Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Charcoal Monday (Tuesday again!)

I posted this one a while back with the "Paris Post", but here she is again.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

So As Not To Break The Rules, This Is A Review Of Kung Fu Panda 2

“Fight Club” is—if such a thing exists—a philosophical action movie. People come to it for different reasons: to puzzle about things like society, boredom, and carnal impulses; to watch bloody, shirtless men hurting each other and to experience the ensuing desire to immediately go out and beat stuff up; or possibly to see it just to say they saw it, since it is fairly unanimous that this is an “awesome” movie, presenting valid arguments appealing to both ends of the moral and social spectrum. 

            The story is about and narrated by a nameless (there’s your first metaphor) corporate minion (Edward Norton) who incessantly attends support groups, though insomnia is his only ailment, and becomes addicted to the emotional vent that they provide for him in an otherwise emotionless life. This he does until a fellow phony named Marla (Helena Bonham-Carter) pops up and ruins his binge. He cannot deal with his façade being validated by the existence of someone in the same boat as him… much less a woman.

            Then he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a macho soap salesman who seems to understand perfectly what is on the narrator’s (and our) minds. He makes things like holding a gun to the head of a store clerk and blowing up buildings seem perfectly logical; you’d be crazy not to do it. Materialism is his worst enemy. He leads the life that we all secretly wish we could lead. Not the carefree life of luxury and indulgence—the life of impulse without consequence. The life where pain is merely a side effect of achievement. The life where fear is overshadowed by adrenalin to the point of nonexistence. Hey, why should we worry about consequences when the worst consequence of all is death, and we’re all going to die anyway, right?

            The truth is, we all have a Tyler Durden inside of us. Freud called it the “Id” and said that if it is gone unchecked we would be a civilization of barbarians. “Fight Club” poses the question, “What if we are a civilization of barbarians? Are we not letting ourselves be destroyed by our own fears and lust for material?”

            It uses the glamorization of violence to ask this and does it so thickly it is sometimes plausible to assume that it is validating the very point that it is arguing against—that we are, in fact, barbarians who cannot balance ourselves between civility and all-out carnage… and given the choice, carnage is far more exciting. Especially when it is done with some fast-paced music, snazzy visual effects, and lots of explosions. 

            Like its narrator, “Fight Club” seemingly can’t make up its mind about the point that it is trying to make. It doesn’t know if thrills are what life is all about or if we need stability; and it isn’t sure if we can do any of it without falling into the leader-follower syndrome where the powerful take control of the weak and mold them into a culture of enslaved, dead minds. It is, often literally, fighting its self. Only at the end do we catch a glimpse of that one entity that may instigate symmetry. It’s not… can it be… love? 

Nah, this isn’t that kind of movie. Is it?

For an analysis far more intelligent and entertaining than the one above, check THIS out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Roses Are Red And Something Is Askew

            Movies are essentially an art of manipulation. The composition of a frame, the angle of a shot, the pace, the score, even the credits are all specifically utilized to bend our perception of the story on screen. The difference between a close up and a long shot is the difference between one awareness and another. In many cases, it is the difference between two stories.
            “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” is a movie completely reliant upon audience trickery. It builds our trust in one character only to betray that trust by impulsively switching perspectives mid-way through the film. It creates a façade and then dismantles it, piece by piece, with head-slapping logic and more than a few psychological jolts. This is a movie you can watch for the first time twice—once you know the secret that even the misleading trailer takes good care to repress, it becomes a completely different movie.
            The heroine is dainty young art student Angelique (Audrey Tatou) who is conducting an affair with Loic (Samuel Le Bihan), a married cardiologist with a baby on the way. She is madly in love with him and their relationship appears to be a mutually happy one until Loic begins to stand Angelique up in favor of his wife. Angelique consequently assumes a painful downward spiral into depression until a startling revelation is made that changes everything.
             Even more shocking yet is that lying just beneath the outer layer of cerebral mayhem is a sort of ironic humor. We have Audrey Tautou, fresh from her career-defining performance in “Amelie”, whose face would likely appear alongside the definition of ‘adorable’ in the dictionary, playing a deranged jilted lover. The reasoning that discloses the true plot is all so simple, you can almost sense the writers giggling at their own devilishly easy deception. It isn’t often you get a psychological thriller this engrossing that simultaneously pokes subtle fun at its own guise as a sappy love story.
            It’s this simplicity that makes “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” such a pleasing movie to watch. We don’t have to work out complex concepts or sticky knots of jumbled up relationships. Though there is just enough left untouched to give it a mysterious air, it only plays coy when necessary while dishing out information with precise timing. The complexity is in its knowledge of the audience’s mind and how to manipulate it with smokescreens and imagery. When you know how a person thinks, it infinitely possible to permeate their mind. This is all the more cunning when your tactics go unseen—good advice for cinematographers and unhinged lovers alike.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

If You Are Uncomfortable With Something, Don't Make A Movie About It

            “The Reader” is about a lot of touchy subjects: Forgiveness of genocide in the name of humanity, the question of whether one can still love a person who has committed a horrendous crime, the impotence of shame and its translation into a lust for authority, and the never ending debate over whether or not law is based upon morality… just to name a few. And yet the one thing that springs immediately to mind whenever we think about this movie is the sexual affair between a fifteen year old boy and a thirty year old woman. We don’t think of their relationship later in the film, when Michael (David Cross in the flashbacks and Ralph Fiennes in the ‘90s) is forced to choose between exposing Hanna’s (Kate Winslet) shameful secret- she can’t read- or watching her be sentenced to a life in prison for the crime of allowing 300 Jewish women to burn to death in a church during her career as an SS guard. 
            Instead we think of the R-rated scenes involving beds, bathtubs, and books. Why? Is it a publicity stunt; to lure audiences in with the promise of sex and controversy before whacking them with a good dose of historical morality after they have already paid for their tickets? This would mean that the true depth of the more intense subject matter would emerge after having seen the film. At least, this was what I was hoping for. A hundred and twenty four minutes later, and my cynicism was in overdrive. 
            The problem with “The Reader” is that it presents exacting reality with tenderness and subtlety while treating the subtle and tender with exacting reality. It is not a holocaust film. It is about the lives of the next generation of Germans who had to live in the shadow of guilt and who were faced with the enormity of having to move on.
            It is certainly a unique premise and one that carries a massive potential to resonate in our moral psyches. But it plays it safe. All the way from the rather too coincidental beginning to the neat-as-a-pin ending, it walks ever so lightly on its abundance of ethically controversial material, picking up on the nostalgia of post-WWII films that have gone before, but goes hog-wild when it comes to sexuality, leaping at the chance to at least be bold about something
            In doing this, it becomes what, in my opinion, is a bad movie. It is based on a story that implores us to consider something that we would prefer to put behind us. It (rightly) doesn’t want to give any answers for fear of having to take sides; but neither does it have the courage to ask any questions. “The Reader” is a movie about a nation that is weary of the shadows of the past, and its responsibility is to have the audacity to cast a light into that darkness. Instead, it is afraid of its own shadow. It is tactful and predictable.
            When undertaking something that is potentially controversial, one must be firm in their convictions and know where they are going and what they want to do. “The Reader” has an identity crisis. Does it want to be a steamy romance? A period piece? A WWII aftermath film? It seems to know that any way it goes about it, there must be a flavor of controversy. And the only way it knows how to do that is not by forcing us to think, but by playing the sex card. 
            Maybe we too have an identity crisis. Maybe we are still afraid of our own shadow... our own thoughts.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Charcoal Monday

Sunday, April 3, 2011

You Might Be Surprised By What They ARE Afraid Of

            I love movies that are based on plays. Using a story that is intentionally fashioned for a presentation where flamboyant effects are limited not only by budget but by reality and is instead forced to place all its cards on the quality of actors and dialogue is a wonderfully sneaky yet effective way to create a movie boiled down to the essence of what great theatrical entertainment is all about. When it doesn’t get overly Hollywood-ized in the process… that is.
            “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is structurally about as simple as it gets: four actors, very little music, and most of the scenes are set inside one room of one house. The complexity lies in the characters mentality and is expressed in their dialogue, originally penned by playwright Edward Albee.
            The plot, at least on the exterior, is simple as well: A young professor and his wife (George Segal and Sandy Dennis, respectively) meet the daughter of the college president (Elizabeth Taylor) and her husband, an associate prof. of history (Richard Burton) at a cocktail party and are invited to the older couple’s on-campus home for drinks at an hour that straddles both “late at night” and “early in the morning”. Little do Honey (Dennis) and Nick (Segal) know of the marital warfare that rages in the home of Martha (Taylor) and George (Burton).
            All attempts at friendly small talk are quickly muffled by the virtual machine gun spray of dialogue that George and Martha ceaselessly pelt each other with. As the foursome grows drunker and drunker, the two guests become sucked into the combat as well and round and round they all go, ripping each other down verbally until we no longer know what to believe and who to trust.
            It’s movies like this that thrill me to no end. The dialogue is the driving force that pushes the movie forward, only to whip the characters back with such great momentum, they need to take a minute to catch their breath. Elizabeth Taylor’s role in the film has become the stuff of legend- and rightly so- but upstaging even her was the brilliant performance delivered by Sandy Dennis. While the other three incessantly reload their guns with ammo of alcohol and secrets, the mousy blonde Honey is the one who bears the brunt of the situation, as it is she who ultimately discovers that her husband does not love her. It is one of those performances so unique and bizarre, it is impossible to keep our eyes off her even with Elizabeth Taylor just feet away.
            “Virginia Woolf” is a merciless movie. There is not an emotional or psychological stone that is left unturned, not a flaw that goes unscrutinized, not a gun that doesn’t go off; and in the end, we are surprised by our own shock at who can best withstand the blow. But it is also a deeply metaphorical movie that is not afraid of the surreal.
One might argue the same about long-term marriage.