September 30, 2008

Quote of the Day: Dark Victory

"Well, I think I'll have a large order of prognosis NEGATIVE!" ~ Bette Davis as dying Judith Traherne in 1939's "Dark Victory"

*look for it around the 0:39 mark*


September 29, 2008

Random Musing: Les Visiteurs du Soir (The Devil's Envoys)

Although the film is set in the 14th or 15th century, "Les Visiteurs du Soir (The Devil's Envoys)" is clearly a symptomatic representation of the Nazi occupation of France in WWII. The final part of the credits shows an old French proverb that will guide the film: "The Devil sent down some men to break men's hearts." I do not think it is terribly difficult to guess who represents whom, so I will leave it at that. It is clear, though, that it was necessary to hide the representation as much as possible although Carné definitely made the film to voice his opinions and to probably let out some anguish. I also think it is interesting that the film contains so many elements of surrealism: the dance scene, the tourney in the pond, the vanishing/appearing characters, etc. I think this only contributes to the somewhat otherworldly presentation of the film.

The scene where Domini plays the lute is actually quite powerful (my favorite, actually) - the dancing slows to a halt and everyone in the room is frozen. This allows Domini and Giles to play with Ann and Renaud, separating them and toying with "love." Starting with the scene at the party, viewers begin to realize the male/female power structures of the film, which I think influence the film in some way or another:

Domini > Giles
Domini > Renaud
Renaud > Ann
Ann > The Devil
The Devil > Domini, Giles, and Renaud

It is interesting to consider, and it definitely gets convoluted. Ann seems to be the most powerless through the whole film, but her disregard of the Devil's presence is important, and her ability to defy him is one of the greatest powers in the film. On the other hand, Domini seems to be the most powerful throughout the film, and a great deal of that power seems to come through her legs. I am uncertain if this is some kind of objectification she uses to her advantage, but they draw the attention of Renaud and they are significant to look at when she makes her transformations between her "male" self and female self. It is perhaps this binary male/female self that offers her all of her great powers.

Perhaps the greatest scene of the film is at the end, where Ann tells the Devil she will become his slave if he lets Giles free. Once her lover has been liberated, she lies to the Devil and departs, claiming to not be his slave. I believe this action is the springboard for a moral that drives this part of the film, that old adage: "All's fair in love and war." In the name of love, she has committed this action she most certainly would not have otherwise. Meanwhile, for his revenge, the Devil turns Ann and Giles to stone forever as they cling to one another. In the name of war, he has conquered them for tricking him. For the end of a film based in no small part on the occupation of Nazi Germany in France, it leaves a bitter, resigned fate for viewers.


September 27, 2008

In the News: Paul Newman

It is a sad day for classic Hollywood, as one of its biggest stars, actor Paul Newman, has passed away at the age of 83. I was shocked to hear this, but I was aware of his most recent battles with cancer. Newman will be forever remembered in memorable film roles, especially through such classics as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "The Hustler," "Hud," and "Cool Hand Luke" and modern films, such as his Oscar-winning role in "The Color of Money" and other roles in "Absence of Malice," "The Verdict," and "Road to Perdition." Here are some snippets from the AFP write-up on Newman's passing...

Paul Newman, known for his piercing blue eyes, boyish good looks and stellar performances in scores of hit Hollywood movies, has died, his foundation said Saturday. He was 83.

Newman, who had been battling cancer, passed away on Friday, Newman's Own Foundation said in a statement from Westport, Connecticut.

Newman played youthful rebels, charming rogues, golden-hearted drunks and amoral opportunists in a career that encompassed more than 50 movies. He was one of the most popular and consistently bankable Hollywood stars in the second half of the 20th century.

Newman won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1987, late in his career, for his role as a pool shark named 'Fast Eddie' in "The Color of Money," co-starring with Tom Cruise.

Newman had six children, three from an early marriage that ended in divorce and three with actress Joanne Woodward, whom he married in 1958. He had five daughters and one son, Scott, who died of a drug overdose in 1978.

Newman retired from movie acting in 2007, at the age of 82.
Rest in peace, Paul Newman. You will be missed.


September 26, 2008

Random Musing: Mean Girls

"Don't have sex, 'cause you will get pregnant and die. Don't have sex in the missionary position, don't have sex standing up... Just don't do it, promise!? Ok, everybody, take some rubbers!"

Today, I had lunch with my friends Courtney and Rancy, and at one point in the conversation, we began to discuss the now-universally known and lauded SNL skit with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. As we joked about the dead-on spoofs of the candidates, I was also quoting the humorous one-liners by Fey as Palin ("And I think it's just God hugging us closer..."). Courtney then pointed out her arch-conservative views, and I quipped that her daughter is a prime example of why a stance on abstinence-only sex education in schools clearly is not doing her any good. I defended my stance that safe sex education is what we need in schools today, then tagged the aforementioned quote from "Mean Girls" to the end for a laugh. When I did that, I suddenly realized - that scene is a satirical criticism of abstinence-only education in schools! Why had I not perceived that before?!

So now that you have seen the scene again with me, you should also be able to notice the satire which permeates it. The Coach overstates the need for abstinence by humorously contending that if you have sex, "you will get pregnant - and die!" The sentence in itself is mocking the stance of supporters of abstinence-only sex education. Then it turns around toward irony and further mocks the coach for humorously brandishing a box full of condoms for the students he had previously been emphatically lecturing to not have sex. It is funny, no? I find it funnier that I had never before picked up on this sardonic social comment. (Even better, Courtney looked surprised that I was never aware of this! Ha!)


September 24, 2008

Midnight Cowboy

**** out of ****

The notable first and only recipient of the Best Picture Academy Award after having been rated “X” by the MPAA, “Midnight Cowboy” is a cinematically brilliant watershed John Schlesinger film from 1969. While strongly character-driven and tackling the theme of loneliness, the film, as denoted by the title, has a significant narrative thrust toward the American Western, though set in New York City.

“Midnight Cowboy” tells the story of Joe Buck (Jon Voight), a naive, idealistic Texan who decides to give up the stagnant life he leads as a dishwasher to go to New York and become a gigolo, earning top dollars from rich women who might enjoy his services. There, his Western attire draws the snickers of many women, but one (Sylvia Miles) does take him up on his offer for sex. After Joe discovers she has no money on her and is offended by his request for payment, he meets Rico “Ratso” Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who offers to help set him up with someone who can take control of his work and help him make the heaps of money of which he dreams. When he discovers Ratso has conned him, he threatens to strangle him when he finds him again, but the two end up forging a friendship based on survival that leads them to the ends of desperation in order to endure the harsh conditions of the city that wants neither of them.

Jon Voight, in one of his first film roles, and Dustin Hoffman, in a departure from previous roles, are simply perfect as Joe and Ratso in “Midnight Cowboy.” Though he could have been hindered with his relative inexperience in acting, Voight plays Joe Buck brilliantly, all the way down to his big grin and gum-popping, all of which denote his “rootin’-tootin’” naivety. I personally think Dustin Hoffman gives one of his best performances in this film, nailing the nasally voice, squirrel-y demeanor, and physical inhibitions of Ratzo. (In addition, I was particularly amused when he drops his accent halfway through his speech on the street with the impending attack of the taxi, spurring the famous line, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here! I’m walkin’ here!”)

Instantly controversial upon its release in 1969, “Midnight Cowboy” permeates viewers with its frank sexuality (which led to that infamous, pre-pornographic “X” rating). Cinematic qualities usually interpret this sexuality, as the rapid editing and handheld camera of the initial sex scene between Joe and Cass marks a viscerally raw and passionate lovemaking that speeds up until the climactic jackpot on the television.

For that matter, cinematography and editing are top-notch in the film and whose occasional volatility becomes a means for conveying the aggression of some scenes, including the first sex scene between Joe and Cass and the scene where Joe violently attacks Towny for money. They also facilitate a discontinuous style that communicates the thoughts and memories of Joe when necessary.

Aside from stylistic elements, Waldo Salt’s screenplay and Schlesinger behind the camera sustain a clear vision for the film, as interpreted through their fascinating sociological interpretation of 1960s New York, with all of its decadence and moral confusion.

On the other hand, the film does seem to be a film of many different times. The many flashback (or flashforward, for that matter) sequences that transform time and space are the most significant examples. These either share Joe’s historical information or follow his thoughts as he imagines the way something will happen in a later time while an action continues in the present. With the popularity of these time discontinuities in the film and the fact that the film draws heavily on a time of the past while reflecting on the present and considering the future, it should hardly surprise viewers that time is so significant in the film.

Considering the importance of time, the film carries significance with its easily recognizable references to, and metaphorical representation of, the American Western. Joe Buck is clearly a product of the West, hailing from Texas and always wearing his garish cowboy gear. From his buckskin jacket, he is even like the hunter/gatherer hero type from the classic American Western. Interesting enough, the film initially presents Texas with the sounds of cowboys and Indians over a drive-in movie screen, but a dolly out shows that the sounds of that Texas does not or no longer exists. Texas is a desolate wasteland, hardly the “Garden of Eden” and “Virgin Land” usually presented by the classic American Western. By the same token, in the classic Western, the East is a restricting civilization whose people have used up its resources. In this way, Joe’s ambition to reach New York is surprising and wholly against the way of the classic Western, as a move to the Western frontier would present more opportunity for the American man with his own motives and desires. Thus, in moving against the direction of the classic Western paradise, Joe is literally doomed to failure from the outset.

Containing subtexts of the American West, the context of 60s New York society, and the universal theme of alienation, “Midnight Cowboy” continues to resound with viewers long after its initial release. Unabashed, poignant, and provocative, it therefore has lost little of its effect on viewers in the course of forty years and remains a definitive classic today.

“Midnight Cowboy” is playing as part of a series at the Belcourt Theatre on “Tramps and Vagabonds in Cinema.”

Originally published in the September 24 issue of Versus Magazine: Entertainment & Culture


September 19, 2008

Quote of the Day: Midnight Cowboy

"Hey, I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!" ~ Dustin Hoffman as bamboozling Ratso Rizzo, walkin' in "Midnight Cowboy"

*look for it around the 0:18 mark*


Quote of the Day: The Searchers

"I hope you die!"~ an angry Jeffrey Hunter as he fights through his breaking voice
"That'll be the day."~ a cool John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in "The Searchers"

*look for it around the 5:40 mark*


September 15, 2008

Quote of the Day: The Last of the Mohicans

*This is for Roni*

"I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far! I will find you!" ~ warrior Daniel Day-Lewis promises his love in "The Last of the Mohicans"

*look for it at the 6:19 mark*


September 10, 2008

Tell No One (Ne Le Dis à Personne)

*** ½ out of ****

Full of artistic merit and certainly one of the most exciting French films to be seen in theaters in quite a while, “Tell No One” is a great thrill ride, varying between being as adrenaline-charged as “Run Lola Run” in the chase sequences to being as hide-and-seek suspenseful as “North by Northwest” in others.

In the film, Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) is a pediatrician who has been devastated following the murder of his wife Margot (Marie-Josée Croze) eight years prior. The mysterious circumstances surrounding his survival baffled policemen for years, so when two bodies are discovered near the former location of his wife’s corpse, the policemen renew their former suspicions concerning Alex as the prime suspect. Alex is then thrown into the middle of a conspiracy involving a series of e-mails hinting at his wife’s survival and an enigmatic group of assassins ruthlessly intent on locating her whereabouts. As the suspicions of the police seem more and more founded on evidence pointing toward Alex, he must go into hiding with the help of others, including his former client, gangster Bruno (Gilles Lellouche), his lawyer, Élisabeth Feldman (Nathalie Baye), his sister, horse trainer Anne (Marina Hands), and her partner, Hélène (Kristin Scott Thomas) in order to clear his name by unraveling the mystery surrounding his wife’s death.

Cluzet is splendid in the role of the unwitting doctor, inviting viewers with the reality of his acting. (I am still as of yet uncertain if his onscreen appeal has anything to do with his uncanny resemblance to Dustin Hoffman.) Nevertheless, in a role such as his, he is perfectly capable in his ability to captivate audiences amidst the suspense that pervades and comprises the film.

Meanwhile, the real surprise of the film is actress Kristin Scott Thomas, an English actress better-known for roles in “The English Patient” and “The Horse Whisperer.” Being pleasantly surprised that she speaks the French language so well, I realized the broad range of emotions she could also portray onscreen with as little additional effort as it appears she requires to speak in a foreign language. If prior roles of hers have not captured the attention of critics already, her effortless talent in this film is certainly arresting.

Because of its frequent, exceptional use of mobile framing, cinematography in the film is certainly worth mentioning. The variations of close-ups and extreme long shots certainly have a modernist appeal. Editing is also fantastic; one of the best sequences is the montage of the guests in attendance of the “wedding” and “funeral” of Margot, superimposed over each other. This montage has a strong emotional component that stands out to viewers like me in the way it makes happiness and sorrow indistinguishable from one another and helps to streamline the thoughts of Alex as he reflects on his pain.

The story itself is definitely well-written, presenting one that has definitely been written before among several films, but this film is new and fresh, touting great direction from Guillaume Canet. Tirelessly suspenseful and edge-of-your-seat, the story could have gone on even longer, and I still would have been as riveted as I had been through the puzzling circumstances of the first hour and a half or so. On the other hand, after drawing out the suspense so long, the sudden, quick debriefing that organizes the true circumstances of the film ends up being a bit of a convoluted mess in which it is easy to get lost. I recognize that the film is trying hard to remove the facts for most of the film so viewers are lured inward to decipher the film’s events themselves, but that final bombardment of all of the film’s answers is almost too much and would have done better in paced revelations.

Nevertheless, “Tell No One” is built on an intelligent, calculated puzzle of a story that invites viewers to continue assembling the pieces long after they leave the theater.

“Tell No One” is currently playing at the Belcourt Theatre.

Originally published in the September 10 issue of Versus Magazine: Entertainment & Culture


September 9, 2008

Random Musing: Rear Window Remake

Natalie Finn for E! Online was hardly kidding when she stated,"How many lawyers did it take to determine that 'Disturbia' was kinda like 'Rear Window'? ('Cause the critics figured it out right away.)" So is it really news that "Disturbia" is currently caught up in a lawsuit in New York over just how similar it is to the classic Hitchcock film?

Here is the scoop (from the AP):

A lawsuit claims Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures Corp. ripped off "Rear Window" when they made the movie "Disturbia."

The 2007 thriller "Disturbia" stars Shia LaBeouf as a kid who spies on neighbors, including a man he suspects is a serial killer.

The copyright infringement lawsuit, filed Monday in Manhattan, says "Disturbia" copied a short story Cornell Woolrich wrote in 1942 and the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie that starred James Stewart and Grace Kelly and was based on the story.

Woolrich died in 1968. The rights to "Rear Window" were sold to Sheldon Abend, who died in 2003. His estate brought the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

Representatives for Spielberg, DreamWorks and Paramount said they don't comment on pending litigation.
I even remember when the film opened in theaters last year that it seemed essentially like a rip-off of "Rear Window" (and I do not take kindly to attempts to remake Hitchcock). How could it have taken this long to put it together, honestly? Anyway, I think the suit's creation might just be a little bit of poetic justice... Take that, you rip-off, you!


September 8, 2008

Random Musing: Weekend Box Office and Nicolas Cage

In performing my routine check of e-mail late yesterday, I happened to spot an article on by Dean Goodman of Reuters, whose article bleakly proclaimed: "Nicolas Cage bombs at box office with 'Bangkok'." I had to give myself a little chuckle because the fickle article makes no mention of "The Dark Knight," which for the past several weekends has propelled the box office to record numbers. So what if this weekend was a slump? The cushion of the success of "The Dark Knight" easily provides Hollywood for one weekend of weakness.

Here are the first few quotes from his article:

"Less than a year after starring in the biggest movie of his volatile career, Nicolas Cage led the North American box office to its worst weekend in five years on Sunday with one of his weakest.

'Bangkok Dangerous,' a thriller in which the 44-year-old actor plays a jaded assassin, opened at No. 1 with estimated three-day earnings of just $7.8 million, distributor Lionsgate said. While no one was expecting it to be a hit, industry observers had predicted it would earn more than $10 million.

The last box office champ to open lower was the David Spade comedy 'Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star,' which kicked off with $6.7 million during the weekend of September 5-7, 2003."
My point for discussing this article is because I am amused to no end by this reporter's sensationalism in constantly remarking this past weekend's box office tank, apparently "the worst in five years." How quickly people forget that the box office exploded this summer, especially with the releases of "The Dark Knight" and "Iron Man." With this summer's box office leading studios to probably their fattest bonuses in years, how amusing that reporters quickly turn on the box office by neglecting its awesome summer performance. So this past weekend was not so lucrative... Fine and dandy. But the box office can take a brunt like that with superheroes having protected it.

Meanwhile, jeez, does Goodman not like Nicolas Cage or what? Not only did Cage "bomb" at the box office, the "volatile career" of the "44-year-old" clearly did not generate any appeal for a film "no one expected to be a hit" since it "was not screened in advance for critics, which is rarely a good sign." And apparently Cage "has actually done a lot worse at the box office." Does Goodman think he's slipping in old age or something, even if he has no peak in the article with which to work? For that matter, Cage's obligatory 1995 Best Actor Oscar ("Leaving Las Vegas") indication was notably missing from this article, too.

In summary, Goodman's narrow, low-blow piece dispensibly neglects the positives of Hollywood's recent box office and actor Nicolas Cage for all negative propaganda, apparently hoping to get his point across better. And here you thought Hollywood was sinking because of Nicolas Cage...


September 3, 2008

Scene of the Day: It's a Wonderful Life

Just before this scene, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has realized all of the lives he has positively affected and everything that is truly important to him, courtesy of guardian angel Clarence, who has taken George to see a darker world without his presence. Upon his return, he races across Bedford Falls admist the falling snow to find his family. Having been morose and feeling downtrodden due to his impending arrest over misplaced money, his anxieties have been lifted when he rediscovers what is truly important - family and friends who are happy to lend a hand (all because of the unselfish favors he has consistently offered them for years prior).

Watch this magical, touching, and endearing scene with me now...


September 1, 2008

Random Musing: Un Chien Andalou

Having seen "Belle de Jour" and "La Charme Discrète de la Bourgeoisie (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie)," I am well familiar with some of the most hailed works of master surrealist filmmaker, Luis Buñuel, and some of the targeted themes of his films - fantasy, immorality, or lack of direction of the upper class and even the hypocrisy of religious officials. I was completely unprepared for "Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog)," however. The work coming some forty-ish years (1929-1967) before "Belle de Jour," "Chien" proves that Buñuel had, at that point in time, clearly established his purpose on film to make something so extraordinary and inevitably shocking.

Having done a little research on Wikipedia, I discovered that the concept for "Chien" came from a discussion between filmmaker Buñuel and painter and fellow surrealist Salvador Dalí, where each shared a certain dream he had had and decided to mutually embark on a project that explored the depths and contents capable of the human psyche. The dream of Buñuel is shown at the film's beginning - a man bathed in shadow sharpens his razor before holding it against the eye of a female, and crosscutting connects the slice across her eye to the moon in the sky suffering a similar wound. At this point in the film, one thing becomes clear, especially in the initial viewing: this film has no real story. Everything is a reality so farfetched it must be a dream.

But how these dreams connect is the real question to be pondered. For example, when the woman looks into the man's ant-infested palm, the image fades into that of an armpit, then that of a bush. The next shots show a crowd of people eyeing a severed hand in the street. Later in the film, when the same man wipes off his mouth, the action of the woman putting on her lipstick causes an armpit to grow where his mouth should be. In this way, the "dreamlike sequences," although put together to fit like some semblance of a story, actually reconnect individual metaphorical representations. As far as a thematic interpretation, I do find it fascinating that Buñuel essentially destroys the senses in the film, including the woman's sliced eye (sight) and the severed hand in the street (touch). Even the removal of the man's lips near the end of the film incorporates this idea by removing something so sensually important for his body.

The only thing I wonder now is if I could be overanalyzing. Was Buñuel really attempting something this deep - destruction of the body to experience the wonders of the mind? Again, according to my Wikipedia research, he was quoted, saying the film does not intentionally symbolize or represent anything, and there are still a number of things the film explores that I cannot even begin to analyze without turning this into a lengthy paper. However, does that stop us from analyzing? This much is certain: "Chien" is the epitome of early surrealism, especially promoting the power of dreams free of rational thought, including the marriage of far-reaching ideas and surprising images.

*originally printed for use in discussion in French 210: French Film, lectured by Professor Lynn Ramey*