclops? Read the comics. He’s an incredible personality and probably one of the strongest figureheads in the X-Men. He was, after all, part of the first class.

Not so in X-Men: First Class.  The writers were given free reign on this movie, totally throwing out the origin stories we’ve grown so accustomed to. I mean, the original films weren’t that faithful at all in the first place—which I forgive anyway, since it’s not going to follow the comic to a fine point. But more than ever, everything has been re-imagined from the rubble of the previous two dour efforts, practically only holding on to the one universal, all-important factor that must stay true no matter what if you want to do an X-Men film proper: This movie is about the emergence of mutantkind to the public eye; and it happens through the actions of Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier.
And in that respect, it succeeds. James McAvoy is brilliant, cocky, yet eternally wise as the young man who would transform from eccentric evolutionary professor to superpowers shepherd in the “war to come,” showing signs of growth emotionally and psionically as the stakes grow higher. Michael Fassbender takes the role of Magneto with, as Professor X says, a “ground between serenity and anger,” effectively becoming sympathetic at some points due to his horrendous childhood in the German invasions, yet cold and helplessly brutal to the flabby, undeveloped human race who have done him so much wrong. I didn’t think anyone could possibly fill Patrick Stewart and Ian McKlellan’s shoes, ever, but by God did these two guys pull it off beautifully.

So what about the plot? Well, I already told you—it’s mutantkind’s emergence in the USA, in the late 60’s. But of course, we want to see powers being thrown around, so we need a man to throw them at. That man is Sebastian Shaw, the energy-siphoning leader of the Hellfire Club in Nevada. Shaw, a bit of a delusional geneticist, wants to jumpstart the Cold War, and in the ensuing nuclear devastation become the new god among the mutations that emerge. Basically, survival of the fittest is his motive, and he’s a bit of a nutcase. If you’ve read the comics, you’ll know that this ideology was not beyond Shaw—but it wasn’t his forte, per se. This is something more in line for Mr. Sinister or Apocalypse, though I guess those two are a bit too otherworldly for a first film. Anyway, Kevin Bacon’s portrayal of Shaw is another great part to the movie. Bacon’s the kind of guy who just oozes raw menace and confidence in even the smallest strides; he was probably the only actor going in that I had absolutely no worries about. It’s Kevin Bacon;  he’s evil, he’s great.

Where does that leave us with, you know, the actual X-MEN themselves? It’s a team effort, right? So that means we’ll see the FIRST CLASS. Like Angel, Cyclops, Iceman…wait, nope. The choices of people like Banshee, Mystique, Havok, and Beast seem entirely random—and honestly, I thought they were, for the longest time. I still do, actually. I was boggled that Cyclops’ angrier, more destructive brother gets in the flick, as does Banshee. Honestly, I love Banshee and I think he is criminally underused even though he was part of the second-ever team, so I actually did like that he made it into this roster. There is a montage showing the recruitment of these youngsters around the globe which sort of gives you better insight into their personalities; but a big complaint people make about the film is that there simply is not enough development around some of them, relegating some team members to only a few attitude-affirming scenes and battles. I agree, but there’s no way the movie can possibly accomodate every single person with their own giant arc. Any X-Men movie, past or future, will suffer from this…trust me. From what does exist, though, it’s a hell of a lot better than the awful writing done for Storm, Rogue, and Cyke in the first X-men movies.

Herein lies my glaring criticism of this movie: time. There simply is not enough of it. The movie is, after all, perhaps 2 hours or less by my count, and there is a metric ton of material to chew on in that short span of time. I cannot go on to spoil anything major, but trust me when I say that some relationships and moments in the film feel as though they should have been developed far, far longer. I’m not entirely sure how long a few scenes were in “real time,” but I do believe that some of the decisions and judgments made could not possibly make sense in the span that the characters were given.  Practically every major issue one might have with this movie will probably be based on the concept that “this could not have been decided after only X days, or X weeks.”  I guess this is what the training montage was for, but we still have no idea how much time really has been passing us.
Another gripe I had was that the other villains (Azazel aka Nightcrawler’s Pappy, some weird Riptide waterpower guy, and January Jones’ breasts) are rather one-note henchman. However, I suppose you could say that about the villains in the other X-Flicks as well; just thank your lucky stars Mystique has been given substantial character boosts.
One of the last things I’ll mention that people have issues with is the concept of how the X-Men get their names. I won’t say anything more than this, but bear in mind that the method, although cheesy, is altogether more satisfying than a 40-year-old man running around calling himself Cyclops.

Overall, I’d say that First Class is a very enticing movie, even to people who have cursory knowledge of the superhero genre. The movie gives hints of a high-octane spy noir in some of Magneto’s early moments (which probably explains many people quickly naming Fassbender as a potential Bond lately) and even in the Cold War scenario. It gives interesting reasons for the quirks in comic books, the costumes, and the control of certain powers. It’s a blockbuster flick, sure; but it does have a great deal more style and substance in the approach of how superhumans lived and formed a clique for acceptance and justice. I liked this more than any of the other X-Men, and I might go so far as to say it is my favorite film in the Marvel canon. It’s not without its flaws, but I feel as though it’s a step in the right direction. It takes the core—Xavier and Magneto, their friendship, and their inherent conflicts—and makes them shine brightly, even in light of huge time constraints. It’s a good blend of classic, cheesy comic book drama, outstanding acting, decent action, and a relevant message all mixed well to the flavor of a warped espionage element.
8/10.

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Trick ‘R Treat

January 9, 2011

 

So, the straight-to-DVD masterpiece, “Trick ‘R Treat,” is now on Netflix. A cult favorite and universally acclaimed horror film, it’s mind-boggling as to why this movie was pushed out of theatrical release and limited to only a few big-screen viewings at select festivals before a CD launch. Originally, it was planned as a big release in 2008, but for reasons unknown to me right now, they cut back on taking a chance on this one. And what a shame; it offers more than all the other Halloween schlock of the past five years combined. I watched this last year and I still love it.

 

Trick ‘r Treat is a bit of an “anthology” of stories rolled into an interweaving tale. A principal may or may not be murdering trick or treaters, an innocent young woman is supposedly demonized by a vampire at a party, a cantankerous old man is haunted by a supernatural slasher, and an old and shameful town legend lurks beneath the surface of the rock quarry. It’s incredibly original and the twist endings towards each story are impressively clever. I wish I could elaborate more, but there are so many little tidbits that would spoil the film…so I can’t say more than this. In terms of horror films, this one is probably one of the most well-produced and tightly developed pieces I’ve seen in my entire life. It balances cliche lightly and relies on some new takes on “old favorites,” but for the majority of the ride it all seems so new and refreshing. A thrilling Halloween film brimming with genuine “‘Oh shit, what’s going to happen next?” moments is always a pleasure, and even moreso when the payoff is as fantastic as it is here. There are a few humorous turns, but the movie knows well enough when to restrict the sparse laughs in exchange for some great suspense. Most of the surprises, I didn’t even see coming until the very last second. That’s what a great horror film does: keeps you on the edge of your seat. And this one redeemed the genre after many, many failures and stupid disappointments.

Aside from the usual twists and turns, the acting is pretty solid—featuring cameos by Brian Cox, Anna Paquin, and the very underrated Dylan Baker as a really wormy and villainous type. His character, Stephen Wilkins, might be one of my favorite characters I’ve seen as of late. Yeah, I know, it’s a horror flick and it ain’t Shakespeare—but this writing is well above most of its contemporaries in the business, and I was really entertained without having to lower my IQ or anything like that. You know, like for the recent Saw sequels…ugh.

Anyway, it’s definitely worth watching at least once. I guarantee it’s 100% better than any film like it right now; the top of the crop in its category, and well worth the money.

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The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys

September 18, 2010

The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys was originally based on the unfinished novel by Chris Fuhrman, who unfortunately passed away before the book’s final draft. However, what was left behind was adapted and produced by Jodie Foster (who also co-stars) and became a wonderful and gruesome twist on the usual coming-of-age film.

The plot mainly revolves around the aspirations of two friends, Francis Doyle and Jim Sullivan, whose imaginations are centered along either causing trouble with outrageous pranks or working on their superhero comic book—which is fully realized in a few animated scenes done by the one and only Todd McFarlane. It’s interesting to note that these scenes corrolate directly with what’s happening in real-time. That is, certain objectives and trials will be mirrored via the world of the Atomic Trinity, which is comprised of such colorful characters like Captain Asskicker and Major Screw. Things quickly become more complex, as the pranks get wilder (Sullivan wants to kidnap a cougar from the zoo to set loose in the Catholic school) and the relationships become fragile, even bitterly so. Francis’ youthful romance with a girl named Margie, as well as his disintegrating understanding of his best friend Tim Sullivan, is handled with genuine innocence and limited wisdom. The troubles that send Francis and the others into a cyclone of uncertainty and bewildering emotional ascensions are best left for you to discover on your own, but I will say that the revelations and corrosions that happen are not only natural to a beautiful point, but also brilliantly accentuated by the epic battle going on within the Atomic Trinity’s twisted reality.

Emile Hirsch’s work as Francis is a strange thing for me to accept. He’s an actor who I still don’t know how to feel for; he’s fantastic in a film like Into The Wild, yet he’s little more than fluff in something like Speed Racer. His brand of cold, stoic movement is something that curiously fits into the role of Francis, though. He has flashes of total immersion into the character, and for that I can say he breathed a strange yet hypnotic life into what might have been an otherwise stock personality. However, though Emile Hirsch and Jodie Foster—the steadfast and believable villain as the calculating Sister Assumpta—deliver great performances, the real gold belongs to Kieran Culkin’s Sullivan as the poetic madman in this carnival of adolescence. A product of suppression, an alcoholic home, and general “lone wolf” status, he delivers what is probably one of my favorite performances by any actor below legal drinking age. Even his transformation in the world of the Atomic Trinity from the invulnerable Muscle to the fleshless, decaying Skeleton Boy is metaphorical to the inner struggles in Sullivan’s odd world. The dying friendship between he and Francis is a work of great chemistry that really jars your nerves to the brink. The scene with the dog by the highway in particular weighs heavily on me, for reasons that probably will fluctuate for many.

The film’s definitely a unique one, right down to the few animated segments of carnage. It really gives a haunting view on growing up in a Catholic school. All that repression, all that death of knowledge and creativity that could otherwise flourish in positive ways—I can relate, given the circumstances. It’s the kind of movie where I always say, “shit, I wish I thought of this first.” Well, not just the warp between fantastical alter-egoes and real people—just the overall characters in general, the plotline, the many tragedies therein. It’s one of the few movies that I desperately wish I reached first, in my own ficticious world of movie-making.

The fact that the eclectic Joshua Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age scored four or five tracks for the movie makes me love this thing all the more. In fact, this movie marked the first time I ever heard Homme’s work before. The credits-roll song, “All The Same,” remained burned into the grey matter of my brain literally for years until I finally decided to pick up the work he did in his band. Great decision on my part, of course. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite songs ever.

This film has always been one of my all-time favorites. I rank it quite highly these days; I’m not entirely sure if I’d put it in my top 10, but it cracks the top 15 for sure. It’s definitely unlike most movies of its kind, and by the end you’ll feel such a rush. I’ve never read the novel—which is supposedly in totally readable form today—but I will definitely drop the cash to read it in the future. This film’s a sinister ride into the maw of the imagination—and at times, it feels as though this escapist fantasy into a realm of heroic monsters is preferable to the harrowing tempest we’ve marched through to reach the shuddering climax. I can’t recommend this movie enough to basically everyone and anyone who has ever been one of “those” kids; which essentially umbrellas us all.

And yeah, that’s a foreign language poster for the movie. It’s so much more stylish than the original American one, trust me.

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Barton Fink

September 1, 2010

To say that I enjoyed “Barton Fink” is an understatement; it is one the greatest films I’ve ever seen, though this affirmation is somewhat tinged with my own subjective bias. It is, after all, a film about the craft of writing and the psychological neurosis therein; and such philosophies presented in such a pure state of madness could not have been offered to me at a better time in my life. However, I’ll try to set my own experiences aside and try to be a little more objective first.

Barton Fink tells the somewhat surreal tale of the titular character, played by the fantastic John Turturro. A writer who wants to cut away at the plastic sheen of Hollywood archetypes, Fink gets more than what he bargained for when his first success on Broadway leads to a damning contract with delusional high-office movie producers begging for a script about a B-grade wrestler. Now, faced with complete isolation, a chronic writer’s block, and dispassion for his current situation, Barton Fink experiences a series of odd and even horrific events in the strange Hotel Earle: a dimension that houses not only Fink’s frustration, but also his erratic neighbor Charlie Meadows (one of John Goodman’s finest character roles.) To say more would spoil the film entirely, though I can say that the ensuing events that follow Barton in his quest to transcribe the plight of the “common man” from his creative genius is equally fascinating as it is pitiful and perhaps obviously doomed.

The film’s a combonation of slick noir, itchy mystery, uneasy drama, and surrealism which bleeds out faster than the wallpaper in Barton Fink’s hotel room. Where things could easily take a boring turn, they never do; the movie keeps you on a tight rope that could either be the way out of the wishing well or the noose to hang yourself and abandon all hope. Though the phrase “Kafkaesque” is overplayed these days, I can’t help but compare the lead character to Franz Kafka in some instances throughout his struggles. Both are Jewish, brilliant writers, and are long-suffering in their line of works. And both are haunted by an existentialist nightmare to somehow simultaneously rise above it all yet remain a man among “the people.” The sheer duality of this wish and how Fink wrestles with the truths of his existence is a ride enhanced even moreso by the excellent portrayals of human beings who inhabit this ghost world with him. I wish I knew of better ways to further describe this film, but I guess in this instance comparisons might help. It reminds me of stories akin to Eraserhead, The Shining, and maybe even shades of Bartleby. The unsettling nature of plasticity of the mind and the subsequent imprisonment of it unfolds like one of Barton’s plays that he so idolizes. And yet, in the midst of all these psychological indemnities, the movie remains surprisingly accessible to viewers of almost any background. That, I suppose, is one of the strongest points of the Barton Fink.

It’s no surprise that given the nature of the film’s plot and message, the viewing of this would have a supremely profound effect on me. Though I do not believe in fate or predestined things, I do believe that I made the right decision by choosing this movie to finally see. A small portion of my inspiration to keep writing was rekindled by this film and I suspect its influence on me will be very apparent for quite some time in the future.

Though it seems I have little to say about this movie as opposed to the previous films I reviewed, it is only due to the nature of which this film is presented. It is something that can’t be analyzed very simply, and must be seen to truly believe in the brilliance of its movement. Balancing thunderous aesthetics with a kind of minimalist approach of energy, Barton Fink may very well be one of my most treasured viewings of all time.

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The Girlfriend Experience

August 29, 2010

Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” is, to steal a line from the Thin White Duke himself (David Bowie),”ice masquerading as fire.” That is, I’ve never seen a film so deliberately enraptured in so many cases of subtle armory as this one. Every blow that meets its mark doesn’t have a crushing, smashing effect—It’s more like punching into pillows. The emotional impacts are quick but crucifying in the seconds that they happen, and the realism behind each encounter is like frostbite.

“The Girlfriend Experience” is about just like it sounds: Chelsea, the main character, is the highest class of escort available, providing a total emotional and mental s(t)imulation in addition to the sexual favors provided. And yet, she maintains a serious relationship with her boyfriend, and of course, we all know that there’s bound to be trouble in store for them. And the problems are contained until they spill forth in the kind of poetic justice you might have expected; though the real problem is whether or not you sympathize with Chelsea and her embattled psyche—partways contained and managed through her journalistic writings which document her exploits. It’s within this little tidbit of these books that transforms a high-class hooker into something of a statuesque artist who suffers for the craft, willing even to put her relationship on the line to find out if astrological coincidences between clients may emerge into something more. Is that the mark of an extraordinary risk-taker and a tool of the cosmos, or the scars of an emotionally unbalanced woman? This situation isn’t without its soft underbelly—the many intricacies about what we perceive as a real relationship, real love, real contact. I liked that I wasn’t quite sure if Chelsea was someone to contemptuously label, or to give an arm of consolation to throughout her tenures of crisis.

All throughout the movie, I heard the same mantra repeated in my head: plastic, plastic, plastic. It was a device that Warhol would have loved: flashes of the rich and carefree, all stressed jetsetters looking for a convenience in people like Chelsea. The very loosely formed narrative seems to have its place of plastic appeal, as well; it bobs and weaves between time frames quite well, as if it really accentuates how fleeting these lives are. The actress Sasha Grey is, in reality, a porn star—not only does she put on a pretty good performance, but there are no sex scene to be found. I thought that was amusing, even ironically so. You’d think Soderbergh hired her for her experience with sexual things, but I think he really craved her inner psyche on the matter of desires and relationships—which is, of course, the antithesis to his film.

The culture of love and consumerism (highlighted by copious conversations in the film about the economy) is felt everywhere. In Chelsea’s boyfriend’s weight training business, in the artwork they purchase, and in the isolation to be had from the true art found in the movie—namely, a street drummer who realizes he is truly alone in one extremely cold scene. There is a thick, glossy sheen on everything and everyone, and everyone is trying to be what is craved for at the exact moment. People are, in a way, products to be traded and reviewed. And Soderbergh’s hand of direction commands people not to be benevolent sheep, but to simply go with the flow.

It’s not a film to recommend for everyone, given Soderbergh’s odd technique and decisions in the past. It has its slow sections, true. There are some lulls in the film’s purpose, and it can  fall into a mental slumber at a few points where normal conversation carries on for perhaps a minute too long. But, the frigidity is something that’s needed to make the plastic seem flesh. Thus, it’s very appreciated when the movie’s largest burst of energy (in the form of a stormy, rocking track near the end) shuttles forth, sort of a triumphant thing in the wake of “I don’t need you/I need you” coursing through the main character’s veins. And, in a very silent and secretive way, I related.