Thursday, March 31, 2011

Back and Forth

Remember those back-and-forth stories that we all used to do (or at least bored writers with weird friends, like me, used to do)? Where creative juices would run riot as you penned back and forth, each adding to the growing plot that the other had established? Where anything went, and hilarity ensued?
Well, the internet's best kept comedic secret (Nico Morley) and myself have decided to join forces and establish a blog just for this purpose. She and I will alternate posts, stopping abruptly in order for the other to continue the story. Who knows where it will go? What levels of brilliance will be reached? What caverns of humor, tragedy, life, death, metaphor, and insanity will be delved into? Will they be left undiscovered or blasted open with the force of our combined brilliance? Who knows?... Who cares?... check it out!

Also, a last minute note, Darryl, whose sense of humor is almost more acerbic than mine, has come on board as well. Let the wild rumpus start!

Monday, March 28, 2011

What Do You Get When You Cross A Baby, A Convict, And A Thesaurus?

             Far be it for me to scrutinize those who venerate the more ostentatious calibers of the English vernacular. But when it obstructs a congregation’s ability to assimilate the true intentions of a fabrication… well, that’s just plain bad writing.
            “Raising Arizona” is the better aspects of the later works of the Cohen Brothers all lumped together in one movie proving that chocolate, bacon and Pringles- individually delicious as they may be- do not make a good casserole. In other words, too much of several good things is hardly ever great.
            Here we have all of what would later become the Cohen Brothers usual suspects: dialogue that sounds like it was scraped off the tongue of an eighteenth century Alabaman lawyer, slapstick black comedy, a bounty of colorful characters, a madcap heist plot, and John Goodman. Every one of these aspects is trying to one-up all the others and what results is a movie more confusing than even the Cohen bros. most incomprehensible con stories.
            Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage star as Hi (Cage) and Ed (Hunter). The former is a two-bit thief who falls in love with Ed, a police woman who takes his mugshots. They marry and decide to start a family but as “biology conspired to keep them childless” and Hi’s criminal record is longer than his hair, rendering them unable to adopt, they have no choice but to kidnap one of the famed “Arizona Quints” based on the logic that five babies is more than any one couple can handle.  
            At first, the movie wants to be a zany character piece, scooped from the trailer homes and convenience stores of Southern U.S. Then it switches gears and becomes a dangerously screwball comedy when Hi’s oafish (yet eloquent) prison buddies set up camp in the new family’s home. Then it wants to be an action flick with a chase scene involving a naive truck driver, a package of Huggies, and a Rottweiler in one of those gags that never fails to crop up in chase sequences that need a bit of forced comic relief. There is also a puzzling subplot that somehow manages to make its way into the limelight of the movie’s main storyline involving a grizzly bounty hunter who looks threatening enough until we hear him speak in a stuffy twang that is due to his apparent lack of nostrils.
            There is so much stuff being flung about in this movie, the fact that this bunch of folks are stupid enough to invite company over to see their newly kidnapped baby before they even think of a decent name or rid their house of bundt cake guzzling escapees… yet speak using words like “recognizance” and phrases like “ply her feminine wiles” is laughable- though not in the way intended.
            Of course, The Cohen Brothers went on to dissect the tangled mess that is “Raising Arizona” and grow films like “Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski”, and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” using the seeds of brilliance found therein, thus proving that although credulousness and inexperience may have initially deemed their work asinine, maturity and fortitude were able to play a hand in conceiving their latter works of proficiency.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You CAN See It Just Once... Because It Will Stay With You Forever

            What is the difference between song and speech? Both, when well done, can be eloquent, elegant, powerful, and beautiful. Both can implant an awareness of truth in the psyche of the listener. Both are expressions of humanity. The difference is that speech is an expression of the mind, while song is an expression of the heart. “Once” is a song manifested in film.
            The opening scene is of a scruffy, red-haired street musician (Glen Hansard) with a face not entirely unlike a basset hound’s, strumming a- for lack of a better word- threadbare guitar. In hot pursuit of an oddball who has just snatched his daily earnings, he hands his instrument to a passerby, imploring him to “hold this for a second”. The chase ends with the musician offering the stolen cash to the troubled thief who embraces him and asks how his mother is doing. The musician’s mother is dead. The movie is, of course, set in Ireland.
            We never learn the musician’s name. Nor do we learn the name of the young Czech mother (Marketa Irglova) whom he befriends. In fact, we know almost no more about either of them than they know about each other. They first meet abruptly in the streets of Dublin, but unlike most hopelessly romantic movies featuring European artistes, their love affair is not whirlwind, undying, or in any way steamy. “Once” is the story of two people who were right for each other in the right place, at the right time.
            We learn that the musician is/was in love with a woman whom he has long been parted from. We learn that the mother is nineteen and married to (though not in love with) a man back in the Czech Republic. But their personal lives are not important. What is important is music. The immediate, fleeting notes that are never heard the same way twice. The musicians who cannot say what they feel for each other, and who do not have to because their instruments say it all.
            They are an undeniably cute couple. We want them to be together and so do they, but we know in the backs of our minds that their relationship can’t last forever… and so do they. It’s not about physical love and it’s not about romance and it’s not about sacrificing everyday life to be with that special someone forever. Because at the end of the day, we aren’t living in movie land where our children and long lost spouses and financial worries and lonely parents all disappear when we find the person who we want to ride into the sunset with.
            “Once” is one of those movies that only requires one viewing to prove its point. Now can’t last forever. The present will always become the past. But, as the Irish are very proud to state, the past makes us who we are today. As we live in the present, we are creating our past and in doing so, crafting our future. It may not make much sense, but neither does love… or the Irish.   

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stage And Screen Week

For all you film aficionados out there looking to expand your horizons, I am going to switch into advertising mode in order to plug one of my very favorite places on earth.
Mineral Point, Wisconsin is one of those towns that you hear so much about, but never actually encounter. Where the townsfolk conglomerate every morning at a quaint breakfast joint where the boundaries of conversation never stop at the table edges. Where time seems to slow to make room for the hours spent napping on the front porch, as well as those wandering in and out of art galleries and prowling through the sky high shelves of books crammed within the brick walls of the library. This is a place where the arts are a lifestyle, not an ideal and nowhere does this manifest its self better than at Shakerag Alley.
Tucked away amongst Mineral Point's quintessential 19th century lead miners cottages is the grand old Stagecoach house guarding the magical realm (if you've ever been there, you'll understand why I feel compelled to use such hokey terminology) that is Shakerag Alley. Peeking out of gardens galore are multiple outbuildings that are home to every type of artistic/creative/literary... and even some technological... workshops that you can imagine. Which brings me to the point of this post.
This Summer, besides hosting a slew of workshops in the afore mentioned mediums, Shakerag Alley will be the home of Stage and Screen week- an entire week dedicated to classes on the various aspects of film making and the preforming arts. The cast of characters at the helm of this learning extravaganza includes award-winning writers, directors, actors, costume designers, and many, many more. In addition to teaching about the preforming arts, Shakerag Alley is also home to The Alley Stage, an outdoor theater that entertains townsfolk and tourists alike all summer long with the work of some of Mineral Point's most talented individuals. During Stage & Screen week, the Opera House, usually home to quirky indie films, will collaborate with The Alley in presenting award-winning playwright Bill Svanoe's play, "Persons of Interest". Students in certain classes will also take part in the production of the comedy.
So in a nutshell, when I heard about an event of this caliber taking place in the hub of Southern Wisconsin's rural arts culture, I found it all but impossible to not immediately share it with you. For someone, like me, whose idea of an exciting theatrical experience is whenever the local theater gets a movie that isn't made by Pixar, this is too thrilling for words.
So tell all your friends! Tell all your enemies! Tell total strangers! Come experience it yourself! I've always said, if you've never been to Mineral Point, you can't know the full potential of Midwestern small-town beauty, or the creativity of the people who live there.

Stage & Screen Week runs through July 30-August 5. For more information, click here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Get 'Em While They're... In Limbo Between Theaters And DVD

A while ago I watched a documentary on the dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet. I learned that, like film editors, a ballerina’s best work is that which appears to be effortless, flowing, flawless. The audience must never see past the impeccable exterior to the harsh, painful, mentally and physically exhausting work that goes into the art of an unadulterated expression of someone else’s vision.

However, the lifestyle of a ballerina, unlike that of a film editor, lends its self beautifully to psycho-sexual melodramas starring the likes of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

Nina (Portman) is a hard-working mommy’s-girl whose personality is reflected in the tight wad of a bun that clings to the back of her neck like a swollen tick. Her mental stability thrives on perfection… too bad she was never told that nobody is perfect. She is cast as the Swan Queen by the sleazy choreographer Thomas-with a silent “S”-Leroy (Vincent Cassel) whose buzzard-like nose indicates Portman isn’t the only one metamorphosing into the bird that most closely resembles their personality.

But what appears to be the role of a lifetime becomes a paranoid mental coup once the daringly sinful dancer Lilly (Mila Kunis) enters the scene. While Nina gracefully embraces the pretty and pure “white swan”, the Swan Queen’s darker personality, “the black swan” is right up Lilly’s alley. As only one woman must dance both parts, Thomas decides to give Nina a lesson on loosening up, and no, he doesn’t mean that in the traditional choreographic sense.

Nina is unable to acknowledge her repressed desires, fears, and passions and instead grips that which she can control so desperately that her fingers bleed- literally. Eventually, with the provocation of jealousy and a little help from Lilly, her inner darkness bubbles to the surface in the form of inky feathers that send her soaring into the piths of a mental meltdown. Being trapped behind her eyes, somewhere in the unhinged corners of her mind, we go right along for the ride.

Even for those of you who, like me, need a bit of brushing up on Russian ballets and their subplots, it is fairly obvious that Nina is the Swan Queen in much the same way that Meryl Streep is Virginia Woolf in “The Hours” or that Steve Carell is Noah in “Evan Almighty”. Ballet has that sensation to it that lends its self exceptionally well to third-degree melodrama. Slap on a thick layer of insanity, and you’ve got yourself one mean theatrical sandwich.

It is like Portman is a ballerina and we are in her head, looking helplessly out as she skillfully spins faster than lightening. The world seems hazy and dizzying but never does she falter or stumble. Effortlessly- or so she would have it seem- she (and the film editor too) dances with the audience until the world is so blurred, we no longer know what reality is. If Nina Sayers is the Swan Queen, Natalie Portman is no Nina Sayers.