Friday, October 31, 2014

The Horror! The Horror!

















At one point in my life, I thought that I hated horror movies, mainly because I don't like to get scared. Yet as I started looking back in the history of cinema, horror stands up better than most genres. I can't think of a single other sub-genre whose movies are so influential in pop cultures. There's the knife scene in "Psycho", the chest-burster in "Alien", the rotating head from "The Exorcist"...the list goes on and on. What makes these moments? It's because they're unique, identifiable, quotable, frightening, and new. With cheap sequel after cheap sequel hitting the theaters, it's a wonder that any horror movies managed to be exciting or frightening. Here, for your pleasure, I've compiled a list of the great horror movies as well as some notable exceptions with explanations for both. These are the musts, not just for horror, but for cinema.

Best Horror Movies (in no and yet some particular order):

Top Five:

The Blair Witch Project
This one tops my list as my favorite horror movie and yes, I already can hear the controversy. The film is poorly made; but that's its appeal. I think the distinguishing factor with "Blair Witch" is that the performances are so genuine that I understand why a generation was quasi-convinced that the film was real. It also was the first of its kind and a movie that proved that the unseen was far more scary than the visible.

The Exorcist
Perhaps the quintessential horror movie and certainly one of the most talked about of the decades after its release, "The Exorcist" is so much more than a jump-scare movie. It's a film about loss of belief, about doubt, about certainty, about sacrifice, about human demons, and about the devil himself, metaphorical and physical. Friedkin's movie is a symphony of terror and it plays out more like a ballet than an actual movie.

Jaws
The daddy of monster-movies, this one reintroduced the genre to new viewers. Working from a Peter Benchley book Spielberg's trials with Bruce the mechanical shark are legendary and made the film even better. Never losing its human element (as if Spielberg ever could) this movie stands as the director's least sentimental and possibly his most iconic. Plus, we all have the music to remember.

Psycho
This one holds a special place in my heart because I consider it to not only be a great horror movie, but one of the greatest movies ever made and Hitchcock's finest work. It's voyeuristic, it's twisted, it's sick, it's spooky, it features amazing performances, intrigue, guts, and the most infamous death scene in cinema history.

The Conjuring
Oh yes, how interesting to see this one here. "The Conjuring" was a blissful return to something operatically challenging and scary as hell. It's the kind of movie that gives you chills of fright and amazement. What "The Conjuring" did was create a renaissance in horror that finally strayed from gross-out horror movies and the prospects have looked up since then. I include it in the top five, because it's the best most recent horror movie out there.

Films No One Talks About:

Cat People
The slightly misogynistic film about Serbian women transforming into huge panthers and killing their sexual mates. Wow, no wonder people don't talk about it. The fact is that "Cat People" established some of the tropes that we see in modern horror movies. The unseen here is exemplified and it has a fitting and poetically disturbing ending. The souls of those evil are impossible to turn around.

Nosferatu
Okay, this one has just slipped pop culture's mind. Talk to any enthusiast and this movie is sure to come up. The first interpretation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" gives us a chilling and sometimes comically frightening vampire movie. It is a silent gem.

Antichrist
There is good reason that no one talks about this film, we'd all rather not have seen it. From the graphic nudity to the almost unbearable physical horror—being termed 'torture porn'—"Antichrist" is another film that only von Trier fans seem to adore. I must admit, it's ingenuitive and horribly terrifying. The most gasps will come from this movie.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Most of the truest horror gems that are undiscovered in modern day views are the oldies. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" was far beyond its time, stretching ideas of perception and the horrible idea that sanity should be questioned. It's stylistically one of the most recognizable films and also one of the most jarring.

The Wicker Man
Ah yes, the original with, not the Nic Cage "bees" one. The original film is a gloriously creepy fest of paganism and rituals. It sacrifices a happy ending in turn for the "one last scare". Beautifully shot and curiously sexual, fascinating on its own level, it's a truly "one-man-versus-an-island" situation.

Funny Games
This one almost made it into my top five because it's so freakin' good. The movie relies on the tropes discovered in the genre and plays off of them like no movie ever would before or after. It makes "Scream" look like "Finding Nemo".

Gross-Outs:

The Evil Dead
Sam Raimi's original is full of gross-out moments; and yet, it is so perfect. It's funny, it's manic, it's cliched, it has an infamous sex scene that involves a tree....there's a lot to love here. But what doesn't escape the movie is that it is also genuinely frightening and this is what lands it in the mentions here.

Antichrist
Yeah, this one belongs here too.

Audition
I'm a little split on this one because I didn't care for the movie that much; but boy, are you in for a surprise. "Audition" is one of the nastiest horror movies you can pick up.

Oldboy
Like the previous movie, "Oldboy" doesn't exactly belong here; but it is horrifying enough and gross enough to place itself on the list. We are talking about the original here, the squid-munching original.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Okay, horror at its most obvious. Horror that can just steal your breath away, a horry

Videodrome
If you ever thought that horror was just about ghosts and jump scares than David Cronenberg's "Videodrome" can teach you otherwise. It's a movie about transformation and some of the body horror and shock that Cronenberg is able to throw in there is enough to make anyone's skin crawl. Long live the new flesh!

The Fly
Another Cronenberg, another transformation. If you thought the process of turning from human into fly was fun, think again. We watch as Jeff Goldblum goes from suave and surprisingly muscular (considering he's a scientist) to a slimy and deteriorating mass of flesh.

Other Essentials:

Rosemary's Baby
Pregnancy seems like such an apt time for a horror movie to occur and Roman Polanski's movie is just about that. It's not terribly frightening and yet it belongs on every essential list of horror movies.

Ringu
The original version of what American audiences would be introduced to as "The Ring", "Ringu" is beyond what any other film makers were creating at the time. It's terrifying and beautiful and complex.

Wait Until Dark
More thriller than actual horror, "Wait Until Dark" makes you think it's just going to be another cheesy Audrey Hepburn movie...but not so. Alan Arkin comes in as the bad guy and the torments start to begin as a blind girl is caged in her house.

Alien
"In space no one can hear you scream." If this was meant to be anything else than horror, they would have had a different tag-line. "Alien" also managed to solve the problem of the haunted house...you can't leave because there is nowhere to go.

The Haunting
Perhaps not as good as everyone seems to think, "The Haunting" can play out like a "bitches be crazy" movie; yet it can also be seen as a shift in the horror genre towards the modern day jump scare.

The Silence of the Lambs
More thriller like "Wait Until Dark", "The Silence of the Lambs" intimidated the Academy Awards and has been one of the most indisputable kings of horror ever since its release.

Scream
I've made no secret my distaste for Wes Craven but "Scream" is a movie that was so right for its time. It mocked the horror genre and also made us realize that these cliches could still be frightening. It's rare to find a film so self-aware of itself.

Vampyr
One of the first horror movies ever made, "Vampyr" can not be questioned as a beautiful work. It's terror is questionable; but the bizarre shots and wonderfully macabre themes make it unforgettable.

Let the Right One In
More vampires, more children, more surprisingly dull moments. "Let the Right One In" has no jump scare moments; but it does pull you into its world and it doesn't shy aware from violence and in the same breath it does not have to have graphic violence on screen. It's a very muted and curiously savage movie.

The Devil's Backbone
Guillermo del Toro's best movie and the most easily accessible horror movie. This is a great place to begin if you're working you way up to scarier movies.

Changeling
What is most curious about "Changeling" is that it manages to make the inanimate scary. Wheelchairs and bouncy balls, yep, those are scary.

The Night of the Hunter
Love and hate...enough said.

Controversies of Note (movies I didn't like):

The Shining
If you talk to anyone about horror they will always pull Stanley Kubrick's movie out and wave it in front of you like you have to conquer it before you will be able to accurately define the horror genre. "The Shining" is a snooze-fest and it's never scary; but be prepared for people to cite its "atmospheric terror" as the reason it is successful. "The Shining" is a dull boy indeed.

Carrie
I don't understand why people think this movie is frightening. It is uncomfortable, pervy, and it rips off "Psycho".

Halloween
Should have been titled "bad guys who can't die standing at the end of hallways".

Nightmare on Elm Street
This movie can be original and Wes Craven tries his best; but the fact is that it's almost laughable at times. It says more that people know the movie because Johnny Depp is in it rather than why it is horror.

The Hills Have Eyes
Another Wes Craven, another ruined idea. "The Hills Have Eyes" is just plain goofy and it never feels real enough to be scary. Don't go "atmospheric" in defense, because no one's buying that.

Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night
Not to be confused with the original silent horror movie, this Werner Herzog remake is all about the humanity and the horror of being a vampire...and it's boring.

An American Werewolf in London
The transformation scene is best known...the fluffy dog biting cars at the end and the weird human/wolf love is forgotten.

Cabin in the Woods
I'm sorry. Whatever. Joss Whedon and horror shouldn't mix and while it tries to mock the horror genre it tries to hard to be original at the same time, making it fall flat on its face at times. It is good; but it could have been so much better.

Don't Look Now
For sure one of the biggest head-scratchers in horror, "Don't Look Now" is positively infuriating. I don't care how long it takes one person to deal with grief, the ending is so random. It's a critic's darling because it is Nicolas Roeg; but that doesn't make it even close to good.

Repulsion
Roman Polanski can make good horror, it's just not seen best here.


And there you have it. Entirely filled with my opinion.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Sins of "Braveheart" and the Academy ....that's so gay













Mel Gibson is a talented man, a bigot perhaps, but a very talented man. I think the best evidence to support this is his performance in "The Beaver" which, like it or not, any lesser actor would have fumbled.

I had such a problem with the way "The Celluloid Closet" ended, with the thought that the portrayal of gays will only get better and a representation of them is key...not so I say.

So here I've compiled not the list of the historical sins of "Braveheart" though that could go on for ages; but instead a brief examination of Edward II and then a checklist for all the other Academy Award winners in the last two decades.

Edward II is queer, he's a poof, a fairy. Any insulting phrase you want to hurl at him, go right ahead and do so because this representation of gays in cinema is precisely the stereotype that so many are trying to work against. Edward II is so repulsed by Isabella (simply because she's a woman) that he has a hard time kissing her on the cheek, so it's not surprising when the film states that no children will come from their union. While the real Edward II's sexual orientation is up for debate, this much is known, he did father many children from many wives.

Then there's the actual gay portrayal. Instead of being a gay character, the prince is a weak gay character...the only "weak" character in the movie, for everyone else is either self-assured, masculine, or a woman, still stronger than the prince. The other gay character in the movie, the prince's lover, gets thrown out of a window and killed, leaving his would-be long-time lover not that grief stricken. True, the prince does try to kill his father right afterwards; but the next scene we see him in, he's completely docile and over the death. There is no mourning, there is no real emotion, all there is is a large amount of baloney. Let's line up the stereotypes:
the prince loves clothes more than ruling? check
the prince is a complete idiot? check
the prince has no concept of anything kingly? check
the prince is a spineless coward who's too stupid to realize that he is being used? check
the prince is greedy and power-hungry? check

You would think that this list leads up to think that maybe, just maybe, like "Gladiator" did, we would have a son usurping his father; but no, Ed Jr. is too cowardly for that too. There is nothing redeemable about this character, so vile and detestable a cliche as to make us all vomit. You can have a gay person be the bad guy, that's allowed and in fact a more historical version might have been more enjoyable. But Ed Jr. is neither good nor bad nor anything, he's too much of a kiss-ass and a spineless worm to make up his own mind, in this regard he, not Edward Sr., is the opposite of William Wallace, a masculine, straight, self-knowing warrior.

But "Braveheart" isn't the only movie that would have cliches about gays in it, and certainly not the only one recognized by the Academy Awards, so let's take a look at the history from the 90s.

1992 brought us the first year in the 90s that something truly and substantially 'gay' was honored—"The Crying Game". A mystery and a thriller turns into something that blurs the lines of sexuality and we get the first real inkling that the gay life might not be just a stereotype. Naturally the film lost to Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven"; but don't blame the Academy because Eastwood's film is pretty universally loved.

It's not until 1994 when we see it again and this time, it ain't pretty. "Pulp Fiction" and "The Shawshank Redemption" both accuse homosexuals of being rapists. You can argue for both movies saying its more about the individual than the community. True, but the individuals reflect the community and both of these movie portray homosexuals as social vagrants and perverts. That's not very nice...then there's "Braveheart" a year later.

The next year slightly repairs some of the damage with "The English Patient" in which a gay character is accepted fully; but is responsible for an enormous error in judgement and almost kills everyone...so we're getting towards acceptance but not quite there yet.

Ah, 1997, here's where we see the tides turn. "As Good As It Gets" has a gay couple, and Greg Kinnear's performance is so wonderful that it's hard not to fall in love with the movie. Yet, he's a supporting role, someone that we don't get to see a whole lot of, but an honest and complete homosexual character, not bound by a stereotype.

Then in 1999 we get "American Beauty" and the gays have it in the bag. The first win that truly addressed the issue of homosexuality. Naturally, if you look into the story, it's about how being in the closet will literally drive you insane; but it was the first of its kind and the movie itself is pretty flawless. America now sees that the fractured mess of people that are all imperfect are all beautiful, gays included.

From then on, it's silent. We get a few 'gay' seeming movies like "Moulin Rouge!" or "Chicago"; but none of them want to address the still taboo subject...none of them until Ang Lee.

"Brokeback Mountain" is revolutionary, but still makes being gay look pretty terrible. Nonetheless, love is pretty and we now have some realism heaped on. Love is a nasty plate of messy relationships...but it's still love.

Steve Carell's character in "Little Miss Sunshine" is gay...and suicidal. When are we going to get something that's not untruthful or manically depressive?

Finally in 2008 there was "Milk" which was a ballsy movie, one that Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black took a lot of risks in making. It shows gays as human, even amidst the limp-wrist waving and excited drag queens...they are still human underneath and I don't think any other director could have managed to make it feel genuine.

In 2010 we got "The Kid's Are Alright" and "Black Swan". One presents lesbians as a family unit, imperfections and all, and one portrays lesbianism as something of hallucinogenic nightmares. We're still not quite there yet.

Then we get nothing until "Dallas Buyers Club" which kind of over-sympathized with the gay community. The films that the LGBT community needs highlighted in the Academy Awards are the films that the indie directors are making: Xavier Dolan, Gus Van Sant, and sometimes James Franco.

Who knows? Maybe this year, we'll see "Love is Strange" take the top honors; but I doubt it. The point is that with all the representation of gays in film, TV actually seems to have it down better. "Modern Family" is a prime example of this. They escape some stereotypes, acknowledge others, and gently prod the viewers toward the right conclusions, that gays are humans too...and that's remarkable...and that's also something that "Braveheart" fails to do.





Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"The Tree of Life" Revisited















Although there are many movies that I argue with about people, there is always that ability to convey my point of why or why not I liked a certain movie. Kubrick is the father to most of my love/hate relationships with film, so I often talk about his flicks...but I always can back myself up and most of the time I can always allow the person I'm arguing with to see my point of view. This is not so for almost any of Terrence Malick films because of how unapproachable the director is. Even harder is it to convince someone to like "The Tree of Life" or show them why you liked it.

Malick is hard to watch because he's a poet and everything he does is emotional. This means that if he thinks his film would operate better without a narrative, then we get no narrative and this is just the case with "The Tree of Life". The film tries to encompass all of time, while still being true to a certain family, that at the beginning of the movie have their lives ripped apart by the death of their son. Malick is never quite obvious enough to tell us all of the circumstances, but there are some heavy metaphors that pop up all throughout the movie.

Yet without a narrative, where does that leave us? For most viewers, it leaves them in the cold, frustrated, and somewhat angry with wasting that large amount of time on a movie that just exists for the sake of existing. But I challenge you to not get bored with "The Tree of Life", to let yourself feel as Malick feels and to watch it with eager anticipation of what will happen next. You may notice some things that I think contribute to making the movie great.

GOD
Certainly, this is the biggest one that pops up. The movie starts with a quote from the Bible, from the book of Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth...When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Barreling right into the grief section of the movie (for the movie is told with chapter-like sections, never brash enough to finalize one before starting the other) we are introduced once again to one of Malick's favorite techniques: the voice over. When these characters talk, they are almost always praying, asking God why. Why did it have to be their son? Why? It makes perfect sense because the wrestlings with God about why bad things happen to good people is one of the biggest struggles in the Christian faith. The philosophies all line up: everything happens for a reason, it's part of a bigger plan, God is in control, etc. etc. But when it's your son or your daughter, that's a new story. Malick is not blind to all these complexities and quickly showcases each and every one of them in their own way. Ultimately, though God is an unseen force of the movie, perhaps the biggest one, faith is one of the greatest senses of comfort one can have.

METAPHOR AND THE DAZZLING VISUAL
Obviously the visuals of the film are what draws people in. The affinity that Malick has for the natural world is very clear here, though he doesn't always give nature its fullest due as he does in "The Thin Red Line". The metaphors that pop up here range from death to birth. The most incredible of these sections are the aging of the children from infants to young adults, the father's obsessiveness, and the birth of the first child.

NATURE VERSUS GRACE
Another huge part of the movie is the idea of nature versus grace. Grace is the mother character, the one who always does something for others, the one who is lovely, the one all the sons want to be like. Nature only wants to please itself and can be seen symbolized by the father. These two raging forces are in constant opposition. Yet, they couldn't exist without the other one and they raise children without falling apart. Perhaps Malick is saying that man has a duality (something that he hasn't been shy from stating in film before) and that we are always raging war against the two conflicting sides of our mind.

CHILDHOOD
The movie plays out as a series of moments. As a quick blink into the past. We see ourselves in the three boys. We remember the simple things, the unexplained, and the little snippets of life that we don't know why they stick into our minds. They can be as simple as a curtain blowing in the wind or a shameful memory that plays all the way out. "The Tree of Life" does this better than any movie. We remember, the movie lets us do that.

TIME
Because it is so grandiose and perhaps even pretentious by nature (see what I did there?), "The Tree of Life's" time frame is hard to understand. We see characters disappear, we heard the voices pray, we understand the emotion; but we don't always understand where or when. This is completely purposeful, since Malick always has a hand in the editing process. The time of "The Tree of Life" isn't actually what's important. It's the characters and the emotion.

LIFE
The biggest one, the most intimate one. "The Tree of Life" stretches for the space of all humanity and somehow makes it work. It goes beyond itself to try to show us creation and then the afterlife. What good does this do? Perhaps none, but the movie's evocative tone surely moves me every time I see it. From the beginning of time to the end, "The Tree of Life" simply sings.

I have seen Malick's film probably five or six times now and each time it has had a profound impact on me that I can't explain. It is an emotion, a color, and a glorious, wonderful film. I may not be able to argue and convince someone to like it; but I like it, and that's good enough for me.





Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why I'm Going to See "50 Shades of Grey"





















This post contains graphic descriptions.

Okay, this is the one that's going to get me in trouble; but frankly, I have come to the point where I don't care. A little over a week ago, the first trailer for the movie based on the best selling fiction book of all time debuted and the internet exploded. For those wanting clarification: this blog post is directed at those who are condemning the movie already (even though they haven't seen it) because they think the book is trashy (though they haven't read it). To all you haters: please, shut your cyber faces.

Let me please clarify my point: film has always pushed the boundary between pornography and "art". If you have any doubt about this, just look around you. In the last year alone, "Blue is the Warmest Color" won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival (one of the highest honors you can receive in film). This movie, more so than even "50 Shades", was controversial from its genesis. Then take a look at this year's "NYMPH( )MANIAC" by Lars von Trier, which tried its very, very best to be so outrageously controversial and unfortunately (or fortunately) failed so hard. I think the best film that toed the line between smut and art is "In the Realm of the Senses" which is still banned in its home country of Japan. The film is shocking with what it shows, including food inserted into human crevices and then eaten and menstrual blood being swallowed. Yes, we see all that; and you people are complaining about this movie? "In the Realm of the Senses" is still considered a "great" movie and lands a place in The Criterion Collection...this movie is considered to be great art by almost every credible critic and gets its own place in 1001 Movies to See Before You Die.

So "50 Shades of Grey" is not going to show us anything we haven't seen before. What about "A Clockwork Orange" in which we see a girl gang raped and another woman bludgeoned to death with a phallic statue? In perspective, "50 Shades of Grey" is going to be a kid's movie. Obviously, I exaggerate, but my point remains the same.

What people are actually choking on (pun intended) is the S&M. Because of the risky, or risque, nature of the sex that people will be having during the movie, it must be a sin, right? For those Christian readers who think that sex should not be portrayed on film, just read Song of Solomon (I must pause here and state before you burn me at the stake—I am purposefully not addressing the religious problems of the movie, i.e. the couple isn't married, it could be derogatory to women, the view on sex altogether etc. etc.). Anyways, it's because the book was so candid about sex that the average viewer might blush at the prospect of watching the words come to life.

But the book was so poorly written! Really, that's the argument you're going with? If the book was so badly written then it shouldn't have connected with so many people. The same logic goes for Twilight. But what if all of humanity is stupid and can't tell when good literature is good? Okay, fine, welcome to the world of the snob...enjoy the hate mail. Consider the success of the trash film "Avatar". People hate it because it's popular, but it's the biggest movie of all time. People hate "50 Shades of Grey" because they feel it compromises some social rigor; yet, you can't argue with success. I say again: you can't argue with success. What constitutes if a movie is good or bad? Surely, it's popular reception should be part of that (if not all of it) and if that's the case, the fans are already speaking in advance. The movie is good. Haters gonna hate.

Books and movies of questionable aesthetic value have been huge commercial hits. Does that make them horrible too? Not in my mind.


If you have a problem with this, don't watch the movie. If it makes you cross a line within yourself that you're not comfortable with, don't do it...wow, that was easy! Instead of complaining about the movie being made, why don't you just skip the theater that day? There will be no kids watching this movie (at least, that's not the target audience) so make up your own mind.


As for me, these are the reasons that I'm going to watch the movie:

1. Have you seen the trailer?
A pumped up, R&B/pop remake of "Crazy in Love" and the unveiling of Christian Grey? A moody run in the rain and a trip in an airplane? Yes please, I will be watching this. Not only is the trailer sexy, steamy, and as chill-inducing as the trailer for "Gone Girl"; but the film also looks sleekly manufactured and blissfully constructed.

2. The romance and danger to the impressionable minds.
Certainly, "50 Shades of Grey" doesn't hold within it the most conventional romance; yet neither does Jane Eyre. Obviously Rochester never strapped Jane down to the bed and whipped her; but if the romance is the problem you have with it—if you limit yourself to emotionally realistic romances, you'll never be able to watch a chick-flic again. But I repeat again, make up your own minds, don't tell me why I can't watch the movie, or why that makes me evil.

3. It won't be NC-17
Do you really think that a movie that will be this big is going to push the ratings system? NO! Of course not! Why on earth would you think that? Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with movies pushing the boundaries...but really? Really? This movie is going to be R and if I'm wrong, I'll freely admit it here; but I doubt it. Place your bets now.

4. The inner-workings of the film.
This is the biggest reason I'm interested here. Instead of pulling in huge names (Emma Watson publicly called the book "trash") the movie hired two relatively unknown actors. Dakota Johnson has had supporting roles but never anything like this and Jamie Dornan is even less well-known than her. What a ballsy and totally awesome move! Even better is to hand the movie to an indie director, Sam Taylor-Johnson. She has no credible mainstream hits to her name, but her critical acclaim is high, though she only has one feature film to her resume. Handing such a huge movie to such small figures is so amazing! Well done to all the producers...well done.

5. The anti-feminism feminism.
To those who say that the book and movie brings women backward: the book, screenplay, and direction of the movie are all done by women...which is an anomaly in the film industry, even in today's world. Do I think the book is flattering to all people? No, but it never claimed to be an equal rights book. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is a much more offensive work with its horrid profanity and frankly shocking objectification...that was a smut film, I'm not so sure about this. To put this in perspective, Paola Sorrentino (Oscar winner for "The Great Beauty") called the movie "a masterpiece" and the best film of 2013; and it raked in an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and four other statues. It currently holds a 8.3 rating on imdb.com and has #119 on the top 250 films ever made...this is at the time of me writing this. I really think that "50 Shades" won't be setting any sex or profanity records.

So all-in-all, it comes down to you. If you don't want to watch the movie, don't; but please hold your judgement on those who do want to see it simply because you don't like the story it tells.




Friday, July 25, 2014

Book versus Movie: Naked Lunch
















This may contain graphic descriptions.

I don't think anyone truly realizes the work that I put into watching movies. Now, this could seem as a fish for a compliment—let's face it, it probably is—or some self-aggrandizing propaganda; but I would also like to say that I really enjoy all the work...it makes me feel smarter. Whether or not that's the case, is another entry altogether.

When it came to "Naked Lunch", the David Cronenberg film, I was wary of it. I had seen "Videodrome" which I have a love/hate relationship with and can't seem to get out of my head. I'd heard the stories of the movie; but I refused to watch it until I had read the book...because that's just what I do.

With this particular case, the inspiration for "Naked Lunch" had come from four books by William S. Burroughs: Junky, Queer, Naked Lunch, and Exterminator. Naturally, I had to read all of them before I could watch the movie.

My own personal favorite of them all—Junky—was the least utilized in the film, a sore disappointment to me. Queer also was hardly touched. Naked Lunch  and Exterminator are really the two that should be read before watching the movie, though that may be a task that you find impassable.

Burroughs wrote with disturbing precision and frustrating vagueness. Everything was obviously intentional; but the scenes are so incoherent it feels like you're viewing a mosaic rather than reading a book. With Naked Lunch more so, because it has no cohesive narrative and by all accounts is the more disturbing of the books. Exterminator is an experiment if nothing else. Each chapter reveals a new set of circumstances and the book could be seen as a collection of short stories.

Still, since the movie is called "Naked Lunch", I will be comparing it to the book of the same name more than anything else.

Naked Lunch isn't a pleasant read, but it is an addictive one. Burroughs makes no qualms about depicting homosexual behavior, rape, orgasming, and death. The word "ejaculation" is used almost uncountable times as are scenes describing anal sex. It's a work in the human body; yet not in a pleasant way. Because he had written Junky before, I see Naked Lunch as a book warning against drugs—if you want to be so crass as to label the work. Well, not really warning against as showing you what happens when...

The junk user has no sex drive, something that Cronenberg was keen to put into the movie. There are no intimate moments in Naked Lunch, well, really in any of Burroughs' works. The only scene of the four aforementioned novels that has any resemblance to a normal romantic scene is in Junky and even that is a little odd, destroying any notion of intimacy. Burroughs uses his own sexuality to break the scene into an emotional travesty.

For instance, in "Naked Lunch", one scene shows two lovers—both men, as should be expected from the movie—in the bedroom. But instead of being intimate and sexy, the scene turns into something horrific as Cronenberg carelessly dispatches one of the men in a grotesque manner.

Decapitations, rape, and orgasms...Burroughs' book is a never ending sweep of madness.

But that's what I appreciated about it. It's obvious for his writing that Burroughs' time as a drug addict scarred him and deeply influenced his work. I see Naked Lunch, which the author tells all is a collection of his ramblings from when he was on junk, as a a ravenous exploration of the body. It's transformative and keenly evil towards the human body—that is what gives it its power. Incoherent hardly does it justice.

So when translating it to the film form, Cronenberg obviously took some liberties in creating a narrative. Instead of being a movie about how junk affects the body (or even the insect-like explosive nastiness of the book, directed towards the human form) the films gets inside the head of Bill Lee and it becomes more about the strenuous process of writing Naked Lunch.

The movie is about the book and the book is about the body.

That's the problem with the movie—it doesn't contain the sexual savagery in the film, which is fine because how could it? Burroughs himself made the comment that the movie is its own work, barely based on the book. They shouldn't be viewed as one preceding the other, the only similarity between the two is Bill Lee as William Burroughs.

For how different it is from the novel, Burroughs himself was a fan of the movie and liked how Cronenberg made it his own.

For me, the movie is a great accomplishment...then again, so is the book.





If you had to pick: Book.

Monday, May 12, 2014

"The Social Network" Revisited
















"You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole."

"The Social Network" was one of my first reviews, my tenth if we're going to be picky. As such, it's a horrible mess of a review and I've included the link here (The Social Network) for curious minds. I've seen the film quite a few times and remain a huge fan; but the latest time I was watching it, I was surprised by how much there is going on in the picture.

THE FAME:
From moment one, it's clear that Mark Zuckerberg is motivated by something, yet we are never sure what it is. In the infamous first scene when he's talking to his soon to be ex-girlfriend, he mentions final clubs and how great they are because they are "exclusive, and fun, and they lead to a better life." He wants to do something that will capture the attention of the final clubs, something truly noteworthy. His first attempt at this embodies itself in a drunken blogging rage against his now ex-girlfriend as a site that rates girls on their hotness level. After crashing Harvard's system because of overuse, Zuckerberg is placed on the top of a self-made pedestal before being approached by the Winklevoss twins. Now he sees his first glimpses of the life he wanted, and it doesn't interest him so much. He now thinks of himself as superior.


THE EGO:
Aaron Sorkin certainly didn't hold back from being as scathing as possible towards Mark Zuckerberg, though while there's so much to hate about him, you find yourself thinking that he probably couldn't have helped himself. He seems so plugged in to his own world that he is immune to other people's feelings. The film is so overt with this thinking and Jesse Eisenberg plays the billionaire with such naivety that we begin to wonder if he doesn't have some anti-social disability. Whatever the reason, Mark's ego grows into a beast and under the pampering influence of Napster founder, Sean Parker (played with paranoia by Justin Timberlake) and he starts to take every piece of advice, including making himself a card that reads: I'm CEO, bitch!


THE IMAGINARY STRUGGLE:
Mark is prepared to fight for Facebook, but no one tries to take it from him. He tries to vault over obstacle after obstacle, but none come his way. The process of turning the network site into a full-fledged mega-structure seems fairly seamless...as far as programming is concerned. The movie never talks about the technical side, more than is necessary, and focuses more on Mark and his best friend's relationship. Eduardo Saverin (brilliantly played by Andrew Garfield) was the finance side of Facebook's genesis. He thinks that they have to start monetizing the site sometime; but Mark disagrees because that isn't cool. The true struggle of the film is between Saverin and Zuckerberg—friendship versus ego.


THE WOMEN:
For being such a small role in the movie, and receiving low billing for the film, the most pivotal moments of the movie come from Rooney Mara as Mark's ex-girlfriend and Rashida Jones as Marilyn Delpy. These two have the bookends of the movie, and each one says something quite poignant that makes us realize that Mark hasn't changed from the first scene to the last, he's still trying for something to be famous, to gain attention and we don't get to know why. Mark is a chauvinist, according to the film, so what better way than to get to hear the best advice from women?


THE BETRAYAL:
This is why I love the movie. There is so much good drama here that creeps up on you and attacks you unexpectedly. We see Mark's descent into blind submission and egotism, but we don't expect that betrayal will result from this. After all, Eduardo was Mark's only true friend. He sees their business venture as a furthering of their relationship. They did everything together and Eduardo was the only one who could really understand Mark's peculiar antics. It makes it all the more cruel when Mark rips the rug out from under Eduardo and this results in many court cases.


THE FATHERS:
This is the biggest aspect of the movie that I hadn't noticed before. Eduardo is constantly mentioning his father. He longs for approval; but his dad is a non-present figure of the movie. The Winklevoss brothers also have dealings with their father; but Mark doesn't. In fact, we don't hear mention or see his parents at all. While Eduardo struggles—at one point in the hearings, saying "My father won't even talk to me", it's a small line, but crucial—Mark tries to soar on his own.


THE SCRIPT:
Sorkin has almost outdone himself with this screenplay. It's his most insightful and his most perceptive work. Even if you take the movie as a fiction movie, there is so many dynamics to it, that it's almost impossible to absorb it all. One of my favorite moments, is near the end when Marilyn is talking to Mark about why he should settle. She mentions that they have the original comments that Mark made about his ex. Mark tries to justify himself:
Mark: I was drunk, and angry, and stupid...
Marilyn:...and blogging.
Mark: And blogging.
Teeming with references and loaded with quick lines, the script is in a class of its own.


THE JUSTICE:
This is the most frustrating part of the film. We want Mark to suffer because he has screwed over people that shouldn't have been screwed over; yet when he settles out of court, does that really satisfy us. No. There is justice, but is there enough? Perhaps not, but that makes the film true.


THE SOCIAL NETWORK:
By the ending of the movie, as Mark has climbed to mega-stardom, he is left in a room alone trying to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend. Why? I think that all Mark wanted was friends, but cyber friends are not the same as real people. For being such an intensely intelligent person, Mark doesn't fit in well. his quest for more friends causes him to lose the only one he's had.

It's all summed up at the very end, by Marilyn:

"You're not an asshole, Mark. You're just trying so hard to be."

As the music is cued and the credits roll, we are left to our own thoughts.
"The Social Network" remains one of the most interesting and diabolically clever movies of recent years.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book versus Movie: 12 Years a Slave















2013 wasn't a great year for historical accuracy...and by this, of course, I'm referring to "Lee Daniels' The Butler". I went on a not-so-famous diatribe about how horribly manipulative, condescending, and grotesquely fair-tale-esque all the lies in the movie where. From the name of the man to how many sons he to to the fate of the sons—it was a terrible offender.

The other movie that could have felt this way was "12 Years a Slave" which told the "true story" of Solomon Northup.

Steve McQueen is a fantastic director so he knows how to make a movie. The film didn't have the phony feeling that Daniels' movie did...whether it was true or not is another saga. The two movies are very similar. They both deal with racial issues—albeit in drastically different ways—and both are about injustice. Naturally, one has much more suffering in it than the other...that much is expected.

So that's why I haven't picked up the book 12 Years a Slave because I was fearing the worst. Last time I had researched a movie, it turned out to be a complete lie and I liked the film too much to do that. But, I have decided that the film is great even if it is a lie...and I started to read the book anyways.

Not truly existing in its original form, edited, and editorialized, 12 Years a Slave has been preserved as best as it can, even with all the 'inaccuracies" within it. The edition I can across (by Sue Eakin) has about a hundred pages of notes in the back, explaining who is who and where the book takes place, things of this nature. Any time there was research that could be done, these people did it. As such, it feels like an exhaustive work and can be quite tiresome to read.

Bu still, you have to admire the dedication that this group of people had towards making a fully comprehensive edition of Solomon Northup's life and I'm glad that I'm reading this book and not just the diary itself, because it illuminates several facts about the book and, to an extent, the movie that wouldn't have been seen otherwise.

With the book, Solomon—using a ghost writer named David Wilson—paints himself as a man above reproach. He suffers and is put through horrible circumstances; but is intellectually, spiritually, and morally superior to all his captors and owners. He is portrayed as an almost angelic creature, a virginal type person who is tainted with Slavery—referred to as an entity in the book and not just an act.
But Solomon was not a perfect man and the notes take time to point out that he had been arrested several times for assault. He was a drunkard and he often disappeared and reappeared going to places unknown so his absence from his home was not uncommon and that's why people didn't immediately start looking for him.

Yet he was treated brutally, and that much is shown clearly in the movie which takes the book very, very literally; and I find myself having even more respect for John Ridley and Steve McQueen for the movie. When you translate a novel to film, you have edit a lot out...there's just no way to make a comprehensive film that can do a three hundred page novel justice. The same is true for "12 Years a Slave". There are moments that are taken out, like Solomon getting sick and going blind right before he is sold to William Ford. There is also embellishment, namely the amount of grief that Eliza shows when she is separated from her children. The book somewhat glosses over the fact, not taking too much time to spend on Eliza and focusing more on Solomon. But the movie expounds on what the book implies—there is heavy sorrow here.

Still, the shocking thing is how the book lines up almost exactly to the movie, it's a brilliant interpretation of the diary.

But why didn't the movie portray Solomon as the man he actually was—rough around the edges?
Though it could have been much more realistic with Solomon, the movie is based on the diary and not the life of the man. It pays homage to the writing itself. Solomon isn't perfect in the film, but he's as close as any protagonist we've seen in a long time. Just seeing an actor embody the graceful being as seen in the book is enough to humanize him.

Christy Lemire, on a YouTube show called "What the Flick?!" said that she though the film was too gratuitous with its violence. She mentioned a scene in which Solomon hangs from a tree by his neck as punishment for attacked one of his masters. This much is in the book as well, the scene in question has Solomon losing himself to his anger—Slavery has turned him into a resentful person, though this is really the only time we see him lose his temper—and we can all cheer for him because of his attack.
Anyways, the guy come back and seizes Solomon, hoisting him up on a tree before being ordered to stop. He runs off and Solomon is left hanging by his neck, the tips of his toes barely touching the ground. It's a long, static shot and I would say it's the one moment in the movie where McQueen is at his most consistent.

Lemire criticized this moments, but it was in the book! What were they supposed to do? There's a little leeway here, but it's taken from the written word almost verbatim.

The movie has its critics because they all think it too excessive; but I look at the film as a powerful representation of a historical occurrence. Solomon Northup is given his dues...the movie is sensational; but more than that, I consider it to be one of the best examples of a book being made into a book. John Ridley is a master.

I think both the book and the movie are best summed up by part of the final paragraph in Solomon Northup's diary:

"This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture. I doubt not hundreds have been as unfortunate as myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and are at this moment wearing out their lives on plantations in Texas and Louisiana. But I forbear....I hope henceforward to lead an upright and though lowly life, and rest at last in the church yard where my father sleeps."



If you had to pick one: Movie

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Just say "Noah"

Looking back at my review, I am reminded of how mean I can be sometimes...why the half star rating? Well, it's quite simple: Aronofsky is a visionary director who's capable of a lot, anything less seems stupid and "Noah" has a lot of stupidity going on.

For those of you who haven't seen the film yes, this is a SPOILER laden warning. Here are just some of the "highlights" from the movie...read on at your own digression.

1. The content
This one is mainly for the Christians who assumed that "Noah" was going to stick to the Bible. This group, whether good or bad, rarely ventures into the theater—only when the film has been blessed by such sites as kidsinmind or pluggedinonline.
So let me say here: just stay home. Disregarding the fact that Aronofsky treats the story of "Noah" as something almost out of Greek myth, there is a lot of...um...uncomfortableness to the picture.
The incest is one thing. Technically the only girl in the movie isn't Noah's daughter, but she's raised by him and, of course, ends up falling in love with her adoptive brother, Shem. When the movie jumps in time—so when can see them all grown up—the first scene has them tonguing in the woods while Ham watches.
Lovely.
Although it is never formally addressed, sexuality is a huge part of the movie. Ila, the girl, and Shem can't have babies because she is barren; but that doesn't stop Shem from pulling her shirt up and licking the scar that made her barren...not only does this seem anti-erotic but it is also quite insensitive. Later in the movie, as humanity is about to be wiped out by the flood, Shem goes and looks for Ila who in turn has gone after Ham. Ila meets Methuselah in the woods who magically heals her womb with InstaHorny. She hears Shem calling for her and jumps him...
That's probably as graphic as the sex gets...which isn't that bad. I had previously mentioned the scene in which Noah gets drunk and strips naked...yes, that's in the Bible...it's also in the movie.
But the sex isn't the real thing that makes the content so indigestible...it's the turn from fantasy to sheer psycho-horror. Noah turns into a lunatic, a genuinely frightening creation who's hell-bent on wiping out mankind...naturally.

2. The goofiness and the severity (staring Charlton Heston)
I would have been fine with a lot of the more cutesy moments of the film—including, when asked to look after a family, one of the rock monsters/fallen angels lifting up his three or four arms and saying "they're in good hands". badump pstch—if had had been consistent. the cutesy moments are juxtaposed next to the gritty, gore shots.
The arrival of the snakes has Noahs' wife getting a little squeamish...Noah reminds her that all the Creator's creation must come on the boat, even the creepies and the crawlies....aw. So those are cute scenes, right?
The movie takes Methuselah and makes him the Yoda-like comic relief, always craving berries. Methuselah will bumble around, randomly showing up while Noah goes down to look upon "the Men". What he sees is disturbing. The men have slaughtered a whole lot of animals and are trading women for meat...flesh for flesh. It's sex trafficking for the carnivore...no wonder Noah is a vegetarian.
This scene is actually quite horrifying, with animals being pulled apart and devoured while still alive...

3. The preaching
...which brings us to another point: the message. The point of "Noah", after all of the crazy stuff goes down is simple: be nice and don't eat meat. In the prologue, it's stated that man was to take care of the earth. Well, man started exploiting the natural resources (namely, the glowing heaven-rocks—named Zahon? or something like that—that are never explained and seem to have been left over when the angels fell to Earth...heaven explosives) and now the planet is falling apart. The Men have hunted the animals and Noah hunts the Men. It's so overtly eco-oriented that Russell Crowe looks like the Green Lantern.
The sheer fact that the descendants of Cain are referred to as "the Men" is another topic altogether...alas, I'm feeling lazy.

4. The Savior complex/psycho man
Noah is Jesus...kind of. The savior mentality that Aronofsky tries to infuse into the movie turns into a hot mess. Noah is the savior of beast-kind, but he must help annihilate all of humanity. When Ila and Shem tell him that they are expecting a child, he vows that if their baby will be a girl, he will kill her so that man will be eradicated. This is where "Noah" starts to become a caged thriller. The family is stuck inside the ark with a madman...a savior. Aronofsky purposely blurs the lines between "good men" and "bad men", somehow hoping that we won't be apathetic towards Noah...it doesn't work. Noah is often seen making the crucifix with his body, arms outstretched to the heavens. He acts on faith alone and Methuselah tells the audience that it will always fall to Noah to determine the outcome of humanity...clumsy foreshadowing.

5. The Bible
Ooh, this is the one that really sticks out like a sore InstaSleep thumb. Let's view this part as a report card for how "Noah" did. To do this, let's go ahead and not talk about the rock monsters...because, let's just not. The birthright that Noah has been passed down is a magical snake skin that is actually Satan's skin. Well, it belong to the serpent from the Garden of Eden.
God is not a present figure in "Noah", this much I called, which is why the psycho-thriller moments work. Noah sees himself as a man carrying out the will of a God who won't communicate with the,. The Men, the vegetarianism, the rock monsters, the time line...although it has the key elements of the story of Noah in the movie—there's a boat and a dude named Noah—it really is nothing like the story you have heard. One scene shows Noah telling us the creation story which involved evolution. It reaffirms the 'crazy-man-thinks-he's-heard-from-God' tangent that permeates the screen.

5. The magic
Perhaps man was more powerful after leaving the Garden. Maybe we did have magical abilities that slowly got lost over time as we got further away from God...you could look at "Noah" that way, or you could see the magic as everyone else does...as magic. The birthright/snake skin glows when it touches the line of Seth. Methuselah's powers seem larger than life and then there's the drugs.
So that they won't have to care for the animals, Noah and his family gas them with a concoction that they brew up and it puts them all to sleep...for months. This convenient little plot device allows for the animals to not be fed for the entirely of the boat trip...which takes more than nine months.


But I do think that the fatal flaw of the film is how surreal it is. It blends into a smoothie of goof...which, although probably delicious doesn't make good entertainment.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Biblical Waves of "Noah"

















There is a firestorm of controversy brewing around Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" and guess what? I called it.

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

Okay, I got that off my chest.

Seriously though, you take a director like Aronofsky and you ask him to make a Biblical movie? That sounds like a bad idea. For those viewers who were already eclipsed and amazed by the "Bible" miniseries film making power that brought the theaters "Son of God" it may seem like 2014 is the year of the Biblical epic. But that's not the truth. "Noah" doesn't fit into that category.
Here are the reasons that I support my statement:

1. Aronofsky's other work.
I have seen every other film by this director expect "The Fountain" which is on my to-watch list. To say that he doesn't shy away from showing everything is a gross understatement. He doesn't search out controversy as Lars von Trier does; but he does know how to a film get way beneath your skin. "The Wrestler" remains one of the few films that I couldn't finish...
In "Pi" there were drills taken to the head and brains lying in sinks. In "Requiem for a Dream" drugs raped the characters, both mentally and physicallly. With "Black Swan", Aronofsky showed up the nasty side of ballet, crafting a psychosexual drama piece that was all about the madness. He never shies away...never
With "Noah" we're told that it's hardly a Biblical representation of the man—his words—and that Aronofsky doesn't "give a f*** about " his approval ratings or how the film scored in test screenings.

2. The Bible
Even if Aronofsky did stick to the Bible, he would have plenty of ammunition to make a hard-core R-rated movie. Think about it. Just the flood itself gives us massive carnage on a scale that could put "Saving Private Ryan" to shame. Just Noah and his family survive the flood, everyone else on the planet dies...that's a lot of death.
No only that, but post-flood events aren't quite family friendly either. Genesis describes one scene in which Noah gets drunk and strips gown naked, wandering around. Two of his sons clothe him, but not before he's made a fool of himself.

3. Aronofsky on Aronofsky
Aside from being generally snide and coy about the film, Aronofsky and his actors have all admitted that this take on the story of Noah isn't by the book, pun intended. There are a lot of creative liberties being used here; but the hush-hush around the picture hasn't let us know what that is. My guess is that God won't be a preeminent figure in the film and Noah may be portrayed as a zealot acting out of faith without justification—which, to the skeptic—is exactly what happened.

4. The controversy
This, surprisingly, is the most controversial movie of the year so far—sorry "NYMPH( )MANIAC" and Lars von Trier—with good reason. Von Trier made a film about sex and called it "NYMPH( )MANIAC" while as Aronofsky is walking on the dogma of a religious group...which one sounds more explosive to you?
"Noah" supposedly has been cut and re-cut after audiences didn't like it at trial screenings. Critics have been sworn to silence...it's just a big mess; but that's what everyone wants. It's like every other popular movie out there...a big steaming plate of controversy sells tickets.

5. Son of God
The impressive/flop nature of "Son of God" implies that "Noah" might be a success; but not the one that people expected. Because it's a story about the Bible, the Christian group who saw "Son of God" will watch it. Because it's "Aronofsky", his fans will see it. It will probably earn more popular appeal than "Son of God" did. Although love by some, it was scorned by the critics who branded it as a horrible piece of trash cinema...ouch.
To amuse you, here's Abhimanyu Das' wonderfully biting review: Son of God


Yet what does it matter?
If you think that Aronosky is going to make a literal Noah story from the Bible, think again. Besides that, haven't film makers always taken creative liberties with their subjects?
I'm going to see "Noah" because I'm very excited about it and I have no expectations.
What about you?
Share your thoughts with us.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Yes, I Cry During Movies
















If you know me at all, you know that it doesn't take much for me to turn into a blubbering fool. I can cry pretty much at any sentimental point in a movie, sometimes even if I hate the movie...it's a talent.

I can remember the first movie that made me cry: "Lilo and Stitch". Of course, this is the movie that I remember first crying to, there were probably many others before that including a made-for-TV-movie-based-on-a-book-kind-of-deal that was about a turtle named Franklin...I don't recall exactly how the story went but there was a moose involved.

With "Lilo and Stitch" however, I do remember the exact circumstance. I should mention that I had seen the movie several times before, but it wasn't until I was surrounded by friends and family that I broke down. The scene in question showed a group of girls bullying Lilo for having an ugly doll. It wasn't the bullying that bothered me, which I think would be the more potent tear-enducing-formula now; but it was how Lilo reacted. She threw her doll on the ground and stomped off, angry that her ugly doll—the one that she had made—was a source of mockery. Of course, that didn't last long and Lilo ran back to the doll, picked it up, and gave it a big hug.
Freakin' waterfalls.

That's the first movie I remember that made me cry.

But why should we want to watch movies that make us cry? Isn't the point of film escapism? Well, maybe not. Part of it, I hypothesize, is that misery loves company. If we see a person going through the same circumstances that we have, it's almost comforting, and we can cry for that. A lot of the tears come from bittersweet moments of triumph. That's what we love to see, a person who as been in the pits of despair (don't even think of escaping, the chains are far too thick) overcoming the odds and rising to the height of glory as a victor.

This is why I cry for Celie in "The Color Purple". No scene hits me so hard as the last one, when she finally gets to meet her children after the many, many years. The music swells and the tears fall...forget it, I'm a mess.

This is also why I cried, basically sobbing, my way through "The Impossible". The separation of mother, father, and children by a cataclysmic event was scary enough. Add to this the horrors that the family had to endure and the sweet, sweet sense of reunion. Forget it, I'm a mess again.

We all love the triumph. That's why we cry, because we're happy for a character to achieve such happiness. A part of us feels their pain. Our empathy is a good thing.

The triumph leads us to cry at scenes like the pen scene from "A Beautiful Mind" or the ending scene in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

It's even worse when there is an air on finality to it—as in searching for something your whole life and finally achieving or grasping it.

Which brings us to another reason—we weep for the despair. Things don't always have a happy ending. We love the victor, because we love the bittersweet of the triumph. But we also cry for the despair, for the loss. This is why the moments in "Schindler's List" hit most of us hard. Because we can feel the tangible loss, literally the death. Though it is in the end scene when Spielberg emerges over the top of a hill accompanied with the people who Schindler saved and they walk to the man's grave and place stones of thanks upon it when, the tissues need to start coming.

But here again, is this truly a loss? Schindler actually triumphed over the Nazis and that's what makes the film so powerful.

True loss, true despair is even more powerful. I can think of no better example of this than "The Thin Red Line". The loss of life is staggering, the emotion that this brings is stifling. This is me weeping at my finest.

Another movie, thought it's hard to consider it when you weigh the hipster disdain towards the piece, is "Titanic". That deals with loss, lots of loss. There is no real triumph here unless you consider the precious moments of love a triumph...which I don't. For some reason, James Cameron is an easy target for people to hate...why?

Anyways, yes,  the tears come for "Titanic" because of genuine loss.

We cry for that intangible moment of emotion that accompanies certain events, unfamiliar to us except through a screen. That's what makes film great.

So essentially this article has been pointless because the fact is that movies make us cry and we keep going  to see them.
That's okay.

Here are the more potent moments for me in no particular order:

Dealing with loss in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"


Family coming together again from "The Impossible"

Confusion, giving in, and resilience—the final moments in "The Thin Red Line"

The body issues in "Little Miss Sunshine"
The Passion from "The Passion of the Christ"


Celie finally meeting her children in "The Color Purple"



Schindler wanting to sell his ring in "Schindler's List"



Patsey getting whipped in "12 Years a Slave"
Finally getting to walk on top of the clouds in "Man on Wire"



Dealing with grief in "Ordinary People"


The couple embracing in "Slumdog Millionaire"


The culmination of insanity in "Requiem for a Dream"

Saying good-bye and starting to celebrate in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Marriage from "Up"


What are your tear-jerker moments? Let us know.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

And the Oscar goes to...
















"It's been raining, we're fine. Thanks for your prayers."
First of all, I wasn't one of the Seth MacFarlane haters. You hire an offense comic and when he's offensive, you're surprised. Why?
But we don't need another "We Saw Your Boobs" song, so Ellen is here to save the day. Her opening monologue was perfection, just go Youtube it, you know you want to. The highlights of her speech involved Jennifer Lawrence and June Squibb.
The first award went to Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club"...wow, no one was surprised. His speech rambled and went from his mother and brother to AIDS to the Ukraine and Venezuela—I was surprised that he wasn't played off the stage.
The theme of the show was "Heroes"—random. The hero clips started out with an ode to animation.
Then Pharrell Williams reminded us that he is so darn cool, plus we got to see Meryl Streep shimmy. He got the audience on their feet and did a very respectable job.
"The Great Gatsby" won costume design, and Catherine Martin gave a great speech, then "Dallas Buyers Club" beat out "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" with their makeup win...bummer.
Presenting the first three films was Harrison Ford, who looked like he would have rather been anywhere else...but what was with that wall of roses? Are we doing an "American Beauty" thing? That has nothing to do with heroes...I don't get it.
Kim Novak and the McConaissance were really awkward. Kim looked totally high. Yes, we're sorry about "Vertigo"; but please get off the stage.
Best Animated Short went to "Mr. Hublot"...who knew? "Get a Horse" wasn't helped by the "Frozen" star power...then the "Frozen" star power won itself an Oscar...no one was surprised.
Sally Field wasn't quite as awkward as Harrison Ford; but she stumbled through the next hero segment...which made equally as much no sense as the first segment.
Wow! "Gravity" won visual effects...duh! But what we didn't surprise was a great speech, short and sweet.
Karen O's performance brought the awards show to a dead halt, in a good way. Her haunting performance shut everyone up, you could have heard a pin drop—quite good.
"Helium's" win for short film proved that you don't have to have a familiar face to win an Oscar, sorry Martin Freeman. Then "The Lady in Number 6: Music Save My Life" won Best Documentary, Short Subject.
"20 Feet From Stardom" nabbed the Best Documentary in lieu of "The Act of Killing"...wow, I wasn't expecting that; but that's what we like about the Oscars. Then one of the singers from the documentary belted out an acceptance speech which was really awkward but it got her a standing ovation.
But then...Kevin Spacey came out and introduced the Governors Awards as Frank Underwood and I almost died. The honorary Oscars went to Steve Martin, Angela Landsbury, and Piero Tosi—Angelina Jolie got the humanitarian award...we all love her.
Ewan McGregor and Viola Davis made us all hate that we weren't at the Oscars, they presented the Best Foreign Language Film which went to "The Great Beauty". Fellini was honored in Paolo Sorrentino's speech as was Scorsese himself. Tyler Perry then shows up, not as Madea—darnit!—and introduces more Best Picture titles.
Brad Pitt, weird haircut and all, introduced U2 singing "Ordinary Love". Naturally, they sounded fantastic live and then everyone stood up faster than all the Democrats at Obama's State of the Union Address.
Then, the world's best photo ever!
Charlize Theron bumbled through an introduction, reminding us that everyone had problems with the teleprompter because I doubt any of the people present could read. The technical awards started and the "Gravity" onslaught began...we all knew it was coming.
Christoph Waltz introduced the Best Supporting Actress which was...Lupita Nyong'o!!!! So incredibly happy! She gave a wonderful speech, teary and heartfelt and a little nervous—so charming.
Ellen then served everyone pizza and made Harvey Weinstein pay for it, what a boss! I liked MacFarlane but Ellen was so freakin' amazing.
Amy Adams and Bill Murray introduced Best Cinematography which—duh!—went to Emmanuel Lubezki.
Editing Oscar went to "Gravity"...we all knew it, again. Alfonso Cuarón picked up his first award for editing—good job!
Whoopi Goldberg came on stage and introduced another incoherent hero related "Wizard of Oz" reference thingy....but hey, P!nk was there and she killed it, so what do we care? Looking flawless, she got a standing ovation, which is nice; but we still don't know what the heck she was doing there.
Catherine Martin got up again for her fourth Oscar for production design for "The Great Gatsby", she gave another great speech.
Then the Academy introduced Chris Evans as "talented"...really? Anyway, if we missed any lead male hero montages, don't worry, they appeared here next; but we saw only five women, so it was all okay...I guess?
No, people, woman can't be heroes...because they're women.
Thanks, Academy for reminding us of that wonderful fact.
Glenn Close, looking regal, introduced the in memoriam section which was followed up by one of the more awkward moments of the night when Bette Midler made us all laugh instead of cry. We went from thinking about how many talented people died to "Ew, this is awkward!"
Goldie Hawn, looking slightly smashed, introduced the last three Best Picture nominees. She didn't have any problem with the teleprompter...go Goldie!
Cue John Travolta and the "Pulp Fiction" music introducing "Let it Go" singer Idina Menzel whose face looked like it was going to rip in half while singing.
Jamie Fox has way too much fun at these things, he got his Vangelis on while introducing the nominees for Best Original Score which Stephen Price won for "Gravity".
Then the "Let it Go" Oscar gave us the best acceptance speech of the night courtesy of the Lopez music making juggernaut which completed their EGOT. I didn't think they should have won, but good job anyways, but give Pharrell Williams his Oscar. Pouty face.
John Ridley's win was emotional and eloquent. He got a standing ovation which is incredibly rare for a screenwriter. Spike Jonze got an Oscar for original screenplay and he got a standing ovation too! Go Spike!
Angelina Jolie came out with Sidney Poitier and gave the Best Director Oscar to Alfonso Cuarón...duh again and again. Duh ten-fold.
No standing ovation for Alfonso...bummer.
Sidetrack for a moment: Sandra Bullock looks flawless.
Cate Blanchett won for Best Actress and we got another snark-filled acceptance speech. She's just so amazing!
The McConaissance is complete! He wins—even though he shouldn't, but whatever. His speech was 50 shades of awkward. Just shut up! And we learn that Matt is his own hero...what? Just shut up!
Will Smith presented the award for Best Picture, which doesn't make sense because we all remember "After Earth"...Will should be in Oscar timeout—no shows for another three years.
Steve McQueen practically tackled the presenter when "12 Years a Slave" won Best Picture. This is perplexing because the film only won three awards, but I think that this movie will go down in history. One can only hope.
Ellen closed us out and then it was all over.
Sad face.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My 2014 Oscar Predictions



















Well it's that time of year once again, it seems like just last year we were doing all this—and we were. Here I have brought to you a list of the Oscar nominees with my predictions on who will win. I've also included my opinion, because it just wouldn't be me without it. I'll give my picks on who I think should win and will win. I won't be doing many of the technical awards, because I really have no clue about many of them.

Let's get to it.

BEST PICTURE:
Nominees:
"12 Years a Slave"
"Gravity"
"Nebraska"
"Philomena"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"Captain Phillips"
"Her"
"American Hustle"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"

Prediction: "12 Years a Slave"
Preference: "12 Years a Slave"

Steve McQueen's slavery picture is a staggering achievement in acting and emotion. It's like a punch to the gut, the film we've been waiting for. Compared to the other nominees, it stands head and shoulders above them. If there would be any challenger it would be "Gravity". A few months back "American Hustle" looked primed to take home the gold, but I think everyone has slowly realized that "Hustle" isn't that great...something I'm very thankful for and not to be a hipster, but I said it first! It's the same kind of picture as "Schindler's List"—uncommon in the Academy canon but not a first.


BEST ACTOR:
Nominees:
Christian Bale —"American Hustle"
Bruce Dern — "Nebraska"
Chiwetel Ejiofor — "12 Years a Slave"
Leonardo DiCaprio — "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Matthew McConaughey — "Dallas Buyers Club"

Prediction: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Preference: Chiwetel Ejiofor

This category has me stumped. I really have no clue, it could swing one of three ways — DiCaprio, Ejiofor, or McConaughey. I think the Academy will feel bad for not giving DiCaprio the gold long ago and it could be a retribution win for him. Then again, McConaughey is on a golden streak recently...his weight loss could be a factor. I think the Oscar will go to Chiwetel Ejiofor; but I've been wrong before.


BEST ACTRESS:
Nominees:
Amy Adams — "American Hustle"
Cate Blanchett — "Blue Jasmine"
Sandra Bullock — "Gravity"
Judi Dench — "Philomena"
Meryl Streep — "August: Osage Country"

Prediction: Cate Blanchett
Preference: Cate Blanchett

As mush as the best actor category is hard to call, this is easy. Cate Blanchett won herself the Oscar as soon as "Blue Jasmine" was released. It's without a doubt the easiest category to predict. If anyone challenges her it might be Meryl Streep whose turn in "August: Osage County" was enjoyable crazy or Amy Adams. This is also an Oscar that lets the Academy give the right performer an Oscar and correct a "mistake" of not giving Blanchett the Oscar for "Elizabeth"—though I was one of the few okay with Gwenyth Paltrow's win.


BEST DIRECTOR:
Nominees:
Alfonso Cuarón — "Gravity"
Steve McQueen — "12 Years a Slave"
David O. Russell — "American Hustle"
Martin Scorsese — "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Alexander Payne — "Nebraska"

Prediction: Alfonso Cuarón
Preference: Steve McQueen

Cuarón made a technical marvel, but that's all it was good for. It was a stunning visual orgy, but then again so were the "Transformer" movies. Are we going to give Michael Bay an Oscar? I realize that "Gravity" is a step above Bay's work, but the script for the movie really took it several notches down in my book. It's not as good as everyone says it is. McQueen's work is, unfortunately, not for everyone. His drama is a gritty and unapologetic one. This is probably the nail in his coffin. But since this is only his third movie, I expect to see him back here.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Nominees:
Sally Hawkins — "Blue Jasmine"
June Squibb — "Nebraska"
Jennifer Lawrence — "American Hustle"
Julia Roberts — "August: Osage County"
Lupita Nyong'o — "12 Years a Slave"

Prediction: Lupita Nyong'o
Preference: Lupita Nyong'o

Ugh, this one has me worried. Jennifer Lawrence really knows how to work a group of people, if she gets the Oscar I will lose faith in pretty much everything. But I don't know that she will, Lupita Nyong'o has been campaigning too and I think that it will push her back into the lead. She's been sweeping up the awards, but not the BAFTA...so what does that mean? JLaw nabbed the British award...I just don't get what is so great about her performance. In the entire movie, there was only one scene that I was impressed with her, the rest had the Jennifer Lawrence frog-face crying, and I'm not a fan of that. Her best performances were at the beginning of her career, when she was must less charismatic...watch "Winter's Bone". Nyong'o, one the other hand, gives us a stellar performance, heart-wrenching in every way with Patsey in "12 Years a Slave". She pegs the accent perfectly and made us all cry. Though Jennifer Lawrence is her stronger competition, Sally Hawkins is a much more worthy contender.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Nominees:
Barkhad Abdi — "Captain Phillips"
Bradley Cooper — "American Hustle"
Jonah Hill — "The Wolf of Wall Street"
Michael Fassbender — "12 Years a Slave"
Jared Leto — "Dallas Buyers Club"

Prediction: Jared Leto
Preference: Michael Fassbender

Leto's is another easy win to predict. He has won pretty much every large award there is to give...and it's such a typical performance for the academy to celebrate—a transsexual AIDS-ridden loud character. Leto's incessant praising of himself makes me turned off to his performance. Every news show he's been on sees him repeating the same facts—it's been several years since his last movie, he's a rock star, look at all that weight he lost. Yes, the weigh loss is impressive and I don't begrudge him the win, if it will only shut him up.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Nominees
"American Hustle"
"Her"
"Blue Jasmine"
"Nebraska"
"Dallas Buyers Club"

Prediction: "Her"
Preference: "Blue Jasmine"

I always love the way Woody Allen writes and he is one of the foremost screenwriters in Hollywood. Spike Jonze is ready for an Oscar and I think that Academy is ready to give him one, seeing as how they've denied him in the past.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Nominees:
"Before Midnight"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
"Captain Phillips"
"12 Years a Slave"
"Philomena"

Prediction: "Before Midnight"
Preference: "12 Years a Slave"

Richard Linklater's script is pretty great, but it's just not as good as "12 Years a Slave". I think that John Ridley deserves it more...but this is a category that I am just guessing at.


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
Nominees:
"The Croods"
"Despicable Me 2"
"Frozen"
"Ernest & Celestine"
"The Wind Rises"

Prediction: "Frozen"
Preference: Anything but "Frozen"

I'm not a fan of the icy princess flick, but I'm outnumbered by far. Elsa and Anna will bring home the gold, they should have let it go.


BEST ORIGINAL SONG:
Nominees:
"Happy" from "Despicable Me 2"
"Let it Go" from "Frozen"
"Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom"
"The Moon Song" from "Her"

Prediction: "Happy"
Preference: "Happy"

I'm going on a limb here. Because of the Golden Globe win, "Ordinary Love" actually seemed like the best contender. But "Let it Go" also has a huge number of fans. Yet Pharrell Williams is on a roll and I think that this will get him another award to add to the Grammys. "Happy" has peaked at the number one spot for a few weeks, the popularity and Williams' easy going manner I think will grant him the Oscar.


BEST FOREIGN FILM:
Nominees:
"The Hunt"
"The Broken Circle Breakdown"
"The Great Beauty"
"The Missing Picture"
"Omar"

Prediction: "The Great Beauty"
Preference: "The Great Beauty"

It's possible that "The Hunt" will win, which is fine by me because I like Thomas Vinterberg.

LAST THOUGHTS:
Emmanuel Lubezki is going to win cinematography for "Gravity"...nuff said.